Darcy had just finished rearranging the furniture for the third time that week. Kip was always complaining about that habit of hers. He came over every day after school to help babysit the neighborhood kids, who decorated the half-duplex like apples in an orchard. One stood in the corner, his face to the wall - a punishment for jumping on the chair. Two others were confined to the dining area, and guarded by junior high school students. The older kids partied in the living room, drinking beer that the homely thirty-five-year-old, Darcy, had bought at the Convenience store. She had two young children of her own, who always seemed to be at their grandparents' house.
"Your father called again," Darcy told Kip, who was the oldest at fifteen. "And the school keeps callin', tellin' me I better stay away from youse kids."
"What'd they say?" Kip asked, smiling with amusement.
"That I'm corruptin' minors, providin' alcohol t' all youse, havin' wild parties, having sex – "
"Let's go upstairs now, Darce," he said.
Darcy responded flirtatiously, and the two walked hand in hand up the steps to the bedroom. It was the third time that day.
The child in the corner asked if he could be excused from his punishment.
"No, you’re staying in that corner for another hour!" a bossy, teenage girl scolded. "You can't jump on other peoples' fucking furniture!"
The phone rang.
Karen, the obese girl, answered.
"This is Mrs. Singletary from the Southside Middle School," the voice on the other line said. "May I speak with Darcy Buttons, please?"
"She's busy at the moment. Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Miss Susan Yates," the voice said firmly.
"Sue? I don't know – "
"Her parents are very concerned."
"Why?" Karen asked, thumbing the tab on her beer can.
"She didn't come home after school. Have you seen her?"
"Oh, she was here, but she left over a half hour ago," the fat girl answered.
"Oh, I see. Thank you. Please have Darcy Buttons call me."
Karen rushed to the living room to brag about her deception of the school official to Susan, who was pleased.
"I'll go home after this beer," she said, as she swallowed a mouthful of the sudsy warm brew.
Darcy proceeded down the stairs in her tattered bathrobe, a green plastic toothbrush sticking out of the side of her mouth.
"I didn't know you even owned a toothbrush! What's the occasion?" a half-drunk teenage boy said.
Darcy gazed out the front window. A car was parked at the corner two doors down, and had been present all morning and afternoon, along with its occupant, a middle-aged man who was obscured behind a newspaper.
"That's four… no, five hours that darn car's been here," Darcy said. "Maybe he wants to join the party!" she chuckled.
The other kids noticed it also, had been discussing it for several weeks. It was a conspicuous blue and brown station wagon that was always directly across from the schoolyard where they exited the building each day.
"He's probably a school cop," Linda said. "Or a private detective they hired to watch us."
"It's a child molester," Kip joked, from the top of the stairs. "When are you gonna get your I.Q. booster shot, Darcy?"
"Ha, ha, ha!" she roared, a twinkle in her dull brown eyes.
Susan was worried, and said, "Maybe he was hired by one of our parents."
There was the sound of glass breaking; one of the young ones had smashed a photo frame on the hardwood floor.
"They're trying to run you out of the neighborhood, Darcy!" Kip continued to tease, ignoring the crash of shattered glass.
"Well, he's cute, but too old for me!" she giggled. "He's welcome to stay and watch all he wants!" Then Darcy was silent for several moments, and began eyeing the furniture in the living room. The phone was ringing loudly over the sound of music on the stereo, and some of the small children were playing with stray dogs in the yard. "Kippy!" Darcy shouted. "Kippy!" He was flirting with some of his female classmates in one of the rooms upstairs. Darcy had examined the large family picture of herself with her son and daughter, which had earlier been tilted in its place on the wall. The photograph was now on the floor, half-ruined by a long diagonal crease. It lay next to the broken wooden frame and shattered pane of glass. Darcy kicked a cat out of the way, and began sweeping the fragments together with a worn yellow handkerchief. For a fleeting moment, a flicker of light shone in Darcy's bland eyes.
"Here we go again," she muttered. "Here we go again."