Marilyn Teller was coming out of the grocery store when she saw Marshall's little friend with the grey hair sitting on a bench all alone. His head was hanging down, and his shoulders were slumped forward, so that all she could see of him was that mop above the collar of his black coat, but she called out to him anyway. "Hi, Dash!"
He raised his head slowly and looked at her. "Hi, Mrs. Teller."
"Are you waiting for someone? Do you need a ride?"
"No, I just wanna sit here."
"Is it okay if I sit with you?"
He nodded ever so slightly.
Marilyn put her bags down-luckily, there was nothing perishable in them to worry about-and sat beside him, but not too close. She knew he liked his personal space, and he didn't like to be touched. "Is something wrong? Can I help?"
"Today is May sixteenth," he said.
She waited. When it became clear that there was no more to the sentence, she asked, "And?"
"And, I don't know. That's the problem. I woke up this morning, and a little voice in my head said, 'today is May sixteenth,' and I felt sad, but I have no idea why. I know it's a special day, but I can't remember what it is."
He looked so anguished that she felt she needed to help him somehow. "Is it somebody's birthday? Maybe someone who's . . . not with us anymore?"
"I don't know." He buried his head in his hands and sighed. "I hate not remembering! It's been almost a year, and nothing's come back! What if I'm permanently brain-damaged?"
"You're not brain-damaged." She wanted to put an arm around him, or stroke his hair, or give him some gesture of comfort, but she wasn't sure he'd accept it. "You're smart enough to take care of yourself for almost a year. Your memory will come back. It might take a while, but one day, you'll know everything."
"I hope so."
"And whoever it is that you're missing today, I'm sure they'd be proud of you."
He hung his head again. "I haven't done much to be proud of."
"You haven't killed anyone."
He looked up at her. "That you know of."
And then the two of them were laughing together, and it felt so good. She dared to risk a pat on the shoulder. "You're not a bad kid. You've just . . . been through some hard times. I want you to know that no matter what happens, I'm always here for you."
"Thanks." Was that the ghost of a smile? A genuine smile, not a smirk or a calculating grin? She hoped so.
"I've got to get going. You're welcome to come for dinner tonight."
"Thanks, but . . . I kinda want to be alone right now."
"That's okay. Just in case you change your mind, I'll save you a plate. Okay?"
He nodded ever so slightly.
"Okay, I'll see you around." She got up and grabbed her bags. "Bye, Dash."
"Bye." So faint that she could hardly hear him.
All the way back to her car, she kept looking over her shoulder at him, but he never moved. Poor thing. Bad enough to have lost someone, but to lose them and then forget who they were . . .
She should just bring him home with her, no matter what he said. Poor little thing shouldn't be alone at a time like this. She put the bags in the car, locked it, and tucked the keys in her pocket as she started to walk back to the boy . . .
The bench was empty.
Well, what the-where had he gone? One minute he was there, the next-oh, it didn't matter now. She needed to get home and start dinner or they wouldn't be eating until ten o'clock. Besides, Dash was good at taking care of himself. He'd be fine.
She got back in the car and headed home. As she pulled out of the parking lot, Marilyn saw a sad-faced man pull up and post a flyer. Probably advertising a yard sale or something.
If only she had stopped to read the flyer. Beneath the word MISSING and the name which was unfortunately blurred by humidity was a photo of a boy who bore a remarkable resemblance to the one she'd just left sitting on the bench.
Below the name were the words: LAST SEEN MAY 16, 1991.