This story is by Elizabeth Nettleton and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Oliver gripped the doorknob and then released it, his sweaty palm imprinting itself upon the cold metal.
“Leaving this room means certain death,” he said in a low whisper. Bea rolled her eyes.
“Death might be a tad dramatic, but Mom certainly won’t be pleased.”
Oliver grumbled a reply and then sat beside Bea on her bed. We should be outside, he thought. Instead, they had been betrayed.
His mother’s exasperated voice echoed in his mind. “I’ve told you a thousand times, you two. Don’t play with balls inside the house. Your father is sick of mending broken windows!”
They had denied the charges, of course. They hadn’t even been playing with the ball this morning, let alone inside. If they had, would they really return to the scene of the crime with their judge and jury in tow?
No. The baseball that lay surrounded by shards of glass on the kitchen floor had surprised them just as much as it had their mother. Their protestations of innocence, however, had fallen on deaf ears. With one disappointed shake of her head, their mom had deemed them guilty and sentenced them to their room.
Bea wandered over to the desk and picked up an old coloring book, its pages dog-eared and torn from years of rainy mornings. She threw it back down with a disgruntled sigh and lifted her eyes to the window.
“Let’s slip out the window. It would be easy! Mom wouldn’t even know we were gone. And if she does find out, we’ll run away. We could live with Granny, I’m sure she’d say yes,” Bea said. Oliver shook his head. At eight, Bea was two years his junior and as wild as the curls that crowned her. It was a trait he appreciated, but oftentimes had to curtail.
“Granny would just give us cookies and then send us right back, Bea. You know how tired she gets when we visit,” he said.
“At least we’d have cookies,” Bea said.
Oliver leaned against the window and felt the summer breeze brush against his face. Invisible tendrils beckoned him out, and he yearned to feel the air being ripped from his lungs as he raced against Bea and his friends, Danny and Tom. He imagined the wind wrapping itself around them and pushing them further, as it had so many times before, until they collapsed beneath passing clouds. The afternoon would then stretch before them, inviting them to conquer new trees and sail on grass seas, sing made-up songs and joust with stick lances.
The promise of adventures unfulfilled filled his eyes with hot tears. It just wasn’t fair.
“If we’re going to get out of here, we’ll have to do it by the book. Or let them think that, anyway,” he said.
“Mom said we could come out early if we both apologized,” Bea said.
“I’m not apologizing for something I didn’t do. It goes against everything I stand for.”
Bea opened her mouth to retort when they heard a low whine and furious scratching from behind the door.
“Sally! Coming, girl!” Oliver said. He pressed his ear against the wooden door and groaned as he heard his mother muttering from the living room. He had kind of forgotten to pick up his train set this morning.
“Mom said we couldn’t leave the room. She never said that Sally couldn’t come in,” Bea said with a smirk. She marched toward the window, placed a hand to her mouth and whistled. Four clumsy feet scrambled against laminate, and then a golden-furred head was bouncing up and down outside the window, tongue lolling from the side of her mouth.
“Get in, Sally, quickly!” Bea said, tapping as loudly as she dared on the inside wall. Sally placed her paws on the window sill and then jumped, stumbling slightly before pulling herself into the room. Oliver threw his face into Sally’s long fur, and Bea furrowed her brow.
“What’s the matter?” Oliver asked.
“We weren’t playing outside this morning, we were playing with your trains.”
“Yeah, I know. So?”
“We found the ball inside. How could we have broken the window if the ball landed on the kitchen floor?”
Oliver paused, ignoring Sally’s enthusiastic licks to his cheek.
“The evidence that convicted us was faulty. We were framed!” He said. Bea nodded, and the pair sat together for a moment.
“So, who could have thrown the ball?” He asked. Cheerful whoops from outside punctuated the silence, and Bea’s lips grew thin.
“I propose two suspects,” she said. Oliver folded his arms across his chest.
“Not Danny. Not Tom. They’re my best friends. We’re brothers and we don’t get each other into trouble.”
“I suppose we’ll just stay here until Dad gets home, then. He said it would be around noon, didn’t he? That’s only two more hours,” Bea said. She strode across the room until she reached an old wooden box. With a tired creak, she opened the lid and pulled out a one-armed Superman action figure and a pack of cards.
“What do you want to play first? Superheroes or Old Maid? Oops, never mind,” she said as she opened the pack. “It looks like we only have three cards left.”
“Do that whistle again,” he said finally.
Danny and Tom’s heads whipped towards them at Bea’s call, and Oliver waved them over.
“What are you doing inside? Come on, Billy said we could swim in his pool,” Danny said after he pulled himself into the room. Tom jumped down behind him and began scratching Sally behind the ear. He was quickly rewarded with the resounding thump of Sally’s tail against the floor.
“We’ve been banished to our room until Dad gets home. Mom thinks we broke the window,” Bea said.
“Well, did you?” Danny said, laughing.
“We most certainly did not! Not this time, anyway,” Bea said. “The question is, who did?”
“I dunno. Could be anyone,” Danny said with a shrug. Tom rose from stroking Sally on the belly, and she pushed her nose against his hand in protest.
“Yeah, and even if it was,” he said as his eyes flitted to the floor, “it’s just one day, right? I mean, my dad would lock me in my bedroom for the whole summer. At least your parents aren’t strict like mine.”
Bea narrowed her eyes.
“Just one day? Easy for you to say. You can leave anytime you want,” she said. Tom bowed his head and returned to the floor. Oliver watched his friend thoughtfully and then turned to Bea.
“I suppose we can leave anytime we want as well, Bea. You said it before. All we have to do is apologize.”
“What?! You were the one that said we shouldn’t apologize,” Bea’s said. Her eyes flashed.
“I know. I just can’t stay in this room any longer, Bea. I just can’t. And you know that you can’t, either.”
“I won’t do it.”
“Bea, it’s time.” Oliver tried to place one hand on Bea’s shoulder, but she shrugged it off. He took a resigned step backwards.
“Mom?” He called through the door. “I’m ready to apologize.”
Their mother’s familiar footsteps made their way down the hall. Tom and Danny exchanged panicked glances before bounding toward the window.
“Give us a heads-up next time!” Danny said. His laugh tumbled into the room as he sprinted to his yard. Bea glared out the window.
“Ollie?” Their mom said as she entered the bedroom. Oliver stood and raised his chin to meet his mother’s eyes. He took a deep breath.
“I broke the window, Mom. I’m really sorry.”
Their mom raised her eyebrows and shifted her gaze to Bea.
Bea’s fierce expression softened.
“Well. Thank you for your honesty. I hope you apologized to your sister for getting her in trouble, too.”
Oliver felt his mother searching his face. She could feel the lie that lingered between them but couldn’t place it or its motivation. For once, his stubbornness was working for him.
“Are we allowed to go?” He asked hesitantly. Their mother paused.
“You can go,” she said.
Oliver and Bea sprang to their feet, ignoring their mother’s cries to remember their shoes.
They had the rest of their lives to wear shoes; now it was time to play. But first, they were going to ride Tom’s new bike. It was only fair.