Britt tiptoed down the stairs, his eyes scanning the darkened house.
Rats! Why was the kitchen light on at this hour? He guessed someone left it by mistake. The door was ajar, but there was no movement, no sound.
It’ll serve ‘em right to wake up and find me gone.
Britt wrinkled his freckled nose and frowned. It was bad enough a guy had piles of fifth-grade homework, and three older sisters bossing him around, but Dad’s blaming him for the flooded backyard was the last straw. He was sure he’d turned off the hose after rinsing sand off his bike. He was sure. Even Mom didn’t defend him. It was all a guy could take.
Britt hadn’t told anybody he was leaving except his best friend, Kyle. He’d been careful and quiet when he phoned him last night. Thinking back, he wondered if he had imagined a noise outside his door right after that.
Naw, nobody would have been listening.
Heck, they didn’t care anyway. Probably wouldn’t even miss him, with all the chaos his sisters caused. A houseful of girls Who could stand it? Fighting one minute, giggling the next, made no sense at all.
He adjusted his Baltimore Colts duffle bag over his shoulder, heading for the door. It seemed to strain every muscle to open it quietly, just enough to get through. A bit uncertain now, Britt hesitated. It was really dark out there.
Then he smelled it. A familiar aroma, that of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, floated from the kitchen and right across his nose. He knew there hadn’t been cookies there before bedtime. Strange.
Okay, Britt Conners, keep moving. Don’t stop now. He talked himself out of going straight to the kitchen and grabbing a few to take with him. He pushed the door a little further and stepped outside, hearing the lock click.
Out in the chilly dark night, Britt started having second thoughts. So he tried to focus again on what his beloved grandfather would say whenever Britt arrived at his house. So what if it is four hours away? I know the way. He pulled his bike out of the shrubbery, throwing his gear over the bars.
In the last few days, Britt had imagined all this again and again. In his mind, he could clearly hear Grandpa’s reaction:
“Well, come in, Britt-boy. I’m glad to see you. It’ll be good to have you stay with us for awhile.” That’s what he’d say after Britt had explained how tough it was with homework, three sisters, and a Dad who didn’t believe him. Now, Grandma might take longer to convince. With these thoughts, he mounted his bike, pedaling down the street, the scent of chocolate chip cookies stuck in his nostrils.
Ten blocks away, Britt braked, stopping underneath a bright streetlight. Fear gnawed in his stomach. Maybe a guy oughtn’t to run away in the middle of the night. Maybe he should wait ‘til barely daylight anyway. Suddenly a car pulled up, really close. He jumped, and started to take off, but a voice stopped him.
“Britton Conners, is that you?”
Oh,rats, busted. It was Sergeant Barnes, the policeman who was Dad’s friend from church. What luck.
“Now, Britt,” Sergeant Barnes said quietly, “I think we both know you have no business here this time of night, don’t we?”
Britt nodded, then lowered his head, fighting back tears.
“Buddy, there’s not anything bad enough that you need to go off and scare your mom and dad half to death, is there?”
Britt finally raised his eyes to the kind policeman and shook his head. “No sir, I guess not.”
“So if you turn around right now, I’ll follow you home. You go back in just like you came out, and this will be our little secret. Okay?”
Minutes later, Britt parked his bike beside the garage and waved as Sergeant Barnes pulled away. Finding the key, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. The house was quiet and dark, a light still on in the kitchen. That wonderful smell was even stronger, and drew him to the mounded plate of cookies. Glancing around, he gathered as many as he could carry, then balanced them as he poured himself a glass of milk and tiptoed up to bed.
He would never know his parents had also waved to Sergeant Barnes from their window, nor would he ever understand why there were warm chocolate-chip cookies at 2:00 AM.
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