Jennie tried the handle. It was locked. She shuffled back from the door, walked around to the side of the house, and reached for a flowerpot overflowing with petunias by the iron gate. She tucked her slender hands into the moist peat and pulled the pot from its nest.
There was no key.
She stared at the empty surface, feeling her heart speed faster in the late afternoon sun. Insects floated in the light breeze as she returned the pot, and, shouldering her book bag, walked slowly back to the unpainted road.
Jennie was small for her age, often mistaken for a grade school student when she was in reality entering the 8th grade. She stepped carefully around ruts in the sidewalk, walking slow to conserve her energy. The sun was beating down on her bare head. Unsure what else to do, she stepped off the sidewalk (it was crumbling anyway toward the dead end) and onto the worn foot trail down the hill.
The air was cooler by the creek, in the shade of the old willows. Jennie dropped her backpack in the dirt by a fragrant honeysuckle bush and sat down by the rippling water, shade creeping over from the far bank. She hugged her knees to her chest against the chill and watched the waterbugs dance around miniature waves.
Things hadn’t always been this way. Mother would have been home this time last year. He wouldn’t have been allowed to take the key. Mother hadn’t trusted him at first, but now, it seemed she listened to him more than her own daughter.
Jennie picked up a stone and sent it skipping off the shallows. Her pastime.
It would be long past dark before the sound of a car door jolted her awake, once she had finally found sleep on the cold, damp wood of the back porch.