Homework

by: Sarah Stodola

NOTE — This vignette happens not too far before “Lady Daisy”. It actually started out as a little homework assignment of my own! 🙂

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HOMEWORK

“Leave me alone!”

I mock-scowl to hide a smile and put my fists on my hips. I love teasing my older cousin. “Why?”

He snatches the paper I hold clenched in my fist away and points toward the bedroom door, eyes flashing annoyance. I bite back a little bit of a giggle. This is fun, bugging him. I don’t really want him to get really mad, but I do want him to chase me. He ignores me unless I annoy him, sometimes. “Get out,” he repeats. “I’m trying to do my homework!”

I make a face and flop down on my stomach on my bed. “Aw, c’mon, you gotta be done by now!” He seems to spend *forever* working on his homework nowadays. He never has any time for me anymore. I miss the times when we would have maybe an hour of homework after school and then go running off through the woods to go swimming or fishing, or just to play some game. But lately, all he ever does on weekday afternoons is schoolwork, it seems. And then on the weekends, he takes off with his other friends. He used to be my best friend, but now he acts just like all the other older kids — he doesn’t seem to want to be around me. It bothers me, a lot.

“Well I ain’t, so get.” He smoothes out the paper I was holding away from him.

“What’s that?” Maybe I can at least get him to talk to me about *something*, even it is the dreaded H-word. Homework, that is.

He doesn’t even look at me, just sits down on his bed, across from mine, and puts a book in his lap to write on. “The start of a paper.”

“What about?”

“Why do you care?”

I sit up, scowling like only a lonely, somewhat angry seven-year-old can. “Cause you never do anything with me anymore.”

“That’s not true. I do stuff with you all the time.” He sighs hard and looks up at me, anger starting to tint his light blue eyes now. “Look, just go away, why don’t you? I’ve gotta finish this for tomorrow, and it’s gotta be two pages!”

“What’s the problem?” I ask. We’ve had to write reports that long before. We always do it together; that way, it’s more fun and doesn’t take as much time. “Can I help?”

“First, the problem’s that I don’t know what to write about!” Frustrated, he balls the paper he just smoothed out up and tosses it in the trash can by the head of his bed. “And second, I don’t need your help! You’re just seven! Now just take off, will ya!”

I clench my jaw, eyes burning with anger and hidden tears, and get up to stalk out the door and down the hall. Just seven, huh? Like ten is so old! I force a smile for Uncle Jesse, who smiles back as I go through the kitchen where he’s sitting, but once outside, I swipe the back of my hand across my eyes roughly. I will not cry! Not! That’s a silly, girlish thing to do.

But sometimes I just really want to. I jump down off the porch without bothering with the steps. I stuff my hands in my pockets, shivering a little at the cold October air, and kick at a rock aimlessly as I wander across the yard. Ever since the first couple of weeks of school, Luke’s been too busy to play with me. Either he’s doing homework or he’s off running around with his other friends. It’s just the two of us, no brothers or sisters, so I have nobody to really do anything with. I don’t talk to most of the kids in my class at school; I don’t want to do something silly and get called a baby. Which is what they call me whenever I let my emotions go. Problem is, I don’t find it near as easy as my cousin does to hide what I’m feeling, especially when I’m hurt. He never used to care, and I’d be pretty much happy as long as he and Enos would play with me.

But Enos went with his parents out of town for a couple of weeks visiting kin, and Luke’s too busy. And I got nothing to do.

I finally sit down on a hay bale in the barn and scratch behind Bonnie Goat’s ears when she gently butts my leg. “You’re my friend, ain’tcha?” I whisper.

“Maa,” is all she has to say, waggling her tail. I try to sniff back tears, but all of a sudden I can anymore, and I slide down the side of the bale to hide my face in my hands and cry quietly. My older cousin doesn’t understand. He just doesn’t. I feel so alone… like nobody really cares about me anymore. I know that’s not true; Uncle Jesse does. But Luke doesn’t, not anymore. I’ve lost my best friend, my big brother I could always look up to, and it hurts very deeply.

It seems like forever that I sit in the barn, alone except for Bonnie and her baby. The sky darkens slowly, and I curl up around myself, shivering. I don’t really feel like going back indoors yet, even though it’s getting cold. I don’t want to face Luke and let him know that I’ve been crying. Cause he’ll know. And the way he’s acting right now, he might not care. That would hurt as much as his yelling at me in the first place. Maybe even more.

Suddenly I hear footsteps. “Bo?” a familiar voice calls softly. “You in here?”

I grit my teeth and don’t answer. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

“C’mon, little cuz, I’m sorry. Come in; it’s cold out here.”

I swallow, trying to keep my anger and not answer. But my shivering is making it harder and harder. Especially when I imagine warm food and a lit fire.

“Bo?” Then Luke comes around the hay bale I’m hiding behind, and sighs in what sounds almost like relief. He crouches down next to me. It’s too dark to see the emotion in his eyes, but I can hear that he’s been worried. Why? He was the one who threw me out. He puts a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t really want to hurt you. I was just… frustrated.”

“Lemme alone,” I finally mumble. But the truth is, I don’t really want him to leave me all alone again. I don’t like being alone, usually. I always want someone with me. I fight to stay mad at him, but I can’t. I’m cold, and hungry, and lonely, and miserable.

He starts to back off, slowly, unhappily, but then I finally give in and turn to him, flinging my arms around my older cousin’s neck and burying my face in his shoulder. He hugs me back wordlessly.

“Don’t leave, Lukas,” I whisper. “Don’t leave me alone. Not again”

“Again?” He pauses, pulling back a little. “You think I’ve been leaving you alone?”

“Yeah. You have.” I sniffle, tears threatening again. “You’re always too busy to talk to me or play with me. You always go off with your friends and leave me alone. I don’t have anybody else to play with, Luke! You’re my best friend!”

“I’m sorry…” He hugs me tight again. “Honest.” He actually sounds like he means it. “I didn’t know… I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

“I ain’t mad.” It’s the truth, I’m not mad anymore. “Just… don’t leave me alone anymore. Talk to me. Let me go with you when you go places. Something!” I’m about to break down again, and I do, sobbing like I normally would only with Uncle Jesse. All the loneliness and hurt of the past weeks comes out all at once. Around the other kids, I would feel embarrassed to cry like this, but not with Luke. He knows how I am inside. He understands. Except for lately.

We just sit there together in the hay for a while, silent, holding onto each other, then finally he clears his throat hesitantly. “Bo? You… you wanna help with my paper? You got a good imagination. Maybe you can come up with an idea for a short story.”

I sniff and rub my hands over my eyes. “…Yeah. I guess so.”

“And look, why don’t we go fishin’ tomorrow after school, okay? Just you ‘n me; nobody else.”

I can’t help the wide grin that spreads across my face. Everything’s gonna be all right now! I just know it. I can’t say why, but I just *know* it. So there! “Yeah, sure, Luke. Sounds like fun.”

I can hear his smile in his voice. “Come on. Let’s go in.”

Arms around each other, we walk out of the barn and toward the house, where Uncle Jesse stands in the warm, welcoming porch light, smiling and waiting understandingly for his boys.

END

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