D’s Table Part 46

Wendell sat in his room in silence, and he listened: to the sound of his parents at the dinner table eating; to the sound of the phone ringing and his father answering it; to the voice of his father telling Hannah, on the other end of the line, that Wendell wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone; to the sound of his father sitting in is chair and reading, with pipe in mouth, while his mother listened to the radio; to the sound of his parents preparing themselves for bed, changing into their pajamas and then settling into their bed. All of this he heard, as the sun sank and his room darkened. He remained the whole time sitting on the floor in still passiveness. He did nothing, didn’t even bother to turn on the light in his bedroom when it grew too dark to see—just sat and thought.

His thoughts were scattered, one thought randomly hopping to another. But one theme kept recurring. He kept on thinking of Dee and of his mysterious school. Was it worth it to leave all of this behind? And how would the tiny sliver of world that he was part of be without him? As to the latter question, he supposed, it would go on. It was arrogant for him to think that he was the center of it. His parents would accustom themselves to a life without him; Rob would make new friends in Dallas; his teachers would forget him; Hannah would find a new boyfriend, perhaps even already had. Just as the ocean rushes in to fill to spot when a cupful of it is removed; so would the greater world accommodate itself to his loss. As to the former question, that was more difficult. He needed them more than they needed him, but if there was something out there, some new sliver of world that Dee was able to open up for Wendell, then it could be worth it.

This was the sum of his thoughts. Had they not been clouded by emotion, he perhaps would’ve come to different conclusion; he perhaps would have chased uncertainty and indecisiveness indefinitely. But his depression had a way of clarifying his thoughts. He saw, or at least thought that he saw, the whole, vast universe and his place in it with unusual lucidity. If there was a place for him, some divot in the ocean that he could fill, he should find it, and Dee seemed the one to supply it.

He decided, after his parents had gone to bed and the moon had risen, that he would leave forever.

He looked out the window of his room, and he saw that Dee’s car was already waiting. He thought about packing, but he realized that there was nothing he wanted and nothing, so far as he knew, that he needed. He took off the fake glasses he’d been wearing and left them in his room beside his bed.

He climbed out of his window and walked towards the car. It was somewhat cold, and he though about fetching a jacket, but didn’t. As he approached the car, the door opened, and Dee, who was seated in the car, backed away to make room for him.

Wendell went up to the door, but he stopped short of stepping inside.

“Should I bring anything?” Wendell asked Dee, who hid in the shadows.

“You do not need to bring anything,” Dee said, “You will want for nothing. Should you wish, you may take some keepsake or memento, but I would recommend against it. You will find it is easier, if you do not.”

Wendell turned back and looked at his house. It was so ordinary. There were several others just like it in the neighborhood. Nothing special or unique about it. Just a place to lay down his head at night and hold his stuff. He assured himself that he wouldn’t miss it. And his parents… It wasn’t as easy to persuade himself that he wouldn’t miss them, but he would endeavor to. He would learn to. Everything dispensable. Everything but on a way point between dust and dust. Everything behind him. Only the future.

“You’re right,” Wendell said to Dee. He climbed up into the seat of the car and closed the door behind him. The driver who sat in the front then started the car down the street, and Wendell watched his home disappear into the distance.

D’s Table Part 45

Wendell didn’t stop running when he reached the front doors of the school. He burst through the double doors and leapt down the stairs onto the school’s front lawn. He left behind the school grounds, running down the sidewalk until he was certain that no one was following him. He then slowed down to a walk and regained his breath.

The sidewalk he was walking on was next to a major thoroughfare, and cars were zipping by on the streets near him. He wanted to get away from them. He turned onto a smaller side street and wandered through the quiet avenues of that neighborhood. But even this place was not quite desolate enough. He would still occasionally pass the stray pedestrian or car, and each one of them felt like an intrusion upon his inviolable space—even if they didn’t approach near him, even to just see them in the distance.

He went directly home, but instead of stepping inside, he climbed onto the roof. He sat down with his back to the chimney, so that he couldn’t be seen from the street. He just wanted to be alone, to be away from everyone, to be in his own private, impenetrable place and there to sink into his thoughts and will the whole world away.

After a long period of quiet thought, after his body was unwound and his emotions were back to where they belonged, he stood up and climbed down from the roof.

He went to the front door of his house and opened it.

His mother was on top of him in a moment. “Where have you been? Why aren’t you at school?” she asked in a panic. Her anger was aggravated by worry and concern, but Wendell only heard the anger. “I got a call from school saying you’re truant. You skipped your last two classes. I didn’t know where you were. They expected I’d have an excuse for you, that you were ill or at the doctor. I thought the worst. Why weren’t you at school? Tell me.”

“I just didn’t feel like it,” Wendell said, the sour emotions he’d ridded himself of now welling up again.

“That’s not an excuse Wendell,” she shouted in a shrill voice, but Wendell ignored her and went to his bedroom, closing the door behind him. Ruth pounded on the door, shouting, “Wendell, I’m not done talking to you.” But she gave up quickly and walked away. Punishment would be saved for later.

Inside the room, Wendell sat on the floor, his arms wrapped around his legs, and his head resting on his knees. It all made him feel just so tired of everything. Nothing was important; nothing mattered. Everything he did would be reduced to memory, and everything he remembered would be reduced to forgetfulness.

When Frank returned home, he refused to allow Wendell to remain hiding in his room. He burst into the room, demanding from Wendell, “Why did you leave school today?”

Wendell’s father, unlike his mother, was genuinely terrifying when angry. His tone was still quiet, but the menace seethed. “I just needed to get away,” Wendell said meekly.

“Needed to get away?” his father asked, “That is not acceptable. You have responsibilities: you stay in school; you go to classes; you do your work. You don’t just go away. And where did you go away to? Your mother didn’t see you for over an hour after you were reported truant.”

“I just went walking,” Wendell said.

“We discussed this,” Frank said, his volume growing somewhat louder, “You are to come home directly after school. You go nowhere alone. If you can’t handle it, then you’ll just stay home all day and do your schooling from here. I don’t care if you’ll miss seeing your friends or your girlfriend. I just don’t care. We’ll discuss it with the school tomorrow. Until then you are grounded. No dinner tonight, no television. You stay in here until your ready to sleep, and you won’t see us until the morning. Are we understood?”

“Well, I don’t care,” Wendell said bitterly, “I don’t care about any of it. You can’t do anything to punish me because I don’t care about anything.”

“Think on what you’ve done,” Frank said. Then he closed the door to the room and stomped away.

D’s Table Part 44

Wendell went over to Rob’s house on the weekend and helped him pack as the day of the move approached. Rob’s house was very similar to Wendell’s. The houses in the neighborhood had been created from only a handful of designs, all very similar one-story homes. The house was filled with boxes, and much of the furniture had already been wrapped in large pieces of cloth.

In Rob’s room, the two of them had already filled several boxes. Wendell was unloading the books on Rob’s bookshelf into a box, while Rob was unloading his closet.

“So have you french kissed her by now?” Rob asked Wendell while they worked.

“No,” Wendell said, “Just the regular type.”

“Come on, Wend,” Rob said, “You got to push for things like that. Girls like it. Have you touched her boobs?”

“A little bit,” Wendell said, “I tried it once, over her dress. I don’t know if she liked it. What do girls do when they like something?”

“You think I’m some expert on this?” Rob said, “Your one girlfriend is one more than I’ve had. But as I said, girls do generally like things like that. Go for it. So, I take it no real heavy petting or climbing into the back seat or anything like that?”

“Backseat of what? I can’t drive,” Wendell said.a

“I know. I just meant, metaphorically speaking. Things like climbing in the back seat. Are things going well, though?”

“I don’t know,” Wendell said, “I sense that I’m not the man for her. She’s got so many friends, and she’s always doing things after school, and I’m just not. When I’m around her friends, I’m awkward, and I don’t want to join all the clubs she does.”

“Well, you got to make yourself that type of man,” Rob said, “A girl like this is special. She’s like one in a million. Every guy at school wants her, and she’s with you. That makes you better than all of them. That makes you the amazingest guy in school. When you and I write after I leave, I fully expect you to tell me how much Hannah is in love you with, and how she can’t get enough of you.”

“I guess,” Wendell said, “I don’t really want to be the amazingest guy in school, but I can try. I’ll talk to her

The next day, he walked despondently through the halls of Hawthorne High. He was affected by Rob’s moving, but he had resolved to join Glee club with Hannah, and the though had buoyed him up. He was looking for her to tell her the good news.

He saw her down the hall, and a small smile crossed his face. She looked beautiful in a pink sweater with a long, blue dress that ended just above the top of her white shoes.

However, she was talking to Donnie. He was a tall boy, and he looked down on her, his huge body eclipsing and leaning into her as he spoke. She smiled a little and laughed. Then Donnie pulled up the sleeve of his jacket and exposed a part of his arm where he’d carved into his flesh a proclamation of his love for her, in the form of the letters “DS [heart] HB.” Hannah was silent and speechless. After seeing her reaction, Donnie in one sweeping gesture, grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in towards him. He then planted a full kiss on her lips.

Wendell wasn’t good at reading body language. Was she giving in, even encouraging him, or only effetely resisting him? When he released her, she stumbled backwards breathlessly, blush on her cheeks. Only then did she turn and see Wendell. He was far into the distance, and she could only barely see him. She didn’t know how exceptional Wendell’s sight was, but the likelihood that he had overseen this exchange was the first thing she thought.

Hannah ran towards Wendell. Donnie at first tried to stop her, but he soon gave up. She was sprinting towards Wendell, zipping through the halls like an athlete. But Wendell only turned around and fled, and with the huge head start he had, she couldn’t catch him.

D’s Table Part 43

“That stinks,” Wendell said, “I don’t have any other friends but you.”

“I’m sorry,” Rob said, “If it were up to me, I’d stay here until I graduate and beyond. But, you know how it is. My parents don’t give me any part in the decision. They don’t even tell me about it until after the decision’s been made. But you’ll be fine. You’ve got a girlfriend now. Hannah will take better care of you than I can. By the way, I like the look of that shiner. It makes you look tough. People are going to be thinking you’re someone they shouldn’t be clashing with.”

“I’d prefer they weren’t thinking of me at all,” Wendell said.

Wendell then told Rob about his meeting with Dee. Before doing so, he emphasized in the strongest terms that Rob couldn’t possibly tell anyone about it, and Rob assented.

When Wendell finished his account, Rob asked, “You’re not going to do it, are you? I mean, that would be crazy. Do you really think it could possibly be worth it?”

“I just don’t know,” Wendell said, “Maybe to you it seems like an easy decision, but to me it’s hard.”

“You’d be willing to leave everything behind for some vague promises about power and knowledge?” Rob asked incredulously.

“Maybe,” Wendell said, and Rob shook his head.

When Wendell had a chance to speak with Hannah later in the day, he told her nothing about his encounter with Dee. Since he had told her nothing about his eyesight or about his previous dialogue with Dee, this was to be expected. He wasn’t comfortable sharing with her on that level. He still looked on her as something like an attractive acquaintance that he occasionally shared kisses with.

She was more open, sharing the full contents of her every day and her thoughts and feelings about them. That afternoon, while they sat on a bench in the cafeteria, she talked about all the classes she’d had, about some of the more memorable interactions with classmates and teachers, and about her after-school activities. She saved until the end the most important detail of her day, adding, as if it were merely an afterthought, “And I spoke with Donnie today. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about him anymore. Unless you tattle on him to the principal. That’d make him furious. He has a short temper, in case you hadn’t noticed. And he’s territorial. Him and his friends are like a wolf pack, and apparently at some point he got the notion that I liked him, which made me part of his territory. Boy like that, you can’t just tell him outright that he’s wrong. I had to carefully tell him that it’s my choice who I’m with, and right now I’m with you, and that he can’t just plant his flagpole and claim me. He has to win me over. Like you did. But you don’t have to be jealous; I’m not interested. I just thought it sensible to give him hope. He’s persistent, though. He’s already trying to flirt with me. But you’re not really the type of guy who tends to get jealous, are you?”

She expected a definite response, but Wendell merely said, “I don’t know. I haven’t had a girlfriend before. I guess I’ll find out.”

“So what about your day?” she asked, ceding the podium to him in the hope that he might too give as thorough synopsis of his day as she had.

Instead, he simply gave short, usually one- or two-word descriptions of the classes he’d had. He too finished with his most important news, that Rob’s family was moving away in a few weeks.

Hannah didn’t like the brevity of his answers (she never did). Nonetheless, she looked on Wendell as a puppy being trained, and here they were seeing progress. Wendell, at the beginning, had been almost entirely like a brick wall, and now he was starting to open up. “He admitted that his friend was leaving. There was emotion there,” she was thinking.

“Are you sad that he’s leaving?” she asked.

Wendell, of course, was genuinely sad, but he answered in a slightly indirect way, “I think I’m going to definitely miss him. He’s a good friend.”

“That’s too bad,” she said, relishing in the opportunity to comfort him, “You’ll have me to support you. Don’t forget that. I’m here for you, just like you are for me.”

Hannah had told him many times about the effect he had on her: he “quieted the demons,” as she said. Wendell was the only one that knew, despite the facade that she put on, that she was still suffering from the break-in he’d saved her from. And any time there was that welling up of anxiety within her, she could be assured that to see Wendell, to be near him, even just to hear his voice or to think about him would calm her.

He certainly didn’t need her in that way, but he thanked her earnestly. “Connection would come in time,” he though, “Like Rob. Perhaps.”

D’s Table Part 42

“You want me to run away and completely abandon my family?” Wendell asked.

“No, that is not what I want,” Dee said, “I want you to join us and share our goals and pursue those ends together with us. It is simply that in order for you to do that you must abandon your family. If there were another way, then that would be what I would prefer.”

“But why must I do that?” Wendell asked.

“You will learn secrets,” Dee said, “Secrets that must be protected. Secrets that will endow with powers you were never realized possible. They mandate that you segregate yourself from normal society. That’s all I can say.”

Wendell turned away from the man and looked out into the night. He wasn’t as repulsed by the idea as he thought he should have been. He reassured himself immediately that he was grateful for his parents and was thankful for all they had done for him. However, when he thought about the possibility of him never seeing them again, his only consideration was how they would take it. So far as he could tell, his father had been dramatically affected by the loss of his sister, and the possibility of repeating that pain would be a dreadful burden to place upon them. But aside from that, what else could be said in objection to abandoning them?

“I know that you don’t always feel close to the members of your family,” Dee continued, “The people that we recruit—people like you and I—tend to be outsiders. We tend not to fit in society. It does not have a real place for us. You will find, though, if you join us, that you do have a place among us. People who can see like you, people who know what secrets hide in plain sight around them. You will be happy among us. ”

“Happy with what?” Wendell asked, “I still don’t understand what you’re trying to recruit me for.”

“It’s a school, actually,” Dee said, “An alternate course of education. It surpasses the drudgery of the public institution that you have been forced to attend. It is an institution that will teach you knowledge and power beyond what you could possibly attain elsewhere. This is its attraction. This is its selling point. This is what makes it worth the sacrifices that you will inevitably have to make. When you finish you will be a member of an elite circle of individuals. You will be able to do things you cannot now imagine. And be assured that many have sat before where you sat. Some turned, but those that didn’t have joined us haven’t regretted it and haven’t turned back.”

“What types of things?” Wendell said, “What will I learn? You keep on avoiding telling me much of anything about what I’m agreeing to.”

“That I cannot tell you,” Dee repeated. Wendell sighed with frustration.

“Do I have to decide now?” Wendell asked.

“No,” Dee said, “There is no enrollment deadline. We will take you whenever you decide. Though I must warn you that the decision does not become any easier the longer you wait. You will find that life is often easier if you make decisions (even if they are not optimal) and commit to them, than if you agonize over them.”

At these words, perhaps sensing that Wendell had no further questions for the present (at least none that Dee could answer), Dee stood up and walked to the car.

“And you will be sure and not tell anyone about our conversation,” Dee said before he stepped into the car.

Once Dee stepped inside the back seat and closed the door, the car drove away.

After regaining his solitude, Wendell savored the night for a few minutes longer, before he as well stood up and walked back to his house. When he tried to sleep, he couldn’t. His mind was too alive with thought.

The possibility that anything that the man had said was untrue was dismissed. Wendell knew that the man was not lying. This raised the question of how his aunt could’ve possibly chosen such a path—what could be worth giving up everything. That, however, Wendell understood. If the man’s promises were in earnest, it was worth it.

The next day, when he sat beside Rob on the bus on the way to school, he learned some terrible news.

“My family’s moving to Texas,” Rob said despondently after Wendell sat beside him. “My father’s being transferred to Dallas,” Rob explained, “It’s some big opportunity for him. A promotion, I guess. My mom’s ecstatic: bigger house, nicer stuff and all that. I don’t like it, though. It’s hot in Dallas, and I got to go and leave behind all of this and we’ve got only like three or four weeks to get ready. I’m being honest: I’m going to miss you.”

D’s Table Part 41

That night, despite Rob’s comforting words, Wendell still had trouble sleeping, and the sight of the floating shapes weighed on his mind. At a very late hour, long after his parents were asleep, he quietly opened the window to his bedroom and slipped out into the night.

It was a cool autumn evening when he stepped outside, and he zipped his jacket and braced himself against the cold. The night air was quiet and still, and he looked up towards the faint stars above him.

“Where should I go?” he thought. He was surrounded by houses on all sides, and the nearest anything was several blocks away. No store would be open. There were maybe some cafes open up late, but he didn’t know about that.

Without any decision being made, Wendell walked. He liked taking solitary walks. He’d never done so at night, but he found that the silent emptiness appealed to him.

Within a few minutes of walking, a black cadillac drove up beside him. The car slowed down so that it was driving at the same rate as Wendell was walking. A man in the back seat unrolled a window. Wendell ignored the car and started walking faster, but the car simply adjusted its speed to remain beside him. The man in the car, lit up a lighter in front of his face, using it to ignite a cigarette he held in his mouth. It illuminated his face, and Wendell glanced in his direction. It was the same man that he’d seen at the malt shop.

“Do you need a ride, Wendell?” the man asked.

Wendell stopped and looked at the man. When he’d imagined meeting the man, he’d assumed it would be in a public place in full light of day. He wasn’t comfortable with sitting alone in a dark car with this man.

“I sense that you are wary,” the man said, “You’re wise to be so. You don’t know me. I could have sinister intentions. How about we go speak down at the park at the end of the street? I’ll meet you there. You did want to talk to me, didn’t you?”

There was a small park there, a large patch of grass with a few trees and some benches. Wendell didn’t say anything, but he aimed himself towards the park. The man seemed to understand that Wendell had consented, and the car drove up to the park and stopped. The man stepped out of his car and sat himself at one of the benches.

When Wendell reached the bench he sat down beside him. The man introduced himself, reaching out his hand to shake. “My name is Dee,” the man said.

“D, like the letter?” Wendell asked.

“No, Dee like the surname,” Dee said, “You could call me Mr. Dee, but I prefer simply Dee.”

“So, my aunt’s still alive?” Wendell asked.

“Your aunt is still alive,” Dee said, “She is happy. She is healthy. And she wants you to know that, even though she abandoned your father and your grandparents, that she still loves them.”

“Why did she leave?” Wendell asked.

“That I cannot tell you,” Dee said with a frown, “But I will tell you right off that I want to be honest and forthright with you.” Dee paused for emphasis, continuing, “The reason I want to talk to you is because I want to ask you to do what your aunt did. If you do, you will receive the answers to all you questions.”

D’s Table Part 40

That night, as Wendell was preparing to sleep, he saw another shape, like the one he’d seen earlier at school floating through his room. It moved with what seemed like purpose, squeezing and expanding its body for the purpose of locomotion. It crossed the room and passed directly through the wall, never returning. Nonetheless, just the thought that might return, made Wendell nervous and prevented him from sleeping.

He saw more the next day, some floating through the house, many more outside, some of them at school. They seemed to be everywhere, bubbles of floating mist that no one but him could see.

Wendell and Rob took their lunch that next day by themselves, sitting by a tree in the back of the school, out of earshot of any other students.

“Is there some reason you wanted us to eat out here all alone, Wend?” Rob asked, taking a bite of his sandwich.

“Rob, I can’t take this,” Wendell said, “My sight, I can’t take it.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” Rob asked, the worried, distressed appearance of Wendell making him concerned.

“My sight has gotten better, and now I’m seeing things that aren’t there,” Wendell said.

“Like what?”

“I can’t really describe them,” Wendell said, “They’re like ghosts. I mean like I imagine ghosts look like. They’re shapes that move around and change shapes and float through the air. Not like shapes of anything I know. More like blobs. Like a puddle, but changing all the time.”

“Where do you see them?”

“Everywhere!” Wendell said, “I can see a few now around us. There’s one floating over your head right now.” Wendell’s eyes followed the shape and Rob looked up in an attempt to see it, but saw nothing. “I’m scared. What are they?” Wendell asked, “Am I seeing things?”

“Calm down. Calm down. We’ll work through this,” Rob said, now speaking in a soothing voice. Wendell took a deep breath and tried to relax. “Can you interact with them?” Rob asked, “Can you, say, move them with your hand or blow them. Do they change shapes when you touch them?”

Wendell was at first hesitant, worried what would happen if he touched these things. Rob encouraged him, and he reached out for the shape nearest to him. He expected to feel something, like moisture or coolness, but he felt nothing. He tried to alter the thing’s shape and direction, with no result. “No,” Wendell said.

“Okay. Okay,” Rob said, thinking, until an idea came to him, “Maybe they’re in your eye. Maybe they’re tiny little creatures floating around in your vitreous humour. Perhaps your sight has gotten so good that you can see such tiny things.”

“Is that healthy?” Wendell asked, “Should I go to a doctor?” But before Rob had a chance to respond, Wendell shook his head and said, “No that doesn’t work because they don’t move with my eyes. I turn my head, and that one there, it stays where it’s at.” Wendell pointed above him while he turned his head.

“Okay, this is good,” Rob said, “We’re narrowing down the possibilities. So, how would we rule out the possibility that they’re hallucinations?” He thought for a moment, then started to ask a series of questions, “Have you ever dreamt about them? Do you see them when you close your eyes? Is there anything else you see that might be a hallucination?” To each of these questions, Wendell shook his head. “Well, then there not hallucinations,” Rob declared, “Very unlikely. And if they’re not some defect in your eye, that must mean they’re real. Things that for some reason your eyes can detect and ours can’t. So, I don’t think you should worry about them.”

“If they’re real, why should that make me any less worried?” Wendell asked, “I can’t believe you’re trying to comfort by telling me that I’m surrounded by these strange things everywhere.”

“Look,” Rob said, “We can presume that the only reason you’re seeing them is because of your improved eyesight. In other words, they’ve always been around you. They’re probably around all of us. And if they haven’t done anyone any harm before now, then why should they start doing so because you can see them? Now, I’d like to learn what we can about these things. You know? Be scientific.

“You’re right,” Wendell said with a smile and a little bit of a laugh, “I’m sorry.”

Rob brushed off the apology, and then urged Wendell to try to interact with the things in several different ways, using different objects and different techniques. Nothing worked, and Rob ultimately had to conclude, “We’ll have to look into this more later.”

D’s Table Part 39

The next day, Wendell was confronted by Donnie in the halls of Hawthorne High. It was right after lunch, and Rob and Wendell were walking to class. Donnie approached Wendell from behind and pushed him. The push was so hard that Wendell fell forward onto the ground. The books that he had been carrying were sprawled across the floor. Wendell’s first reaction was actually to ignore Donnie, as he crawled forward and collected his books.

“Hey weasel,” Donnie said to Wendell, who still hadn’t turned or stood up, “Stand and face me.”

Wendell stood and looked at Donnie, who stood in a relaxed and casual way, a posture of coolness, with his chest puffed out and a surly expression on his face. He moved his hands through his hair to smooth it out, saying, “What you doing, Clyde?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Wendell said.

He picked up the last of his books and turned his back to Donnie. Donnie ran at Wendell and again pushed him down.

“This is about my girl,” Donnie said, now shouting. A collected crowd was gathered around them. “What you doing with her? Hannah’s my girl!”

“She is not,” Wendell said. There was no defiance in his voice, just a tone of exasperation.

“Did you just say that to me?” Donnie said, pointing to himself as he spoke. “Put up your fists, weasel,” Donnie said, as he raised his fists in front of his face in a practiced boxing pose.

Wendell handed his books to Rob, who backed away. Wendell raised his fists too. Donnie took this as an opening bell, and he lunged forward. He landed a hook on Wendell’s cheek just below the eye. Donnie rubbed his fist and shook it with pain, as if he were used to delivering such blows beneath the padding of a boxing glove.

Wendell, on the other hand, fell back a few steps. He was still standing and able to fight, but he didn’t want to go on. He walked away into the crowd and left the whole fight behind. The crowd immediately dispersed when a teacher appeared, demanding to know what was going on. Donnie shirked away without being confronted.

Wendell walked into the nearest bathroom, stepping inside the first stall and sitting down. Once he’d closed the door, he buried his face in his hands and started to silently cry. He sat there for many long minutes, tears pouring freely from his eyes, long enough that he was quite late for his next class. The teacher didn’t reprimand Wendell, but instead, seeing his red eyes and the beginnings of a black eye, sent him to he school nurse.

Hannah had a few minutes to talk to Wendell after the incident, and he told her exactly what had happened.

Hannah told him, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of Donnie.”

Wendell tried to object, but she wasn’t the type of person who could be persuaded otherwise when she’d decided on something. She asked if they could see each other over the weekend, and Wendell agreed. Secretly, out of view, she kissed his cheek where it’d been punched and left.

As Wendell sat in the hall alone after she left he noticed, for the first time, an object floating in the distance: something vague and transparent that floated through the air. He thought it was a balloon at first, but it was too amorphous—changing its shape like a globule of oil in water—and no one else seemed to see it, though it floated right over several peoples’ heads. He couldn’t explain it or understand it. Was it a ghost? He bent over and buried his face in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut. When he raised his head to look again, it was still there. Apprehensively, he walked away, putting the shape behind him. It seemed to pay him no mind, drifting along aimlessly, like a cloud on the wind. Once it was far out of sight, he was able to relax and return to the normal business of school.

When Wendell arrived home that afternoon, his mother saw the beginnings of his black eye and was shocked and horrified.

“What happened to you?” she asked with surprise.

“I got punched,” Wendell said.

“Punched? By whom?” she asked.

“Some greaser at school,” Wendell said.

“You should tell the principal. He can’t get away with doing that to my boy,” Ruth said.

“No, that’ll just make it worse,” Wendell said, “No one likes a tattletale. I can avoid him,I think. ”

“I’ve never really liked that school,” Ruth said, “Too many unruly kids there. That principal’s too lenient. Boys like this greaser of yours should be expelled.”

When Frank arrived from work later on and he saw the black eye, his first comment was, “Maybe we should pull you from school for a while. You can afford to miss a semester or two. Maybe we could get your class materials delivered here and you could send your homework in, or something like that.”

“No!” Wendell loudly objected.

“Well, if your classmates are beating you up, I can’t imagine why you’d want to go.”

“I have friends,” Wendell said.

“I only suggest it with your best interests in mind,” Frank said.

D’s Table Part 38

When Wendell returned home, his mother was there to greet him at the door.

“Why didn’t you take the bus home?” she asked him.

“I went somewhere after school,” Wendell said.

“Where?” she asked, now curious.

“To the malt shop,” he said.

“Alone, or with someone?”

“With someone.”

“Who?” she asked, growing impatient that she had to push to extract every little piece of information out of him.

“With Hannah.”

“The young lady that visited you yesterday?” she asked, gratified that her questioning had ultimately paid off. When Wendell nodded, she said gleefully, “I liked her. So pretty. And her mother was so charming. I would love it if you saw more of her. I like hearing about my little boy growing up, discovering girls and taking them out to malt shops. Courting was a bit different back in my day, but I know how things go. So, when can we start sending out the wedding invitations?” She laughed riotously at her own joke, even though Wendell looked at her peculiarly, like someone alien to the ways of middle teenagers.

When Frank arrived home later, he was not nearly so sanguine. “I don’t like you going out after school,” he said, “I should’ve told you before. As soon as that newspaper article came out. From now on, you go straight to school, you come straight home.”

“But dad,” Wendell objected pathetically.

“This is not punishment. This is protection. This is to protect you. This won’t go on forever. Just maybe a few months,” he said.

Wendell still tried to object, and Frank said, “You can bring people over here. You’re not grounded or anything. The purpose is for your protection.” Frank sensed that what he was doing might seem unjust, might seem as if Wendell were being punished in the absence of having done anything wrong.

To soften the blow, Frank presented Wendell with another wrapped present. This one, Wendell was considerably more excited about, and he tore through the wrapping paper. He found a wooden box inside, and when he opened it up, a shiny, red telescope gleamed from within.

Wendell picked up the heavy object and weighed it in his hands.

“You can bring Rob over and the two of you can play with it together,” Frank said, “I’ll help you set it up.”

The thought of telling his father about his encounter with the strange man at the malt shop crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. He couldn’t think of a reason not to tell his father beyond that he was curious to see the man again and felt that telling his father might threaten his opportunity. In truth, all his father’s recommendations since his eyesight started improving appeared now almost preternatural in how prophetic they were. It’s was uncomfortable for Wendell to discover that his father, even when he seemed to be acting irrational and unjust, actually knew exactly what he was doing. Nonetheless, Wendell was still curious, and wasn’t entirely convinced that he wanted what his father wanted.

He took the telescope to his room, unfolded the tripod and set up the telescope. He looked out his window through the telescope’s eyepiece. The telescope, just as it did with a person of normal visual acuity, enhanced his sight, and he could see the distance with profound clarity.

He invited Rob over the next day to show off his new telescope. Rob was even more excited about the new toy than Wendell was. Their sight from the window was limited, since other houses blocked their sight.

Rob and Wendell talked while Rob looked through the telescope. Rob congratulated Wendell on his date with Hannah, “Who’d have thought that a girl like her would not only be good looking but also have good taste. Did you wow her with your erudite conversation?”

“I was a bit shy,” Wendell admitted.

“What do you need to be shy about? If you have a girl pursuing you, you’re made in the shade, nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, well,” Wendell said, despairing of the possibility of being able to explain to Rob what it was like. He changed topics, saying, “However, the crazy thing about it was what happened afterwards. You know how you said that you thought my aunt had been spirited away by the government to work as a spy? I don’t know if you were serious, but when I was at the malt shop, alone, a man approached me and said that he knew my aunt and that he’d seen her recently.”

Rob stopped what he was doing and stared at Wendell agape. “You’re not kidding,” he said to Wendell after a long bout of silence. “You understand that when I proposed that your aunt was a spy,” Rob added, “I wasn’t being entirely serious? I’m never quite sure whether people get when I’m joking or not. It’s one of the perils of being a funny man. Are you sure wasn’t just some creepy stranger trying to play some perverse prank on you?”

“I have no idea,” Wendell said, “But he knew enough about me to know that my aunt went missing. Mind you, this is an event that occurred decades ago, when my dad was a child and my dad and her lived in another part of the state. It’s not like this is a well-known fact. She disappeared quietly without any newspaper noticing.”

“You’ve got to see this man again,” Rob said, “I don’t care what he’s up to. You’ve got to find out.”

“I agree,” Wendell said, “But you know the rules. I’m supposed to come home directly after school.”

“Then sneak out,” Rob said, impatient that he had to the one to point out the obvious, “You snuck out onto the roof at night. You’re parents haven’t locked you up.”

“But how will I find him?” Wendell asked.

“My friend, you don’t find people like this, they find you.”

That night, Wendell was awoken from a deep sleep by his mom rousing him in his bed. It was dark and the clock beside his bed displayed the hour as 11:40. His mother was wearing a bathrobe over her nightgown and said, sleepily, “You have a phone call.”

He went to his parent’s bedroom and saw the receiver sitting off the hook while his father was grumpily turned away from him, trying to get back to sleep. He picked up the receiver and said, “Hello?”

Hannah was on the other end, and she said, “Wendell? It’s so good to hear your voice. I’m in room, and it’s just so dark in here. I was in my bed, and I thought I saw this shadow in front of my door, and I just couldn’t sleep. Can you just say something to me, while I climb into bed. I just need something to comfort me.”

“What do you want me to say?” Wendell asked uncertainly.

“Tell me about what you learned in class today. It doesn’t matter what. You can tell me exactly what you told me about earlier. Even just having you on the other end is helping.”

Wendell recounted events from his day in a quiet voice, most of which he’d already told her about. He even repeated some of the things she’d said. While doing so, he imagined her climbing into bed in her transparent nightgown while she pulled the sheets over her.

“Thank you,” she said after several minutes, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. You need your sleep too.”

Wendell said goodbye and hung up. His mother had sat on the edge of the bed listening to this conversation. She asked, “Is she okay?”

Wendell nodded, saying, “Yes. I’m sorry.” And then he went back to his room to sleep.

D’s Table Part 37

The next day, Hannah returned to school for the first time in several days. She was showered with attention by her classmates, most of whom she tried to deflect with an attitude of reluctant discomfort. Only Wendell’s presence brought her any delight that day.

Her entire attitude towards him was changed. Instead of treating him with friendly indifference, as she had before, she gave him her full attention during the classes they shared together, frequently looking in his direction and smiling warmly to him, with the type of sneaky smile exchanged by two people who share some important secret. Wendell, on the other hand, was still shy around her. He was shy when he asked her if she wanted to go out to a malt shop with him after school, but she agreed.

It was the first date that Wendell had really been on in his short life, and to him the experience was mildly terrifying.

In the malt shop, they sat in a booth across from each other, sipping out of tall glasses of white malt beverage. Hannah was not as comfortable in the silence as Wendell was, but, after a day during which she’d been assaulted by a barrage of questions, she savored in the quiet feeling of happiness she felt as she sat with him. It was the first time she’d felt anything like happiness in days.

“You have beautiful eyes,” she told him. He had small, almond eyes outlined by a long set of lashes, and he lowered them modestly when he heard the compliment.

“I thought you were with a guy named Donnie,” Wendell told her after a period of silence.

“Donnie?” she asked with surprise, “You mean the Junior with the leather jacket and the duck butt hair? I did come here for a drink once with him and we talked for a while, but he was a germ. I think he mostly just wanted an audience to listen to him while he talked about himself. I won’t be seeing him again, if I don’t have to”

“What about the guy in the letterman jacket you trade notes with?” Wendell asked.

She laughed and said, “Oh he’s just a friend. A very good friend. But it looks like you’ve had your eye on me for some time. Watching every guy I associate with, and I’m sure being endlessly jealous.” She laughed again, and it made Wendell blush with embarrassment.

The date ended pleasantly enough. Hannah’s mother drove by to pick her up. She was a busy girl and always had something going on. Wendell waved goodbye to her and went up to the counter to pay for the drinks.

While he was standing there, a man in a dark coat approached him. He had black hair with flecks of silver, almond-shaped brown eyes and a triangular-shaped face with a large forehead and a small, narrow mouth. The man had been seated at the counter since Wendell had arrived, sitting alone. Wendell hadn’t paid him any attention, but as the man neared him, he had the unmistakable feeling as if his mind was being read. It was a feeling he’d never felt before, and he couldn’t understand the source of the perception.

The man asked Wendell, “Did you see the nice weather today?” And just before Wendell replied with a simple, “yes,” he could feel again that sensation of his mind being inspected.

The man then casually asked, as if it were the same type of question as his previous, “Why ever should a boy like you, with such great eyesight, wear such thick glasses?”

Wendell didn’t know what to say. He adjusted his glasses nervously and turned away from the man.

“Your aunt had eyesight like yours too,” the man said, then, correcting himself, added, “Still has, really. She’s quite a remarkable woman.”

Wendell turned to the man and asked with intense emotion, “What do you know about my aunt?”

“I know your aunt,” he said, again returning to that casual way of speaking. There were other people within earshot, and he spoke as if he was talking about the most boring, ordinary topics. He said, “I just saw her yesterday.”

Wendell looked stunned, and the man continued, “Don’t mention it to your father, of course. We’ll see each other around again soon, and we can discuss it then. Have a good day.”

Then the man was walking out the door as Wendell watched him leave.