The 3:15 school bell dismissed the fourth grade for the day. Endy’s heart was heavy, but her feet obediently walked her home. Tears pricked her eyes as she passed Aunt Maude’s empty house. The For Sale sign in the front yard seemed to silently signal that she was trespassing. Endy remembered the first time she knocked on Aunt Maude’s door. Her pounding heart threatened to break her ribs, and her breath froze in her lungs when the curtain swished. But that knock had opened up a new life of love and friendship between Endy and the old lady.
As her feet crunched fallen leaves covering the sidewalk at her own house, bright yellow chrysanthemums smiled up at Endy from their bed by the front porch. She and her mom had planted those flowers the evening Aunt Maude died. The flowers continued to bloom as a witness to their growing mother-daughter relationship.
A note lay on the kitchen table beside a big orange pumpkin. It read: Homework, dust your room, take out the trash. Pumpkin carving at 6:30. Love, Mom.
Endy examined the pumpkin as she turned it around. In her mind, she pictured the face she wanted to carve. If they could do it right, the blemish on the right side would be cut away, leaving a perfect jack-o-lantern.
Her mom was still afraid of Endy making messes, but she was getting better. Endy couldn’t see how pumpkin carving could be that messy, so she hoped her mom would let her carve at least some of it by herself.
“Homework, Endy,” she scolded herself, “then dusting and trash.” She giggled. I sound just like Aunt Maude, she thought, scolding me about daydreaming instead of getting my homework done. Even though Aunt Maude was gone, her memory filled Endy with peace and happiness. She skipped off to her room and dumped her book bag onto her bed.
At supper Endy gobbled up her spaghetti and meatballs. As she chewed her last bite of salad, she picked up her plate to carry it to the sink. “Wait a minute, Endy,” said her mom as she reached a plastic container out of the cupboard. “I’ve got a surprise for dessert.” Kris removed the lid and held the carton out to Endy.
“Cookies?” Endy looked up at her mom. Kris grinned and nodded. “You baked these?” Kris’ smile widened. “They’re probably not as good as yours and Aunt Maude’s, but, yes, I’m learning to bake.”
Endy bit into one. “Mmmmm. Keep practicing, Mom. I think you need lots and lots more practice. These are soooo good.”
“Not good enough for you to talk with your mouth full.” Kris grinned as she cocked an eyebrow at her daughter.
“Oh, yes, they are,” grinned Endy as she reached for her third. Just before her fingers touched the cookie, she pulled her hand back and wilted in her chair.
“What’s the matter?” Kris frowned.
“I just remembered something sad at school today.” Endy looked ready to cry.
Kris put the cookies on the table and sat down. “Want to tell me about it? It must be pretty bad if it keeps you from eating cookies.”
“The cookies reminded me of it,” said Endy, looking down. “We got a new girl at school today. Her name is Chloe. At recess the other girls started talking to her in one big group. But I guess they didn’t think she was interesting, because pretty soon they ran off laughing and left her alone. I felt sorry for Chloe, so I sat by her and we talked a little.”
“But what did the cookies remind you of?” prompted Kris.
“It was Megan’s birthday today. She brought cookies for treats. When she gave one to Chloe, Chloe said ‘No thank you.’ Megan mimicked Chloe’s ‘No thank you’ and laughed about it.”
“Why didn’t Chloe want a cookie?” asked Kris.
“After the bell rang, I waited for Chloe and asked her about it,” said Endy. “She said she can’t eat anything with eggs in it because her throat will swell up and she’ll stop breathing.”
Endy looked up at her mom. “Isn’t there anything anybody can do? Not being able to eat cookies is awful!”
Kris looked thoughtful. “One of the women at work has a son with similar problems. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
“But right now,” she stood and ruffled Endy’s hair, “We need to clear the table and start on the pumpkin. Come on!”
As they cleared the table and washed the dishes, Endy explained her idea for the jack-olantern.
“Could you draw the face on the pumpkin?” Kris asked her daughter.
“I think so,” said Endy. “Is there something I could draw with that will wash off in case I get a line wrong?”
“There’s a dry erase marker on the board in the back hall,” replied Kris. “Will that work?”
“Probably,” Endy skipped to the marker board.
When the jack-o-lantern’s face was just right, Kris asked, “Do you want to make the first cut or shall I?”
Endy thought about it. If she made the first cut and messed up, it could ruin everything. She needed her mom to see that she could do this. But that meant that when she did cut, it had to be perfect.
“What if I cut part of it and mess it up?” she asked.
Her mom laughed. “I guess we’ll have to be really creative and make it look as if the mistake was supposed to be that way.”
Endy sighed, trying to hide her smile. Yea for Mom. She wasn’t going to get upset and then take over the whole thing. “You make the first cut, Mom,” Endy’s shoulders shivered with excitement. She grinned, “Just try not to stretch our creativity right away.”
Kris had signed Endy up for Girl Scouts now that Endy didn’t have Aunt Maude to visit every day. The 4th grade troop met after school on Tuesdays, and Endy enjoyed getting to know girls from other grade schools in town. Amber and Endy chose each other as partners for their work on the Girl Scout Journey badge “It’s Your Story – Tell It!” It wasn’t long before they realized that their moms worked in the same medical office.
“We can take you home, we drive right by your house anyway,” Amber said. “That way you won’t have to walk home.”
“I’d better ask my mom first,” replied Endy as she pulled on her coat. She didn’t want to do anything that might hurt her relationship with her mom. “I’ll let you know next week. Thanks for the offer.”
Endy walked home by herself, inhaling the earthy smell of damp fallen leaves in the yards with automatic watering systems. Dry leaves crunched underfoot as she giant-stepped through piles that had blown up by fences. Above her, migrating birds chattered as they settled by the hundreds in the tall trees. But up ahead something looked out of place. Huge red letters perched on top of the For Sale sign. They spelled SOLD. This time her heart wasn’t banging against her ribs, it had stopped. And her breath wasn’t frozen in her lungs, it was totally gone! Endy screamed and tore across Aunt Maude’s yard to her own house.
Sobbing, she slammed the front door behind her and stumbled to her bed, burying her head in her Teddy bear.
Kris was cutting up chicken for supper when Endy stormed in. She quickly washed her hands and rushed to her daughter. “What’s wrong?” she tried to cuddle Endy.
Endy tried to burrow deeper into her bear. “Aunt Maude’s house,” she gulped,
“it’s…it’s…s..sold!” She banged her head into her bear. “Now,” she yelled through her tears, “all of Aunt Maude is gone! Gone,” she banged her head again, “gone,” another bang, “gone!” Endy’s body shook.
Kris let Endy cry for a minute, then said gently, “Endy, I don’t think it’s as bad as you think.”
“Yes, it is!” Endy sat up and yelled. “That’s Aunt Maude’s house, not an-y-bod-y else’s!”
“But I think you know at least one of the people who bought it.” Kris stroked Endy’s damp tangled hair.
“Who?” sputtered Endy from her bear.
“Chloe,” said Kris.
Endy stopped crying. Scrubbing tears with the back of her hand, she sat up and stared at her mom. “Chloe?” she hiccupped. “Chloe from my school?”
Her mom nodded. Her parents and the realtor were in the yard when I got home, so I went over to meet them. We figured out that you two know each other.
“Can I have a hug?” Endy whimpered.
Kris pulled her soggy daughter onto her lap and gently rocked her.
“I wish I could…make Chloe some…c- cookies, sort of a wel…come present. But she can’t eat cookies, and I…don’t know…how to…make any…thing…else,” hiccupped Endy.
“Actually,” said Kris, “I was experimenting before you got home. A friend at work gave me a recipe for eggless cookies, so I tried it. Want to come test one for me?”
Sniffing, Endy climbed out of her mom’s lap.
“Maybe the cookie should come after a tissue, a comb, and a face wash,” chuckled Kris as she kissed the top of Endy’s head. “See you in a minute.”
Endy stood still in the middle of her room. She’d just thrown a grand fit and her mom hadn’t yelled at her. Instead, she had talked softly and kindly, she had held her and rocked her, and kissed her! On top of her head, but still, it was a kiss! And she had gone over to meet people she didn’t know…and made cookies all on her own… What was happening? Her heart began to smile.
After three tissues and a thorough face scrubbing, Endy stood in front of the bathroom mirror trying to get a comb through her tangled hair. “Thank you, Aunt Maude,” she whispered. “I think we’re going to make it.”