Late again, Jack can't find homeroom. The first janitor had sent him to the physics lab, the second to the Quonset hut where the spirit band practiced. Since when did janitors stop knowing all the whys and whereabouts?

Now, a din of cymbals starting up, Jack pulls the steel door shut and trudges back across the gravel and through A-wing's gray double doors into a darkness relieved only by a faint gleam on the waxed linoleum and the dim outlines of lockers and drinking fountains, yet his footfalls in the hallway echo as they would on any of the past century's worth of November Tuesdays. What assembly has darkened the wing? How to find homeroom amid such murk?

Open doors, that's how, and sure enough, he hits the jackpot first try: twelve-foot ceilings, lemony light dappling the ancient bookshelves, the aquarium, the solar-system mobile, the construction-paper silhouettes covering the west wall, each of them captioned with a stenciled, Gothic-script name, one of them "Jack," which Jack verifies before settling himself behind his desk.

All but one other chair sits empty, but Warren Nordberg hardly counts as “present” on the most unremarkable of days. The flu must have hit last night. Not even Susan Baxter has come, and Susan Baxter misses no chance to excel. Prematurely bristled and balding, Warren squats on his chair, his guide dog Rex leashed to a leg of the desk.

Since the correct date and his trademark “Prepare to Shine!” blare in blue chalk across the top of the blackboard, Mr. Panini must be worshiping the mimeograph machine. Jack won't have to wait to whiff the damp pages of whatever quiz will soon arrive.

The aquarium bubbles, and the gas lamps hiss. Jupiter—on which Jack had labored for a week with Ricky and Jewel, the Red Spot a particular challenge to get right—casts the largest shadow on the broad sill under the windows. H-O-gauge tracks run the perimeter of the room. The Sante Fe Central puffs round and round, whistling each time it passes the papiér-mâché Vesuvius near which Reading Group Three gathers on Thursdays.

Mr. Panini has arranged ten folding chairs along the row of arched windows and a perpendicular ten along the rear wall for stick band practice after lunch. Pairs of green sticks rest on nineteen seats, the gold triangle and its little baton on the seat nearest the front of the room. Jack hungers to play the triangle, especially when the performance reaches "The March of the Wooden Soldiers," but all his feverish hopes have so far come to nothing.

Jack has always liked Warren, mostly because Warren lives in his own world. Muffled by the distance from homeroom to playing field, the spirit band's bass drum booms. Jack glances toward the sound. Rex yawns. Warren lowers his head to the desk. On the bookcase's bottom shelf, the frayed volumes of the Encyclopedia Americana prop one another up. Jack has already finished the first two during various free-reading times, so as soon as he stops soaking up the sensations of homeroom, he'll push back his chair and go get the third.

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