Hours later, after calming the angry creature that was Aunt Alice, Riley hobbled through the front door of her home. She wished she could just climb into bed, but her aunt was quick to say no to that idea.
“Just because you have a cast on your leg doesn’t mean you can’t wash the dishes.”
It was extremely hard to bite back the retort of “We have a dishwasher,” but it had only taken one look at her aunt’s face for her to close her mouth.
Her hands quickly pruned and wrists itched as she worked on keeping her balance. Several times, she thought about going into the other room and telling her aunt what she thought about doing the dishes when she had just gotten out of the hospital. Anybody else would be allowed to rest. Riley planned it out, pictured it in her head as she scrubbed another dish. She wanted to do it, but it would require walking, something that was still a challenge.
Still, I shouldn’t be doing these dang dishes, and where had they come from?
When she left the house yesterday, the dishes had been done. Her dad wasn’t home last night. Had Aunt Alice stayed there last night, then dirtied more dishes that morning? What did she do? Host a dinner for all her church friends? How else could there be so many dishes?
“I swear, these kids today don’t know how easy they have it. They just want to sit around and play on their phones. None of them have a clue as to what real work is.”
Riley rolled her eyes at Aunt Alice talking on the phone in the dining room.
“She’s as lazy as a cow in a field and has no clue how to be a young woman. Her dad’s gone too much and lets her get away with it, but not while I’m here.”
Riley slammed a metal pan down into the dish rack. It clanked loudly. She winced, knowing her aunt probably heard it, but come on! Could she really believe this garbage she was shoveling? And that pan had been filthy. Like she had made sludge in it, then forgot to throw it away when she was done.
“You’d better not be breaking anything in there!” Alice called out.
Riley heard her teeth grinding as she bit back a retort. It would only be a week before her dad got back. Then she wouldn’t have to put up with Aunt Alice’s endless nagging anymore. She only had to survive the week.
Survive the week?! She wasn’t sure she could survive the next five minutes. She needed to escape, find a way out, but where would she go? She wouldn’t make it too far on those crutches.
She could just picture it. She would be hopping down the street, then her aunt would tackle her from behind. She didn’t look like much, but women that mean could surprise you. She’d run after Riley and break her other leg just to make a point. Then she’d be hoisted in front of the kitchen sink and hang there, doing dishes.
Why couldn’t she just go back home? Riley was twelve and could take care of herself. She didn’t need a babysitter. Half the time, she cooked dinner for herself because her dad worked late. She could manage being by herself for a week. Nobody ever trusted her or thought she was old enough to do anything. It was always “Look after Riley,” or “Riley, I know you know how to do this, but let me tell you how because you’re too young to figure it out.”
No one ever trusts me to figure anything out on my own, she thought as she set a pan into the rack.
“Riley? You hear me? I said you’d better not be breaking anything,” she yelled again.
Riley realized she’d been so frustrated, she had forgotten to answer her. Before she could, she heard her talking on the phone again, her frustration evident.
“I’m sorry, Judith. Give me a second.”
“Nothing’s broken,” Riley called back, then mumbled to herself, “Except for your sanity.”
Unfortunately, she hadn’t heard Aunt Alice get up and didn’t know she stood in the doorway until her aunt cleared her throat.
“I will have none of that tongue. You know, when I was your age, our father would never have allowed us to sass him like you kids get away with nowadays. I would have had to eat a bar of soap.”
“That’s child abuse.”
“That’s discipline. You’d say it once, and only once. You should ask your dad about it. I heard he went through plenty of soap, and when they ran out of soap, they started putting peppers on his tongue.”
This wasn’t going well, and at this rate, Aunt Alice would have Riley locked up until she was thirty, which meant she would never get a chance to go to the bookstore.
Hey. That’s it. It’s perfect. Maybe I can get there after all.
A plan started forming in Riley’s head. Her aunt narrowed her eyes, as if she could sense something. It was like Alice could see the gears turning. Riley didn’t realize she was biting her tongue, something she only did when she was thinking intensely.
“You’re only sorry because I’m standing right here.”
She was right, but her plan wasn’t going to work unless her aunt was convinced.
Crap, this is going to be hard.
“No, I mean it. I got upset and I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have.”
Riley hopped on one foot and turned and face her. The silence stretched on as they stood there, staring at each other.
Riley broke the contest of wills and looked at the floor sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”
“What did you say? Don’t mumble.”
She sighed silently, putting more energy into her voice while working to keep any hint of anger and frustration out of her words.
She didn’t accept Riley’s apology, but at least some of the bite left her voice, and when she looked up, her aunt was no longer glaring. She thought about turning back to the dishes and acting like she struggled with it, to really play up the sympathy, but then she remembered who she was dealing with. Her aunt didn’t do sympathy and wasn’t about to suddenly agree that she shouldn’t be doing the dishes. It also might backfire on her.
She cleared her throat. “Aunt Alice, I wanted to ask. Do you think it would be okay if you… I mean, could you take me to a store tomorrow? It’s a bookstore on the other side of town. A friend of mine works there and we’re supposed to…” She realized she didn’t know what to say. She was going to say “study”, but school didn’t start until next week. What could she say they were going to do?
Oh, crap. What if Bruce isn’t out of the hospital yet?
Riley hadn’t thought about that. She just wanted to get there because last night was still so fresh in her mind. Plus, it was all so exciting. She had to get down there and be a part of it. Riley couldn’t wait to tell Suzy. Bruce told her she couldn’t tell anybody, but this was Suzy, her best friend. Riley had to tell her. They told each other everything.
“You two discussing books or boys? You’re too young to have a boyfriend, but you do need to read more. Kids nowadays seem to only want to play their video games or be on their phones.”
“A… A little of both,” she stammered. In truth, if they actually did sell books there, she wouldn’t mind picking up the latest in her favorite series. She knew it would be out soon.
It would be cool if Riley could take Suzy when she went, but knew Bruce would have a fit. Though why they were so secretive didn’t make sense. Who would believe them? Who would even care? Sure, it was cool that they fought nightmares, but what did that even mean? It wasn’t like nightmares were actually dangerous.
“Well, maybe we’ll go after your chores tomorrow morning.”
“Is there any way you can drop me off?”
“Oh, you don’t want your aunt hanging around? Think I might embarrass you?”
Some of the hardness had crept back into her voice. Riley caught herself biting back another retort, though it was easier. Her aunt was actually talking to her, not just saying what she was doing wrong. She still insulted her generation, but it seemed like that was what all adults did. Like they were any better when they were kids. If you listened to the adults, they didn’t even have TVs or game systems in their rooms. It was like they lived in the dark ages.
“No. I just really want to hang out there for a little while and figured you would want to get going.”
Her aunt paused, thinking. “I do want to go to Amelia’s tomorrow.”
Aunt Alice raised her eyebrow in the familiar way that told Riley she didn’t really believe her.
“You’d better not run off from there and do something stupid. I might just drop by to check on you.”
“Nope. Not planning on doing anything stupid.”
“Definitely.” She gestured at her broken leg. “I think I’ve had enough of stupid for a little while.”
“Good.” Aunt Alice nodded her approval. She turned and left the room, leaving Riley to wonder as she hopped back around to the dishes.
“Okay, Bruce. I hope you’re out of the hospital; otherwise, I just wasted a good excuse,” she mumbled, picking up another grease-covered dish, grimacing.