So the kids down the road are always playing on their bikes in the driveway when I drive by. And there’s always one bike just… flopped down at the end of the driveway, empty. And the theme for the month is Magical Dates…
Eddie had always known there was something different about Claude.
Other kids told him about their friends, sure, but their friends were make-believe. They were pretend.
Claude was something different.
The grown-ups thought it was the same, and Eddie didn’t care to change their minds. Lots of kids had imaginary friends, and as long as you “outgrew” them when you ten or eleven or something, the adults didn’t think much about it.
But Claude – Claude actually moved things. He’d move the bike because he was riding with Eddie – and, sometimes, in later days, with Eddie’s friends and his kid brother Donnie. He’d move the ball because they were playing soccer. Eddie had a lot of fun with him, especially those early years when his parents were doting on Baby Donnie and then Baby Eloise.
The thing was, the minute an adult was anywhere in line of sight, Claude vanished. He wasn’t just invisible to the adults, he was gone. The bike fell down, the ball went straight through where he’d been to the goal, the Captain’s hat dropped to the ground. Every time. They learned to play in the backyard after the third time Eddie got yelled at for the bike at the end of the driveway.
Claude was a lot of fun, even if he did get Eddie in trouble. He left stuff lying around, he vanished and left Eddie to get yelled at for things he’d done, he sometimes pulled pranks on Donnie or Eloise, which of course Eddie was blamed for.
Still, he could go anywhere Eddie could go, anywhere grown-ups weren’t, and as Eddie got older and older and got to roam further and further from home, they had more and more fun. Exploring abandoned barns and houses, swimming at the pond, sneaking up behind cows and poking them with sticks.
Putting cherry bombs in mailboxes, spraypainting the underpass Neon Pink, lining up cinder blocks in Park Creek until it flowed up onto its banks. They never got caught, because adults could never find Claude’s fingerprints. And if sometimes someone drove by and the cherry bombs dropped to the ground, well, that was better than being found out, wasn’t it?
The evening of Eddie’s sixteenth birthday, he and Claude had a big prank planned. They were going to paint the Town Hall. All of it. In rainbows. Because – well, because.
He walked out to the driveway, bike in hand, to see the blue bike Claude always rode dropping to the ground. And there was his brother, Donnie, looking at him with a horrified expression.
“What did you do? What did you do to him?”
“Do to who?” Eddie asked, although he thought he already knew.
“Claude! You came out and he just – he vanished!”
Eddie let his own bike drop to the ground. “I didn’t mean to,” he muttered. He hadn’t meant to grow up. He hadn’t planned on ever growing up. “It just-” It had snuck up on him, he supposed.
He picked up his bike and put it back away in the barn. “Tell him – Tell him I said good-bye. And Donnie? Don’t let him get you up onto the rafters of the old Tops building. That’s how I broke my leg that time.”
Donnie wasn’t listening. Eddie supposed that’s what it meant, to not be a grown-up yet. He hung his bike on the rack. He was going to have to find something else to do with his birthday, he supposed.