Finally, we climbed back into John’s elegant red Cadillac Deville, and drove the short distance to his house—passing the open field that lay between my husband’s house and his mother’s; a buffer of sorts—and turned into the curved driveway bordered by orange trees. At the front of the property, a blockade of oleander bushes, about fifteen feet high, screened John’s house from the backyards of small working class homes on the other side of the Stewart’s private driveway.
When I walked toward the front door, I could see my sons, George and Jimmy, through the kitchen window, sitting at the table, listening to Deena. I wasn’t sure what she said as we walked in, but from the reaction of my children, I know she put a damper on my arrival.
I dropped my purse, bent down and opened my arms. Shyly, they got up from the table and came to me, my sons who were nine (George) and seven years old (Jimmy). I was stunned by their behavior. Where were my enthusiastic children I left in the care of this step-daughter? What happened to them in the week away from me? I expected them to fling themselves out of the house and run excitedly to the car, yanking the door open and giving me huge, sloppy kisses and rough hugs, and instead I found two boys who seemed as if they were not sure I was their mother.
Suddenly, it was all terribly clear. I had left them in a strange house, with strange people, all in the hope that a new family would miraculously be put together while I was off on a tropical isle. I looked up and saw a smug smile on Deena’s face.
I did not cry then, although I truly wanted to. There was no going back, no undoing the damage. I kissed my boys profusely, and they seemed to open up a bit, and then I walked with them to the room they shared off the back porch, out of the range of Deena. I needed to talk to them—seriously talk to them—about the last week.
When we got to the room, I saw what a jumble it was. The double bed they shared for the time being was unmade. The boys’ clothing was flung helter-skelter, and toys lay underfoot.
“Why is this room such a mess?” I asked, astonished.
“Deena said we didn’t have to pick up our room because you weren’t home,” George told me.
I considered that for a moment, suddenly angry because Deena had undermined my authority. I answered carefully. “But that’s not what we do, is it? We clean up after ourselves.”
The boys nodded in response and I hugged them again, glad to feel their beautiful bodies against me.
“Well, why don’t you guys start cleaning up your room while I change my clothes? As soon as you’ve done that, then I have a surprise for both of you! We also need to talk about what you two did while I was gone.”
“OK, Mommy!” George said. Jimmy smiled at my remark about a surprise.
“I’ll be back in a bit, so start cleaning,” I said, kissing each on the top of their heads.
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