Pete came over one evening looking sad. "Hey, Paul." They were on a first name basis now.
" 'Sup, Pete?"
Paul was working on the guts of his model at the kitchen table. Pete sat glumly with his fists against his cheeks over a mug of milk. "Eh!"
Paul said: "What's 'eh!' ?"
"I understand. Something are just 'eh!' ."
"It's this Mr. Fitch."
Paul's stomach leaped.
"He doesn't like kids."
"How do I know?"
"But you know?"
"I can sense it. He just kind of pats me on the head and then makes me go away. He doesn't sit down and talk with me the way you do. Or my dad used to." Abruptly, Pete burst into tears. He put his palms over his face and lowered his head to the kitchen table. He cried heartbrokenly in a solid stream for about five minutes, and tears poured over the rims of his hands.
Paul went into the kitchen, got a towel, wetted it with lukewarm water, wrung it out, and returned to squat beside Pete.
When the boy lifted his head, red-faced and sniffling, Paul mopped his face gently. "I know you're hurting inside."
"I wish more than anything in the world that my dad would come back. I know my mom is hurting too. Everything would be so much better."
"Yes. I'm sure it would."
"Have you ever kissed a woman?"
Pete made emphatic chopping motions with his hands. "I mean, have you ever really kissed a woman? You know, locked lips with her and kissed?"
"Well, I suppose I have, Pete."
"Then why didn't you kiss her when you had the chance?"
"What do you mean?"
"Up there on Palomar Mountain. When you were sitting on that big rock."
"You mean when you came out of the woods, and saw us, and turned around and ran back into the woods?"
"Yeah, that time."
"We might have kissed, but we were afraid you'd be upset."
"Upset!" He made disbelief eyes and mouth. "Upset! I was hoping you'd kiss her. I ran away hoping you wouldn't be too embarrassed." Pete put his hands over his eyes. "That stuff is so gross, like eating Brussels sprouts. But adults do it. I don't understand it." He lowered his hands to his lap and looked at Paul beseechingly. "She is so unhappy, Paul. Sometimes she cries at night. I hear her when I can't sleep. She often told me she was so happy when she and my dad would kiss. So I thought if you kissed her it would make her happy."
Paul cleared his throat. "Well, to tell the truth, I did kiss her. When we got home, and put you in your bed, she walked me over to my house and we looked at the stars a little..."
"...and that made you kiss?"
"Well, it's part of this thing called being romantic."
"You like her, don't you?"
"Then why don't you steal her back from this Fitch guy?" Pete bolted for the kitchen door.
Paul turned in his chair, too dumbfounded to say anything.
Pete had one foot out the door in case he needed to run to safety. "And Fitch hates you!" he whispered in a loud voice. "Fitch says you're a failure."
"Do you think she believes him?"
Pete stopped to bite a finger and think. "He's got her so she doesn't know which end is up. But in her heart I think she likes you better. I know I do." He ran outside. Paul could hear his feet on the wood porch, then on the grass, then nothing. A door slammed. That familiar sound. Then Paul heard the baby-sitter yelling. And Pete yelling back. The silence. Worried, he rose and went to the window and looked out. There, across the fence, a million miles away under the full moon, in Marsha's house, sat a strange elderly woman knitting. And Pete's light went on in his room and that door slammed.