This is a work of fiction.
It was a crisp July day and everybody was complaining that summer wasn’t acting very summery, but the cool air was perfect for the day ahead with my grandkids: Curly (Benjamin), Sammy (Samuel), Freckles (David), and Lydia. She was like me in that we were both girls, shared the same first name, and neither of us had a nickname. Unlike me, she was quiet, shy, and had dark brown skin. The boys didn’t like her much because she still had both of her biological parents, wouldn’t look them in the eye, and worst of all, called them by their full names if she dared to speak at all.
I put on my cowboy boots and the hat that went with them, and looked at the clock. I was ready, and right on time. I had loaded up my van the previous evening, so all I had to do was climb in, start the engine, and pull out of the garage.
The drive to pick up the kids took only twenty minutes, and soon, I was parking in front of their large, white house. I grabbed my purse and got out of the car. The grass looked like it could do with a good mow, but the garden was cheerful with flowers and I decided not to say anything to anyone about the state of the lawn.
I ascended the steps and pressed the bell.
Ten seconds later, Stacey, my daughter, opened the door.
“Hi Mom. Only Lydia’s awake. Come on in. Would you like coffee?”
“If it’s already made, yes please.”
“Come and sit down and I’ll see if Chuck’s left you any.”
As I entered, I couldn’t help but cast a slightly critical eye around. Somebody’s winter coat still hung from a peg, and the floor could have done with a good clean. The place did smell nice, and I followed Stacey into the kitchen, where I found Lydia sitting at the table, eating a bowl of yogurt and fruit. I smiled and she smiled back, but didn’t speak.
Stacey walked over to the counter and looked at the coffee pot.
“Sorry Mom. He only left a splash.”
I could see that the stove needed to be cleaned; there was blackened stuff on the front burners.
“That’s okay,” I said.
There were no dishes in the sink, but I could smell the trash, although I couldn’t see it. I needed to stop judging her. Abe (Abraham), her first husband, had been the one to do most of the cleaning while she cooked. The boys had also had chores to do, and she and Chuck were probably still working things out about who did what.
“Would you like a strawberry yogurt? It’s only good until Thursday.”
“Sure, I’d love it if you’re sure one of the boys won’t.”
“They all claim to hate whatever food I offer. It’s been kind of hectic lately.” She put the yogurt down in front of me, along with a spoon. “Speaking of the boys, I’d better go and drag them out of bed.”
“They’re too big,” Lydia said softly.
“What?” Stacey said. Lydia didn’t answer, and Stacey shrugged.
I ddn’t know if Lydia would want me to repeat what she’d said, so I asked, “Where’s Chuck?”
“He’s doing his last minute packing. Be right back.” She dashed up the stairs and I heard her opening a door. “It’s time to get up! Grandma’s here.” I heard a lot of groaning, but no distinct words came from the boys.
“They don’t want to go,” Lydia said. She spooned the last of her breakfast into her mouth, took the bowl and spoon to the sink, and rinsed them.
I couldn’t think of how to respond to that, and then Chuck came down the stairs, carrying a huge suitcase as if it weighed nothing. His skin was the same color as Lydia’s, but unlike her, he towered six and a half feet tall, had strong, broad shoulders, a cheerful face, and could talk your ear off.
“Hello, Lydia,” he said.
I was pretty sure he meant me, but his daughter said, “Hi Daddy.”
“Good morning, Chuck,” I said. “How are you?”
“Great! I’d better go back up and help Stacey with the boys.” He put down the suitcase and ran up the stairs.
Ten minutes later, Stacey and Chuck came down again, trailed by the three boys. Curly’s hair was a tangled mess, Sammy’s shirt was on backwards, and Freckles’s jeans had a large hole at the knee, but at least they were awake and dressed.
Sammy yawned and said, “I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?”
“There isn’t time,” Stacey said. “Grandma can take you to get something.”
“I want yogurt,” he said, spying the unopened container in front of me.
“Me too,” Freckles said.
“Me three,” Curly said.
“There’s only one left and there isn’t time,” Stacey said. “Chuck and I have to leave for the airport now.”
“Let’s get you loaded up,” Chuck said. He went into the living room. “Sammy, where’s your suitcase?”
“We have to find it,” Chuck said. Stacey went into the living room. “Look,” Chuck said. “Sammy’s isn’t here.”
“It was last night,” she said.
“Lydia, what did you do with my suitcase?” Sammy said. Lydia looked scared and didn’t say a word.
“Yeah, what?” Curly said. “You’re holding us up.”
Freckles said, “She doesn’t want to be without her daddy for three whole big fat weeks.”
“I want my suitcase!” Sammy yelled.
“Calm down,” Stacey said. “We’ll look for it.”
“She touched it,” Freckles said. “It’ll be all covered in gross girl germs!”
“Yuck,” Curly said. “You’ll have to, like, wash everything off.”
Lydia started to cry silently.
“Cry baby!” Freckles said.
“That’s enough,” I said, annoyed that Chuck and Stacey appeared to be more concerned with their luggage than with their kids. A flight could be rescheduled, but helping kids learn to get along couldn’t.
A few minutes later, Chuck came up from the basement, his expression not at all sunny.
“It’s in the utility room,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. It’s open and everything’s all over the floor.”
“Lydia did it!” Curly said.
“Lydia, did you mess with Sammy’s suitcase?” Stacey said.
She couldn’t possible believe that, could she?
Lydia was still crying and didn’t answer.
“Lydia?” Stacey said, her voice loud and impatient. “Tell the truth.”
Freckles burst out laughing.
“This isn’t funny,” Stacey said. “We’re going to miss our flight.”
“No, you’re not,” I said. “I’ll repack the suitcase, check the house over, take out the trash, and lock up. Freckles, did you play with Sammy’s suitcase?”
“Why are you accusing him?” Curly said.
“I’m not. I’m just asking him. Same with you and Sammy. Did anybody here play with the suitcase?”
Freckles said, “We all saw Lydia doing it.”
“So why not tell somebody at the time?” I said. “Why wait until now when it’s time to go?”
“Dunno,” Freckles said.
“Mom, are you sure?” Stacey said.
“Yes,” I said. It would be so much easier without them around, especially since they didn’t seem to notice that the boys were bullying Lydia.
“Bye boys,” Chuck said. He went over to Lydia and tried to pat her on the arm, but she skittered out of his reach. She didn’t like to be touched when she was upset, and Stacey had commented to me on more than one occasion that it drove her crazy when Lydia wouldn’t accept affection and she wondered if she might have something like autism.
“Bye Curly Sammy Freckles Lydia,” Stacey said in one breath. “Oh, and by, Mom!”
“Bye,” I said. “Have fun and don’t forget to buy postcards and souvenirs.”
“Bye,” Sammy said.
“Where are you going?” Freckles said.
“I think Sammy was saying goodbye to Chuck and your mom,” I said.
“No I was saying bye to Lydia,” Sammy said. “She messed up my suitcase so she can stay here all by herself.” He made a scary sound. Stacey and Chuck were too busy running to the car to notice.
“Nobody’s staying here alone,” I said. “Come on, let’s go and repack that suitcase.”
“It’s in the basement,” Freckles said. “There’s about a zillion monsters there ready to eat us up!”
Lydia backed away from the basement stairs.
“There aren’t any monsters, not there, and not in the whole wide world,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“You go, but we don’t want to,” Sammy said.
I decided to go downstairs and see who followed. I didn’t say anything, but walked toward the basement stairs. The boys stayed where they were. Lydia looked at me, at them, and then she got up and walked behind me.
The utility room was an absolute disaster. Sammy’s clothes had been unfolded and stewn all over the floor. A tube of toothpaste was missing its cap, and some of the clothes had toothpaste on them.
“I didn’t do it,” Lydia whispered.
“I know. Do you know who did?”
“If I tell, I’ll get in trouble.”
“Not if you tell me.”
Freckles, just like I’d guessed. Not only had he burst out laughing, practically giving himself away, but he liked to do wild things, most of which were silly, but harmless. It was a real shame that his humorous, playful side wasn’t coming out in a positive way with Lydia, who was far too serious for a little girl of eight.
“Thanks. Let’s get all this packed up.”
“There’s toothpaste on his clothes.”
“I’ll put those ones in his laundry bag and wash them when we get to my house. And don’t worry, I have lots of toothpaste.”
It took us quite a while, but eventually, I hauled the suitcase up the stairs and into the living room. Then the silence hit me. Lydia looked around and our eyes met. Where were the boys?