I rounded the corner on Michelle Drive and slowed SammyDean to a crawl. You’d think with a nickname like that, my car would be the Supernatural 1967 Chevy Impala. Alas, the military doesn’t pay me enough to afford that glorious automotive genius on my best day. So, I drive around in a midnight black Mini Cooper I nicknamed SammyDean because I can.
The red brick ranch-style corner house comes into view as I hit the top of the hill. My windows rolled down to soak in the warm air. Their lawn, now lush and green, was evidence that spring has sprung in the South.
However, my surprise was in danger because the driveway was empty. No cars in sight. What the hell, no one’s home?
“Damn.” I cruised past the house and down the street. Connor said they’d be home. My parents don’t park in the garage, so no cars in the driveway meant only one thing. I huffed at the steering wheel, turned around in the cul-de-sac, and pulled off to the side of the road. I grabbed my phone. I had no choice at this point. If I go to the door, I’ll be on camera and then the jig would be up… surprise ruined.
Me: Hey butt. What’cha doing?
Connor: hey, chillin at home. you?
Me: Not much, out and about. Where’s mom and dad?
Connor: idk, the store I think… why?
I hopped out of the car and headed toward the house. When I reached the edge of their yard, I sprinted up the side and across the front lawn as fast as I could. They could be home any minute. I rounded the corner and kept my pace as I reached the back gate and pulled the lever.
I stared momentarily at the obstacle in front of me. My grip tightened on the handle, and I yanked it with more force, but it wouldn’t budge. Locked. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, but the dog was on to me. He was at the gate, ready to defend his territory from whatever was on the other side. He eyed me through the wood slats as his barks and snarls intensified.
“Shush, boy. It’s me,” I grumbled at the Irish Terrier standing guard at the gate.
They don’t call them sentinels for nothing. Duff’s very serious barks and growls sounded alarms the entire neighborhood could hear, and he only got worse as I scaled the garbage can.
I peered down from my perch at the defiant pooch. “Duff, shut up!” I growled back at him.
That only seemed to make him more aggressive, and I started having second thoughts about whether it was a good idea to jump the fence. The defiant terrier wouldn’t let up. He definitely didn’t recognize me.
“It’s me, Greer. You remember me, don’t ‘cha boy? You met me the last time I was here. Come on! Be a good boy and zip, will ya?” I begged with the animal in a syrupy tone, but it was no use. All the pleading in the world wouldn’t have worked on the stubborn-ass dog because he didn’t pause, calm down, nothing!
I rolled my eyes, shook my fist at him, and accepted defeat. I turned to shimmy back down the colossal can when the gate swung open.
“What are you doing?” Connor bellowed in that booming baritone voice of his that I still wasn’t used to.
I lost my footing and fell to the ground. Which is why I ended up on my ass, in the grass, at his feet. I got up as gracefully as I could, dusted myself off, and turned around. He had a smug smirk on his face.
“Hey little brother,” I said with all the dignity I could muster.
He had ahold of Duff, who still bared his teeth and eyed me like I was some dangerous interloper, but at least he was staying put and not charging me. Damn dog. I gave him the stink eye. He growled back at me.
“Duff, calm down,” Connor commanded as he looked down at the red devil next to him and then back up at me. “I’m not the little one anymore,” he said and crossed his arms over his chest.
“That’s beside the point. You’ll always be the little brother.”
“Younger, not little. You’re the little one now.”
“If you say so, little brother.”
His face scrunched in displeasure, making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
“Back up and let me in, will ya?”
Connor rolled his eyes at me but moved out of the way so I could cross the threshold and closed the gate behind me. I shoved him; he shoved me back much harder than I expected.
“Easy boy.” I rubbed my shoulder where he made contact. The kid didn’t realize his own strength.
“What’er you doing here?” He grabbed me in a bear hug and lifted me off the ground.
Duff decided I was no longer a threat and jumped on me as Conner brought me back to the ground and dug his claws into my side.
“Duff down,” Connor commanded.
“Thanks,” I said.
“No problem.” He shrugged. “So, you gonna start talkin’ or what?”
“Oh! Right. I’m here to surprise you guys. Surprise!” I flashed my pearly whites and gave him my best smile.
He shook his head. “Yeah, you surprised me all right. And Duff, too.”
“Good. Now to spring it on mom and dad. How long have they been gone?”
“A couple hours. They should be home soon.” Connor headed for the back door, and I followed him.
“Where does mom hang her purse when she comes home?”
“The front closet next to the door. Why?”
I crossed the living room to the front entryway where the coat closet was and opened the door. It wasn’t a coat closet at all. It has shelves, and games of all kinds piled and organized according to size.
My parents were game people. Trivia games, board games, you name it. Except one. Monopoly. They own four different versions of the game. One regular and three themed, but we never played them after mom had enough.
Dad was cutthroat when he played the game. No mercy and that pissed mom off when he did that to us kids. She wanted a nice fun family game; he wanted to win. He couldn’t help his competitive nature, still can’t.
I know you’ve heard about or seen the stereotypical meme floating around social media where Monopoly money, cards, and game pieces are strewn everywhere, and the board flipped upside down. Yep. That’s us. We take Monopoly way more seriously than we should. That’s right, we’re one of those families. It’s a curse we can’t seem to break.
My eye drifted down to the area underneath the game shelves. It was just big enough for me to crouch in and hide. I grabbed the vacuum out of it and handed it to Connor. “Here, go put this in your room for now and close your door so they don’t see it when they come home.” Connor grabbed it from me with excitement in his eyes and hurried down the hall, only to return in time to hear the garage door motor revving to life. They were home.
“Quick! Sit on the couch and act natural. I’m not here.”
Connor turned and sprinted for the living room and catapulted himself over the back like it was a track and field hurdle. Only to make purchase as the couch cracked on impact.
“Jesus! Don’t break the couch!” I scolded him as I ducked under the self and squeezed myself into the small space.
“Shut up and close the flippin’ door!” He shot back at me in the same tone as the door clicked shut.
I sat in the dark and listened. The seconds ticked by, enveloped in darkness as my legs burned in protest at the awkward position it forced me to sit in. I repositioned my hands underneath me to relieve some of the strain on my legs while I lay in wait, but that was short-lived because I lost my balance and fell hard. The noise must’ve been louder than I thought because I heard a muffled “shut up” from Connor. Then the sound of the garage door leading into the kitchen opening and my father’s booming voice calling for Connor to help with the groceries.
More muffled voices and conversations I couldn’t make out continued as the temperature rose in the small closet. My legs and arms trembled uncontrolled. Beads of perspiration formed on my temples and forehead. My muscles started to cramp, but I forced myself to keep still so I didn’t knock into something else.
Mom’s voice grew louder. The closer she got, the clearer I could make out what she was saying. I pressed my palm over my mouth to keep myself from laughing out loud as the uncontrollable urge tried to take over. An image played in my head of her reaction, and that only made me want to laugh harder.
I watched the crack of light that seeped under the door. It was the only illumination in the cramped space. A shadow appeared, then a second one. The handle moved, and the door swung open. Light enveloped the closet as my mother continued to talk over her shoulder and hung her things up, oblivious to my presence.
“Mamacita!” I yelled.
She screamed bloody murder and scrambled away from the closet clutching her chest.
I couldn’t hold myself up any longer and toppled out of my hiding place as I cackled. I laughed so hard I struggled to breathe. My face and cheeks hurt as I lie on my back and looked up at Ellie. She looked down with a mixture of shock and surprise transforming her face as the thunderous footsteps of my father rounded the corner.
“Damn it, Greer! What the hell is wrong with you?” Ellie yelled. “Wait! Greer! Oh, what are you doing here? You’re here.” She scrambled to the ground and squeezed me so tight I gasped for air before I started cackling again.
“Greer, you scared us half to death. You shit.” My dad tried to sound serious but couldn’t do it. He was just as happy to see me.
Mom got up and helped me to my feet. She grabbed me in a vice-like hug and rocked me in her arms. “Ah, baby, you’re home!”
This short story is also published through Coffee House Writers
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