September 1, 2016 Writing Prompt Challenge
The writing prompt: The moment I opened that door, my life was changed.
Here’s my offering, hope you’ll post or link to yours in the comment section!
The moment I opened that door, my life was changed. I could have slammed it shut, I suppose, but those grubby hands wrapped around the crushed stems of my petunias couldn’t go unchallenged. I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door. “Where did you get those flowers?”
The littlest one glanced sideways at the flower bed ringed in stone beside my porch. Five small craters spelled their guilt, even without the evidence in their hands. “We wanted them for school. We were s’posed to bring flowers to plant in the class garden, but we forgot. Can we have ‘em?”
He squinted up at me, holding out the ravaged plants. Dark semicircles punctuated his short nails. Hazel eyes never blinked, even though he was no more than six, staring into the unhappy face of an elderly neighbor. I noticed the taller boy kept his eyes on the porch.
“Why shouldn’t I tell your mother? I don’t think she’d like you stealing plants.”
The older boy looked up. “You can’t, she’s not home. She’s hardly ever at home.”
I started to ask why their mother had left two little boys at home alone but the school bus arrived just then. The little one stuck the flowers out once more. “If we can’t take them to school you can put them back in the ground, maybe.”
I’m still not sure why I didn’t take them back. “Just take them to school, but don’t steal from me again or I’ll talk to your mother.” They boarded the school bus, I went back inside having no idea our lives had just bonded.
I made it a point to watch for their mother that afternoon. The school bus delivered the larcenous pair home at three. They let themselves in and disappeared. No car pulled into the drive to announce their phantom parent’s arrival. I realized it was strange I had not paid attention to their comings and goings until now.
It was with a full head of self-righteous steam that I stormed across the street at half-past seven to demand they come home with me until their neglectful parent could be located. I carried my phone, just in case the authorities might need to lend a hand. There was something not right with this family and I was just the woman to learn their secrets.
“Yes, can I help you?” A lovely woman, thirtyish, small and dark, opened the front door I had rapped on with authority.
“You’re home.” She squinted at my announcement with confusion. “When did you get home?”
“Umm, ma’am, do I know you?” She pulled the door a little more closed, frowning now at who she must have thought was a woman in the throes of dementia.
“Mrs. Baxter, from across the street. The boys said you weren’t at home. I’ve been watching all day for your car.”
“Mrs. Baxter, I work from home. I’ve been home all day, but how do you know my boys?” She had every right to look suspicious, after all, her boys had somehow met the demented neighbor without her knowing.
“This morning. They pulled some of my petunias for their school garden. I told them I was going to talk to you, the older one told me you were never at home.” The boys’ mother swung the door open and waved me in.
“Those two boys. In so much trouble. Come in. I’ll be right back.”
I waited inside her stone-floored foyer where I could see through the living and dining room combination to a tidy home office. She’d been here all the time. How had I missed it?
“Jackson, Calvin, you’ve got some explaining to do and I don’t mean maybe. Why would you pull Mrs. Baxter’s flowers? And who told her I wasn’t home? Did you think that would keep me from finding out what you did? Come down here this instant.”
She turned from the foot of a wide staircase. “I am so, so sorry, Mrs. Baxter. Those two boys are becoming a handful. What one doesn’t think to do, the other one has already dreamed up. I’m Alicia, by the way, Alicia Terrell. Ah, here come the little criminals now.”
The scowling pair descended the stairs, glaring at me through the railing all the way down. “Why’d ya have to tell our mom? You said we could take the flowers.” The words were no sooner out of the smallest one’s mouth before his mother had snapped her fingers and launched her rebuke.
“I cannot believe the things that come out of your mouth. You apologize right now. What were you thinking, taking her flowers? Why didn’t you tell me you needed flowers for school?”
The older boy looked up with what I can only describe as fiendish glee. “I knew you’d buy ‘em for us. I wanted to see if we could get them for free. They always feel sorry for Calvin, ‘cause he’s little.”
Only my presence, I’m certain, kept their mother from levitating up the stairs and taking her conniving youngsters fully to task. As it was, she was restraining herself with great difficulty. “Jackson Terrell, you will be grounded until your next birthday if one more smart word comes out of your mouth.”
The boy had the wisdom to be silent, except to offer me an apology that reeked of insincerity. I chose to remove myself from the battle that I was certain was imminent, but as I left I offered a bit of wisdom of my own.
“Ms. Terrell, if you’re ever in need of a project for the boys when they’re a handful, my garden is always in need of weeding.” She grinned over their heads as I left, clearly planning to take me up on the offer.
And she did, many times over the next ten years, send her boys to me for a ‘project’ when their unholy creativity got out of hand. We became good friends, the Terrells and I, so much so that I looked forward to hearing of their latest crimes as they weeded my petunias, painted birdhouses and raked enormous piles of leaves every Fall.
What would I have missed, had I not opened the door that April morning? I like to think they’d be different, as well, without those projects to keep their crafty minds at bay, at least for a little while.