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The peaceful Saturday morning hush on Rain Lane was suddenly pierced by a feminine voice uttering such a masculine string of profanity that I dropped my spade in the dirt.

Humor / Mystery
4.5 4 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

The peaceful Saturday morning hush on Rain Lane was suddenly pierced by a feminine voice uttering such a masculine string of profanity that I dropped my spade in the dirt. I wholeheartedly welcomed the uncommon disruption to the Misty Meadows community in Magnolia Blossom, NC. I’d grown bored with the mindless task of lining my front walk with colorful begonias and impatiens. The next bout of expletives caused me to jump in surprise and the butterfly wind chimes dangling from the weeping cherry branch overhead caught in my long hair. All other sounds, including the angry cussing, were drowned out by the cacophony of harsh jangling in my ears. I jerked my head in a vain attempt to free myself, and fumbled with the metal tubes snarled in my hair. Then gentle fingers were loosening the chimes and I was free.

“Thanks.” I turned to face my rescuer, and saw my normally cheerful neighbor Bethany standing beside me, wearing a scowl on her pretty face. She turned on her heels without saying a word and strode back to her side of our hedgerow. Her black hair swung from side to side across the waist of her tailored slacks, and her mules made a “slap-slap” sound as she stomped.

I’d known Bethany for the three years she’d been my next door neighbor and I’d never seen her so obviously upset before. She was a master of benevolent expressions to mask her true feelings. Shortly after I’d first met her, she had smilingly told me what an unflattering outfit I had on. She’d said the zinger so sweetly that I’d thanked her, gone home, and didn’t even know what hit me until hours later. She was the most tactfully honest women I’d ever met.

In the beginning I hadn’t known what to make of her, but over the years our relationship had developed into a close friendship. I’d never heard Bethany utter a single swear word before, not even using the term “pissed off.” Instead, she chose to use colorful expressions like “mad as a hornet” or “hot under the collar.” She never raised her voice in anger, and with her southern drawl she usually sounded like a little girl instead of the mid-twenty-something woman she was. I’d heard her voice over the loudspeaker at the grocery store where she worked, and I could’ve sworn it was my almost-ten-year old daughter’s voice requesting the manager’s immediate presence to the office.

Bethany stopped near the entrance of her driveway with her hands on her hips. She scrutinized a spot on the ground with such a look of disgust that I had to see for myself.

“What’s going on?” I asked just as the unmistakable smell of dog excrement filled my nostrils.

Bethany simply pointed to the ground with a French-tipped finger, her petite body fairly quivering with agitation. I followed her trembling finger and spied the object of her fury. A huge pile of dog doo lay stinking on her precisely manicured grass.

I knew how much Bethany’s lawn meant to her and I momentarily felt sorry for her. Ever since her fellow Garden Society members had nominated her president (a true honor because Bethany was the youngest member by several decades) and her yard had been featured in the local newspaper, Bethany had become fanatical about her little patch of land. Such was her zeal that she was the only person on our street who didn’t let Timmy Atkins, the neighbor boy from two streets over, mow her grass. Instead, she used the most expensive landscaping company in town. Even Bill, my healthy young husband of over ten years, loved that I hired Timmy because of his low price and the meticulous quality of his work. In fact, I couldn’t tell a difference between my lawn and Bethany’s, despite her higher bill. As if on cue, Timmy fired up his trusty John Deere three houses down and began the trim work around the Jones’ garage.

“This b.s. has been going on for three weeks now,” Bethany complained. Her delicate nostrils flared and her dark eyes fairly sparked with anger.

“Looks more like d.s. to me,” I said.

Bethany chose to ignore my asinine observation. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Her soft voice was raised, and not just to be heard over the hum of Timmy’s mower.

“You might want to start by cleaning it up.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Then she went on to explain how she’d be going out of town for two weeks (which I already knew because I’d be tending her cat while she was away) and a couple of days after she got back she was hosting the monthly Garden Society party (which I didn’t know because I didn’t want to be a member). I immediately understood her dilemma and even sympathized slightly with her: by the time she arrived home there would be a mountain of dog doo on her front lawn to greet her!

She went on to tell me her plans on having a surveillance camera mounted above the garage. But the only security company in town was booked solid and couldn’t install it for a few weeks. I wasn’t surprised by her desire for a surveillance camera because there had been a couple of robberies around the neighborhood recently. I was more surprised by what she wanted to use the camera for. I found it strange that she was more concerned about dog doo than she was by the prospect of her house getting robbed while she was away.

A surveillance camera hadn’t been her only idea, though. She’d even tried to hire a dog-walking service to come by daily and “scoop the poop” while she was gone.

“Oh, yeah?” I asked politely, intrigued by what their reaction had been to such an odd request.

Bethany looked me in the eye with her finely arched eyebrows raised in exasperation. “They laughed at me.”

I bit my lower lip in a desperate attempt to keep from laughing at her myself. I couldn’t hold it in, though, and a loud donkey-like bray burst out of my mouth.

“I’m sorry,” I gasped, but Bethany waved my apology away. “I’ll clean it up while you’re away,” I offered. I wondered how much I’d have to pay my son or daughter to accomplish the unpleasant task I’d just volunteered for. Katie Nicole would need to be finessed into doing it with sweet words and a five dollar bill per scoop. Dylan, on the other hand, was younger and wouldn’t require much convincing to get the job done. But I suspected he probably wouldn’t do a very good job. I sighed, knowing I would be the one to end up scooping the poop during Bethany’s absence.

“Oh, Cami Jo, I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You didn’t ask. Besides, I’m coming by every day to feed Prissy and clean her litter box. It’s no big deal.”

Bethany gave me a quick hug. “Thank you. You’re a life-saver.”

With that settled, Bethany cleaned up the offensive mess and I returned to the mind-numbing job of planting flowers. The early Saturday morning on Rain Lane resumed its hushed tones. The only sounds to be heard were bird song and the drone of Timmy’s mower. The air, cleared of dog doo, smelled like freshly cut grass and newly turned earth.

I was finished planting by the time the rest of my neighborhood came to life. I was standing at the end of my driveway, admiring the new border, when I noticed the For Sale sign across the street had a proud yellow Sold sticker slapped across it. I was glad to see it, for Mrs. Peters’ house had stood vacant since she’d died in it six months earlier.

I had been the unfortunate person to discover Mrs. Peters’ body, and the memory still lingered. I’d brought a package to her that had been inadvertently delivered to me. I knocked on the door, it pushed inward upon my knuckles, and a horrible stench hit my nose. Stupidly, I investigated on my own instead of going home and calling the police. I found her body seated in the living room in front of the bay window. “Remains” would be more accurate than “body,” though, because the only identifiable parts I saw were two slipper-clad feet planted firmly on the floor. The rest of her remains were just a pile of ash on the charred recliner cushion and a large round soot stain on the ceiling overhead. The medical examiner proclaimed the cause of death to be “accidental burning,” but I firmly believed I had witness the after-effects of spontaneous human combustion. Over the ensuing six months I had begun to worry that Mrs. Peters’ spirit still lingered in the house. Lots of people came to look at the house but no one bought it. With the Sold sticker boldly visible, I could finally lay to rest my haunted notions.

I was absently brushing dirt from the backside of my shorts when my other next door neighbors walked by. Bert and Ruth Roberts were, by far, my favorite older neighbors. I tended to think of them as my honorary parents because my own lived so far away, and they returned the favor probably for the same reason – their son lived on the other side of the state.. Bert and Ruth were each carrying a Dunkin’ Donuts bag, and I was pleased they were trying to fatten up their matching gaunt frames.

They stopped for a moment to chat about our potential new neighbors, and they complimented me on my flowers before heading home for breakfast. I studied the evidence of my landscaping skills before I headed inside for my own breakfast. The flowers were evenly spaced and led straight to my two-story home. I had hated every second of the labor but I smiled with satisfaction at the end result.

Bethany stopped by early the next morning to drop off her house keys and to offer some last minute advice about Prissy. The philodendron plant in its macramé and seashell holder hung from the kitchen window and it cast an intricate shadow across her face. I’d made the plant hanger when I was nineteen and attending art school. I often wondered if I really ever had so much free time on my hands. Bethany played with the collection of KinderEgg toys on top of the counter as she spoke. My husband Bill finished cooking the bacon and he held out a slice on a napkin to Bethany, replacing the tiny snap-together car with a piece of sizzling pork fat.

Bill joined us at the table, his dark hair tousled to match our son’s unkempt appearance. Bill was wearing gray sweatpants and a Hard Rock Café t-shirt. Dylan was dressed almost identically in navy sweats and a smaller sized t-shirt. Bill absently ran a hand through his hair before reaching for the bacon. Dylan, our six-year old copy-catting son, saw the motion and imitated it so poorly that his golden brown hair stood on end like a porcupine.

“Prissy’s been hiding under my bed ever since I started packing,” Bethany was saying.

Both kids were unusually quiet and minding their table manners. They chewed their French toast with closed mouths, blotted bacon grease from their lips with napkins instead of sleeves, and sat silently in their chairs without fidgeting. I used to grow suspicious, wondering what horrible deed they’d done, but now knew they were always on their best behavior around Bethany. She was single, childless, and reminded them of a teacher they wished to please. So their behavior was no longer a mystery, merely a pleasant surprise.

“I doubt she’ll eat very much while I’m gone,” Bethany said.

She perched on a stool at the counter and daintily nibbled a slice of bacon. Her dark hair was slicked back into a severe chignon, her expensive Chanel suit clung to her delicate frame in all the right places, and her leather pumps weren’t marred by a single scuff. All in all, she looked like a million bucks as she worried aloud about her eccentric cat.

I, on the other hand, looked like something her cat had dragged in. Our family dog Frank had gotten into the garbage during the night, and I’d spent the early morning hours cleaning up diarrhea and hacked up pieces of what looked like aluminum foil. I realized something with a feeling akin to dread: between Prissy’s litter to scoop, Bethany’s lawn to maintain, and Frank’s fetish for garbage it was only the beginning of a crappy couple of weeks for me.

“I just hope she drinks enough water,” Bethany said.

I padded around in my fuzzy bathrobe and slipper socks, my self-described “calico” colored hair twisted into a knot atop my head like a bird’s nest. Bill once told me my hair was more like a mood ring because it had so much gold in it that it turned blond in the summer and red in the winter.

Katie Nicole, my precocious daughter, waited for a lull in Bethany’s monologue. She was wearing Betty Boop pajamas and her reddish blond hair was pulled back with a red headband.

“Miss Bethany, why did you name Prissy that?”

“I named her after a character from my favorite book,” Bethany answered.

Bill and I chuckled at our children’s identical looks of confusion. Before either kid could inquire further, Bill spoke. “You always struck me as a Scarlet fan.”

Bethany hid her smile behind a cup of coffee, which she took a sip of before setting it down and standing up. “With all the airport security, I really have to go. I’d rather get there early than late.”

I walked her to the door, reassuring her of Prissy’s safety and the cleanliness of her yard, and gave her a final admonishment to not work too hard. It was a common warning of mine because all she seemed to do was work. She rarely dated and had no social life to speak of, claiming her job kept her too busy. She designed the unique floor plans, and individual decorating scheme, for a string of local grocery stores. They’d recently begun springing up all over the state, and Bethany was required to travel to each new store prior to its grand opening. Each time she went out of town my surrogate mother relationship with Prissy was strengthened.

Bethany hugged me briefly and thanked me again for helping her out before she stepped onto my front porch. Then she fleetingly called over her shoulder, “Let me know how my new sign works.”

I puzzled over her parting remark until I took Frank for a walk an hour later.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumbled.

There in the middle of Bethany’s lush emerald lawn stood the tackiest metal sign I’d ever seen. I didn’t even know such signs existed. In the center of it was the dark silhouette of a squatting dog with a harsh red slash through it. At the top it read “No” and underneath was “Dumping.” The atrocious sign stood in such stark contrast to Bethany’s tidy rancher and surrounding yard that I could only ogle it, mouth agape and eyes popping.

The whole thing stuck out like sore thumb in our neighborhood. There was no code, and each house was as different as its occupants. There were quaint Cape Cods on half -acre lawns built next to Colonial Tudors on full acre lots. My own log and stone home suited my taste to tee, but Bethany’s eighteen hundred square foot ranch style was the exact opposite. I loved the solar panels in my vaulted living room ceiling, with exposed beams and accompanying echo. I thought Bethany’s ceilings were far too low, and her house reminded me of a trailer. A very nice trailer, perhaps even a double-wide, but a trailer nevertheless.

I knew whoever was defiling Bethany’s prized lawn wouldn’t be deterred by the ludicrous sign. I was certain the culprit was allowing his dog to squat on Bethany’s lawn on purpose. I wondered if the culprit was someone from her gardening club, but dismissed that thought because the gardening group consisted of little gray-haired grannies, and this had more of a childish prank feel to it.

Frank tugged on his leash and my thoughts turned to other things. As we entered our house, Frank lunged at Dylan, who was sprawled on the floor watching cartoons on TV.

“How’s my foot-long hotdog?” Dylan asked in a silly voice. He began wrestling with Frank, and grabbed the little dog around his long waist and held him aloft. Frank’s four stubby legs churned the air like windmills before he squirmed out of Dylan’s hands and inadvertently sat on his upturned face. “Yuck,” I heard Dylan say as I entered the kitchen to wash my hands.

I spent the remainder of the day doing normal Mom stuff: washing mountains of laundry, cleaning up any dirt I saw, and helping Katie Nicole finish her science project. I assured her yet again that I would indeed drive her to school in the morning so her completed solar system wouldn’t get “smooshed on the bus.”

While I did Mom chores inside, Bill did Dad chores outside. The gutters needed to be cleaned out, the bushes needed to be pruned, and a fresh load of mulch had to be spread. Dylan spent most of the day as “Dad’s helper,” and only came indoors after Bill had finished his Honey-do list and rewarded himself by taking a nap on the couch.

Bill and I had been friends since we were kids, and had loved each other before falling in love with each other. We’d always known we were meant to be together, even during our wandering college years. We’d been more than just friends for about twenty years, and had worked out a pretty good system of splitting up the chores during that time.

With Bill preoccupied, Dylan sought me out and found me in the kitchen with his sister. As Katie Nicole and I mixed up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, Dylan sat at the counter and busily wrote in a red notebook.

“What are you doing?” Katie Nicole asked him curiously.

Her green eyes were intently studying the notebook and she leaned over the counter to get a better look. Her long strawberry blond hair spilled over her shoulder and I quickly brushed it back before it could fall into the bowl of cookie dough. Dylan jerked the notebook away and glared at her with his hazel eyes. Once again I was struck by how much he resembled a smaller version of Bill.

He slammed the notebook shut, set his pencil down, and looked across the counter at us. “We’re learning about Family History in school. Next week we’re making a Family Tree.”

Sadly, the Family Tree was the closest my kids could get to their extended family. Bill’s parents had both died before our kids were even born. His mother succumbed to cervical cancer when Bill was twenty-two, and had just graduated from William and Mary with an engineering degree. Bill’s father passed away three months later, shortly after Bill and I got married, from pneumonia. Everyone knew he really died from a broken heart, though. Bill’s brother Wayne disappeared after the funeral, and we had never heard from him since.

I was an only child and my parents had retired to Arizona when Katie Nicole was a year old. My mother had sinus problems her whole life and my dad had severe allergies. The humidity of Magnolia Blossom had caused them to take their doctor’s advice and move somewhere drier. So, goodbye North Carolina . . . Hello Arizona!

They bought a tiny condo, and discouraged us from visiting by claiming it was too small for guests. We’d gone to see them shortly after they’d moved and had stayed in a hotel. We tried to spend the days with them, but Katie Nicole had still been a toddler. She’d ended up getting into everything because of the tight quarters, and successfully drove my mom nuts. We ended up spending more time at the indoor hotel pool than at my parent’s condo.

My mother preferred coming to visit us once a year, which was the most she could get my dad to travel. Thankfully, I was an only child so they didn’t have to split their traveling time. They usually visited at Thanksgiving because autumn was the least humid season.

“By the way, Mom,” Dylan said. “Cami Jo is a weird name. All my friends think so too.”

Katie Nicole snorted at her brother’s ignorance. “It’s not her whole name. Her real name is Camilla Josephine.”

“Camilla was my paternal grandmother’s name and Josephine was my maternal grandmother’s name,” I said. Then I had to explain the difference between maternal and paternal.

Dylan wrote quietly in his notebook for a moment before asking, “When did you become Cami Jo?”

Long before camisoles became known as camis, I thought. “I was just a baby when your grandma started it and, unfortunately, it stuck like tar.”

“Like my name,” Katie Nicole said.

“Exactly,” I said as I spooned blobs of raw dough onto a foil-lined cookie sheet.

I’d grown up hating the southern tradition of using first and middle names, like Bobby Ray or Carol Sue, but as a first-time mother it had seemed perfectly natural to change the regal-sounding Katherine Nicolette into the better-suited Katie Nicole. Funny how some things in life come full circle. Fortunately, Bill’s parents hadn’t suffered from the too-common southern affliction, and William Robert never became Billy Bob. Bill loved Katie Nicole’s name, but he drew the line with Dylan: “There will be no name changing with our son.”

Dylan abruptly slammed his notebook shut and charged out of the room. Katie Nicole and I exchanged a bemused glance, then I shrugged my shoulders, she rolled her eyes, and together we slid the cookie sheet into the oven.

After dinner, Bill and the kids took Frank for a walk while I went next door to check on Prissy. I was surprised to see there was no fresh dog doo and I vaguely wondered if Bethany’s stupid sign had actually worked.

I found Prissy curled up on her mistress’ bed, her inky fur camouflaging her into near invisibility on Bethany’s faux-mink coverlet. She looked at me with slitted yellow eyes as I entered her domain, and I approached her with my hand extended for her olfactory investigation. She opened her mouth to smell me with her Jacobson’s organ, and after a moment of making a disgusted face she lay back down and relaxed. When she closed her eyes and began to purr I knew I’d passed her inspection. I scratched under her chin for a minute before feeding her, scooping out her litter box, and washing my hands in Bethany’s immaculate bathroom.

“See you tomorrow,” I called out before deadbolting the front door behind me.

My family had started story time without me by the time I got home. The three of them made room for me on the couch while Dylan read a Clifford story to us. Dylan had learned to read at the beginning of the school year and he’d happily taken over my favorite nighttime job. Sometimes I missed it, but it was worth it when I saw how proud Dylan was of himself when he sounded out a hard word like “veterinarian.”

Bill and I went to bed after hugging, kissing, and tucking in both kids. I picked up a book and started to read, but Bill had other ideas. I felt him staring at me, so I marked the page I’d been trying to read for three days and dropped the book onto my nightstand. I rolled over and we simultaneously wrapped our arms around each other and pulled our bodies closer. I smiled and winked at him.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Smith?”

Bill laughed and kissed my earlobe. “Maybe I should be asking you that.”

“Oh, yeah? What can you do for me?”

The dog doo magically reappeared on Monday afternoon. When I fed Prissy in the morning, after dropping the kids off at school, there was no dog doo, but when I returned in the evening there it was! The sign stood nearby, silently mocking the doo and me. I cleaned it up and washed my hands in the kitchen before seeking out Prissy. I attempted to stroke her head but she flattened her ears, hissed like snake at me, and darted underneath the sofa.

The same thing happened for the next couple of days: I always missed the “phantom pooper” (as I’d taken to calling him) but was unfailingly greeted by the resulting mess and an irate cat.

By Thursday I decided to implement a stake-out in hopes of catching the phantom pooper in the act. I spent the better part of the day gazing out my living room window and listening to the TV. I patiently stared at Bethany’s grass for so long that I saw green, then pink when I closed my eyes.

To break up the monotony of the day I snacked on homemade cookies and took Frank for several walks. I had to wake him up once, and he wasn’t particularly overjoyed by the bonus exercise. However, I enjoyed not looking at the street through a windowpane, and it seemed worth the doggy sighs of irritation and leash tugging I had to endure.

During one of our walks down Rain Lane we ran into Mrs. Matilda, whose house was the first one built on our street. She had lived in it since the day it was finished, and I suspected she might be the next person on our street to die in her own home. Her next door neighbor Ms. Gertrude had lived there almost as long, and she quickly joined us after we’d barely exchanged greetings.

Mrs. Matilda and Ms. Gertrude were the very best of friends, but couldn’t have looked less alike. Mrs. Matilda was tall, obese, and preferred wearing muu-muus in bright flowered patterns. Ms. Gertrude was short, plump, and usually wore polyester pantsuits. As far as I could tell, the only thing they had in common was the fact they both wore glasses.

Currently, Mrs. Matilda was wearing a polka-dotted caftan and Ms. Gertrude had on light blue slacks and an embroidered knit top with a pair of freshwater pearls. Her glasses hung on a chain from her neck and Mrs. Matilda’s dark frames were jammed into her bloated face. Ms. Gertrude commented on the unseasonably warm weather, but before anyone could respond, Mrs. Matilda brought up the subject of our new neighbors.

“A family of color,” Mrs. Matilda said and her double chin quivered.

I smiled as I pictured a family of Smurfs, until I realized what she really meant. I gasped. “That’s soo politically incorrect.”

“I keep on telling her to just call them black nowadays,” Ms. Gertrude said.

“African American is even better,” I coached.

I managed to extricate myself from them moments later. I’d been too distracted by Mrs. Matilda’s racial slur to comprehend the most important thing she’d said. I returned home happy with the new knowledge that a family would be moving in.

“I don’t care what color they are,” I said to Frank as I settled back on my perch by the living room window, “as long as they have kids.”

Most of my neighbors were of retirement age and spent their days indoors. Without the enjoyment of people watching I was left with more inventive ways to amuse myself. I counted all the slats in Mrs. Peters’ privacy fence and wondered about the name of my new neighbors. I found out to the second what time my mail was delivered. I watched three baby squirrels chasing one another from a branch of my weeping cherry tree to the dogwood in my front yard.

The Bradford pear trees lining the street were dropping their delicate white blossoms like snowflakes, and their heady perfume wafted through the open window on a gentle breeze. Robins hopped around on the lawn, ignoring the loud catcalls of the mockingbirds. Between the smells and the sounds, I had a mild headache by the time my kids came home from school, and I was overjoyed by their noisy interruption.

Despite the boredom, I decided to continue playing sentry. I vowed to resume my vigilance on Monday, and continue throughout the week until I had to “work” on Friday morning. I didn’t have a typical job, and my “work” on Friday was what I considered a “gig.” I was going to be the guest story-teller to a visiting group of Lucky Duck pre-schoolers at the public library. My career choice as an illustrator for children’s books had led to many sidelines, and a story-teller to children was my favorite. Over the years I’d been a guest speaker at several daycares, book stores, a summer camp, the library, and (to Katie Nicole’s mortification) the kids’ elementary school.

Friday was like a break for me, not work at all, and the day flew by. I read one of the dozens of stories I’d illustrated, answered some amusing questions, and helped the small children make an accompanying pop-up craft.

The weekend went by just as quickly; there was the endless laundry to wash, a family photo project to help Dylan finish, and an afternoon at the Farmer’s Market. The local Farmer’s Market was held every weekend from March until November at the town square. The town square was a gated one-acre plot with a small chapel, adorned with jewel-toned stained glass windows and a tall steeple, situated near the rear. There was a slide, swings, merry-go-round, and a teeter-totter scattered around the churchyard. You could buy fresh cut flowers or an assortment of locally grown produce displayed in crates and bushel baskets. There were even goats, cows, and pony rides for the kids. The whole weekend sped by, and it seemed that all too soon it was Monday again.

I found myself at the living room window wondering if my surveillance would pay off before I went catatonic. The day passed uneventfully and the kids’ school bus was running late. I was watching for it when Timmy, the lawn boy, strolled by walking a large mottled brown Boxer-mix.

I jumped up, stumbled over my own feet, and reached out to stop myself from falling. Unfortunately, I grabbed the curtains and ended up in a heap on the floor with the drapes, rods and all, twisted around my arms and legs. Which was exactly how my kids found me a few minutes later, flailing about as I struggled to untangle myself.

I was ready for Timmy on Tuesday. And I knew without a doubt that he was the phantom pooper: after disentangling myself from the curtains the day before, I’d rushed to Bethany’s yard. Sure enough, there sat a fresh pile of dog doo. However, I was still baffled by who the dog belonged to because Timmy had no pet of his own. Nor could I understand why Timmy chose Bethany’s lawn to make his disgusting daily deposits. As I was returning home I noticed the For Sale/Sold sign was gone from across the street. It crossed my mind as being odd that I’d never seen my new neighbors, but forgot all about it after I entered my living room and saw what Frank was doing to my curtains.

So, on Tuesday I sat on a foot stool close to the window, clutching my digital camera, a small notebook, and a pen. My kids sat quietly at the dining room table, pretending to do their homework and giving me peculiar looks. Every few seconds Katie Nicole’s green eyes would bore beseechingly into mine and Dylan kept casting me puzzled glances from underneath his lowered brows. I’d assured them while I’d included them in my plans of the legality of what we were about to do. I’d had to explain it to Dylan three times before he finally believed me. In the end, I think he was disappointed it wasn’t illegal. I’d carefully instructed Katie Nicole on her particular upcoming task, and even Frank stood at attention by the front door. His leash trailed from his collar, occasionally twining around his squat legs and tripping him.

“Here he comes,” I whispered, pointing out the window. The kids crowded around me as we peered through the curtains, careful not to jerk on them and repeat yesterday’s folly.

We silently watched as Timmy glanced furtively around before allowing the large dog to squat on Bethany’s pristine lawn. The comical image was duplicated on the worthless sign, and even my kids saw the irony and began to giggle. Timmy averted his face as a car slowly drove by, and I took the opportunity to snap a perfect shot with my camera. I mentally labeled it “Caught in the Act.” We hastily dropped to the floor as Timmy sauntered past our house. I slowly counted to twenty before handing my notebook and pen to Katie Nicole, and urged her to “Go!”

She snatched up Frank’s leash and shot out the door as if from a canon. I shook my head with dismay, thinking she would blow her cover and ruin the entire operation. She surprised me by suddenly halting, then stooped to re-tie her shoes. Then she began to stroll along with Frank at a leisurely pace and I sighed with relief. She returned five minutes later, red-faced and out of breath.

“Did you get caught?” Dylan asked.

Katie Nicole shook her head as she flopped onto the sofa to catch her breath. “Nah,” she exhaled. “But I know where Bonkers lives.” She handed my notebook back to me and I noticed she’d written down a barely legible street address that was just around the corner.

“Who’s Bonkers?” Dylan asked, although I’d already figured that out.

“The dog,” Katie Nicole answered impatiently.

“Thanks for your help,” I said and kissed the top of her sweaty head. “How about you get to pick the vegetable for dinner tonight?”

She suggested no vegetable at all, and we finally compromised on French fries. The kids cheered and I wished it were always so easy to make them happy. We shared the day’s events with Bill over dinner, and he wondered aloud why Timmy was doing it.

“Maybe he’s mad at Miss Bethany,” Dylan suggested.

“Well, duh, that’s pretty obvious,” Katie Nicole said around a mouthful of fries and ketchup.

I shot her a reproachful look. “At least now we know the who.”

“And the where,” Katie Nicole said with a giggle.

“And the when,” Dylan chimed in.

“But not the why,” Bill concluded.

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jhdm4me: Good story but i feel it could have been fleshed out more. There's a vagueness to it and many details not concluded

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Jessica Beasley: love the story line... i hope that they will end up together...

Sampada Aggarwal: Wonderful story dude. I cant express it in proper words how much i love your story. Your portrayal of feelings nd emotions of all the characters, carrying along with such a different plot. Those twists nd turns just added up to the beautiful storyline. All of these just made it soo damn intimidat...

Lauren Hamill: Make a second book for when they go to college

tctc: I like the plot so far and hope Veronica and Mason get their happy ending!

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