This story by Denise Harris is the second place winner of the 5th Anniversary Writing Contest. Denise is a wife and mother of four children, pre-teens through adult. She enjoys leading the volunteers in her church library, coaching Special Olympics, sewing, and of course reading. Her goal in writing is to take the reader on a journey toward hope and love.
“Charlie, you sit there. Susan will sit over here.” I pick up my shiny pink teapot. “Tea? Cookie?”
I take two cookies for myself and pick up my cup, my pinkie sticking out like a real lady. “This is some good tea.”
Charlie and Susan nod while chewing. I look all around to make sure we’re alone then whisper, “You know, Miss Nomi’s kinda funny. She keeps watching me and baby Lena.”
Charlie says, “I don’t know, Tiara. You just got here a little while ago.”
I bite into my warm cookie, right on a gooey chocolate chip.
“She makes the best cookies,” Susan says, smiling.
Suddenly Grammy’s face pops into my mind. I didn’t get to see her very much, but she would always have a tea party with me when I went to her house. She taught me how to hold my pinkie out just so and how to be dainty so no crumbs land in my lap. My lower lip trembles and I have to stop the memories. I mutter, “It don’t matter none. Grammy’s gone.”
“You miss your Grammy a lot, don’t you?” Charlie asks.
“Where’s your mama?” Susan asks.
“I hope Mama never comes back!”
“But what about baby Lena? She’s gonna to want to know who her real mama is,” Charlie says.
“No, Charlie. Lena don’t NEVER need to know about our real Mama.” I rub the hard bump on my wrist and my fingers follow the jagged scar on its tip. I’ve had that lump a long time, ever since Mama shoved me so hard I fell against the corner of the wall. It hurt something awful, even when it quit bleeding and swelled up, but Mama always said I needed to stop being such a baby.
I can’t take it. I have to see if Lena’s ok. We’re still alone. If I’m real quiet, Miss Nomi won’t know. The house is new to me, but I know where our bedroom is. I tiptoe down the hall and reach for the doorknob. A dark memory of Mama’s closed bedroom door jumps into my mind. Mama always yelled frightful things when I opened her bedroom door. But Mama’s not here.
Silent as a mouse I turn the knob and peek in. No grown-ups here; just Lena sleeping in her new bed with bars. Miss Nomi said it’s called a crib and it’s the proper place for babies to sleep so they don’t fall on the floor. I don’t see no sense in that. Lena always slept on the floor with me at home. You can’t fall on the floor if you’re already there.
I reach through those bars to stroke her forehead, just like I used to do at home. “Don’t worry Lena. I’ll take care of you.”
“Don’t wake the baby, Tiara.”
I jump and snatch my hand to my chest. Fearfully I spin around and back up against the crib. “I’m not, Miss Nomi.”
She looks at me for a minute, then smiles. “No, I guess you’re not. I bet you’re a great big sister.”
Then she gets on her knees and hugs me. Nobody ever hugged me but Grammy. I have to get away. Miss Nomi stands up when I push against her and her smile disappears. It almost looks like she’s sad, but that makes no sense at all. She don’t even know me. Then she takes my hand and starts walking back to the kitchen, closing the bedroom door behind us.
“Did you enjoy your tea party?”
“Oh, yes!” I start to smile, but then remember I only took one bite of my cookie. What will Miss Nomi do? The last time I left the table to go to the bathroom, Mama threw my food in the trash. I don’t want to lose my tea party!
Miss Nomi sees the table. “Don’t you like chocolate chip cookies? You don’t have to eat them.”
“Oh! They’re good!” I want to sit right back down at the party. But what if Lena wakes up? I glance back at the empty hallway. How will I know with the bedroom door shut?
“But you had to check on Lena,” Miss Nomi says.
I nod and stare at the floor.
“Well, she’s sleeping happily.” Miss Nomi’s voice sounds a little funny. When I sneak a look at her face, she’s blinking her eyes as fast as she can. “Why don’t you sit back down here and finish your party?”
I watch her hurry away to the bathroom then lean closer to my friends. “See? She’s weird!”
“I don’t think she’s that weird,” Charlie says. He’s already eaten one of his cookies and is almost done with the second.
“She’s nice,” Susan says. Her fancy dress has no crumbs and her shiny blond hair hangs in perfect curls. She probably thinks everybody lives in a house like this.
“This is a nice house,” Charlie says.
“I guess so.” It is clean and neat. There’s windows in every room and it’s a bright sunshiny day. The kitchen has a glass sliding door and I can see a big back yard full of green grass. There’s even a fence so baby Lena can’t wander off.
“Would you like some more tea, Susan?”
“Sure,” she says, all smiles. I hope she’s not this cheerful all the time.
I hear a click in the living room, then the sound of paper rustling. Whatever Miss Nomi’s doing, I hope it keeps her busy for a while. I stare out that glass door and daydream. What would it be like to have that big yard all to yourself? “Charlie, do you think we could go outside to play later?”
Susan grins and Charlie bounces in his chair.
“Maybe we can,” I whisper, almost daring to hope for the impossible. “Oh, wouldn’t it be such fun to have a picnic!”
“I love picnics!” Susan squeals. “Hot dogs, potato chips, juice in those little boxes!”
Charlie huffs. “Girls! Teas and picnics! Give me fun games in the grass!” He swings his arm and nearly knocks over his cup.
“Be careful, Charlie! You almost spilled your tea!” I scold.
Charlie glares at me then makes the funniest faces. Susan and I can’t help but laugh at him. Charlie laughs too. It’s so much fun having friends!
“”Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun in here,” Miss Nomi says from the doorway.
We instantly hush up. I put my hands in my lap and say, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“How about we read a book?” Miss Nomi asks.
Miss Nomi holds out her hand, but I’m not going anywhere without Charlie. I reach across Susan to pluck him out of his seat and hug him close before taking Miss Nomi’s hand.
“Charlie’s a pretty special friend, huh?” Miss Nomi squats down so she’s the same height as me. She’s staring at Charlie, so I stare at his fuzzy face and long floppy ears too. He’s pretty dirty. I tried washing him once, but Mama didn’t like that at all.
“Would you like to give Charlie a bath?”
I can’t believe it! A grown-up wants to help Charlie? “Really? He can have a real bath?”
“Can I see him?”
Is Miss Nomi trying to trick me? Is she going to take him away? I stare into her eyes a long time before I hand over Charlie. But I’m ready to snatch him back if she goes to throw him away. Ain’t nobody taking Charlie from me.
Miss Nomi never stands up. She’s so gentle with Charlie. She rubs his fur a little and lifts his jacket. She flips him upside down. Finally she says, “He doesn’t have a tag, but I think we can wash him. It’ll take a while for him to dry.” She looks me in the eye. “He needs to sleep with you tonight, right?”
I stare at her. No grown-up has ever understood that it’s Charlie who needs me. I can sleep by myself just fine. Charlie gets lonely. I nod and hug Charlie close.
“It’s ok,” Miss Nomi hugs me again, but this time with just one arm so I don’t feel all swallowed up. “We’ll give him a bath tomorrow morning. Then we’ll have a picnic and he can sit in the nice warm sun to dry. Rabbits usually like being outside.”
I can’t believe it! Charlie’s getting a bath AND we get to have a picnic! Charlie says he can’t believe it either. “Oh, yes! Charlie loves being outside!
“It’s a deal, then.” Miss Nomi holds my hand again. “Now let’s go pick out a book to read.”