“Yeah, you can,” Trey said, but he sounded unconvinced. He finished packing the dirt around a sad-looking tomato plant and said, “I’ll text you from Colin’s when I get there. I’m taking my bike.”
“I could drive you.”
“And ruin the show for Mr. Eckhardt?”
“You could drive you, if you had a license,” I said, trying desperately to keep my tone light. “I’d let you use my car, honey. Anytime.”
Trey ran his hand over his face, smearing the dirt farther, up to his hairline. He sighed deeply, a sound that was so like his father’s that I felt Jesse’s presence. “This is what I’m talking about, Mom. You stay so focused on the surface things, the meaningless things. The wrong things.”
That insight, even if it was faulty, found its mark. I bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m searching for . . . stuff. Myself, I guess. I thought about what we said last night, and figured maybe I was being unfair. Maybe you do have a right to explore things. I thought you tearing up our backyard meant that was what you were doing, but I think you just want to piss off Mr. Eckhardt.”
I studied my nails, broken, dirty. A year ago I would have run to the manicurist at the first sign of a chip, but now? “That’s not true.”
“Sure about that?”
Was I still thinking in superficialities? I had started digging in the adrenaline rush of anger, fueled further by booze. I kept on digging because . . . I’d have to think about that one.
“These plants will probably die,” Trey said. “What are you going to do then?”
“I won’t let them die.”
“You can’t control everything,” Trey said as he kissed my cheek goodbye. “Why is that so hard for you to accept?”
I wanted to lash out, to tell him he was the one having control issues, but thanks to some newfound wisdom I’d mysteriously acquired, I stayed silent and let him think he had the last word.
After Trey left, I decided to plant the two blackberry bushes I’d bought. He was right in a way—I couldn’t control the weather, pests, or the bunnies and squirrels that frequently thought they owned our backyard, but that didn’t mean I shouldn’t try. The man at the nursery said the berry plants had a 50/50 shot of taking root, but I bought them anyway, even though I would have much preferred blueberries. Like the other plants I’d purchased, the humble blackberry was second best. It wouldn’t even start producing for a year, at the least, but I didn’t care. It was the thought of them that gave me the energy to start digging up a spot.
The only place it made sense to plant them was at the corner of our property, up against the fence we shared with Mr. Eckhardt. I liked the thought of plump, juicy berries falling on his side of the fence, staining dots of deep purplish blue on the painted wood.
The backyard was perfectly quiet, the afternoon shifting into evening gear. Mr. Eckhardt’s house was still and dark—he obviously hadn’t called the police. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t ever call them—but for some reason, tonight he’d decided to back off. And anyway, Officer Leprechaun would probably write me a warning, at worst. At best, he’d probably help me plant the young blackberry bushes.
I got a shovel from the garage—berry bushes needed a much deeper hole than our delicate tomato plants. The sun began to dip. I couldn’t remember what Google had told me—was I supposed to plant things in the evening? It didn’t matter—I had to get them in the ground. And regardless of what Trey or Mr. Eckhardt thought, I had a feeling those bundles of roots were hearty and waiting for the opportunity to burrow in.
I put myself fully into the task, using my foot to wedge the shovel deeper in the soil, getting perilously close to Mr. Eckhardt’s property line. I glanced again at his house, but it was still dark. I needed to dig out a section just under the fence between us. Technically, it was right on the dividing line, but getting to it required standing on his side to make it even.
Casually, I walked around the fence, moving as swiftly as I could, my hand drifting over the fence posts. When I reached the corner, I was reasonably sure the angle would make it difficult for Mr. Eckhardt to see what I was doing. Then again, he probably had supersonic bat ears and could hear even the subtlest shift of the dirt.
I slowly worked the shovel into the soil, brought up a wedge, and gingerly dropped it onto my side of the fence. It still hit the ground with a thunk, and I impulsively shushed it.
I repeated the process a few times, getting the shovel in pretty deep. When it was ready, I decided to dig out just a little bit more, figuring if it was too deep I could fill it in a little, but if I’d misestimated, I didn’t want to have to return to the Eckhardt side of the fence.
When I pushed the shovel in one more time, I stopped short, nearly clipping my chin on the handle. I tried again, but from the scraping sound, something solid blocked my shovel from digging in. Had I hit a stone?
Oh my God. Had I hit a gas line? Was my whole property about to blow?
Carefully, I twisted the shovel and realized it was scraping against metal. Ditching the shovel, I bent over, thrusting my hands into the hole I’d made, and my fingers felt something smooth and flat and undeniably metal. It was too broad for a gas line, and buried in between the two properties, right under the fence. I skulked back over to my side, hoping to free it without disturbing Mr. Eckhardt’s grass. With a shiver of excitement, I dug, lying on my stomach, pawing at the ground like a puppy. I used the shovel to loosen the edges of the hole and dug some more, eventually clearing enough dirt to pull what I now realized was a metal box, sort of like the ones military guys used. It was heavy but had handles at the sides, and, squatting, I hoisted with all of my might, falling backward when it came free. Then I tucked it under my arm and ran inside like a quarterback.
“What do you think is inside?”
Jackie eyed the dirty, rusted box on my kitchen table with wary skepticism. “Could it be from the fifties, like when everyone had a bomb shelter? Maybe there’s Yoo-hoos and Twinkies inside.”
“It could be a bomb,” Glynnis said in a whisper. Jackie and I gave her a look, and she flushed. “Well, you never know.”
Deciding I wanted coconspirators to deal with possible unearthed treasure, I’d texted Jackie and Glynnis, and both had accepted my invitation in seconds, which I wasn’t going to overanalyze. They’d come immediately, and brought snacks and wine. As far as I was concerned, this was a party. It was Saturday night, and I hadn’t actually cared about a Saturday night in years.
When I could see the box more clearly, I could tell it was old, but not that old, and not military. There were no identifying numbers. There was, however, a rusty lock keeping us out. Jesse’d once bought bolt cutters when he had a brief flirtation with handyman status, and I stood holding them, wondering if my natural curiosity would win out over my suspicion that I was getting myself into something I would have a hard time extracting myself from.
“Open it,” Jackie said, a mischievous glint in her eye. “What if it’s full of money?”
I eyed her wineglass. How much had she drunk?
“Nooooo,” Glynnis said, shaking her pale red curls adamantly. “What if it’s a time capsule? You’d ruin it.”
That gave me pause. I was violating someone’s privacy. But . . . technically it was half on my property, and I was curious as hell. I slipped the nose of the cutters underneath the lock. With some effort, I cut through the metal. “Are you ready?”
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