I wished I could knock on the door. But Dan wasn’t really old enough to understand the gesture. Still, I hesitated outside his room. It was still early in the evening so he should still be awake. His light was on.
“Dan?” I said softly as I peeked through the door.
Dan was sitting in the middle of his room playing with the blocks. He loved those blocks, better than even the trucks and action figures he’d gotten for his birthday. Julia claimed he was destined to be an architect or engineer. Deep breath. You can do this, I told myself and headed in. I drifted in front of him. He didn’t look up.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Julia had told me yesterday about how he’d gotten in trouble at daycare. They were putting on Halloween costumes and his classmate chose to be a ghost. Dan had been so scared that Max had to go and get him. He wasn’t going back until the Halloween decorations were gone.
“It’s my fault, I know,” I continued. I wish he would look at me. It sucked to be ignored like this. But that wasn’t his fault. I sighed. “Max and Julia didn’t mean to scare you. None of us realized you couldn’t see me. I’m not sure why you can’t see me.”
When Dan had been a little baby, I had kept an eye on him, like I had with Max. I never thought about if he could see me or not. I thought that’s how it worked. Julia and Max had seen me when they were little and continued to see me when they were older. Julia’s sisters…well, I couldn’t even remember their names. I was never around them.
Dan was different, I’d hung around him all the time. But I still remember the day we all realized he couldn’t see me. He was about one, I think, and had been particularly fussy. He refused to go to bed so we were all keeping him amused so he wouldn’t wake Bre.
I had to concentrate whenever it was my turn to push the ball. But Dan giggled and babbled whenever it headed his way so we didn’t think twice about it.
“You’re starting high school, right?” I asked Max. It was hard not to be jealous. Max was already taller than me. He was growing up and I was stuck.
Dan looked at his mom. Then he looked at Max. He started to push the ball. He wasn’t talking sense yet, but he was getting good at understanding things. At least, I thought he was.
“No, push it to James,” both Max and Julia looked at me. Dan looked back and forth between Julia and Max.
That’s when I started to wonder. I tried to think back, had he ever interacted with me? I couldn’t remember. I remember when Julia stopped crying the moment she saw me standing over her crib. And Max had reached out for me even though he’d been older than Dan was now when I first met him.
But Dan? I just assumed he was fussy when he cried despite my efforts to amuse him. I knew he often kept crying when Bre or Julia picked him up. I had to wonder now as he looked around in confusion his gaze never once landing on me. Had he ever actually looked at me?
“To James, Dan. Don’t you see him?” Max hadn’t quite realized what Julia and I had. He pointed at what must have looked like open air to his little brother.
“Max, I…” I started to say, but I wasn’t sure what to say. That was when Dan started to cry. I quickly left the room.
We all tried to be careful after that. But it was too easy to slip when Bre wasn’t around. Over the past two years, Dan had become convinced that there was an invisible person in his house. A person he couldn’t see that might be watching him at any time. A ghost. He was completely terrified. I hated that.
“Just so you know,” I said. “I don’t come in here anymore. I mean I did today, but normally I don’t.”
I looked around the room, at the soft green walls and colorful furniture. I shuddered. I never had liked this room. There was something about it, a weight, that was unfamiliar to me. It hadn’t been hard to avoid coming in here. “That’s all I wanted to say, that I’m not watching you or anything. You don’t have to worry about that and I’m sorry.”
I sighed again. I wish he could have understood me, at least for that one moment. Dan looked up at me and my breath caught. His green eyes looking straight at me. Did he finally see me? His lip trembled. Oops. I got up quickly, I didn’t want him to cry.
Julia’s sisters could sometimes sense me and I’d taken full advantage of the fact. Especially when one of them had tried to move into Julia’s room when she was in college. Was Dan like that? That he could sense me but not see me?
The door opened and Bre came into the room. Dan was distracted from his worries and held up his arms, asking to be picked up.
“Hey, little guy,” she said scooping him up from the floor. He buried his face in her shoulder. “I think it’s time for you to be in bed little bug.” Dan giggled, fear forgotten in the safety of his mother’s arm.
I slipped out of the room. Defeated. What had I hoped to accomplish? Dan couldn’t see me. He could maybe just sense me and that was worse. I just wanted him to know he had nothing to fear from me.
Max was looking down at his phone when I entered his room. His bag was packed at the foot of his bed. Oh, yeah, they were going back to Granite Falls this weekend. It was a tradition Julia and Bre had started back before Bre got sick although for a while it was only that first year. But once Dan was born, they started going every summer up to the lake.
This year though, they hadn’t gone at the usual time. I wasn’t really sure why. Bre seemed perfectly healthy so it wasn’t like those first years when they didn’t want to leave her alone.
Max swore and kicked the bag. It toppled over. I jumped. I hadn’t remembered him getting up.
“Grandpa can’t come.”
“To the cabin?”
Max nodded and sat down heavily on his bed. His anger was gone replaced with a defeated sadness. “He’s not feeling well, he got a cold or something so grandma says so they’re going to pass this time.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure what to say. Hank was…an interloper still in my mind.
He showed up one day and proceeded to take over my house. Changing everything and interrupting me. No matter what I did he never left. Even though that was years ago, sometimes it felt like just yesterday. I didn’t like Hank. I couldn’t like Hank. But Max did. Back when Max was little and Hank still lived with us they hung out all the time. Hank taught Max a ton of house repair and building stuff. Now, whenever Hank visited Max was always nearby.
Max shrugged. “I guess it’s just – just that I was looking forward to it. Grandpa said we were going to go fishing together.”
That I could believe. They didn’t leave for three more days and Max was already packed. Julia hadn’t even mentioned it yet. Max had been the one who told me this was the weekend they were going away.
Max blew out a long breath and fell backward onto to the bed. “Don’t worry about it, it can’t be helped.”