The next two years many things stayed the same. I remained close friends with Harriet, although she, more and more, found other friends, too. We were still “best friends,” but it was obvious to everyone who knew us: Harriet was my only friend.
I was not an outsider, a loner. I was friendly with other kids, especially Elena and Jane who’d come to my birthday party. But I had no interest in any other close friendships. They took too much time. And I had too much to do, especially down in my workshop, where I was continuing to build and experiment. To try things. Just to see.
I also still got along wonderfully well with Father, who continued to work at the local newspaper. He left me alone when I needed to be left alone, kept me company when I needed it. He seemed to know.
But there were changes, too. Harriet’s father, Dr. Eastbrook, had pretty much disappeared—not just from Franconia but from our conversations as well. I didn’t ask Harriet about him, mostly because I didn’t need to: I knew she’d tell me whatever she’d learned about him. He apparently had left some money for the family—although he’d run off with a lot, too. But after working awhile at the newspaper, Harriet’s mother found a job full-time at our local library—I guess she had gone to library school before her marriage. And we needed a new librarian after old Mrs. Lodore had been found dead in her office chair in the building one morning. She had an open book in her lap—Lodore, by Mary Shelley.[i] This was a coincidence so weird that Father told me some national newspapers and TV news producers had called him to find out more about it.
There wasn’t a lot to find out. And no one around Franconia seemed to fret much about it. Mrs. Lodore was very old—nearly 90—and had been the librarian forever. Her heart had just stopped, Father told me. Yes, she was old, and her heart had just stopped, as everyone’s eventually does, but it was strange, very strange, that she died almost exactly at the time when Mrs. Eastbrook was looking for a job. And suddenly she found the very job she’d trained to do, in a place—our library—where there had been no job opening for more than sixty years.
Mrs. Eastbrook and Father had also remained very good friends, our families often getting together—at their house or ours—for a holiday, a meal, or just to watch something on TV together. I liked Harriet’s mom, very much.
Another change. Blue Boyle disappeared. He didn’t exactly vanish, but after a few days of first grade, he just wasn’t in school anymore. No one knew where he went. There were rumors that he’d gone to live with his mother somewhere—no one was sure where. We’d still see his father all the time, roaring around town in a big truck. And not long after Blue disappeared, his father got a bigger, newer, louder truck. Maybe he was celebrating not having Blue to deal with.
We didn’t talk about him much, feeling, maybe, that our words would somehow form a pathway that would lead him back to us.
Another thing. An odd one. For some reason, pets around town were running away. Now I know there’s nothing too unusual about a cat that doesn’t show up one morning. A dog that wanders off, maybe gets picked up by someone, maybe gets hurt or injured on the road and crawls off in the woods to die. Everyone knows that kind of thing happens now and then.
But this was a little more than that. It was happening a little too often. It seemed every other week or so some kid in school was crying because the cat didn’t come home. Or the dog ran away. Then—abruptly—it stopped.
But the biggest change over the next couple of years was the change in Aunt Claire. She remained exactly the same around Father—friendly, cooperative, always available when he suddenly needed help, or extra time for a news story he needed to work on some more, a problem at the office. Illness.
But with me, there were subtle differences. I can’t think of a single thing she said in those years—a single thing she did—that showed any hostility or even anger with me. But if a relationship has an atmosphere, ours, to me, had become noticeably more chilly. I was pretty sure I knew why: I’d tried to follow her home that day. And she hadn’t liked it, not at all. Even more than before, I felt she was watching me. Closely. She seemed—I don’t know—ready.
But for what?