Chapter One & Two
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Chapter XI: TOby
I close the box and sigh with disappointment. “Doilies!” I call to Milly in the kitchen. “Basement or Goodwill?”
“Goodwill,” Milly says. “Only old people use doilies.” Silly me. “But put that on pause and come in here for just a minute.” Quizzically, I set down the box and join them in the kitchen. Millicent and Marley are seated at the small round table across from each other with mugs of lemonade. I know, lemonade in a mug? Weird. “Have a seat,” Milly requests.
“What is it?” Marley asks.
“Listen,” Milly starts. “I know you kids didn’t want to come here. You probably rolled your eyes at the thought of starting your summer with a kooky old widow. But I’m impressed with your character. You two are great kids.” Marley grins gratefully.
“Thanks, you’re not that bad,” I tease. “Sure, you’re a little weird, admittedly, but you’re cool, too,” I say.
Milly lets out a laugh. “I commend you for your honesty. Now, I know you didn’t come here under the best circumstances, and I know that things are seemingly falling apart at home...” She got so serious so fast. “Don’t worry, I swear to you I will not lie to your face and tell you how ‘things will get better’ and ‘change isn’t always what we want.’ Truth is, life is a pain in the ass, a constant fight between happiness and survival. Just remember you are who you choose to be, and no matter what choices your parents make, you aren’t bound by their choices. Forgiveness is the hardest thing in the world, but the sooner you discover it, the faster you heal. Also, here’s fifty bucks for each of you.” She reaches her hand across the table with two crisp bills folded in half.
Chapter XII: Marley
Almost as if on cue, there’s a knock on the front door. I glance at Milly’s retro clock in the kitchen and see that it’s five of five. Mom’s just on time. Although I had never anticipated the feeling today, I start to feel sad when I realize that we’ll have to go home.
“Alright, kiddos,” Milly says, standing up. “I think that’s your ride.”
Toby stretches his arms above his head. “Can’t believe it’s five already,” he says.
“Me neither,” I agree, gulping down the rest of my lemonade. My stomach gurgles, and I can’t help but think about what we’re going to have for dinner tonight.
“Come in!” Milly yells. It’s almost like we’re replaying this morning. I half-expect Mom to respond with a it’s just me, Lori!, but Toby’s opening the door before Milly has the chance. I’m not far behind him.
The look on Mom’s face when Toby opens the door is priceless. It’s almost as if she’s expecting to see us skinned alive and hanging from the ceiling. Her eyes are wide, and her fist is raised to knock on the door again. Her shoulders noticeably relax when she sees that we are, indeed, still in one piece. Her eyes drop to the bills in our hands, and she smiles.
“Good day?” she asks. Milly brings up the rear of our little trio.
“Wonderful,” Milly says.
“I see that you’ve made some progress,” Mom says, pointing to the stacks of boxes outside Milly’s front steps. Her eyes are still a little wide as if she’s expecting us to, at any moment, run screaming from the house and into the van.
“They were like lovely little elves,” Milly says, smiling with her hands on her hips. Back to fruitcake status.
“I’m sure they were,” Mom says, frowning slightly. She’s not yet used to Milly’s eccentric language. “We better get going,” she says.
“Thank you for having us, Milly,” I say. I mean it, too.
“You’ll both have to come back soon,” Milly says. “And we’ll have make those plans that we talked about.” She winks at Toby and I, and I can’t help but smile. I know that Mom will pester us about what exactly she’s referring to, but for now it’s our secret.
By the time we’re in the van, Milly has already disappeared into her not-quite-a-mansion. I’m in the back, because due to our small age difference, Toby’s got dibs on the front seat.
The line of questions begins rolling in.
“How did it go? Did you guys have fun? It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Toby and I answer in one word remarks.
“Good. Yeah. Nope.”
Mom sighs. “Fine. Don’t give me details.”
“Okay,” I say. Toby snickers and Mom grins, shaking her head.
I feel like I should--or at least one of us should--ask about how it went with Mom and Dad today. We should ask if there were any problems, or if the deed had been done, but I don’t want to ask. I don’t want to think about what’s to come, or what we’re leaving behind. I want to think about the happy old lady in the house with the raccoon, and the things that she said. I want to think about forever lasting today, and about necklaces and old books, and love that’s to come. I want to think of how things can go right, and how casseroles are much better with Ritz cracker topping.
So I don’t ask Mom about the divorce. And, okay, we finally cave and give details. We laugh about Cheerio, and about underwear hanging from the ceiling, and about Toby being all superhero-ish and coming through a wall.
We don’t talk about divorce papers and painful memories, and how there’s no clear view of this trail we’re on. But sometimes that’s how life is. Sometimes you have to enjoy the view. Sometimes it’s as simple as unboxing old memories and giving them a new place. And sometimes it can get a little nutty.