New Year's Resolution
Okay, then, it's decided. The girls can stay," Jake said, looking around the breakfast table, where six different boxes of cereal were scattered. "But only," he added, his mouth full of Frosted Flakes, "if they play by our rules."
As though they had anything to do with the Malloys staying in or leaving West Virginia.
The first week of January had passed, and the boys had still not made their New Year's resolutions. Mrs. Hatford had given an order: they were not to leave the kitchen until each had decided how he would improve as a human being in the 365 days ahead. Jake, Josh, Wally, and Peter decided it would be easier to come up with one joint resolution they could all do together: they would let the Malloy girls stay in the house across the river where their best friends, the Bensons--all boys--used to live.
Mrs. Hatford came into the kitchen just then to get the watering can for her fern.
"Well?" she said. "Do I hear four good resolutions in the making?"
"No, but we have one really good one that we'll all do together," said Josh, Jake's eleven-year-old twin.
Their mother looked cautiously about the table. "Okay, I'm listening."
Wally Hatford, age nine, who was sitting beside seven-year-old Peter, the youngest, stuffed another bite of toast into his mouth so that he wouldn't be the one to answer, because he could almost predict what his mom was going to say.
"We've decided," said Jake, "that we'll let the Malloys live in Buckman, if they want to, after their year is up."
Mrs. Hatford slowly removedher glasses and her eyes traveled from Jake to Josh to Wally to Peter.
"Let them?" she asked in disbelief. "Are they renting their house from you?"
"What we mean," said Josh, "is that we won't make things hard for them anymore."
Mrs. Hatford focused on Wally next. "Meaning . . . ?" she asked. It always happened this way: Wally got the hard questions.
"Meaning that we won't dump dead fish and birds on their side of the river to make them think it's polluted," Wally said miserably.
Peter nodded vigorously. "Or dead squirrels," he said. "Don't forget the squirrels."
Their mother put one hand on the back of a chair to steady herself, and finally came around and sat down on its seat. Hard.
"Do you boys mean to sit here and tell me that you actually tried to drive the Malloys out of Buckman? That you tried to get them to move back to Ohio?"
Wally thought it over. Was this a trick question? "Yep," he said.
"Because we wanted the Bensons to come back," Josh told her. "They were the best friends we ever had."
"And you thought--you thought--" Mrs. Hatford began, "that if you drove the Malloys away, the Bensons would return?"
"Something like that," said Jake, looking a little chagrined. "We thought it might help, anyway."
"Are you completely, positively out of your minds?" Mrs. Hatford yelled. "Have you lost every ounce of common sense you were born with? Did it ever occur to you that the decision will be based on whether the Bensons like it well enough to stay in Georgia, and not on what is happening up here to their house?"
"Well, if they lost their renters, we thought they'd at least consider coming back," said Josh.
Mrs. Hatford slumped in the chair and closed her eyes for a moment.
"All right," she said weakly. "Let's hear it. What else did you do?"
The boys leaned their elbows on the table and thought about it--Jake and Josh in their sweatpants and T-shirts, Wally in his racing-car pj's, and Peter inhis Bambi pajamas with a tail on the seat of thepants.
"We howled outside their house once when the girls were alone," Wally ventured, probably the least offensive thing they had done.
"We locked Caroline in the toolshed," said Peter.
Mrs. Hatford gasped.
"But we let her out when we thought she was getting rabid," Wally said quickly.
Their mother could only stare.
"We messed up the pumpkin chiffon pie their mother sent over and spied on Beth's bedroom and got them lost in the woods," said Jake.
Mrs. Hatford buried her face in her hands. "What else?" she asked, her voice high and tight.
Wally felt miserable seeing his mom that way. The four brothers exchanged anxious looks.
"That's about it," said Wally.
Mrs. Hatford dropped her hands again. "I want a full confession!" she demanded. "Don't leave out a single thing."
The boys sighed in unison and tried to think some more.
"We took a worm when they invited us over at Thanksgiving and put it on Caroline's plate," said Jake.
"And we were going to dump a can of worms on them one night in the cemetery, but they never showed up," Josh remembered.
"And how about the night we trapped Caroline in the cellar of Oldakers' Bookstore and she couldn't get out?" said Wally, smiling a little as he remembered, then just as suddenly wiping the smile off his face.
Slowly Mrs. Hatford stood up. "I am surprised, frankly, that the Malloys are still here. I am surprised that Jean and George are speaking to us at all!"
"Well, it's not as though they never did anything to us!" said Jake. "They've done plenty!"
"And all of it deserved, I imagine," Mrs. Hatford said, just as her husband wandered into the kitchen for his second cup of coffee.
He looked curiously about him. "What did I miss?" he asked.
"Don't ask," said Mrs. Hatford. "Don't ask."