Well, that comment froze me. Mr. Leon had seen my house! I glanced over at Gil, whose eyes were even more focused on Mr. Leon. And I realized why: Gil had an interest in my house, too. I felt the cold air of solitude on my neck. What was going on?
All I could do was repeat what he’d said. “You’ve seen my house?”
“That’s what I just said.” Mr. Leon didn’t seem to think it was all that interesting. His voice was starting to soften with … what? … boredom?
“Why?” asked Gil. “Why were you in Vickie’s house?”
Mr. Leon was busy re-lighting his pipe, his eyes moving back and forth from us to the bowl and the flame. “Oh,” he finally said, “I used to live there.”
The cold air grew colder.
Gil spoke first, his curiosity more powerful, it seems, that my shock. “And when was that?” he asked. I looked at him. I pictured him as a newspaper reporter, sitting there with a little notepad. Well, he had no notepad, but he might as well have. He looked, I realized, just the way my father did when he was interested in a story. I felt my anger rising once again.
“Some years ago,” he said. He paused. “Quite a few, actually.” He puffed again. “Seems like forever ago.” He was looking past us now, focused on the room behind us.
Mr. Leon spoke again. “And then, after the tornado …”
“You were there?” I said. “I didn’t see you.”
“Lots of people don’t see me,” he said. “Even when I’m standing right in front of them. Or even upstairs in the cafeteria,” he said. “I can be standing right beside a table full of kids, and not one of them will even be aware that I am there.”
I was trying to decide if this was creepy. Or just sad.
“But when were you there after the tornado?” I asked.
“Just the once. Just that night.”
“But we weren’t there …” We had spent some nights at a local motel while repairs were being done. Our house, as you may remember, was among the most damaged in the entire storm. As if the funnel cloud had fixed its attention on us.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Leon. “You weren’t there.” More silence while he smoked.
Then Gil said, “What were you doing there? What did you do?”
More silence while he smoked. “Just looking around,” he finally said. “Picking through the rubble.”
“Did you go inside?” asked Gil.
More silence while he smoked. “I did,” he sighed. “Just to see what that storm had done.”
“But there was yellow police tape everywhere!” I cried. “Why did you—”
“I told you,” he said. “I used to live there, too. And I felt … something.”
More silence while he smoked.
“And I went down to the basement,” he said finally, now staring right at me. “And, Victoria … ‘Stone,’” he said, “I think you know perfectly well what I found down there.”