I think I need to bring you up to date, a little (or refresh your memory), about Harriet and me. As I’ve said, we were best friends, a relationship that had begun back before we were even in school. Her family (she was an only child) moved in next door to us, and soon we were practically living in each other’s house—though, to be accurate, she was at our house far more than I was at hers. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but there was lots of tension between her parents, and I felt, always a kind of vague discomfort when I was there. Sometimes I felt Dr. Eastbrook staring at me. His eyes, I thought, looked angry. And I could not figure out why.
He never said anything—or did anything. But I could tell. Something about me worried him—or angered him. Once I said something to Harriet about it, but she looked at me as if I’d just told her that chocolate chip cookies didn’t taste good. (Harriet, remember, loved to eat.) So I dropped it. And it wasn’t too long before her father, Dr. Eastbrook, took off and left his wife and Harriet all alone.
But not for long. My father sort of adopted them, and he and Mrs. Eastbrook became good friends—very good friends after a while. (It took Harriet and me a long time to catch on to this.) They ate at our house a lot—and we ate there, too. We spent holidays together. Mrs. Eastbrook worked at Father’s newspaper for a little while, then moved on to become head librarian when old Mrs. Lodore suddenly died in her desk chair. (Mrs. Lodore, by the way, was the sister of Mrs. Bishop, the part-time librarian I mentioned earlier. They were both ancient, Harriet and I thought.)
Soon, strange things began to happen, things that tested our friendship—and our families’ friendship. Dr. Eastbrook reappeared quite by accident when we were in third grade. While our class was on a spring field trip to Middle Island in the Ohio River, we found that he had been conducting bizarre experiments on dead and living creatures—including our former classmate Blue Boyle. Right on Middle Island. When I saw Blue through the fog that day, he was as large and muscular as a professional football player. But he saved me from Dr. Eastbrook in what may well have been the last decent deed of Blue’s life.
And, more recently, in the summer after sixth grade we found Dr. Eastbrook again, this time conducting his experiments in an abandoned lighthouse on Green Island in Lake Erie. Blue Boyle was there, too—looking even more monstrous. He very nearly killed Harriet and me, and it was only by the greatest good fortune that we escaped—again.
But when we got back to southern Ohio, a tornado greeted us, a twister that did some damage around town but seemed most interested in our house. Again, Harriet and I barely survived it. It took the rest of the summer for workmen to do the repairs, but throughout the fall there were still days when they were in—or on—our house.
As you might expect, these bizarre events affected how the Eastbrooks and the Stones related to one another. Although there were initial flares of romance between our parents, both Harriet and I knew something had happened; something was cooling between them, perhaps caused by the cold breath of fear—or of worry about their children. We were together less.
And as I also wrote in the previous installment of these papers, Harriet had been drifting off on a path much different from mine. I, always interested in books and research, was spending more and more time in our library—or in my basement laboratory (which Harriet had never seen). And she had lots of popular friends she liked to spend time with, as I’ve said, and then, later in the summer after sixth grade, something happened that widened the divide. Cheerleader tryouts.[i]