A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Six
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
"Wanna see something really neat?" Tony whispered to Laura, softly opening the door to her room.
It was the week after Christmas. Laura, sick in bed with bronchitis, sat propped up in the midst of a stack of pillows and a big, warm quilt. She turned from gazing out the window to eye Tony suspiciously. He and Andy, Uncle Don's youngest children, were twins and the closest in age to Laura. They weren't identical twins; Tony was nearly six inches shorter than his brother. But they liked a lot of the same things, one of which was mischief.
Tony knew perfectly well that Laura was to stay quiet and not do anything that would start a coughing spell.
"Don't worry about a thing," he assured her. "This won't take a bit of energy on your part and we won't do anything to scare you or make you laugh too hard."
Tony seemed sincere, but Laura wasn't convinced. Before she could decide how to respond, Andy appeared beside his brother. Resting his chin on the top of Tony's head, he grinned at Laura and waved a friendly greeting.
Laura's suspicions doubled. She had no idea what to make of these two. They were as baffling as Uncle Don.
Thinking of her uncle, Laura panicked.
"Uncle Don will be furious if he finds out you're here!" she whispered hoarsely.
Tony and Andy, stepping inside the room just far enough to close the door behind them, shook their heads.
"Mom might get a little upset, if she knew," Andy admitted, "but Dad wouldn't it's his idea."
"What!" Laura cried aloud in astonishment.
Both boys jumped. "Shhh!" they quickly cautioned her. "Mom's not that far away. She'll hear you for sure."
Laura froze. The boys slipped silently behind the door, so if their mother came to investigate, they'd be hidden.
Laura, stiff as a board, leaned against her pillows and stared at the door, waiting for it to open.
The moment of panic passed. The three children started breathing again.
Laura looked pleadingly at Tony and Andy, wishing that they would just go away.
They paid no attention to her fear.
Quietly coming to stand beside her bed, they paused in studious consultation.
"Well, Doctor Donnelli," Andy whispered, cocking his head to look down professionally at Tony, "I would say the patient is well protected with these pillows and this giant comforter. What is your opinion?"
Tony nodded solemnly. "Yes," he agreed, putting his hand to his chin and holding his elbow in his other hand, as he had seen doctors do on TV, "I think the patient is ready."
"Good," Andy said, maintaining his air of professional calm. He moved toward the window and pushed it open. Flakes of snow drifted in from the ledge. But the incoming air was not too cold.
Laura, still terrified that her aunt would walk in at any second, watched in agony while Andy brushed the snow away from the windowsill then reached into his pocket to pull out a handful of sunflower seeds.
"Ready," he said to Tony, who then left Laura's side to join his brother.
With a flourish Tony handed Andy a small hand towel that had been dangling from back pocket of his jeans.
Andy accepted it with as much flourish. He placed the towel carefully on the windowsill and stepped back to survey his work. Satisfied, he then picked up Laura's desk chair and placed it under the window Seating himself, he held his arm out the window, the seeds he had pulled out of his pocket now resting in his upturned palm.
"Here, chick-a-dee-dee-dee," he called softly into the winter sky.
Laura, certain now that the boys had lost their minds entirely, began to hope furiously that Aunt Amelia would walk in on them.
In her panic, she nearly missed what happened next. But, when she did see, she forgot all about her fear.
She gazed in wonder as little black and white birds first one at a time, then in two's and even three's started landing on Andy's open hand. Their tiny feet gripped his fingers and the little birds snatched up the seeds in their beaks. Sometimes a bird tried to grab several seeds at once. Then it would lose everything and have to start all over.
When the little birds were satisfied with what they had, they flew off to a nearby tree and others took their place.
If too many tried to land at the same time, a chattering, wing flapping squabble in mid-air decided which one would be first.
The pile of seeds on Andy's hand diminished rapidly. When it was almost gone, he turned to ask Tony, "What do you think?"
"Yep," Tony replied with certainty. Laura, her amazed concentration broken, turned from the birds to Andy and Tony.
Panic filled into her heart with a surge. What were they up to now?
Tony pulled a handful of seeds from his own pocket, took one of Laura's hands in his free one and dumped the seeds into it.
Laura shrank back into her pillows.
"Don't be scared," Tony said. "They won't hurt you." Andy came over to the bed from the window. Gently, but firmly, he took Laura's pillows, one by one, from behind her, until all three sat in a neat pile on her desk. This done, he wrapped her quilt completely around her.
"There. You're ready. Come this way Madam."
He held out his arm for her to grasp and waited.
Still scared but excited too, Laura obeyed. She let the boys guide her and her bulky quilt to the chair and settle her in place.
Pulling her hand out from under the quilt, she rested it on the towel on the windowsill and opened her fist that still clutched the seeds Tony put there. She wasn't relaxed enough to open it all the way, like Andy had done.
Her heart beat rapidly and she sat biting her lip, but she didn't draw back.
She waited tensely for a bird to land.
At first, nothing happened. No bird came. Laura began to feel like an utter failure. Even the birds knew she couldn't do anything right.
Tony, seeing her distress, pulled some more seeds from his pocket and knelt down beside her. He held out his hand next to hers.
Andy, still standing, leaned his head out the window and called again, "Here, chick-a-dee-dee-dee here, chick-a-dee-dee-dee."
A little chickadee, hearing Andy's voice, flew from the nearest tree and landed on Tony's hand. He snatched up a seed and flew away.
"They're not used to you yet," Tony explained to Laura. "Just stay put for a few minutes until they get to know you."
As Tony talked, another bird flew to his hand and then another. When they had snatched their seeds and gone, Tony moved his hand directly under Laura's and Andy called again, "Here, chick-a-dee-dee-dee."
Before the words were out of his mouth, a chickadee landed right on Laura's upturned fingers.
She gasped. Its tiny feet felt so light and prickly, so alive. As the little black and white creature stretched its neck and snatched a seed from her palm, Laura hardly breathed.
It flew away and another replaced it.
"Open your hand a little flatter," Andy instructed, "so they won't have to stretch so far to reach the seeds."
Laura did as she was told, delight flooding through her as the birds landed on her fingers and greedily snatched up the seeds.
She looked back and forth from Tony to Andy, her eyes radiant and a smile lighting up her face.
The twins smiled happily back at her. For the first time since they had known her, the fear and suspicion that were so much a part of Laura had disappeared.
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