We rang the doorbell and my mother answered.
“I brought a friend,” I said. “This is Dalton.”
“Oh,” my mother replied. “I thought that would happen someday.”
There was a crowd of kids at the back of the class laughing about something. One of the girls kept saying “Eww.” When I shoved my way through their ranks I found him in the middle. He sat on the floor and a squeaking mouse was wriggling in his hand. Just the tips of the mouse’s feet touched the floor and it desperately moved its legs to try and grab hold. Every so often its legs touched the blue plastic floor, but Dalton didn’t allow it to run away.
When I reached the front of the crowd Dalton looked up.
“You,” he said. “Hold her for me.”
I tried to copy his technique by holding the mouse right above the floor. Its front legs twitched.The others laughed and Dalton laughed and I laughed; then the mouse bit my finger. The mouse ran through the jungle of feet and disappeared under the heater – the other kids still laughed, but now about me. Dalton didn’t laugh; he only grinned.
Two hours later Dalton and I were best friends. That afternoon he walked home with me.
I was eight at the time and had brought friends home before, but my parents had never treated anyone as rudely as Dalton. Already when we arrived at home mom tried to shut the door in his face.
During dinner she didn’t even offer him a plate.
“Can’t Dalton eat too?” I asked.
She looked nervous.
“Sure,” she said. “He just didn’t seem hungry to me.”
During dinner mom was polite and asked Dalton questions about his family and hobbies, but dad interrupted Dalton’s answers and made me answer instead. Only Alexandra, who had just turned six, liked Dalton as well. Alexandra even offered to share her dessert with him when mom said that Dalton wouldn’t be allowed to have any.
At about 8pm Dalton said goodbye. I opened the door for him and he waved back at me while he walked down our driveway.
“Is Dalton leaving?” asked my mother.
“His mom is waiting,” I said.
“And his mother lets him walk home alone at night? He must be a big boy.”
The next day there was no mouse at school, but Dalton was there and he had new ideas. In the break he taught the rest of us how to fold paper airplanes.
For a while we all played with our airplanes, but when the bell announced the next class Dalton quickly made all of us hide under tables and behind the door. The teacher screamed when the airplanes all came at her at once. Someone threw a plastic cup filled with juice.
Dalton came home with me every day. His mother worked at night and slept during the day so he never had to be home until late.
I admired Dalton. He was the way I wanted to be; he was popular, had great ideas, and always laughed. I never understood why he chose me as his best friend. I’m sure he could have had anybody else – for example Parker, who used to be the most popular kid – but still he chose me.
As his friend I was always among the first chosen for sports teams and during the breaks all the others crowded around Dalton and me to hear his newest ideas. Everybody wanted to sit at our lunch table. Dalton didn’t have his own food, he ate from our plates instead and when he was full he sometimes grabbed a milk carton or pudding and threw it at another table.
Some of the kids that were caught told on Dalton, so the teachers knew that it was Dalton that convinced the rest of us to paint on the walls; they knew it was him that had the idea to block the sinks in the upstairs bathroom and let the water run; they knew it was him that wanted to climb on the roof to find out how far we would be able to jump from there.
They disliked him and told some of us to “avoid” him. Still they never caught him in the act. Others got in trouble for his ideas, but Dalton always managed to disappear when the teachers came close. In class too they never made him speak up or do any exercises on the board.
Twice I was sent home because of games that Dalton came up with – and both times Dalton skipped class to come along and spend the day with me at home.
Around that time my parents began to argue a lot. I think they argued about me.
My sister never used to bother me much, but since Dalton began to visit me she never left us alone. Sometimes she came inside and sat for a few minutes with us, at other times she asked whether she could join in our games. But most of the time she just opened the door and stared at Dalton.
Sometimes she giggled.
The time with Dalton felt nearly like a year, but at most it could have been two or three months. During that time I was nearly suspended from school for pushing library books off the shelves.
My parents took many of my games away and forbade me to eat sweets. Luckily friends at school borrowed me games and Dalton showed me where mom was storing the sweets.
The only thing I couldn’t escape was the psychologist. He kept asking me whether my father was beating my mother or whether my father molested me.
“No,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You can tell me.”
Every week it was the same questions and the same answers. Still, with my mom sitting in the waiting room the psychologist kept his glassy eyes focused on me. I in turn kept my eyes on Dalton and the funny things he did in the psychologist’s office.
Once I asked whether I could come home with Dalton rather than go to mine. My mom said ‘No.’ I was ready to sneak out of school with him, but Dalton too said ‘No.’ He said his parents wouldn’t be happy about me coming over. He said that, if I came, they wouldn’t let me go.
The stricter my parents got the more I wanted to go to Dalton’s place. I told him that I would do anything to be away from my parents.
“Anything?” he asked.
“Anything,” I said.
I woke up to whispering. His face was so close to mine that I felt the movement in the air that his breath caused.
“Don’t do that!” I said.
The room was dark, just like the outside world.
“Come,” Dalton said. “You can meet my parents.”
He moved away from the bed and towards the door.
“My parents will be angry,” I said.
“You will like mine. You can have them instead of your parents.”
My hands got cold and sweaty.
“Another time,” I said.
“You promised,” he said. “And you have to come tonight.”
I moved backwards against the wall.
“I promised to bring you tonight.”
“I don’t want to,” I said. “It’s dark outside.”
“I know,” he said. “But my parents don’t sleep.”
“I don’t like the dark.”
“You have to come.”
He grabbed my arm.
“No!” I screamed the word.
He pulled me off the bed.
“No! No! No!” I screamed and tears flooded my eyes.
He let go of my arm.
“Don’t be so loud,” he said. “You will wake your parents.”
I sat back against the wall and pulled the blanket over my legs. I hid my face behind in the light blue of the pillow.
“I won’t come,” I said.
“Fine,” he said. “I will find a new friend then.”
“Find a new friend then,” I said.
Dalton stumped out of the room; still his feet didn’t seem to make any noise.
I sank back into my bed. For a while I was awake. I felt regret and wondered whether I should have come. I still heard his whispered words in my head. Finally sleep took me again.
My mom’s sounded angry.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes.
“Okay, okay.” I said.
“What did you do in the garden?”
“Answer me! Why were you in the garden?”
“I wasn’t,” I said. “I swear I wasn’t.”
“You left the door open!”
“I didn’t go outside.”
“Stop lying to me! You left the door open!”
“I didn’t –“
Her hand hit my cheek.
“Stop lying!” she said. “Where did you go?”
Her hand hit my cheek again.
“Stop it!” my mother shouted. “Where did you go? And where is Alexandra?”