The truck didn’t wait another second. Out it backed and away it roared. And Blue Boyle stood there in the driveway staring at us. While we stared at him. I almost laughed out loud. He was wearing a suit—a dress-up suit with white shirt and tie. He looked large and uncomfortable in the clothes which seemed a size or two too small for him.
His hair was slicked back with some kind of mousse. His black dress shoes looked shiny. He held his two hands before him—with a wrapped gift, something no one was supposed to bring. It had said not to, right on the invitation. Just as it had said that he should dress casual. And be there at twelve.
But Blue Boyle had never been good about following directions, not in the time I’d known him. And he was still standing there, silent. And we were all still staring at him, silent.
Aunt Claire to the rescue!
She hurried over to him, jabbering away the way she can do, fussing and fidgeting. She took his gift from him and took his arm and escorted him over to Father. Not one of us had spoken. Aunt Claire said, “Mr. Stone, this is Blue Boyle.”
“Nice to meet you, Blue,” said Father.
Blue Boyle mumbled something. I’m not sure it involved real words.
And then Aunt Claire brought him over to the picnic table, where—remember?—there was no seat but on my side. “Girls,” said Aunt Claire, “here’s your friend Blue.”
Who sat. Grabbed a fistful of chips. And spoke: “When’s the meat ready?”
Blue Boyle did not say another word the entire meal. And what a meal he ate. Hamburgers, hotdogs—everything in sight. He never looked up, except to get more food. And just ate and ate and ate and ate until there was just about nothing left. He shocked me when he picked up the jar of mustard, inserted his plastic spoon, and ate the rest of the contents. It seemed to me that he had eaten so much that he actually grown during the meal.
Blue Boyle wasn’t the only one who didn’t talk. Just about all of the conversation, the little that there was, was between Father and Aunt Claire. Occasionally, one of them would try to coax some words out of one of us with some kind of question—like “How’s the corn?” Or “Those burgers turned out pretty well, didn’t they?” Or “Save some room for dessert.”
But the most that ever came back was a wordless mumble—or the fewest words possible. And the sounds of Blue Boyle’s teeth tearing meat and grinding corn. It was like trying to eat at a table with a tiger.
It was all over pretty quickly, I guess, though it seemed that the meal took the entire afternoon. I was shocked, carrying things inside, when I saw the kitchen clock. It was only 12:45. Everyone has been here less than an hour!
Father asked us all to go into the living room for the surprises. Maybe this will go quickly too, I thought. Hoped. Father came in the room last, and he was holding some kind of file folder.
We all gathered there and spread out as best we could. I could see Elena and Jane looking at the shelves, and I was betting they there thinking the same thing I was: Would it be too impolite to just grab a book and ignore everything else?
And Father said, “And now, Vickie, you’re probably wondering why I wanted there to be just six children here today …”
Actually, I was not wondering that. It was obvious. I was six years old.
But Father didn’t wait for me to reply. “Because you’re six!” he cried. The other children clapped—well, all but Blue Boyle who sat there in his chair like an unhappy stump. “But that’s not all,” Father continued. “Did you notice what time the party started?”
“Twelve,” said Harriet.
“Yes!” chirped Father again. “And twelve is …?”
“Two sixes,” I said, trying to sound at least a little enthusiastic so I wouldn’t embarrass or disappoint him. He had obviously thought a lot about this. “And now,” he said, “we have some more surprises about the Number 6.” He opened the folder he’d brought and removed some printed sheets of paper. He and Aunt Claire passed them out to all the other kids—not me.
“This is kind of a quiz,” Father said. “Each of the children will read a question for you. You go first.” He was looking at Elena.
She looked at her paper and read aloud: “What is the sixth planet from the sun?”
“Saturn,” I said quickly. “Why, that’s right, Vickie,” said Father. Everyone looked at me with surprise. Even something like wonder briefly visited the dim eyes of Blue Boyle.
But Father had sounded a little disappointed. So I decided I would play dumb for the rest of the quiz. Sometimes it’s good to know things, sometimes not. And this was definitely a not.
“Let’s try another.” Now it was Jane’s turn.
“According to the Bible,” she said, “what happened on the sixth day of creation?”
“Umm,” I said, trying to convince everyone I didn’t know. “God created the stars and planets?”
“No!” cried Jane. And she read from her sheet: “God created all the animals. Then He created man and woman.”
And, oddly, I was thinking: And how many centuries would go by before someone else—Victor Frankenstein—made a man, too?
Meanwhile, everyone was clapping at my mistake.
Matilda was next: “Who was the sixth president of the United States?”
Matilda just looked sad. “No,” she sighed. “It was John Qu—”—she wasn’t sure how to pronounce this name.
“John Quincy Adams,” I said quietly. “The son of John Adams, the second president.”
They were all looking at me. And again I immediately regretted showing that I knew too much.
Next was Harriet’s turn. “What was the sixth state to join the union?”
“No! Massachusetts!” More clapping. They were once again loving it, me being dumb.
Father looked at Blue Boyle, who was staring at his sheet. He looked up and read in a voice that sounded as if it belonged to someone much older. “What is the sixth of the Ten Commandments?”
“That shalt not steal?”
“Thou shalt not kill,” said Blue Boyle. His tiger smile split his face.