Michelle tried to wipe her cousins’ faces. They splashed her with the water. “I’m getting wetter than they will,” thought Michelle. The washcloth hit her in the face.
She’d been quite rebellious one day. It was just before she turned four. She didn’t recall the specifics. All she knew was that she tested rules a lot. She spent much of one afternoon in a chair against the wall.
She finally accepted that her dad and the others were to be obeyed, though. They were in charge. They were trying to help her. She didn’t need many timeouts after that. She’d learned her lesson. She’d obeyed much of the time.
“Is today like that day was? Can I help them learn?” Michelle hoped so. Especially because she wanted to avoid thinking about the carnival.
She finished wiping their faces. Water dripped off Michelle’s face and hands. “You don’t really want old, sticky food on your faces, do you?”
“We don’t mind,” countered Nicky. He then looked at Alex. “Hey, wait. You’re clean.”
“You are too.”
“Finally, I win one,” Michelle considered. She and the boys left the bathroom. “I knew by the time you got done complaining, and splashing me, I’d have you washed.”
“It won’t get any worse, will it?” She walked down the front stairs. She reached the landing. Then, Michelle tripped and fell over the bowling ball.
Comet ran over. He licked her forehead. “It’s okay, Comet. I’m all right,” she muttered. She was frustrated, but unhurt. She kept her sense of humor. “Just say ‘hello’ to Michelle E. Coyote.” “The Roadrunner would be easier to stop than these clowns.”
She grunted slightly and lofted the ball onto the couch. Michelle picked up the phone on its first ring. She would have let the answering machine get it. But, she was expecting calls.
“Hey, Michelle,” remarked Jesse. “Did Stephanie show up yet?”
“Not yet,” she admitted. Had she found any sitters? “I didn’t have time to call anyone. I had to find the boys and talk to them.” She didn’t want their parents madder. She only said “it’s all under control.” “For now, anyway. But, what will happen while I’m on the phone this time?”
“Okay, we tried a couple friends. But, nobody’s home. We left messages. There’s a flight leaving in a little bit. It has some empty seats. Don’t hold supper for us, though,” he kidded her.
“Yeah, right, like I’m cooking. You know me. I’ll order pizza.” She thanked him and hung up. She suddenly didn’t know if she wanted to hold out a lot longer.
Behind her, toilet paper wound its way though the living room unnoticed.
She glanced at a picture of the family. Pam was in it. “How would Mom handle things?”
The others talked about Pam living on in their hearts. But, for her, it was very different. She knew her mother was in Heaven. But, she sorely wished she had memories of her on Earth. “I need to meet someone before they can live in my heart.”
Michelle inhaled deeply. She turned toward Comet. “Oh, well, I need to stop feeling bad. They need me to find a sitter. And, to keep them from turning the house into a bowling al-”
The twins had draped toilet paper all around. They went from upstairs down through the kitchen. The toilet paper stretched through the living room. She finally caught it out of the corner of her eye. “What in the world?” The twins were starting up the steps
“Excuse me,” Michelle said. “An elephant wouldn’t need that much toilet paper.”
“How much does an elephant need,” wondered Nicky.
“I don’t know. But, here’s what’s important. You and I are going to roll all that back up. Just like it’s supposed to be.”
The schoolgirl grinned. They were naughty. But, I didn’t show a huge reaction. I’m making progress.” They went into the bathroom. The three messily rolled up the toilet paper.
“Now, go make up a game. I need to straighten this.” They left while Michelle tidied things.
She heard small voices coming from her and Stephanie’s room. She presumed they were jumping on beds. It wasn’t totally safe. But, it was better than it could be.
She entered her bedroom. They were jumping on Stephanie’s bed. Books flew everywhere. Stephanie’s Teen Trends magazines soared, while each child tried to catch them. “This is fun,” Alex said.
The baffled girl studied the mess. “Uh, boys...what are you doing?” Michelle hoped Stephanie wouldn’t be too mad. She might blame Michelle for letting them mess up her magazines. Any bookmarks were long gone.
“Juggling,” Alex said quickly.
“With magazines? Stephanie’s going to be mad at you.” “She doesn’t even like me reading her magazines. She will really dislike this.”
“You said find something good to do,” Nicky said. “So we did.”
“That you did. I’m proud of you.” Michelle flashed her biggest grin. She wanted to earn respect. She was quickly learning that being nice was crucial. She was glad to see her cousins were behaving.
At the same time, she wondered what she’d gotten herself into. Why had she wanted responsibility? It still didn’t seem that bad. But, it was awfully hard. “Is parenting like this every day? I can’t leave these kids alone long enough to call for help.”
“We wanna juggle. Just like at the carnival,” Nicky declared.
“That’s fine. But Stephanie’s magazines are a big mess. Let’s put them in a neat pile.” They left. “Okay, don’t, then. Just find something good to juggle while I straighten these.”
Michelle reached down to pick up the scattered books. She saw a worn, brown stuffed bear in a detective’s outfit. It had on a trenchcoat, hat, scarf, and glasses. It’s name was Mr. Bear. Stephanie received it from their mother when Michelle was born. That was only a few months before their mom died. Stephanie talked to him about many things as a preteen.
The three had moved Mr. Bear earlier. Michelle sat the stuffed animal beside her now. She straightened and sorted the magazines.
“Those kids are really being naughty. Huh, Mr. Bear.” Michelle paused. Either talking things out with someone else was the key, or Mr. Bear really was answering. She imagined it being the second. She still had enough imagination.
“You’re right. I said they had to clean up. But, I didn’t make them listen. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me.” Now, she worried she was being too nice.
“Yeah, I know, Mr. Bear. They don’t mean to be mean.” She sighed. She straightened the last of them. Now she wanted to sort them and notice any formerly dog-eared pages. “They haven’t been, really. It’s just so hard when there’s two of them. Like playing horsey. I can’t fit two on my back like Uncle Jesse can. And they always want to play together.”
She folded down several corners and nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good idea; separate them. I never thought of that. It’s so hard to think of stuff.”
She chuckled only slightly at the thought of talking to a stuffed animal. “You were so good with Steph when Mom died. You were always there for her. Do you have any ideas?”
She watched the bear for a second. It seemed to have none.
“That’s okay. It’s so hard for me. I don’t know what a Mom would do. I can’t keep coming up with good ideas. So they use the bad ones.”
She smiled. “You’re right, Mr. Bear. Except for the sandwiches, they haven’t been destructive. I was just upset at being hurt with that bowling ball. But while they’re not destructive, they’re ornery. They’re getting like I was that one day.”
She considered her mother. Her mother must have known what to do. She’d heard lots of nice stories about her. “I could play if an adult were here. They’d know what to do. Especially Mom. I sure wish Mom was here.”
Her frown disappeared. She laughed. Somehow, Stephanie’s old, faithful animal was coming through for her. “I bet you’ve heard that from Stephanie a million times, Mr. Bear. Well, thanks. I guess I’ll go see what they’re juggling now.” She hugged the bear. Michelle hoped to remember to thank Stephanie, too. She really appreciated “Mr. Bear’s” help.
She walked into the kitchen using the back staircase. Suddenly, Alex cried “look out, Michelle!”
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