I stare at this woman, trying hard to misunderstand what she said. No one speaks of a child in past tense. No one.
These are words I cannot connect with Sad Boy, unless they are to redefine him as Glad Boy. But she uses them to tell me another name entirely. A past tense name. One that no longer exists in the present.
And I wouldn’t even have to know, except that I hungrily searched for Sad Boy. I brought myself to his doorstep. Now can I simply walk away?
The woman speaks. I’m only marginally aware of her voice, let alone her words. Now she scoops her arm around my back without touching me. It’s an ushering of sorts. She brings me inside. I want to be out. I want to be gone. I want to be twenty minutes ago, when I could still decide to go see the sexy video sisters who lost their jobs.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” she says.
I look into her face, then down at the planked floor. When I lift my eyes again, I stop on the staircase. Tables stand as sentinels on either side of the banisters. A single framed image graces each table. The images could be a study in time-lapse, but they are not.
On the left, a boy sits halfway on a white fence, the kind they use in horse ranches. On the right, a man stands at an outdoor grill. Their hair parts in the same spot, with a cowlick curling bangs. Their eyes dance in the same brown hazel color. Their smiles could be a match but for braces on the one.
The woman catches my gaze. She moves between the two sentinels. I am forced to look at her.
“I should go,” I say.
“Is that why you came, so you could say the awful words Sad Boy and then leave?” Hatred does not line her voice the way I want it to. I want an excuse to go. Any excuse will do. I prefer to think of her as hateful than to learn the truth I need to avoid.
“I suppose you’re a reporter,” she says.
I manage to shake my head. “I’m a writer. I have been looking for Sad- for Jacob since I first saw his video. I wanted to make a difference.” I am not in a confessional booth, but this is my confession.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she says.
“I’m afraid I do understand.”
“Come to the kitchen. We’ll have some coffee.”
I follow her. This house stands buried in quiet. Pictures pass too quickly for me to process. What can you read about a person in a spotless house? Time. Too much time. The stone sinks deeper in my gut.
“Neither. Can I ask what happened?”
“It would appear you can,” she says. We settle into bar stools with luxurious cushions. “I thought you came because you knew what happened.”
“I came because I wanted to let Jacob,” I remembered, “know that not everyone laughed.”
“The neighborhood, our church, the school, even the police – everyone has been great at keeping our affairs off national radars. I don’t want the news crews. I just want to step one foot in front of the other until I, too, am taken home.”
“Taken home,” I repeat. She has all but confirmed what I knew minutes ago.
“Heaven,” she says in case I’m slow on the uptake. “Do you even know my name?”
“Are you Mrs. Lancaster?”
She smiles wryly, removes an imaginary crumb from her slacks, and inhales. “I suppose I am. Call my Evelyn. Mrs. Lancaster was another me in another’s lifetime.”
“I’m not a reporter, but I am a writer.”
“So you said.”
I tell Evelyn about my search for a story to bring Internet aggressions toward strangers to an end. I explain how this journey began with Sad Boy is Sad and continued all the way to her doorstep. I ask the unthinkable.
“My story?” Evelyn gets up and folds her used napkin. She rinses her cup. “You want me to recall the most horrific weeks of my life so that you can…what? Garner sympathy? Change the hearts of sinful man?”
“No. I want you to tell the world that their abuse made a terrible difference. I want you to make a stand for other Sad Boys out there.”
“What’s in this for you?”
“I truly just want to help.”
“You can’t. You are incapable. Unless you can meddle with time or death. I’m guessing you can’t do either. So tell me what you are in this for.”