I hurried out the front door in time to see Gina hop off the last step, onto the street. A huge grin covered her face when she lumbered up the front walk, dragging her overstuffed backpack.
“Hi Honey. Have a good day?” I asked, like I did every day, while we walked back to the kitchen.
“Mummy. Jimmy and Nicki, and Becky, and… Ahhh… Geoffrey wants me to play war on the hill. So, can I? Huh? Can I Please?”
My heart did a little flip-flop. Bless her blond, curly locks, they hid such a determined mind.
I steeled myself for our daily fight. “You know the rules. Homework first. Play after.”
“Nobody else’s mom makes them do their homework first.” She lowered her head and glowered, then dumped her backpack on the floor.
“Gina, we’ve tried playing before and doing your homework after, and your homework never gets done. So, now we do homework first.” I responded automatically.
“You never let me have any fun.” Gina flopped on a kitchen chair. “You’re the meanest mom in the world.”
“Yeah, I know.” I’d hardened to the title. “Now, do your homework.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits.
I opened the refrigerator and leaned in, to consider our dinner options.
“Some people came in and talked about child abuse today.”
“Oh?” I said, not really listening.
“Yeah, and they said kids shouldn’t be forced to do things they didn’t want to do.”
“Uh-huh.” I pulled out the two-day old rotisserie chicken. I thought – King Ranch Casserole.
“And that, if you thought something was wrong… really, really wrong… you shouldn’t do it.”
“Uh-huh.” Chicken enchiladas sounded better.
“No matter who tells you to do it.”
No. Quick and easy, chicken salad sandwiches and chips. That way, I could drift back to the Scottish Moors with Sherlock Holmes, and finish reading my book.
“That that’s child abuse.” Gina flung the words like weapons.
I shoved the chicken back in the fridge.
“Yep… Well, they weren’t talking about homework. So just do it. Do it fast. Then, you can go play with all the other kids.” I grabbed my book and scooted out of the kitchen before I had to hear a whole lot more bickering.
“That’s child abuse,” Gina screamed.
“I’ll be in the living room if you need me.” I called back, and kept walking, determined not to re-engage.
I’d just gotten comfortable and opened the book, when the dryer beeped.
“Typical,” I muttered to no one and slammed the book shut. Stomped up the stairs, grabbed the laundry and took it to my bedroom to fold. Ten minutes later, having put it all away, I settled back with my book… Sherlock.
Ten minutes or so after that, the house phone rang.
I picked up.
“Mrs. Smith?” An unfamiliar voice asked.
“I’m Mrs. Holland, the supervisor at the 911 emergency hotline.”
An icy gash of fear sliced though me. 911 meant injuries. Or death. My mind raced. Henry – safe at work. Mia – safe upstairs napping. Gina – safe in the kitchen… Then, it must be… My Father.
My guts twisted.
“What’s happened?” My voice squeaked.
“I have a rather delicate matter to discuss with you.” Mrs. Holland sounded strained. Formal. Cold.
“Okay.” Could it be… Grandma? Grandpa? One of my cousins?
“Your daughter, Gina, just called. She reported you for child cruelty.”
Gina? What? My mind faltered…
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