Book 2: Waking
“Jack? You’ve barely touched your breakfast. Did you sneak a late night snack?”
He looked up from the pancake, where he’d been making circles in the maple syrup. Golden circles within circles.
“He looks like he did when the baby bird died,” Charlotte said. Several years ago, Jack and Hannah had found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, and had tried nursing it back to health. It lasted about a day and a half, which was about as long as Jack had cried, as well.
“Is everything all right, Champ?”
Jack didn’t look over at his dad, kept his eyes on the pancake. “I guess so.”
“It’s summer vacation. You’re supposed to be happy,” Charlotte said. She sang a few lines from “School’s Out.” The Alice Cooper version.
“I can’t wait to go to school!”
“You’ll learn,” Charlotte told her sister.
“I know! That’s why you go to school!”
“That’s not what I… oh, never mind.”
“Come on, Champ. Finish at least one of those pancakes. You’re going to need your strength.”
Half an hour later, Jack was busy inside the greenhouse. He was picking shards of pottery from the larger of the two piles of soil. Raccoons had gotten in through a broken panel along the wall, and they’d decided to knock over and break whatever the couldn’t eat. And it didn’t look like they ate all that much.
Charlotte shook the plastic bag. “Some of us have things to do, besides moping.”
Jack gave his sister a dark look, but tossed more broken pieces into the trash bag.
“Talk to us, Jack,” Hannah said. She was sitting astride the ladder, reseating the irrigation tubing in its rows of hooks in the rafters. All the tubes and coils looked alike to Jack, but Hannah seemed to know precisely where each one went. “What’s turned you into such a Gloomy Gus?”
Jack stalled as long as he could, sifting through the potting soil at his feet. Neither of his sisters said a word. It was usually a bad sign when they were quiet like that.
More silence. Charlotte jiggled the bag again, but it was because she was shifting her feet. Settling in to wait him out.
“I… I found out where she went.”
Still more silence. There was no need for him to clarify. There was only one ‘she’ as far as Jack was concerned.
“And yet he broods,” Charlotte said.
“Jack?” Hannah asked.
“I shouldn’t say anything else.”
“It’s not nice to—“ Hannah and Charlotte spoke at the same time, the broke off into giggles.
Jack got up, snatching a hand broom and dustpan from the corner, and began scooping and sweeping at the soil. Charlotte set the bag down and dragged over a large plastic bucket that was half-full of potting soil.
“She’s been in Ellie’s dreams,” Jack finally said, as the third panful of soil plopped into the bucket.
“That’s crazy,” Charlotte said. “It’s one thing for you to dream about her. But Ellie?” She glanced up at her older sister. “Where would she get the idea? We don’t talk about it around her.”
“Exactly,” Jack said, scooping viciously at the pile.
“Maybe she peeked at your sketchbooks,” Hannah said.
“I don’t keep those where she could find them,” Jack muttered.
Charlotte raised an eyebrow.
“So, she hasn’t just gone away,” Hannah said, popping another length of tube into place. “That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Spooky, is what it is,” Charlotte said with a shudder.
“It doesn’t matter. She has gone away now.”
“Great, she’ll show up in my dreams next.”
“No, she won’t,” Jack said.
Charlotte started to say something, but caught Hannah’s look, and snapped her mouth shut. She leaned over and swung the greenhouse door shut.
After several false starts, Jack told them the details of his last dream.
* * * * *
Some time just after lunch, they heard the truck.
It was big, and nearly filled the entire length of the long driveway, beeping and chugging and crunching as it backed slowly towards the front lawn of the farmhouse next door.
The three Jacobs watched from the front porch. Jack’s father waved to the truck driver as the man climbed down from the cab, clipboard in hand.
There was a lot of rumbling and booming and rattling, but the back of the truck was behind the long high hedgerow that separated the properties, so Jack had to imagine the long ramp being lowered, the big pieces of furniture being rolled out and down the ramp. The voices of the movers sort of merged into one constant yammer.
When Jack’s mother drove back up the driveway, she had to restrain Ellie by the collar and practically drag her up the steps.
“No,” she said. “We just got back from the doctor. I’m not taking you back because you get stepped on by the new neighbors. Go inside and sit quietly. Finish one of those lollipops.”
Jack saw that his little sister’s eyes were slightly red. But he also saw the three lollipop stems sticking up from the front pocket of her overalls. He and Hannah always got three. Charlotte was lucky to get one. She hated needles more than she did spiders.
After about half an hour, Jack and Hannah went back inside. Charlotte, though, stayed out on the porch, resting her chin on her arms, an ear cocked towards the hedgerow.
“Thirty three trips with boxes,” she reported at dinner that night. “Twenty with furniture of some sort or another. Two broken dishes. A lot of fragile stuff, ‘cause their boss kept yelling at them to be careful.”
Headlights flashed through the screen door, across the living and dining room just as they finished dessert. A car door slammed, and a low murmur of conversation floated on the early evening breeze. For once, Charlotte didn’t complain about having to do the dishes, but she kept her eyes glued to the window rather than the plates and glasses in the sink.
The big moving truck rumbled to life, slowly pulled onto Route 3, and disappeared to the south, towards the interstate.
* * * * *
Their new neighbor came and went several times over the weekend. He drove a rental car. Charlotte pointed out the green and white stickers on the windows.
Jack’s mother and father stemmed their curiosity by banishing them from the front porch to the greenhouse, where the cleanup work continued. For all that she hated vegetables, Charlotte didn’t mind actually planting and growing them. Hers always turned out bigger and healthier than Jack’s and Hannah’s combined.
“It’s the fertilizer,” Hannah said. “She talks to them a lot, you know.”
Jack laughed. Charlotte bumped her sister, and Hannah spilled soil across the workbench. Ellie looked up from her mud pies, frowning.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Your eldest sister — who knows better — just means Charlotte has a magic touch,” their mother said, from the doorway.
Charlotte nudged her sister again, though after their mother had gone back into the house.
* * * * *
Some time before noon on the first Monday of summer vacation, the rental car was replaced by a rattling huff of a big yellow truck. Not nearly the size of the huge one that had pulled in over the past weekend, this was the smaller of the boxy rental movers.
It disappeared behind the hedgerow before any of the Jacobs could tidy up their work space along the greenhouse’s long work bench. But they all looked up at each other at the sound of the second cab door slamming.
“No,” their mother said, when Charlotte suggested they be neighborly. Vans had been pulling in and leaving all afternoon: the power company, the phone company. Charlotte looked particularly longingly at the cable company truck.
“Let them settle in. Moving is a lot of work.”
“Well, then let’s send them Jack. He could help.”
“If you want to help, you go,” Jack said.
Charlotte looked down at her hands. “What? And ruin my nails?” She buffed them on her sleeve, seemingly oblivious to the dirt that still lingered under them from the work in the greenhouse.
Another hour passed, and Charlotte looked out the window. Their mail carrier had just pulled away from the mailboxes at the end of the driveway, after pausing longer than usual there.
“It’s okay Mom, I’ll get it!”
Hannah looked up as Charlotte darted down the porch steps. “We should get new neighbors more often.”
A short squeal from the end of the driveway pulled their attention back outside.
Charlotte wasn’t just skipping, but sprinting back towards the house.
“Jack! You better come see this!”
Charlotte tossed the mail on the table, and grabbed Jack’s sleeve, pulling him away from his sketchpad and the map of the Kingdom By the Sea that he was working on.
“What is it?” he asked as she pushed him down the gravel driveway. “It’s just the mailboxes. There aren’t any packages. You don’t need me to carry—“
From the mailboxes, they could see up the neighbor’s half of the driveway, where the back of the yellow truck stood open, a skinny ramp extended from the back.
A shadowed figure was struggling to lift a box.
Jack scowled at his sister. “Don’t just stand there. Help!” He crunched up the drive. He set a foot on the ramp.
“It’s easier if you sort of squat down rather than bending over like that,” Jack said. He shaded his eyes against the afternoon’s glare. “Can I help?”
The figure stood up, turned.
“I live next door,” Jack said, pointing. “I….“
“Breathe, Jack!” Charlotte shouted from her place by the hedgerow.
The girl stepped from the shadows in the back of the truck. Sunlight gleamed off bright golden hair. Bright motes of gold flashed in the depths of brilliant emerald eyes.
“It’s you!” Jack managed to finally gasp.
The girl brushed a strand of hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear.
“Of course it’s me,” she said. “Who else would I be?”