"We need help," she was saying. "My husband and I, both of us...we are begging you for help."
And for the third time that day, Will's heart changed inside his chest.
He made himself listen; he made himself completely still. If the girl saw him now, she might mistake him for a statue. A tomato-catching lawn ornament she'd never noticed before.
But for those long, life-altering minutes while he listened to his mother and to the uncle he'd never met, while he heard a conversation that made his skin turn clammy with shock, he didn't think about the girl at all.
He'd remember later how loudly and abruptly it had ended: his mother raising her voice to tell Donny that he was cruel and stubborn, that he would regret this. That if he let her leave now, he would never see her or Will again.
He'd remember that there was absolute silence in response.
Will had dropped his hands when he'd heard that silence, barely noticing the tomatoes tumbling to the ground. He'd moved to the stairs, moved to get his mother, to make sure they started making good on that ultimatum immediately, but she beat him to it, opening the screen and following his same path out of the apartment, her face pale. When she was close enough, he could see her cheeks were wet with tears. She did not look at him as she passed him by, but somehow, he could tell.
He could tell she knew that he'd heard.
He followed her to the car, for the first time in a long time feeling like he had to make an effort to keep up with her short-legged stride as she crossed the yard—under the tree and out the other side, into the rear alley where they'd parked not even all that long ago.
He was in the passenger seat, watching his mother's hands shake as she fumbled with her keys, before he even thought of the girl. Her voice, her laugh, her nonna and squirrels and spoiled tomatoes. He thought of how silly it was, that he had noticed her. That she had felt so important to notice. Everything about his world felt silly—school, summer, Caitlin, baseball— everything that wasn't this, what he'd heard his mother say and what she and his dad were desperate enough to ask. Everything about himself felt silly—his restlessness, his moods, his absurd crushes on tomato-throwing strangers, his stupid fucking eyes, and his ridiculous, immature vanity.
He reached out and touched his mother's wrist.
"Mom," he said, and he made a decision right then, right when he heard his own voice again. He decided he would catch up to the way his voice had grown up. He decided that what he had overheard being said in that apartment meant that he had to.
"We're okay," she said, and he thought maybe she said it more to herself than to him, but still she moved to clutch his hand, squeezing it and steadying herself.
"We're okay," she repeated.
He said it back to her. Multiple times, until she was calm enough to start the car.
When she backed out, he wanted—for a desperate, fleeting second—to look back up toward the sky, toward that third-floor balcony. Toward the girl with the lovely voice and the long ponytail. The girl he hadn't really been able to see at all.
But he didn't.
He was done with blurry distractions. He was done with being a kid.
On Monday morning, he called an eye doctor with an office in a strip mall close enough that he could ride his bike to it and made an appointment, knowing already he'd fail every single test they'd surely give him. That same afternoon, he showed up for summer practice only so he could quit the team, and he ignored every one of Coach's shocked, confused protests, the same way he ignored Caitlin's when he broke up with her only a few hours later.
He didn't let himself think about the girl on the balcony at all.
He was seeing clearly now.