JD called me from a phone booth in Duncan.
“Hey, Mum, can you pick us up?”
“I thought Stephen’s mum was picking you up.”
“Yeah, but we missed her call cause we were still in the pool.”
I sighed heavily. I’d thought I was getting a day off from chauffeuring, apparently not.
“Who’s we?” I asked, worried about the number of seat belts needed.
“Just me ‘n Stephen and Emma.”
“Where are you?”
“At the A&W.”
“Ok.” I sighed my burdened mother sigh. I’ll be there in forty-five minutes.”
I arrived to find them finishing their fries, sitting like conspirators on the patio outside the fast food restaurant. Three fourteen year olds, wavering between childhood and adulthood but they looked more like children at that moment. They scrambled to the car, jostling, laughing. The impatience I had felt, the interior “woe is me” dialogue, faded before the wave of simple pleasures emanating from them. The boys, I noticed, had to fold their limbs, duck their heads getting in. When did that happen? Emma looked coy and sweet, smaller than the boys. The subtle hint of change was in her eyes, still girl-child playful, but lingering, thoughtful as she greeted me.
“Guess what’s in here,” said Stephen, holding a box the size of a blackboard eraser.
Emma giggled. JD’s face wasn’t giving anything away.
“Chocolate?” I said with clownish, eager delight.
“Nope, a mouse,” he said as I pulled out onto the highway.
“What?” I’m not afraid of mice but I was sure a thin cardboard box wouldn’t stand up to any real attempt at escape. “Where from?”
“The pet shop,” said JD.
“I can’t believe they’d sell you a mouse without a parent there,” I said, thinking about cruelty to animals and all that stuff.
“They sell them to feed snakes,” was JD’s reply. “It’s not as if they care what happens to them.”
“Ugh … I guess so.”
They become three collaborators again, throwing names for the mouse back and forth. I listened, an eavesdropper. I loved to be included but I loved being forgotten, having this magic insight into their relationships with the world.
“What’s your mother gonna say?” I asked.
“I’m gonna keep him in my room. She won’t know,” Stephen assures me.
What am I supposed to say to that? “Mmm …” was all I could muster. By then we were close to home.
“Stephen’s coming to our house,” JD announces after we drop of Emma. “Do we still have the hamster cage?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, we’ll find something.” JD, ever the optimist.
“He can’t stay in that box for long,” I said. “He’ll chew his way out.”
Then began the discussion on what they would do. I let them brainstorm and considered my two cats and their excellent mousing skills.
I delivered Stephen home that evening with “Richard” in a cookie jar. He placed it outside his basement bedroom window for later retrieval, waved good-bye, and went in his front door. I began to feel a little guilty. Boy, was she gonna wish she’d picked them up in town today.
Two days later we were getting organized, JD, Stephen and I, for a trip to Long Beach. The dog, a long-haired Chihuahua was coming with us. My husband was off fishing in the camper so we were going to rough it for three days in a pup tent and my little car. JD announced Stephen had to bring the mouse.
“What?!” I’m not bringing the mouse camping,” I said.
“Cause … I don’t want to.” I seem unable to come up with a suitable response under pressure. “There won’t be room for a cage. We’re taking my car,” I added, like sliding into home.
“He’s not in a cage. The cookie jar is little and it can be on Stephen’s knee.”
“I don’t approve of him being in a jar and I’ll have to feel sorry for him for three days.”
“That’s dumb, Mum. He was a snake’s dinner.”
“Arrgh … who’s going to look after him, eh? While you and Stephen are boogie boarding in the waves, who’ll be stuck watching the mouse?”
“Richard can stay in the car.”
“Arrgh …” Outsmarted again.
The car was jammed full of stuff, including Stephen’s guitar which, apparently, is essential gear for attracting girls. I don’t know where Richard fits in with that plan, but he spent the trip in the cookie jar on Stephen’s knee, along with the big plastic dome from a DQ ice cream cake.
“What’s that?” I inquired.
“That’s where he plays. There’s more room and I give him stuff to play on,” replies Stephen. “But only when I’m watching,” he reassures me.
I couldn’t complain about the room it took as Stephen bore the brunt of his choices. He was crammed in the back seat wearing his puffy down jacket, despite the 90 degree weather, with Richard’s house and playground, the dog, the guitar and the cooler for a three hour trip.
I did mouse-sit while they boogie boarded. It was too hot in the car for Richard. Besides, they spent what time they weren’t swimming, carving mazes and tunnels into the sand for the mouse. Richard had his own adventure on the 18 miles of sandy beach, bribed with peanuts and the lure of escape. When he tired, he slept in his cookie jar under the sun umbrella with me and the dog. Ah … motherhood. Who knew?
I dropped Stephen at home in the morning, after two nights camping in a little tent; me, two big boys, a small dog and a mouse. We had been packed in like sardines, fully clothed on thin foams that failed to pad my bad hip. Stephen and I competed to keep JD awake with our snoring. The animals got the quieter corners. We’re all dirty and tired, sunburnt and hungry, except Richard. He is as perky as ever. Stephen packed his dirty clothes, his guitar and Richard up the driveway, stopping to place the cookie jar outside his window again. He looks half man, half boy. I felt a wave of nostalgia and was pleased to have been a co-conspirator in this part of the adventure. His mum doesn’t know what she’s missing.