That weekend we made a point of avoiding Mom and Dad as much as we could. We each went off on our own separate ways, enjoying the summer, as all kids should, right?

Even Mike, who spent the whole day Saturday and the better part of Sunday bailing out his room, was chanting and singing contentedly. (Mike can actually do both at the same time; it's really weird, but it's true, honest. Two sounds come out at once. I wouldn't call it music, personally, but to each his own.)

I don't know what Davey and Suzie and Cro-Magnon man did, but Saturday I took Elizabeth to a gallery. I hadn't been there in quite a while, and I figured it was time to show her that there was something else in the world besides Sesame Street.

Not seeing Ernie and Bert anywhere, she was quite bored, and after an hour of whispering "ErnieBert, ErnieBert, 1,2,3,4,7,8...10,A,C,B,F,R,S,Z," ten thousand times over and over, she fell asleep on my shoulder. I kind of enjoyed myself, but I couldn't help remembering all the galleries and museums Maggie and I had been to.

When we got home Saturday night Mom and Dad were still upstairs. I could tell they hadn't been down at all -- the mess hadn't been cleared away from their spots on the kitchen table -- a ritual we always perform before we eat at my house.

Sunday, Davey and Suzie were up uncharacteristically early. I think we all wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible to avoid a confrontation. I was happy to learn from Davey that Suzie had dumped the ape-man. Thank goodness, but I shuddered to think of what she'd be dragging in next.

I don't know why, but one of us suggested something really weird -- we could all go to the movies together. There was definitely something odd in the air, because we all agreed it sounded like a good idea.

When we got to the Sixteen-Plex they went to see "Freddie's 13th Nightmare with the Texas Psycho King - Part 37 -- the latest slash-em-up-stop-your-hearter. I would have seen it too, but I thought "Bambi Turns Three" was a little more Elizabeth's speed.

After the movies we went bowling. Geez, it was a real family day -- the kind we used to have, like ten years ago. We were kind of feeling good when we walked in the front door and smelled Chinese food in the kitchen. Mom hadn't cooked Chinese in a while -- we really missed it! Nobody cooks Chinese like Mom. Needless to say we were drawn like magnets.

Something seemed odd as we walked through the living room towards food. It didn't quite click until we stepped into the kitchen.

There were three people sitting around a kitchen table -- a clean kitchen table! In a clean kitchen! (Not a department store display model, mind you, but clean nevertheless.) And then it clicked that we hadn't had to climb over piles of junk in the living room.

This couldn't be our house!

But there sitting around the table were Mom and Dad...and...Mike. Mike?

"Hi guys!" Mike beamed.

What happened to his long hair that stuck out everywhere like Albert Einstein? It was now, well, not short, but short for Mike. And his wiry, bushy bird's nest beard was now neat and trim. Could it really be Mike?

"Sorry, we would have waited," Mike bubbled, "But it was getting kind of late. And Mom and Dad were awful hungry. We've been talking all day about the book, and we really built up an appetite. Oh, and you guys are going to like working on the book. It'll be a blast! Mom's made one of her best Chinese creations. You're going to love it. Doesn't it just smell wonderful. I haven't had anything like this in years! So what did you guys do today...?"

Mike? Was this the brother we never knew?

We sat down in our chairs. This was probably the first meal we'd all eaten together in...I wasn't sure how long. We didn't even all sit down at Christmas anymore.

We gobbled down our food and listened meekly while Mike rattled off all the ideas the three of them had come up with during the day.

"...We'll have a chapter on Johns in fiction, you know Long John Silver, Jack and Jill... quotes by famous Johns...John Trivia and puzzles...a calendar of John birthdays...Hey, feel free to throw in anything that comes to mind..." Mike assured us.

We nodded politely. He shrugged and continued on. "We'll have a chapter on John in language. You know, how the name has become a part of our language -- like going to the john, and jack-of-all-trades, and...wow, there's just so much. There won't be as much in the other books, but there's plenty for John. So, what do you guys think?"

It isn't polite to talk with your mouth full. That's not really why we didn't say anything, but it's what we mumbled. Speaking for us all, I could safely say we weren't interested one bit.

"Yummy, Grandma," Elizabeth cooed over her Moo Goo Gai Pan.

"Thanks, honey," Mom smiled.

I could tell Dad was getting a little steamed at our lack of enthusiasm. "You kids are going to help the family with this, aren't you?" he finally said while Mike chewed a mouthful -- It was the only space of silence Dad could fit a word in.

"No!" we said defiantly.

Dad was ready to blow. I could see the steam coming out his ears. "Later, George," Mom said, tapping his arm gently.

Dad sneered at us and chewed his food viciously. From the look in his eyes I knew we hadn't heard the end of this.

After dinner, Mom, Dad, and Mike watched Elizabeth doing her Big Bird Dance while us three desperados did the dishes. I couldn't believe we had volunteered, but for some reason we did -- I think we were hoping it would somehow eliminate our obligation to become bookworms for the summer.

We finished the dishes and I could tell that later had arrived when Dad stopped us in our tracks as we tried to make a dash for our rooms.

Fortunately the doorbell rang before he could get started. "I'll get it!" the three of us chimed together.

I hadn't been this happy to see Maggie in quite a long time. I even hugged her as we tried to coax her inside. Mom and Dad love Maggie. I knew we'd get a few good hours of relief and then it'd be bedtime, and we'd have gotten through the day scot-free.

Unfortunately, Maggie seemed to be in shock as we dragged her inside. I'm not sure what was confusing her most -- the fact that Davey, Suzie and I were standing together, actually being nice to each other, the sight of the huge hole in the living room floor, or the fact that she could actually see the carpet.

"What happened?" she stammered as we pushed her into the kitchen.

Then she saw Mike, and her eyes really bulged. We'd been married for five years and not once had she seen Mike with the family.

There was about a quarter second of absolute silence, and then all hell broke loose. Elizabeth was laughing "Mommy, mommy..." as she ran over for a hug. Then Mom and Dad were hugging Maggie, and Mike was going a mile a minute, first introducing himself, then going through delayed sentiments on everything that had happened while he was off in his little world, like happy birthday, congratulations on our wedding, congratulations on the birth of our daughter, how happy he was about her big promotion at the ad agency, finally concluding with how sorry he was we'd split up, only to launch into a full-blown description on the "wonderful project that was going to save the family."

Suzie, Davey and I grabbed Elizabeth and sneaked off to the living room where we tried to zombie-out in front of the boob tube.

A couple hours later the voices and laughter from the kitchen had started to die down and we flicked the TV off and headed for our rooms. "Good night everyone!" Suzie and Davey called and disappeared.

"Night, Mag," I smiled, bringing in Elizabeth who had fallen asleep on the couch with us. "Can you put her in the car seat, Rick. I'd better be heading back," Maggie sighed after giving Mom and Dad a hug.

I walked her out to the car. We passed by Mrs. Filburn as we walked to the curb.

"Hi, Mrs. Filburn," Maggie said politely.

Mrs. Filburn turned ever so slowly. "Oh, hi dear," she returned, eventually.

"Out late tonight?" I commented.

"Yep, yep. Just on my way...home."

"Have a nice evening," Maggie waved.

We stood by the car and watched as Mrs. Filburn inched along the sidewalk. You couldn't actually see her move, but if you closed your eyes for a minute and then opened them, you'd see she really did move a good inch or two.

"Hey, Rick, wasn't she out walking past your house a few hours ago when I got here?" Maggie whispered as she opened the door.

"Huh?" I groaned as I bumped my head while lifting Elizabeth into her seat.

"Come to think of it, she was there two weeks ago when I brought Lizzy..." Maggie muttered.

I shrugged as I strapped my little sleeping princess in. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and closed the door.

"Actually, I'd swear she's been walking by practically every time I've ever been here," Maggie said resolutely.

"She lives up the block somewhere. I guess she just likes to take a lot of walks," I assured her. "How are your folks, by the way?" I asked while I watched old Mrs. Filburn. Come to think of it, maybe she was always out in front of our house.

"Fine. They said to say hi," Maggie sighed, turning to me.

It was a beautiful night out, and I was feeling pretty good. I gave Maggie a warm smile.

She smiled back. "Ricky, your parents really are excited about this book."

My smile started to fade. I nodded, looking up and down the street. "Yeah, but I'm too busy."

"Uh, huh. Been doing any painting, Rick?"

I knew she was sneering at me. "Well, I started a couple of things, but, um...well...you know..."

"Uh, huh." She knew.

We could have launched into the big argument about me and my freedom thing and how I was just running from responsibility again. But she didn't bother. How many times can you hash over the same stuff?

"So, um...How's the old car holding up?" I stammered, fidgeting uncomfortably.

"Fine!" she snapped.

"Uh, huh," I started. "So, um, I guess I'll see you in a few weeks."


"Well, take care, Mag..." I felt really weird inside. For a while there I had felt good about her again -- I had wanted to tell her so many things, and hear about everything she'd been going through. I had wanted to apologize for being such a jerk. Tell her about the gallery with Lizzy... anything... everything... I had had this uncontrollable urge to hold her. To make everything the way it was. But now the hurt was washing over me again, and I didn't know what I felt. I just smiled and backed off towards the house. "Give my best to your parents. Oh, and, um, how's Max?"

"Good," she smiled politely as she got into the car. "I took him to the vet this week for a check-up. He's fine. Well, bye, Richard," she said softly as she started the car and drove away.

I just stood there for a few minutes, feeling the warm summer breeze, and I wondered why it always ended up this way with us. With a sigh I turned to go in, then remembered the situation inside, and went around the back and sneaked into my room.

I had some really weird dreams that night. Maggie was in a lot of them. It was a strange night.

The Adamses are pretty sound sleepers. Virginia had an earthquake once, years back, and we all slept through it. Another time a transformer exploded on the power line outside our window, we're told. Flames shot thirty feet into the air. Three fire trucks apparently came, not to mention four police cars whirling their sirens. We didn't find out about it until we read the headline in the morning paper.

Anyway, I don't know what happened that night, but when I woke up, I thought it was kind of bright. When my eyes started focusing I noticed I was looking up at some pretty green trees -- my bed was on the sidewalk out in front of our house! Not to mention all my possessions... and my little brother and sister were outside in their beds, as well!

"Good morning," Mrs. Filburn said as she inched along the sidewalk.

"Uh, good morning," I stammered and ran over to Davey's bed and started shaking him awake. We decided Mom and Dad meant business this time. Resignedly we knocked on the front door to accept our fates.

This summer was definitely not going to turn out as I'd expected. But then again, I really didn't have any plans, did I?

Mom and Dad opened the door and we walked meekly inside.

"Oh, well," I thought. "Here goes nothing..."

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