Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Summer of Owen Todd

Tony Abbott

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)



You’ll hear things about me and Sean Huff. Whispers. Rumors. Lies. Weird talk you won’t understand. I get it. There will be stories and half stories for a while. People are people.

Sean was my friend. My best friend. And sure, he isn’t my friend anymore, but probably not for any reason you might come up with.

Shay, which is what I call him sometimes, and I got along like brothers from the very first. From the day of the Ping-Pong ball, the coffee cup, and the blood.

We were six, March of kindergarten, waiting for our moms in after-school. I didn’t know Sean yet, and I didn’t normally go to after-school, but it was weeks before my sister, Ginny, was born, so probably my mom was at her doctor. Anyway, the room was crowded with short chairs and round tables and buckets of blocks, stacks of coloring books, art easels with giant pads, cardboard building bricks. I’m just sitting there at a low table, drawing on a random pad and eyeing the clock over the head of Mr. Davis, a third-grade teacher, dying for my mom to come, when this kid with short brown hair and skinny arms sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor in front of the teacher’s desk dips his hand in a yellow beach pail next to him and stirs.

I can’t see what’s in the pail, but it clatters softly.

The kid has this sly look on his face, and while he’s stirring he wiggles his eyebrows at me as if to say, “Well…?”

I frown. With my face I say, “Well … what?”

He does the eyebrows again, then pulls his hand from the beach pail, and he’s holding a Ping-Pong ball between his fingers. With a big grin, he tosses it at my head. I swat it away. It dribbles to the floor.

“Enough of that, Sean,” Mr. Davis says, not lifting his nose out of whatever he’s reading at his desk.

But it’s not enough, not for this kid—Sean. He stifles a laugh and pulls a second ball from the beach pail. You have to understand that Mr. Davis can’t really see Sean because he’s on the floor squirreled up in front of the desk.

Well, this time I’m ready. I swing my drawing pencil back and forth like a baseball bat.

He pitches. I swing. It connects.

The ball soars up, over Sean’s head, over the top of the desk, and right into Mr. Davis’s coffee cup.

Coffee spurts, the teacher howls, and Sean bellows, “Hole in one!”

“That’s the end of that, you two!” Mr. Davis shouts.

But it’s still not the end.

Because Sean scrambles over to me on his knees and high-fives me with both hands. Since I’m still holding my pencil, I high-five him back with one hand, which goes between his two and smashes his nose, bloodying it, at the exact moment his mom and my mom walk into the room.

While Sean laughs and his lips and chin drip with blood, the screaming of the moms begins. This goes on for a while. Then, just before his mother takes him home, I beg my mom to have more babies so I can be in after-school more, and the laughing of the moms begins.

Since then, it’s pretty much been a done deal between Shay and me, and a lot of good stuff happened after that, but it wasn’t all fun. Maybe because of the way we met, the blood thing, you can see our lives together as a series of times we got banged up in one way or another.

In second grade, when we were eight, I was fooling around on my bike to cheer him up while his broken arm was healing when I fell off and sprained my ankle. In May near the end of third grade, he was diagnosed with diabetes and I nearly died of wasp stings. We were nine then. For years he’s had a faraway dad. There had been problems at home, and then his father moved away. Nothing like that for me, but for weeks when my grandfather was dying my mom lived with my grandma, and home without Mom was like having half a family.

Shay and I were also both born in February, so we were a couple of the oldest kids in each grade. He’s still kind of skinny and small for our age—I’m taller by three inches.

He was—is—so much smarter than me, it’s sometimes scary.

We did everything together, played whole long days by ourselves and cut across the six blocks between our houses pretty much every afternoon, until we didn’t.

I guess it’s not too much to say Sean still hates me for what I did. I used to cry about that, about the things he said to me, the words he threw at me. I still do. I don’t mind saying I cry. Tears aren’t everything or even anything. But it’s better this way.

At least he’s alive to hate me.

Copyright © 2017 by Tony Abbott