They finished off the thermos of hot chocolate, and packed up, following the stream, crossing the fallen-log bridge, and making their way through the meadow to the tree line, where Beth stopped short.
“Shoot,” she said.
A dark sedan was parked on the drive behind the professor’s car.
“I have to go,” Beth said, taking the thermos from Jack, walking quickly across the yard before he could even ask about the car.
* * * * *
“Oh,” Jack’s mother said, “I was expecting both of you back.”
Jack hung up his coat. “Looks like they had some company over there.”
“I saw a car pull up. I hope everything is all right.”
Jack just shrugged.
“Hey Mom, did you ever do anything… crazy when you liked a boy?”
“Get married? Have four children?”
“I was sort of thinking more like when you were closer to my age.”
She laughed, marking her place in the book on her lap. “Well… That would be quite a few years back. What sort of craziness did you have in mind?”
“I guess you never trashed someone’s locker at school?”
“No, dear. Do you think someone did that to her locker out of jealousy?”
“Well, Beth has a theory.”
“The administrators didn’t say anything about that to me this morning.”
“I don’t think Beth mentioned it to them.”
“Jack, is she planning any kind of retaliation?”
He sat back, blinking. “What? No. She doesn’t even really care about it all that much.”
“You know you’ll have to say something if she is planning anything.”
“She’s not, Mom.”
“As sure as I can be. Why? I thought you liked Beth. How could you think she’d—”
“I was her age, too, Jack. Love can make you do crazy things.”
Jack shook his head. “That’s what she said about— the girl she thinks did that to her locker.”
His mother smiled.
“What?” When she just shook her head, Jack threw up his hands. “That’s it. I give up. All girls are crazy.”
“Jack,” his mother said, as he made to go upstairs. He turned. Her smile was gone. “I think you should know there were some other things the administration didn’t say.”
“That they didn’t…?”
“They didn’t mention anything specific, or name names, but they strongly hinted that you reconsider your choice in friends.”
Jack could only stare.
“The other file on Mr. Durand’s desk was quite thick, Jack.”
“That doesn’t mean—” A lump was forming in Jack’s throat.
“It only means that they know things we don’t, Jack. It means I want you to be careful.”
“So… you’re not going to make me stop being friends with her?”
“Stop… goodness no, Jack! Your friendship with her could be the only thing keeping that file of hers from getting any thicker. If she is crazy, she certainly doesn’t show it around you.”
* * * * *
Ellie had been worried that Jack collapsed again, but when she saw he was fine, the other two sisters practically needed dynamite to get her away from cartoons.
Dinner was more bearable than Jack thought it would be. His father asked very few questions, mostly listening and nodding. Charlotte gave up on prying for details after a couple digs in the ribs from Hannah.
After dinner was a rare treat, as well: their parents sequestered themselves in the kitchen, shutting the door behind them.
“Wow,” Charlotte said. “Are you sure you’re not in any trouble over this, Jack?”
“We didn’t do anything,” he insisted.
“Are you sure Beth is okay?” Hannah asked.
“Actually, I think she was more worried about the car that was here this afternoon than anything at all that happened this morning. I guess I’ll have to ask her about it tomorrow at school.”
Jack went to bed early, leaving his sisters to fight over what they wanted to watch on TV. He half expected to have nightmares, given all the excitement and the topsy-turvy jangling of his nerves. What his mom and Beth said about love, how it makes you do crazy things, kept tumbling through his head.
He turned over, pulling the covers up over his head. He hoped this was as crazy as things got.
When he finally did get to sleep, he found himself dreaming of the great, dark, candle-lit vault. It was quiet there, peaceful, in the flickering yellow glow of the countless candles.