Auntie didn’t say much at my phone call that her not-so-favorite niece wanted to stay with her a few days. When I arrived, we ate a light supper and she went to bed before dark. I could scarce hold my pulsating heart at how easy my plan was falling into place. I’d have her packed and moved to the nursing home before she knew it happened.
Legs crossed on the shag carpet a thousand steps overdue for cleaning, I doubled over to pull VHS tapes from the low shelf of the bookcase and stack them in the cardboard box. Just three more…
Steel fingers gripped my shoulder and I squealed before flushing the guilt from my face. I met Aunt Edna’s eyes.
“I thought you were asleep.”
The older woman didn’t focus on the suspicious box filling with her possessions. “I was, dear, but the cats are under my window again, making terrible noises.” Her voice cracked but I held my own suspicion about her frail being as the blood veins in my shoulder flattened. “There’s a spray bottle by the back door. Would you be a love and chase them away? I so badly need my rest.”
I grabbed the arm of her recliner to balance my hasty rise and took advantage of the afghan draped on it. A flip of my wrist sent it over the box. Perfect. “Sure, Auntie. You go back to bed, I’ll lock up.”
Heavy cloud cover in the night sky made me glad for the flashlight I had grabbed with the spray bottle. The beam flashed under Auntie’s bedroom window as the silence of the neighborhood wrapped around me.
“Well, that was fun.” I skipped the back porch steps and landed in front of its door, hand extended. I hadn’t planned on stopping, but I was forced to.
Locked. How did that happen? Not one to waste time on a lost cause, I jogged to the front. Same result.
“You gotta be kidding.” I leaned on the doorbell. I could hear the chimes echoing as I imagined Auntie in her slow way coming to the door. Minutes ticked.
Back around the house I rapped on Auntie’s window. Not one light flickered. That’s when it occurred to me the house held a strange darkness. Hadn’t I left the living room and kitchen lights on?
I paused to rattle each window in hopes of finding one unlocked. I made my way to the front again when the spotlight hit me.
It couldn’t get any better than this, especially since I looked the part of an escaped convict in my gray sweat pants.
An eternity later I stood in front of Auntie’s door and tried not to fume when she arrived in a moment’s time.
“Ma’am, we received a call about a prowler and saw this girl trying to get in a window. Do you know her?”
I rolled my eyes and waited. Nothing. “Auntie?”
Aunt Edna adjusted the rim of her ancients and studied me. “No, Officer, I don’t believe I do.”
I hadn’t recovered from shock when Mom arrived and bailed me out of jail the next morning. Mom insisted we talk with Auntie. “I’m sure she was just confused last night, honey.”
Auntie had a tea tray complete with cookies set out when we arrived. I couldn’t hold in.
“Okay, Aunt Edna, why did you tell the police I wasn’t your niece?”
“I never said that, dear.” The calm demeanor of my aunt unnerved me. She wasn’t the senile I’d come to haul away.
“It felt terrible, didn’t it, dear? Being locked out, no one hearing your silent calls for help, or recognizing you for who you are?”
I blinked. “You locked the door and called the police, didn’t you?”
If not for the avalanche of wrinkles, Auntie’s smile would be unmistakable catty. “I’m sorry, dear, but I had to. I knew the minute I got off the phone with you why you wanted to come stay with me. Come to move my life right from under me without a word. God put it on my heart that you had a little lesson to learn. I know I just seem like a little old woman to you, but after last night how do you see me?”
A giggle deflated my irritation as I shook a finger at Aunt Edna. “A clever young lady.”
Auntie reclined and tucked her afghan around her knees. “We’re not so different, are we?”
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