Clockwork Summer

by Taryn Alynn

Tue., June 20th

            My 10th grade summer in the tumultuous year of 1967 began on Tuesday, June 20th.  Just after noon we were let out to enjoy our three months of freedom.  To me, summer meant long days at the baseball field near the edge of town where my friends and I would play till the sun went down.  We had one bat and five gloves between us (they went to the infielders, the pitcher and the catcher), so if you were unlucky to be in the outfield when someone hit a fly ball, it could give you quite a bruise! 

            At the very edge of right field sat one of the largest houses in the county.  A previous owner had donated the land the field sat on to the town long, long ago, but the house still stood on a fairy large plot.  An older couple occupied the house now, but people who stayed at the field too long past dusk said you could hear a young girl’s giggle coming from open windows upstairs. 

            After being sprung from the small, brick school, my first thought was to run straight to play ball.  My stomach, however, had other ideas, so I walked home.  Our family wasn’t poor, but we weren’t wealthy either, so the only car we owned was my dad’s old Dodge, which he used to drive back and forth to the meat-packing plant two towns over everyday. 

            I got home just in time to see my younger sister rush out the door in her summer uniform of overalls and a t-shirt.

            “You keep that outfit clean, missy!  I’m not spending all summer doing laundry in the heat!” my mother yelled after her. 

            “Yeah, yeah,” my sister Melanie muttered under her breath and headed to what I assumed was the frog pond.

            “Brian!  Welcome home!  I have lunch already made,” my mom said as she saw me.

            “Thanks, mom,” I said as I sat down and quickly inhaled two whole tuna fish sandwiches followed by a big glass of milk. 

            “Woah, slow down!  You don’t want to choke on your first day of vacation!” Mom warned me.

            “Mmmphmph,” I replied as mom just smiled.

            I took a final gulp of milk, grabbed my baseball cap and ran out of the house, shouting “bye!” as I left, letting the screen door slam behind me.

            “Be home by dark!” my mom yelled after me.

            When I arrived at the park about five minutes later, most of the crowd was already there, including my closest friends.  Mike Wilson, the best pitcher of the bunch, was hanging out by the trees near the first base line.  Sam Thompson, who broke his arm at the beginning of last summer when he was hit by a pitch, was practicing his swing with our solitary wooden bat.  Cindy Summers, the lone girl in our group, was sitting in the shade of the giant elm tree behind our makeshift wooden backstop.  The other kids were mostly from our grade or younger and were hanging out on the field.

            Once I got there, we had enough people to make up two teams of about six apiece.  We had first, second and third bases covered, plus a pitcher and a catcher.  That left one guy (or Cindy) to roam the outfield.  Usually the teams made themselves, unless we had a large amount of kids there (most of the extras were bored siblings).  Today, Cindy, Mike, Sam and I were a team along with Dan Spokowski, a timid kid a grade below me, and Greg Olsen, who was a huge kid who had taken to bragging recently that he would have a car by the end of the summer. 

            We took the field first, and I crouched behind the plate while Mike threw his best stuff.  I had given up trying to give signals to him, cause he always knew exactly what to throw.  Today I watched three batters come up and three batters sit right down.  Our ups.

            The pitcher on the other team was decent, but we managed to get a run in the first inning.  After that, we were back on the field for all of about five minutes while Mike struck out the side, and that’s the way it went that first game.  Mike walked a batter in the sixth and a kid got a lucky hit when Sam threw the ball too high for Dan to catch it at first.

            At the end of the game, which we won 4-0, we all gathered under the shade of the elm. 

            “Way to go, Mike! Great game!” I said as I slapped him on the back.

            “Yeah, super pitching job Mike!” Cindy said as she nudged him to make space so she could sit down.

            “Good job, Mike, but we barely made contact!  This summer won’t be much fun if you keep striking us out!” Larry Brown complained.  He was the second basemen for the other team.

            “Yeah, can ya let us each get at least one hit?” Ollie Brown, Larry’s twin, asked.

            “I could, but then that’s not a fair game,” Mike said.

            “Boring isn’t the same as fair,” Larry said.

            “Maybe you guys just need hitting practice,” I suggested.

            Ollie shot me a look.  “C’mon Brian!  You know he’s too good to play with us,” he said sullenly.

            “Nahh.  I’ll show you how to hit tomorrow.  I gotta get home now before it gets too dark,” I said as I wiped a bead of sweat from my brow.

            “Yeah, I do too.  My mom’ll kill me if I miss dinner,” said Cindy.

            And with that the crowd began to break up.  I ran home under the cloudy sky of twilight and made it just as the last rays of sun dropped below the horizon.

            “Just made it!” my mom said lovingly.  “Now go wash up! Supper’s on the table!”

Fri., June 23rd

            Stupid rain!  I finally get free of school and then we can’t even play baseball for two straight days because of rain.  It rained so hard the stream near the baseball field behind the backstop rose high enough to cover home plate!  But towards the end of the day on Sunday the sun had come out and by Monday morning the field was dry again (except for a small, squishy area near home plate), and it was also time for my hitting lessons.

            As soon as I got there everyone gathered around Mike and me, telling us to start the lesson.

            “Can’t yet,” I told them.  “Gotta get warmed up first.  Let’s play a game.  Same teams as yesterday”

            We were done by two-thirty or so, and the end result was similar to yesterday, though Ollie hit a rocket that almost hit the huge house in right field.  Seven to two was the final, in our favor. 

            Once again everyone surrounded Mike and me, and I demonstrated the way to hit.  Then Mike threw me a couple of pitches, and I quickly struck out.

            “Nice hitting there, Brian,” Greg teased.

            “Maybe you’ll get in the majors with that swing,” Cindy scoffed.

            “Don’t laugh yet.  Mike’s a great pitcher, and he’s always on my team.  I haven’t batted against him since we were in little league!” I shot back.  “Ok Mike!  Pitch another one in here!”

            Mike did, and my bat only hit air.  The snickers I was hearing behind me made me even more determined to hit the next pitch, and I did—straight up.  Ollie ran behind me and caught it, and then took Mike’s place and threw the ball to me.  I took a mighty swing at it and the ball flew almost to the edge of left field.

            “Ollie, you are not pitching for us next game,” Larry said, and everyone laughed.

 Mon., June 26th  

            That’s how the batting practice went for awhile.  People told me I had a great swing, but no matter how hard I tried I hardly ever hit one of Mike’s fastballs.  And when I did, I either popped it straight up or grounded out.  Luckily, Mike was on my team. We had only lost one game, because Larry had a great game pitching for the other team, and his defensemen made some great plays.  Mike, on the other hand, allowed only one hit, a line drive to the outfield.  But Greg lost the ball in some weeds in center field, and by the time he found it, the batter was heading home.  Greg fired the ball to the plate, but it sailed high over the backstop and into the creek.  It took him five minutes to find the ball and get it out.  One to zip, not in our favor. 

            After the last game we played, Mike came home with me for a sleepover.  My mom and dad were pretty strict during the school year, but they let up some during the summer.  When we got to my house, we took showers and got cleaned up for dinner.  It was only Melanie, mom, Mike and me, as dad was running late at work. 

            After dinner, while Melanie and mom did the dishes, Mike and I went out and lay on the front lawn.  We stared up at the stars, trying to find the constellations and talking about stuff. 

            “So whatcha wanna do tomorrow?” I asked him

            “Baseball!  What else?” he asked me.

            “Well, the weatherman said thunderstorms tomorrow,” I reminded him.  “What if we get rained out again?”

            “We’ll find something to do,” he told me. “Maybe I’ll show you how to hit my fastball.”

            “You’d show me that?” I asked with hope.

            “Well, if I did you’d have to promise not to tell anyone.  Then everyone could hit off me!” Mike said.

            “Then you’d better not.  I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut,” I said with a grin.

            Mike hit me in the shoulder.  “Well, I have more than just a fastball, you know,” he explained.  Then, after he was quiet for a few minutes, he said, “Do you know if you’re taking anyone to the Fall Ball next year?”

            The Fall Ball was the first dance for incoming Juniors, and everyone in the class was expected to attend—with or without a date.  “I’m not sure,” I said hesitantly.  “I may ask Cindy.”

            Mike chuckled and said, “Cindy?  Really?   She’s cute, I guess.  If you like the redheaded, freckled type.”

            “Well, we have the same interests, and she is good-looking.  Heck, Mike, she’s growing up—we all are.  And she just seems like someone I could go with,” I told him.

            “I just might ask Angela Parsons,” Mike said quietly.

            “The most popular girl?  Her parents are probably the second-richest people in town.  Only those people who own the house by the ball field are probably more well-off,” I pointed out. 

            “You saying I couldn’t get her to go with me?” Mike asked, looking a little hurt.

            “Well, no, I mean, with that arm you’ll make varsity baseball next year and she’ll probably be a cheerleader.  And you’re not chopped liver either—you’ve got a great build.  I should probably be doing some weight-lifting over the summer.  Maybe I could make varsity baseball if I tried.  But, it just seems like you guys come from two different camps.  She’s rich and part of the haves.  You’re like me, part of the have-nots,” I said.

            “You mean, she wouldn’t or shouldn’t go with me just cause I’m poor?” Mike asked incredulous.

            “Maybe,” I said quietly, “but she’d be a fool not to go with you.”

            “Yeah, I have the same fear, that she’ll turn me down just cause I’m not in her social circle.  But sometimes you just have to take a chance,” Mike said.

            “Yeah, I guess you’re right…”

Fri., June 30th

            Already it was June 30th and we’d missed three days at the field cause it wouldn’t stop raining.  That creek was submerging home plate more often than I was hitting Mike’s pitches!  This day, however, featured bright sunshine and a light breeze.  There was something electric in the air, and I just knew that I’d get a hit off Mike today.  I had to, because it had almost become a ritual: Mike pitches a great game, and then he pitches to me and everyone watches.  They originally wanted a batting lesson—now they just watched as someone who claimed to be able to teach them about hitting struck out time after time.

            I started the game in the outfield, and noticed the breeze was blowing towards right field.  Working the outfield while Mike was pitching was like a vacation—you didn’t have to do anything hardly ever.  The odd ball would come your way and you either caught it or threw the runner out.  Deep hits were rare, but this was one of the days where unexpected things happened. 

            Mike did not have his pitches working for him today.  The first three batters he faced reached on two walks and an infield hit on an error by Cindy.  Then a popup that Sam chased all the way down to the creek—and promptly fell in.  Sam shed his shirt after scrounging up the ball in the shallows and retook his position as catcher soaking wet.  Then, the next batter hit a towering fly ball right toward the house.  I ran back as far as I could and caught the ball right on the edge of the two properties—perilously close to hitting the house.  I gunned the ball back to the infield but two runs had already scored. 

            Once we got up to bat, though, it was apparent that Ollie, who was pitching that day, did not have his best stuff either.  We got a run on my huge blast to right field, again coming very close to the house.  Later in the game I shot a line drive up the middle to drive in two more runs.  By the end of the game, though, we had lost, but by a score of fifteen to thirteen.  As I said, weird things were happening.

            After the game, I had to beg Mike to pitch to me.  He kept saying it wasn’t worth it to get a hit off of him today—everyone else had anyway!  Finally he relented, and on the first pitch, I hit a towering fly ball to right field.  As it looked like it was about to drop, a gust of wind carried it past the property line—and straight into a second-story window of the large house.

            No one had ever hit a ball so far that it had broken one of the windows of the old house.  Quite a few times fly balls and line drives made it to the yard, but never through a window.  I was the first, and off Mike, no less!  Everyone said that since I hit the ball, I had to go to the door of the old house and face the music.  Only Cindy offered to go with me, but I politely declined.  If I was going to ask her to the Fall Ball, I didn’t want to be yelled at and embarrassed by the owners of this house in front of her. 

            So it was on my own that I walked across the pitcher’s mound, through the grass in right field, across the cobblestone path that led to the porch, and up to the door of the large, old house.  I noticed there was no bell, so rapped loudly on the door, hoping no one was home.  My hopes were unfounded, however, when an older lady came to the door.  She was probably in her mid-40s, but she had glasses and wore her hair up in a severe bun, making her look much older.

            “And I suppose you were the one who hit the ball through my window?” she asked with a slightly menacing tone.

            “Umm, yes’m,” I said meekly.

            “And I suppose you want to know if I’m going to tell your parents,” she asked with the same tone.

            “Yes’m” I replied.

            “Well, it’s no good talking to you on the porch.  Why don’t you come in?  Take your shoes off on the porch, though.  Wouldn’t do no good to have wet gravel and mud on my white carpet,” she said, turned around and walked into her house.

            I slipped my shoes off and followed her, closing the door behind me.  She led me into a small sitting room, where she took a seat in a richly upholstered arm chair and motioned me to sit on the small sofa behind me.  “Well, ma’am, will you tell my parents?” I asked.

            “I’m not sure.  Every summer I’ve been eyeing the kids playing baseball in that field, and I was sure one of these days a little white ball would come sailing through my window”—she produced my ball—“and sure enough, that day has come,” she explained.

            “It was an accident, ma’am.  I’m sorry!” I said.

            “Well, I see that, but if I don’t tell your parents, how will you pay for this window?  Young people nowadays think that money grows on trees.  You broke my window and you will have to pay for it,” she told me.

            “I swear I will, but please don’t tell my parents,” I pleaded.  If she told my mom and dad I wouldn’t be allowed to play baseball for the whole summer!

            “Well, I suppose I could be persuaded if a satisfactory agreement on payment could be reached,” she said.  “But I don’t know you and you don’t know me.  Let me introduce you to my family.  Dear?  Will you come here for a moment?  Abby? Will you bring us some ice tea?”

            An older man came into the room, with gray hair only on the sides of his head.  He also wore glasses, but his appeared much thicker than the ones his wife had.  “My name is Millicent Weston—Mrs. Weston to you—and this is my husband Herbert Weston—Mr. Weston to you,” Mrs. Weston explained.  “This is?” she said as she motioned to me.

            “Brian Pearson,” I told them, and shook Mr. Weston’s hand.

            After Mrs. Weston introduced her husband, he left the room.  Almost immediately afterward a young girl came into the room.  She looked about my age, but the clothes she wore were much more appropriate for a younger girl.  She had on a plaid dress, white kneesocks and shiny black Mary Jane shoes.  Her hair was blonde and drawn back into two tight braided pigtails.  She walked in halting, jerky steps but the tray she carried with a pitcher of iced tea and our glasses was perfectly steady. 

            “This is my daughter Abigail.  You may call her Abby,” Mrs. Weston explained.  “She has problems with her legs so she doesn’t go out much, and we have a tutor who comes here so she doesn’t go to school.  I believe she is about your age.  Abby, this is Brian Pearson.  He is the boy who broke the window this afternoon,” Mrs. Weston said.

            “Nice to meet you,” Abby said in a slightly halting voice, put the tray down and did a stiff, ungainly curtsey.

            “Umm, nice to meet you , Abby,” I said as I stared at the floor.  I’d never seen anyone walk or talk like her, and my mind was burning with curiosity.  Why was she dressed so young?  Maybe because she didn’t get out much?  And why did she walk like that?

            Mrs. Weston looked a little perturbed that I clearly didn’t know how to greet a lady, but apparently didn’t think it was her place to hone in, so she said nothing.  Then her countenance broadened into wide smile and said, “That will be all, Abby,” and Abby did her halting walk right out of the room.

            “Won’t Abby be joining us for iced tea?” I asked Mrs. Weston.

            “No, Brian.  We have business to discuss,” Mrs. Weston replied.  “Now, I won’t tell your parents, but you have to do some things for me.  I can’t just let you get away with breaking my window, so you should work it off.  You can do things like mowing and watering the lawn, weeding the garden, painting my fence, and helping Abby clean the downstairs.”

            “But if I’m doing all that,” I complained, “how will I play baseball?”

            “Well, unfortunately, you must take responsibility for your actions.  The sooner you complete your debt to me, the sooner you can rejoin your team,” Mrs. Weston replied.

            “Well, how much will it cost to repair the window?” I asked, hopeful that it wouldn’t be much more than I already had saved up for a new baseball glove.

            “It should cost about twenty dollars to replace the window,” said Mrs. Weston.

            The moment I heard that I groaned inwardly.  I had five dollars saved up for a new baseball glove and that had taken me all of the last school year.  Hopefully, I thought, I’ll have all day to earn that money back and more. “I have five dollars all saved up I can give you,” I offered.

            “Well, I don’t need the money to replace the window.  I have more than enough.  But because you have been saving, I’ll take the five dollars off the cost.  So now you have a fifteen dollar debt to work off,” Mrs. Weston said.

            “Oh, thank you Mrs. Weston!  I can get started now if you’d like.  Just let me tell the other guys I won’t be back today,” I told her and started to get up.

            “No need for that.” Mrs. Weston informed me, and pointed out the window.  Through it I saw the kids had already started playing, with my team one player short.

            A little hurt that no one had even come to the door to ask if I could come out, I said defiantly, “Where do I start?”

            I spent the rest of that day washing windows.  I started off doing the inside of the downstairs, and by the time I made my way outside to finish, the other players had long since gone off somewhere else.  Just as I finished the last downstairs window, the last of the sun’s golden rays dipped below the trees and I went back inside to tell Mrs. Weston I had to be home by dark. 

            “You did well today,” she said after I told her.  “That’s fifty cents of your debt paid off.  I’ll see you late morning tomorrow.”

            “Sure.  And thanks for not telling my parents,” I said with sincerity.

            “You’re welcome,” said she, and turned around and left the room.

            I made my way to the front door.  On the way I noticed Abby sitting perfectly still like a statue on a bench in the hall.  I said goodbye to her but she didn’t respond.  I thought this a little weird, but I didn’t have time to ask questions.  I opened up the door and ran home as fast as I could.

Sat., July 1st

            “Sorry guys!  That’s all there is to it!  If you want me to play baseball with ya for at least most of the summer I have to repay the debt by doing odd jobs for her.  And if I don’t, she tells my parents and then I get in a whole heap of trouble,” I explained to several disappointed faces, most notably Cindy’s, on a brilliantly sunny Saturday.

            “How are we gonna play with a man short?” she asked.  “Can’t you work early in the mornings and then play later?”

            “I think she wants me to repay the debt before I play again,” I told them.  “And I should be going.  The quicker I repay it the quicker I’ll be back!”

            “But what will we do about another player?” Cindy asked. 

            “Well, what about your sister, Cindy?” I offered.

            “Kelly? She couldn’t tell an out from a hit.  Besides, she’s into makeup and doing her hair now.  She’s useless,” Cindy said.

            “I’ll play,” a small voice said from behind me.

            “Melanie?” I gasped.  My sister, one year younger than me, was behind me in overalls, pigtails and a baseball cap.

            “Yup!  You gotta let me play or I’ll tell mom you busted ol’ lady Weston’s window!” Melanie said with authority.

            “You heard her guys,” I said.  “Mom can’t find out.  At least see what she’s got.  At least she’s fast.  Maybe she should play in the infield.”

            “Ok Brian, but you should get going before Mrs. Weston thinks you’ve reneged on your deal!” Mike cautioned me.

            “Sure.  See ya later,” I said as I made my way back to the house. 

            I noticed a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach while walking towards the imposing building.  It was an odd combination of things.  I was nervous, wondering what Mrs. Weston would make me do today.  I was unhappy, because I couldn’t play with my friends.  And I was excited, because since yesterday I couldn’t get Abby off of my mind, and another day catching a glimpse of her was worth working, I thought.

            I went up to the door and it opened as I was reaching for the doorbell.

            “Good morning!” Mrs. Weston crowed as she saw me.  “Today, weeding!” she said proudly as she handed me a trowel and a pair of garden gloves.  “Once you’re done it’ll be another fifty cents off your debt.  And if you finish early I may have something else for you to do!” she told me and started to close the door.

            Almost as the door shut, I worked up the courage to say, “Excuse me, uhh, ma’am?  If Abby is around, umm, would it be possible for her to, uhh, maybe, keep me company outside?  Err, if she doesn’t mind, that is?  I’d like to talk to her, get to know her?”

            “Well, that’s very nice of you.  But Abby is still sleeping, and has many things to do when she wakes up.  Maybe another time,” Mrs. Weston said, and closed the door.

            With hope still surviving for another time, I surveyed the property to the sounds of wooden bats hitting baseballs.  I had a small glimmer of hope when she told me I would be weeding, as usually gardens are at least kept looking neat at large houses as this one.  But as I got closer to the nearest garden I realized this was not the case.  It looked as though the gardens had not had a good weeding in months, no, years.  And there were a lot of gardens.  With quiet resignation to my fate, I shrugged my shoulders and started weeding.

            Sweating, panting and burning, I got done again close to dusk.  The other kids had gone home earlier, with Melanie and Mike sneaking up behind me and giving me quite a fright.  Then they waved goodbye and told me they were swimming in the pond at the head of the creek and then going home.  I watched them go enviously.  I had hoped I would be able to join them when I was done, but that hope had been dashed as I noticed the sun ever lower on the horizon.

            I threw the weeds in a pile in the thick brush at the back of the house, and then went to the door to return the trowel and gloves.  It took Mrs. Weston a minute or so to open the door after I rang the bell.  She looked very tired and her hands were red and had several ridged imprints on them.

            “Hi!  I, uhh, finished.  Here’s your stuff,” I said, and then my heart jumped into my throat as Abby came haltingly down the hallway in back of Mrs. Weston.

            “Mother?  You didn’t finish!  I’m getting tired again,” Abby said.  She seemed to be moving slower with each step.

            “Thank you very much.  I’ll see you on Monday,” Mrs. Weston said and shut the door in my face.  As I turned and left I heard an exasperated voice say, “Don’t ever do that in front of company again, Abby.”  I walked home wondering exactly what that meant.

Mon., July 3rd

            The day before the 4th of July, and most of my vacation time I had spent either inside because of the rain, or outside reducing my debt.  After the first few big chores she gave me, Mrs. Weston mostly had me do simple things like dishes and taking out the garbage that reduced my debt by a miserable ten cents or so each time.  When it rained, I couldn’t even go over to do anything because my mom would get suspicious.  Mrs. Weston seemed to understand this, but it was frustrating sitting around the house knowing I could at least be doing something to lessen the time spent doing other people’s chores.  But catching glimpses of Abby more than made up for most of it. 

            Most of the time, it was only a brief look, or a jerking movement out of the corner of my eye.  Mrs. Weston always claimed Abby was doing something, or sleeping, or busy, or whatever.  I was pretty sure Abby was either really shy or her mother saw me as an undesirable element, and didn’t want her daughter hanging around me. 

            I wished I was over there today, but again, the rain fell.  Mike was over with me, but we had lost interest in Monopoly pretty quickly, so now we were watching the afternoon movie on ABC with Melanie.  Melanie had her hair done in a single braid down her back and actually had on a dress—a plaid one similar to the one Abby was wearing the first time I saw her.  Unlike my hair, which was sort of a drab brow, Melanie’s was a rich auburn, and any kind of light reflected the red highlights, making it almost glow.  She had a few freckles scattered across her nose, and eyes of green.  When she was younger she was most definitely the “cute one” and used it to get anything she wanted.

            “So, how much more do you have to go with your little, ahh, shall we say, project?” Mike asked me.

            “About nine dollars and sixty-five cents!  I’d have more done if she didn’t keep me doing stupid little tasks, like cutting the hedges and dusting furniture,” I complained.

            “It would have been nothing if you didn’t hit the ball through the window in the first place,” Melanie said.

            “Melanie!!” Mike and I both hushed her at the same time.

            “Oops! Sorry,” she said, like she wasn’t really sorry at all. 

            “That was mean, Melanie.  Your mom could have been around, y’know,” Mike said, sticking up for me.

            “I’m really sorry, you guys.  I honestly forgot mom doesn’t know,” Melanie apologized.

            “That’s ok, Mellie,” Mike said.

            “Mellie?” I asked.  “You’ve got nicknames for each other?”

            “Well, kinda, it, just sort of happened one day and it stuck,” Melanie said.

            “Yeah…I think it’s cool,” Mike said.  “Groovy, even,” he said, and Melanie and he started laughing.

            “I don’t think it’s that funny,” I said.

            “Ahh, well, you remember when you went to the bathroom when we were playing Monopoly? Well, Mellie came over and we talked for a bit and she said Monopoly was ‘groovy’, and we both cracked up.  So that’s why we’re laughing now,” Mike explained.

            “Ok, I guess,” I said, but something had me feeling a little uneasy.

            Later that day, as the rain came pouring down and Mike had long since left, my dad came home from work drenched.  He handed his raincoat and hat to my mom and while she was hanging them up, he made an announcement that the field was no longer usable until sometime in mid August.  The recent rains had swept away the backstop and erased most of the lower base paths.  I was unhappy but not as much as I should have been, as I really wasn’t playing there currently.  Melanie, however, took the news rather hard and ran upstairs to her room and slammed the door.  Later, when I went to bed, I passed by her door and thought I heard muffled sobbing.  “Girls…” I thought, and went into my room.

Tue., July 4th

            The 4th of July and the rain stopped.  No work for me today at the Weston’s—they were having some exclusive barbecue.  Melanie and I, on the other hand, were headed to Cindy’s house with Sam and Mike for our barbecue.  Our parents would join us later, but we wanted to get some swimming in before the party, and Cindy was the only person around who had a pool. Granted, it was a three-foot deep wading pool, but when the temperature soared over ninety degrees, as it was expected to do today, any water is good water (except when it washes away your backstop).

            As soon as we got there we quickly jumped into the pool and immediately started tossing a beach ball back and forth.  We played a game of “wading pool volleyball” with an imaginary net, with Cindy, Melanie and Mike on one team and Sam, Cindy’s sister Kelly and me on the other. 

            Kelly and Cindy were identical twins, and they both had fiery red hair and thousands upon thousands of freckles. The only difference was that Cindy had these deep amazing blue eyes and Kelly’s eyes were a hazel shade of brown.  Their personalities were rather similar as well, but Cindy’s interests ran more to the athletic side, while Kelly’s interests were currently makeup, boys, talking on the phone, and boys.  So, while she was nice and very cute, my heart belonged to Cindy.  At least, I thought it did until I saw Abby.  A good mystery never failed to infatuate me, and Abby was a mystery.  What was wrong with her?  Why couldn’t I talk to her?  Could I get up the nerve to ask her to hang out with me away from her house and the stupid work I was doing?

            I was snapped out of my reverie by a large, over-inflated, red beach ball hitting my head.  “Hey! Stop dreaming and get back in the game,” Cindy shouted.  I sighed and served the ball.

            Later that night while we were stuffed to capacity and sitting on the patio, Cindy got up for a moment and disappeared in the house.  I followed, and saw her in the kitchen, getting herself a drink of Coke.

            “Can you pass that to me when you’re done?” I asked.

            “Sure,” Cindy said as she waited for the foam to settle on her cup.

            “Umm, Cindy, I have a question I wanted to ask you,” I said nervously.

            “Yeah Brian?” Cindy asked with a raised eyebrow.

            “Well, umm, I was wondering, if, umm, you wanted to, err, never mind,” I finished quickly.

            “What Brian?  You were gonna say something,” she pushed.

            “Well I was gonna ask if you wanted to play catch at the field tomorrow morning before I go over to Mrs. Weston’s, but I just remembered the field is unusable,” I covered.

            “Oh.  Okay,” she said, but as she left she looked at me suspiciously, and I didn’t realize I was staring at her until the Coke started flowing over the top of the glass and onto my hand and the countertop.

Tue., July 11th

            “Today, you can clean the downstairs.  Dust the furniture again, vacuum, wash the kitchen floor, and do some general neatening.  You don’t have to worry about the bathroom,” Mrs. Weston explained, and then began digging cleaning supplies out of a closet off the kitchen.

            “Is Abby around today?” I asked hopefully.

            “Yes she is.  She’s upstairs now but she may be down later,” Mrs. Weston explained.

            I tried not to let my obvious elation show as I started off washing the kitchen floor.  Mrs. Weston apparently didn’t notice and said, “I’ll be upstairs in the study reading.  Let me know if you need anything.  It’s the first door on the right.”

            I nodded as she left.  I then turned my attention to the task at hand.  Three easy steps: soap on the floor, mop in bucket, wash.  Repeat.  It was a large kitchen, but I’d been mopping our kitchen at home for as long as I could remember so I soon developed an efficient rhythm.  Swish-swish went the mop, and soon the floor was spotless.

            I emptied out the water behind a large bush in the front yard and let the mop stand outside to dry.  When I went to put the mop bucket away I noticed a bottle of wax on the top shelf.  Mrs. Weston hadn’t specifically told me to wax the floor as well, but I figured I had nothing to lose.  I grabbed the bottle and what looked like a buffer, and did the floor quickly.  I put everything back, including the now semi-dry mop, and headed into the living room, dusting equipment in tow.

            As I had the bottle of Pledge poised above the coffee table I heard a tremendous racket on the stairs, and a moment later Abby made her way stiffly into the room.  She had on a white, lacy dress, white socks and Mary Jane shoes.  Again, the outfit on her was way too young for what I assumed her age to be.  My heart skipped a beat, though,  and  I said, “Hello.”

            “Hello,” she said.  “What are you doing?”

            “I’m polishing and dusting the furniture,” I said as I sprayed and wiped the coffee table top.

            “Oh,” she replied.

            I waited for something else, but nothing came.  She just stood there staring at me.  So I decided to ask a general question.  “So what do you do when I’m around doing chores and stuff?”

            “I sleep,” she said.

            “Anything else?” I inquired.

            “I help my mother,” she said.

            “Oh,” I said.  I guess she wasn’t a talker.  “Can you stay and talk while I dust the furniture?” I asked, hopefully.

            “Yes I can,” she said.

            “Cool,” I said.

            “No, it is quite warm out,” she replied.

            “Well, yes it is,” I said, and forced out a small laugh at what I assumed was a corny joke.  “Do you like the hot weather?

            “No, I do not.  It makes it harder for me to move,” she replied.

            Since she brought it up, I asked, “So, why do you walk like that?”

            “Walk like what?” she responded.

            “All stiff and spastic,” I said.

            “I have problems with my legs,” she replied.

            “What kind of problems?” I asked.

            “I get tired very easily,” said she.

            “So why don’t you sit down?” I asked.

            “I would rather stand,” she said.

            At this point I had already dusted the coffee table, as well as the TV table, and a hutch.  I moved now over to a mantel with pictures on it.  Most were of Mr. & Mrs. Weston, looking much younger.  There were a few of a younger Abby, though.  As I was clearing the pictures off the mantel to dust it, I showed Abby a picture of herself in front of a big merry-go-round.  “Where did you take this picture?” I asked.

            “I do not know,” she said.

            “You don’t know?” I asked incredulously.  “It is you, right?”

            “Yes, it is me,” she said.

            “And you don’t know where you were when this picture was taken?” I asked again.

            “I do not remember,” she said.

            “Do you always talk like that?” I asked her.

            “Talk like what?” she countered.

            “All formal like that, and your voice sounds unnaturally hollow,” I told her.

            “How should I talk?” she asked me.

            “Well, kinda like I talk. You don’t have to sound so formal all the time.  Use some slang or something,” I told her.

            “What is slang?” she asked me.

            “Never mind.  How about this picture,” I motioned to a picture of her in the backyard of this house while I was spraying the polish.  “How old were you there?”

            “I do not remember,” she said flatly.

            “You ‘do not remember’ a lot, huh?” I queried.

            “I do not understand,” she said.

            “It doesn’t matter,” I said to her as I replaced the pictures and moved into the dining room to polish more.  She followed me, to my amazement, in her short, spastic steps, and stood behind me as I polished the only wooden piece of furniture in the room, save the dining room table, which was a china cabinet.  I wondered if she wanted me to polish the table, as most likely it was used quite often for eating.

            I was finishing up wiping the polish off the wood, and  suddenly the rag wore through in a threadbare spot.  “Great.  Now I need to find a new rag, too,” I said to myself.  Then, suddenly, Abby said, “I am getting tired.  I have to go upstairs now to my mother.”

            “Can you wait for a moment? I forget where the study is and I have to ask her a question too.  Let me throw out this rag in the kitchen and get a new one,” I told her.

            “Only for a moment,” and then followed me as I walked to the kitchen.

            We reached the kitchen and as I stepped on to the floor I realized it was still very slippery from being waxed.  I turned to tell Abby when she walked right in, legs moving stiffly back and forth and side to side.  Her shoes didn’t have much traction on them, and walking like she did it was an accident waiting to happen.  One foot just slipped out from under her and she tumbled forward—directly into my arms.  The force of her impact—she was heavy for her size—threw me backwards and into the wall with Abby pressed against me.  I held her tight to make sure she didn’t fall, and immediately noticed several odd things.  First, her body was very warm—much warmer than I would expect.  Second, her body vibrated and hummed unlike any human I had known.  I felt what almost reminded me of gears slowly winding beneath her skin.  Her skin, also, felt rather artificial, and her hair smelled like the hair of my sister’s dolls. 

            The whole scene happened in less than a minute and I quickly righted Abby, making sure not to give the wrong impression.  She immediately said, “I need to go to my mother right away,” and walked toward the flight of stairs on the other side of the dining room as the kitchen.  At one point she almost fell again but miraculously stayed on her feet.  I followed her, and watched her from behind as she tried to maneuver up the stairs with her very awkward gait that seemed to be getting slower with each step. 

            Finally at the top, she turned to the right and went in the first door.  Right behind her, I saw Mrs. Weston immediately jump up from the chair she had been reading in, letting her book fall to the floor, losing her place.  I started to ask her a question but the door quickly closed in my face.  I turned around to go downstairs, thinking she would be down eventually, but then the door opened up and I saw Mrs. Weston quickly emerge into the hallway before shutting the door behind her.  I caught a quick glimpse of Abby in the room, sitting stock-still, no movement apparent.

            “Let’s go downstairs now and see how you’re coming along,” Mrs. Weston said.

            We got downstairs and she surveyed what I had done before Abby’s mad dash upstairs, and said, “You’ve done a wonderful job, and I see you’ve waxed the floor without me asking you!  I’ll subtract fifty cents off your debt and let you go home early.  And I am sorry about the baseball field.   I saw the backstop float away.  We’ve had too much rain this summer.  Oh well, I’ll see you, oh, let’s say, Monday,” Mrs. Weston said.

            While we were talking she had led me to the door, and was about to open it.  Before she could, however, I got between her and the door and started to speak.  “Mrs. Weston, I know your daughter is different.  She has problems with her legs, among other things, that probably make it hard for her to make friends, and I bet she doesn’t have much social experience either.  But I think she’s really nice, and I’d love to get to know her better and maybe even be her friend.  And perhaps come over even when I don’t have to work.  I’d really like that, Mrs. Weston,” I said in a very rushed fashion.

            I thought I saw a tear in her eye when she said, “Maybe…just maybe.  Take another fifty cents off your debt, and the next time I’ll need you is next Monday.  And thank you.” 

            Suddenly I found myself outside and the door shut behind me.  I thought I heard a few sobs behind the door, but before I had a chance to think about it, I realized I had done about half the work I was supposed to have done, and I got a dollar off my debt.  And I got to talk to Abby.  I practically floated all the way home.  And when I get there I crashed rather suddenly to Earth.

            I practically ran the last hundred yards to my door.  I entered through  the front and immediately noticed a note from Mom that she had gone over to Mike’s house, presumably to talk with Mike’s mom, and that also meant she would probably be gone awhile.  I decided to call Mike, and maybe Cindy and Sam, and perhaps we could play catch in the backyard.  I ran upstairs quickly to change my clothes, but as I was passing Melanie’s door  I heard some peculiar noises inside.  Not  knowing if Melanie had gone with Mom I opened the door and  was floored by what I saw.

            On her bed was Melanie, and in her arms was Mike, and they were in the middle of what looked to be a kiss deep enough to create a vacuum.

            “Mike?  Melanie?” I gasped.

            “Brian?  Weren’t you supposed to be at Mrs. Weston’s?” Melanie asked in shock.

            “She let me go home early,” I sputtered. What are you doing here?” I asked Mike.

            “She asked me to come,” Mike said meekly.

            “You did?” I asked Melanie, in what was almost a whisper.

            “I did.  Brian, while you’ve been off over at Mrs. Weston’s you haven’t been around and Mike and I have gotten to know each other, and, well, one thing led to another, and…,” she let the sentence trail off.

            “And what?  Now you two are….are what?  Are you going out now?” I asjed.

            “Well, not officially, but you can’t let mom know about this.  She doesn’t even know he’s over here now.  It’s just that, mom went over to his mom’s house for coffee, and, he knew, and, he showed up, and, well, I’m growing up Brian!” Melanie almost yelled that at me.

            “I can’t deal with this.  I’m going for a walk,” I said, and turned around and left

            When I came home later that night, Mom and Dad were watching television, Melanie was in her room, and I just lay on my bed and I fell deeply into sleep.

Fri., July 14th

            I didn’t do anything that week except lay in bed and think of all that had happened on Tuesday.  I was so anxious about what may happen with Abby, but all that was pushed to the side when I remembered what I had seen when I came home.  I didn’t even want to play baseball. 

After having some time to reflect on it, though, I realized it was definitely not as bad as it could have been.  Melanie could have found some random guy none of us knew.  But she knew Mike, and I knew Mike, and I knew Mike would never hurt Melanie, or do anything intentionally to hurt our friendship.  And I hadn’t been around, so Mike had branched out, so to speak.  But Melanie?

            So as it happened, I took a walk late that evening, to clear my head—again.  I had made a circuit around the block when I noticed a figure walking toward me, and my first instinct was to turn and walk the other way.  I was in no mood for company, and besides, I didn’t think anyone would want my company right now either.  But in that briefest moment of thought, I realized the other walker was Cindy.  I waved her down.

            “Hi,” I said sullenly.

            “Hey.  I heard about Melanie and Mike,” she said straight off.

            “How…?” I asked.

            “She called me that night,” Cindy explained.

            “Doesn’t she have any of her own friends?” I wondered.

            “Not since she started playing baseball and hanging around with us,” Cindy said.

            “Well, okay, then what’s your take on this?” I queried.

            “I don’t see a problem with it.  I’ve known Melanie since you and I started hanging out, and she’s always been a nice girl, though a bit annoying at times.  And, well, we both know Mike’s a great guy.  A lot like you, actually,” Cindy said.

            “What do you mean?” I asked.

            “A lot of the qualities that make Mike a great guy, you have them too.  You’re great listeners, and you understand everyone.  It doesn’t matter where they’re coming from, you hear what they’re trying to say and respect their opinion.  And you’re very caring—you won’t leave a friend in need,” Cindy said.

            Even in the cool, evening air I could feel my cheeks begin to get red.  This girl that I really like was flattering me, and I didn’t even know how to respond to it—I may like another girl now!  But that wasn’t the issue here.  “Thanks for the compliment, and I can see your point.  Mike and my sister do make a good couple.  But I just feel like they went behind my back, and I don’t think my sister should be dating anyone,” I said.

            “Well, like she said to you, she’s growing up!  She’s going through what all girls, heck, all people go through.  They start to notice the other sex in, well, that way.  And face it, she could have picked someone a lot worse than Mike,” Cindy explained.

            “True.  I guess it’ll just take me awhile to get used to it,” I relented.  “But I’m still upset that they went behind my back.”

            “Well, they didn’t, really.  It was more because you were always at that house or you were around.  They couldn’t explore.  You remember what that was like?” Cindy asked.

            I did, unfortunately.  My first and so far only girlfriend, Kathy Larkin, was beautiful and smart. After we went out for a few weeks we met in her bedroom and started fooling around and then her brother and his friend walked in on us. We never heard the end of it.  She broke up with me later that week. 

            “Well, I should be getting back.  Thanks for talking with me, Cindy,” I said.

            “Anytime,” said she.

            “Cindy, can I ask you a question?” I said.

            “Will you finish it this time?” she said and laughed.

            “Well, you said that everyone goes through the time where they start noticing the opposite sex in a, uhh, sexual way.  I know what you mean—I went out with Kathy Larkin.  Melanie’s going out, well, going out ‘unofficially’, with Mike.  Sam went out with Theresa Catalino.  Why haven’t you had a boyfriend?” I asked.

            “The boy I want isn’t ready for me yet,” Cindy told me.

            “What does that mean?” I asked her.

            “You’ll have to find out for yourself,” she said, and skipped away.

            I went home and lay in bed, staring at the ceiling trying to make sense of all of what happened, and came to the conclusion Melanie could do much worse, and as long as Mike didn’t do anything to hurt her, I’d support the relationship.

            So today I went to Melanie first, and sat her down, and explained how sorry I was that I reacted the way I did.  I told her why I reacted that way, and she assured me that I’d be the first to know of any problems.

            I then went over to Mike’s, and when I finally convinced him to see me, said the same things to him, with one key difference.  I told her that he better never hurt my little sister, or our friendship is over.  I let him know that I was aware relationships do not last forever, but if I ever caught him cheating on Melanie, or hitting her, there would be hell to pay.  Mike told me he would never dream of hurting Melanie, and we talked for a good hour, reaffirming our status as best friends.  Then we went outside and played catch for two more hours until I had to come home. 

Mon., July 17th

            I made my way to the Weston’s house, my stomach in knots trying to anticipate what would happen today.  I passed by the field, currently unusable.  Where the backstop once stood was a pile of rocks deposited there from the creek bed, and where the paths from home to third and first bases were was now a glacier of viscous mud.

            I came up to the porch, skipped up the steps and knocked on the door. To my surprise, Mr. Weston answered.

            “Millicent—uhh, Mrs. Weston—will be with you shortly.  She’s attending to some last minute details.  Why don’t you come in,” he told me.

            “Thank you,” I said.  “I don’t see you much.  Where do you hide during the day?” I asked.

            “I have a workshop downstairs.  I like to fiddle around with electrics and machines in my retirement,” he explained.

            “You’re retired already?” I wondered.

            “Yes. I used to work with the government on the computers they were developing,” Mr. Weston explained.  At that point, Mrs. Weston came down the stairs, and Mr. Weston said, “Ahh, my wife is ready.  I’ll be in my workshop if you need me,” and then he departed.

            “Hello, Mrs. Weston,” I said.

            “Why, hello, Brian,” Mrs. Weston said.  Her hair was no longer in a tight bun, but in a loose ponytail.  The change in styles took a good ten years off her age.  “I have a very simple job for you today.  I have a large amount of books in my study, and they are in no particular order.  I need you to alphabetize them for me—first by author and then by title.  Abby will keep you company.”

            “Okay, Mrs. Weston,” I said and made my way up to the study.  Abby was waiting for me, sitting in the same chair Mrs. Weston was sitting in during my last visit. 

            “Hi Abby!” I said, very glad to see her again.

            “Hello Brian,” she said to me.

            “How have you been?” I asked.

            “I have been fine,” Abby replied.

            “That’s good.  I missed talking to you,” I told her.

            “You have?  Even though you asked me why I talked strange last time?” Abby asked me, which I believe was the first question she had ever asked me wasn’t truly just a parroted response.

            “Well, yeah, cause I like you.  You’re a good friend, so I don’t care how you talk, or how you walk, for that matter,” I said.

            “How am I a good friend?” she asked.

            “Well, you kept me company the other day, and you didn’t get angry with me that I forgot to tell you the floor was waxed when you fell, and you’re here again now,” I said.  I then looked at the large amount of books.  “Would you like to help me alphabetize them?” I asked her.

            “Yes.  I would like that very much,” she said, and rose ungainly from her chair.  She walked over to me stiffly and stood next to me.  “What do I do?”

            “Well, your mother wants these alphabetized by author’s last name first, and then by the title of the book.  What we’ll do is grab a large stack from the shelves and sit down on the floor.  You’ll take half the alphabet and I’ll take the other half, and we’ll sort them between us.  Let me just—,” I was interrupted by the loud gong of a grandfather clock, announcing it was twelve o’clock P.M.  “As I was saying, let me grab a stack. Why don’t you sit on the floor over there near the chair.”

            “All right,” Abby replied and walked to the area I motioned to in a very halting step, and slowly lowered herself to the ground.  Meanwhile, I grabbed two large stacks of about twenty books apiece and brought them over to Abby in two trips.

            I sat next to her and said, “I’ll take the first half of the alphabet, which is the letters A to M, and you can take the letters N to Z.  We’ll each pull a book from our stacks, read the title and author aloud, and put it in the correct pile or give it to the other person to put in the correct pile.”

            “I think I understand,” she said, and picked up a book from her stack.  “Richard III’, by William Shakespeare,” she read.  “That is my letter, so I will put this over here in a pile for ‘S’.”

            “Good!  My first title is ‘A Separate Peace’, by John Knowles.  It’s my letter, so I’ll put this in the ‘K’ pile,” I said.

            “My next title is ‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot,” Abby said.  “That is your letter so you put it in a pile on your side for the letter ‘E’.”  As she handed me the book, our hands touched, and we let the touch linger for a moment before a gently took the book from her outstretched hand and placed it in my pile for ‘E’.

            “Next one here is another Shakespeare.  It’s ‘The Merchant Of Venice’,” I said as I handed the book to her.  Again our fingers brushed. 

            Abby took the book and put it underneath “Richard III”.  “No, Abby, ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ should be on top of ‘Richard III’,” I told her.

            “But the word ‘the’ comes before the word ‘Richard’,” she said.

            “When you alphabetize you often ignore insignificant articles, like ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’,” I explained, thinking she should know this.

            “But you said alphabetical order.  ‘T’ comes after ‘R’,” Abby insisted.

            “Trust me Abby, you ignore the ‘the’,” I said.

            Abby started to reach for the copy of “The Merchant Of Venice” that she had just put down and then her arm froze in mid-extension.  She was as still as a statue, with no movement whatsoever.  I didn’t see her blink, and I swear I didn’t even see her take a breath.  After this went on for a minute, I moved over near her.  She was sitting with her legs outstretched, but slightly bent.  One hand was resting on the floor to support her weight, and the other arm was halfway between her and the stack of books.

            I sat down behind her and gently pushed the hand off the floor.  No reaction, but she did fall backwards slowly on top of me.  The soft fabric of the periwinkle dress she wore felt cool on the exposed skin of my arms, and I could feel the same rhythm I had felt when she fell on top of me in the kitchen.  It was even more pronounced now, and pressing up close to her I could hear what sounded like a small electric motor or even gears straining to turn. 

            The way I was sitting was causing my shoes to dig into my thighs, so I moved and took them off.  I noticed Abby had Mary Janes on again today, this time over white kneesocks again.  I reached down, unbuckled them and took them off.  At this point almost five minutes had gone by and she wasn’t reacting.  At least by this time it appeared she had begun to breathe, so I figured it had something to with why her legs were spastic, so I just held her tight and started to rub her back.  While I was rubbing I kept feeling that vibration from what I thought were gears.  I couldn’t make sense of it.  Then I felt what I thought was an indentation in the middle of her back.  I wondered what it was and was about to begin a debate with myself to look or not, when suddenly Abby sprang back to life and said “You are right, Brian.  We ignore the ‘the’.  ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ goes before ‘Richard III’.”  Her hand moved and picked up the book and put it in its correct alphabetical place, all the while staying nestled up close to me.

            “Abby, what happened?  You just froze for five minutes!” I exclaimed incredulously.

            “Nothing happened, Brian.  I just had to think about what you said,” Abby said.

            “Well, you thought for a long time.  You had me worried,” I said.

            “I am sorry you were worried.  Sometimes it takes me a long time to process new information.  Why are you holding me?” Abby asked.

            “Because I didn’t know what was going on and I thought something was wrong.  So I thought—“I got embarrassed here”—that if I held you it might help,” I explained.

            “It feels good.  Thank you Brian,” Abby said.  A few moments of silence passed, and then Abby said, “Brian, where are my shoes?”

            “I took them off.  Mine were getting uncomfortable and I thought yours might be too.  You didn’t complain,” I told her.

            “I’ve never been without shoes before,” Abby said to me.

            “Huh?” I asked her, confused.

            “Hold me, Brian,” Abby said.

            “Okay.  Abby, why is there a strange vibration and sound coming from you?” I asked her.

            “That is nothing,” Abby said.

            “I don’t think so.  It’s pretty obvious,” I told her.

            “It is nothing.  Do not ask me anymore,” she said, with a slight air of finality.

            “Ok, ok…umm, Abby, have you ever, kissed someone?” I asked.

            “I kiss my mother goodnight, every night,” she said.

            “No, I mean, like, if you, like, like someone,” I explained.

            “I do not understand,” Abby said.

            “When you love someone.  That kind of kiss,” I said.

            “I love my mom and dad very much,” Abby explained.

            At this point, I was very curious as to what was going on.  “No, when you love someone like your mom loves your dad.  That kind of kiss,” I said.

            “I do not think so, Brian,” Abby said.

            “Would you mind, Abby, if I kissed you like that?” I asked her.

            “No Brian, I would not mind,” Abby said.

            At that I slowly got closer and closer to her lips, and kissed her slowly and deeply.  Abby did not reciprocate in any way, and after a moment her head began to jerk to the right repeatedly and I was forced to break off the kiss.  “Are you all right, Abby?”

            “I do not understand!  I do not understand!” Abby kept repeating, and her head kept jerking to the right.

            I took her head in one hand and pulled her close to me with the other.  “Don’t worry Abby.  If you don’t want me to I won’t do it,” I said.

            Slowly the jerking stopped, and I took Abby’s hand in mine.  It was clammy and cool but it felt good against my hot skin. 

            We must have stayed that way for at least thirty minutes, but it could have been much longer than that.  Finally, our cocoon of silence was broken by the grandfather clock chiming two o’clock.  We must have missed the one o’clock chime while I was preoccupied with making sure Abby was all right.

            About ten minutes after the chime, Abby suddenly shot upright and said, “I’m getting tired.  I need to see my mother now.”

            “Now?” I asked.  “We still have to do the books.”

            “I need to see her now.  I am getting tired.”

            “Ok,” I said.  “Let me help you up.”

            I got up and held a hand out for Abby, which she accepted and stiffly came to a standing position.  She tried to take a step and fell down.  Only a surprisingly quick save from me prevented her from falling to the ground.

            “I need my shoes to walk,” she said.

            At this point, I was fairly accustomed to strange things, so I helped her over to the chair and sat her down.  I grabbed her shoes and re-buckled them on to her feet, and then I helped her up again.  Now moving slower again, she headed out of the door, turned back to face me and said, “Please stay here and finish with the books.”  She turned back and I could hear her trying to manage the stairs.

            My encounter with Abby had given me new energy.  I quickly went through the books, making large stacks on the floor for each letter of the alphabet, and some specific for the most prolific authors, like Shakespeare.  I then put them all back in perfect alphabetical order.  By the time I made my way downstairs it was around four thirty. 

            Mrs. Weston was waiting for me in the kitchen, where she had some freshly made cookies.  She offered me a few, and I eagerly accepted.  While I munched, Abby came into the room, looking brighter and more refreshed, and sat down next to me.  I offered her a cookie, but she shook her head, making her pigtails shake from side to side.  “They need to start dressing her the age she is.  She’d look even better, if that’s even possible,” I thought.

            Mrs. Weston got up and said, “I’m going to run upstairs and check on your progress.  I’ll be right back.”  She then left the room.

            Once she left I turned to Abby and said, “Progress?  She’ll be surprised when she finds it’s all done!”

            Abby took my hand in hers, and smiled at me.  “You have finished?  That is wonderful,” she said.

            “You gave me inspiration,” I said, and chuckled.  I may have been mistaken, but maybe, just maybe, I heard a giggle come from Abby.

            I heard Mrs. Weston coming down the stairs, and Abby dropped my hand.  “You finished!  In one afternoon?  I thought that would take you at least a couple for that.  There were so many books there.  You can take another dollar off your debt,” she said.  “Why don’t you come over on Wednesday, and we’ll see what else I can have you do.  Oh, Abby said you two had lots of fun today, so you’re welcome here whenever you’d like, except on Sundays and after eight.”

            I stole a glance at Abby, who had a little grin on her face.  “Thank you Mrs. Weston!  I really like Abby.  We get along really well,” I told her.

            Mrs. Weston laughed, like something was very funny, but I didn’t get it.  “Oh, don’t mind me,” she said.  “It’s just that Abby never really had any friends, and to think that you two only met because you hit a baseball through our window.”

            “I guess everything happens for a reason,” I told her.

            “I guess it does,” Mrs. Weston replied.

            I glanced at the clock.  It read five-ten.  My mom would be waiting.  “I’m sorry to cut this short, but my mom will have dinner ready soon, and I must get home,” I said.

            “Ok.  See you Wednesday,” Mrs. Weston said.

            “Goodbye, Brian,” Abby said, and smiled at me.

            I walked out of that house on a cloud.  I had met a girl that had captured my heart, and things were going my way.  I was even thinking of asking Abby to the Fall Ball.  We could have guests that didn’t go to the school.  But I didn’t know how I’d get around her being tired all the time.  Maybe they could put a cot in the nurse’s office during the dance…?

Fri., July 21st

            As it turned out, my Wednesday visit did not happen.  At about the time I was heading over there, around early afternoon, the sky got overcast and the wind began to blow so hard I could barely walk.  It got pretty cold for July, and branches started coming off the trees.  My mom said, “There’s no way I want you going out in this weather,” and that was that—I was stuck at home.  I called Mrs. Weston and told her why I wouldn’t be there, and she said something that sounded like, “maybe that’s for the best.”  It bothered me a bit at the time, but then we lost power and mom made me go get the candles.

            The wind continued into Thursday afternoon, and then finally died down.  In the remaining hours of daylight on Thursday evening I helped my dad clean up our yard, gathering branches and leaves for a trip to the dump.  We also had someone’s broken lawn furniture and a few patio umbrellas scattered about, which we threw in with the refuse.  As dad and I finished up and entered the house, the lights flickered back on, and as soon as I had a moment I called Mrs. Weston.  Mr. Weston answered the phone, and I asked to see if he wanted me to help with cleaning up his yard tomorrow.  He agreed, and we hung up.

            So today, I grabbed dad’s trusty wheelbarrow and headed over to the Weston’s.  I knew I’d be spending a lot of time outside but I hoped that Abby could keep me company.  Maybe I could even give her a ride in the wheelbarrow!

            I arrived at the house shortly after lunch and ran up to the front door.  I knocked, and Mrs. Weston opened the door.  Her hair was again pulled into the severe bun it was in the first time I saw her, but she seemed happy.

            “Hi Mrs. Weston,” I greeted her cheerfully.

            “Hello Brian,” Mrs. Weston said.  “I see you come prepared.”

            “Huh?” I said, confused until I saw Mrs. Weston pointing towards the wheelbarrow.  “Oh yeah, that!  I didn’t know if you’d have one as big so I brought my own,” I explained.

            “Oh.  That’s good thinking.  Well, as you can see, our yard didn’t get hit quite as bad as some of the others in the neighborhood.  There are mostly little branches here and there you can pick up, and a few large piles of sawdust left over from when Herbert removed the tree that fell last afternoon,” Mrs. Weston said.

            I looked around and realized that there was, in fact, a large gap in the grove of trees off to one side of the house.  “I bet that made quite a racket when it came down!  Anyways, I guess I’ll start.  Is Abby around? If it isn’t too much trouble, could, umm, Abby maybe, umm, keep me company while I work?” I asked hesitantly.

            Mrs. Weston’s neutral countenance immediately took a worried look and she said in a thin, terse voice, “ No, Abby’s in her room, and I’m afraid she’ll be quite busy today.”

            My face fell, and I uttered a disappointed “Oh.” 

            “I’ll be here when you’re done,” Mrs. Weston said quickly, and closed the door.

            As saddened as I was at not seeing Abby, I wondered what had happened between my last visit.  On Monday, Mrs. Weston was all for Abby and me hanging out together after (or during) my chores.  Now, less than a week later, she didn’t seem too happy about the idea of us even seeing each other.

            As I mulled this over, I pulled the wheelbarrow over to the shed in back of the house and gathered a rake and got to work.  It was tedious but not as bad as last night cleaning up my own yard.  There weren’t half as many branches, and no patio furniture. 

            I hummed to myself as I worked, and I thought about Abby.  The thought that I may see her before I left made me work faster, and the yard was looking cleaner by the minute.  Finally, after about three hours of work, the yard looked almost like it did before the windstorm had hit two days earlier.  I put the rake in the shed, emptied the sawdust in the brush in back of the house, and parked the wheelbarrow in front of the steps.

            I climbed the steps and knocked.  No answer.  I knocked again.  Again, no answer.  So I tried the door, and it was unlocked.  I figured she meant for me to come right in anyway, so I took my shoes off on the porch and entered the house.  I didn’t see any sign of her in the foyer, so I called out, “Mrs.. Weston?”  No answer.  I called out, “Mr. Weston?”  No answer.  I checked in the kitchen, and no one was there.  I walked to the living room.  No one there.  She wasn’t in the TV room or the study either.

            I decided to make my way upstairs.  If the parents weren’t around, maybe Abby could help me.  I climbed the stairs, and when I got to the top decided to check the sitting room first.  I moved toward the door, which was closed, and could hear to muffled voices.  As I got closer I could make out their conversation.

            “I couldn’t believe it.  Not only does he want to be around her, she wants to be around him!” Mrs. Weston said.

            “I know.  It’s a big advancement for Abby.  But we can’t allow it.  She is far too valuable.  If anyone knew her secret., they’d take her away from you—from us—and study her in an institution!” Mr. Weston said.

            “But he won’t find out.  She always comes back to me when she’s tired,” Mrs. Weston said.

            “But there’s water, and her back, and what if they get close, I mean, too close?” Mr. Weston explained.

            At this point, I was feeling pretty guilty for listening in to a conversation, but they were talking about my friend here, albeit a friend I barely saw and knew.  I was about to let my mind think of the possibilities of what Abby’s secret might be, when I heard Mrs. Weston mention that “I wonder where Brian is, anyway.  I haven’t heard him outside for a few minutes now.”

            I knew I had to act, so I crept to the bottom of the stairs and re-climbed them, this time much more pronounced.  I knocked on the door and said, “Mr. Weston?  Mrs. Weston?  Are you in there?  I couldn’t find you downstairs.”

            “Yes, we’re in here, Brian.  Please come in,” Mr. Weston said.

            I opened the door and Mr. Weston rose and left the room.  Mrs. Weston said, “You can take two dollars off your debt, Brian.  Thank you for cleaning the yard.”

            “Aren’t you going to look at my work?” I asked.

            “No, I trust you did your best.  And from what I see from my window I know my trust is not misplaced,” Mrs. Weston said with a slightly bitter tone.

            “Okay, thanks, Mrs. Weston.  Is Abby around at all?” I asked hopefully.

            “No, I’m afraid she is busy.  Perhaps next time.  I’ll see you next week then?” Mrs. Weston said.

            “Sure, I guess,” I agreed.  “See you later.” I turned and left, passing by Mr. Weston as I left.  He seemed to be watching me quite closely, and for a second I thought he knew I had been listening.

Wed., Aug. 2nd

            The rain was pouring down today, and Melanie had invited Mike over.  Apparently, over the past week or so, while I had been slaving away at the Weston’s with nary a glance of Abby, Mike and Melanie had been spending as much time as they possibly could with each other.  At this point, both my parents and Mike’s parents were aware of their relationship, and were fine with it so far.  Mike’s parents and my parents had been friends even before Mike and I met at school. 

            As happy as they were, however, I was equally as confused, hurt and, also, quite curious.  Over the course of a month, this girl I hardly knew had nearly taken over my mind and heart, and just as I had finally gotten her to talk to me and reciprocate my friendship with the hope of something more, it seemed as if her parents didn’t want me near her.  That would be understandable if not for the fact that Mrs. Weston had seemed so happy when we were getting along so well.

            And not only was Abby not around, but there was also that conversation I had overheard.  What kind of secret would Abby have that would be so damaging if anyone knew?  Did she walk that way because of a deadly disease?  Was she dying?  Or had she been taken advantage of by someone, perhaps in an inappropriate way?  But no one would want to study her for that!  Did she have psychic powers? That would be very cool.  Or maybe she was an alien?

            I laughed out loud at that one.  Perhaps she walked that way because she wasn’t used to Earth’s gravity.  Maybe she also wasn’t used to our way of speaking.  I kept laughing until our doorbell interrupted me.

            I went to answer it and noticed the rain had let up.  I opened the door and saw Cindy standing in front of me.  “Hey!” I said.  “Come on in.”

            “Hi.  How’s it goin’?” she asked.

            “Great,” I said, but I guess it didn’t sound convincing, cause she immediately picked up on it.

            “I know you too well, Brian.  Something’s up.  Are Melanie and Mike still bothering you?” she asked sincerely.

            “No, no, I think I’m over that.  Though seeing them make eyes at each other all day is kind of sickening…” I explained.

            “I think I’d feel the same if I had to watch it all day too!  But if it’s not that, then what is it?” Cindy asked.

            “It’s, well, it’s actually something I haven’t told ya,” I said.

            “Like what?” Cindy asked, now even more curious.

            “Well, you know how I’ve been going over the Weston’s to pay for the, uhh, thing I broke?”

            Cindy nodded.

            “Well, Mr. & Mrs. Weston aren’t the only ones who live there.  They have a daughter about our age.  Her name is Abby.  She’s a bit shorter than you, and her parents dress her ridiculously young for her age.  She wears these plaid dresses and her hair is always up in pigtails.  She walks real herky-jerky like, and talks really flat and toneless.  But she’s really nice,” I told Cindy.

            “And you like her?” Cindy asked me, with perhaps a trace of disappointment in her voice.

            “Well, yeah, and her parents seemed to like me too.  But then suddenly they always tell me she’s in her room busy, or sleeping, and I haven’t seen her in over a week!” I told her.

            “Maybe they don’t think you’re rich enough for them?” Cindy asked.

            “I don’t think so.  They’re still real nice to me, but they give me the run-around about Abby.  And the other day I went in the house to find Mrs. Weston after I finished cleaning the yard, and I overheard a conversation between her and Mr. Weston that made me very curious.  They seemed to be very happy Abby made a friend, but couldn’t risk me seeing her cause I may find out her secret.  And if anyone ever did find out her secret they’d take her to away to study her in an institution!” I explained.

            “Now that is weird,” Cindy said.  “What could her secret be that it’s so important it doesn’t get out?”

            “I personally thought she walked weird cause she had a disease.  Maybe she’s dying?” I offered.

            “Probably not if she’s still in the house and not in a hospital.  Especially if she was contagious.  I think even parents would bring their daughter to a hospital if she could spread a deadly illness.  Plus, you would have been exposed already, and I don’t think they could take that risk,” Cindy said.

            “Ok…I also thought she had psychic powers,” I said.

            Cindy laughed at me and said, “Well, that would be cool.  Really cool.  But I don’t think anyone really has psychic powers, at least, not powerful enough so it would be a close secret.”

            “Fine.  Could she have been taken advantage of by someone?  In a, uhh, not-so-nice way?” I said, my face red and blushing.

            Cindy’s face looked equally red.  “Umm, that kind of secret you’d definitely want to keep.  But I don’t see anyone making her go to an institution to be studied for it,” she said.

            “Yeah, I thought that too.  The only other secret I could think of before you came over was that she was an,  err, umm, she was an alien,” I said quickly.

            Cindy burst out laughing and said, “Alien? She’s from another planet?  Definitely a possibility, albeit a small, eensy-weensy one…”

            “Ok, you can stop laughing now…” I said.

            “Oh, no I can’ think she’s an alien?” she said, and continued laughing.

            “Oh brother…” I said.

            “Ok, ok, ok,” she said as she caught her breath.  “So how is the debt payment going?”

            “Great.  I’ve got about five dollars left.  I hope I can get it paid back before the field reopens.  Every time I walk to the house I go by it and it’s looking great,” I said.

            “That’s good.  And the couple there is really nice?” she inquired.

            “Yup.  It’s just the situation with their daughter that confuses me,” I said.

            “You know, next time you go to the house, let me know.  I’d love to meet her,” Cindy said.

            “Well, ok, but you know she probably won’t be around,” I said.

            “Yeah, but you gotta take a chance,” Cindy said as she smiled at me.  “So you wanna play catch?  The sun is out!”

            “Ok,” I said, and grabbed a ball from the closet.  With Cindy behind me, we headed for the back door.

            As we passed by the den we heard Mike as a simple question to Melanie: “Melanie?  Would you go to the Fall Ball with me?”

            Melanie’s simple answer: “Yes.”

Mon., Aug. 7th

            The next time Cindy was available to accompany me to the Weston’s was after a quick morning game of catch on Monday, August 7th.  As we walked across town I told her that I had visited the Weston’s two other times since we had talked, and both times Abby was up in her room, not to be disturbed.  I toiled in silence hoping for a glimpse, but none came.

            We got to the door and I knocked.  Mrs. Weston opened the door.  “Hi Brian!” she said.

            “Hi Mrs. Weston.  This is my friend Cindy,” I explained.

            “Hi, Cindy,” Mrs. Weston said,

            “Hi Mrs. Weston,” Cindy said.

            “Is Abby around today?” I asked hopefully/

            “No, I’m sorry.  She’s busy in her room,” Mrs. Weston replied.

            “Oh.  Okay.  Is it okay if Cindy accompanies me while I work today?” I asked.

            After a moment of thought, Mrs. Weston replied, “Yes, I suppose it’s okay.  Just make sure you make him do the work he’s supposed to,” she said to Cindy.

            “Will do, Mrs. Weston,” Cindy said.

            “Good.  Brian, we have a hand-powered mower in the shed.  You can mow the lawn and water the flowers, and then you’ll only have three dollars and fifty cents left on your debt,” Mrs. Weston said.

            “Okay.  Thanks, Mrs. Weston,” Cindy and I said in unison.  Mrs. West shut the door behind her and I fetched the mower.  When I returned to the front of the house, Cindy was sitting on the steps, so I started cutting.

            “So are you okay with Mike and Melanie going to the Fall Ball together?” Cindy asked.

            “Yeah, I guess so.  I didn’t know it’d get this serious this fast,” I explained.

            “True.  But it’s teenage romance.   We should know that.” Cindy said.

            “Well, you’ve never had a boyfriend and I’ve only had one girlfriend,” I told her.

            “Again, true,” Cindy said.

            “So is that boy ready for you?” I asked her.

            “What boy?” Cindy asked.

            “The one you said you were waiting for—earlier this summer, remember?” I prodded.

            Cindy thought for a moment.  “Oh.  I thought he was ready, but I think he may have gotten sidetracked.”

            “Umm, well, I hope he comes to his senses soon.  He’d be a fool to let you get away,” I said, and felt the heat in my face and my cheeks flushed.

            Cindy rolled her eyes at me, started to say something, and then stopped.  Then she said, “Don’t think flattery will get me to do your work for you!”

            “Nahh, I wouldn’t say things like that if they weren’t true,” I told her.

            “Really?  You think  I’m that great of a catch?” Cindy asked.

            “Yeah!  I’ve been your friend for what seems like forever.  I know you better than you know yourself,” I chose my words carefully as not to betray my true feelings.  But even if I did have the courage to ask her straight out, I didn’t know if I could.  I still had strong feelings for Abby, even if she was quite elusive.

            “Well, thank you, Brian,” Cindy said, and blew daisy petals in my general direction.

            I wiped a hand across my forehead to get some of the sweat off.  “Gee, you look nice and cool on the porch.  Are you sure you wouldn’t like to do some good hard mowin’?” I asked.

            “Now Brian.  You heard what Mrs. Weston said…” Cindy chastised.

            “I know, I know.  I’m only kidding, Cindy.  But you looked so relaxed and calm over there it’s all I can do to throw this mower down and quit,” I said and laughed.  “But the sooner I finish, the sooner I’m free of this debt.  Though I can’t say that I won’t make a few unforced visits here, if only to see Abby.”

            Cindy’s face fell a bit, but she said, “I’d like to at least meet the girl who seems to have taken over your heart.”

            “Well, not taken over, exactly.  Just really piqued my interest,” I replied.

            “Oooh, getting fancy!  Using big words.  “Piqued”, is it now?” Cindy said.

            “Don’t make fun of me cause I’m in advanced English…” I said.

            We made general conversation while I finished up the front yard, and continued into the back.  Then Cindy got me the hose and I watered all of the Weston’s gardens.  I put the lawnmower back in the shed and we headed inside.  After taking our shoes off on the porch I headed directly to the study with Cindy behind.  As I got closer I made out a snippet of conversation.

            “Yes, he’s out working now.  His friend Cindy is keeping him company.”

            “Oh, I made sure to tell her not to let him make her do any work.”

            “Yes, Mary, I’m so glad you let me do it this way too.  Good thing I called you as soon as it happened.”

            “Yes, he’ll never know we both know.  It’s always good for kids to know the value of money!”

            “Okay, have a pleasant afternoon!  Bye!”

            I couldn’t believe it.  Mrs. Weston had told my mom.  Mary was my mom’s first name.  In fact, she had known as soon as it happened.  I looked at Cindy and mouthed the words, “My mom knows!” 

            Cindy’s eyes grew wide, but she mouthed back, “Well, she must be okay with it if she hasn’t said anything.”

            I nodded, and then walked into the study.  “Hello Mrs. Weston!  I’m done,” I said.

            “Good, Brian!” Mrs. Weston replied.  ‘How did it go?”

            “Fine,” I said.  “And I did all the work.  Right Cindy?”

            “Yes, Mrs. Weston, he did do all the work,” Cindy said.

            “Would it be all right if Cindy came along next time as well?” I asked hopefully.

            “That would be fine,” Mrs. Weston said, “as long as you continue doing your own work.  You only have three dollars and fifty cents left.”

            “Thank you Mrs. Weston,” I said.  “Is Abby around?  Cindy wanted to meet her,” I said expectantly.

            “No, I’m sorry, she’s still busy.  I’ll tell her you were here,” Mrs. Weston said with a slight grin.

            “Okay,” I said.  “Thanks.  See ya!”

            “Thanks for letting me come, Mrs. Weston.  I’ll see you soon,” Cindy said as we left.

            After we got to the bottom of the steps I noticed I had a piece of paper stuck to my shoe.  “I wonder what this is?” I asked no one in particular.  It had little diagrams all over it with scribbles on the back.

            “Probably nothing.  Toss it,” Cindy advised.

            I was about to throw it in the creek as we passed it, but something made me crumple it up and put it in my pocket.

Tue., Aug. 8th

            It wasn’t until after dinner the next day that I had a chance to take a closer look at the paper I had found.  On the front were various technical diagrams that I had no clue how to read.  On the back were lots of different scribbles, and only after staring at them for five minutes or so did I realize they were actually words.

            The top said A.B.I.G.A.I.L., and directly below it were the words wind-up mechanism, power supply, balance control and artificial skin.  It confused me for quite awhile before I realized that Abby’s dad, Mr. Weston, used to work with the new, fancy computers for the government.  I had heard they were these huge machines that did hundreds of calculations in just minutes.   I realized Abby’s dad had probably named a project after her.  It was probably a big computer, but I don’t know why it would need balance control or artificial skin.  Probably technical slang.

            Something about the words “wind-up mechanism” made me think though.  I thought of wind-up toy soldiers and realized that was kind of how Abby walked.  But Abby was no toy soldier.  She was a girl with a disability.  But I wonder…

            I must have fallen asleep, as the next thing I knew I woke up and it was daytime.  I went downstairs and Melanie was eating a bowl of cereal.  I poured myself a bowl as well and was about to get the milk when Melanie started eating slower and slower, and then she said in a slow, deeper than normal voice, “Brian, will you wind me up please?  I’m winding down!”

            It was then I saw a large key sticking out of her back right between her overall straps.  It was moving slower and slower, and she was moving slower and slower, and finally the key stopped.  And so did she.  I walked over to her like I had no control of my own legs.  I grabbed the shiny metal key and turned.  “Ohhh”  I turned again.  “Ohhh”  Once again.  “Ohh, I loooooove being wound up.”  Again.  “It makes me feel so alive!” Melanie said. 

            I backed away slowly, but Melanie got up and teetered over to me stiff-legged and gave me a large, ungainly hug.  “Thank you for winding me, Brian.  I don’t like getting stuck too long,” she said to me.

            At that point I got really freaked out and ran outside.  I decided she must be playing a trick on me, so I just went to the baseball field, where Cindy was batting.  She waved to me, and I waved back.  Ollie threw a curve ball that didn’t curve quick enough, and Cindy hit a long fly ball.  I started to clap and whistle but as she ran down to first base something seemed wrong.  And then I knew.  She ran like a toy soldier, with her knees hardly bending.  Her arm movements were stiff and unnatural.  And then I saw the sun glint off a large key turning quickly in the middle of her back. 

            She hobbled around first, then second, then third and finally home.  Then she ran over to me and hugged me, and kissed me full on the lips.  It was a full, deep, sensual kiss, and I instinctively put my arms around her, and felt the key slowly turning.  I put my hand up her shirt and felt her back.  The skin was very shiny smooth and felt like warm plastic.  I felt where the key entered her back and Cindy shivered. 

            “Oh, I’m so sensitive there.  I love it when you do that,” Cindy said.  “But you need to wind me now.  Running around the bases makes me wind down so quick.”

            I let Cindy go and backed away.   Cindy looked a little surprised.

            “Don’t let me wind down, Brian.  Brian?  What’s wrong?  I’m winding down,” Cindy said.

            I backed away further with a weird feeling in my stomach—a mix between rabid curiosity, fear of the unknown, and perhaps a bit of arousal. 

            “Brian! Don’t let me wwwwiiiiiiiiinnnnnnd  dooooooowwwwwnnnn.  Doooooon’tt leeeet meeee wiiiiii---,” Cindy sort of got stuck on that last syllable and then her key stopped turning, and so did she.

            I noticed Mike come up behind me and give Cindy’s key three big quick turns and then wound it the rest of the way.

            “Thank you Mike!  Now I’m all set to go.  I hate winding down!  Stupid key!” Cindy said.  “Brian, why didn’t you wind me up?”

            I turned and ran, and as I left Cindy behind I heard her yell, “Why didn’t you wind me?  Don’t you love me?  I love you!”

            I ran so far and fast I didn’t realize where I was until I arrived at the school.  It was night now but there were lots of cars in the lot, and I realized I had on my suit.  I entered the building and automatically found myself in the gym, which was decorated for the---for the Fall Ball, I realized!

            I saw Melanie and Mike in the corner.  Mike was sipping punch, being careful not to get any on his powder blue suit.  My sister was in a slinky green dress with thin straps that I thought looked way to racy for a high school dance.  The dress went down midway past her knees, and her hair was done up in a complex braid.  The light reflected the deep auburn and almost made it glow.  She looked up and saw me and waved.  I waved back hesitantly. 

            I made my way over to Mike and Melanie.  “Hey man!  Took you long enough,”  Mike said to me.

            “Hi Brian,” Melanie said.

            “You look great, sis,” I told her.

            “Thank you,” she replied.

            ‘Cindy’s over there waiting for you,” Mike said and motioned with his punch, and spilled it—directly on my sister!  It dripped all over the area in front uncovered by the dress, and just as I was about to grab some paper towels from the concession table to clean up the mess, Melanie started acting very strangely.

            “Oh Mike, now look what you did—look what you did—look what you did—look what you did—look what you did…” Melanie repeated.  I thought I heard a pop from near her chest area.

            “Aww shoot,” Mike said and moved to grab a paper towel.

            “I am malfunctioning…malfunctioning..malfunctioning..please assist…please asisst…my key is winding down..” Melanie said in a hollow, mechanical tone. I looked at her back, and I gasped.  Another key!

            The sound of several gears straining and another, louder pop, jolted me out of my stunned state.   “Please wind my key—wind my key—wind my key—wind my key…” Melanie said as I left her behind and went to Cindy.

            I saw her from across the gym in a lovely deep, royal blue and purple dress with ruffled shoulders and skirt, which ended diagonally just below her knees.  The upper front was dusted with sparkles, and her bright red hair was in a high ponytail with a beautifully sparkled headband holding it back, and her bangs were slightly puffed out.  I looked at her blue eyes and melted.  I drew her close, and my hands wrapped around the cool, smooth material, and felt…a key!

            I pulled it out and turned to run.  “You took my key! I’m winding down now…please wind me up!” Cindy cried.     

            I stopped and turned around.  Her eyes were open wide with fear and sadness, and there was a small tear falling down her cheek. 

            “I need to be wound…I need to be wound.  Let me have my key back!  I am winnddding doowwn,” Cindy said, as she advanced towards me, hobbling like a mechanical doll. 

            “No…” I whispered.  “Noooo!”

            “I am winndding dooownnn…wiiinnd me uppp…pplllleeasse… keeeeyyyyy,” she said as she slowed and gradually stopped.  And then I saw. All the girls in the gym had keys sticking out of their backs.

            “Nooooo!” I yelled and ran out of the gym, with at least a hundred girls stiffly following me.  I must have been running at least twice as fast but they seemed to keep uo with me.  I kept running..and running..and running…and…

            And then I woke up.  I was drenched in sweat, and all the covers on my bed were on the floor, and so was everything that had been on top of my nightstand, including my new, D-Lux Glow-In-The-Dark clock, which read 11:15. 

            “I must have fallen asleep while reading that paper,” I said to myself.  “That was one weird dream…”

            I placed my stuff back where it should be and got back into bed, turning my radio on to the local rock station to keep my mind off this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach…

Sat., Aug. 19th

            Bad news: I had gone over to the Weston’s three times since my last visit, and had not seen Abby.  I had also not seen Cindy, who never seemed to be home when I was, so we had never gotten together, and she had not accompanied me to the Weston’s, either.

            Good news: Mrs. Weston had given me the week off.  That was because today, Saturday, was the grand opening of the new field.  It wasn’t really a renovation, as they did the bare minimum of work to get the field operable for the rest of the summer.  There was no backstop, and most of the grass was washed away, but there were clear base paths and all the bases, home plate and the pitcher’s mound were all replaced.  I could play guilt free for a week but by next Monday the 28th I had to be back to work my last week of summer vacation so I could pay back the remaining dollar fifty I owed. 

            So here I was, at the field on my old team, playing the other old team.  The teams had pretty much stayed the same this summer, though Greg Olsen actually did get his car, and heaven knows where he is today.  And a few players on the other team also had disappeared, but somewhere they had found replacements, so the game will go on.

            I was the leadoff batter, and was very concerned about using my full swing on a pitch, because the last thing I needed was another broken window.  But as it turned out, that hit must have been a fluke, cause all through the game I either flied out to shallow left or I got base hits up the middle.  No power hitter is I.  Cindy got a few decent hits, and Mike was still relatively un-hittable, though he did concede not to use his best fastball on the opposing team after they had walked off the field in protest (I had missed that—damn window!).

            The surprise for me was Melanie.  She was actually a decent player.  Though only mediocre at the plate, she made several great fielding plays while playing third base.  She saved several runs and took part in quite a few outs.  Perhaps she was actually playing baseball with her old group of friends.  They had come around looking for her a few times early in the summer, but had gotten the hint fairly quickly.

            It being Saturday, and our first time on the field in a month or so, most parents let their sons and daughters play late, and play late we did.  Melanie and I got home around nine o’clock and went right to bed.  No bad dreams tonight.  In fact, I was so tired, I had no dreams at all.

Tue., Aug. 22nd

            I woke up on Tuesday and thought I was all wet.  It turned out not to be too far off.  The weatherman said a warm front had moved north of us overnight, and it brought us sky-high temperatures and lots and lots of humidity.  And a cold front would come through this afternoon with heavy thunderstorms. 

            Once Melanie rose from bed and got ready, we headed to the field.  We waited about ten minutes with a few other kids while everyone else showed up.  Once the teams were complete we began to play.  It was about ten o’clock in the morning, and everyone was ready to go, trying to enjoy their last two weeks of precious vacation.  Soon, their energy, which seemed boundless just hours before, began to wane.  The oppressive air began to suck the life out of each one of us, one by one.

            The languid, soupy air mass surrounded us and wrapped us in its stifling grip.  It was as though our breath had been squeezed out from our lungs and we lacked the energy to suck it back in again.  The game became as slow as molasses around three in the afternoon, and dark clouds began to build on the horizon.  Mike had long since let me pitch, and I was just lobbing pitches over the plate while the hitter lazily swung the bat, occasionally making contact.

            At about three-thirty we could see sheets of lightning in the distance, and occasionally we would here a low rumble of thunder.  The game stopped completely at about quarter of four when Sam pointed out we had a great view of the approaching storm, and we all watched the lightning fork from cloud to cloud in the distance,  

            We all got lost in the beauty of nature, because, before we knew it, the storm was getting quite near.  The rumbles of thunder became booms and peals, and the forks in the clouds became forks to the ground.

            “Brian, I’m gonna take Melanie home, ok?  Don’t stay too long, you guys.  This one looks bad,” Mike said.

            “Ok.  Melanie, be careful.  Try to avoid the trees, `kay?” I told her.

            “Yeah, yeah.  You should be leaving too.  Mike’s right.  It looks awful over there!” Melanie said.

            “Cindy and I will be along shortly, when the other kids start to disperse,” I told her.

            “Okay..don’t stay too long,” Melanie said, and her and Mike walked off, hand in hand.

            “Melanie’s right, Brian.  We shouldn’t stay much longer,” Cindy said to me about five minutes later.

            “We should probably go in a moment,” I said as a loud bang and a forked tongue of lightning struck a tree somewhere on the other side of the creek.  At that point it was about four-fifteen and only a few other kids were still there, and they were gradually making their way out of the field.

            Ten minutes later, with the thunder getting louder and lightning more frequent, we were the only ones left on the field.  I was staring at Cindy and Cindy was staring at the storm.  There was a brief lull of about five minutes were there were no flashes nor booms and we turned to leave.  Then, our whole world was pulled out from under us.

            As if the oceans had drained on top of us, a torrent of rain was unleashed from the clouds.  A bright flash of lightning took aim on a tree no more than a few hundred yards from us, and fell to the ground with a thud.  We turned to run, but the creek had already risen so rapidly, in combination with this deluge and the additional rain upstream, that it had flooded the road and our path home. 

            Then, with a flash so bright it will be forever seared into my mind, a brilliant flash, so hot it was almost blue, shot down no more than fifty feet from me and  sliced the old elm tree cleanly in half, and though I felt the impact both halves made when they hit the ground I did not hear it, as the immense heat ripped apart the atmosphere creating a peal of thunder that sounded like the sound of the apocalypse.  With the hair on my arms still burning from the rush of heat and electricity, and Cindy standing still in stunned amazement, I grabbed her hand and ran to the Weston’s, dodging huge puddles as the rain kept coming.

            We raced up the stairs and pounded on the door.  A frazzled Mrs. Weston opened the door. Her surprised expression when she saw us quickly turned to concern as she ushered us inside and shut the door, which was not an easy task against a wind that, at this time, was gusting around fifty miles per hour.

            “You two are soaked!  Why aren’t you at home?” Mrs.. Weston asked.

            “We were playing baseball, and then we watched the storm approach, and just as we turned to leave the rain started,” I explained.

            “And now we’re stuck here—the creek’s flooded,” Cindy finished for me.

            “Oh!” Mrs. Weston said, dismayed.  “And you two are soaked!” she said again.  “Let me get you some dry clothes!”

            Mrs. Weston disappeared upstairs, and I looked at Cindy.  She looked at me as well, and said, “I have to call my parents!  They’ll be so worried!”

            “Once she gets us dry clothes I’ll call my mom and dad.  They’ll let your parents know you’re with me,” I said.

            Mrs. Weston came into the room at that moment and handed Cindy a plaid dress and some kneesocks.  “Here, darling, these are all I have.  They’re my, umm, they’re my daughter Abby’s,” she explained.  She handed my a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt.  “They’re Herbert’s—Mr. Weston’s,” she explained.  “They’ll probably be a bit big, but it’s much better than your current wardrobe.”

            “Can I call my parents now to tell them where we are?” I asked.

            “You certainly can.  Use the phone in the study.  Cindy, you can change in the bathroom right down the hall,” Mrs. Weston said.

            Cindy went off down the hall, and I, after I took my shoes off and shook all the excess water off of me on the welcome mat, went into the study to make the call.  I made it as quick as possible—the rain was still being blown hard against the windows and I could see large forks of lightning through the sheets of rain.

            “Hi, Mom?” I said when I got through.

            “Oh Brian!  I was worried sick about you!  Where are you?” she asked.

            “I’m at the Weston’s.  I suppose you know about that,” I said, a bit on the annoyed side.

            “Oh,” my mom said.  I could sense her embarrassment over the phone.  “Well, that’s not important right now.  Are you all right?”

            “Yes, I’m fine.  I was with Cindy, so she’s with me.  We were just soaked.  Can you tell Cindy’s parents?” I asked.

            “Yes, I’ll give them a ring.  Now you come home as soon as it’s safe.  I love you, honey,” my mom said.

            “I love you too,” I said and hung up the phone.

            I went back into the foyer where Cindy was standing in her plaid dress and kneesocks.  She looked a bit like a redheaded Abby.  I took my replacement clothes and quickly changed.  I came out and told Cindy that my mom would call hers.

            Mrs. Weston ushered us into the study and produced a small tray with two cups and a teakettle upon it.  She poured us each a cup and told us to drink.  “It’ll settle your nerves,” she said.

            We accepted the hot refreshment eagerly, and drank as the storm continued to rage.  While the frequency of thunder and lightning had lessened considerably, the rain had, if anything, picked up in intensity.  I went to the window and could just barely see the creek, which had again overflowed its banks and at this point appeared to had swallowed the entire infield.

            I sensed Mrs. Weston behind me looking as well.  “It hasn’t reached this house since forty years before we bought it.  That was eighty years ago,” she said.

            “I doubt it’ll reach the house.  It can’t rain like that forever,” I said.

            “I hope you’re right,” she said.

            I looked over at Cindy, who was sitting on the sofa sipping her tea.  “Umm, Mrs, Weston, might Abby be around?” I asked, and saw Cindy snap to attention.

            Mrs. Weston looked a bit surprised and said, “Let me see what she’s doing.”

            “You may get to meet her today,” I told Cindy after Mrs. Weston had left the room.

            About five minutes later Abby stiffly walked into the room, immediately reminding me of a toy soldier.  I banished the thought from my mind—“don’t be stupid,” I chastised myself.

            “Hello Brian!” Abby said.

            “Hi Abby.  Abby, this is Cindy.  Cindy, this is Abby,” I introduced them.

            “Hey Abby,” Cindy said casually,

            “Hello Cindy,” Abby said.  “It is nice to meet you.”

            “Same here,” Cindy said.  “So you and Brian are good friends?”

            “Yes.  Brian and I are good friends,” Abby replied.

            “Do you like him?” Cindy asked.

            “Yes.  I like him very much.  He is a good friend,” Abby said.

            “Do you think he’s cute?” Cindy asked.

            “Cindy!” I said, shocked she would ask that.

            “I do not understand,” Abby said.

            “Do you find him attractive?” Cindy asked again.

            “I do not understand,” Abby said.

            “Do you think he’s dreamy?” Cindy rephrased.

            “I do not dream,” Abby stated.

            “Really?” Cindy asked.  “Well, I mean, Do you think Brian is good-looking?”

            “Brian’s vision appears fine,” Abby said.

            “I give up,” Cindy said exasperated.

            “I do not understand,” Abby repeated.

            “So what do you like to do?” Cindy asked.

            “I like to help my mother,” Abby said.

            “How do you help her?” Cindy asked.

            “I make her happy,” Abby replied.

            “How do you do that?” Cindy inquired.

            “I do not know,” Abby said.

            “You don’t know?” Cindy said incredulously.

            “I do not know,” Abby said.

            “See what I mean?” I whispered to Cindy.

            Cindy nodded.

            At that moment a strong gust of wind rocked the Weston house, and the lights flickered and then electricity failed.  Cindy walked over to me at the same time Abby haltingly made her way to my side. We all sat on the sofa, and Mrs. Weston came in with a number of candles, and lit them with a lighter.  Abby’s pale and shiny skin was accented by the flickering candlelight, and apparently Mrs. Weston noticed this too, as she stared intently at Abby for a few moments before leaving the room.

            About five minutes later, Mr. Weston came in and informed us that he had phoned his friend before the power went out, and was told that roads are flooded all over the county.  “You two can stay the night,” he said.  “Cindy, you can sleep here in the study, and Brian, you can sleep in the living room.”

            “Thank you very much, Mr. Weston,” Cindy said.

            “Yes, thank you Mr. Weston,” I said.

            “You’re welcome.  If you three need anything, my wife or I will be around.  Abby usually goes to bed quite early, and I expect you’ll be exhausted as well.  Perhaps around eight would be good?” Mr. Weston asked.

            “That’ll be fine,” I said.

            “Good.  That gives you about an hour or so to talk or whatever kids do nowadays,” Mr. Weston said as he left the study.

            After Mr. Weston left us, no one spoke.  We were tired, of course, but neither Cindy nor I could think of anything to say, and not surprisingly Abby didn’t chime in either.

            Abby sat next to me as still as still could be, but after about ten minutes of silence Cindy put her head on my shoulder.  It felt nice, and I put my arm around her.  I took Abby’s hand and she looked at me.  I smiled, and she gave me a half-grin back.

            About fifteen minutes later, Mr. Weston came back in the room.  He gave Cindy a nightgown and said, “It’s one of Abby’s.  If the dress fit, so should this.”  He handed me a pair of pajamas and said, “I’m a bit taller than you but they’re small on me, so they should be just right for you,” he said.

            Cindy and I thanked him, and then Cindy went to find the bathroom to change into her nightgown.  A few minutes later I heard Cindy on her way back, so I gave Abby a quick peck on the cheek and left the room.

            When I came back, Abby was gone.  Cindy informed me that Abby suddenly “was very tired and needed to see her mother right away.” 

            “Yup.  She does that a lot.  I’ve never understood it, and not sure what it means.  It’s been puzzling me since I met her,” I said.

            Mrs. Weston came in at that moment and said, “Brian, I’ve made you a nice bed in the living room.  I think it’s time we went to sleep.”

            “Okay.  G’night, Cindy,” I said as I made my way to my bed.

Wed., Aug. 23rd

            I awoke with a start, and looking around me did not recognize my surroundings.  It was dark, and there was no moonlight to guide me.  Then, I remembered: the storm, Cindy, Abby and staying over the Weston’s.   It was pitch black, so I decided to lie in bed for a bit and try to get back to sleep.  Ten minutes later I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. 

            I grabbed the flashlight Mrs. Weston had put near my bed the night before and turned it on my watch.  It wasn’t water resistant but somehow it was still working, and it told me the time was about quarter past two in the morning.  I quietly rose from bed, and decided I’d go see if Cindy was awake.

            I crept silently down the hall, and managed to stub my toe on a corner.  Only by clamping my hand over my mouth was I able to prevent a string of curse words from coming out. 

            Once I got to the study, I heard steady breathing with just the hint of a snore—Cindy was still asleep.  “Rats!” I thought.  “I don’t wanna wake her up.  Now I gotta go back to bed…”

            And just as I was turning around to go back down the hall, I got a crazy idea: what if Abby was up?  I decided to go for it.  If nothing else, I could see her room and maybe even discover her secret.  I decided to go for it.

            I stealthily ascended the stairs.  Once at the top, I knew which door went to the sitting room.  That left three doors.  One looked smaller than the others, so I assumed that went to a closet or an attic staircase.  I went to the farthest one from me and placed my ear to the door.  Through it I could hear the contented snores of two people, so I figured that was Mr. & Mrs. Weston’s bedroom.   Therefore, the other door must be Abby’s.  I crept over and knocked softly.  No answer.  I knocked again.  Still, no answer. 

            I cracked the door open a bit and looked in.  “Abby?” I whispered.  “Are you awake?”

            When I got no response I swept the room quickly with the flashlight and saw Abby laying in her bed, and from what I could see, her eyes were closed.  I slipped into the room and closed the door.  Once inside I used the flashlight to make a more thorough sweep of the room, and I discovered there was a small camping lantern on Abby’s nightstand, so I turned that on low and switched off my flashlight. 

            I thought all this commotion would wake Abby, but I looked at her, and there was no movement.  She looked peaceful.  Almost too peaceful.  I looked closer and realized what wasn’t quite right: she wasn’t breathing!  I felt her, and she was cold to the touch, and that vibration that had emanated from her had stopped.  Something wasn’t right.  I gave her a shove on her shoulder to see if it would rouse her.  There was no response.  I reached underneath her back to try to right her, and then I felt that small indentation in her back.  Thinking now was as good a time as any, I lifted her nightgown high enough to see what it was.

            A little higher than the middle of her back was a hard, plastic indentation with a small slot and two small buttons.  I took one look at the slot and said under my breath, “You have got to be kidding me.”

            I looked around, and on her nightstand spied a freshly polished wooden box.  I opened it up and pulled out a decent sized key.  I put the key on the nightstand.  Before I wound her up, I decided I would find out as much as I can.  I felt her arms and legs, and once I pressed down hard enough I felt something too hard to be something organic.  It felt like metal with blunted edges—“Gears!” I thought.  I felt her hair, which was still in pigtails.  It smelled like the hair on Melanie’s old dolls—kind of plastic that’s been washed with shampoo. 

            I looked around her room.  There wasn’t too much save for clothes in a wardrobe, most were ridiculously young for her.  In a drawer in the nightstand there was a brush and many hair elastics. 

            I figured I had done all the exploring I could.  I lifted the nightgown up and placed the key in the slot.  I wound it as tight as I could.  Abby’s eyes snapped open, and she said in her mechanical voice, “Hi! My name is Abby!”

            “Hello Brian! Did you wind me?” Abby asked me.

            “Yes I did,” I told her.

            “Did my mother tell you I am a clockwork girl?” Abby asked.

            “No, I found out myself,” I told her.

            “But you are not supposed to know.  My mother says I am a real girl that needs to be wound and no one must know,” Abby said.

            “That’s okay, Abby.  I won’t tell anyone,” I said.

            “That is good,” Abby said. 

            “Can I brush your hair?” I asked.

            “Yes you can.  Brian, why is it dark?” Abby asked.

            While I untied her hair I explained, “Abby, this is night.  The sun shines on another part of the world so the moon can shine on our part of the world.”

            “Oh.  Where is the moon?” Abby asked.

            “You can’t see it tonight, Abby.  The clouds are in the way,” I said.

            “Oh,” Abby replied.  “Why are you brushing my hair?”

            “Because every time I’ve seen you your hair has been in pigtails, so I’m brushing it for you,” I told her.

            “Thank you Brian,” Abby said.

            “You’re welcome,” I told her.  After her braids were out I brushed her hair so it fell down around her shoulders.  It framed her face well, and gave her a young but mature appearance.  Immediately she looked her “age” of 17. 

            I put my arm around her and asked, “Would you like to lay down next to me?”

            “Yes Brian,” she replied.

            We lay side by side on top of the covers, and I was soon lulled into a trance by the feeling of her gears running underneath her skin.  After what must have been at least two hours Abby surprised me by saying, “Brian, you must wind me now.  I am winding down.  I feel tired.”

            I was too tired to do anything, but Abby repeated, “Briiiaannn…willlll yoouuu wuiiiiinnnddd mmmeeee,” this time a great deal slower.  I could feel the gears and wheels wind down.

            “Let’s sleep Abby.  I’ll wind you tomorrow,” I told her.

            “Alllllrriiiiighhhhttt Briiiiaaaaannnn…Goooooodddd Niiiiiiggghtt,” she said slowly and turned over to kiss my cheek and froze just as her kiss finished.  I held her close and fell asleep.

            I got up and my watch told me it was five minutes to seven.  I extricated my arm from underneath Abby.  It had fallen asleep during the night and I shook it vigorously to get the blood flowing again.  I looked out the window to see the rain had stopped but the creek was nearly to the property line.  I hoped it was done rising. 

            I turned my gaze to Abby.  She looked so peaceful lying there.  Not a breath passed her lips nor a movement shook her body.  She was perfect.  After staring at her for what seemed like hours, but what was actually about fifteen minutes, I took her key from the box on her nightstand and wound her up.

            “Hello Brian! Good morning!” Abby said as cheerfully as she could.

            “Good morning Abby!” I told her.

            “Will you dress me this morning?” she asked me.

            “Not yet, why don’t you get up the way you are,” I suggested.

            “I need my shoes to walk,” she said.

            “I’ll help you,” I said.

            I helped Abby up, and then she tried to walk.  The shoes she wore must have provided some sort of stability, as there was no way she would be able to walk alone without them.  But with me to lean on we made a few trips up and back the length of her room. 

            Afterwards we sat back down on the bed.  I looked directly into Abby’s eyes and said, “Abby, I love you.”

            “You love me?” Abby questioned.

            “Yes.  I love you,” I told her.

            “Like my mom and dad love me?” she queried.

            “No, like your mom loves your dad,” I told her. I took her hand in mine and gave her a slow, sensuous kiss.  Abby didn’t respond but did grip my hand tighter.

            After a few moments her head began to jerk to the right repeatedly and she broke the kiss, saying, “I don’t understand” over and over.  I took the opportunity to kiss her again, steadying her head with my other hand until the twitching stopped.  Finally, I broke the kiss, and Abby said, “I love you.”

            “I love you so much, Abby.  Even if you are a clockwork girl,” I told her.

            Then I heard the door open at the same moment I head Abby say, “I love you” again.  Then, a loud thump.  I looked to the door only to see Mrs. Weston laying in a heap on the floor.  Moments later Mr. Weston came to the door, in time to hear Abby saying “I love you” to me, yet again. 

            Mr. Weston slapped his wife gently to rouse her from her faint, and then strode into the room, lifted up Abby’s nightgown and pressed the left button.  Abby’s words faded, “IIIIIIIII lllllooooooovvvveee yooooo—“ as she quickly wound down when her spring was released.

            “You!  Come with us!” he said directly to me.

            I followed him into his bedroom, with Mrs. Weston right behind. 

            “Now you know what Abby really is.  But you have to know she can’t really love you,” Mr. Weston said.

            “She said it!  She told me she loves me,” I cried.

            “She’s a machine!  She was stuck in a program loop!” Mr. Weston said.

            “But she’s not “just a machine”!  There’s a soul in there somewhere!” I said.

            “Let me tell you something.  I once had a real daughter named Abigail Marie.  I was never around during her first four years.  I was busy at work with my computer job, and when I was with her my body may have been there but my mind wasn’t.  I was too busy thinking of new ways to solve computing problems and programming glitches.  One day when Abby was four I was with her at a playground, but as usual, my mind was a million miles away.  I only took my eyes off her for a moment, but that moment was all someone needed to snatch her away forever,” Mr. Weston choked out, tears filling his eyes.  A quick glance as Mrs. Weston showed her reaction was similar.

            “Millicent blamed me for letting someone take her baby.  Our baby.  It tore me apart and it tore our marriage apart.  Finally, as a last ditch effort to save my sanity and our marriage I made a replacement Abby.  Her name was A.B.I.G.A.I.L.—Artificial Biped Girl Automaton with Internal Logic.  She was a very primitive model, even compared to our current Abby.  No batteries were powerful enough, so all I could offer was what would eventually become two hours of “life” with every wind-up.   Every year I upgraded her body and her A.I.   One year, she turned to Millicent and me and said, “I love you!”  That was it.  I couldn’t take it.  Not only was she a machine designed to replace a real living being, but she actually was replacing her.  That’s why I’m never around.  She reminds me too much of the real Abby,” Mr. Weston said while holding back tears.

            “You said yourself!  She was replacing the real Abby!  She could love!” I nearly shouted ecstatically. 

            “No, she can’t love!  That’s why!  By being around her false love it made me miss my Abby’s true love even more.  A machine cannot love, it can only be programmed to.  You may love it, but it will never love you!” Mr. Weston said.

            “But…but,” I stuttered with tears flowing, “she is Abby to me.  I’ve never known another Abby.  And this one loves me,” I said.

            “Are you listening to me at all?” Mr. Weston asked.  “She is metal and plastic!  Metal and plastic cannot love.  Perhaps one day in the future we will make sentient androids that can truly reciprocate a man or woman’s love.  But Abby is not that machine.  She cannot truly love.”

            With that, Mrs. Weston broke down crying, and Mr. Weston gently led his wife into Abby’s room.  I stayed put, letting them have their time alone.  I could feel the hot tears stinging the corners of my eyes.  “Abby…” I said…. “I will always love you..” I whispered.  “And I’ll be waiting when you can truly love me back…”

            I spent what amounted to an hour thinking of Abby, and how much I loved her.  But as I was thinking of Abby, something else popped into my head: all this over someone who can and will never love me back, at least, probably not in my lifetime.  But downstairs, there was a girl who just may love me back. 

            I slowly rose and made my way cautiously downstairs, where a worried Cindy was sitting in the foyer.  “What’s wrong?” I asked her.

            “There you are!  I’ve been hearing weird noises upstairs since early this morning and then I heard Mrs. Weston wailing, and Mr. Weston yelling.  What’s happening?” Cindy asked me.

            “It’s a long story,” I sighed.  “But come with me to the study.  I have something to ask you.”

            Cindy followed me down the hall and into the study, where I shut the door.  “Cindy, will you go to the fall ball with me?”

            “Really?  You want me to go with you?  Yes!  Yes I’ll go!  The boy has finally come around!” Cindy said and wrapped her arms around me.

            “The boy…” I said as I tried to figure out where I had heard that before.  Then it hit me.  “You mean..?”

            “Yes, silly!  I’ve had a crush on you for as long as I can remember.  It sure took you long enough to notice,” Cindy said.

            “Sometimes boys can be a little slow,” I said to her and laughed.

            “That’s for sure.  But what about Abby?” Cindy asked.

            I thought a moment, and then said, “I think Abby’s just a friend.  You should really get to know her.  She’s awful nice.”

Tue., Sep. 12th

            School got out at three o’clock and I must have stared at the clock for all of those last fifteen minutes.  The Fall Ball is this Saturday, and Cindy was going to get her dress this afternoon.  She won’t let me see it until the dance, but I’ll have fun imagining her in all sorts of looks, cause it won’t matter what dress she picks—she looks good in everything.

            As soon as the bell rang I went to Cindy’s locker and gave her a quick kiss.  “I’ll call you when I get home from the dress shop,” Cindy told me.  “What do you plan on doing this afternoon?”

            “Well, I’m gonna stop by Abby’s and see how everyone is doing there.  Then I’ll do my homework and wait for you to call,” I told her.

            “Ok, have fun,” she said, gave me another peck on the lips and skipped out to her mother, who was waiting in the car.

            I went out the back way of the school and walked over to Abby’s house.  I knocked on the door and Mr.. Weston let me in.  “How are you doing?” I asked him.

            “Pretty good.  I’m back working with the government again.  Can you believe it?  Same job, but much less stress.  They know what I’m capable of,” Mr. Weston said.

            “You mean…?” I asked hesitantly.

            “Oh, no!  I could never do that.  She is still the only link to my daughter that I have.  I just gave them the schematics for the very first model.  She’ll be light years behind our Abby,” Mr. Weston said.

            “”How’s Mrs. Weston?” I asked.

            Mr. Weston’s face grew a little more serious.  “The doctors at the hospital say she’s making progress.  They say it’s a delayed grief reaction.  They don’t think the full impact of losing her daughter hit her until that day.  But their optimistic.  They want to try electroshock therapy.  They say it has excellent results,” he explained.

            “Well, tell her I’m thinking of her next time you see her,” I said.

            “Will do, Brian.  Abby’s up in her room.  I gotta get back to work.  They don’t allow me much time for a lunch break,” Mr. Weston said.  “See ya soon.”

            “See ya,” I said as I skipped up the stairs to Abby’s room.  Abby was wearing a blue, flared skit with a loose white shirt, and her hair was up in a simple ponytail.  She even looked older than seventeen with that outfit on. 

            I lifted up her shirt and grabbed the key from the box.  I inserted it and wound her up.

            “Hello!  My name is Abby!  Hello Brian!” Abby said.

            “Hello Abby,” I said.

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