Thad J. © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“I can’t believe it. I just cannot believe that boy would ever do something like that. You’d better stop that lying, Cecily,” Anna-Jean chided. She had known her girlfriend for many years and understood that exaggeration was something she couldn’t help but do.
“Now you know I don’t lie on people, Anna.” Cecily sounded slightly flustered but too excited about her new gossip to take any offense. “I don’t need to. Honey, you’ve spent just as much time as I have running off that poison clan that Daddy Cain made, so don’t tell me you can’t believe.” Cecily flicked her hand.
Anna-Jean just smiled as she turned off the hose after watering her lawn and gestured for Cecily to join her. The two ladies waddled up the stairs to Anna-Jean’s porch with Cecily assisting her girlfriend until the two plopped down into a set of twin rocking chairs.
It was a gorgeous Saturday morning, and the entire neighborhood had noticed. Taking in the sight and squeals of her grandchildren splashing in a small pool, with another doodling small crayon drawings on the sidewalk took her back many decades to a time when she had been doing the same. Spring days like these were always welcomed, and the sweet scent of Anna-Jean’s azalea flowers mixed with the cooling cookies just out of the oven almost made what Cecily had said unfathomable.
“Cecily, I’m not trying to be mean, but it just doesn’t sound right,” Anna-Jean said sincerely. “I know he gets into all kind of trouble, but it’s never anything serious. He’s just a boy. I don’t think he’s older than what, eleven now?”
“Mmhmm…” Cecily grumbled while shaking her head.
“Are you mad at me now?” Anna-Jean teased.
“Oh not at all,” Cecily said. “As old as I am, you know good and well I don’t waste time with being mad at anyone. I’m just disappointed in you is all.”
Anna-Jean went quiet when Cecily didn’t offer anymore but instead took off her glasses and pulled out a small handkerchief to wipe a perfectly clean lens.
Her patience grew thin, and Anna-Jean crossed her arms, waiting for Cecily to elaborate. “Well?”
“Hmm?” she asked innocently. “Well what, sweetheart?”
“Keep me near the cross,” Anna-Jean said. “Cecily, you just said you don’t waste time, so speak plain.”
Cecily stopped cleaning her frames and set them down on the small table in front of their chairs.
“You sound just like that boy’s father.”
“How?” Anna-Jean asked.
“Just listen to yourself, Anna. ‘He’s just a boy.’ ‘He’s so young.’ Making excuses for him.”
Anna-Jean was about to respond but noticed how stern Cecily looked so she let her continue.
“Every year, that boy gets worse and worse. First, it was pulling hair, then it was scaring people with his pranks, and now he’s gone and taken a whole day of school from all of the other kids.”
“Oh stop it, Cecily. No one knows who did it.”
“I do. I caught him and that favorite cousin of his playing hooky out in Mr. Jenkins’s field. Again. And they had poor little Kenneth-George with them. Charles just adopted him into their family and he’s already being taught bad habits.”
“So just because you caught those boys being boys, it’s supposed to mean they were up to no good?” Anna-Jean asked.
“Exactly,” Cecily almost screamed.
Anna-Jean held her gaze and placed a hand over her mouth as she let out a small laugh. She continued to chuckle as Cecily reached up to touch the small strands of hair that had shaken out of place from her outburst and then joined in while pulling her bun back into a presentable fashion.
“Cecily,” she started, trying to appeal to reason. “He’s only eleven. How do you suppose he did it? Made a bunch of those… what? What did you call them?”
“Stink bombs then.” Anna-Jean laughed that Cecily was even entertaining these thoughts. “And he snuck into every classroom and every office to set them off at just the right time. Just before Daddy Cain had to meet with his principal that morning?”
“I’m not sure how he did it, but I know he did.” Cecily sounded agitated. “Everyone thinks that boy is an angel, but I can see past that cute smile. Someone has to help Daddy Cain raise him right with how busy he is.”
“Well, I obviously wasn’t there, but I wouldn’t put anything past him. That boy is smart as a whip, clever even. And he didn’t get that stuff from anywhere. He made it.”
“How in the world did he—” Anna-Jean stopped short of finishing her question when she noticed the look of disappointment on Cecily’s face. The notions her girlfriend had put forth were absurd, but then so was all gossip. She knew that this was quite likely the highlight of her day, and instead of indulging her, Anna-Jean was dampening her spirits. Instead of trying to find more flaws in Cecily’s reasoning, Anna-Jean simply asked, “How did he make that stuff, hon?”
Cecily picked back up, eager to show off her skills of deduction. “He’s a Cain, Anna.” A perplexed look remained on her face so Cecily happily explained. “What would you do if your father owned a factory?”
“I know one thing I wouldn’t do; worry about the mailman being late with my Social Security check.” Anna-Jean laughed.
“Tell it now,” Cecily bellowed as they high-fived. “But that’s what they do, Anna. Play with all those chemicals and such. Would you be willing to bet he hasn’t learned a thing or two?”
“It’s just vinegar and tomatoes, Cecily…but even they have some dangerous stuff there,” Anna-Jean conceded.
“That’s what I’ve been saying. I don’t know how he got in that building, but I know he didn’t want to go to that meeting. He can make excuses every day and twice on Sunday to Daddy Cain about his teachers but not with a principal.” Cecily huffed and sat back in her chair, nodding to herself that she was correct. “That boy is bad as hell! But ever since he could pick up a pencil, he’s always brought home straight As. That’s how he fools everyone, you see. Believe me, when I talk to that father of his, I’m going to make sure he can’t make any excuses for that boy this time.”
“You are too nosy sometimes. You know that?” Anna-Jean laughed.
“I don’t care.” Cecily had her mouth open to continue when she was interrupted by a surprising question.
“So you figured it out?” a young boy asked from the end of the porch. “Ah shoot. What am I saying? Sure you did!”
The two women looked at one another, not sure what to do. They were talking innocently enough, but there were certain things that they would never want a child to hear. Smiling as warmly as they could, Anna-Jean and Cecily turned their full attention to the now-trio of boys standing there.
“Hey, sweetie,” Anna-Jean said. “Did you finish those chores for me?”
Instead of answering the question, the boys started to move as fast as they could toward her. The first boy climbed up and over the wooden railing to vault up to the porch, which ran the entire length of the house. His slight pigeon-toe not impeding his stride in the slightest. The second child, who couldn’t have been older than five, simply rolled under the railing in the gap that was formed between it and the deck. How he could see with such long bangs in his eyes surprised everyone. The last ran around to the stairs. He looked very much like the first only his stockier frame limited his physical flexibility. However, what he lacked in dexterity was more than made up for with strength. When all three of them reached the ladies, the first of the three spoke again.
“Lemme guess. Tea, right? A slice of lemon for you, Miss Anna, and no ice for you, Miss Sissy.”
The two women once again looked at one another and Anna-Jean figured that the children hadn’t overheard their earlier conversation. Relieved, she just smiled and motioned for him to come closer and then took him by the shoulders.
“Well, aren’t you just sweet. We would love some, but did you finish?”
“Yes, ma’am, we sure did. Cousin Bryan even patched up that hole in your fence so you don’t ever have to worry about those coons tearing up your garden anymore.” James smiled.
Cecily raised an eyebrow but tilted her head with a look of approval. “Well, bless your heart. But hurry on in because the sun is on the move, and Miss Sissy is parched, honey.”
James ran into the home and let the screen door slam shut behind him. Cecily and Anna-Jean started to turn around, but before they did, he came back out and apologized. “Sorry, Miss Anna.” He looked down, ashamed. When Anna-Jean just smiled, he ran back in, taking the time to physically close the door slowly as he tiptoed backward into the house.
“Kenneth-George! Get up here and give Miss Sissy some sugar,” Cecily called to the youngest child.
Kenneth-George almost tripped over his untied laces and baggy overalls as he ran over to jump into her lap.
“Oh you lost another tooth,” Cecily said while trying to push his overgrown and unkempt curls out of his eyes. “When did he get so big, Bryan?”
“Beats the heck out of me,” Bryan said. “I think he’s part weed with how fast he’s shooting up.”
“He sure is growing,” Anna-Jean said. “You spend a lot of time with your cousins, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, ma’am,” Bryan answered without hesitation. “Us Cain boys are like brothers, thick as thieves. And I swear Daddy Cain is the best uncle a kid can ask for.”
Anna-Jean and Cecily just smiled. They didn’t want to pry, but it was nice to know that Bryan had good people in his life, even if they weren’t his immediate family. “Well, good for you boys.”
Cecily appeared ready to speak but not before Bryan changed subjects. “Hey, KG, show ’em that new dance we taught you.”
Kenneth-George jumped out of Cecily’s lap and began entertaining the two ladies. As they watched and clapped on, Bryan looked through the screen door. His accomplice gave him a thumbs-up that his task had been completed, so Bryan knew they would only need to keep up the charade a little while longer. Just as Kenneth-George was finishing his dance, the door behind the women opened.
“Here you go, Miss Sissy. I made it just the way you like.” His smile beamed as he handed her a glass.
“You boys have been working all morning. Are you hungry?” Anna-Jean asked.
“Are we ever—” Bryan began to say but then grimaced at how hard his cousin grabbed his shoulder near his neck. “Actually, we need to hit the road. Uncle Charles said he would pick us up at the store and take us to lunch.”
“I don’t think he will mind, Bryan. Miss Anna just made some cookies. How about you each have one?”
Kenneth-George looked to his big brother, but not even his young pleading eyes could persuade him.
“No thank you, ma’am. Daddy would tan my backside red if I gave KG any more sugar. He’s losing those teeth faster than he’s growing ’em back.” James laughed. “Say, Miss Anna, do you need anything else? Anything from the store? I really do like helping out around your place.” He looked down as if he were embarrassed. “We can get there and be back in no time before Daddy comes to pick us up.”
“That’s okay. Just grab your stuff and run along now,” she said.
When the three returned from the backyard, they loaded up the bright-red Radio Flyer with all their tools. Kenneth-George sat in the wagon, pretending to steer while his cousin pulled him forward and his brother followed closely behind. When they got to the sidewalk, Anna-Jean waved.
“You boys stay out of trouble.”
They all raised their arms and waved back. Just as the children were about to leave, Cecily stopped them when she noticed a small plastic bag that had just fallen to the ground from under the shirt of one of the boys.
“What is that?” Cecily asked angrily.
“Don’t you ‘huh’ me, Jimmy. I asked, what’s that on the ground? By your foot, boy!” Cecily said, growing more furious by the moment.
James just shrugged. “It’s nothing, Miss Sissy. We just can’t throw this away in the trash. It’s dangerous.” He picked up the bag and started to push the wagon from the rear, encouraging Bryan to pull faster.
“Nothing, my tail!” Anna-Jean screamed. “The three of you get back up here right now!”
“Huh? What? Sorry, Miss Anna, I can’t hear you. Been making too many of those bombs with those chemicals and such!” James said, almost at the end of the street. Bryan pulled on while Kenneth-George giddily bounced at the commotion.
“Jimmy! Jimmy Cain, you get back here!” Anna-Jean yelled while walking to the sidewalk. The boys were almost out of sight, but she kept on. “Jimmy, I swear when I tell your father and get my hands on… ugh!” She exhaled in defeat.
With a determined stride, Anna-Jean walked back toward her home to call Charles Cain. Her grandchildren were staring and so were the other parents who were out, but none of it fazed her. As she stepped onto her porch, Cecily intentionally avoided eye contact.
Anna-Jean faced her before entering and said one word, “Don’t!”
Cecily knew how upset she was but couldn’t help saying, “Didn’t I tell you?”