Eddie heard them arguing, again.
Different place, same argument.
"I don't care what Dr. Lucy said. Even I can tell he isn't any happier here." His father tried sounding reasonable, like he did in court, sure to cheese his mother off. They knew exactly which buttons to push with each other, making every conversation an argument.
Eddie didn't want to go inside the house to that. It wasn't even their house anyway. Their apartment in Manhattan was about a quarter the size of the farmhouse and up thirty stories. He scanned the horizon in every direction. Nothing around here came close to thirty stories, not even the grain elevators. Nah. Mostly they were all the same kind of two-story farmhouse, the same cornfields, the same kind of big trees in rows between them - windbreaks, though none of them ever broke wind - and the same wooden fences.
"And the same horses," he mumbled to himself, wishing for a horse again. If he were stuck here for . . . he wasn't even sure, but it had something to do with him – there should at least be a horse. Not that he'd seen one outside the police kind in Central Park, and those monsters kind of scared him.
They had a barn already, kind of a mess from disuse, and looking like the next big wind might knock it down. The house fared a little better, though no one had lived there for a while.
A horse might make it tolerable, at least enough for him not to be as bored.
He missed buildings, and the traffic noise, and the internet – pretty much everything they'd left behind for the summer.
Because of me, he thought.
"Not my fault I have moods." Moods and nightmares, he thought.
Better not to brood on them, like the therapist said. She also mentioned things about actor pavurnis, blimation and Deesum freebie. Whatever that meant, it made his mother nervous and his father 'reasonable'.
And landed them all in time-out in Iowa.
They took away his PS-3 and his phone – not that anyone ever called him, and not that anyone would in this place, anyway. His father even used a wall-phone like a grandpa.
The only entertainment here came from overhearing him yelling at contractors on the antique phone about being 'JAMES F-WORD REILLY, ESQUIRE!'
That almost made him smile.
See how he liked living in the Stone Age.
He'd already seen all there was to see around the farm, explored the attic, found a few dusty yellow magazines with pictures of naked African natives. But at ten, naked people bored him anyway. Mom and Dad didn't know about the magazines. They'd have a Conference where the therapist told them it could cause actor pavurnis, blimation and Deesum freebie, and they'd throw them away. A couple of old recipe books rotted up there, another one about Midwestern ghosts that he wouldn't even touch, one about cats that he'd already read twice, and a couple of big boxes he hadn't opened.
So, mostly, he was bored beyond bored.
About a week earlier, a thunderstorm hit during the night and the noise rattled the house like a subway car in the living room. It even scared his dad, though he'd pretended not to be. But he knew better. Dad grew up a city kid, too, and nature sort of frightened him – that, and all the stars.
Too many stars and way too close. You could see things fall from space and burn up if you sat still for a minute. That scared him, and he'd stopped looking after two or three nights. He didn't want to give his nightmares extra fuel.
They still argued inside, trying to 'keep it civil for the boy', but just because nobody got hit didn't make the fight any more civilized. The kids at school, when they teased him, seldom got far as hitting.
"An' I'm not crazy," he said. "I just got issues."
Dr. Lucy said, anyway.
He squinted back at the porch with the white lattice around it.
Could he hide for a while under there?
There would be bugs, of course, but he'd seen bugs all his life, and country roaches or rats couldn't have any more attitude than their city cousins.
The lattice surrounded the bottom of the house, but he found the place with a kind of door almost hidden, hinges painted over in the same cracking, too-bright white paint. He tested the latch, checking the front door in case his father came storming out to sneak a cigarette. He wouldn't notice him anyway, he thought. He only saw him when he wanted to, and passed his eyes right over him when he didn't. No one had opened this door in a long time, but the paint broke along its edges when he pulled. The hinges gave a loud squeak so he spat on them, having to work a little to get any spit.
He experimented a few times until they stopped making noise, opened the little door, and put his head inside.
It seemed clean for under a porch, the lattice on the other side casting a pattern in rays across the dry dirt a few feet. For certain no one was supposed to go under there. Making a decision, he thrust his shoulders in, searching the beams for spiders. He saw some webs, nothing else. A pill bug running over his hand made him pull it back. He inhaled to steady his heart and shook his head to chase the little sparks he saw away. Nothing out here bit, as far as he knew, except for mosquitoes, and he didn't hear any. A raccoon or opossum or maybe some rats could get in – yeah, if they had thumbs, and could paint over their break-in, dork, he reminded himself pulling his body inside and then drawing the door shut.
It smelled like dirt, and something rotten-sweet that he couldn't place. No sun penetrated past the dim supports further in, even after his eyes adjusted from the brightness outside. He heard his parents above, but that had receded to a soft, inconstant hum without any words. He relaxed. If he had to be alone, at least he could stay cool.
He jumped as the kid's whisper came from the darkest place under the house.
"Are you happy, here Sport?" his father said, looking from Eddie to his mother one hand on one hip and the other down at his side like he probably did in court..
Eddie flicked his gaze at them over the edge of his glass of milk.
"Uh . . .," he started.
"Because we want you to be happy, Eddie," Mom continued for him, "and you seem . . ."
"Miserable," his father finished.
"Yeah, miserable. Are you that unhappy here?"
Eddie swallowed a mouthful of milk and stared. What the frig had the therapist told them anyway?
"Well, I was, but I'm not anymore." He thought for a moment. "I kinda like it here now."
"And the bad dreams?"
"Not as many. They kinda went away after a while." It was mostly the truth, he thought. Besides, dreams couldn't really hurt you. They just used your imagination to act out on issues while you slept and couldn't fight back, according to Dr. Lucy.
Why, though, he didn't know
"So you want to stay?" His father gripped a fork upright in his hand.
"Yeah. Why not? It's just for the summer, right?"
The other two started breathing again.
Grownups are so weird, he thought.
"Why can't I tell Mom and Dad about you, Ant'ny?" he whispered.
"They wouldn't understand. They don't get it," the other whispered from the dark.
"The other boys – all the kids from town – they're afraid of me, just like in New York"
He shrugged again. "It's not like I'm a bully or nothin'. I mean, look at me. They don't know me, so what's the dealie?"
"They don't get you either, Ed?"
"Yeah. Nobody does. Not even Dr. Lucy, and she's supposed to."
"They don't know you like I do. No one ever will."
"If you know me so good, are you gonna get afraid of me, too? I got . . . I used to have a kinda short fuse."
"Naw. I'm not afraid of anything and I'll stay right here for as long as you need."
Eddie saw little in the darkness. It wasn't unpleasant – except for the weird smell – but he couldn't imagine staying under here all the time.
"Do you sleep down here? Isn't it creepy?"
"I don't like daylight."
"Where do you go when I'm not down here with you?"
"Underneath. Back there under your room. There's lots of empty space down here."
"But it's like a cave. And aren't there bugs an' stuff?"
"Bugs don't bother me, and from there I can keep away the bad dreams."
Eddie uncrossed his legs, careful not to brush the wooden floor with his head and carry out more cobwebs he'd have to scrape off, still surprised that he could sit up straight. He'd cleared a pretty good path already.
"Yeah. Thanks for that."
"We're gonna make you brave, city boy, so no one can hurt you ever again – not even you."
"Really, Eddie, I don't know where you find so much dirt." His mother took his jeans from the floor of his room.
"There's dirt here, Mom. That's all there is."
Her nose wrinkled. "And what's that smell?" She sniffed the jeans. "It's like . . . I don't know."
"It's the smell of the earth," his father said from the doorway. "It takes some getting used to, but you'll miss it when we go back home, won't you, kid?"
Eddie started at that. They did have to leave sometime.
"Yeah. I'm gonna miss this place." He picked up his pad of lined paper and some pencils. "I'm gonna go and practice some printing, okay?"
"All right. Be careful. Don't wander off. And don't let the screen- !"
"Now you sound like the doctor," Anthony whispered.
"Nah. She knows way better than me."
"So, why do you take it if it makes you sad?"
Eddie sighed again.
"Not sad. I just don't feel much of . . . anything."
"And that's good?"
Eddie shrugged. No real feelings meant no anger and no acting out. It also made every day the same: predictable, manageable, boring.
"It keeps Mom and Dad from worrying so much and it keeps me from being . . ." He frowned. "You know." He went back to writing his practice sentences.
"I can do that for you instead. I can keep you from being afraid ever again."
"You're only afraid of stuff while you're a kid. You can't stay a kid forever." He waved the pencil in the air. He took a drink from his water bottle. It helped with the dry-mouth. He offered it to the darkness. The other didn't move.
"Maybe. Can you remember what it was like before you started? Is it really better now? Skip a while and see how you feel. You can always start again if something scary happens."
"Doc says . . . You're not tryin' to hurt me, are you?"
"I could never hurt you, Ed."
Eddie's eyes met the unyielding black.
"You're stronger than you think. There's nothing you can't do."
When his mother handed him the pill and he palmed it instead of putting it in his mouth, he refused to meet her eyes in case she figured him out. By the third time, he relaxed a little. Nothing bad had happened yet and the fuzziness around his vision started to go away. He noticed things again: birds, grasshoppers, butterflies, colors, and the sound of the breeze as it hissed through the corn. His appetite returned and he didn't have to force himself to eat, but he kept it under control.
Except for bacon, because it was . . . well . . . bacon.
They didn't have to know he felt good.
"Ant'ny?" He knelt in his bedroom close to the floorboards. His parents had stopped making noise upstairs about an hour before. The medication helped him sleep, and that part he missed, but he wanted to be strong. No pill owned him, he decided. "AnTHONy, are you lurking?"
He'd found the little knothole when a Lego he dropped that afternoon disappeared into it. He hoped it led to Anthony's realm.
Something gray flickered beneath.
"City boy?" The soft voice drifted up.
Eddie smiled and rocked back on his bare feet.
"Yeah, how ya doin'?" He kept his voice just over a whisper, though his parents couldn't hear him; proper this time of night.
"I got a question for ya. What should I do with all these pills?" He had a week's worth already.
No answer for a moment. "Anthony?"
"Drop them through the knothole. It's one of the reasons I opened it again."
"Why? Are you gonna take 'em?"
He heard muffled laughter.
"Naw, it's just a good hiding place. There's lots hidden down underneath."
He had more questions, but pushed the pills through in silence.
"Turn off your light. It kinda bothers me."
Eddie glanced at the shaded nightlight by his bed.
"Through that little hole?"
"Just do it. You're not afraid of the dark, are you?"
"N . . . nah," he said, hoping his voice didn't shake. "Okay, a little." Light kept nightmares away too, he thought. He padded to the bedside table, then, swallowing, switched off the lamp. After a panicky few seconds his eyes started to adjust and he made out the window. Light bathed everything in dim silver.
He could just see the moon-gilded form of a boy his size on the rocking chair.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, Ed. There's nothing in the dark that's not there in the light."
"I can't really see you."
"There's not much to see." The milky shadow lifted its arms and then dropped them, rocking a moment. "Let me tell you a story so's you can sleep."
"Nothin' scary, okay?"
He saw a flash of a smile against the boy's face.
"Got ya. Okay, boss. Nothing scary. I'll keep the bad dreams away like I promised."
Eddie lay on his bed, hands behind his head, and stared at the ceiling, listening to the drone of Anthony's soft voice over the crickets and distant frogs. A tear slid across his temple.
"A long time ago, before we were here, we just floated together like little fish swimming in a quiet, dark place. But we weren't scared, because we had each other."
"Like the crawlspace, huh?"
"Yeah. Kinda like that. It was a safe place where no one could ever hurt us and no one could ever keep us apart."
He had to struggle with the cardboard boxes, especially the middle one, hearing metallic clunking from inside when he set it down. His arm muscles vibrated from the weight.
He tried to will himself not to sneeze when he kicked up dust. He pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth and let the sneeze out anyway, muffling most of it in his elbow.
"Eeyuck!" he hissed, tasting dust and fabric softener.
He waited. Nothing from downstairs.
The top box, the lightest, held brown pictures of people in dark clothes with pale, scary eyes, all grimacing like they'd eaten bad chili, even the kids.
The second box held trophies – real metal ones, and not the usual gilded plastic kind. He picked up a plaque and read the fancy carving on the pitted brass:
PRESENTED TO MISS EMILY HAZELTON
FOR PERFECT PENMANSHIP
He found lots in the bottom box, from little green plastic army men to some sticky metal toys you wound up with keys. A bunch of flat wooden boxes with things like Virginia King and True Cuba Harvest in gold and elaborate paintings of people and names in Spanish like Corona and Toro del Oro on them fit like Tetris blocks. One had old baseball cards inside – really old ones from the 1900's, another heavy one held big glass beads with colors inside, mixed with little spiky metal things like 3D plus signs.
He found a black wooden case with brass initials on it: M. H.
Inside, a little wooden bowl had some ancient soap dried onto it. Next to that, a brush with short bristles sat in its own recess. It smelled the same as the soap; the way India must, he imagined, like spice and resin. A thick leather belt surrounded these things. Something sat at the bottom with a glossy brown shell-looking cover down one side and a curved metal handle. A hinge let him open it. Even in the low light of the attic he recognized a blade – and a sharp one. He whipped it through the air a few times.
"Olé, Toro del Oro!" he whispered.
It made a cool sound but a crappy sword.
He put all the things into the boxes except for the black case and stacked them again, this time putting the heaviest on the bottom and the lightest in the middle.
He puffed, sweaty and dizzy.
But Anthony was right. He was stronger than he thought.
In the cool space under the porch, Eddie pushed the case across the meridian between the soft light and the inky black past the supports.
"What's 'pen man ship'?"
"Don't they teach script in school anymore?"
"Script?" he gazed at the darkness, puzzled.
"Manuscript. Penmanship is how well your letters are formed."
"Wow, school was easier then. We just study for tests." He frowned. "I don't think I passed the tests Dr. Lucy gave me."
"Those aren't the kind of tests you pass."
"Is it 'cause I'm not smart?"
"You're smart. And you're plenty strong. You could be a boxer." His whisper grew a little louder. "And now, da main event! In dis corner, weighing in at fitfty-fi' pounds, from Batt'ry Pawk, New Yawk, Da pride of PS 190, 'Little Irish' Eddie Reilly!"
Eddie giggled. "Black Irish, Dad says."
A snicker came from the shadow.
"Black? You're as white as the moon, 'cept your hair. That's kinda black." He heard a scraping sound.
"What're you doing?"
"Sharpening it. You do it on the belt."
Eddie's chewed his lip.
"Anthony? What do you look like?"
Nothing for a long time, only the scrape of the blade.
The sound stopped.
"You think you're ready?"
"Don't get scared, now."
"Mm-Hmm." Eddie felt his mouth drying anyway.
First, a grayish arm snaked out of the shade, followed by solidifying shadow as Anthony emerged into the reflected sun and raised his face, wincing in the light.
Anthony drifted back into the dark.
"Not what you expected, huh? Are you scared now?"
Eddie licked his dry lips.
"Nah. I guess not. You're not . . . ugly or a freak or nothin'."
Soft laughter again.
"Not unless you are, Ed."
"So, what do you write there?"
Eddie shrugged again. "Stuff."
He showed him the pad.
"'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.'"
"It's just practice. So people can read my writing."
"Well, I can read it, so I guess it's clear. That kinda makes sense."
"You can have that plaque if you want. I don't think anyone would mind anymore."
Eddie stood in the yard and closed his eyes, letting the breeze waft around him, hearing birds and insects, reveling in the tingling warmth against his skin. He wanted to be in the sun now that it didn't hurt his eyes, maybe walk down the road in both directions to see where else it went, or hike to the silos he saw in the distance, or go pull the pants down on some scarecrows. He stared up into the limitless blue above him and stretched his arms out, wishing he could fly.
What about Anthony?
How could it make him any braver if he stayed under the porch all summer? The sound of his heart scared him.
"I'm stronger than I think. I'm the main event, Little Irish Eddie Reilly from Batt'ry Park, and there's nothing I can't do." But the words sounded hollow to him.
"Let me tell him, Jimmy."
"No. I'll do it. I'm his father."
"And that makes you better equipped?"
"No." He rubbed his eyes. "No. It's just that . . . He needs space-"
"And that's why we're here, to give him space. Pulling him out now–"
"Siobhan, I have to get back. They need me there."
"I need you here!" She realized she shouted, lowering her voice. "We need you here. He needs both parents to commit to this."
"I've given it all I can. He's better. You said so yourself. Going home can only help him."
"He's still not sleeping. Have you seen the circles around his eyes? He's awake all night, afraid to fall asleep and have nightmares again. And he's not social at all. He's alone all the time, even though we tried to set up those play dates. He's hurting. I know it."
"Did he tell you that?"
"I just . . . know."
"Where was that intuition when . . .?" he snapped, regretted it. "I'm sorry."
"I could stay here . . ."
"If we start that now . . . We need to at least make sure he's okay before we start thinking about that again."
"Thinking about what?" Eddie said from behind him.
Of course, Jim thought. This time he didn't slam the screen.
"We're going home, Sport." He made his voice cheerful.
"But it's not even August. You said the whole summer!"
Something in his tone. That posture, both hands in fists, head lowered into his shoulders; they'd seen it before. He looked at Siobhan. She'd noticed too.
"Hey, slow down. You knew this day was coming. It's just sooner than we thought. We figured because you were better, maybe you'd be happier at home."
"I'm happy here," Eddie said through gritted teeth.
"But it's not home," his mother said. "You've made a really good start, Eddie, but we have to leave sometime."
His breathing grew wild.
"It's not fair!" he screamed. "I hate New York. I hate everything about it. It makes me . . . crazy! If you really loved me you'd let me stay!"
"Easy now," his father said, palms forward.
"What do you care? Maybe if I wasn't around you two could fight all you want about your . . . fun shway and your white wine!"
"Eddie!" His mother started towards him, but he backed away, snarling.
"You hate me . . . when you notice me." He felt vibrations, thrill, terror, all the anger he'd kept inside for so long, erupting at once. "Guess what? I hate you, too!"
"That's enough!" his father barked, gripping him by the back of his neck with one hand. "Your mother thought you were getting better, but I can see you're not."
Eddie swung his arms, unable to connect. He saw his mother getting one of her own pills and struggled again.
"It's for your own good!"
"NO!" He shook his head back and forth in his father's grip, clamping his mouth shut.
"Eddie . . .,"
He tried knocking the pill from her hand.
Jim wrapped an arm around his throat and pulled his head back.
"You can make it easy or hard. We don't want you to hurt yourself."
Eddie glared up at him, felt his mother's fingers on his lips. He snapped up the pill.
He still resisted, but his father lifted him and carried him to his room.
"You stay in here until you're ready to apologize to your mother."
He growled and jumped face-down on his bed, continuing to yell, pounding fists and feet, refusing to look at them.
"We love you, Eddie, but that kind of behavior isn't acceptable. We've talked about it before," his mother said. "When you're ready to discuss this like a human being, then we'll talk."
They stood in the hallway, hearing the tirade from behind the door.
"He hasn't had a meltdown like that in months."
"It's a setback, that's all. They said to expect them."
Eddie's howling softened to crying. She touched the doorknob.
"Don't. Let him work through this. He'll be okay in there."
He put his arm over her shoulder as they walked to the kitchen.
Eddie shook with rage he couldn't contain, like the past months and therapy and tests and medicines, doing what they said, trying so hard, had done nothing.
He panted, rubbing his eyes dry and tried to slow his heartbeat, to stay still, to overpower the anger. Inside of him lightning fought to escape.
But he had to master it by himself.
He spat the pill he'd held under his tongue into his palm and shoved it through the knothole.
He took his pillow to the window and used it to muffle his hand against the sash.
"It's okay, Ed. It's gonna be all right."
"They're trying to take me away! I got all crazy, like before, and . . ."
Eddie quieted his hitching sobs.
"We all gotta go someplace. You knew that."
"I hate bein' like this. My brain's broken."
He felt a light hand on his shoulder. New tears flowed.
"I don't wanna leave you, Anthony!" He wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked. "I'm . . . scared."
"No you're not. You're brave. You were afraid of the dark and you're down here at night, you got mad and got over it on your own. You beat it. You beat it all by yourself."
"But what do I do now? They're gonna know I went out the window."
"I'll take care of it. No one'll hurt you ever again."
Eddie saw a flash of steel.
"What're you . . .?"
"Here. Hold it." Anthony sat behind him and cupped the handle in his hand by putting his own around Eddie's, his fingers cold. "This way." He guided the other boy's actions, drawing the blade in patterns in the dark.
His other pale arm hung in front of him.
"Use it. It won't hurt me, I promise. You gotta be strong." Anthony whispered, inches from his ear. That sweet-rot smell surrounded them.
He put the edge of the blade against the other's skin and then drew it through the sallow flesh from the wrist to the elbow in a long line.
"Doesn't that . . . Doesn't that hurt?"
"Nothing can hurt me, Ed. Not as long as we're together. Look. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The blade slashed across the first cut in time. The skin opened, but nothing came out. "Y'see?"
Thunder from above, panicky footsteps pounding. They'd found out. He heard his muffled name through the wood, doors slamming, voices shouting.
"Wait a minute. It's gonna hurt me. I know it's gonna hurt."
"It's really sharp. You'll hardly feel it."
Anthony moved around in front of him. He gently held Eddie's left arm out, hand upward.
"We're running out of time."
He winced as the blade touched him and he pulled back. It hadn't hurt as much as he thought, but it still hurt.
He'd hurt him.
That anger boiled up again and he faced it down.
After he'd promised.
That battle threatened again, this time harder to win.
"Just a little more. You're almost done, and we can stay here together, like before."
"You told me you'd protect me, even from me. You promised. But you want me to hurt myself, Anthony. Why?"
"It's what you want – deep down – to get away. There's no anger down here, no sadness, no pain, nobody making you change or pretend to be someone you're not, and no one can ever take away what you love, not ever again. Be strong, Ed. Be like me."
Eddie grimaced, his warring emotions fighting to get loose again. He threw his arm out straight and tilted the blade towards it.
"The quick brown fox . . ." he hissed through gritted teeth.
He sprang forward and put his empty hand on top of Anthony's head, pushing it back.
". . . jumps over the lazy dog!"
He ripped the blade across the pale throat, back and forth, feeling the snick of metal meeting bone.
Anthony's smile never faded as he fell face-down into the dirt.
More hurried stomping, the screen door slamming above him.
"Eddie!" His mother's voice cut through the cricket dark.
"You said nothing could hurt you!" Eddie crawled away on his back. He slammed his eyes closed and opened them again, Anthony still slumped in the blackness.
"I'm sorry. You said . . ." He dissolved into soundless sobs, curling up into a tight ball, still clutching the blade. "Anthony, don't leave me alone!"
"Eddie!" Now his father joined his mother. He heard them rumbling down the porch stair as they began the search.
He slid towards the still form and dragged Anthony back into the deeper darkness. He hardly weighed anything, he thought, a hollow boy now melting back into shadow. A wave of guilt and sorrow came over him and he hugged him, rocking, ignoring the smell of rot and the legs of curious bugs that ran across him. "G'bye, Ant'ny. G'bye."
"Yeah. Of course we'll be here." Jim slammed the phone down.
Siobhan hunched at the table. He massaged her shoulders.
"We'll find him. The sheriff's coming out. He'll know where to look. We'll find him."
"What if we don't? What if he fell into a well or broke something or . . .? He's just a little boy."
"He's tough. He'll be okay. We'll take him home – then to Six Flags. He'll like that."
"Jimmy, he went there because you wanted. He hates it. Those coasters terrify him. He just wants to be like you. He thinks you're fearless."
"If he knew how scared I am now . . ." He pressed his palms against his eyes and lowered his head, letting out a shuddering breath. "He's gonna be okay. He's gotta be okay."
She just held him.
Tisdale's Sheriff came into the kitchen with his deputy.
"Mr. . . . Sheriff . . ."
"Peturssen, Mr. Reilly."
"Yeah. Jim. James."
"Grant," the deputy said, smiling and touching his hat bill.
"It's our son," the wife began.
"Okay. Has he done this before?"
"N . . . no. . We're here from New York. He's afraid of getting kidnapped. He's afraid of a lot of things."
"So, you think someone might have kidnapped him?" Grant said.
"N . . . no. He . . . We had an argument and we put him in his room, about two hours ago. He was . . . He has . . . He's a little unstable. He climbed out the window. He's . . . He's gone."
"I guess you already checked the whole house, the barn, the storm cellar, right?"
"Of course!" he yelled and then calmed. "I'm sorry. My wife . . . We're both pretty scared. He's just little and he's not from around here. I don't know if he even knows exactly where we are."
Reilly handed him a photo.
"He's about four-five, four-six, and he weighs –"
"Fifty-five pounds. He's just a little boy."
"We'll find him, Ma'am. He's probably nearby. He's just confused, is all. We'll scan this from the cruiser, put it on the web if we need to. Someone's seen him, I'm sure," the sheriff said.
"Do you think he could be at a friend's?" Grant said.
"He isn't social," the mother said. "He doesn't have any friends here."
"Well, that's sad," the deputy muttered.
Peturssen's glare silenced him.
"We'll search here first, Mr. Reilly. If we don't find him, Grant and I'll drive around to some of the closest farms to see if he's turned up, but I think he's just hiding out someplace until he cools off. He'll probably come back on his own. You know kids. They do things before they think."
The father nodded, not really hearing him.
The Reillys jumped towards the front room.
Eddie stood there.
Jim grabbed him by the shoulders.
"Damn you!" He gave the boy a ferocious hug, joined by his wife.
Eddie's wide eyes played over all of them, his face masked in dirt.
"I'm sorry. I was acting crazy. I'm better now. I love you. I do. I'm . . ."
"No, honey," his father choked out, "We're sorry. We weren't thinking. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."
"This is Eddie, then?" Peturssen said, glaring down at the boy.
The parents nodded.
"You've caused quite a panic, young man. My deputy and I had to come all the way out here from town."
Eddie nodded, knowing what happened next from TV. He presented his wrists for the handcuffs.
Peturssen tried hard not to smile at this, met the eyes of his deputy who kept a straight face.
"Do we run him in, then, Grant, or let it slide this time?"
"Your call, boss."
"Eddie Reilly," Peturssen began in his gruffest tone, "Are you ever going to do this again?"
The voice matched the boy's size. "No."
"Where were you?" His mother brushed the hair back from his filthy face.
"Just hiding. I'm sorry." He hugged her neck. "Can we go home?"
"All right then." The sheriff got on one knee and jabbed an index finger at the boy's face. "Don't ever make me come out here again. You understand?"
The boy shook his head, mouth open.
Peturssen patted him anyway, wondering about all the cobwebs.
"Thank you, Sheriff," Reilly began as they walked out onto the porch. "I . . . I don't know what to say."
"That's all right."
Eddie's face hovered behind the screen.
Across the road, just near the cornfield, eerie sparks drifted.
The deputy saw where he looked.
"Lightning bugs. Fireflies. Haven't you ever seen them? They're all around here at night in the summer."
"Don't be afraid, honey," his mother said.
"Naw. It's okay. There's nothing to be afraid of anymore."
"School starts in three weeks. We have to go shopping for clothes, okay?"
She got no response.
"Eddie? You still back there, Sport?" Jim asked, not looking.
"Are you going to miss it?"
He took one last look at the farmhouse, at the big decaying barn and the waving stalks of corn. His eyes settled on the porch, on the latticework around the patches of darkness. He pressed his face against the car window, no breath against the glass.
"What're you looking at?"
He turned forward again.
He smiled anyway as the car started bumping down the road.
"G'bye, Eddie," he whispered.