Bob Read online

  Danny’s mouth is hanging open. He says, “A chicken in a well?”

  Bob breaks into a smile and starts jumping up and down. He turns and actually tries to hug the well. “Oh, Livy! Do you think so? Do you really—”

  He stops. He freezes.

  I freeze.

  Danny freezes.

  Because there is a kind of rumbling coming from inside the well.

  “What’s that noise?” Danny whispers. Before I know it, he’s standing behind me, peeking out from under my arm, at the well. “It’s talking,” Danny says into my side.

  “It’s all right,” I tell him. I don’t want Danny to get scared. But it doesn’t feel completely all right. The well is talking. Not in a voice. It’s talking with the ground. It’s talking with the rocks. It’s talking with the trees. It’s talking with the birds and the bugs.

  It isn’t using any words. But with the rocks, and the ground, and the trees, and the birds and the bugs, the well is asking a question:




  And then everything starts to move. Still holding the book, I squish Danny against me with one arm and grab Bob’s hand on the other side. It feels soft and dry.

  And—strong. He’s squeezing my hand pretty hard.

  We’re all looking at the well. More vibrating earth. More shouting trees and birds and bugs.


  I’m scared. Is the whole town shaking? And right then I have the weirdest thought: Where is my baby sister? Is she safe? I remember she’s far away, with Mom. Safe somewhere.

  The well wall begins to shake. Danny’s arms go around my waist. And then Bob lets my hand go and takes a step toward the well. “Bob!” I yell, reaching for him. “What are you doing? You’ve got to hold on to something!”

  Bob staggers toward the well, first one foot, then the other. He holds his arms up in the air. It’s like when the baby wants up.

  Something starts coming out of the well. An arm, green like Bob’s, but bigger. And then another one.

  “Livy!” Bob shouts. “Livy, it’s my—”

  Then something is in front of us, blotting out the afternoon light. Someone.

  Someone whose green skin looks wet. Someone whose eyes are just barely open. Like it has been sleeping for a long time. Or crying.

  The ground stops shaking. Which is better.

  Then the someone puts both arms out, and Bob leaps into them.

  “It’s my MOM!” Bob shouts at me from her arms. “My MOM, Livy!”

  She cuddles Bob up to her face, and he puts his arms around her neck.

  Danny lets go of me. “Oh no you don’t!” I catch his hand. He pulls, reaching for the little box on the ground. Then, with his free hand, he holds the box up to Bob and his mom.

  “Oh, thank you!” Bob says, plucking the cupcake from the box. “Pink!”

  “It’s for HER,” Danny says. “It’s a present. She has to take it. So that it can rain again.”

  But Bob is already eating the cupcake.

  “I made it for her! So that we can keep the farm!” Danny says, starting to cry. He turns to me, and his face is crumpled. “Like in the story.”

  I haven’t had a chance to actually read the story, but I already know that Bob’s mom doesn’t care about cupcakes. Bob’s mom cares about Bob.

  She puts Bob down very carefully and comes over to me, peering down into my face. (Bob stays put, still eating the cupcake.) She’s like a very tall version of Bob, but wet and earth-smelling.

  “Hello,” I tell her, pretending my legs aren’t shaking. “I’m very happy to meet you.”

  She looks like she’s waiting for something. Maybe she does want a cupcake. I mean, Bob sure loves them.

  “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t have any cupcakes.”

  She bends toward me, waiting.

  “I don’t know what you…” Then I have an idea. I begin to pull everything out of my pockets. “All I have is this.” And I hold my hands out, palms up, showing her.

  One plastic whistle.

  One ripped granola bar wrapper.

  One five-year-old piece of licorice.

  One black pawn.

  I look over at Bob, who’s still smacking away. How can he eat at a time like this?

  “Livy!” he says between bites. “I am remembering so many things! This is my mother! And this is my well! We have many wells. And they are everywhere!” Then he pauses, cupcake gripped tightly, pink icing all over his nose, and says, “Livy. We are important.”

  “Bob,” I say, “could you maybe tell your mom that I don’t have any cupcakes?” Because she’s staring at me like I have something she wants.

  “She doesn’t want a cupcake!” Bob says, smiling. “She is saying thank you, Livy—she is thanking you for keeping me safe, and for bringing me home.”

  Then he makes a sound. It’s a sound I have never heard from Bob before, not so different from a magpie’s warble.

  Still looking at me, she makes the same sound.

  He makes the sound again. Then he looks sad. “My mom has been waiting for me for a long time, Livy. She says she has missed me even more than I missed her. I have had you, Livy. And Gran Nicholas. And my dictionary. And my Lego pirates. But she missed me very much.”

  My hands are still out in front of me with all the things from my pockets because I’m afraid to move. I don’t want to be afraid of Bob’s mom, but I am.

  “Give her the licorice!” Danny whispers from behind me.

  Bob’s mom opens her eyes wide, and I see that they are brown, just like Bob’s. They’re all kinds of brown, like a tree trunk. I stretch out my open hand so that she can take the licorice. Finally, she reaches out with two long fingers. But she doesn’t take the licorice. She takes my black pawn.

  Her fingers wrap around it, and I can’t see it anymore.

  Bob’s mom makes a light sound, like wind in the trees, almost a kind of sigh, and then she turns away. She grabs Bob so that he’s resting in the crook of one arm. She steps up to the well wall.

  Wait. She’s not taking him home right now, is she? They’re just—going away? Is Bob about to disappear? I’ve been so worried about finding Bob’s family that I never for even one second thought about what it would feel like when he left.

  It feels horrible.

  “Wait!” I yell at Bob’s mom’s back. “Wait a minute! We didn’t get to—”

  And she hops into the well.

  “Good-bye, Livy!” Bob calls, his words echoing up to us. “Good-bye, my friend! Thank you! I love you, Livy!”

  They’re gone.

  I want to tell Bob that I love him, too.

  Everything gets very quiet. And then there’s a great big boom.

  “Thunder!” Danny is jumping up and down, shouting. “Thunder! Finally!” He stops and looks at me. “Everything’s going to be okay now!”

  Fat, warm raindrops begin falling all around us.

  “We did it!” Danny shouts.

  The rain is falling heavy and fast. It feels like the air is mostly water. And then, somehow, it rains even harder.

  I stand there and let it soak me.

  Danny laughs. “You’re really wet!” Then he looks serious and says, “But I’m sorry about your chicken.”

  My Bob. I feel tears start, and I let them come. The rain will hide them.

  “We’ve got to get you home,” I tell Danny.

  * * *

  Danny and I have been walking back along the creek bed for less than a minute when two long whistles pierce the sound of the downpour. Gran! I blow my whistle back to let her know that I’m okay. Danny and I don’t try to talk as we make our way to her through the trees. I pay attention to where I walk, the way Gran taught me. It takes me a while to realize I’m squeezing something in one hand. I uncurl my fingers.

  One ripped granola bar wrapper.

  One piece of licorice.

  One plastic whistle.

  Wasn’t there—something els