I collapsed backwards onto my bed and snuggled down into the pillow, fully intent on letting the world ignore me.
Apparently, however, the world had other plans.
“Good afternoon Helen. How was your day?”
I opened my eyes slowly to see the now very familiar sight of Boston’s whiskered visage peering me in the face.
“It doesn’t sound great. Why don’t you pour out your heart to a furry psychiatrist?”
“There are none in my price range.”
“Cold. I meant me. So, tell me how your day was, and how it made you feel.”
“Don’t make me boot you downstairs.”
“You don’t own any boots. I checked. Come on Helen, what’s bugging you?”
“I think I failed a test in math. The cooking woman got onto me again, this time for making more of a mess than the other people. Leo wasn’t there to make jokes. Joey and Tracey are still away and I didn’t have anyone to talk too, and I caught Pepper giving me dirty looks and whispering to her little friends, and I think I’m going through a moody adolescent teenage angst stage and I’m just bummed.”
He blinked at me for a moment, then grinned into my face.
“You know I still love you.”
“Yeah, you say that now, but wait until I start getting the munchies and have sudden mood swings, and then you’ll be singing a different tune.” I said, trying to hide a smile.
“You can’t stay upset for long, Helen, you know I won’t let you. Hey! What did Nikki say? Movie night? You know, school is cancelled tomorrow, for that teacher conference thing, we can have a movie night!”
I groaned and clapped a hand over my eyes. “Why did you bring up the teacher conference? You are so horrible!”
“I was trying to be optimistic. It takes two. Come on, we’ll get your Mom in on it! I bet she’ll want to do something other than work in a kitchen all afternoon cooking for us.”
I didn’t answer. In reality, it was more of a token resistance. I thought the idea was great, and he was right, I think Mom could use a break. I could walk to the video store, buy some fast food, and be back before five, if I hurried.
“Yes!” Boston whooped and clapped his hands. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go pop the question!”
“Please refrain using that phrase in reference to my mother ever again.” I said, getting up, putting on the choker, and trooping down the stairs. I didn’t even have to look behind me to know that Boston had returned to the marble around my neck. Now when he was in the marble, I could feel it. When he wasn’t there, the marble actually felt empty.
I found Mom in the kitchen, poring over a book with a large cake on the front. I can only assume that means that it was a cookbook.
“Hey mom…” I related Boston’s idea as if it were my own, with a great deal of elaboration and daughterly concern for my mother, if not for my own boredom.
And to my surprise, she actually said yes and forked over almost forty dollars for the cause.
“Pick up some good movies. Are you sure you want to walk?”
“Yeah, I know the way, it won’t take me all that long. There’s this Mexican place on the way, what would you like me to pick up?”
“Pick me up some of those soft tacos, honey. And be careful. And utilize the Protection System if you need to. Don’t hesitate.”
“I won’t. I’ll be back in an hour and a half.”
“Okay, make sure you take a key, I’ll go to the store and pick some stuff up, we’ll have a girl’s night.”
“Okay. Bye!” I walked out the door with an odd feeling that there were a couple of things different with Mom. I shook it off. Maybe being with dad all the time had caused her to be Stepford Wife, but now that she was on her own with me most of the time she decided on losing part of her appearance.
Can’t say it’s a bad change. I don’t think I ever knew Mom like soft tacos or even knew what they were until this moment.
Protection System? Boston asked.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Secret Mother/Daughter Bonding.”
I don’t get it.
“If I’m ever in trouble, you will.” I said with a slight grin. “What movies should we pick up?”
Comedies and Action. Romance really rubs my fur the wrong way.
“I know what you mean.”
We chatted a lot when the streets were mostly deserted, and before long we were only a few streets away. That’s when I noticed the massive old oaks swaying with the breeze.
“I would have loved to grow up here. These are perfect climbing trees.”
I didn’t know you liked to climb trees.
“All kids like to climb trees, even the scared ones. The ones that say they don’t are in serious denial. See, trees are kind of like, towers, I guess. You can scale them and see things you wouldn’t normally would on the ground. You can make believe it’s your fort, or your tree house, and you’re a kid, so it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, you know?”
Waxing poetic, are we? Boston asked.
“Yeah, I guess. It’s the atmosphere and the company. It makes me say weird stuff. Like-where’s the willow?”
Oh…Excuse me? I don’t think I understand.
“No, no, the willow. Remember when Dad was here on Saturday, and we went down this street, and Mom thought she saw something in the yard with the willow? This is the street. Where’s the willow?”
Did we pass it?
“No, we didn’t. I was almost asleep. But I still remember the basic run of the street. A couple of blocks down we make a turn and that street runs down till it hits the Video Shack. We were on this street, and we go down it about six blocks before turning off into the way back to the house. We went back pretty far, so it would have to be somewhere in the beginning to middle. We are there. Where is the willow?” I said, looking around. I started walking down the side I had seen the willow and examining the lawns. I stopped at a large brown house.
The grass on its lawn had been flattened in an almost octopus like shape, only there were two tentacles too many. And the ground had been lightly scored, as if something had sat in the same place for quite awhile and then moved, taking small bits of the ground with it.
“Okay, either the owner of this willow fed it way too much miracle grow or…I have no idea. Unless…one of your pals has come over to play.”
That could be a valid assumption. I don’t think it was a tree. Look, only the grass and a little ground are upset. Like someone standing in the same place and then deciding to move. If it was some sort of true plant, it would have dug the roots in deeper, and would have left holes. Boston pointed out.
“Great.” I said. “Well, if it’s not causing any trouble like setting blizzards on people, I don’t see what we have to do about it. Let’s go get some movies.”
Is that wise? Boston asked. Not that I’m into hunting my own kind, but you saw the troubles the last one caused. If not checked, the same thing could happen.
“Like I said before, when I explained my point of view, if it isn’t doing anything right now except moving and leaving grass indentions, I don’t see the problem. Now, let’s hurry before Mom decides to go cruising down these streets because we’re twenty minutes late.”
I set off before he could comment on anything else. We got to the video store in record time, and I ended up checking out four movies, two Action Adventures, the new hottest to video, a comedy about a girls who keeps finding dogs, or something like that, I picked it up because the other one was about trees, and I’d had just about enough of them, thanks. The last was an Action Adventure Comedy, making it the best of both worlds.
The clerk complimented me on my choice, sounding totally unenthusiastic and as if it was part of his job to do it, which probably was. Well, it wasn’t as if I was getting what he liked anyway.
I totally ignored the tree lined street on my way back, and stopped at a Taco Hut, and ordered a few pounds of food, and set off, stomach growling big time as I smelled the food in the bags.
“Taco Hut? Please don’t tell me the burritos taste like pizza.” I said to myself when I was a safe distance from people.
Blech. Boston commented as we walked.
The last few streets passed by in a flash, and I strolled down our street, all thoughts of trees and troubles fading effectively from my mind.
I walked up the driveway and noticed Mom had come back from the store, as the care was parked a few feet forward than when I left. Actually, that was a little close to the garage. She could have hit the garage door like that.
I shrugged it off. I’m sure when I start driving I’ll take out more than my share of trashcans and mailboxes.
I opened the door and locked it behind me.
“I’m home Mom!” I called as I shifted the weight of the bags. I frowned when I didn’t hear anyone answer back. “Mom?”
Be careful. Boston cautioned. It isn’t like her to not answer back.
I walked through the hall past the living room, making a bee line for the kitchen.
I looked into the kitchen, and mom had her back to me, doing something at the counter.
She still didn’t look around.
Still no answer.
“MOM, TALK TO ME DAMNIT!” I roared. I figured, yelling at Mom and cussing, if she doesn’t answer that, she has to be dead.
She whirled around so fast she partially lost her balance and had to mill an arm to catch her balance. In her hand she had a glass, and I caught an open bottle behind her. She gaped at me for a moment, than a hand(the one not holding the glass) flew to her chest. “You scared me, I didn’t hear you come in, baby. I didn’t mean to upset you, I was just having a drink.” Her voice had a slight rambling quality.
Mom doesn’t drink, and she doesn’t let me get off on a yelling and swearing bit with just a ‘sorry you were upset baby;’ she must be freaked out about something.
“Mom, are you okay?” I set the bags on the table. “You don’t look that good.”
“I’m just a little stressed, sweetie. How was your trip?”
“You are avoiding the subject, of which is you. Did something happen while I was gone? Mom, what happened?”
She looked upset and set the glass on the counter behind her, and corked the bottle and opened a cupboard and set the bottle exactly in the indentation the bottle had left.
“I was going to share this with your father, but he didn’t want to drink it because he had to ride on a jet to some country, I forgot which one.”
“Again, avoidance of subject. Spit it out, Ma.”
“Can you take care of yourself if I leave?”
I blinked at that question. I don’t ever want to answer that question, not in the way she was asking. Then I narrowed my eyes.
“Is someone threatening you, Mommy?”
“No, no.” She waved the question away. “It’s just that I’ve been seeing things.”
Happens when you dip into the fine wine. Boston said, unable to keep his mouth shut.
“What kind of things?”
“I keep seeing this thing, and when I look again, it is just a tree. It’s so stupid, I’m probably just having movie flashbacks, and my mind is playing tricks on me when I don’t have anything to think about, I don’t know why I’m acting like a scared bunny rabbit.” She laughed weakly. “Let’s forget about it. Why don’t you tell me what you got from the movie rental store?”
Mom had watched two movies and then announced she was going to bed. She looked remarkably better, and had convinced herself she was just seeing things and needed to occupy her mind more.
I, on the other hand, was sitting on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn on my lap, barely touched but still warm. I had picked up the habit of biting my thumbnail when I’m really bothered by something. I rarely ever have this bad habit anymore, but tonight it had miraculously reappeared.
A paw reached into my bowl and claimed a few pieces of extra buttery popcorn, and I glanced down to see Boston pop the first into his mouth, delicately keeping his whiskers free of the butteryness.
He had been fairly silent through the evening, not even making any dents in my popcorns, at least not that I could see. The choker was still around my neck, just as it had been for the last seven hours.
“I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” I said, liberating a few pieces myself, eating them all at once.
“I didn’t believe you would.” Boston agreed.
“We are going out tomorrow and we’re going to try to track it down.”
“What are we going to do if we find it? Ask it nicely to go away? It may be less than acquiescing.”
“It is scaring my mom. I will take care of my parents. If I have too, I will set it on fire, to make my point. No one threatens my parents, especially not some walking tree. I’m a much laid back person, Boston, but this is where I draw the line.”
Boston watched me, eyes betraying nothing. I looked at the T.V screen and ate my popcorn.
“Yes.” He said softly. “I believe you do.”