My best friend, Noah, was reading over my shoulder. “Weird how she’s always got it in for little kids,” he said. “Yeah.” I flipped the page.
Advertisement. Flipped again. Another ad. Flipped. Too many pages.
“You went past it,” said Noah.
I flipped back.
“Uh, Tucker?” Noah waved his wristwatch in my face. “Beecher’s bus.”
I tore my eyes from the blazing school building. Tried to focus on Noah’s watch. He was still waving it around, so I couldn’t see what time zone he had it set for, but I knew it was synchronized to the atomic clock at the Naval Observatory and updated continuously by satellite. When Noah’s watch beeped, it wasn’t kidding.
I smoothedH2O Submerged, Episode Nine: Cataclysmshut. Shot a glance at the back counter. If I was going to do this thing, I had to do it now.
Noah clicked his watch off and swung his bassoon case over his shoulder. Don’t ask what a bassoon is. No one knows. I’ve been Noah’s best friend since kindergarten, and I’m still not sure. It looks like . . . actually, it looks like Noah. Some people look like their dogs. Noah looks like his band instrument—skinny, perfect posture, shiny and dark.
I grabbed my backpack, and we threaded our way through aisles of comics, through the dust specks that floated on the few rays of light that had managed to beat their way inside. It had been raining all afternoon, and the damp air drew out the shop’s wet-dog aroma.
We reached the counter, where Caveman sat hunkered over a graphic novel, his Hawaiian shirt stretched over the mountains of his shoulders, his wild black hair fluttering as he turned a page. He truly was a caveman. A caveman with a Wonder Woman lunchbox collection.
I pushedH2Otoward him, reached into my shoe, and pulled out three dollars and twenty-one cents. I clanked it onto the counter. Caveman dinged the cash register open and slid the money in. He didn’t even look at it. He knew I had the exact change. He slippedH2Ointo a plastic sack, handed me the receipt, and went back to his novel.
I swallowed. A nervous tang prickled my throat. I’d been working up my courage since Noah and I first stepped into Caveman Comics—no, before that, before we left school even—and if I didn’t do it now, I wouldn’t get another chance till next month.
Noah gave me an encouraging thumbs-up.
“So. Caveman.” I slid the sack off the counter. Casually. You know, so it wouldn’t look like I was making a big deal out of it or anything. “You ever think about deliveries?”
Caveman licked a finger. Turned a page. Didn’t look up. “Nope.”
At least, I think that’s what he said. It was more of a grunt than an actual word. Which partially explains his name.
I took another breath. “It’s just this idea I had. Deliveries, I mean. Like Pizza Rocket, only with comics instead of, you know, pizza. You should think about it.”
Caveman turned another page. “Nope.”
Nope, he wouldn’t think about it? Or nope, he’d already thought about it, decided it was a bad idea, and was never going to think about it again?
Hard to tell.
“Okay.” I nodded.
I tucked the receipt in my shoe (a.k.a. the best place to store your most important paperwork), gripped the crinkly plastic stack, and started toward the door.
“Because here’s what I was thinking,” I said. Casually. Like I was tossing ideas at him on my way out. “It might do a lot for your business. You know, provide just one more service no other comic book shop provides.”
Not that Caveman was big on service in the first place. But still.
“Dude.” Another lick. Another page. “I’m not delivering your comic books. You can come down here and buy them like everybody else.”
I stopped. A whole sentence. Two, actually.
“But see?” I said. “That’s the beauty of it. These deliveries—they wouldn’t betome. They’d befromme. You’d hire me to be your comic book delivery man. On my bike.”
With Beecher on the handlebars if I had to.
I blinked. “Okay. But think about it because—”
“Okay, but if you change your mind—”
“Tucker,” Noah whispered. “I don’t think it’s happening.”
I sighed. When Noah and I rule the world, comic book delivery will be mandatory.
Noah headed for the door. I trudged after him, the crinkly sack rustling against my leg. We wound our way through tables and racks and shelves, all groaning under the weight of the world’s greatest superheroes: H2O and Batman, Superman and Spidey. American and Japanese.
We passed a small rack squeezed in between NEW RELEASE and GOLDEN AGE CLASSICS. One of Caveman’s signs was thumbtacked above it, black marker on a scrap of dusty poster board: LOCAL INDIES
Most people came in looking for the latest X-Men and didn’t know these were here.
But I knew.
Because these weren’t like the other comic books in the store. They weren’t written by famous comic book writers and drawn by famous artists. They weren’t printed in color on shiny paper and shipped out by the millions every month by Marvel or D.C. or Dark Overlord or some other behemoth comic book company.
Mostly they were black-and-white Xeroxes, carefully folded and stapled, printed a handful at a time, probably at the copy shop over by the university.
But they were here. Real live comics in a real live comic book store.
I pulled one out. Ran my hand over the grainy cover.
“So, hey. Caveman,” I said.
He may have grunted. Or maybe not. The Cavester was a man of few words.
“Have these indie comics started making any money?” I said.
And sometimes no words. He didn’t even glance up.
“Yeah. I know. Not as much as it costs the artists to print them. But I thought I’d ask. Just to see if anything had changed. I guess it hasn’t.”
I slid the comic back into the rack. Ran my hand over it one more time. One day that would be me. One day my comic books would be for sale. And not just here at Caveman. Across the country.
Across the country? Heck, around the planet. I’d be the most famous comic book artist ever, world-renowned for creating . . . well, I didn’t know what. Yet. But he (or she—you can’t be raised by my mother and not consider the very real possibility that the world’s greatest superhero just might be a girl) would be amazing. The most amazing comic book hero ever.
I’d go to all the big comic book conventions, and the line of fans waiting for my autograph would stretch out of the building and around the block. Which would be exciting, but it wouldn’t give me a big head. I’d still be humble. I’d still be Tucker MacBean from Wheaton, Kansas. I’d still talk to everyone who came up to me and thank them for the excellent things they said about my—
“Tucker.” Noah tapped his watch.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m with you.” I turned away from the indie rack. I’d have to be famous later.
Noah and his bassoon leaned into the glass door. The afternoon thunderstorm had fizzled out, but a leftover wind swirled in from the stairwell and spit drizzle at us.
I pulled the collar of my jacket up around my ears. Glanced back at Caveman.
“Thanks,” I called back to him. “See you next month.”
“I doubt it.”
I doubt it?What did he mean? I was his most loyal customer. I bought at least one comic book a month. Every single month.
I was as dependable as Noah’s watch.
And I told Caveman so.
“I always come in. The very day the newH2Ohits the stands.” Next month especially. The episode I held in my hand,Episode Nine,contained a secret that would rock the H2O universe.Episode Tenwould be the epic showdown that changed that universe forever.
Caveman licked his finger and turned a page. “Yep.”
That was all he said.
I shot a funny look at Noah, who was still standing in the doorway, the wind whipping specks of rain against his glasses.
“What does he mean?” I said.
Noah rolled his eyes. “Who ever knows what he means? Let’s just go.”
“It’s got to meansomething.”
“Tucker? Hello? It’s already”—Noah bent his elbow into a crisp ninety-degree angle so his watch was at eye level. He clicked through various cities (Tokyo, London, New York) till he finally got to us here in Wheaton—“three nineteen.”
“Three nineteen? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I did. We’re veering dangerously off schedule here. I have bassoon practice. And homework. And a firm bedtime. And if you miss Beecher’s bus, your mom’ll ground you.”
“Ground me? Are you kidding?” I headed out the door. “If I miss Beecher’s bus, she’ll kill me.”
“She’ll kill you first.Thenshe’ll ground you.”