When I was a kid my parents would sometimes have dinner parties. When I was very young, when we lived in a single-floor house the kitchen and dining room were right down the hall from my room. I would lie in my room with the light off listening to the grownups talk, and sometimes one of my parents’ friends would quietly come into my room. He’d sit by my bed and tell me the story of Goldilocks And The Three Bears. By the third time I was tempted to ask if he knew any other stories, but I was too polite for that. And in retrospect he taught me a valuable lesson: no story is ever told the same way twice.
The sun warmed her hair and cold water surged around her waders. Goldilocks cast and immediately felt a tug. She’d matched the hatch perfectly, her favorite wet caddis fly working perfectly. This one could be at least thirty inches, she thought, playing the trout at the end of the line. She gently tugged it toward her. Her heart beating in her ears mingled with the buzz of gnats all around her. The whole world was radiant. Within herself she felt the tug of conflicting emotions. She couldn’t wait to get back to camp but she also wanted this moment to last forever. She was so engrossed she didn’t notice the three bears approaching the river.
“And that takes us back to the main foyer,” said Goldilocks, leading them out of the dining room. “Well, what do you think?”
Mama Bear looked sideways at Papa Bear. He looked uneasy.
“Well…” he said.
“What?” Goldilocks forced herself to count to ten. She’d shown these people three houses in the last two weeks and there had been something wrong with every one. At one they’d even refused to get out of the car. “This house has everything you’re looking for, doesn’t it? It’s a single level, in the right kind of neighborhood, near a park. It’s even got a guest bedroom. And it’s well within your price range. In fact,” she looked at her tablet and took a breath as discreetly as she could, “I think we could even negotiate a little bit lower. What could be the problem?”
Papa Bear shifted. “It’s the boy. He’s, you know, had problems. We really want to get him into the right school and I’m pretty sure this house is outside that district.”
Goldilocks looked back at her tablet. “I see. Well, I have a friend at the board of education and I think we could get him a waiver. It would mean you’d have to drive him but that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”
Please say yes, she said to herself. If I don’t sell you people a house by the end of the day I’m going to jump out the window and run screaming down the street.
Mrs. Bear rolled over in bed.
“Paul,” she hissed, shaking her husband’s shoulder. “Wake up. I think there’s someone in the house.”
He grunted. “Good. Maybe they’ll steal that urn with your mother’s ashes.”
She hissed again. “I’m serious! I think they’re downstairs!”
Mr. Bear responded by pulling the blanket up over his head.
She slipped out of bed and picked up a heavy floor lamp. She opened the door quietly and moved forward, then stepped back to unplug the lamp. She wrapped the cord around the base and crept back out into the hall. She put a hand on the bannister. Her ears pricked. There was the noise again. It wasn’t coming from downstairs. It was coming from her left, in Ben’s room. She opened the door and snapped on the light.
Ben was straddling the window. He looked so shocked she was afraid for a moment he was going to fall out but recovered quickly.
“Downstairs, mister. Now.”
She added a little milk to her tea to cool it then pushed the jug over to him.
“You were out with her again, weren’t you? What were you two up to? Breaking into another house?”
He wouldn’t look at her.
“Next time I just might tell the cops to lock you up. How would you like that?”
He still kept his head down.
She sighed. “What is it with you? What happened to Pamela? Pamela was nice.”
“She broke up with me, remember?” he said quietly.
Good job, go ahead and rub salt in that old wound said a voice in her head that sounded like Paul’s.
“Sorry.” She took a sip of tea. “And Angela? I liked Angela.” She hoped this wasn’t a mark against Angela. Ben hadn’t been a rebellious boy until recently. He stayed silent.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t know what it is but I don’t like you seeing that Goldilocks. She’s got a criminal record and she’s nothing but trouble. She’s not good for you.”
“I think she’s just right,” he muttered into his milk.