“I’ve only got two dollars in credits.” He was lying on his back on her couch, phone held up over his head so he could read it without moving. “You can’t buy much with that.”
“So wait and spend it later when you have more.” She didn’t turn to look at him. She didn’t have to. He was always in the same position when he was hanging out with her.
“Sure. Hey, did you see that pic of Becky’s cat?”
Now, she turned around. It was a routine. He’d show her cute animal pictures, and they would smile at each other, and she’d go back to the painting. Besides, the cat was fluffy and always made her happy. As did his smile.
He scrolled rapidly, then stopped. “Wait, wait.” He flicked at the screen to make it go back up a bit. “Hah. You know how the phone spies on you?”
He turned the screen toward her, showing her the ad from Amazon.
She felt her eyebrows go up.
He grinned. “Your face forgot to use it’s inside voice. Wild, huh?”
“I mean, Pandora’s Box? Really? For a buck ninety-nine. It’s a scam.”
“Why the heck not.” He tapped the screen. “I’ve got credits. It’s free. Ooh, free shipping to registered customers, too. Ok if I have it delivered to your place? My mom’d have kittens if she knew I bought stuff online.”
“Your mom is not wrong.” She picked up her brush.
“I’m old enough!” He protested, and she could tell from the sound that he’d sat up. “I’m sixteen. I have a debit card.”
“Dude. It’s her account. Won’t she notice?” Penny daubed a little violet on the shadow, and tilted her head in thought.
“Hah,” Darke snorted. “Not likely with the amount of crap she buys. Done.”
He lay back on the couch. “It’ll be here in a couple of days.”
It was not. Penny hadn’t noticed, having mostly forgotten about the exchange with her best friend during the last week of school. Exams, the mini art show her painting starred in, and then the last day dragging on with summer beckoning alluringly at the end of it. Darke walked up to her in the hall. They had been waving in passing, and talking in the halls was usually frowned on… but it was the last day. Conversations were going on all around them.
“Hey.” She stuffed more books in her already bulging backpack. It never failed, what she had in her locker at the end of the year seemed to have multiplied in the dark. She looked at him. “Going to empty your locker?”
He shrugged the shoulder his mostly-empty bag was hanging on. “Already did.”
“Oh, good. I’m gonna put stuff in that.” She reached out, and he handed the backpack to her without hesitation.
“Where are your books?” She unzipped it and looked in to see a handful of pens and a notebook.
“Took ’em home yesterday.” He reached out and grabbed her backpack. “Lord, woman, you put your whole closet in here?”
“Just the essentials.” She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Do me a favor?” He asked, then laughed. “Your face is loud again.”
“I mean, favors for you have a way of getting me in trouble.” Penny frowned harder.
“That package is coming in today.” She must have looked blank, because he went on. “Remember? I ordered Pandora’s Box?”
“Oh. That. Whatever. I’ll text you when it shows.” She zipped up his backpack. “You’ll have to come drop my stuff off anyway, gives you a good excuse.”
“Sure does.” He took his backpack and put it over his other shoulder, so he was carrying both bags. “Are you going to camp again this summer?”
His tone was casual, and he was turning to walk beside her toward the main doors, and the bus waiting outside.
“Yeah, but not for a couple of weeks. We couldn’t get the Artist-in-Residence at the usual time. I’m going to be a counselor this year, not just a camper.”
“Hey, that’s great.” He didn’t sound as enthusiastic as his words, though.
“We should hang, before.” Penny slid between two groups of chattering teens, headed for their bus. “I mean, if you want to. You’re probably busy, too.”
“Nah. I mean, I’ll be working, but that’s not all the time. Wanna catch a movie at the drive-in?”
“Sounds chill.” Penny headed for the back of the bus. She’d be one of the last off. He followed her, even though his stop was much earlier than hers.
They sat together in companionable silence, having settled that they weren’t going to be separated until the next school year. He left her bag when he got off at his stop. When she got to her house, the package was on the porch. She stepped over it, dumped her bag on her bed, shouted for her mother to let her know she was home, and went back out for it. The package was a small square, not more than her handspan on any side of it. Penny stooped and picked it up, noting that it was heavier than it looked. She brought it inside as her mother came in the back door.
“What’s that?” Her mother had a double handful of carrots, dirt still clinging to them. “I’m going to roast these for dinner. Can you please wash them while I go get tomatoes in?”
“Darke asked me to receive this for him.” Penny put it on the kitchen island. “He’ll be over soon, he’s got a bunch of my stuff from the locker.”
“Oh. I’ll get more carrots, then. We have plenty of roast.” Her mother looked vaguely in the direction of the oven, where something smelled good.
“I don’t know if he’ll stay…” Penny turned on the faucet.
“That boy can eat.” Her mother laughed. “I’ll call his mom and arrange it. Your father will be home late, testing at the lab wasn’t going badly.”
Penny knew what that meant. Had it failed, he’d have been home early. It was funny, how success took more time than blowing stuff up. She was scrubbing carrots when the doorbell rang, and thinking about what her father had told her about controlling explosions to make a successful firing…
“Come in!” She bellowed, not wanting to drip muddy water over the floor, or take the time to rinse and dry her hands.
“Ow. Blow a guy’s eardrums out why don’t you.” Darke grumbled from behind her.
“Well, if you hadn’t walked right in…!” Penny jerked her shoulder. “Package is right there.”
“Hey!” He picked it up. “It’s pretty small, huh? I wonder what’s actually in here.”
“For a whole two bucks, that’s heavier than I expected. I thought it would be a sticker or something.” Penny scrubbed the last carrot and then cleaned her hands.
“I have low expectations,” He cut open the top flaps. “So I won’t be disappointed.”
“Point.” She leaned back against the counter and watched him open the box.
“It’s a box.” He tilted it and showed her. “Wood, and everything. I’m impressed.”
“So am I.” Penny admitted. “That’s kind of nice.”
He pulled it out. “Got a little latch on it. Cute.”
He put it down on the counter and dutifully took the cardboard box to the trash can. Penny stared at the wooden box. It was carved on all the sides she could see, but she couldn’t really make out the design.
“Darke…” She bit her lip. “I wonder…”
“Whether the price was a mistake? Me too.” He picked it up and turned it over in his hand.
“Not that. Maybe you shouldn’t open it.” Penny moved closer, trying to make out what the decorations were.
“Really? Penny, it’s a gag gift. Here.” He shoved it into her hands.
The wood was warm under her fingertips, where he’d been holding it. She held it up. “Can you see what’s carved on it?”
“Looks random to me. Open it.”
They stood face to face, with her holding the box up between them, eye level to her, him looking down at it. Penny looked up at his dark eyes, the eyebrows arched as he smirked at her.
“Whatever.” She snapped, suddenly angry at herself, and him. She flipped up the latch and raised the lid of the box.
A sound like angry wasps filled the kitchen. Penny flinched, and dropped the box, which fell to the floor with a clatter. She and Darke both jumped back from it. The noise died away. Penny swallowed a lump in her throat and laughed uncertainly.
“That scared me.”
Darke looked sheepish. “Me, too. Noisemaker, I’ll bet.” He stooped and picked it up. “Pen, I’m sorry I…”
He opened the box, and the noise started up again. Penny flinched. “Hey, it’s just a noisemak…” He looked into the box. “What? There’s nothing in here.”
The noise reverberated, growing louder and louder. With a crash, a glass jar fell off a shelf. Everything was moving, vibrating, the whole house was shaking. The air started to look like water, rippling.
Penny screamed. She reached out for the utensil holder, which was ‘walking’ in a shimmy across the counter, and grabbed a spatula.
“Scrape the bottom!” She shouted over the din, thrusting it at him. “Scrape the bottom!”
Darke, his eyes huge, grabbed it from her, put the box down against the top of the island and leaned all his weight onto it. She could see the muscles in his arm as he fought it, to keep it still, while trying to put the spatula inside it. More things were falling, out of cupboards, off the walls, her mother was pounding on the door and shouting something Penny couldn’t make out.
Darke stabbed the spatula into the box, and shoved it from one side to another as hard as he could.
Silence fell, abruptly. Penny fell, too. She wasn’t sure why, just that she’d been holding herself so hard against the sound that when it went away, it was like a wall she’d been leaning on vanished. She sprawled on the floor.
Her mother burst into the house, gasping. Penny looked up at Darke and asked, in a small voice.
“Did hope get out?”
‘Nother Mike prompted me with “The Facebook ad caught your attention. Today only, Amazon was offering Pandora’s Box for just $1.99, delivery free to all registered customers?”
I prompted ‘Nother Mike in return with “It wasn’t that they were trying to be confusing, it was simply that they hadn’t bothered to communicate before they reached out”
You can read the responses, find new prompts, and join in on the challenge at More Odds Than Ends. See you there!