I’m having the same experience, right now. I flinch as the last of William’s omelette disappears, followed by the final few bites of toast. And I can imagine the flexing of his jaw muscles as he chews, imagine him reaching up with a long fingernail to pick a scrap of food from his teeth. There’s a smirky sneer on his face. I don’t have to see it to know it’s there. Maybe he was a decent person back in his former life, but not anymore, and I don’t want him in my home, or in my life, or anywhere near me. Compared to this man, my uncle Hank is a teddy bear. Yes, Uncle Hank’s been a bully. But William—if that’s even his name—William is doing stuff that’s really nasty, and he’s doing it on purpose. And he’s smirking because he knows he can get away with anything he wants to. And if I could, I’d push him out the door right now, this instant.
I’m at the table now, and I take a drink of orange juice. It tastes sour. Everything seems to have turned sour. Sour and surreal.
“Something wrong, Gwen?” There’s a mock-caring tone in William’s voice.
I shake my head and turn my attention to my plate, angry that I let my thoughts show on my face.
He goes on, his voice oozing sarcasm. “You look as if you’re disturbed about something. Ahh, of course—your grandfather. Poor dear. How insensitive of me. And here I am, intruding on your grief, even making you cook for me. I should be ashamed of myself, I really should. I’m afraid I haven’t made a very good first impression.”
His chair scoots back from the table, and Robert gets to his feet as well.
“I must be going now. Robert, if you’ll escort me to the door, that would be grand. And when I’m standing on the front steps, we shall shake hands like gentlemen, and that way you’ll know for certain that I’m outside. And that way you’ll both sleep better tonight—knowing that I’m actually gone. Or at least, actually . . . outside.”
Again, the smirk. His voice has moved across the parlor and the hallway door opens. Robert follows, and then the street door opens. And watching from beside the table, I see Robert put out his hand, and there’s a shake, and then Robert’s inside again, fast, shutting both doors. “And put the bar in place,” I say, but Robert’s ahead of me, already fitting the bottom of the brace rod into its floor socket.
He walks back to the table and sits across from me. “That is one creepy guy.”
I nod and then shiver. “He’s awful. And I’m sorry I doubted what you told me earlier. But until it’s right there, it’s just too . . . unbelievable.”
Because this afternoon on the subway when I dropped Robert’s story into the same bucket with Belinda’s alien adventures, I couldn’t see how this invisibility stuff would ever affect my own little story.
And now William has changed that. My story has been picking up a lot of passengers recently. Too many.
I say it again. “So I’m sorry I doubted you.”
Robert waves my apology aside. “But now what do I do?” he asks. “Because no way am I going to tell this guy how to reverse the process. He shouldn’t have that information. He’s a crook—you heard him. He’s Robin Hood. That means he steals from rich people, which has to be why he likes it here in New York. Except I bet he doesn’t give a cent to the poor—or anyone else. But I already figured that out.”
I stare at Robert. “What do you mean? Figured what out?”
“It was in yesterday’s newspaper. There’s a big story in the
about more than a dozen unsolved robberies. Van Cleef and Arpels, Bulgari, Harry Winston—all the top jewelry stores in the city. A salesperson and a customer will be sitting across from each other, and the customer is looking at some rings or necklaces—things that cost two or three hundred thousand dollars each—and suddenly, one or two of the items is missing. Just missing. It’s not the salesperson stealing, and it’s not the rich customer. So guess who’s taking the stuff? William reaches over, closes his hand around a nice chunk of jewelry, and it disappears. Then he walks out the door and probably makes a phone call to somebody who can sell it for him. And the same sort of shoplifting has been happening at all the big diamond wholesalers on Forty-seventh Street. Our new friend is a major thief. And the most recent store was Tiffany and Company—three robberies in the last two weeks. And do you know where Tiffany’s is? Right at Fifty-seventh and Fifth Avenue. Which is just around the corner from Niketown. It has to be him.”
I’m quiet a minute, trying to sort through everything. I can’t, so I ask, “So what should we do? We have to do
, don’t we? Shouldn’t we tell the police?”
Robert shakes his head. “Because what happens if it becomes this huge news story—because it would—and suddenly everyone knows there’s a way to make a person disappear? The FBI and the CIA would get on the case, I’m sure of that. And they’d figure it out. They would. Because the first thing that guy would do is tell them about me. And then my parents would be involved. And then Alicia and her parents. Because this process is dangerous technology, especially if it gets into the wrong hands. And it would all come out. It would all come out. . . .”
His thoughts trail off, and he looks tired and confused.
I look at my watch, and it’s almost seven-thirty. It feels more like three A.M. I’m beyond tired, beyond drained, beyond exhausted. I’d like to go to bed, or at least take a nap. Then I think about my bedroom.
I’m not a superstitious person, but I don’t want to go downstairs to my bedroom. Downstairs is where Grampa was.
And while I’m wondering if Robert is bothered by stuff like that, he says, “Are you going to think I’m terrible if I tell you that I want to stop thinking about all this and go down to the basement and practice awhile?”
So that answers that. He’s not only fine about going downstairs, he’s going to walk right up to the yellow crime scene tape stretched across the back hall, take a right turn, walk down into the dim basement, and then play his trumpet.
I shake my head. “No, that’s fine. You need to. I’m just going to stretch out here on the couch and try to calm down. It’s a lot to deal with in one day.”
“Yeah it is,” he says. Then a very sweet smile. “And you’ve been incredible, really. And it’s my turn to do the dishes, okay?”
Before I can say thanks, he comes over and he’s giving me a hug. And it makes me feel like I’m eight years old, sitting in the pickup, snuggled between my mom and dad on that long drive we took to Memphis, just the three of us, safe and warm on a country road with the wipers slapping rain from the windshield. I could stay folded against him like this for hours.
And then suddenly we’re both embarrassed. We separate, and I say, “Thanks. For doing the dishes.”
“Sure. No problem. Happy to help out,” and he picks up his trumpet and goes down the stairs.
I take the dark green fleece blanket off the back of Grampa’s recliner. I sit on the couch and try to make the room stop spinning. And it does.
Then I lie down. I spread out the blanket and curl up, pulling it around my shoulders. My mind wants to review the day, spin back through every detail, sort and file and categorize and judge every event, every person, every moment. But I don’t allow it. I do what my mom told me to when I called home. She said I could trust it all to God. She said I was being watched over. And I reach out, because that’s all I want, to be watched over. And I’m almost at peace, and then I’m crying. Because of Grampa.
It’s the blanket. It smells like his aftershave.
But I calm myself again, and I trust Grampa to God as well. Because, honestly, there’s nothing else I can do.
And sometimes trust has to be enough.
Cell phone. My ring.
Morning light is coming through the shutters, and I’m tangled in the green blanket on the couch, trying to get the phone out of my pocket.
“Hello, sweetheart—how’re you doin’ there?”
“Hi, Daddy. I’m fine. Are you coming?”
“I’m already in Newark, be at Penn Station in about an hour. I wanted to call last night, but your mama said you’d be in bed early after such a hard day. How’d everything go, with the police and everything?”
“It was okay. After about two hours everybody left. Except for Robert. He’s a friend from the music camp at Tanglewood last summer. He’s in the city for auditions, same as me. And I didn’t want to be alone. Uncle Hank was here for a while too. So he knows about Grampa. And Mama was right. I fell asleep on the couch around eight o’clock.”
I tell Daddy about the meeting at the police station in the afternoon, and then he has to go get on his train. “See you soon, Gwennie.”
Grampa’s bedroom door is shut, and I’m thinking Robert is still asleep. Daylight makes the house more cheerful, so I walk downstairs to my room.
After I shower and dress, I go back upstairs and there’s a note from Robert.
Have to run errands. Be back about noon. Practice!
I know it’s good advice, to practice. And before, no one would have needed to remind me. But I can’t. Daddy’s coming, and the place needs to be tidied up. Robert did load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, but he cleans up the way my big brothers do. The kitchen and dining area are still a mess.
I start to open all the shutters, and then I remember William. For all I know, he’s right outside, trying to see into the house. It’s a bad feeling, and I leave the windows covered.
After I finish the dishes, I walk to the table, pick up the chair William sat on, and put it over in the corner. I don’t want to use that chair again. It should probably be reupholstered. Or burnt.
Then I move the daffodils back to the center of the table, and they’re still as bright and fresh as ever,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance
. Thank you, Mr. Wordsworth.
Robert’s back a few minutes before my dad arrives, and I’m glad, because I want my dad to meet him. But as the front buzzer sounds, Robert smiles at me and then disappears down the stairs with his trumpet.
“Hey, there she is!”
In the middle of my dad’s bear hug, I remember how much I love my family, remember how much it means to have that love, always there. But even during this sweet moment in the doorway, at least half my mind is watching, on high alert, making sure there’s not room for someone to slip past us into the house. The William thing is making me completely paranoid. Robert made me promise not to tell my dad or anyone else about that situation.
But there are plenty of other things to talk about, and we do, for almost an hour, and during that time neither of us says anything about Grampa. And as we talk, my dad does a good job of hiding how sad he is that his own dad is gone now. But I can still tell he’s torn up about it. Because I know how I would feel.
When Robert comes back upstairs, right away my dad grabs his hand and says, “I want to thank you for taking care of my little girl last night. Means a lot to me.”
Robert’s sort of embarrassed, but he smiles back and says, “Sure, no problem. I mean, it’s not like she wasn’t doing great on her own. But I was glad to be here.”
“So,” Daddy says, “what d’you think’s gonna happen at the meeting, at the police? Got any clues?”
It’s hard to remember that my dad grew up in Queens. His accent sounds like pure West Virginia. Which I think is actually much nicer.
I shrug. “There’s that letter Grampa sent to his lawyer. That’s got to be important, don’t you think?”
Robert nods his head. “Probably. Has to be important.”
My dad says, “Well, we’re all gonna know soon enough, I guess.”
And he’s right about that. We have time to eat some soup and sandwiches, and I get Daddy moved into Grampa’s bedroom, with the sheets all changed and everything, and then it’s time to walk to Broadway and hail a cab for the ride to the police station.
The Twenty-fourth Precinct station is on 100th Street next to a playground in the middle of the block. It’s also close to an apartment complex called the Frederick Douglass Houses, more than a dozen buildings that fill most of the area between 100th and 104th streets. West Side High School is close too, and I get a quick look at the public school I’d attend if I actually lived around here. And if I didn’t have a scholarship at Latham Academy. And if my family and my grampa hadn’t helped me become a classical musician. So many ifs.
Mr. Grant is already inside the station waiting for us, and shortly after Detective Keenan takes us up a short flight of stairs to a conference room, Uncle Hank walks in. He and my dad have a quick hug. Both men are genuinely happy to see each other.
With a big smile, still holding my dad at arm’s length, he says, “I don’t think I’ve seen you since that summer before you went into the army.”
My dad nods and says, “That was a real camping trip. Great memories, great memories.”
And my perception of Uncle Hank shifts again. Because I can see how narrow a view I’ve had of the man. He really is someone’s uncle, and someone else’s little brother. I’m sorry it took something like this to make me figure that out.
I look around the room, and that’s when I notice it’s got one of those mirrored glass walls. And right away I get the feeling I’m being watched.
The detective takes charge, pointing at chairs for everyone, including a court stenographer, who moves to a corner facing us, sets up his portable keyboard, and then nods at the officer.
“Okay. First, let’s see this letter you brought, Mr. Grant. And everyone, please speak clearly for the stenographer.”
The lawyer reaches into his briefcase, pulls out a tan envelope, and passes it to the detective who’s sitting across the table.
Detective Keenan says, “I am examining the post-mark, which is Thursday of last week. This is a stamped and sealed registered mail envelope, and it has not been opened since received at the offices of Kenneth Grant, Attorney-at-Law.”