idol survivor | challenge 3 | 1874 words
Smash and Grab
Bitsy Jenkins was a pie-stealing sort of girl, for all that she was only eight years old. She was a bold little thing, the youngest of six, and she'd already learned that she had to fight for her share of everything.
Bitsy was never particularly bothered if the things she wanted weren't hers to take. She figured the world was always trying to pull a fast one on a person, so she might as well beat it at its own game.
Pies, for instance, were always cooling on windowsills and calling out their deliciousness to the whole world. They practically dared her to take them. How could she be expected to just walk on by and ignore all that?
Instead, when one of those pies started tickling her nose with its fine smell, she'd sidle on up through the bushes and grab that pie before anyone chanced to see her. Then she'd sneak off to the woodshed or go down to the creek and enjoy that warm, flaky goodness in private.
This went on until the day her mama happened into the woodshed and found Bitsy sitting there, covered in blackberry juice and looking as suspicious as anything.
"What on earth is the matter with you?" her mama said. "Now I have to drop everything and make someone a pie! And you'll be spending the afternoon picking the berries for it!"
"Yes'm," Bitsy said.
But the truth was, Bitsy wasn't especially sorry about the arrangement—not even when her mama marched her by the ear over to Mrs. Bucknell's house with that new pie later that evening, and made Bitsy apologize. Mrs. Bucknell was a far better baker than her mama, so Bitsy felt she'd still come out ahead, although she was disappointed at being caught after stealing what was only her second pie.
School was much the same. Bitsy had tried holding back at first, and being polite like her mama told her. But all it got her was a handful of dull pencils and broken crayons, or the third-best rubber ball at recess. Anyone who liked those odds was welcome to them, but she was not about to live her life like that. No, sir!
The girls didn't like her for it, but she didn't much like them either, so that was all right. The boys mostly didn't care.
The teachers did care, and they soon switched over to a system of taking turns. It was downright bothersome.
When there were cupcakes or some other kind of treat at school, Bitsy just crowded forward and grabbed the one she wanted.
"Elizabeth Jenkins, wait your turn!" the teacher would say. "I believe Linda was just about to take that very one!"
Linda would wrinkle her nose and frown. "I don't want it now, not after she touched it," which was exactly the result Bitsy was hoping for.
But it didn't always go the way Bitsy wanted. Sometimes, the teacher just took the cookie or cupcake right out of Bitsy's hands and threw it in the trash, and Bitsy didn't get a treat at all. Pure orneriness, Bitsy would grumble to herself, sitting in the corner and listening to the other kids eat up all that deliciousness by themselves.
Truth be told, Bitsy didn't get away with anywhere near the number of things her older brothers did. It was a mystery how her mama could just burst into Bitsy's bedroom and know Bitsy was eating those brownies she'd swiped from the kitchen, or that Bitsy had gone down to the creek even though she wasn't allowed to.
Her mama would set her to sweeping up the crumbs or the mud afterward, and Bitsy's brothers would just shake their heads and laugh.
"What's so funny?" Bitsy would ask.
"Nothing," Hank or Petey would say, but Bitsy never believed them.
Now that the neighbors knew about Bitsy's pie-stealing escapades, there weren't many of those sorts of opportunities left. Bitsy might be able to sneak through the shadows and take an apple from the back of Mr. Norbert's tree, or climb up on the Millers' fence to watch the horses in the meadow down below, but that was about it.
Still, she was a different sort of child than most. While she was prone to shortcuts when she was in a hurry, Bitsy liked to meander along her journeys when she could. She liked to see what was happening out in the world, what was growing or changing, coming or going.
She was passing by Mrs. Whitsel's yard one afternoon when she heard a noise from behind the gardening shed. Bitsy rushed over to see what it was, holding her breath as she peered around the corner.
Squeaking sounds came up through the tall grassy weeds there, piling one on top of the other. Bitsy reached out and pulled the grass aside, leaning in closer. She saw three little bundles of fur, their tiny pink mouths opening and closing as they cried out blindly.
"Kittens!" she said.
She knelt down in the grass and made a bigger opening. A striped gray cat lay up against the side of the shed, panting and watching Bitsy with wary eyes.
"Now, who's gone and trampled my tulips?" a voice behind Bitsy said.
It was old Mrs. Whitsel. She came around the corner and stopped. "Child, what are you doing back here?"
"Sorry, Mrs.," Bitsy said, "but this here cat's having her babies! I heard them as I was walking home."
"Oh, my," Mrs. Whitsel said more softly. "You haven't touched any of them, have you?"
"No'm," Bitsy said.
Mrs. Whitsel stepped forward and bent down for a look. "I've seen this little girl back here a few times, isn't she pretty? No idea who she belongs to, if anyone. We shouldn't frighten her, though. Let's give her some privacy."
"Yes'm," Bitsy said sadly. She moved the tall leaves of grass back together, and eased herself away from the kittens before getting up.
"I have some lemonade in the kitchen," Mrs. Whitsel said. "I think that'd be just the thing, while we talk about how you're going to make it up to me for destroying those tulips."
Mrs. Whitsel's kitchen was big and gleaming, and Bitsy was surprised to see a box on the counter sitting under a lamp.
"Those are bluebird chicks. I don't know what happened to their parents, but they stopped coming back to the nest, so I brought the chicks inside. I'll feed them and keep them warm for a few weeks until they're able to be out on their own."
"Oh," Bitsy said. "Can I look?"
"Yes, but no touching. Now, let me just see about a box and some rags for that Mama cat to keep her kittens in..."
Bitsy and Mrs. Whitsel worked out an arrangement for Bitsy to come help out in the garden after school on Tuesdays for the next few weeks. But Bitsy decided she couldn't wait that long to see how the kittens were doing, so she stopped by the very next day.
This time, she was careful to get behind the shed by walking around the flowers instead of through them.
"Hello there," she said softly. The cat was nursing her kittens, who still had their eyes shut. "Can I call you Stormy? I think that should be your name..."
Bitsy kneeled in the grass and talked to the cat for a few more minutes, then got up quietly and went home. She came by the next day, and the next. The cat no longer seemed surprised to see her, and even let Bitsy pet her head with soft, soft fingers a couple of times.
"You're the prettiest kitty I've ever seen," Bitsy told her.
When Tuesday came, Bitsy found Mrs. Whitsel waiting in the back yard for her with a glass of lemonade and a hoe.
"We're going to get the weeds out of this big patch of dirt here, so I can plant vegetables. Would you like to see how the baby birds are doing?"
Bitsy was pleased to see that the chicks looked bigger and fluffier. "They've almost got feathers, so I won't have them for much longer," Mrs. Whitsel said.
Bitsy went to visit Stormy and her kittens behind the shed for a few minutes, and then she and Mrs. Whitsel got to work. An hour later, the patch of dirt was free of weeds and Mrs. Whitsel was raking it smooth.
"I'll plant the seeds tomorrow," she said. "I know you're not due back for another week, but would you like to stop by and see how it's done?"
On Wednesday, Bitsy learned about marking off planting rows and following the instructions on seed packets to figure out how deep and how far apart to put the seeds. She visited Stormy three more times over the next week, and sat and talked to her and made sure she had fresh food and water.
The next Tuesday, Mrs. Whitsel showed her how to cut back dying flowers and dig up bulbs.
Stormy let Bitsy pet her now when she visited, and let her pet all her little kittens too. Their eyes were open now, all of them blue.
"They'll be blue like that for awhile yet," Mrs. Whitsel said. "They won't find their true color until they're older."
The fourth Tuesday Bitsy came by, she and Mrs. Whitsel thinned the shoots in the garden and then sat in the shade behind the shed for a bit and watched the kittens play.
"I believe you've settled your debt now," Mrs. Whitsel said after a bit. "I've truly enjoyed having you here to help me, but I can't pretend those tulips were worth more than the time you've already spent."
Bitsy was quite for a moment. "Can't I come anyway?" she asked. "I like it here. It's so pretty, and I've learned so much."
Mrs. Whitsel patted her arm. "You've certainly been good company, both for me and the kittens. If your mama says it's all right, I'd be pleased to have you as often as you like."
Bitsy's mama was as surprised as anything when Bitsy asked for her permission, but she reckoned it had done Bitsy no end of good spending time there. Whether it was the quiet or the garden or Mrs. Whitsel herself, she couldn't say, but she told Bitsy, "You certainly may."
That afternoon after supper, Bitsy went over to Mrs. Whitsel's house and knocked on the door.
"Mama says yes, I can come!" Bitsy said. "And this is for you." She handed Mrs. Whitsel a bright pink rose from her mama's own garden, wrapped in tin foil to cover the thorns.
"Why, this is beautiful!" Mrs. Whitsel said. "You'll have to thank her for me."
"I will," Bitsy said, "but she wanted to make sure you got this. What you did for me was a gift, she said, and no one else ever thought to."
"It's the same gift one of my neighbors gave to me when I was a restless little girl about your age," Mrs. Whitsel said.
"It meant the world to me, then. Please let her know how happy I am that I can finally pass it along."
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