Yup, another double-issue episode!
Thursday, December 8, 2011
“Did you guys know the ramp fell down last night?” Lily asked wide-eyed, standing with the other girls at the big window in the Laurel Room. The rest of the breakfast crowd was either filing out or still eating. “I was going to the bathroom when it happened. I heard it!”
“I heard some of them talking about it when I was eating breakfast,” said Caitlin. “I guess some of the grownups are gonna pull it off the street —”
“There they go,” said Ashley, watching the boys cross the parking lot and walk toward the house where the preacher and his formerly homeless friends had set up.
“What is wrong with them?” Lily said, shaking her head. “When we don’t have school or gardening or stuff, they’re following that crazy lady everywhere!”
“Yeah,” Caitlin said. “I mean, I don’t go following Cody everywhere —”
“Only with your eyes,” Lily giggled.
“Do not! And you better not tell anyone I said that!”
“Good thing,” Ashley said. “His wife’s got a gun!” She and Lily laughed.
“At least they’re nicer now,” said Caitlin, trying to find a less embarrassing subject. “Sheldon especially. He used to be a real creep-o, and Ben would go along with it.”
“It’s still stupid,” said Lily. “Do they think she’s gonna marry both of them or something? She’ll be real old when they grow up.”
Ashley shook her head. “I think she’s a witch.”
Caitlin gave her a curious look. “She doesn’t look like a witch.”
“What, you think she’s gonna wear a pointy black hat and carry a broom?”
“I can see it,” Lily said. “It’s like she put a spell on them. But it’s probably just the boy-girl thing.”
“She is pretty,” Ashley said. “When she doesn’t try to look like a bag lady, anyway. But you’re pretty too, Lily, and they never acted that weird around you.”
“I’m not that — hey, look. They’re coming back.” Lily pointed. Sheldon and Little Ben slipped back inside, saw the girls, came their way.
“What do they want?” Caitlin looked disgusted. She crossed her arms and glared at the boys.
Ben and Sheldon stopped about eight feet away, looking uncertain. Sheldon had his hands jammed in the pockets of his jeans; like all the kids’ clothes, they were a little baggy and he might have been holding them up (Lily stifled a giggle at the thought). Ben looked at his own hands, clasped together in front of him. “Hi,” he said at last.
“Hi guys,” said Ashley. “What’s up?”
“Um… can you come with us?”
“Why?” Caitlin gave them both a suspicious glare. Neither of the boys looked at her.
“To help out,” Sheldon said, staring at a spot near Ashley’s shoes. “Ah — the preacher said it will do them some good to meet some more people.”'
“But why us?” Lily said. “Why not some of the grownups?”
“She— they said they’re used to having us around, but not the grownups yet. So they want to see if more kids won’t upset them. If it works out, I guess she’ll ask Kelly and Cody next, and then the adults.” Sheldon glanced at Caitlin.
“Just Kelly and Cody? That’s weird,” said Ashley.
Ben shrugged. “She never talks about Sondra. She talks a lot about Cody, like he’s gonna be king or something. And she talks about Kelly some, and some of the grownups. I think she doesn’t like Sondra or something.”
Maybe the crazy lady isn’t so bad then, thought Caitlin. That’s not very nice… but I can’t help it. “Okay, I’ll come,” she said, stepping forward. “But if this is some kind of trick…”
Ashley and Lily looked at each other, then joined Caitlin. “We’ll come too,” said Ashley. “But Caitlin’s right. This better not be a trick.”
“It’s not,” said Ben. “Come on.” They turned and headed back to the “shelter,” the girls following and glancing at each other on the way.
They had no idea what to expect, once they arrived, and were a little surprised at how normal it seemed. Two men sat at the dining room table playing checkers, another read a book in a recliner in the living room near the window. The last man sat in an overstuffed chair, watching the room and rocking back and forth a little. A Christmas tree stood proud in the bay window; of course it had no lights but ornaments glittered in the morning sunlight. Patterson greeted the girls: “Welcome to this house.”
“Thanks,” said Ashley. “Um… what are we supposed to do here?”
“We’ll let you tell us,” the preacher laughed. “Maybe you should start by having a look around? Something might come to you.”
The girls shrugged and filed into the living room to check out the tree. There were no presents, but all the kids wondered how the presents part of Christmas was going to work this year, when anything anyone wanted was lying around for the taking.
“Hey, girlies,” one of the men said, leaning forward in the overstuffed chair. His eyes glittered in a way that worried Caitlin. “You —” Suddenly, Delphinia floated between them and was gone… but the man stopped and shook himself. When he turned to the girls again, the disturbing light in his eyes was gone. “You… come to help out too?” he finished.