“But Rob,” Gene said. “He’s still not here. Deacon being big or not, that’s nothing to do with us, but Rob’s our friend.”
“So what can we do about it?” Jeanne asked. “Katherine said we shouldn’t worry about things we can’t change.”
“Katherine says a lot of things,” Gene said.
“Who’s Katherine?” Tegan asked. “Someone to do with your study guides?”
“Yeah,” Jeanne said. “She’s really nice. You’ll get to meet her someday.”
“I hope so,” Gene said. “But Rob is something we can change. We can go look for him after school.”
“I don’t know,” Tegan said. “I’ve got piano lessons tonight, and I get yelled at if I’m late.”
“And Phillip would freak if he found out we didn’t come straight home without telling him first,” Jeanne said. “We could call ahead, but…”
“We can send him an e-mail,” Gene said.
“We’re not supposed to bug him at work,” Jeanne shot back, “and he’ll just say no anyway.”
“We should tell your dad about Rob, I think,” Tegan said, “but going to look for him would probably not help much. What would we do if we found him?”
“Or, worse, what if he’s at home and just sick?” Jeanne said, sighing. “It could happen.”
“I bet he’s at home, but he’s not sick,” Gene said, darkly.
“You think his dad…?” Jeanne trailed off as something on the far side of the playground caught her eyes.
“Jeanne?” Gene asked, but she simply pointed in response.
Nick was approaching the trio, quickly, but Deacon was coming up beside him. Gene started to shout, but was squelched when Deacon just put his hand up, defensively. Nick slowed and stopped, glancing warily at Deacon, whose back was now turned to the three. There was an exchange of words, short, but not heated; the kids were too far away to hear it, but Nick did not seem to be enraged or upset by it. To all outside observers, it looked like Deacon was just talking to Nick in a friendly manner.
“What do you think they’re saying?” Tegan asked. Jeanne shushed her; if she concentrated, she could possibly have caught a few words here and there against the background din.
Nick’s eyes widened, and he nodded. Deacon still hadn’t made any overtly hostile gestures towards him, but Jeanne got the distinct impression that the conversation was not nearly as pleasant as it appeared. After a few more moments, Deacon pointed off towards the monkeybar cage; Nick and the three all shifted their gazes there just for a second, long enough to see two of the middle-sized boys in the class talking; one was rubbing his arm above the elbow, as if it were injured. Nick turned quickly back to Deacon, but to his surprise the bully hadn’t made a move to sucker-punch him. Deacon shrugged, and walked towards the balance bars, where his own two friends were waiting. Nick walked slowly over to the steps where his friends were waiting.