Lucy Smith was removing brownies from the oven when she heard the excited voice.
“Gran! Gran you have to see this!”
The tiny, wrinkled black woman stood and raised a finger to her lips.
“Miss Lucy”, she corrected gently, “Your mom is home, Angel”.
“Sorry, I forgot. Rick and I discovered treasure. The box is stuck in the ground.”
“Would you like a hand getting it out?”
At Beth’s resounding yes, she quickly set the brownies to cool and turned off the oven. They stopped at the tool shed for a spade, then headed towards the back of the lot where Rick impatiently waited. The corner of something red was just peeking through the dirt. Although dulled, it seemed obvious to Lucy that it was made of metal. She began to dig. Although her small size and wrinkled face suggested someone too old and frail for this activity, it became quickly obvious that she was neither. Within a minute, she had loosened enough earth to remove the box. It was indeed red metal and had a black handle and silver clasp. Beth and Rick debated over who would open it. Beth finally conceded . He flipped the clasp and raised the lid. A few screwdrivers, a wrench and some nails lay within.
“Who would bury a toolbox?”, he asked.
“It probably was lost here when the house was built. It could have gotten buried when they were working on the landscaping.”
“That was ten years ago, Gran.”
“Almost an antique”, Lucy quipped, barely suppressing a smile.
Looking at the disappointed faces, she suggested heading back to the house for some brownies. Rick was suddenly filled with excitement again.
“Could we have them in the tree-house?”
His enthusiasm tugged at her heart. His mother adored him, but her need for cleanliness and structure deprived him of many small pleasures.
“I don’t see why not.”
She returned the spade and started to set the toolbox on a shelf. Rick suddenly decided he wanted it. Disgusted with the find, Beth agreed. He ran towards his yard and stored it in an identical tool shed. Hurrying back, he joined them as they headed towards the kitchen. Lucy cut the brownies and put several into a brown paper bag. She handed each child a small plastic container filled with apple juice. Reminding them to return the containers, she watched as they headed out the door and raced towards the tree house. Amanda Hollister strode in while she was cleaning up. Her face looked stressed.
“Greg called. He needs me to go and help him. Some sort of emergency situation. Can you spend the night here?”
“I’m so sorry, but I do have plans this evening. Bethany can come with me, if she can stay overnight.”
A look of distaste crossed Amanda’s face. She just knew the plans were church related, but it couldn’t be avoided.
Lucy heard her footsteps climbing the stairs, then quickly returning. A car door slammed, the engine started, then faded into the distance. Amanda had never inquired where Beth was. Never said goodbye.
Beth was still puzzling as they sat in the tree-house eating their brownies.
“Why do you want to keep that old toolbox?”
“I got an idea. I’ll make it into a real treasure box. Take out the old tools and clean it up. I’ll keep it I the tool shed. It will be safe in there. Dad’s the only one who ever goes in there. And just to get the barbeque tools. “
“Where are you going to get treasure?”
“I’ve already got a bunch of it. The shells from that day at the beach. The pesos from Cancun. That green marble. I’ve never seen another one like it.”
Before Beth could comment on Rick’s idea of treasure, Miss Pauline’s shrill voice pierced the quiet afternoon air. Gran’s soft call followed shortly after.
Beth danced in excitement upon learning that she could stay overnight at the cottage. She showed no reaction to her mother’s abrupt departure. When Beth was younger, Lucy had tried to make excuses for Amanda. Tried to soften the blow of her mother’s indifference. Small white lies to protect the feelings of this sweet child. “Your mom had to leave quickly.” “Your mom felt bad that she didn’t get to say goodbye.” “Your mom said to tell you that she loves you.” Beth was only five when she calmly replied, “No she didn’t.” Lucy never repeated that mistake. Her little angel should have someone to depend on. Even small deceits could shake that trust. She promised herself that she would always be honest with her.
Later in the afternoon, they headed towards Gran’s cottage, using the path through the woods. The trip by road was a little over a mile, but the woodland route halved that distance. Beth was not allowed to go into the woods alone, so she treasured this opportunity. She had loved the trail since Gran had first shown it to her. As they had walked, she’d occasionally seen a chipmunk or small bird. She’d pointed them out to Gran, surprised that they weren’t the only ones in the woods. Reaching a fallen log, Gran had stopped and sat.
“Sit down, Angel, and don’t say a word.”
At first she was restless, wondering what they were waiting for. As their silence continued, she became increasingly aware of the life around them. The gentle rustle of branches as squirrels jumped from tree to tree, the incessant hum of the insects, the amazing repertoire of birdsong, toads scurrying under the low brush. Entranced, Beth remained silent and soon the wood life forgot their presence. Rabbits and woodchucks emerged. Three deer wandered by and stopped unaware. For long moments, they watched them. Then one sniffed the air and they bounded off. Beth could not contain her voice any longer and the show came to an end. But after that day, she considered the woods magical.
A magical trail leading to an enchanted cottage. It stood in a small clearing, surrounded by tall trees. There was a path at the front of the clearing in addition to their trail, which emerged at the back of the property. These were the only routes in and out. Although the path in front was wider, those who traveled by car had to walk the last quarter mile. It was truly secluded. Beth often imagined fairies and leprechauns peeking out at them from behind the dense foliage.
Although small, the cottage had been kept in good repair. Lucy had little money, but she was resourceful. Ten years before, growth in the nearby city of Montrayle had precipitated a housing expansion in Adamston. Small subdivisions sprang up on Beth’s side of town. As houses were completed, builders abandoned partially used materials. These were placed in huge dumpsters at the street or stacked next to them. After cleaning houses each day, Gran had walked through the area pushing a cart. She sifted through the leftovers, selecting shingles, tiles, plumbing supplies, wood scraps and paint. In a year’s time, she had gathered enough to renovate the interior and exterior of her home. She had blended numerous partial cans of paint to create the slate blue shade that covered the exterior. A porch extended the width of the house and held benches with comfortable cushions and hanging pots of pansies and geraniums. Brown-eyed susans, red clover, daisies and paintbrush had been gathered from fields and transplanted into plots on either side of the steps to complete the charming effect.
There were just two rooms inside, plus a small loft and a tiny bathroom. Signs of Lucy’s handiwork were everywhere. Braided wool rugs warmed the rough wood floor. Plants hung from the rafters. Patchwork curtains made from scraps of old clothing, brightened the windows. A comfortable old sofa sported a cheerful print cover and small quilted pillows. A rocking chair was pulled close to the wood burning stove that heated the cottage in the wintertime.
Beth had visited before, but never stayed overnight. She was delighted when Gran asked if she would like to sleep in the loft. She scurried up the ladder with her bag. A quilt-covered cot and a nightstand filled the width of one wall. The opposite side held a little table that served as a desk and a small closet with two shelves. A skylight filled the room with sunshine. Beth would have been content to settle on the bed with a book, but Gran called up.
“We’re going to the potluck supper at the church tonight. We need to leave now, so I can help with the preparations.”
Back in the main room, she saw Gran removing a large bowl of potato salad from the refrigerator. She directed Beth to carry a bag with a loaf of homemade rye bread and they headed out the door.