I ran through the woods. I followed our footprints from before, all the way to the back door. I looked up at my tree branch on the way past to make sure no one was up there. When I got to the back door, I stopped.
The back door had a big window in it and I could see inside the living room. I could see the carpet, which was still clean from when Granpy Tidied Up because Jose was coming over. I could see the dents in the carpet where the coffee table had been before we moved it so he could vacuum underneath it. I could see the books on the coffee table, and some papers sticking out from under the couch. And I could see the old man sitting on the couch with his hat and his magazine.
For a second I thought maybe my eyes were Playing Tricks On Me. I squinted and I rubbed them and I shook my head back in forth like they do in movies when they see things, but he was still there. If you squint and rub your eyes and shake your head back and forth and something doesn’t go away, that means it’s really there. That How It Works.
I was afraid to open the door, but I didn’t forget about Jose. He was still in the house. The Duchess had him and I didn’t know what she’d do to him. Or maybe he already got away from her and he was back on that porch and looking for me and didn’t know where I’d gone, and maybe he thought I’d abandoned him, or that I was working for the ghosts and I brought him there On Purpose so the Duchess could take her. A lot of bad things could be happening to Jose, and he was my friend, and I wanted him to be safe, and I didn’t want him to be mad at me. I needed Granpy’s help, so I remembered how to be brave again and I opened the door and I went inside.
The old man didn’t move. But I realized he was sitting in my spot on the couch, and it made me feel all sick inside. I started walking to the stairs so I could go up to Granpy’s office and ask him for help, but I didn’t have to, because he was coming down the stairs. He was talking to someone. Someone was with him, in our house. And he hadn’t even told me someone was coming.
That was another one of our deals. Granpy always had to tell me if someone was coming into our house. It didn’t happen very often anyway, but he always told me. This time he hadn’t told me. He hadn’t told me someone was coming, and someone was in our house, and a mean old ghost was sitting in my spot on the couch reading his magazine, and Jose was missing. I had to make a list in my head to remember all the bad things that were happening. If I forgot one, something really bad might happen.
Granpy was talking, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Then the other voice was talking. It was a woman. It wasn’t Granmy, either. I thought the voice sounded familiar, but I didn’t know who it was. I waited until they got to the bottom of the stairs. It was a young woman. She had long hair. The hair was dark brown. She was facing the other way so I couldn’t see her face. I didn’t recognize her clothes, but she wasn’t wearing a jacket. It was cold outside. That meant she had been inside for long enough to take her jacket off, or else she was a crazy person who liked to be outside in the cold.
The woman’s voice said a lot of words. Some of them were my name, and school, and In Class, and Field Trip, and Disruptive, and Attention, and Just Looking For, and Inappropriate. Some of them I didn’t understand, and a lot of them I couldn’t hear very well, and most of them I don’t remember anyway.
They got to the bottom of the stairs and they stopped walking and they turned so I could see the woman’s face. It was Ms. Fess. Ms. Fess is a math teacher. She’s the one who always watches me to see if I am being Disruptive or if I am Just looking for attention. She didn’t look at me. I was standing in the middle of the living room and I wasn’t moving because I was afraid I might interrupt their conversation and be rude, and they would get angry at me. Granpy couldn’t see me because he was looking the other way.
I thought about Jose. He needed help. But I couldn’t tell Granpy about the Duchess if Ms. Fess was there. I wanted Ms. Fess to leave.
I realized that Granpy was talking now. He was saying words like Maybe and A Little Too Much and Difficult Situation and Attention. Then Ms. Fess said a lot more words, including Outburst and For Her Own Good. Then there was another voice, and it was behind me, and it was the old man, and he was saying Just Looking For Attention. And then Ms. Fess said Just Looking For Attention. And then the old man said Don’t Give Her The Satisfaction. And then Ms. Fess said the same thing. Then they were finally quiet for a few seconds, and Granpy had a big sigh, which is a really deep breath you make when you feel tired of something, and then he said a few more words like I Suppose and A Little Less.
I thought about Jose. I rocked back and forth a little bit and hoped that one of them would see me, but they didn’t.
Finally they turned and started to walk towards me. I could see Granpy’s face, and he had his Line, and he said, “Would you like a cup of tea?” and he walked right past me into the kitchen and Ms. Fess walked right past me too and they didn’t even look at me.
I knew that it was rude to interrupt people, but it’s also rude to ignore someone. I thought about Jose. I took a few steps towards the kitchen. The old man who was sitting in my spot on the couch turned a page in his magazine. Granpy and Ms. Fess were quiet for a few seconds. I took a Deep Breath and remembered to be brave and I said, “Granpy?”
“Don’t pay her no mind.” The old man in my spot on the couch turned another page in his magazine. I wondered how many pages that magazine had, if he could always be turning the page and never get to the end. “She’s just looking for attention.”
Then Ms. Fess said some more words that sounded a lot like what the old man said. Granpy didn’t look at me. I said, “Granpy?” again, and nobody answered me. It was like they couldn’t even hear me.
I remembered Jose. I had forgotten for a few seconds. He needed help. Granpy was giving Ms. Fess her cup of tea.
I decided it was an emergency. I walked right in between Granpy and Ms. Fess and I waved my arms and I said, “Granpy! I need your help! It’s important!” And I was surprised, because my voice came out very shaky, and I started to cry while I was talking.
Granpy had a sip of his tea. His Line was bigger than I’d ever ever seen it. He sighed again. He still didn’t look at me.
Ms. Fess said, “It’s for the best.”
The old man in my spot on the couch turned another page in his magazine.