“Now, Lillian,” Daddy said, squinting through the rain on the car windshield, “I want you to remember that moving was not an easy task. I had to find a new job, to start with. I’m going to have a hard time getting new jobs if I get into the habit of quitting after just a few months.”
“I know, Daddy,” Lillian said. She was fiddling with Jeffery, her toy robot. He was her very favorite, with a square shaped copper body, a dome style head, and multicolored lights on his chest
Daddy glanced at Jeffery, and shuddered. “Finding a new place to rent was even harder. I had to convince the new landlady that the old one was crazy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find us another place if something happens at this one.”
Lillian looked up at her father. “I didn’t mean to make everyone so mad, Daddy. I’m sorry.”
Daddy sighed. “I know you didn’t mean to cause all this trouble, Honey. Just, no more pets, okay? That’s what really got everyone’s attention. Just stick to strays from now on.”
“No pets, got it,” Lillian said. “I promise.”
“Alright, then,” Daddy said.
They drove past a park. The falling rain made the swings and the slide glisten. “I thought you could play at the park,” Daddy said. Looking hopeful. “You spend too much time inside with your grandpa’s books.”
“Can I have a workroom in the new house?” Lillian asked.
“Sure,” Daddy said, “down in the basement. But only if you spend some time outside in the park. Every week, Lillian.”
Lillian sighed. “Alright,” she said.
He glanced again at Jeffery, and said, “I mean it, Lillian, no pets.”
“Okay,” Lillian said, “I promise.”
The next few days were a flurry of unpacking. Lillian made sure to put up a bookshelf and put away her grandfather’s ancient books first. Then she unpacked the box of her machines. “You’ll all be happy to get out of your box, won’t you?” she crooned. One by one she set the machines out onto the floor. The yellow race car scooted around, beeping its horn. The horse shaped one stomped around, and the gurney truck pulled its weight up and down.
One day, about a week after they moved in, Lillian made her way down the stairs for breakfast. She had lovely plans to spend the day working on setting up her work room. Those plans were dashed when she sat down to breakfast.
Daddy gave her a smile, and set a plate of waffles down in front of her. “It’s a beautiful day out,” he said, setting down his own plate. “A great day to head down to the park and meet some girls your age.”
“I was hoping you’d forget about that,” Lillian said. She took a bite of her waffles. “I wanted to start setting up my workroom. I haven’t been able to yet.”
“There will be lots of days to do that,” Daddy said. “Rainy days and cold snowy days, and those days it’s just overcast and you’re not sure if it will rain or not. You have to take advantage of sunny days, Lillian. Your grandpa’s books will still be there when you get home. I know, I’ve tried to get rid of them. It doesn’t work.”
“Oh, alright,” Lillian said with a sigh. She dug into her waffles, and thought grudging thoughts about other girls her age. She’d never liked other girls her age.
All to soon Lillian made her way down to the park, Jeffery in her arms. The park was full of other children, running around on the grass and climbing all over the equipment that looked a lot less shiny in the sunlight. They were loud and screaming, and not one of them were bothering to look where they were going. Lillian held Jeffery close to her, too afraid of him being stepped on to put him down anywhere.
Lillian looked around for somewhere a little quieter. She spied a sandbox under the shade of a tree, and headed that way.
The only two children there were a little boy playing in the sand with a plastic red shovel and pale, and a girl about Lillian’s age. She was reading a book, and looked up when Lillian approached. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Kasey.”
“Hello. I’m Lillian. My dad and I just moved here.”
“Cool,” Kasey said. She closed her book and inclined her head towards the boy in the sandbox. “That’s my little brother Charlie.”
“Hi!” Charlie said. He waived his shovel at her, and went back to patting sand into his pail.
“I like your robot,” Kasey said. “Can I see him?”
Lillian considered this request for a moment, then said, “Okay. His name is Jeffery.”
She set Jeffery down on the grass, and he started to walk around, making his beeping noise. Kasey picked him up, taking the utmost care. “Where do the batteries go?” she asked.
“He doesn’t run on batteries,” Lillian said. “I made him.”
“Oh, that’s really cool,” Kasey said, making Lillian feel much better. “How did you learn to make robots that don’t need batteries?”
“My grandpa taught me before he died,” Lillian said. “He taught my dad, too, but he doesn’t like it as much.”
Charlie took notice of Jeffery then. “Robot!” he cried. He hurried out of the sandbox, and reached for Jeffery.
“Charlie, no!” Kasey cried. She held Jeffery away from him, passing the robot back to Lillian. “You don’t grab stuff that isn’t yours.”
She turned to Lillian and said, “Sorry. My mom works here at the park, so I have to watch Charlie all day.” She pointed towards a woman selling ice cream out of a truck. The woman saw Kasey gesturing to her and waived. “We come here every day that she works.”
“So you must spend a lot of time here,” Lillian said. “That must be fun.”
“It is most of the time,” Kasey said.
“What are you reading?” Lillian asked.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” Kasey said. “I don’t like it all that much, but everyone seems to say how good it is.”
Lillian sat down on the grass next to her. “I didn’t like it either,” she said. “What books have you read that you do like?”
The girls chatted about books while Charlie went back to his pale and shovel. Lillian, who’d had experiences with little boys before, was pleasantly surprised to find that Charlie was neither loud or insistent on attention. He hummed to himself while making lopsided castles in the sand.
After a few moments, though, his humming stopped. “Kay,” he said, looking towards his sister.
Kasey looked up, and muttered, “Oh, not him. Don’t even look at him, Charlie, and maybe he won’t come over here.”
“Who’s him?” Lillian asked.
“Billy,” Kasey said. She nodded towards a little boy coming onto the playground. He was holding the hand of a woman who wasn’t looking at him. Instead she was looking at her phone. The boy looked to be about Charlie’s age, and he was straining away from the woman. She let him go and settled herself onto a bench, not bothering to see which direction he went.
“That’s not a very good babysitter,” Lillian said.
“That’s his mom,” Kasey replied.
Billy made his way to the sandbox. Charlie picked up his red pale, and gave Billy a concerned look.
“Bucket!” Billy cried, “Mine!”
“No!” Charlie cried.
“Quit it!” Kasey said. She hurried to pull Charlie and his pale away. Lillian looked towards Billy’s mom. She hadn’t noticed anything, and was still playing on her phone.
“My bucket!” Billy said again, and reached for the pale, grabbing hold of one side of it. “No, mine!” Charlie said. He kept ahold of his pale, and tried desperately to pull it out of the bully’s hands.
The pale, which was a cheap thing from the dollar store, snapped in half. Charlie fell back into Kasey’s arms, and Billy fell into the sand. Both boys were holding half of the broken pale. They started to wail.
“Charlie, please don’t,” Kasey said, desperately trying to console him. “Don’t cry, it was only a plastic pale.”
“But it was his plastic pale,” Lillian said. She carefully took the piece from Charlie, then snatched the piece away from Billy. “I’ll got tell his mom,” she said. She walked up to the woman on her cell phone. “Excuse me,” she said, “maybe you didn’t notice, but your son broke that little boy’s toy pale.”
The woman glanced at Lillian, but didn’t respond. She instead looked right back at her phone.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?” Lillian asked.
“Go find your mom,” the woman replied.
Lillian knew a lost cause when she saw one. She sighed, and threw the pieces of the pale away on her way back to Kasey and Charlie. “Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” Kasey replied. She’d distracted Charlie with a piece of chalk to draw on the sides of the sandbox with. “I’ve tried that before. That lady doesn’t pay attention to anything but her stupid phone.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Lillian said.
It was getting close to lunch time. Lillian got to her feet, and said, “I should go home now. It was nice to meet you, Kasey. I don’t usually like meeting new people.”
“It was nice to meet you, too,” Kasey said. “Will you be back at the park again?”
“I think I will,” Lillian said. She waved goodbye to her new friends, and started for home.
Along the way Lillian heard a sound from an overturned trash bin. She looked inside and saw a thin cat munching on the leftover fast food someone had thrown away. It was dirty, with matted fur and stains around its mouth. When it saw Lillian looking at it, it arched its back and hissed.
“Hey, there,” Lillian said, reaching a careful hand towards the cat. “No collar. You don’t look like anyone’s pet.”
A few days later Lillian hurried down the stairs for breakfast, holding her newest robot. It was a shiny blue race car. She held Jeffery in her other arm. Once she reached the
kitchen she set them down on the floor. Jeffery walked around, and the sports car drove along the floor, beeping its horn.
“Do you care if I go to the park?” Lillian asked Daddy.
“Of course not,” Daddy said with a smile. “Did you finish your new robot, then?”
“Yeah, I want to show it to Kasey and Charlie,” Lillian said. Daddy set a bowl of oatmeal in front of her, and she started to eat a little quicker than usual.
“I’m so glad you’ve started making friends,” Daddy said. “It’s important to not let your work consume you.”
“I know, Daddy,” Lillian said.
Soon she was on her way to the park, both Jeffery and her new blue car tucked in a bag along with a copy of The Wind in The Willows for Kasey to borrow.
Looking around, Lillian spotted Kasey and Charlie. They were playing on the swings. Kasey saw Lillian and waved to her. Lillian hurried over to join her.
“You haven’t been around for a couple days,” Kasey said.
“I get kind of caught up when I’m working on a new robot,” Lillian said. She pulled the blue car out of her bag, and set it in the gravel around the swings so it could drive around.
Charlie’s face lit up and cried, “Car!” He jumped down from his swing and ran after it.
“Be careful, Charlie,” Kasey said.
“It’s okay,” Lillian said. “I made it for him to chase. He can’t break it.”
“You don’t have a little brother, do you?” Kasey asked.
Still, Charlie was happy to chase the car, leaving Kasey and Lillian free to swing and talk about books. “Thank you for bringing this for me to read,” Kasey said, looking over the cover of The Wind and The Willows.
Lillian, who had never had anyone to share a book with before, said, “I’m glad you wanted to read it.”
There were shouts from across the park. It was Billy, pulling a little girl from a bouncing hippo so that he could clamber onto it himself.
“That really is a wretched little boy,” Lillian said. “His mom should keep a better eye on him.”
“She won’t, though,” Kasey said. “Mom was really mad about the pale. She didn’t have the extra money to replace it.”
“That’s not fair,” Lillian said. “Billy’s mom should replace it. He’s the one who broke it.”
As though talking about him had gotten his attention, Billy started towards them. Lillian reached down from her swing and scooped up Jeffery. But Billy wasn’t looking at Jeffery. He was looking at the sports car.
“Car!” Billy cried, and started to chase after it. Charlie kept his distance, but didn’t seem to mind Billy chasing the car with him.
“Are you okay with that?” Kasey asked.
“I’m okay if you are,” Lillian said. “At least he’s not terrorizing anyone.
“So long as he doesn’t mess with Charlie I don’t care,” Kasey said.
When Lillian had built her car, she’d done so with Charlie’s speed in mind. Billy was bigger, and he could run faster. Lillian also hadn’t planned on a little boy jumping onto the car with both feet. But that’s just what Billy did.
“No, you wretched little brat!” Lillian cried. She jumped from her swing and set Jeffery on the ground. He car lay in the gravel crushed into pieces. She raised up her hand to slap Billy, but stopped herself just in time. Even so, Billy sat down on the ground and started to bawl. “Mommy, Mommy!” he screamed.
“Good luck with that, kid,” Lillian muttered.
But suddenly there his mother was. Her phone was in her pocket for once.
“You again,” she said, glaring at Lillian. “What did you do to my son? You little brat, you broke his car!”
“That is my car,” Lillian said. “And your son broke it, not me.”
Billy’s mom grabbed Lillian by her upper arm. “You little liar. What girl your age plays with toy cars? You’re going to take me to your mom right now.”
“I can’t, she’s dead,” Lillian said. “Let go of me!”
“Well, that explains a lot,” the woman said. She let go of Lillian, and scooped up Billy along with the remains of the car. “Take me to your dad, then.”
“Kasey, keep hold of Jeffery for me until I can come back for him,” Lillian called.
The woman walked behind Lillian the whole way back home, carrying her wailing son. When they got there she hammered on the door. Daddy answered, looking very puzzled.
“Can I help you?” he asked, glancing from the woman to Lillian.
“Yeah, um, your kid smashed up my son’s toy car,” the woman said. “Toys aren’t cheap, you know. I don’t have the money to be replacing stuff that other kids break.”
Daddy looked at the wrecked bits of car. Then his eyes went to Lillian’s arm, which was still red from where the woman had grabbed her.
“Oh, Honey,” Daddy said. “What were you thinking? You’re a big girl, you should know better.”
“Daddy!” Lillian cried, “that is my car. I made it.”
“Now don’t tell lies, Lillian,” Daddy said. “You know I hate liars. Miss, I am so sorry. Please, won’t you come in? I’ll make us some coffee, and we can discuss the cost of the car. It looks very expensive.”
“Thanks,” the woman said.
As Daddy closed the door he said, “Lillian, did anyone see you leave the park?”
It was nearly a week later when Lillian once again set off for the park after breakfast. It was an overcast day, but she thought she could catch an hour or two before it started to rain.
Other children had apparently not thought they would be so lucky. The only two in the park were Kasey and Charlie. Charlie was playing in the sandbox with his red shovel and a mixer bowl. Kasey was on the nearby cement, playing with a set of jacks. Jeffery was walking around at her side. Their mom was on the path near them, looking around for customers.
“Hello,” Lillian said.
“Hi,” Kasey said. Charlie waved, then went back to the sand. “You’re the little girl Kasey was telling me about,” her mom said. “She told me how you stood up for Charlie, and that terrible woman went to your house. I hope you didn’t get in any trouble.”
“No, Daddy knew I wouldn’t smash some other kid’s toy,” Lillian said.
“Well, I’m glad,” Kasey’s mom said. She gave Lillian a quick pat on the shoulder, and moved on along the path.
Lillian sat down next to Kasey, and scooped up Jeffery. “Thank you for keeping him safe for me,” she said.
“No problem,” Kasey said. “Mom was a little freaked out by him, though. He doesn’t ever really stop walking around, does he?”
“No,” Lillian said. “I’m sorry he upset your mom. She seems really nice. I hope she doesn’t mind that I made a robot for Charlie.”
Charlie heard his name and looked over at the girls. His eyes came to rest on the shiny red fire engine that Lillian had just taken out of a bag. “Fire truck!” he cried. He ran over to the truck, and knelt down to push it across the grass. The light on top of the truck started to flash, and the little ladder moved up and down. “I made this one a little different than the others,” Lillian said with a smile. “It’s a new power source. Can you let me know if there are any problems?”
“Sure,” Kasey said.
Still holding Jeffery, Lillian pulled her new cell phone out of her pocket. “Check out what my dad made me,” she said, holding it out for Kasey to inspect. “He said that now that I’m out of the house more often, he wants to make sure he can get a hold of me. So, how have you been the last week?”
“Really good,” Kasey said. “Billy and his mom haven’t been here at all since the last day I saw you.”
“Well, I think Dad made her feel pretty bad about how she’d been acting,” Lillian said.
They watched Charlie play with his fire engine in the sun. Lillian smiled, enjoying the feeling of the sun. Daddy was right, she decided. She should take advantage of the sunny days.
If you liked this story, please check out Days, available on the I Store, Gumroad and Tablo