An hour later he realized he’d looked for Rhine at the grocery and was disappointed when he wasn’t there. He headed back home, his mind already on his book. At a stop light he braked and waited and when it seemed like a long time he realized that the light was green and no one was moving. Unlike some people he knew, he didn’t let things like this piss him off. He wasn’t honking his horn or yelling out his window like others. He frowned as he looked ahead and saw that there was a man walking in circles around the intersection. Tilting his head he looked at the man and realized he knew him.
Brandon pulled over to get out of his car and started walking toward the center of the intersection. As he got closer, he heard several people yelling.
“Get out of the way, Dumbass!”
“What’s wrong with you, retard?”
“Get out of the way, ya fool!”
“What are you, five? Get out of the damn road!”
Just before he got close to Rhine, the bagger from the grocery, he heard him muttering to himself, “Stop talkin’ to me. Don’t yell at me. I don’t like you all. Leave me alone.”
Brandon understood his sentiment, but why didn’t he just walk away? What was up with him moving in a circle in the busy intersection? He stepped forward and said, quietly,
“Hey, buddy. Rhine? I remember you. I saw you at the grocery the other day. Do you remember me?” Brandon just wanted to see if he could get through to the man who seemed to be having some kind of episode.
“Put me in a book. You’re gonna put me in a book.”
That answered that question. Rhine remembered him.
“That’s right. Do you want to come with me? I can take you home or back to the grocery store, whichever you want. It’s really not safe for you to be out here. These people want to get home, I think.”
“They’re mean. I don’t know them and they’re yelling at me. Why are they yelling?” For the first time Rhine looked directly into Brandon’s eyes and Brandon could see that the confusion was real. Brandon had the strangest desire to hug Rhine and take him home. There was something really wrong here.
“I guess they just don’t understand why you’re out here in the middle of the road. They want to get on with their lives, but no one wants to hurt you, so they’re waiting, not very patiently, I’ll admit. You ready to go? We should get out of everybody’s way, don’t you think?” Brandon held his hand out and Rhine put his in it and walked with him back toward his car. It was like he’d taken the hand of a child who was just looking for an adult to tell him what to do.
“Is this your car? It’s nice. I like the color. Red is my favorite color. I’m glad it’s not brown. I don’t like brown at all. Do you like brown? Brown is ugly like dirt. My hair looks like dirt.” Rhine stopped walking and talking just as they got to the passenger side of the car and he looked at Brandon again and said, “You got little bits of dirt on your face, but they’re not ugly. I like them. Really, don’t feel bad ’cause I said brown was ugly. I like your dots.”
Brandon didn’t want Rhine to get upset so he said, “Thanks, Rhine. They’re freckles. I’m glad you don’t think they’re ugly. You want to get in and I’ll take you home?”
Brandon opened the door and Rhine got in. Brandon reached across and fastened the seat belt around Rhine, thinking that it was the first time there’d been someone in his passenger seat. He hurried around and got in, buckling up.
“Buckle up for safety,” he said, in a sing-song voice he remembered from ads on TV that repeated that over and over.
“Why am I in your car?”
Brandon had started the car and as the light was now green againand pulled out in traffic. He whipped his head around at the question that came in a totally different tone of voice from Rhine.
“I’m sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’m Brandon Reese. I know your name is Rhine, but I don’t know your last name.”
“Walken, and no, I’m not kin to Christopher. I remember you from the store, but I didn’t know your name. Why am I in your car? Where are you taking me?”