Monday, September, 1978
Dallas gazed into his cup of fresh milk, peering at his grandmother over its brim. It has been a couple of days since his evening adventure. Quite surprisingly, Gram had not lost her temper and given him the thrashing he had expected. Instead, she had asked him how he'd felt during his little trip.
"Scared," he had admitted grudgingly. And Gram had smiled her knowing, tight-lipped smile and that was that. No harsh words and twisting of his ear, no beatings. He'd felt bewildered, but had fully understood his wrongdoing for the first time. It was scary, walking outside by himself at night, without Gram to look out for him. It wasn't something he felt keen about trying again too soon. Next time he may not be so lucky as to meet just a strange but apparently harmless kid along his way. Ghosts and demons aside, he may also more possibly come across some murderer or thief who wouldn't hesitate to shoot him down at once. God only helped kids who also listened to the people that looked after them.
But the experience had turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He had bumped into the boy with the weird accent who said he came from London. For the first time in his nine years, someone had actually talked to him as a friend would. The kid hadn't made fun of him, or tried to beat him up, he had spoken to him as though Dallas was just another person.
But what if it's a trick? Maybe he didn't mean to be nice to you, whispered a sly voice inside him. Last year, one kid had pretended to be his friend one day, and then acted like he had no idea who Dallas was the next. No, there was definitely something different about this kid. Dallas was sure he'd wanted to be friends.
He unconsciously recalled the horrible drowning, choking sensation he'd felt that night. He remembered the other boy's clutching his hand in an almost painful grip…
…and then he couldn't remember what he was thinking about anymore.
"Gram," he said, looking down at his shoes. "I made a friend the other day. When I went… he said he's from London." Gram finished cleaning the table in her usual, brisk manner. She looked sharply at Dallas, a hint of something in her narrow, hazel eyes.
"A friend? A kid… or a grown-up?"
"A kid. Think his name's Lou-Zeen or something. His momma spoke weirder than him."
"Huhn. Must be them," muttered Gram.
Gram pursed her lips as if she had no intention of telling him, but Dallas knew she would tell him anyway, because who else had she to tell things to?
"Those folks. That house there…"
Dallas's eyes grew wide. He thought it was a museum, a library, or something like that. No. Gram probably didn't know what she was talking about. How could someone like that kid live in such a big house? And even if the people who lived there were really rich, the kid couldn't be one of them. Rich people didn't let their kids wander off by themselves, did they? They made sure they had babysitters with them all the time, and went everywhere in those long cars.
"…it's Jonah Stagshaw and his French wife. The woman acts like she's some princess, lookin' down the rest of us like we're nothin'. Shouldn't've said good mornin' to her the other day. Made out like she didn't hear. Huhn! I said good mornin' quite loud and clear alright! I know Lizzie loved that Stagshaw's books, but that French woman's got a real problem goin' on." Gram abruptly ended her tirade and looked warily at her grandson. "C'mon mister. You gotta go to school now…"
Dallas shouldered his backpack and Gram accompanied him, like she did when it was his first day in a new school. She reached for his hand, but he quietly held it away. Dallas saw his grandmother smiling coldly to herself. He knew she knew he's growing up, that must be it. She couldn't boss him around forever, and he was looking forward to the day when he could step out into the world by himself, without feeling scared or guilty. God would make sure no-one shot him down.
A woman called out: "Dallas Devlin! Is Dallas Devlin there?" and Gram nudged him in her direction.
"Now you behave, you hear? Remember what I said." Be good or you'll go to jail like your daddy. Not that he knew who 'daddy' was. Gram always said it was his father's fault that Momma died, but Dallas didn't know who Momma was either. She had gone to Heaven, Gram had said, when Dallas was three months old. Now all Gram and Dallas had left of her were her photos and a few of her belongings. Unlike everything else, Gram had always kept those.
Dallas nodded silently, watching his grandmother start back along the road they had taken.
"…OK. everyone. Settle down now. I'd like you to welcome Dallas Devlin, a new addition to our class after only a month!" she finished with a laugh like chocolate melting. Dallas was entranced by Miss Winter. She had blue, blue eyes, and golden-colored hair that cascaded down to her waist in gentle spirals. His new teacher was tall and pretty. She a smiled a lot and even from the five minutes he had been here, he could tell that everyone liked her.
After indicating the back row when asked where he would like to sit, Miss Winter led him to the last desk. Throughout the first half of the lesson, Dallas found his eyes affixed to his teacher. He stared at her neat, white teeth and the way she tossed her hair over her shoulder every now and then. He hardly heard a word she said, although he heard her voice well enough.
Suddenly, something was tapping him on the shoulder and whispering in his ear. He turned and was greeted by a pair of different-colored eyes and tiny, bared teeth.
"Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Long John Silver lost his bum. Ha!" Dallas got so scared he fell out of his chair. After a nauseous pause, he heard the familiar sound of people laughing at him.
"Dallas! Are you alright?" came the voice of Miss Winter. He was helped back onto his seat by his victimizer, but Dallas was still too much in shock to realize this. "Tommy! You don't want to go to the Seat of Shame on the first day of the week, do you?" Dallas continued to stare at his desk in silence.
Tommy. The kid from London. He hadn't seen him very clearly that night, but he knew he would never forget that voice. So much for hoping he'd finally found a friend. It was just another prankster looking for fun. And Dallas was dumb enough to fall right into the trap once again.
When he felt the tap on his shoulder again, he lifted his head up slowly and glared at the pale face before him.
"Sorry, but you shouldn't look at me like that. I didn't know you'd get scared. Honest," whispered the boy. Dallas looked away, disregarding the other's dismay. He won't be made fun of again. Friends. He had prayed for at least one, but he didn't need any now. What was the point anyway? Gram and him moved houses all the time. If he made friends, he'd only lose them. He wanted to say something cutting back to the boy ('I bet God never listens to your prayers'), but decided not to even bother.
When recess came, he sat under a tree outside the classroom, away from everyone else. He could see them, but he was sure they couldn't see him. Munching on his cheese and bacon sandwich, he sensed the feeling of being watched. It was the stupid English kid again. He was surrounded by a huge group of kids. Ignore him, Ignore him, Dallas told himself stubbornly. He continued to feel the boy staring and staring at him. Deciding to try and reclaim his invisibility, Dallas half-chewed his food and opened his mouth wide, sticking his tongue out. He expected the kid to retaliate somehow, but Tommy (or Lou-Zeen or whatever he was called) only chuckled, stamping his heels on the ground. Then the idiot continued to stare, smile slowly growing as if he expected Dallas to do something really funny. It wasn't a malicious smile, it was… mental. Huh. The kid was probably messed up in the head.
Dallas turned around to sit facing the tree. He wouldn't have to see the kid's stupid face that way. How was it that a weirdo like Tommy (what a dumb name) got to have so many friends, while he, Dallas, had none? It was so unfair. He thought about praying more, and then quickly recalled that he didn't need any friends.
A quiet cough awakened him out of his solitary reverie. He refused to budge. He didn't have to be a genius to figure out who that cough belonged to.
"Thou shall not ignore me! Thou shall be my friennnnnd!"
What's the nutcase doing in a school, anyway? Shouldn't he be at some crazies' hospital? He couldn't even speak normally. Dallas sighed and looked up.
The so-called nutcase's legs were hooked around a branch, and his arms were dangling down towards the ground.
"Hello. Sorry for scaring you before. Didn't mean to, you know. I'm im… immiscibly sorry. I'll try not to frighten you again, I promise. Friends?" the boy flung a hand out to him. Oh well, thought Dallas. Maybe it was better to have a deranged friend than none at all. He grasped the proffered hand lightly, in case the other boy might come crashing down from the tree. He tried hard not to look at Tommy's eyes. One was topaz-blue, and the other was green. It didn't make him feel too good…
Continuing from Tommy's point of view…
"You walk home?"
Tommy turned red and carefully kept his eyes trained on the carpeted classroom floor. "Er… no. I er… Andrew drives me home."
"Who's Andrew?" asked Dallas. "He was there that other night, right? He called you Thomas and your Mom called you Lou-Zeen. And your Mom got pretty mad at him. She even called him a … a b-bastard."
Tommy glanced briefly at his new friend. "Yeah. She doesn't like him much. And Andrew's our butler." He felt embarrassed again. He knew what Dallas would say next.
"Butler? What's that?"
Tommy sighed. "He looks after the house and that, drives us places, you know?" Evidently, Dallas didn't. What's the use of explaining? He felt silly, being driven to and from school as if he was in kindergarten. He was fully capable of walking that half-mile on his own, like the other children. But Mama and Father would never let him. What were they afraid of? That he'd get abducted by aliens or something? Tommy wasn't afraid of anything, and he would've liked to walk home with Dallas today. He didn't know why, but Dallas seemed very cool. Even though he was a bit strange, getting scared all the time for no reason.
"I'm goin' home now," announced the dark-skinned boy, tugging at one his many braids. Tommy stared, wishing he had hair like that. Maybe he could ask Oriel, his mother's maid, to do his hair just like Dallas's!
"OK. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then. I like your name. Dallas. But Dallas is a place too, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Gram says I was born there," said the other boy vaguely.
Tommy sucked in his lower lip. "Do you know that person?" he asked, indicating a pale, elderly woman who was motioning furiously to Dallas with her hand.
"Yeah. That's Gram. Gotta go. And I think your name's kinda cool too. Don't know anyone called that." Tommy smiled happily, waving to his new friend and his grandmother. One week at Moxon Heights and Dallas will have many friends, Tommy was sure of that. Not to say that he would get rejected in the process. Tommy was Dallas's friend first. They wouldn't just be friends, they would be best friends, decided Tommy resolutely.