Yard Duty


“Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I met you last week Claremont Park. You bought me a milkshake.”

“I remember you.”

There was a long pause which made me feel uneasy. I had lost my nerve and tried to justify myself by adding, “You said I could call you.”

“What’s up Kid? Are you in trouble?”

“No, I ‘m not in trouble. I just wanted to call you.”

Another awkward pause followed. I waited for his response, “I said you could call me if you needed someone to talk to. Do you need to talk?”

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“I…I just wanted to say Hi. I just…I guess, I mean…I just wanted to ask if I could, well, you know…see you again, maybe, just to say Hello, or maybe catch a movie with you, or something? Maybe not a movie…maybe pizza? I mean, if you like pizza, or something else? I don’t know. I just wanted to say Hi and maybe see you again, maybe? Only, if you didn’t have anything else planned, or you know, if you wanted to see me…to talk or something?”

The long pauses before he replied were mortifying to me. My embarrassment levels had risen up and I swear by that point my whole face was as red as a beetroot. Did he have any idea how much courage it had taken to call him? “Woah Kiddo, you told me the other day you are only fourteen, now you are trying to ask me out on a date? What the hell? Are you insane?”

My stomach churned with devastation and my legs felt as if they were going to give way. Instinctively I began to apologize, “I’m so sorry. I so stupid…”

“Not stupid, just insane! Let me ask you something – do you own a proper coat? One that will keep you warm?”

“Yeah sure I do. I just don’t usually wear it at school because I would forget…”

“So you can come and help work in the yard tomorrow. Make sure you wear your coat and a hat or something, it’s gonna be freezing.”

He told me to be at the gazebo in Claremont Park at 11am the next day. He said if I was not there on time he was not going to wait around for me. I was so scared to be late I ended up arriving over half an hour early. He was right, the temperature had plummeted overnight. I was wrapped up with a hat and scarf and my padded coat. The bronze leaves against the clear blue sky were quite stunning to behold. The half hour wait for him to arrive felt like hours. It was such a relief to finally see him heading in towards the gazebo. He looked a little different. He wasn’t wearing that leather jacket, but a check quilted shirt. He did not say a lot, except for telling me the house he lived in was on Morris Avenue. I walked beside him, daunted that he was taking me to his home. Something inside told me I was foolish to be trusting him so naively.

The next couple of hours were not even slightly what I had imagined. As soon as we arrived at the house, he passed me a broom and instructed me to sweep all the leaves that were scattered all over the drive and front yard. He didn’t say a word to me as he busied himself with sawing broken branches that overhung the drive. Every ten minutes he would scoop up the leaves I had swept and empty them into a garbage bin. He cleared out the leaves from the gutter and drains. He washed down the outdoor furniture on the deck and collected tools, a hose, and other items around the property and stored them in garage at the rear of the house.

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I just swept. There were so many leaves! It took over an hour to sweep the front and side of the property. When I reached the garage door, I realized there was a large yard at the back also waiting to be swept. He must have seen my dismayed expression “You’re doing a great job Kid. Do you need a break?”

“Could I have some water?”

“What about something warm? Do you want a tea? Or coffee?”

I shook my head, “Do you have any soda?”

He bounded up the steps to the back door, and kicked his boots off. I had not eaten anything that morning, so after the three kilometre walk and over an hour of sweeping, my energy level was low. I could hear voices inside the house, and then laughter. The door opened and a young man wearing shorts and a thin shirt grinned at me, “Who the frig’ are you?”

I felt like such an idiot. I replied in a low voice, “I’m Annabelle.”

He flicked his hand in a wave, “Hello Annabelle. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thank you.”

He turned around and called into the house, “Her name is Annabelle and she doesn’t want any coffee.”

A deeper gruff voice called out, “Hold on, I know what she’ll like.”

The young man at the top of the steps told me his name was Mark. There was clearly great amusement in his eyes as he asked me how his cousin had managed to talk me into helping to clear the yard. I felt so small and ashamed. I was at the point of throwing the broom down and fleeing, when he appeared again. He pushed Mark and sat down on one of the benches he had cleaned earlier. He let out a sigh. He was followed by a much older man, who had a lot of stubble and tattooed forearms. He came right down the stairs and presented me with a mug, “Surely you like chocolate. You need something warm.”

The sweet hot chocolate revived me. While I was sipping it, I had an excuse not to say anything. The older man looked pensively at me, “I believe you’re Annabelle?” I nodded. “I’m Gary, Dean’s Uncle. You’ve done a great job of sweeping up.”

I did not stay long after that first awkward meeting. Gary insisted that his son Mark was going to get dressed and help Dean finish clearing the backyard. Gary provided me with two slices of buttered toast and offered to pay for me to catch the bus home. I took the hint, even though it was delivered so kindly by Gary. After thanking him, I glanced over towards Dean who was crouching down to gather up leaves. With Gary watching I felt uneasy about how to say goodbye to Dean, so I just turned and slowly wandered down the now clear driveway. I turned out onto the sidewalk and headed towards the pedestrian crossing.

“Hey, wait a moment!” My heart leapt. “Just wait a couple of minutes, I’m coming.”

Dean ran back into the house and less than a minute later he returned in a different jacket and boots. “I’m going over to a friend’s house on the other side of Crotona Park. We are practicing this afternoon. If that is on your way home, I’ll walk with you.”

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It took just over twenty minutes to reach Seabury Place. During that time Dean told me that he was in a band. He told me his Uncle Gary had taught him to play the guitar, and it was through his Uncle that he had met Liam who played the drums and Rick who played bass guitar. They had recently been trialing a guy called Greg who was trying to fit his vocals to their style. Dean was animated and energetic in providing all of this information. As we reached Seabury Place, Dean was firm in his farewell, “You can’t come with me. Do you feel safe walking home from here? Is it far for you?”

I was much closer to home. I told him I was fine. “You can’t come over to my Uncle’s. He made it clear that is not alright with him. Don’t take it personal – he is just talking straight, fourteen year old girl hanging out in a man cave – he said your parents will go mental if you had stepped a foot inside. But I come over to Liam’s every Saturday afternoon, so if you ever want to talk, we can meet in Crotona Park.”

His words gave me hope. “I would like that.”

“So, you can call me then. Just don’t get any ideas. You’re a just a kid, a lonely kid with a broken heart who doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. That’s the only thing we have in common. I was exactly that when I was your age. Things get better though. I have a lot I could tell you about that. But you have to be ready to talk.” With his earnest honesty, Dean was somehow piercing my core. “Annabelle, when you are ready to talk. But even before you are ready, you can still call and we can meet nearer to here. Just don’t come to my Uncle’s. He’ll friggin’ cane me.”

I must have looked shocked. Dean quickly corrected himself, “I’m joking. He wouldn’t do anything like that. He just threatens us to make sure we understand him.”