Susan cringed as she peered at the caller ID; it was the fourth call this week from Mrs. Dove.
Although her friends had warned her, Susan had been so sure she and Gary could handle it. After all, Mrs. Dove had been a friend of the family for years. When she had offered her next-door rent house to Susan and Gary for almost nothing, they had jumped at it. Gary’s last year in seminary had proven to be an unbelievable financial strain, and the low rent seemed like God’s perfect answer. Now she had begun to wonder.
Mrs. Dove Simpson was an active, churchgoing citizen. She also had a reputation for being extremely stingy and incredibly nosy. Both traits were quickly driving Susan mad. She felt guilty as she let the message go to the answering machine.
“Now, Susie, I just want to remind you not to leave the air conditioner turned so low while you are gone to work. It’s a real waste of electricity,” Mrs. Dove’s voice crackled with age and mild irritation.
“And, by the way, your friend came by earlier—the one who drives the yellow car. She rang the bell several times. Seems like she could have seen your car wasn’t there.”
Susan sighed. How could she possibly know where the thermostat was set? Surely, she doesn’t come inside when we’re gone…or does she? It’s too bad the two houses are on the same meter, although we were delighted to have the utilities included in the rent. Maybe Gary and I should offer to pay more. This was getting more frustrating. The yard care was also included, although Mrs. Dove herself did the flowerbeds, trim work, and everything except the heavy mowing.
As for Mrs. Dove keeping tabs on what “friends” come and go, how gutsy is that? Susan was seething inside at the thought. Never mind about the family connections; she didn’t think this was going to work. Neither praying nor trying to minimize the situation was helping at all.
Gary thought she was overreacting, of course. He was like that. He was also extremely busy with classes and assignments, so he left all the daily details to her—along with her full-time job, which was paying most of the bills.
Susan straightened her shoulders; she was determined not to stoop to self-pity. She did wish there was some way to make Gary understand and be a little concerned.
The opportunity came the following afternoon.
When Gary called Susan at work , he sounded elated.
“Hey, Sweetie, I’ve carved out a little time to spend at home. Do you think you could do that too?”
After she arranged a couple of hours off, Susan decided to leave her car to be washed at the local detail shop, and walk the short distance home from there. She reasoned that they could just use Gary’s pickup if they decided to go anywhere
She did the microwave popcorn, Gary got the cokes, and they happily cuddled to watch a favorite old movie on TV. It had some great music, so they turned the volume higher than usual. Afterwards, Gary nodded off to sleep. Susan grinned, gathering up the dishes.
When she returned from the kitchen, she heard a noise outside. Opening the blinds slightly, she gasped. There, less than three feet away was Mrs. Dove, weeding the budding pansies.
It dawned on Susan that Mrs. Dove had probably seen only Gary’s vehicle and, hearing voices, had determined to know what was going on. Hence the sudden need to pull weeds. Susan’s fiery anger blotted out any humor in the situation, but the scene to follow would change that.
In that moment, Mrs. Dove screamed. “Ants, fire ants! She started hopping up and down vigorously, for a woman her age. Bending over to brush her shoes, she toppled face first into the pansies and the ants.
At her yelping, Gary sprang awake. Wide-eyed, he jumped from the sofa to the front door in two giant leaps. Almost instantly, he was at Mrs. Dove’s side, helping her up. Susan ran alongside to brush away the ants. Deciding she was not seriously injured, they walked her home. She kept muttering that she had to call somebody about those “creatures.”
Whether it was Mrs. Dove’s embarrassment or Gary’s tenderness, Susan wasn’t sure, but her attitude changed that day. And she was pretty sure the weeding was done for the year.
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