The Cuckoo's Progeny
04: Who is Us, Again?
CopyrightÂ© 2016 Vincent Berg. All rights reserved.
“We’re home!” Al shouted as they entered their house.
Amanda emerged from the kitchen, while their father, Macy, showed up a few moments later coming from his office. “It’s late, couldn’t you have called?”
“Sorry, it took longer than we thought. We got to talking, and...”
“It’s one thing for you to stay out,” their father said. “You’re in college now, and we cut you more slack. But your sister is younger. You’re supposed to set a better example.”
“Give me a break,” Betty said, tossing her bag on the floor and collapsing on the couch. “I don’t need a role model. I’ve turned out great, thanks largely to Al’s influence,” she said, staring at her parents. “We had a wonderful time together.”
“Did you, now?” their mother asked. “Did he tell you any interesting stories?”
“Huh?” Betty said, glancing at her brother.
Instead of answering, she went into the kitchen and returned with a large cake, festooned with a balloon and card. “Care to explain this?”
“I would,” Al said, “if I had any clue what it was.”
“Our neighbor, Mrs. Lopez, brought it by to thank you for saving her son’s life. Didn’t it occur to you to mention it before you left?”
“Well, we ... uh... ,” Al stammered, fumbling for an explanation.
“Oh, it gets better,” she snarled. “Before the cake, a reporter stopped by the house asking for you. When he learned you weren’t here, he interviewed me for an article in the paper. After I mumbled a few strained answers and the interview ended, he told me about Monica.”
“Why would the newspaper care what happened here?” Al asked.
“Because Monica decided our street needs a new speed bump to prevent an accident. The reporter, one Mr. Franklin, thought it was a tremendous, heartwarming story. They’re running it in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Would you care to explain what happened, and why you couldn’t give us a heads up ahead of time?” Macy pressed. “Do you have any clue how stupid your mother sounded trying to guess what you’d done?”
Amanda shot her husband a glare, but he was on a roll and didn’t notice. “You ran out of the house without picking up after yourselves. You risked your lives and then run off without saying a word and stay out all day, only to pop in again with no explanation.”
Al and Betty glanced at each other, but neither one had any idea what to say. “It ... just happened,” Al said.
“We figured that much! Everything happens, but there’s usually a story behind it. That’s why we have news.”
“It was nothin’. Mom was on a roll, so I went out to my car, saw Malcolm heading for the street, and managed to catch him before he walked in front of a speeding car. End of story.”
“Not quite,” Macy objected. “What do you mean ‘Mom was on a roll’, and the reporter asked some very interesting questions we couldn’t answer. Why were you in such a hurry, and couldn’t you at least call, letting us know you were okay?”
“She said that not only were you almost killed, but that your little heroic act threatened your sister,” Amanda added. “It’s one thing to risk your own life, but it’s another to jeopardize Betty’s. You’re her older brother. She expects you to look after her!”
“Hey, I didn’t threaten her! In fact, I warned her to look before crossing the road.” Al stopped to take a breath. “Everyone’s okay, no one got hurt.” He approached the dining room table to investigate the cake. His sister joined him as he scooped some icing for a quick taste. “Hmm, that’s terrific!”
Their parents stared at them, unable to respond. Finally, their mother formulated a response, her frustration rising. “You ... were ... both ... almost ... killed! It wasn’t nothing! Now, everyone in town will be asking me for the story, and I don’t know what to tell them!”
“Say the cake was delicious,” Al suggested, grinning as he entered the kitchen for some plates. “A little humor is wonderful for diffusing difficult situations.”
Amanda growled and turned on her daughter. “What about you? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“It was a bit more involved. Al was in a hurry to leave, fearing I’d take too long if we dawdled. You were also a little ... overly involved in Al’s love life and he didn’t know how to respond. But when he got outside, he saw Malcolm heading for the street. He edged closer, calling out, but Malcolm didn’t respond. He raced across the road, arriving just in time.” She clutched her brother’s arm as he cut her a slice of cake. “It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Then why did you almost get hit?”
“When he ran off, I took out after him. He saved me by warning me about the car. I glanced up just in time—just after he’d crossed the street. We both owe him our lives. He’s a hero, and you’re attacking him for doing the right thing. What would you have him do? Ignore someone whose life is in danger?”
“That’s not the point,” Macy said, unwilling to let it go.
Amanda threw her hands in the air. “All three of you could have been killed!”
“But we weren’t,” Al argued. “It all happened so fast. I saw Malcolm and managed to reach him in time. Mrs. Lopez was overbearing in her praise, so we ducked out to escape it. It never occurred to us to mention it at the time.”
“No, we weren’t killed, which is the point,” Betty argued, staring at her mother. “He risked himself for us, and instead of congratulating him, you’re attacking him for not playing it safe and allowing someone else to die. This is why we didn’t tell you. If we had, you’d never have let it go. We thought it best to ignore it and not rile you. You’re happy letting everyone else make a difference in your lives, but neither of you are willing to take a stand yourselves.”
“Whoa! Let’s cool it and take a deep breath,” Al advised, moving between the two women. “You’re both saying things you don’t mean. Mom’s concerned, but Be has a point. It was simply more beneficial to everyone not to inform you. We never anticipated Monica would make such a big deal over it. Hell, we forgot about it almost as soon as we reached the mall.” He handed his mother his slice of cake. “Here, you’ll feel better after you’ve had some. You’ve been waiting to confront us for so long, you never tried it.”
She held it in one hand, using the other to demonstrate her unresolved frustration. “What about dinner? You didn’t call, so I fixed you both a full meal. You still didn’t phone, so I kept it warm. Now, it’s burnt because you’re too inconsiderate to call?”
Al picked up the fork, scooped up a bit of cake and fed it to his mother. “Sorry about the slip up. It was unforgivable, but we were having fun and lost track of time. We bought dinner by the mall and were so involved in our discussion, we never thought about breaking to phone home. Eat some cake. You’ll feel better. I think your blood sugar is low again.”
She frowned, but chewed the treat, nodding. “It is good, but you...”
When she started to complain, Al shoved another piece in her mouth. Turning, he offered some to his father, who shrugged.
“Fine. I’ll have some, but don’t think this is over. We’ll discuss it later.”
As everyone settled in and ate the cake, Al changed the topic.
“Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, but is there anything you haven’t told us about our birth?”
He glanced up, raising a single eyebrow. “Yeah, you were seven pounds.”
“Eight pounds, three ounces,” their mother corrected him.
“What’s behind the question?”
“It’s been bugging us for a while. We don’t seem to have much in common with either of you. Then today, we met a couple who are both orphans who are like us and, well, it got us wondering. Is there more to the story than you’re telling us.”
Amanda clutched her husband’s arm. “I told you this would happen.”
“Nothing’s happening, and we won’t address these questions.”
“What’s this about?” Betty pressed, turning his question back on him. “What’s the big deal? What are you hiding?”