Danny woke up the next morning, and Mary Ellen was already sitting on the couch. She had made a bowl of cereal and was watching her cartoons. Danny walked over to the couch, sat down and turned off the TV. Mary Ellen let out a sigh that let him know she was not pleased.
“Honey, we need to talk about last night.” She kept staring at her bowl of cereal.
“What you did was not OK. Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know, it just seemed like fun.”
“Fun? You think setting fire to your room and almost destroying our home sounded like fun?” he could feel the impatience rising in his throat and fought to maintain his patience. Mary Ellen just shrugged her shoulders. “You could have seriously hurt yourself, or you could have been killed.”
“At least I would have been with Mommy.” Danny couldn’t find anything to say to that. He took her bowl of cereal and placed it on the end table, and hugged her tightly.
“I don’t want anything to happen to you. I know you miss your mom, but we need to stick together through this. I need you. I don’t think I could take losing my wife AND my beautiful daughter in the same week. You scared me senseless.” The look on her face told Danny that maybe, finally it was sinking in that what she did was wrong, but she still didn’t say anything. “And what about that bad word you said? Where did you hear that?”
“I don’t know.” she said with immediate thoughtlessness, fearing her father’s retribution.
“It’s OK, I’m not mad and you won’t be in trouble, I just want to know where you heard it from.” She still wasn’t forthcoming with the information. He leaned in close, “Honey, please, don’t make me be mean. I am not going to get mad at you, and you won’t get in trouble, but tell me where you heard that word.”
“I heard it on a movie on the TV.”
“Are you sure you didn’t hear it from anyone at school? None of the other kids in your class use that word?”
“No, Daddy. I promise.” Danny could always tell when she was lying, and he felt she was being sincere, so he dropped it. He leaned in and hugged her one more time. “I promise honey, no matter what happens, you’ll always be my perfect little angel, alright? I’ll never let anything bad happen to you as long as I’m alive. I love you more than life itself.”
“I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”
“Now, what do you want to do today? You don’t have to go to school, but we need to make plans.”
“I want to sit here all day and watch cartoons!”
“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea,” Danny said, and snuggled up close to her on the couch.
After they had spent the better part of the morning involved in Spongebob and the Fairly Oddparents, he began making lunch and looking through the phonebook for someone to come repair the carpet. He finally reached someone who could make it out the same day, even though it would cost him an arm and a leg. He set up the appointment, and went back to her room to get a better look at the damage. The room reeked of burnt fibers, and he knew the smell wouldn’t come out for weeks, no matter how much he scrubbed. He just stood, staring at the spot in the carpet, charred and frayed, and tried to imagine the pain Mary Ellen was feeling to cause her to want to do something like this. His introspection turned up nothing of value, and he felt more lost than anything in his thoughts. He decided to go back downstairs and wait for the repairman. Mrs. Brady was sitting at the kitchen table. Danny was stunned to see an easter basket sitting on the table, as well. Danny and Sarah had never participated in the non-religious aspects of the holiday, feeling like it undermined the Christian message they were trying to convey to their daughter, and thus had never bought Mary Ellen an Easter basket.
“Hello, Mrs. Brady,” Danny said, trying to hide his surprise.
“Hello, dear. How are you feeling this morning?”
“I…I’m fine. How did you…”
“Mary Ellen let me in.” He had not heard her come in, nor Mary Ellen’s announcement of the fact that Mrs. Brady had brought her an Easter basket.
“No, I mean, how did you get over here?”
“Well, these old bones aren’t as brittle as you like to imagine. Some days I just get a burst of energy. Usually ends up costing me more in the long run, but I’m not much longer for this earth anyway, so might as well take advantage of what I’ve got left, don’t you think?”
Danny was surprised at her blunt honesty, but he agreed.
“I guess so.” He said and laughed. “You really shouldn’t have bought her an Easter baske…”
Mrs. Brady cut him off sharply. “You stop right there. I know what you’re going to say, and most of the time I respect your wishes as a father, and won’t try to undermine you. That little angel has been through a hell of a lot, and she needs something to make her feel better. I won’t take it back, and if you try to make me, then I’m afraid our friendship will be voided.” Danny had never heard her swear before, and he sensed a slight tinge of playfulness, but he could tell she was all business.
“Well, I guess if you insist.”
“I do. Now, how is her room?”
“Oh, it’s fine. I don’t know what came over her besides grief, but we talked about it this morning. She seems to be having a hard time accepting the reality of it all, and that was just her way of acting out. It’s all under control now, though. We appreciate your concern.”
“Let me know how much the repair is, and I’ll see that it’s taken care of.” Danny once again, felt a wave of indignance come over him “Mrs. Brady, I…” he didn’t even get to finish his sentence.
“No questions, Daniel. You’ve got enough to deal with, the funeral and all, and it’s not like I’m going to tour the European countryside anytime soon, so if my money can be used to help my neighbor, then that’s the good, Christian thing to do. Not another word.”
Danny sighed, because he didn’t want to accept her money, but he knew she was right. His salary as a pastor was enough to get them through, with enough to keep a little nest egg, but this was most likely going to stretch him very thin.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I wasn’t.”
“Alright, then, I suppose. The repairman should be here any time.”
Danny made lunch, and just about the time they were cleaning up from eating, the repairman showed up. He was a large man in a dirty shirt that bore the company’s logo, and blue jeans that had been through the wash probably twice in the life of them which, by the looks of things had been a very long time. his bushy mustache wriggled up and down on his upper lip as he spoke until Danny was having a hard time stifling his laughter.
“Whereda problumat?” Although Danny had lived in Alabama his entire life, he had a problem understanding the man through his thick accent.
“I’m sorry?” Danny said as genuinely as possible.
“I say where da problumat? The problum ya hard us fer.”
“OH! The problem, yes. Right this way.” Danny walked the carpenter to Mary Ellen’s room walking past the kitchen and making a face at Mrs. Brady indicating his immediate need to let loose a fir of laughter. She pruned her face in disapproval. Danny showed him the room, and the man offered his keen observation.
“Look like sumthin dun burnt up in hea.”
“Yeah, that’s why we called you.”
“Mine if I ask what happin?” Danny knew he meant well, but also knew it was best that he didn’t let the truth out for the sake of his daughter.
“Candle.” he said, not sure if the carpenter believed him. The burly man in the dirty jeans stared at him, as if deep in thought. Danny looked in his eyes, though, and could tell the wheels weren’t turning; in fact, the wheels had long since gone flat.
“Hm, aight den.” he said.
“How long a job do you think this will be? We have some important business to attend to, and I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”
Once again, the man’s glazed over eyes rose to the surface, and he blurted out “Coupla hours, I reckon.” Danny sighed, because he didn’t really have a “coupla hours”, but he knew he didn’t have a choice right now.
“Alright then, let me know when you’re done.”
Danny went back to the kitchen and sat down at the table. Mary Ellen was picking through the basket, eating the jelly beans and Peeps, saving the chocolate Easter bunny for later; perhaps, a special occasion.
“Well, I guess we’re going to go shopping for clothes for… tomorrow.” Danny’s voice dropped, but he maintained his composure as best he could. “Are you sure you really want to do this?”
“As sure as I’ll ever be. Now go pick that little girl out a pretty dress so her mommy will be proud of her and how beautiful she is.” Mrs. Brady said with a smile. Danny was still hesitant, but he knew it was best not to argue with her any longer. He let out a slightly defeated sigh. “Alright, well, the repairman is upstairs working, he should be done in an hour or two. I have my phone, so call me if you need anything. We’ll try to be back as soon as we can.”
“Danny, son, take your time. I’m in no hurry.”
“Alright, well, like I said, call me if you need anything.”
“I will. Now go, before I change my mind.” and with that, Danny and Mary Ellen left to go shopping for the dress for her mother’s funeral.