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The Box in the Woods: Chapter 28

OVER THE COURSE OF THE AFTERNOON, STEVIE HAD GOTTEN VERY familiar with the contents of this little book. She had marked pages with sticky notes—dozens of them. Now it was time to read:

JANUARY 3, 1978

Welcome, 1978. Nice to meet you. Time to crack open this fresh new diary I got for Christmas. I like that this one has a plain red cover this time. I liked the Snoopy one from last year because I will always love Snoopy and nothing can stop that, but this one is more of what I’ve got in mind for the future.

We went back to school today after the holiday break. There was talk about delaying the opening because of Michael Penhale, but apparently it was too complicated so we went back at the normal time. I can’t believe it’s been two weeks now since Michael died. In school today it was all anyone was talking about. Even if you couldn’t hear people talking, it was everywhere. You knew if people were keeping their voices down, that was why. I saw Todd Cooper about twenty times. He was walking around like nothing was wrong, like half the town doesn’t think he killed Michael.

My parents said the police checked into it and found he was at home when Michael died. They think someone from out of town who didn’t know the road did it. Dana probably did see a brown Jeep, but there are loads of brown Jeeps.

And I guess I think that too?

Piano: 45 minutes

History: 35 minutes

German: 20 minutes

Admission essays: 3 hours

JANUARY 7, 1978

Maybe I’m strange, but I was really happy when school opened back up. The holidays are nice, and I usually love them, but Shawn was around all the time. I used to like that, but it’s starting to wear on me. I guess it’s because I have to get my college applications out this week and I’m not done with all my essays. I’ve written them out in my notebook and I’m almost done with the edits. Then I have to type all four of them up, which will take a full night. (I really need to learn how to type. I can play piano, why can’t I type? Goal for 1978: learn to type.) Anyway, even if he comes over to work, I can feel his presence in the room. I want to be on my own to finish this up.

Maybe part of it is that he asks me a lot of questions about whether I really want to apply to Columbia, is that really my top choice. Don’t I want to apply to Cornell instead? Or SUNY? He doesn’t understand that what I want is something entirely different, entirely new. I want to live where there is culture, and art, and life. All kinds of life.

Piano: 25 minutes

Calc: 45 minutes

German: 35 minutes

Physics: 30 minutes

History: 25 minutes

Admission essays: 2 hours 15 minutes

JANUARY 9, 1978

I stayed at school late today to use the typing lab to type up my applications. I thought that would give me some privacy and let me finish. Shawn found me. I didn’t even tell him I was staying. Doesn’t he do anything else except float around the halls like a ghost looking for me?

He said he wanted to drive me home, which is something I guess. Maybe my parents sent him over so I wouldn’t take my bike. After what happened with Michael, everyone is a little freaked out by the thought of riding a bike after dark.

But still, someone could ask me.

Calc: 20 minutes

German: 50 minutes

Admission essays and application forms: 3 hours

APRIL 5, 1978

It’s three in the morning. I can’t do this anymore. Have to go to sleep.

I managed to get home from school by four, so I thought I could get done early. I practiced piano for an hour, and then Shawn came over. My parents told him to stay for dinner, even though I didn’t really want that. I have things to do. He hung out to “study” with me in the rec room, even though he didn’t want to study and I actually did. I sat on the beanbag and he was sulking on the sofa, pretending to read The Catcher in the Rye. I finally told him to go around eight, because I could feel him looking at me and I couldn’t concentrate. He complained. My mom brought down some Pepsi, so he dragged that out. It took him an hour to drink it, like it was a magical bottomless glass. Finally, he left just after nine, and I got down to my physics project.

When I was done, I put my headphones on and listened to Fleetwood Mac in the dark, sitting on the floor. This album, Rumours, is supposed to be about how everyone in the band was breaking up with each other even as they had to work together. Stevie and Lindsey are clearly fighting. You can hear it. It started to rain while I was sitting there, and Stevie was singing “When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know.” And in that moment, I did know.

I don’t want to go out with Shawn anymore. I want to break up. Yes. Even as I write this, I realize it’s true. The rain is washing me clean, and I do know.

Oh my god, I’m going to break up with him.

I feel good. Like, good in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.

Now they’re singing “You can go your own way.” Are they singing to me?

Thank you, Lindsey. Thank you, Stevie.

This is the last time I count the hours I spent on subjects, because after this, my hours will be mine:

Piano: 1 hour

Calc: 25 minutes

German: 45 minutes

English: 45 minutes (reading)

History: 1 hour (reading)

Physics: 3 hours

Shawn: done.

APRIL 6, 1978

I’ve decided to do it this weekend. Somewhere neutral. Somewhere I can get out of. I’m thinking the Dairy Duchess.

APRIL 8, 1978

What a goddamned nightmare.

APRIL 9, 1978

I couldn’t write about it yesterday. It was too much.

I met him at Dairy Duchess. I thought it would take me forever to get to it, so I jumped ahead. I said, “I think we should break up.”

He stared at me. It was obvious he had no idea this was about to happen. I think maybe he thought I was kidding at first? I started to say it again. He said, “No.” Not mean. Not angry. Just confused? I started to panic, because he looked so baffled and sad.

I don’t want to go into detail about what happened for the next hour. There was a lot of crying. From him. I just sat there. He was begging me. In public.

I left him there and biked home.

Then I had to tell my family what I’d done. They freaked out in a way I did not expect. My parents didn’t exactly yell at me, but they definitely gave me the third degree about it, like was I sure? Was I acting in haste? I swear to god they asked me more about this than where I was applying to college. I mentioned this, very calmly, and my mom said, “You can go to college anywhere, but you only marry one person.”

Which doesn’t even make sense.

I said I’m not like them. I don’t want to marry someone from high school and be here forever. And they gave some lip service, saying they knew that, but Shawn is so wonderful, blah, blah, blah and prom etc.

In the middle of this, Allison came in from roller-skating up and down the street and asked what was going on. When she found out she started bawling. Like someone had died. I get it. She’s twelve, and Shawn has been around since she was nine. He’s like an older brother. But what am I going to do? Get married to him because my little sister loves him?

Anyway, the house was a mess for about two hours. Even Cookie started barking and wouldn’t stop. I went to my room and listened to records with my headphones on. I played Rumours. I listened to the song “Never Going Back Again” five times. That song goes right into “Don’t Stop.” I feel like they’re guiding me. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.”

It had better be.


It’s okay here at home now. I think my parents realized that I was serious about what I wanted and they trust me. Allison knocked on the door and asked if I wanted to go to Sizzler for dinner. We’re good now. She gets it. She’s the best.

APRIL 12, 1978

Oh my god. I got into Columbia. I got a scholarship.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.

APRIL 14, 1978

Interesting thing at lunch today.

Shawn and I don’t have the same lunch period. He has fourth. But for no reason I can make out, he appeared at fifth lunch today. It’s the first time since the other night that I felt really and completely flustered when I saw him. I turned toward the lunch line, and I felt him come up behind me. He said, “Can we talk?”

I told him I wanted to eat lunch. Mostly, at that point, I felt like I was going to barf. No one wants a sloppy joe under these conditions.

He asked again, and I started gripping the tray rail, and then something happened. Diane McClure, who was a few people ahead of me, stepped back and joined me in line.

She said, “She said she wants to eat lunch.”

Shawn stammered something, but Diane was not having it. So Shawn backed away. I swear to god I almost started crying in thankfulness.

Diane was waiting tables the day when I broke up with Shawn at the Duchess. She saw it all go down, so she must have figured out what was going on there in line. She said to me, “Why don’t you come sit with us?”

Diane hangs out a lot with Eric, Patty, Greg, and Todd. I don’t know if I want to get involved with them? Eric is okay, and I know Todd, but I don’t really want to hang out with them. Patty and Greg are always sucking face, everywhere, at all times.

But any port in a storm. They were at one of the picnic tables outside, and actually? It was okay?

Diane said I can have lunch with them every day if I want, and maybe I will?

MAY 2, 1978

Back with my new lunch group today.

I don’t know how I feel about being around Todd Cooper. I never really figured out where I came down on what happened with Michael. I think that before I was more inclined to believe that the police were right, that Todd had nothing to do with the accident. But now that I spend more time with him, I see that he is a jackass. Not deliberately scary or hurtful, but someone who could hurt someone by accident so easily. He doesn’t seem to notice that other people are real? Does that make sense? Like he could hit someone with his car and know that he did it, and somehow justify to himself completely that it wasn’t his fault. That’s how he seems to me. I mean, I still don’t know and it seems terrible and impossible but. . . ?

Diane is totally dedicated to him. I believe she would lie for him.

Eric is . . .

Yeah, Eric is different. Eric is okay? Maybe Eric is more than okay?

MAY 31, 1978

Finals are over. It’s done. High school is done.

JUNE 6, 1978

It’s so weird having nothing to do. I don’t know if I’ve ever had nothing to do. Camp orientation and training starts next Friday, so I have a week and a half to do whatever I want. What do people do with free time?

I was cleaning my room, because I had no idea what else to do, when Diane called.

She said that they were going to hang out at Patty’s house. They have a big pool. Did I want to come? I said sure. So she and Todd came to pick me up.

I knew the Hornes had a nice house, but I’ve never been in it. It’s up on the end of Sparrow Road. It’s huge. Behind the house is a pool patio that stretches almost to the wood line. Mr. Horne has a beer fridge that he doesn’t mind if we use, and he even came out to make hot dogs on the grill.

Is this fun? Am I having fun?

I think I might be?

JUNE 8, 1978

Two things happened today. I don’t know what to do.

After lunch, Greg turned up at the door and asked me if I wanted a ride to Patty’s. I said sure. When we got to Sparrow Road, he didn’t park in the driveway—he parked at the end of the street and we walked up. I asked why. He said that Patty told him to use the pool, even if she wasn’t there to let him in. But it annoys her dad, so she told him to park down the street and come in through the back gate. That way the neighbors don’t say anything to Mr. Horne about people going in and out of the house when neither of them are home.

I asked him where Patty was, and he said she was out shopping. He said that Eric and Diane would be coming by soon. Diane was doing a shift at the Duchess and Eric was doing “milkman stuff.” (I’ve come to understand that when Eric buys grass and makes deliveries, he calls that being “the milkman.” A few months ago, I would have been more freaked out about that. I’ve grown.)

Anyway, we swam, hung out. Greg is Patty’s boyfriend, so it was fine that we were there. But then there was a noise from inside the house.

He said, “Shit, shit! Grab your stuff!”

He was laughing, but I could tell he was serious. I grabbed my bag and towel and followed him into the cabana.

This is when things got really, really strange.

Mr. Horne and a man came out of the house and sat by the pool, not far from where we were in the cabana, and started talking. The man’s name was Wendel something. He was saying that he hadn’t seen Mr. Horne since Harvard. Mr. Horne started joking, asking how the man had found him. The man said that he had been at his dentist’s office and was leafing through the Bicentennial edition of Life magazine in the waiting room when he saw the picture with Mr. Horne and all of us in it.

Mr. Horne started speaking in German. The man asked why, and Mr. Horne said because whenever he talked about the war, he preferred German in case neighbors could hear, because of the nature of what they did. The man seemed to understand that.

My German isn’t perfect—I’m good enough to basically follow things, but some of it was too advanced/idiomatic. I’m writing down what I remember. I didn’t get all of it.

Something like:

Man: After Berlin, I never heard from you again. I thought the Russians killed you.

Mr. Horne: They almost did.

Man: How long were you in prison there?

Mr. Horne: Eight months.

Man: You’ve done well for yourself.

Mr. Horne: I’ve done all right.

Then they talked about the house for a while, and about some military things I didn’t understand. Also, Greg was trying to distract me and I had to tell him to stop. I caught up a bit later, and I picked up that his last name was Ralph or something like that.

Man: Who was it you were following? Von Hessen? (Something like that.)

Mr. Horne: Yes.

Man: I don’t think they ever found him, did they?

Mr. Horne: I thought they found his body eventually.

Man: No. They never found him.

Mr. Horne: You keep up with this.

Man: Yes.

Mr. Horne: Once I was out, I didn’t want to look back.

Man: That surprises me.

Mr. Horne: Why?

Man: You were always so . . . well, it was long ago.

Then Patty came home and interrupted them. Mr. Horne asked the man to come back in the evening around seven, and he’d grill some steaks. The man said he would. Mr. Horne asked where he was staying, and the man said the Holiday House Motel.

We were still stuck inside the stupid cabana. It was getting really hot. I don’t know what was wrong with me—I guess I was hot, nervous, kind of giddy. We could hear Mr. Horne telling Patty that she would be allowed to go to the Stones concert in New York, and she started screaming. Greg got close to me and we were listening, and before I knew what was happening, we were making out. I don’t even know how it started, and it wasn’t all him. I did it too.

Then I panicked. I was totally freaked out. He calmed me down and said it was fine, that he and Patty both made out with other people. This seemed . . . not in keeping with their constant sucking-face policy, but okay? I asked why we were hiding if it was all okay, and he said that while it was fine, at her house it might be awkward.

We managed to get out of the cabana at some point, and over the fence, and home. I’d temporarily forgotten about the weird conversation I’d heard, but sitting here tonight, it keeps playing in my head.

What the hell even happened today?

JUNE 9, 1978

Okay. Even writing this down makes me feel weird.

I went to Patty’s again today for the normal pool party. I was nervous, for a lot of reasons. In terms of Greg and Patty, everything was totally normal. Same as ever. He whispered to me that he’d told her, and it was all cool. But he said maybe don’t mention it, because that would make it weird. This felt strange to me, but I wasn’t totally paying attention.

The pool furniture was rearranged. Not completely, but several of the chairs, which have always been in the same spots, had been moved. And there was change at the bottom of the pool—a few pennies, three nickels, a dime, and a quarter. It was for sure not there yesterday. It wasn’t in the shallow end, either. It was in the deep end, and kind of in the middle of the pool.

I was staring at it, and Mr. Horne noticed. He asked me what I was looking at, and I blurted out something about the change. Patty started going on about how I’m the smartest person at Liberty, etc. Which was stupid, because you don’t have to be smart to notice change at the bottom of a pool.

Mr. Horne stared at me for a moment and said, “I’m going to have to watch out for you.”

Then he said to everyone, “So, who can get that change out for me? There’s a beer in it for you!”

At which point, everyone but me dove in headfirst to get the change. Then I looked up at Mr. Horne, who was smiling. By this point, everyone was splashing and flailing and dunking each other and trying to beat everyone else to the bottom to get the change.

Mr. Horne said, “It’s a tie! Beers for all!”

He brought beers from the garage fridge and everyone took one. I took one as well, even though I don’t like beer. Then he started up the grill and made hot dogs. After that it felt like a normal pool party, with the smell of the grill and the hot dogs.

But something was wrong. I have no idea what.

JUNE 10, 1978

I called Eric today and we met up to ride our bikes for a while. I must have seemed troubled, because we pulled over by the school and he asked me what was up. I came out and told him about what happened with me and Greg, and that Greg said it was fine and that he had told Patty, and that I knew they made out with other people, but things still felt strange. I didn’t tell him about the other stuff, because what the hell could I say about that? I don’t even know what’s so weird about it or why it bothers me.

He laughed, but not in a mean way.

“That’s going to be news to Patty,” he said. “I love Greg like a brother, but he is a dirtbag.”

I got kind of freaked out, but he immediately calmed me down.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “If Greg told you that, then you didn’t think you were doing anything wrong. It’s okay. Greg is a jerk. He likes getting away with stuff.”

He ended up making me laugh really hard. Eric is funny.

Eric would make a really good counselor—not camp counselor, a psychologist or something like that.

He offered me a joint. I was embarrassed, but I said I don’t smoke them. He put it away. I know I’m pretty much the only person at Liberty who has never smoked grass (okay, one of three that I know of). I know it’s not a big deal to smoke it either, because like I said, everyone else does and they are all fine. I don’t smoke because I’m an uptight weenie.

I actually said to Eric, “I’m an uptight weenie.”

He fell backward laughing. Shawn never laughs like that. It’s nice to hang out with someone who laughs.

JUNE 12, 1978

Woke up early today. I was dreaming of that conversation I overheard between Mr. Horne and the man who came over to his house. I can’t stop thinking about it. That conversation was odd.

So, since I have time and nothing else to do, I’m going to go over to the Holiday House Motel. I might as well bike over there and get ice cream at the Duchess on the way back. I might as well shut my subconscious up.


That did not go how I thought it would. I don’t know what to make of what’s happened. I’m kind of shaking and I’m sitting here at the foot of my bed.

I went to the motel and said that a friend of my dad’s had been staying there a few days ago and left something at our house, and I was kind of worried because he didn’t come back for it. I sort of mumbled the name Ralph, and the woman behind the counter picked up on it right away. She said a man had been staying there, and he never actually checked out. He left his key in his room.

I have no idea where I came up with this, but I said that if I could get a copy of the bill I could take it to my dad and he could help take care of it. She hesitated for a moment, but then she went into the file cabinet and pulled it out. The man’s name isn’t Ralph—it’s Wendel Rolf. I couldn’t make out his whole address, but I saw that he’s from Albany, New York. The bill was for $64, which was for two nights.

So the man never checked out of the hotel?

What do I think happened? That Mr. Horne drowned him in the pool? And while he was doing so, the change fell out of the man’s pockets and landed at the bottom?

Like it’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie or something.

JUNE 13, 1978

This has to end. I have to put this out of my mind. Let me break it down, make sense of it. What is it that I think I heard and saw?

I’m reading back the conversation I wrote down from the other day:

Wendel Rolf: After Berlin, I never heard from you again. I thought the Russians killed you.

And then:

WR: Who was it you were following? Von Hessen? (Or whatever the name was.)

Mr. Horne: Yes.

WR: I don’t think they ever found him, did they?

Mr. Horne: I thought they found his body eventually.

WR: No. They never found him.

Mr. Horne: You keep up with this.

WR: Yes.

What does that add up to?

I can only think of one thing.

A man came to Mr. Horne’s house. They seemed to know each other from the war. There was tension between them. Something was wrong. Then the next day, the furniture was moved around. There was change in the pool. Mr. Horne acted strange. And the man never went back to his motel.

You read all kinds of stories about Nazis who escaped. People go looking for them. They take on new identities in different countries.

What the hell is going on?

JUNE 14, 1978

I went to the library today to do the reading circle for the kids. When I was done, I went through the entire history section looking for books about Nazis and the fall of Berlin. We didn’t have anything too detailed. I found the names of some books that might have more information. I put in interlibrary loan requests for them. It will take a little while for them to get here.

When I got home, I called directory assistance and got Wendel Rolf’s number. I called it. I called it four times, actually. No one answered.

My essay about what I did on my summer vacation is going to be weird.

JUNE 15, 1978

Called the number again this morning. No answer.

What am I doing? What am I doing?


There is an obvious answer to all of this: the man is on vacation. He’s not at home.

I need to get a grip. I go to camp tomorrow for orientation.

JUNE 16, 1978

I cannot believe this. Shawn got a job here at the camp.

JUNE 18, 1978

Well, it’s been a shitty two days, but things are starting to improve. Shawn actually keeps his distance, so things aren’t too bad.

Also, I love the kids. They are adorable. But they go through my stuff. I’ve had to start hiding this diary in the camp library, because pretty much no one goes there but me. Just lonely old nerdy me. Still, need a better place.

JUNE 27, 1978

Been too busy to write much, and the kids are always in my face. I made something in the arts tent to hold this diary, so at least that’s taken care of.

Had a dream last night about the man at the Hornes’ house, Wendel Rolf, and I kept thinking about it all day. It got in my head and wouldn’t get out. I need to let that go. Maybe I can get therapy in New York. They have that there.

I guess while I’m here I can talk to Eric about it? We kind of hang out all the time. We haven’t kissed yet, but that is coming soon. I can feel it.

JUNE 28, 1978

I told Eric everything.

He was saying that I put a lot of pressure on myself. I feel bad about Greg and Patty, and it’s stressing me out that Shawn is here at camp. I’m starting Columbia in the fall, so I’m moving to New York City soon. All of this is—a lot. So maybe I’ve put this thing together in my head because I’m overwhelmed.

Oh, and the kissing thing? Yep.

JULY 1, 1978

Something about me: I can always find something to worry about. The newest one? The thing with Greg. I feel like if I’m not honest about it, the guilt will keep grinding away at me. At the same time, I don’t want to hurt Patty. But she should know, right? I’d want to know.

JULY 2, 1978

It’s midnight. I just got back into the bunk and into bed. I’m covered in mosquito bites.

After campfire and once the kids were all in bed, I went over to Patty’s bunk and knocked on the wall and asked her to come out. I told her that Greg said it was okay to use the pool at her house, and that while we were there, her dad came back for lunch with a friend of his. I didn’t tell her about the weird conversation. That didn’t matter. I told her we made out. I said he told me they were okay with seeing other people.

She didn’t seem mad at me, but she was really upset. Really upset. So upset that she threw up from crying. Jesus.

Anyway. That was terrible.

JULY 3, 1978

Patty was so upset she went home for the day, back to town. I feel like shit, but at least I told the truth.

JULY 4, 1978

Happy Independence Day?

Patty Horne was back today, and she and Greg were sitting together at the big campfire, and I turned when we were watching the fireworks and they were making out. So I guess she’s forgiven him?

Eric said, “Don’t worry about it. Her dad probably bought her another horse or something to cheer her up.”

Honestly, it was so weird. She was so upset that she had to leave? And now things are fine?

I was sitting with Eric, and he had his arm around me. Shawn was staring at us.

I need to get out of Barlow Corners. This place is too small.

JULY 5, 1978

My library books came in today. Mrs. Wilde called over to the camp to let me know. I feel embarrassed now that I had books about Nazis sent to our library, but since I ordered them, I rode my bike over to town while the kids were in group free time and Katie was watching them. I was on my way out holding them and I ran into Mr. Horne. He was on his way into the library. I didn’t have them in a bag—I was going to put them in my bike basket. He could see the titles.

He said, “That’s some serious summer reading.”

I said, “It’s for Columbia. They make us do some reading over the summer before we come. Some literature, some history.”

He said wow or something like that, and he was being really normal, but my heart was going fast. And there was . . . I don’t know? Something in his expression?

I don’t know why I did this. I said, “Did you have to do that for Harvard too?”

He said he couldn’t remember. Maybe. It was too long ago.

Then he said, “How did you know I went to Harvard?”

I said, “Patty told me.”

The trouble was, I hesitated because it took me a second to think of it, because my brain froze. He looked at me for a long second and smiled. Then he said goodbye and good to see you, have fun at camp, and went on doing what he was doing.

This whole thing is making me so paranoid, and the books weren’t going to help with that. So I went back to the library and told Mrs. Wilde that they weren’t what I needed after all and returned them. I rode back to camp really fast.

Mr. Horne is not a Nazi.

I should try to relax a bit, take a week or so and try to really enjoy myself. Really enjoy myself. I’ve done all this hard work. Why can’t I have fun like everyone else?

I’m going out to the woods with them tomorrow to hang out. I know what that means. He picks up the grass out there. But they also have fun.

I’m doing it. I need to break some rules for once, or I feel like I’m going to pop. This is my summer to live.

Do you hear me, Sabrina Abbott? This is your summer to LIVE!

So that’s what I’m going to do.


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