After a pause, both boys exhaled at once.
‘The autumn people,’ said Jim. ‘That’s them. Sure!’
‘Then –’ Will swallowed – ‘does that make us… summer people?’
‘Not quite.’ Charles Halloway shook his head. ‘Oh, you’re nearer summer than me. If I was ever a rare fine summer person, that’s long ago. Most of us are half-and-half. The August noon in us works to stave off the November chills. We survive by little Fourth of July wits we’ve stashed away. But there are times when we’re all autumn people.’
‘Not you, Dad!’
‘Not you, Mr Halloway!’
He turned to see both appraising him, paleness next to paleness, hands on knees as if to bolt.
‘It’s a way of speaking. Easy boys. I’m after the facts. Will, do you really know your dad? Shouldn’t you know me, and me you, if it’s going to be us’ns against them’ns?’
‘Hey, yeah,’ breathed Jim. ‘Who are you?’
‘We know who he is, darn it!’ Will protested.
‘Do we?’ said Will’s father. ‘Let’s see. Charles William Halloway. Nothing extraordinary about me except I’m fifty-four, which is always extraordinary to the man inside it. Born in Sweet Water, lived in Chicago, survived in New York, brooded in Detroit, floundered in lots of places, arrived here late, after living in libraries around the country all those years because I liked being alone, liked matching up in books what I’d seen on the roads. Then in the middle of all the running-away, which I called travel, in my thirty-ninth year, your mother fixed me with one glance, been here ever since. Still most comfortable in the library nights, in out of the rain of people. Is this my last stop? Chances are. Why am I here at all? Right now, it seems, to help you.’
He paused and looked at the two boys and their fine young faces.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Very late in the game. To help you.’