A shrill scream cut through the brisk evening as the loud thud of footfalls crunched through the dead autumn leaves. Her heavy ragged breaths wheezed in the collected silence as she struggled to make her escape. Another scream ripped through the air; the loud snapping of twigs clashed in baited silence, and as if the twilight was holding its breath, all went silent.
“Again! Again! Again!” A child’s exultant voice carried through the wind as she jumped up and down in glee. Her cheeks flushed with life; nose red from the cool fall breeze as she turned her smile to the woman next to her.
Truly, she was her father’s daughter.
Golden masses of hair flowed free like a lion’s mane, the gentle breeze picking up her loose locks. Smudges of dirt marred the child’s pink overalls; one of the straps had come free in the excitement and now hung loose in front. Green eyes sparkled like emeralds in childlike innocence as the young girl stared up at her aunt, giving her a lopsided grin.
“Okay, one more time before your mother comes out.” In a swift motion, Sofia tossed the child into the waiting bed of freshly raked leaves. The girl fell with a thud and crunch as leaves hit the air and took flight around them.
“Sofia! Stop throwing Casey in the leaves! You’re getting her all dirty!” Helen yelled out as she came rushing down the yard, her steps heavy with fury as she came towards the giggling little girl and Sofia. Her eyes ablaze with barely contained anger, she was ready to release all Hell on her sister.
It was just like Sofia to do something like this, her sister never thought of anyone but herself. God forbid they have a nice family dinner together and now Casey looked as if she’d been playing in a pig’s pen, not a pile of leaves.
She was furious with her sister.
The sisters shared much in common when it came to their looks, both had a healthy head of dark brown hair, piercing hazel blue eyes, full lips, and similar body types, from behind you could almost mistake them for the other. Almost. Helen was the oldest if only by a few years, her dark hair was drawn back in a ponytail, bobbing from side to side with each heavy step. Her straight nose and eyes were the most prominent features on her face, and with her hair slicked back so immaculately, her sharp features looked as if they could cut glass. Blue-green orbs glared at her sister as she hugged a sweater around herself to keep the falls crisp air from chilling her. She was marginally thicker than Sofia, still carrying that baby weight from when she had Casey, five years ago... She wore jeans and sneakers; though however casually dressed she still looked like a soccer Mom with a stick up her ass.
“Casey! Get out of those leaves, Casey! Don’t make me come over there!” Helen shouted as she briskly walked towards the pair. “Sofia! Wha-what are you doing! No, not you too! Get her out of those leaves!” she continued to shout, waving her arms in the air for emphasis, finally stomping her foot down like an irate child. “I’m telling Mom!” She shouted at the pair of hooligans before stomping off back into the house.
“Oh come on Helen, I’m only playing.”
Bending down to her niece, she pulled Casey up from the pile, brushing off the leaves that still clung to the young girl. Casey held onto her aunt, clutching Sofia’s sweater into her small grip as she settled onto her aunt’s hip.
“Ooooooh, mama’s gettin’ Grama...” she said, tugging at her aunt’s collar firmly in her hold. The two looked at one another as Helen retreated into the house. “You’re in trouble...” She added in a singsong way before laughing at her aunt.
“You don’t know the half of it kid.” She mumbled, readjusting Casey’s weight on her hip. “Time to face the firing squad...” with a heavy sigh she watched the front door, waiting for her sister to reemerge. Here comes the fun police... she thought begrudgingly.
Stomping her way out of the house Helen was fuming, pointing, and whining to their mother who followed her out. A plump woman, but she wore her weight well. Her short and slightly graying hair flittered in the breeze as it picked up a few strands. For her age, she was keeping up nicely and her blond hair made those grays hardly noticeable. She had a thin oval facing and mirrored a well-lived life. Deep creases formed at her mouth and eyes when she smiled, and when she frowned they became cavernous.
Wiping her hands with a kitchen towel she stood there stoically taking in the scene while her daughter ranted and carried on about her sister’s lack of respect for her authority. Nodding at the proper interval as Helen made her case she looked over towards the accused now and then frowning at her Sofia; frowning at the fact that even in their mid-twenties she was still called in to mediate their sisterly squabbles. Why couldn’t they ever just get along? It was a dream better off left for sleep, if it hadn’t happened yet, it never would. Sofia and Helen were like oil and water; they could never really co-exist, at least not without taking a few lives in the process.
“Sofia, clean up Casey and bring her inside.” She snapped. Her eyes finally landing like daggers to the troublemaker in the yard, and there they stayed. Glued to her youngest daughter. “Then finish raking up the leaves before you catch your death, or it turns dark.” She continued. Ignoring her daughter’s protests she slung the rag on her shoulder, her eyes never yielding from Sofia’s. She meant business.
Helen then began a whole new list of complaints. She could feel her energy being sucked away where she stood. Exasperated she rolled her eyes; waving off her ranting daughter she bit back a sigh. These two girls were the reason for her graying hair; they sucked the youth from her they did. It would be a cold day in hell before her two daughters could get along, hell; being civil to one another seemed a stretch. With that, she retreated into the house, leaving Helen frustrated and whining on the porch.
“Yes ma’am” Sofia called out after her mother. Placing Casey firmly on the ground, she leaned in placing her forehead flush with her nieces. “Looks like we’re both in trouble.” Placing a kiss upon Casey’s forehead she sent her on up to her peeved mother irritably waiting at the door.
“Common Helen, it’s not that big of a deal. So she got a few leaves on her? Big whoop! You need to stop taking the fun out of the simplest of things. Live a little will ya?”
“‘Live a little’?” She scoffed. “She could have been hurt Sofia! She could have... choked on a leaf!” Helen exclaimed, throwing her hands up in frustration.
Sofia couldn’t hide her reacting to the ridiculous statement her sister just made. Choked? On a leaf? For Christ’s sake, her sister had to be daft. “Really, Helen? That’s where you’re going to take playing in a pile of leaves?” She blanched, shaking her head. “It’s a choking hazard? Where do you come up with this nonsense?” She added scoffing at her sister, as she began raking up the leaves, placing them back in a pile.
“Nonsense!?” Helen squawked. She couldn’t believe how callous her sister was being.
“Yes! Nonsense. It’s playing the leaves! Jesus Christ Helen! She’s not scarfing the stuff down! It’s every kid’s rite of passage to play in a big, crunchy, pile of leaves!”
“Well, not my kid!”
“Well, now that’s too late. I’ve already ruined her to the art of leave-pile-jumping!”
“Why don’t you just grow up?”
“I did! Twenty plus years of jumping in leaves and not one time did I choke on a leaf!!”
“Helen! Sofia! Stop it! You’re making a scene. Finish bagging the leaves and come inside!” Their mother shouted from the door. “Helen, stop overreacting, a little dirt never hurt any kid.” She continued to chastise them from the screen door.
“You always take her side...” mumbled Helen as she made a face towards Sofia and retreated into the house.
“Now look who needs to grow up...” she muttered back to her sister. Helen turned furiously back towards her sister, raising a pointed finger before being cut off by their mother. “Sofia, stop antagonizing your sister.”
“She started it...”
“Don’t. Don’t start.” and with a sigh, her mother left, returning inside just as she heard Helen shriek, yelling at Casey who then began to cry. Shutting the door behind her the yelling became muffled.
The sun was nearly gone, the light slowly being swallowed up by the horizon. Kicking the edge of the leaf pile, the leaves flew off into the air, scattering around Sofia before settling back down on the ground. Taking a quick peek around the neighborhood Sofia searched for onlookers, the coast was clear. With a grin she fell back onto the waiting bed of leaves, like dust scattering in the wind, the leaves took flight, floating in the breeze before settling back down to earth. They crunched under her weight but cushioned her fall as she stared up at the sky. The setting sun had painted the sky in colors of orange, pinks, reds, and yellows as the golden orb slowly ducked behind the horizon, retreating for the night. Birds soared in the sky, taking shelter in the nearby forest, preparing for the nights impending freeze; their music swaying the trees in an evening lullaby.
“Sofia, hurry up and finish with the yard! Dinners just about ready!” Her father called out from the house.
“Yes sir!” she shouted back, giving a mock salute up to the sky she jumped from the pile. Leaves crunched as she shifted their hold; dusting off the morsels of leaves that clung to her clothing and hair. Sweeping back loose strands of her hair she gathered the masses of her chocolate brown tresses, securing it back into a ponytail. Combing her fingers through her bangs she fluffed the matted mess.
Grabbing a black garbage bag she began collected up the piles of leaves she’d made in the yard. Straining slightly she lifted the filled bags, groaning at the weight. How could leaves be this heavy? She mused as she tossed the bags into the garbage. The garbage wheels squeaking as she rolled it out to the curb. Clapping her hands together, brushing off any remaining yard muck she looked out to the neighborhood, taking in a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. “Good job Sofia, what would they do without you?” she mumbled in self-accomplishment, verbally patting herself on the back.
A child’s shrill scream followed by a fit of laughter as Casey’s boots thumped on the ground as she ran towards Sofia. “Save me! Save me!” the little girl pleaded in mid laughter as she ran to her aunt for safety. Scooping the little girl up in her arms, Sofia hugged the squirming child as she giggled. Her sister in hot pursuit after her, stopping just at the front door she called out to her daughter. “Casey! Casey, get back in here! Don’t think your aunt can protect you forever!” she shouted, hanging out the threshold catching her breath. “I’m getting your father.” She finally added, exasperated with her daughter.
“What did you do?” Sofia asked, amusement filling her voice as she looked upon the child. “Ah. Now I see.” She added, shaking her head. Casey’s face was smeared in red lipstick.
“Beauutee shop!” Casey answered back joyfully.
Setting Casey on the ground Sofia squatted down to eye level. “You know, lipstick only goes on your lips.” Extending a gloved hand to Casey’s face, she attempted wiping off the excess lipstick from the young girl’s cheeks and nose, though it seemed to only make things worse. “Great, I think I made it worse. You look like a clown...” she half mumbled to the young girl. Sighing she took her hand. “Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up for dinner. Maybe later I’ll show you how to properly put on lipstick.” Kissing Casey’s cheek Sofia began to head to the door with Casey in tow.
Opening the door a small white ball of fur took off out of the house. “What are you doing? Get her!” Helen screeched out at Sofia as their dog shot out past her. Dropping her niece’s hand she took off after the small dog, now rubbing her face all over the dead grass in the yard.
“Hey there girl, come here. Come on. That’s a good girl.” Sofia cooed as she lifted the small dog in her arms. “Whoa. What happened here?” She asked the dog, her snout slathered in red lipstick, and blue nail polish messily matted to the dog’s paws.
“Beauutee shop!” Casey called out from the threshold.
“I see that... Maybe next time we’ll leave poor Quiz out of it though.” She called back to her niece making her way back to the front door. Pouting, Casey mumbled an apology, reaching up to pet Quiz. Taking her hand Sofia led them both to the bathroom to get cleaned up.
“I’ll clean them up.” She shouted out down the hall to anyone listening or caring.
“Okay dear, dinner’s almost ready.” Her mother called out from the kitchen. “Helen, go set the table!”
Shutting the bathroom door Sofia passed Casey the dog and perched them both atop the counter. Turning on the faucet, she waited till the water turned warm and slowly began to flow into the sink. Sopping up some warm water with a towel she began to assess the damage in both her charges. “Well, it looks like you two had some fun.” She commented absently to the pair. Casey nodded her head like a bobblehead and giggled, flashing the brightest and most heartwarming smile an overjoyed child could flash. Taking the damp towel, Sofia began to clear off the red smudges from the dog.
“Look! Pink!!” Giggling at the turn of events Casey began to squirm on the counter causing the dog to struggle in her hold.
“Casey, you need to sit still.”
“Sowwie...” she replied solemnly turning uncomfortably still and pouting.
“I’m sorry, you just can’t move around too much. I’m counting on you to keep Quiz still. Okay?”
Perking up she nodded her head, “Okay!”
Searching the countertop Sofia reached over, grabbing a makeup-removing wipe and she began to work on the dog some more. Finally yielding results, the lipstick was nearly gone from her small muzzle. “Well, I think that’s as good as we’re going to get for now...” she mumbled to herself, taking the dog from Casey she gave Quiz a little kiss and set her on the floor. “Well have to wait to do something about that nail polish.” She added staring down at the dog as she began rubbing her face on the rug. Directing her attention back to her niece she placed her hands atop her hips. “Now for you my dear.” Smiling brightly Casey awaited her aunts’ treatment.
Taking up another towelette, Sofia began to wipe up the mess on Casey’s face. “There we go, as good as new!” she boasted and kissed the young girl on the cheek. Washing her hands quickly she opened the door. The waiting Quiz bolted out taking off towards the kitchen with Sofia and Casey following close behind. Helen came down the hall and took her daughter’s hand. “Dinner’s ready.” She snapped to her sister before taking her daughter, pulling her towards the kitchen.
“Thanks,” Sofia replied, exhaling heavily at her sister’s bitter exchange. She waited for a beat before following them, letting them get a few feet ahead before making her way to the kitchen.