Lois clutched her robe tightly closed at the neck. Trouble? She guessed trouble was about the only reason people who were practically strangers would come knocking just past midnight. What kind of trouble though? Lois motioned Julie farther into the room and turned on the lamp on the side table. The look on Julie’s face in the soft light told her this was not trouble of the “my hot water heater burst or my car broke down in your neighborhood” variety. Lois was going to have to make a decision right then, before she knew details of how serious things were. It was either accept the mother and son or deny them help and send them on their way right now.
Lois straightened up as best she could and laid a hand on Julie’s arm, but addressed Johnny who was hiding behind his mother’s legs. “Well Johnny, it looks like you’ve come to the right place for cookies, but it’s a little late for sweets tonight. How about we fix you up a place to sleep and I bet your mom will let you have some cookies tomorrow.” Johnny didn’t say anything, but he did nod almost imperceptibly. He would not let go of his mother’s legs. “Come on upstairs, you two. I haven’t had anyone sleep over in ages. I’ll have to move some boxes off the bed in the guest room.” She motioned for Julie to climb the stairs. “Second door on your left. I’m right behind you.” Julie picked up the tired Johnny and began the climb as Lois returned to the kitchen and slid the deadbolt into place. As she clicked off the lamp, Lois wondered what she had just dove headlong into.
With Julie’s help the spare bed was soon ready. When Lois suggested that they set up a cot in the sewing room for Johnny, Julie assured her that Johnny would quickly want to be in her bed anyway. Lois nodded her understanding. It was just as well; the sewing room had been Henry’s bedroom before she converted it. She wasn’t sure how she felt about another child sleeping in there--even one as sweet as Johnny. As Julie removed the shoes from the sleeping Johnny she whispered, “I know you want to know what’s going on.”
Lois held up her hand. “What I do know is that you need some sleep tonight and that explanations can wait until morning.”
Lois left Julie and returned to her bedroom. She wasn’t much of a heavy sleeper--more of an all day cat-napper really--and Lois knew she would have trouble sleeping tonight. She thought of Benny’s gun hidden on the top shelf of what used to be his side of the closet. That gun hadn’t been touched in 30 years. Lois couldn’t remember the last time she’d even thought of it. Benny would go target shooting occasionally and had even gone on a few hunting trips with his pals, but she had never cared to learn anything about the gun. She eventually nodded off to sleep pondering if a gun needed to be cleaned after 30 years if it hadn’t been used in that whole time. Her dreams that night were not restful.
Lois chided herself when she arose, still exhausted the next morning. Why had she been focused on the gun last night? There was probably nothing nefarious at all here. Maybe they had been evicted or one of them had been diagnosed with a disease. Oh, those are bad too, Lois thought. She tried to turn her brain off and focus on her regular routine. Normally, at this time of day, Stella would watch from her window as the school began to buzz with activity, but today was a Saturday.
Julie and Johnny continued to sleep as the minutes ticked away. She had made scrambled eggs, anticipating that the two would make an appearance any minute, but the food was now cold. Lois rose from the table and cleared the plates. Maybe Julie and Johnny were going to stay upstairs all day, scared they would be spotted through the big picture window. Maybe she should close her curtains. But no, her curtains were always open at this time of day. Someone would think something was wrong--maybe even check on her. Surely it was better to act normal and play it safe. Lois wasn’t used to this type of intrigue; to be honest, it was exhausting. “Even the excitable Patti would be better suited to this than I am,” Lois thought.
Lois was starting to work herself into a tizzy when Julie peeked her head over the banister and ruefully smiled at Lois. She tiptoed down and settled into an armchair in the front room when Lois offered it to her. “Would you like some breakfast, dear? Maybe something hot to drink?”
Julie shook her head. “No, thank you. I’d love some later, though. But right now, I have to tell you what’s going on.”
Lois agreed. She really did need to know what was going on before all the imagined possibilities gave her a heart attack. Sometimes one horrific reality is easier to deal with than countless prospects swarming around like biting flies. At least one reality gives you the opportunity to focus on a solution--no matter how bad things are.
Julie started haltingly, but soon found Lois to be a sympathetic listener. She let a lot of what she had kept bottled up come flowing out. “Johnny’s dad, Tony, has a really good heart, but he makes a lot of bad decisions. He owes people money. There was some kind of venture that he never quite explained to me. It didn’t pan out and now people want their money back. He disappeared a couple of months ago, saying he was leaving to keep us safe. He hasn’t contacted me since. He said the less we know, the better. He said it’s for our own good, but I’m wondering if maybe he’s forgotten all about us. But now, we’re being threatened unless he comes up with the money and I have no way of reaching him. They think I know where he is.”
“They’ve been casing our apartment for days and I was scared to leave. Last night I saw them in the parking lot with a crowbar and then I heard them messing around with the lock on the front door. Johnny and I were able to make it out the patio door before they broke in. We hid out on our neighbor’s patio for a while. Finally we shimmied down the railings and made our way here. As we ran away, I could see the guy silhouetted in my rocking chair, just waiting for us to come home.”