“Hi Mrs. Shelly.” Andrew waved at his elderly neighbor on his way home from his latest fight. Only the blackening right eye gave him away. He knew that if he timed it right, Mrs. Shelly would be ready for a break. She always had cookies and lemonade. His mom hardly ever let him have sugar. “They’re only for a special treat,” she would say. Well today, Andrew needed a special treat.
Mrs. Shelly looked up from her rose bushes. “Oh, hi Andrew. You certainly look like you had fun at the play ground. I say, a boy covered in mud is a great sight to see.”
“I sure wish my mom thought so,” Andrew sighed and leaned his elbows against the gate of Mrs. Shelly’s white picket fence.
“She will when she knows that you’ve been playing and having fun.” Mrs. Shelly sat back on her heels wiping her brow with the back of her hand. “It sure is warm today. I could use a break. How about some lemonade? I think I even have some cookies. If I remember right, chocolate chip are your favorite.”
“They sure are.” Andrew brightened up at chance of having cookies and not having to go home yet. Mom and Dad were silent again. They never fought, but they didn’t really talk either. Something was up. Andrew just didn’t know what.
“Come on over here and sit a spell in the shade. You must be thirsty after playing so hard today.” Mrs. Shelly glanced at Andrew from under her flowered hat as she sat on the wicker rocker and reached for the cool pitcher of lemonade on the glass table next to her.
Andrew sat on the top step of the porch and watched the daisies flop on her hat. He debated what to say about today as he braced his back against the porch railing on the top step. He knew he couldn’t tell her the truth. Mrs. Shelly was too nice. Weird, but nice. She always wore that silly hat with the big fake flowers glued on it when she gardened. She said she learned about how to decorate hats in a class that she took a few years ago. It seemed that she was always taking classes to “improve herself.” Andrew didn’t understand how gluing flowers on a hat was improving herself, but whenever he asked, she just said, “Perspective, my dear boy. Perspective.”
Andrew didn’t understand what she was talking about, but grown ups were like that. They said strange stuff. Mrs. Shelly said she had to be “one with her garden.” She has to feel that she is part of the flowers. So, now she wears flowers on her head. But, even though she says weird stuff, the cookies and lemonade tasted great.
“So Andrew, what did you do today?”
“Oh, a little of this and that,” Andrew answered avoiding the real question.
Mrs. Shelly’s right eye narrowed as her left eye brow reached up and she stared at Andrew. Andrew squirmed on the hard, wooden porch step. He quickly filled his mouth with another cookie. “Gee, Mrs. Shelly,” Andrew spewed cookie crumbs as he spoke “these sure are good.”
“Just as I’m sure you are.” Mrs. Shelly smiled gently. “You seem to have more than dirt on your face. What happened?”
Andrew opened his mouth ready to lie, but the truth slid out, word by word. Soon he was telling her about how this new kid had teased him and called him dumb. And how no one had time for him. And how everyone was mad. “And then finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I just exploded and punched this guy. I got him real good. He looks a lot worse than I do.” Andrew’s chest puffed out and his chin rose with pride he didn’t feel.
“I’m sure he does,” sighed Mrs. Shelly as she slowly shook her head and the flowers flopped from side to side. “You’re a strong boy. I’m surprised anyone would tease you. But I know you are stronger on the inside than to have someone’s words hurt you.”
“I know.” Andrew’s fingers played with an ant walking across the porch. “Look, Mrs. Shelly, it’s so hot even the ants are lazy.”
“You know, Andrew, if you listen to yourself, you’ll always know what’s right. You have a good head on those big shoulders.”
“You really think so?” Andrew’s smile beamed up at Mrs. Shelly.
“I know so. It just seems like there is a lot going on right now. What do you think you learned from this fight?”
“Oh, it’s summer. I don’t have to learn.”
Mrs. Shelly chuckled and stood up. “Oh dear boy, we are always learning. Now why don’t you help me pull some weeds? Working in dirt seems to take our troubles away.”
“Is that why you like dirty boys?” Andrew asked as they walked into the garden and bent down to work side by side.
“Oh, Crystal, I wish there was something we could do to help Andrew. He seems so sad on the inside.” Andrew’s guardian angels, Crystal and Maude, sat on the porch railing watching as the two humans pulled weeds.
“But, you did. You whispered in his ear to stop and talk with a friend. And he chose Mrs. Shelly.”