Chapter 36

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The boys are about to begin attending their new school in Salinas, the West End School. It is a huge change from the one-room schoolhouse the boys had previously attended. At West End, there is a room for each grade level, with the lower grades housed on the bottom level and the upper grades (sixth through eighth) on the second floor. The play yards are segregated so boys occupy one side and girls use the other. The exterior of the building is yellow and austere. The inside is imposing as well, with pre-Raphaelite imagery dominating the décor. Although Aron and Cal are stunned by the opulence at first, within three days they become used to life and their surroundings at West End.

Cal soon realizes that being the new boys in school means they must quickly and firmly establish a reputation among the student body and their teachers. He devises a plan wherein he and his brother will study very hard during the first week of classes. When the teacher asks a question, they will raise their hands. When called on, they will always know the answer, which will annoy the teacher. During the second week, they will not study at all but still raise their hands. The teacher will not call on them because, he reasons correctly, she will want to call on someone who does not know the answer. During the third week, Cal and Aron will not raise their hands at all. Then the teacher will not know whether they have the answer and will leave them alone. The plan works flawlessly and the boys establish a reputation among their peers for being smart.

It does not take long for the students to note the marked differences between the two twins—in their appearances as well as in their personalities. Cal becomes known among the children and adults as precocious and oddly intimidating. He is respected but not well liked. Cal has no friends. Most think him insensitive and even cruel. Aron, on the other hand, is beloved by all. His fair complexion, angelic good looks, and gentle manner attract both female attention and male testing of his mettle. Although he might have appeared delicate, the boys who challenge him soon discover he is a tenacious fighter. His appearance is the opposite of his nature. Aron is dogged in his determination, single-mined, and insensitive to pain. Even Cal learns when he has pushed his brother too far.

Almost immediately after enrolling in West End, Aron develops a crush on a girl named Abra. He waits eagerly to talk to her through the fence at recess; not even a mob of teasing girls intimidates him. Abra, too, ignores the barbs of the girls. She meets Aron later and the two talk. They talk about marriage. Aron dejectedly thinks about how long they must wait until they can actually wed, but Abra assures him it is not really long at all. The two play house in the woods.

As Abra and Aron continue their game of husband and wife, it is clear that Aron desperately needs the nurturing of a mother figure. At Abra’s request, Aron lays his head in her lap. She inquires about his mother. Aron tells her she died when he and Cal were born. Abra tells Aron she has a secret. She overheard her father talking one night and he said that Aron’s mother might still be alive. She thinks the news will please Aron, but it throws him into a spin. If Abra is right, Aron reasons, his father and Lee must be liars: “Something had to die—either his mother or his world.”

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