It is a common fallacy that light is the fastest thing in the universe. The one thing faster than light is a rumor.
The stories raced down the street even as the car was pulling away. Through the rear passenger window, the diminutive blonde girl could easily be seen. Her eyes looked puffy, as if she’d been crying for a long time, and she stared straight ahead, oblivious or impervious to the stares of those watching the car leave. In the front was a stone-faced man – the girls father. He also stared straight ahead as he accelerated around the corner and off the street.
News had already brought everyone to their front doors. Nobody was going to miss this. The Gunderson had lived on the street since the beginning, when the lawns were still mud and the only trees in the neighborhood were still on the back of a flatbed trailer awaiting planting. Like many of us, the Gunderson girls had practically grown up on the street.
I hopped off my bike beside Jen, who was standing in front of her house watching. The car turned the second corner and vanished from sight. I looked at Jen, and she looked at me. She and Natasha had been friends since kindergarten, and were both about a year younger than I was. The look on her face told me everything I needed to know. Natasha was leaving and not ever coming back.
I looked down the street toward my house. There were clusters of people on the sidewalk, talking in low murmurs. Others hung from their front doors, watching the scene. The rumor had completed its circuit around the street.
Later, after the excitement had faded and Jen had run into her house crying, I returned home, where my mother and my sister were still talking. I caught a few words, here and there as I poured myself a glass of apple juice.
Shameful. Unknown father. So young. Scandal.
I jogged down the stairs to the basement to watch television, and I heard my mother express her relief that I had never associated with the girl. I paused there, on the darkened stairs for a moment. Then I continued on.