This is a work of fiction.
At 5:15, Lydia and I approached the camp site. As we did, I heard the boys laughing. Good, they were having fun. Then I heard what sounded like some weird electronic noises.
We came out into the grassy area where the tents were, and I saw all three boys sitting at the picnic table. Sammy and Freckles had phones in front of them, and Curly didn’t appear to be doing much of anything.
“Hi, boys,” I said.
“Oh, hi, Grandma!” Freckles said, frantically swiping at his phone, presumably in an attempt to silence it, but that didn’t happen. Sammy managed to get his to be quiet, but when he tried to stuff it into his pocket, it fell to the grass.
“Where did you two get those phones?”
“What phones?” Freckles said. I walked over and picked up the phone Sammy had dropped.
“That’s my phone,” Curly said.
“So, you have two phones?” I asked, pointing to the one that was still on the table in front of Freckles.
“Three,” he said. “I bought them for Freckles and Sammy.”
“These are iPhones,” I said. “In fact, they look exactly like my phone.” I pulled it out and compared them. The boys watched me as I looked at the model numbers. “Curly, could I see your phone, please?”
“Just to compare it.” Reluctantly, he took it out of his pocket.
I’d just seen that the model numbers matched when a text alert sounded. Curly grabbed for his phone, and I caught a glimpse of the name John, just before he tore it from my hands. He glanced at the message and looked worried.
“Did you read it?” His voice was tight and I wondered why he was so concerned, but maybe he didn’t want me to see some of the language he used with is friends.
“I saw the name, but that’s it. Now, about these two phones. Do you know how much they cost?”
“Yeah, I bought them,” Curly said. His voice wasn’t so steady.
“The total cost of these phones is over a thousand dollars. Where did you get the money?”
“They were on sale.”
“Okay, but even if they were, they’d still cost a lot more than you have. Tell me the truth, now, please.”
“They were really cheap on our buddy plan.”
“Did your mom or Chuck say you could do that?” He looked uncomfortable, and I knew the answer. “Curly, what did you do?” It wasn’t Curly who answered, but Sammy.
“He leaves his credit card lying around.”
“Did you take his credit card?”
“Yeah. It was easy.”
“So you bought the phones?”
“I did it,” Curly said.
“What about the bills?”
“I bought a bunch of cards so they can buy minutes and data whenever they want.”
“How much of Chuck’s money did you spend?”
Before Curly could answer, Freckles said, “I set up the IDs and stuff and made it so Mom and him can’t see us on Airdrop and stuff.”
Clever kid, I thought.
“How much did you spend?”
“Lots,” he muttered.
“How much, exactly?”
“I’m hungry,” Freckles said.
“Me too,” Sammy said.
“We’ll eat as soon as Curly tells me how much he stole from Chuck.”
“It’s not stealing,” Sammy said. “He’s Mom’s dude.”
“Yes, it’s stealing. How much?”
“Three thousand,” Curly whispered.
“Thank you. Let’s start dinner, and we’ll talk about this after we eat.”
I turned to walk to the van, and then saw Lydia. Tears were streaming down her face.
“Lydia, what’s wrong?” She didn’t answer.
Had she known about the phones?
She followed me to the van, and with the boys out of earshot, she managed to speak.
“I don’t want Benjamin to go to jail.”
“He won’t go to jail. Please don’t worry. Let’s eat, and then I’ll talk to him. Can you help me make some macaroni and cheese?”
Once we’d eaten, I found Curly, and we set up the washtub to do the dishes.
He wanted to wash, and once he was deep in suds, I said, “Did you spend it all on iPhones and cards?”
“What else did you buy?”
“A couple thigs I needed.”
“Deodorant and stuff.”
“Why not ask your mom for that?” He handed me a bowl and I dried it.
“I wanted to spend some of his money, but I’m too old for those games they play.”
Once the dishes had been washed and put away, I sat everybody down at the picnic table.
“I’ve talked to Curly, and I’ve decided what to do,” I said. “Curly, you pay half, Sammy, you pay a third, and Freckles, you pay one sixth.”
“What’s one sixth?” Freckles asked.
“Five hundred dollars. A third is a thousand, and half is fifteen hundred.”
“What?” Sammy said. “I don’t have a thousand bucks. Besides, he’s got so much money, he won’t even notice.”
“Who is he?”
“Mom’s dude, who else?”
“Don’t be rude. You may not have that much now but you can earn it.”
“Can’t we just give back the phones?” Freckles asked.
“Yes, and you’re going to, but even if they can be returned to the store, you still need to pay Chuck back. It’s not just about the money, but about what you did to Chuck.”
“We didn’t do anything to him,” Sammy said.
“Yes, you stole from him. It doesn’t feel nice if somebody does that.”
“He doesn’t even know!”
“No, just tell Mom and she’ll fix it.”
“No, I’m not going to do that. While you’re with me, I’ll find ways for you to earn enough money to pay him back. I’ll think about it and we can talk about it tomorrow. Let’s all play some games.”
“We’re tired,” Sammy said, and Freckles and Curly nodded.
I followed them to their tent, made sure they didn’t need anything, and then Lydia and I said goodnight.
She and I did play a game for a few minutes, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open, and I tucked her into her sleeping bag.
I lay awake, trying to think of how the boys could earn enough money to pay back what they’d stolen. I needed to make sure they’d earned enough money by the time our camping trip was over. If that didn’t happen, I was pretty sure that Stacey and Chuck would just let the matter slide because they didn’t want the boys to be upset.
Somewhere around two in the morning, I figured out what to do.
I still managed to wake up just before Lydia did. She came with me to the boys’ tent.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Is anybody hungry? I hope so, because we have a busy morning.”
“I don’t think there’s enough water for today, so we need to go to the lake.”
I was going to have to think of a better way to wake them up.
“Well, if none of you want sausages, then—”
“Sausages?” Freckles’s voice said.
“And pancakes,” I said. “With syrup.” I heard the sounds of three boys hastily getting dressed. I grinned and the tent flap opened.
The boys came out and looked around.
“Where are the pancakes?” Sammy asked.
“And the sausages?” Freckles said.
“I’ve got everything in the van and all five of us are going to make breakfast and then go and haul water. First, we need a fire.” Everybody looked at the cold firepit. “Lydia, can you help me build a new one?”
She looked at me wordlessly, and Sammy said, “Curly’s the oldest, he should get to do it.” Freckles nodded.
“I’m asking Lydia to do it. Curly, you are in charge of frying the pancakes, Sammy, you’re in charge of cooking the sausages, and Freckles, you are in charge of making the pancake batter.”
“What?” Freckles said. “I don’t know how.”
“I do, and I’ll show you.”
“But it’ll be, like, forever before we can eat,” he said.
“I’ve got plenty of fruit and milk to keep us going until everything is ready.”
The boys followed Lydia and me to the firepit. She evidently remembered what I’d done the day before, because she started to pile up logs and kindling.
“You’re doing it all wrong,” Sammy said.
“Don’t be mean,” I said. “Lydia, please ignore him.”
I was afraid that she’d give up, but she didn’t. She looked at a big log, and then at me.
“Would you like some help moving that one?”
“Where would you like me to put it?”
She showed me, added some more small twigs, and then looked at me.
“Are you asking if it’s right?”
“Hurry up,” Sammy said. “I’m starving.”
“Don’t be rude.” I smiled at Lydia, took out the box of matches, and held it out to her.
“You’re going to let her light it?” Freckles said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Great,” Sammy said. “The whole place is gonna—”
“Sammy, that’s enough.” I picked up my coffee cup, which still had about a third left, and said, “If you get scared or don’t like where the fire is, you can put it out with my coffee.”
We all watched as Lydia carefully took out a match, hesitated for so long I thought she might not do it, and then she struck it. It blazed up and she touched it to the kindling, which caught.
“Bravo,” I said. I pulled a ten from my purse and handed it to her. The boys looked on enviously.
“Is it mine?” Lydia whispered.
“I never had money before.”
Sammy smirked and said, “That’s Monopoly money, you idiot.”
“Sammy, I don’t want to have to tell you again. Stop being mean to Lydia. This is real money, and you can earn some, too.”
“How?” Sammy said.
“By cooking the sausages. If you try your best, I’ll pay you twenty dollars. Curly, for cooking the pancakes, you’ll earn twenty-five dollars. Freckles, if you try your best to learn to mix up pancake batter, you’ll earn fifteen dollars.”
I helped Sammy find everything, checked that he knew how to move the frying pan on and off the fire, got what we’d need, and then sat at the picnic table with Freckles.
He looked blankly at the measuring cups I laid out and said, “I don’t know how to use those.”
“I’ll show you.”
A sausage fell out of the pan, and Sammy said, “Oh no!” I went over and helped him pick it out of the fire. “Sorry,” he said.
“That’s okay.” I returned to the picnic table and showed Freckles how to measure flower.
“This is so boring,” he said.
“It’ll get a lot less boring when you taste them.”
Halfway through mixing up the batter, he said, “My arm hurts.”
“If that happens, I switch arms.”
Curly didn’t need any help frying the pancakes, and soon, I was setting the table. Sammy came with the pan of sausages and put some on everybody’s plate, except for Lydia’s. It wasn’t nice, but it gave me an opportunity.
“Lydia, is there anything you’d like to say to Sammy?”
She looked at me and at her empty plate.
She whispered, “Can I have a sausage, please?”
He let the last one fall out of the pan, and it missed her plate and rolled off the table and onto the grass.
Lydia looked crestfallen, but I couldn’t prove that Sammy had done it on purpose, so I gave her one of mine and didn’t reprimand him.
Curly dished out pancakes, and didn’t fool around with Lydia and she smiled at him, which I knew was her way of thanking him.
“Lydia, is there anything you’d like to say to Curly?”
She looked at me uncertainly and then at her plate, and then at Curly.
“What?” Sammy said. “He didn’t do anything.”
“No, he didn’t. Curly gave Lydia a very pretty pancake. What do we usually say when somebody gives us something nice?”
“Thank you,” Lydia said.
“You’re welcome,” Curly said.