I stared at them in silence, mentally noting every visible red splotch and dot on the tanned skin. There were very few words I wanted to say and very few I was actually capable of voicing at that very moment. My wife took pity on me and began to bustle about, ordering our three sons to remove their shirts.
That only served to further my speechless amazement as I took in the sight of the horrid red splotches covering their upper torsos from my seat the head of the kitchen table. I studied each of them in turn, the eldest at twelve years of age, Nicholas, the middle child at ten, Roland and the baby, eight-year-old Stephen. Neither boy dared to look me in the eye, the guilt practically radiating off of their twitching bodies.
“Let’s try it this way.” I rose from the chair, standing before them. “Do any of you have anything you would like to tell me?”
Roland swallowed hard. Nicholas glared at him. Stephen stood up on tip-toes and then stood down.
“Anything at all?” I prodded.
Still no answer.
“Mrs. Johnson called me yesterday.” I began. “She was very polite and spoke to me about a certain mishap in her garden. Something about her strawberry patch and checking my fencing. Apparently, something has made a hole in our relatively new fencing and taken the opportunity to vandalize a certain section of our next door neighbor’s property.” I paused for effect.
Nicholas began to blush from the tips of his ears down his neck and cheeks, the red more pronounced than anything else. He bit his lip, hands clenched at his sides for a moment.
I frowned. “I thought I would give you a chance to speak up on your own, but apparently-”
“It was an accident!” Roland blurted out. Nicholas seemed absolutely mortified, the redness spreading as Stephen snuck a peek at his two older brothers.
“It was?” Stephen whispered.
Nicholas snapped. “I don’t believe-!”
“Nicholas?” I folded my arms across my chest. “Anything you would care to share?”
“It was an accident—sort of.” He huffed. “We were just playing around, honest, Dad. Roland had this brilliant idea with his bike and—I told him not to—but he did it anyway and I tried to catch him and we sort of crashed into the fence.”
“Sort of crashed into the fence?” I repeated. “You crashed through our fence and managed to put it back up in record time where it looks good as new?”
Roland coughed. “It wasn’t that kind of a crash.” He began to blush as well, a slightly lighter shade of red.
My wife appeared with a tube of white medicated crème and doled out handfuls to the boys. “Slather it on good.” She instructed, squeezing out a handful herself to help from behind.
“It was the remote control bike.” Nicholas mumbled. “The little one. It got stuck because Roland was being stupid, I used your tools—to fix it. But I couldn’t tighten everything and I forgot to grab the bike, so…I went through the fence-”
“and got stuck and then I tried to help him and Stevie tried to help us and-” Roland shrugged. “We didn’t mean to squish stuff.”
“Squish stuff?” I swallowed. “Boys!”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time!”
“Why didn’t you come to me first?”
“’cause you were gonna yell!” Stephen piped up.
“Stevie!” Roland hissed.
“So am I correct in assuming that you all—crawled through a hole in the fence—one that you made yourselves, stomped around in Mrs. Johnson’s garden and then told me you were playing baseball?”
“Yes, sir.” The trio chorused, heads bowed once more.
“A-are we in trouble?” Nicholas dared.
I rubbed my forehead. “You’re covered in poison ivy from head to toe.” I almost smiled. “For now, that is punishment enough. I am sure I can work something out with Mrs. Johnson, however, let this be a very—vivid—lesson to you all.”
“That lying sucks?”
“Yes. Whenever you feel the urge—I should say the itch—to do so again, remember this.” I sighed. “If you had come to me sooner, this could have been prevented.”
“Mrs. Johnson is the only one with poison ivy growing over her side of our fence. It’s her personal security system. Your mother keeps soaps and things handy for it when I’m weed-trimming.”
Three identical expressions of horror stared back at me.
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