The Third Eye, p.1Lois Duncan
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For my daughter Kate, who waited so long and so patiently
for a book of her very own
Bobby Zenner disappeared sometime between noon and one o’clock on the third Saturday in April. Later, under police questioning, Karen would not be able to pinpoint it any more closely than that. She had been babysitting the Zenner children since ten that morning, and Bobby and two of his friends had been tearing around the house like tornadoes, engaged in one noisy game after another. Finally, around noon, she had sent them outside to run off some energy and to allow her some peace in which to give lunch to the baby.
It was while she was spooning Jell-O into the mouth of eighteen-month-old Stephanie that the doorbell rang.
“Seriously, Bobby? It’s not like I locked you out,” Karen muttered in exasperation as she took a token swipe at the baby’s sticky chin with a food-covered bib. After checking the safety strap to make sure Stephanie was securely anchored in her high chair, she went into the living room to open the door.
“The doorknob works perfectly well—” she began, and broke off abruptly at the sight of the tall, dark-haired young man on the front step. “Tim! What are you doing here? Sorry, I thought it was Bobby.”
“I was over at the gas station getting a tire fixed, and I remembered you were going to be here today. I thought I’d stop and say hi.” Tim Dietz gave her a familiar, self-assured grin. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“I can’t,” Karen said regretfully. “The Zenners—”
“Don’t want strangers in their house?”
“It’s one of the ground rules.”
“You think I’m a stranger?” Tim asked playfully. “Be honest, now.”
“To them you are.”
He continued to smile at her. “What if I give my solemn promise not to steal any of the silverware?” The smile was contagious. Karen found herself returning it. With a sigh of defeat, she stepped back from the doorway to allow him inside.
“Okay, but just for a minute. You’ll have to come out to the kitchen. I’m in the middle of feeding the baby.”
Once he was inside with the door shoved closed behind him, shyness came sweeping over her. She knew it was ridiculous. She and Tim had been seeing each other since early February. They had been to movies and basketball games and out to dinner and had spent hours together up on Four Mile Hill, which was where most of the couples ended their evenings. Tim routinely waited at her school locker to walk her to classes and held a place for her at the popular table in the cafeteria. The names “Tim-and-Karen” were beginning to be linked, even by those who hardly knew her. So why was it, still, that every time they were alone together she couldn’t seem to get quite enough air into her lungs?
Hoping Tim wouldn’t notice her breathlessness, Karen led the way into the kitchen, where Stephanie was entertaining herself by squeezing Jell-O between her fingers. The tray of the high chair held a cherry-colored pool of melted gelatin, and the bowl lay upside down on the floor. Tim regarded the scene quizzically.
“Who’s this charming creature? Does she do this often?”
“She’s Stephanie Zenner, and she does it all the time.” Karen detached the tray and carried it over to the sink. “She’s a darling, but you can’t turn your back on her.”
“Is the other one this bad?”
“Bobby? He’s seven, so he doesn’t make the same kind of messes. The problem with him is that he’s too old to tie into a chair. He takes off running when he gets up in the morning, and he doesn’t stop until he keels over at night.”
“How do you stand it?” Tim asked. “I’d go nuts.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad. I like kids. I work at the Heights Day Care Center in the summers. I always used to wish I had a brother or sister.” Karen picked up a dish towel and held it under the faucet. “Once when I was about five, my mother told me I was going to get a baby for Christmas. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night. On Christmas morning, I went rushing down to look under the tree, and do you know what was sitting there? A doll! One of those life-size baby dolls that drink and then wet themselves. I was so disappointed I cried.”
“I’d say you came out ahead on the deal.”
“I didn’t think so.”
She wrung out the towel and went back to the chair to wash off Stephanie. Tim moved to stand behind her, slipping his arms around her waist.
“Your hair smells good. Like flowers.”
“It’s a new shampoo,” Karen said inanely. “It’s supposed to give extra body.”
“Your body’s good enough for me the way it is.”
Karen drew a shaky breath. “I’m happy to hear that, but you shouldn’t be telling me about it right now. I’ve got to get Stephanie down for her nap.”
Tim brushed his lips along the back of her neck just below the hairline.
“Turn around,” he demanded huskily.
“Not here, Tim, please. We’re not out on a date. The Zenners are paying me—”
“Chill out! I’m not trying to molest you or anything! All I want is a hello kiss.” He raised his hands to her shoulders and turned her so she was facing him. “What’s all this ‘don’t touch me’ stuff all of a sudden? Are you afraid the baby’s going to tattle?”
“Of course not,” Karen said. “It just makes me nervous to think about making out in somebody else’s house. Bobby could come bursting in at any moment.”
“Big deal. So Bobby finds out that his sitter has a boyfriend.”
Tim started to pull her against him, and then abruptly released her as the soaked dish towel, which had become sandwiched between them, sent a flood of water streaming down his shirtfront. He snatched up the towel and hurled it angrily in the direction of the sink. “Get that disgusting thing out of here! Stop playing games.”
“I’m not playing games,” Karen said unsteadily. “You shouldn’t have grabbed me like that.”
“I thought you’d be happy to see me.”
“I was,” Karen said. “I mean, I am.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it. ‘Not here, Tim, please,’ like I’m asking you to do something criminal.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Karen said. “Can’t it wait until tonight? We do have a date, don’t we?”
“I don’t know. Do we? Maybe you’d rather go out with somebody who turns you on more.”
“Tim, don’t be like this.”
“How do you expect me to be? A guy tries to kiss his girlfriend, and she acts like he’s some sort of sex fiend. What’s he supposed to do, feel flattered?”
Karen turned back to the baby.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. It’s the Zenners’ house. I shouldn’t even have let you in.”
“You don’t need to worry; I’m going. I’ll leave you to your peace and purity. Have a blast with your little angels.”
“Thanks. I intend to.”
Biting down on her lower lip to keep it from trembling, Karen busied herself with unstrapping the baby. She clung to her self-control until she heard the front door slam, and then, as she had been afraid would happen, her eyes filled with tears. She swiped at them angrily with the back of her hand.
How could she let herself g
But what if I’ve lost him? The words sprang into her mind so quickly, it was as though they had been lurking just beneath the edge of her consciousness. What if he doesn’t show up tonight? What if I never go out with him again?
Which was absurd, of course. All couples had arguments. It was on television every day. It was normal to have small spats and then make up after them. Some of the girls on those reality TV shows even seemed to think it was fun. But those girls were usually so self-confident that they never worried about anything. They shuffled their stacks of lovers as though they were playing cards, secure in the fact that if they lost one hand they would be dealt another. They didn’t have the slightest idea what it was like to be a high school senior and never in your life have had anyone be in love with you.
“It’s unnatural,” Karen’s mother had observed accusingly. “When I was your age, I was out at parties every weekend.”
“People don’t have ‘parties’ these days,” Karen had told her. “They just hang out.”
“Don’t be smart with me. Whatever they call it, you ought to be with them. There’s no reason for you to be spending so much time by yourself. If you’d just make a little effort to socialize—”
“I don’t want to socialize.”
That had been a lie. She had not realized how much of one, however, until that day in the cafeteria when Tim Dietz had stood in line behind her and made a joke about the amount of ketchup she was taking for her hamburger.
As they left the counter, he had fallen into step beside her and said, “Look! There’re some empty seats over there.”
They had eaten together, and he had asked her about an upcoming English test. Which poems did they have to study? Did she understand them? How many stanzas were they supposed to memorize? He had commented on her sweater:
“Brown-eyed blonds look good in green.”
When the bell rang to signal the end of lunch period, he had asked her if she had plans for that coming Friday.
“I’ll call you. Maybe we can see a movie or something.”
She hadn’t believed him. When he called that night, she still couldn’t believe it, and couldn’t even imagine herself answering the door to find Tim standing there, or sitting in a theater next to him or walking beside him into Hamburger Haven. But it had all happened. The miracle had occurred, and as though some fairy godmother had waved a magic wand, she had been transformed overnight from a nonentity into a real person. The strange years lay behind her, that odd, directionless time of drifting and dreaming. She now had an identity—she was “Karen Connors, Tim Dietz’s girlfriend,” the attractive blond who wore green sweaters.
What if he breaks up with me?
That’s ridiculous, she told herself firmly, fighting down the panic. Couples didn’t break up over a wet dish towel. They did have a date tonight. Tim wouldn’t break it. Oh, he would undoubtedly start off acting pissed, but by the end of the evening they would be parked somewhere, probably up on the hill, and everything would be all right again. It would be that way. It had to be.
Stephanie was becoming restless. She gave a demanding grunt and held up her arms to be lifted.
“Sleepy time?” Karen suggested as she gathered her up. When she realized where it was they were headed, Stephanie let out a howl of protest and began to struggle.
A short time later, however, freshly diapered and tucked into her crib, she had settled into placid acceptance of the inevitable. With a thumb in her mouth and the other hand methodically twisting a lock of fine brown hair, she gazed up at Karen with heavy-lidded eyes.
“Sleep tight,” Karen said, bending to kiss her. The cheek beneath her lips was as smooth and soft as a flower petal.
“You’re beautiful,” she whispered to the drowsy baby. “When you’re grown up, all the boys will be fighting over you.”
Leaving the bedroom door propped open a few inches, Karen returned to the kitchen. She picked up the overturned Jell-O bowl and rewet the dish towel to wipe down the high chair. Kids could be exhausting, she conceded to herself. She knew other girls at school who were adamant that they would never want kids.
For herself, Karen could not imagine a life without children. The restrictions imposed by parenthood would be nothing, she was certain, compared with the joys of mothering an adorable kid like Stephanie. Or Bobby. Exasperated as she got with him, she had to admit that he was lovable. With his dark wavy hair, he would probably grow up to look something like Tim. If she and Tim were to one day marry, their own child might—
She broke off that train of thought abruptly. Just because they were going out didn’t mean their relationship would be permanent.
There were dozens of girls who would sacrifice anything to go out with Tim Dietz. After that scene today, he was probably already having second thoughts about tying himself down to somebody like Karen.
What if I’ve lost him?
With a major effort of will, Karen set her mind on making lunch for herself and Bobby. She located the bread. The jam. The peanut butter. Was there fruit in the refrigerator?
Yes, oranges and apples. Which one did Bobby like better? Well, that didn’t matter; she set out both. She poured the milk into two glasses, one for each of them. Cookies? She checked the ceramic jar on the counter. It was well stocked, as always.
It was seldom that the Zenners took an entire day for themselves without the kids. Today they had gone to the racetrack in Santa Fe.
“Some friends are celebrating their anniversary,” Mrs. Zenner had explained to Karen, almost apologetically. “They want us to spend the day with them. I told them we wouldn’t even consider it unless we could get you to babysit. There’s nobody else I’d trust the kids with for that long.”
“I have a date that night,” Karen had told her, “but I can watch them until six or so if that’s all you need. Don’t worry about anything. The kids and I always get along fine.”
The table was ready. She put the cookies on a plate and went into the living room to call Bobby in from the front yard. When she opened the door, the brilliant beauty of a New Mexico spring burst full upon her, crisp and sparkling and radiant. The rains that had fallen so heavily during the early part of the week had left the air fragrant and fresh. The poplars that lined the yard glistened pale green against the rich blue of the sky, and a slight breeze rustled through them, making them shimmer. The lawn still held the brown of winter, but daffodils and crocuses were like bright flags, bordering the slate rock path that led from the driveway to the house.
Yes, the day was beautiful. But where was Bobby? Karen scanned the empty yard in bewilderment.
She awaited a response, a burst of giggles from behind the flowering snowball bushes at the side of the house or a shout from a neighboring yard. The silence that she had been longing for earlier lay heavy about her.
“Bobby!” she called again and again with increasing impatience. Eventually, when it became apparent that there was no answer coming, she turned and reentered the house.
Karen’s immediate reaction to Bobby’s disappearance was one less of worry than of exasperation. The Zenners lived in a pleasant suburban neighborhood where dangers were few. The people who lived in the attractive brick homes along the tree-lined streets all knew one another, and children wandered from house to house, shifting location when boredom set in or cookie supplies ran low.
The other kids who had been there playing that morning had not been invited over; they had simply arrived. Any reservations Karen might have had about asking them in had been overcome by the enthusiasm of Bobby’s greeting—“Hey, Pete! Hi, Kevin!”—and the momentum with which the three of them had gone bounding past her into Bobby’s bedroom. Now, just as naturally, they must have moved on to some other play area. What was annoying was that, d
Well, she would just have to find him and drag him back, Karen told herself. He had undoubtedly gone to Pete’s or Kevin’s house. This knowledge, while reassuring, was not particularly helpful. Although they had looked familiar, especially the freckled boy with the red hair, and she was sure they had been over on other occasions, she had no idea where either of them lived.
On the back of the kitchen phone directory, Mrs. Zenner had listed emergency numbers for the police, the fire department, and the family doctor. There was also a list of numbers of personal friends. Karen scanned these quickly. Most of the names came in pairs and were evidently those of couples, but toward the bottom of the page there were some boys’ names listed singly. Although there was no “Kevin,” she did find a “Peter Johnson.”
Dialing the number listed, Karen listened impatiently to the repeated sound of the ringing phone. Just as she was about to hang up, there was a click and the sudden background sound of a crying baby.
After a brief pause, a woman’s voice said, “Hello?”
“Is this Mrs. Johnson?” Karen asked. “Peter Johnson’s mother?”
“Yes, it is.” The woman sounded harried. “Pete’s not here right now.”
“I’m Karen Connors,” Karen told her. “I’m the Zenners’ babysitter, and I’m trying to track down Bobby. I was hoping he might be at your place.”
“Nobody’s here,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I thought Pete was going over to Bobby’s. That’s what he said when he ran out of here this morning.”
“He was here earlier,” said Karen. “Then they both took off someplace. There was another boy with them. I think Bobby called him ‘Kevin.’ ”
“That’s Kevin Springer,” said Mrs. Johnson. “They’ve probably gone to his house. You could try calling them, but the Springers never answer the phone. It’s the big, two-story house on the corner of Elm and Hawthorne, if you want to just go over there.”
“I guess I’ll have to, if Bobby doesn’t show up soon.”
The Third Eye by Lois Duncan / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / Fantasy / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes