I don’t remember the awkwardness of a new friendship with Stephen. That’s not saying things weren’t awkward, but both of us were rather shy, and we hit it off at once. His room had much more than the Trixie Belden books I’d first noticed; it seemed that he had EVERYTHING. Model cars, boat, & planes, games, more books…. He didn’t have the girl stuff that I liked, but he had cool stuff. We mostly talked about books at first, how we would pretend like we were Trixie and Jim, and when the twins came back from vacation, they became Diana and Honey. Stephen had to do all the guys from the books, since he was the only boy in our group, but Debbie, Donna, and I switched off on the different female characters (though I was always Trixie, being chubby and blonde).
All of us had tempers; at almost any point at least one of us was not speaking to at least one of the others in an ever-changing dance of huffiness, but Stephen and I didn’t manage to stay mad at each other with the same strength of character as the twins towards one of us or us towards the twins.
School started, and it took me a few weeks to realize that Stephen was the luckiest boy of the face of the earth: he didn’t have to go to school! I didn’t know why — just some vague story about him being sick — but he stayed home during the day with Mrs. Hawkins and had one of our favorite teachers from school, Mrs. Widemer (who had a lovely Scottish accent) come to his home to tutor him in the afternoons. What luxury! I didn’t mind schoolwork, and liked learning things, but was mercilessly bullied by kids and the PE teacher at my elementary school and would have been thrilled to have Mrs. Widemer come to tutor me. Stephen, for some strange reason, WANTED to go to school. It was inconceivable to me at the time.
Though I simply accepted it at the time, there were things about Stephen besides the plethora of treasures and the tutoring that were different than with my other friends. There was a picture of a baby in the living room, and I was told it’s a picture of Stephen’s brother, who had died as an infant. I’d never known anyone who’d lost a sibling, but Stephen’s brother had died before he was born, so he never had a relationship with him (though I have no doubt Stephen missed having siblings). Stephen also got sick fairly frequently, but instead of a quick trip to the doctor and staying home until he felt better, he often ended up having to go to the hospital, or even out of state to a children’s hospital. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t question it — it was just the way things were with Stephen.
During one of his visits to the out-of-state hospital, his Dad built him a treehouse. It wasn’t like most treehouses, though, not a platform in a tree or between trees. It was like a castle in the sky. You climbed a ladder to get to the front porch, then entered the door. Inside was a large, L-shaped room, with the bottom of the “L” having steps/shelves up to a windowed tower, like a turret in a castle. They had run a heavy-duty extention cord out to the treehouse, so Stephen’s TV and fan were hooked up and working inside, and Stephen had a cot in the larger part of the room so we could sit and watch TV in comfort. Even the windows had little curtains! It was by far the best treehouse I’d ever seen — we could sit in there and just marvel about being up in his yard, enjoying the view.