Cami reads over the first page again. I stare at the green seatback in front of me and ponder what I’ve just said. I’d go back if I had to. Would I? I can’t imagine going back to that kind of homeless life, especially now. You’re always either freezing or burning up or soaking wet, never able to get a good, deep sleep, always on the lookout for somebody to call the cops or kick you out of doorways. Always watching for people to throw stuff away, then diving after it. Smoking old cigarette butts like they’re comfort food until the filter melts and your mouth tastes like burned plastic, drinking cold, bitter coffee out of people’s discarded Starbucks cups.
People who don’t have a clue say stupid things, like, When things get bad enough for those people, there’s no shame left. They’re wrong. There’s a lot of fucking shame. It feels like total crap, living like that. Not going back there. Ever.
Cami looks up. “That was nice of the librarian to let you hang out to get warm every night.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Stewart. He was cool. Didn’t call security on me. I just kept to myself, mostly. Sometimes he’d come up to me and make like he packed too much in his lunch, couldn’t eat it all . . .” I trail off because it sounds weird to tell her I scarfed down the librarian’s leftover sandwiches, kept the ziplock baggies until I was alone so I could lick out the extra peanut butter, then use the baggies to go Dumpster diving. I’m just not that guy anymore.
“I’m so glad you found that website and came home.” Cami rests our entwined fingers on my thigh and leans up against me. My eyes practically roll back in my head just having her near. I’ll never get over this feeling. Like I belong with someone. Like I’m finally part of something safe, something strong. Something I can count on. Like the world, the continents, really could come back together one day, the edges of land sealing up that big space of water and sky and nothingness between them.
It’s a windy spring day. Cami and I get off the bus and start walking toward her house, as usual. “I finished my collage,” I say. “Made a frame for it and everything. Maybe you can come by tonight and see it.”
“Sure,” she says. Her hair flies in the wind and I get a faceful of it, but I don’t mind. We hang around for a minute on her front step, kissing and enjoying the warmer weather, but the clouds are building. It looks like rain. The snow is mostly gone except for the biggest piles, which have shrunk considerably and now look more like mud mounds, and the soggy yellow grass is flattened as though a steamroller went over the lawns. The snow family in my front yard is long gone.
Blake is just a fly in my life. He buzzes by now and then, and I wave him away. At counseling the other day, we talked about one of us moving in with Grandma and Grandpa for the summer, but then we started arguing about which one of us would have to go. I know I don’t want to.
The hysterics thing is getting better, it really is, thanks to Cami. She totally helps me lighten up. But it’s still there sometimes when I think about things too hard and when my brain gets too full of all the crap that has happened since I came home.
I kiss Cami good-bye and jog across the yards to my house. There’s an unfamiliar black sedan driving down the street slowly, with two guys in the front seat peering out the windows, like they’re looking for an address. It gives me a chill when I remember Blake’s account of the abduction—two guys in a black car—and it’s creepy, even though I know it’s ridiculous to let my mind go there.
I go inside, straight to the kitchen. Gracie is eating ice cream and she instinctively moves across the table from where I set my backpack. Never trusting me near her snacks. I grin and sit down. Mama sits down too and we talk for a minute about the day and about English class and how we’re diagramming sentences, which I kind of secretly like to do.
It’s starting to rain when the doorbell rings.
I look out the window. The black car from a few minutes ago is in the driveway.
“Can you answer it, hon?” Mama asks me. “I haven’t sat down all day.” She looks tired.
“Sure,” I say. My stomach clenches.
I go to the mudroom, open the door a crack, and see them. One is short and bald, the other is taller with a mustache. “Hello?” I open the door a bit farther.
“Is this the De Wilde residence?”
The guy with the mustache asks, “Is there a parent or guardian at home?” He flips open a badge and holds it up so I can see.
“Just a minute.” I close the door and go tell Mama that the police are here.
Gracie’s eyes bug out, and Mama stares at me. And then she stands and rushes to the door, whispering, “Oh my God, Paul.” And suddenly I wonder if Dad was killed or something terrible like that. I follow Mama to the door, and Gracie goes to Blake’s room. I can hear her high-pitched voice telling him the police are here.
Mama opens the door and invites them into the mudroom. “Can I help you?” I can hear the anxiety in her voice. She smoothes her cardigan nervously.
“Are you Maria De Wilde?”
The bald guy introduces himself as Detective Somebody. I don’t catch the name. I’m getting light-headed.
“Would you like to sit down?” the bald guy asks Mama.
“No, thank you. What is it?” Mama asks. “Please, just tell me. Did something happen to Paul?”
The two guys exchange a quick glance, and then the bald guy says, “No, Mrs. De Wilde. We’re here about your son Ethan.”