Arlo came running in the house, letting the screen door slam behind him.
“Can I watch TV, or is it too early. I’m just asking,” he said. The words came out in one breath. He fell onto the couch and stared at the ceiling.
“It’s too early,” I said. “What happened outside?”
He heaved a sigh.
“Well, Neighbour Friend is acting weird again. He’s doing that thing where he runs away from me and hides. He knows I hate that.”
“Right,” I said.
“We were just sitting there, and playing video games and then he just got up and ran off. I don’t know where he went. It was like he wanted to get away from us.”
“Where’s Eli?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Is he sitting on the stairs, waiting for Neighbour Friend to come back?” Because that’s where he usually sits.
“Yeah I guess so.”
A great quiet followed.
I think of Arlo as an introverted kid. He’s friendly, polite, and slow to warm to strangers. He will retreat to his corner of the room if he’s uncomfortable, he has a good sense of his own limits. He doesn’t like tag, water fights, or being run away from.
But Neighbour Friend is his own category. He gets overstimulated, can’t stand it, and takes off. Usually to somewhere he knows my kids can’t follow. They love him so, they’ll eat him up, you see. They worship him. Eli more so. Arlo did two years ago but now he’s wiser. He knows the love is not always reciprocated.
“You know, when I go to parties,” I said to Arlo, “I often decide to go home and then I just leave.”
“Without saying goodbye?” he asked.
“Kind of,” I said. “I say goodbye if people are paying attention but if they’re not, I just go.”
He looked at me quizzically. “Why?”
I thought about it. I’ve thought about this a lot.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think because sometimes goodbyes take a long time. People don’t want to let you leave, they want to keep chatting, they want to make plans for next time. Sometimes it all just takes too long, and when I decide I want to go, I want to go.”
“Maybe that’s what Neighbour Friend is like,” I said. “Maybe he just needs to go, right away. You know he’ll be back.”
Twenty minutes later, Eli came in, slamming the door behind him.
After another fifteen, Neighbour Friend came in too, and all was well for one more day.