The abandoned house at the end of the lane was not occupied. Joe had ascertained that by observing it for several days. Since he was new in town he hadn't asked anyone about the house. After all even though he went to the park on an almost daily basis it seemed that no one would associate with him since he was the new kid in town.
They weren't rude about it but at the same time none of them would let him join their games. He watched pickup games of tag, baseball and basketball; once he even watched a group playing with a hackysack. Joe brought his own hackysack to the park the next day but found no one who would acknowledge him even when he juggled it from foot to foot and knee to elbow once even managing to get it high enough to bop it with his head.
Indeed Joe was beginning to feel like he was invisible. His mother and father assured him that would change once he started school. Joe carefully didn't tell his parents that he feared that it wouldn't change and that school would be similar to being assigned to a prison for children. Certainly he wouldn't be able to explore the park and the interesting creatures that lived in the semi-wilderness that it created while he was confined to a desk where a teacher explained things he already knew or worse yet confused things he was sure he should know.
Being teased about being small or nerdish was just more reason to hate school as far as Joe was concerned. Indeed he was thinking as little about school as possible while he still had some weeks of summer left. The move had ended most of his opportunities for employment as the town his parents had moved to was not large enough to support much in the way of low skill jobs. Perhaps, he thought, when he took the time to do so, if he had lived here longer he would have known who to ask for jobs such as mowing lawns or trimming hedges. He did not and he had been rebuffed rather strongly when he'd set off with his parents' lawnmower and knocked on the doors of the houses on both sides of the street after he'd done his own yard.
One further question that preyed on Joe's mind was what would he do about college in the spring when he graduated from high school. He wasn't just the smallest male in the class he had to be the oldest because his parents had insisted on starting him late and then on not letting the school advance him, as if they would have, he thought. Still if his parents had been willing he thought that he might well have put out the effort to get out of what had amounted to dire durance for the last three years at least.
Still he had to admit that not having found a job had given him a chance to explore his new town and discover the abandoned house that sat near the edge of the park he frequented now that he had discovered it. On the fifth day of watching the house while exploring a quiet stream that ran through the park and town Joe saw something unusual. A tall thin girl appeared near the partly decayed fence that separated the house from the park he could have sworn he saw her enter the grounds of the house and disappear behind a tree.
Joe watched the house for as long as he felt he could get away with that day and barely made it home in time for supper. His mother asked what he had been up to and if he'd found any work yet. He told her that he had not found any work and so had been visiting the park. The next morning Joe was awake even earlier than usual and because he wanted to get to the park early he made himself breakfast which seemed to attract his parents.
"What," his father asked, "is the occasion that you've decided to cook?"
"I want to explore the town a bit more thoroughly," Joe said.
"I thought you said you were spending most of your time in the park," His mother said.
"I was, and I probably will be there, but the park is nearly a wilderness in some parts. I can spend the day watching birds or watching a beaver build a dam," Joe explained.
"That sounds interesting," his father said, "but how will that help you graduate high school or get work?"
"I don't know, but I can tell you one thing; I don't think that there is much chance of me getting work here," Joe said with a bit of resentment in his tone.
"That can't be true," Joe's father said.
"Darryl, a month ago I might have agreed with you. But since I was out of eggs the other day and didn't want to run fifty miles for a dozen I went to the convenience market here in town. I must have waited five minutes in an empty store with a carton of eggs before the gal running the place acknowledged me. And even though I was spending money there she was about as surly as possible," Joe's mother said.
"That doesn't seem right, how can they possibly stay in business if they treat customers like that?"
Joe's father said.
"I can't answer that. I'm only telling you what I observed. I would have thought it was just my imagination except I took a walk around town and watched our son play by himself in the park then he wandered into the wilder areas there and I went home. I can tell you the only acknowledgment that I got was that people avoided walking into me. And a couple of people seemed determined to walk into me unless I moved," Joe's mother ranted.
"I haven't seen anything like that," Joe's father said.
"You wouldn't because all you ever see it that dig the university sent you on. I'm not sure at all that all the savings that living here in a house that the university must have owned, because after my recent experience I'd say that is the only way we got this house, is worth being treated like a pariah for no reason I can discern. I think that we should move away from here."
"I still have two years on my contract."
"Two years in which your son will graduate high school and need to start college or a job or better yet both. Now I'll ask the same thing you did of him: what are you going to do about it? Is there a job on your dig that will pay him? And what if I want to go back to work?"
"Can't you do that here?"
"Weren't you listening? No one will speak to me or to Joe. For once I won't wonder if hes shining us on with not liking school. I've got no doubt that he will be ignored at best by his peers. But what happens if the teachers decide that the new kid should fail?"
"If you insist I guess we could afford to have you live in the city," Joe's father said.
"I do. I'm going to start looking today. I might even drive up there if I see something interesting. Joe, would you like to go with me if I do?" Joe's mother said.
"Not today," Joe said. "If you find something that you're serious about I'd like to see it but that isn't absolutely necessary."
"Darryl I want to get a cell phone for Joe, with the way people treat us he might need to call for help," Joe's mother said.
"I doubt you'll find one that has coverage here," Joe's father told his mother.
On one hand the argument encouraged Joe, on the other hand it did not as he had not seen his mother realize before this time that his complaints about school were founded on very real harassment at the very least and bullying whenever the teachers had their backs turned. When his mother said, "Joe, I want you to come with me today," he groaned inwardly. A long and boring car trip and then running around the city with his mother didn't seem any better than being ignored by the locals. Indeed because he would be able to move around and especially explore the mystery of the disappearing girl near the abandoned house staying in his new home town seemed far more interesting.
"I should be fine, here mom," Joe told his mother, "so far no one has done more than ignore me."
Joe's mother frowned and he was sure that she would tell him that he had to come with her. Instead she said, "I'll tell you what, I'm going to be on the telephone for most of the morning. If you insist on going out to the park I want you to be careful. Also I want you to come back at noon to see if I've found anything interesting to you."
"I'll do that mom," Joe said.
"I guess that you're going to go out to the park again today?" Joe's mother asked.
"Yeah mom, there is a lot of interesting stuff to see if I don't worry about trying to get noticed by people," Joe told his mother.
"Be careful," Joe's mom told him.
"I will," He said as he headed for the door. Joe was careful to move quickly enough that he didn't have to hear anything else that his mother had to say. The argument that he'd listened to this morning was enough to dampen his day if the town had not been so offish. As Joe waked down the street he tried to think of anything he could do to make himself more welcome. He had a feeling that part of the town's problem with him was associated with the project that his father was involved in. Joe had no idea what the project was as his father discouraged questions about his work. So he could only speculate that some how the people of the town knew or suspected that the project would negatively affect them.
Thinking about what he could do to make things better for himself caused Joe to notice that several of the lawns along the street were in need of mowing. He wanted to earn money but no one was willing to pay for what he could do. But he thought, if I make a friendly gesture maybe people will at least acknowledge that I'm not here by my choice and that I don't have anything to do with whatever dad's doing that has them so upset. I'll ask dad if I can mow those lawns using our mower and gas. Maybe that will at least get people to see that I'd like to help them. Or win me some friends ... he thought.
.... There is more of this story ...