I swing my bat as a baseball swerves toward me.Thwack!It zooms back across the street as my brother and the other neighborhood boys cheer. “Great, sis!” my brother yells. “Best shot!”
But we hear a sound of cracking glass and that ruins everything.
“Run!” the oldest boy yells, and we charge across the street into the woods beyond.
“YOU RASCALS!” I hear a bellow from across the street. Definitely our neighbor, the irascible bachelor Mr. Adkins. “COME OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!”
Because everybody’s listening, we have no choice but to trudge over to Mr. Adkins. Right now, he is carrying a broom and trash bag. And he shouts so loudly everyone in the street can hear him as we hang our guilty heads: “Isn’t this the third time you’ve shattered my window?” He shakes a hand at the shards of glass scattered over the pavement.
“Yes, sir…” we mutter.
“Why can’t you behave?” Mr. Adkins paces up and down in front of us, glaring daggers. “Why do you have to break a window three times? Why haven’t your parents banned baseball?”
“Sorry.” My cheeks flush. I hadn’t intended to wreck the window. I mean, I’ve never done that before. “I’ll help you clean up.”
Mr. Adkins hands me the broom. “Youshattered it?”
I bent over and sweep the glass shards into the bag as Mr. Adkins shoves out some glass that has fallen inside his house. The boys awkwardly stick their hands in the pockets and kick some glass toward my broom so it’s easier for me to sweep. “I’m sorry,” I repeat, as I sweep the dark bag into a trash can.
He grunts, which I take for a yes. After I return the broom into his house, Mr. Adkins stiffly marches across the street to pay my mom a visit. The boys and I follow after him but we don’t go in.
Five minutes later, Mr. Adkins strides out of my house toward home, his gaze squarely set straight so that he can't look at us.
My mom stands in the doorway, her face quivering with fury and her hands on her hips. “Millie. Eddie. Come. Right. In.” She faces the rest of the children. “Go home.” They scurry away as Eddie and I step in.
“Do you how mortified I was when Mr. Adkins spoke to me? He probably thought you were the worst kids in the whole world! Especially you, Millie! I thought you were better than this! So baseball will be BANNED.”
Before either of us can protest about it, she continues, “Millie, you will be helping Mr. Adkins with his chores as compensation.”
“No!” I’m horrified. “He hates me!”
But she doesn’t understand at all. “He obviously does not; you made him angry. How can somebody hate a child like you?”
“I’m not a child. I’m going on eleven.”
Mom sighs. “Mr. Adkins has his own yard and you will help him garden it. And to help him with his storage too. I suggested that and he agreed. Look, Millie, he’s not that bad.”
* * *
The next day, I arrive at Mr. Adkins’s house wearing my oldest clothes and a sullen expression. I’m carrying a shovel and a very short hoe. I drop them and they clatter on the porch as I knock.
He opens the door.
“Good morning.” I keep my eyes on the floor.
“Hello.” Mr. Adkins's eyes slant toward my tools.
At least he isn’t irate like he was yesterday. Mr. Adkins leads me through a long hallway that soon reaches the back of the house. As he steps outside, Mr. Adkins smiles slightly, the first time I saw him smile. “This is my backyard.”
I look out. It’s small, like his house, and bright; though the trees hang over the grassy ground as if they’re guarding their own territories. Some flowers are nesting in the ground, but majority of the space is dominated by weeds, and then grasses. “What should I do?”
“You have a little hoe, so soften the soil. I’ll be weeding.” Mr. Adkins kneels down in the grass, his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal gloves.
We work quietly, without speaking. Mr. Adkins yanks out some weeds and I soften the soil around it. Our rhythms match perfectly even we don’t look at each other directly. I keep stealing glances at Mr. Adkins. His shoulders have softened and the lines around his lips are no longer harsh.
I smile to myself. “Do you like to garden?”
He faces me, about to speak, but then something else catches his attention and he looks up. A blue butterfly flits in the air. Without any warning, Mr. Adkins rises up, even with a weed wedged in his glove. “Time to go.” His voice is abrupt.
“Good-bye." I stand up and tuck the tools under my arm.
I swallow and walk out of his house. Who cares about him when he becomes plain crazy because of a butterfly?
* * *
For the next few days I help Mr. Adkins, an hour at a time. We occasionally engage in awkward conversation, usually no more than a question-and-answer session, but no butterfly ruins it. As April serenades in, the backyard overflows with flowers and it’s really beautiful to work in.
One morning, when I arrive at his house, he says, “Millie, you have to clean the storage. I’ll be pruning.” He hands me a familiar-looking broom and a bag.
Outside’s sunny. Why rob me of the pleasure of being outside? I can’t stop myself. “Why do I have to?”
“Isn’t this compensation for breaking a window?” Mr. Adkins shoots back. “It’s not like you’re coming to play.”
The words sting. I turn away from him and stare outside. The storage is near the backyard, so near I can feel the outside nature. The blueness outside is so tantalizing. I turn my back on him and enter the storage.
Every corner, every wall is packed high with boxes, but they aren’t too thick with dust. I thud the broom across the floor and throw dust into the bag. The broom gets heavier in my hand all the time.
I wander to the back of it. It’s hard to find a path there and even harder to sweep. I pick my way back to the door of the storage room, peek outside to see the backyard, and see Mr. Adkins picking up the stray branches. He tosses them aside and approaches the door. I run to the back of the storage room and as I whip around to grab the broom, I trip over something. A box spills its contents on the floor and I hastily try to pack it back in.
A small photograph of a young woman, her eyes sparkling with spunk, slides at my feet. I pick up the photo when Mr. Adkins steps inside. When he sees what I’m doing, he takes one step forward and jerks me up. “Why are you snooping?”
Mr. Adkins yanks the paper from my hand and it tears, one half in my hand, the other in his. We both gape at the two halves of the woman’s face.
“What have you done?” His face is livid. “Why do you keep breaking things—windows, even photos?” His voice cracks.
“You tore it!” I blink back tears. “Stop accusing me for things I didn’t do!”
I smash the trash bag against the wall and storm down the hallway. I hear tentative footsteps. “Millie?”
I ignore Mr. Adkins and exit the house as fast as I can. Then I break into a sprint. I just run and run and run. My legs lead me into the woods nearby our neighborhood. I don’t care whether I get lost or not. No amount of moving was going to calm me down. Nothing. I finally stop when there’s a sharp stitch in my side and I sink down.
A stream lies at my knees, circling around a grove about five feet by five feet. I rise up and cross it as I peer down and see minnows swirling in it. The ground is scattered with thick grasses and as I bend down to breathe the earthy air, I forget everything. About Mr. Adkins. About the chores. About the photo. Even baseball.
“Millie.” I hear Mr. Adkins’ voice.
I whirl around to see him standing behind me. “What do you want?”
“I’m sorry.” He fidgets.
“I didn’t mean to shout.”
“Why the sudden change in attitude then?” I face away from him and cross my arms as I stare at a vine-wreathed rock firmly standing in the ground beyond.
Silence falls between us. A soft breeze curls my hair and ruffles Mr. Adkins’s clothes; weeping willows growing around the grove softly touch the water and cause ripples.
“I…just lost control. I’m really sorry.” He tries to grab my hand but I jerk it out of his grasp.
“Millie, I lost many friends because of this. Even my fiancé. I’ve been trying to keep myself cool. I’ve been trying. I’m really sorry.”
I turn around. “Your fiancé?” The pretty woman in the picture suddenly latches herself in my memory. “You mean…the woman in that photo?”
“Yes, my beau—Andrea— was spirited. And headstrong. She loved to garden too. And she was obsessed with butterflies.” Mr. Adkins starts talking about her, his voice wistful.
“And you didn’t marry?”
He flinches. “The day before the wedding, we—uh—quarreled.” His voice slowly drifts away. “I was so angry that I yelled at her to leave. And never come back.”
“What happened to her?”
Mr. Adkins flicks his gaze back and forth. “I—don’t know. She’s married to somebody else. Or single. Or dead. It’d have been different if we’d understood each other better.”
“You mean if you could forgive,” I say, slowly understanding.
“Neither of us could. I-I did forgive her, but it was too late. Too late to make up with her, to apologize. She was already gone.”
He takes a deep breath. “So Millie…I just want to let you know that I’m sorry. For everything. For being mean to you and your friends. Will you forgive me?”
I smile and grasp his hand. “I’m sorry for making a mess in your house. And this time, I really mean it.”
He smiles back. “But isn’t that what you get if you have somebody like you as your neighbor?”
A relaxed silence descends on us as we see each other for the person we’re meant to know. Minutes slide by. Finally, I ask the question that’s been bugging me for the past few minutes: “Do you think she forgave you yet?”
When I raise my head to look at Mr. Adkins, the blue butterfly we saw before is flitting right above him. He reaches out and it perches on the tip of his finger. His lips form a small smile and his eyes soften till I glimpse the young Mr. Adkins in them.
I breathe, “She has, hasn’t she?”
“For a long time…the butterfly helped me open my eyes to that,” he whispers, and as the butterfly flutters away from him, a profound sense of calm falls over us.
1.Does Millie have a definable character arc here, instead of just Mr. Adkins?
2.Did I manage to slow down the resolution slightly?
3.Did I cut down too much here?