The next morning, we got up fairly early, found a place to eat breakfast, and then Father told us we could go off on our own for a while. “Just,” he said, “make sure you stick together, all right? I don’t want to see just one of you anywhere … agreed?”
“And we’ll meet for lunch right here about 11:45?”
So off we raced to walk up and down the streets of Put-in-Bay, window-shopping, really shopping, relaxing in the sun. Near the waterfront was the small DeRivera Park, where we sat at a bench and relaxed, looking at all the pleasure boats docked, others coming and going. In the distance we could see Middle Bass Island, not even a mile away, and, closer, the tall Perry Monument.[i] But the best part? Enjoying the great pleasure of being with my best friend.
But Harriet, it seems—the Harriet that I had known, anyway—had apparently been undergoing some sort of personality transplant in the last few weeks. Her obsession with the high school boy aboard the Islander had not diminished at all—but it had spread, like a powerful virus, throughout her imagination and now, as we walked along the streets, virtually her entire conversation contained comments about the boys we saw.
And worse. Several times she grabbed my arm and insisted that we follow one—or more—of them to wherever they were going. But I always wrenched free, tried to invite Common Sense into our conversation. But Harriet had broken up with Common Sense. She was now completely under the spell of … Sex.
Let me remind you. We had just finished the sixth grade. We were eleven years old (would not turn twelve until later in the summer). Although Harriet—I’ll confess—was starting to look … older than her age, she was still, at least in my eyes, a girl. A child. I, on the other hand, still looked like the same skinny, dark-haired girl I’d been for several years. No one would look at me and mistake me for a high school student. Possibly, they could with Harriet—but only “possibly.”
But we see the world only through our own eyes—we see ourselves only through those same eyes—and Harriet, that summer day on Put-in-Bay, was obviously seeing herself as, oh, a sophomore or junior in high school. And she was acting as if her eyeballs were somehow able to leap from her head into the eye sockets of every high school and college boy we saw in the streets.
And, of course, just looking and commenting were not enough for Harriet. So a few times she actually went up to a group of them (while I tried to find places to hide) and, very boldly, introduced herself and tried to become a part of the group.
I am relieved to report that no one really took her seriously, though there was one creepy sort of guy who followed us for a little bit, but we ditched him in a souvenir shop and ran laughing out into the street, where we could see him through the window. He was walking around the store, trying to look casual, but also very obviously looking for Harriet.
And so the morning flew.
We met Father for lunch—as per agreement—and then while he went back to his room for a nap, Harriet and I went back into the streets for Round Two of our visiting the shops. The streets after lunch we even more swollen with tourists. Other ferries had arrived, people had come over in their own boats, and there was almost a festival atmosphere in the streets. People enjoying sun and freedom and health and leisure.
And then Harriet did something that changed everything.