“I tell you Gladys,” Margaret snarled into the phone, scratching the back of an ear, “it is disgraceful the way some people leave their children unsupervised. This entire situation has left me anxious. I mean why break in our place? It’s not like we didn’t lock the windows and doors. And the thing that irked most, the one who got in picked the lock like an expert.”
“Tell me what happened?” Gladys’ voice breezed through the receiver.
Such a nosy person, Margaret huffed. But since she’d been the one to place the call – she wanted to spread this gossip ahead of anyone else – what could Margaret complain about?
“Well, it was around six o’clock. I had just put dinner on the table. Jr. had been playing with his Transformers; those things are so adorable Gladys … Jr. somehow makes airplanes out of the ones that are supposed to look like cars. One day I must ask how he does that…”
“Ah, Margaret … do get on with it. I’m dying to know what happened!”
“Oh, stop getting your hair in a twist.” Margaret sighed, “Now where was I? Oh yes, dinner. Well I called Jr., told him to fetch his dad. When Briar lumbered in, I swear I almost gagged. He stunk to high heaven, all sweaty from working out in the heat. That’s when Jr. started whining about having drunk his last soda and kicked up such a fuss, Briar said ‘let’s go out and get you one’ just to shut him up. I don’t know why he dotes on the boy that way. It’s kinda annoying.”
“Margaret, get on with it …”
“Oh, be patient and let me tell this the right way.” Margaret groused, paused, and then continued, “Okay, after we scrounged up a soda, the three of us headed back. When arriving home, we found our front door wide open. Briar ordered us to stay outside while he checked the place out but you know Jr. The boy hasn’t got a patient bone in his body and barged past his pa whining about starving to death.
“Well I tell you,” she said with dramatic overtones, “I just about died when I saw the dinner table. Briar’s plate, as well as my own, looked picked over. Jr.’s bowl sat empty. Briar started swearing like a hunter whose game got away and Jr. wailed even louder about his empty stomach. As for me, I’m thinking ‘ain’t no way I’m cooking again. It’s take out or we will all go to bed hungry tonight’.”
Gladys cleared her throat.
Rolling her eyes, Margaret bit back the words racing through her mind.
“Okay, I’m getting to the good part,” she managed to say in a calm voice. Taking a breath, Margaret continued, “So Jr.’s hissy fit is now so loud I made him go sit down while his father and I tried to figure out what to do next. A few seconds later, he comes back crying about his chair had been busted to bits. Whoever got in our place smashed his rocking chair and damaged the cushion on mine while scuffing the finish on Briar’s.”
“Oh my,” Gladys gasped. “Why would anyone do these horrible things?”
Ignoring her friend’s outburst, Margaret pinched the bridge of her nose and launched back into her story. “Briar then decides to contact the authorities. He headed for our bedroom, since the other phone went missing, and came running back, ordering Jr. to his room. He then grabbed my arm and dragged me down the hall to our bedroom.”
“What was in your room? Tell me!”
“Briar’s bed had been messed up as well as my own. We looked at each other just as Jr. ran in yelling someone was asleep in his bed.”
“The burglar was still there?” Gladys asked, voice rising with shock.
“Uh-huh and like Jr. said, sleeping like a log.”
“Well what’d you do?”
“Jr. wanted to have a barbeque but Briar and I agreed there wasn’t enough to feed all of us…” Margaret paused, watching a patch of blond hair move in front of her along the front of a coffee table fashioned from a large tree trunk. “Hold on Gladys,” she said, then lowered the receiver from her ear. “Hello, Goldilocks. You missed a spot.”
The blonde mass of curls lifted until a pair of sky blue eyes peered over the table’s edge. The child then stood upright, poked her lower lip out and threw a dingy white cloth on the table. Arms folded defiantly, the girl’s eyes narrowed to slits. She appeared no more than twelve years old, somewhat on the chubby side and wearing a lemon yellow dress smudged with dust and soot. Her porcelain white forehead and rosy red cherub cheeks were blotched with dark, gray smudges.
“This is child abuse, ya know,” the girl huffed in a smart-alecky tone. “You’re also violating adolescent labor laws making me dust this flea infested hole without giving me a break or offering hourly wages for my efforts. I’m sure the local forest rangers would lock you in a zoo for mistreating me like this.”
Margaret said nothing, eyes shifting from the child to a spot behind her. Goldilocks stiffened when a deep growl thundered behind her. She didn’t have to turn around to know who’d done that.
“I’m sure,” a deep, throaty voice filled the room, “the forest rangers would also get a kick out of surveillance footage showing you doing damage to our home …”
Goldilocks picked the dust cloth up off the table. Glaring at Margaret, she asked, “Where’s that spot I missed?”
Margaret pointed. Grumbling, the blonde waif stomped off. Receiver back to her ear, Margaret settled in to finish her conversation, “Okay, where was I …”