Finally, this round is done! This one might get developed into a longer piece for another short story collection, but to finish it before the week ended, I opted to keep it simple. If you used the cubes I posted for this round to spark your own story, please leave a link in comments – I love reading other Story Cubes Challenge stories! As always, not edited so it’s rough.
Prompts: Pyramid, (pad)lock, house, cane, sad face, compass rose/arrows in many directions, bug/beetle, magic wand, skyscraper
“Aunt Becca!” Ellie ran out of the modest Cape and down the walk paved in broken clamshells. “You’re here.”
Becca held her arms out, and Ellie only hesitated a second before hugging. As she wrapped her arms around her niece, Becca looked over Ellie’s shoulder to where Frances stood in the front doorway. Becca swallowed at the air of fragility she’d not seen before in her sister.
“Come on, let’s go see your mom.” Becca released Ellie and followed her toward the house.
Frances smiled as Ellie went running through the doorway. Becca reached out to hug her, trying not to frown at her sister’s hesitation. Her shoulder blades were sharp, and Becca was cautious of squeezing too tightly.
“How are you?”
Frances pulled back. “I’m fine. Just… fine.”
Becca squashed down her instinctive response like it was a bug. This wasn’t the time, or the place, not with Ellie right there. “Thanks for letting me take her for a few weeks.”
Her sister smiled. “Well, you are her godmother.” She dropped her voice. “And the reason we have her.”
Becca swallowed another comment. Not telling Ellie was their decision, not hers.
Frances led the way inside. “So, what plans do you have?”
“Boston?” Ellie clasped her hands. Becca stifled a grin at the sight of her niece almost vibrating from trying not to bounce.
“Boston.” Now she let her grin show. “I think we’ll make it Boston a few times.”
“The aquarium? The museums? Can we go to the top of the tall building and look down?”
Becca nodded. “When we get to Exeter, I have maps and information — we can figure out what we want to do.”
Ellie grinned and ran back through the house.
“She’s getting her suitcase.” Frances looked at her. “How’s Riordan?”
Becca kept her answer simple. “He’s fine.”
“Still hasn’t proposed?” Frances lifted an eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, but it’s been almost 20 years. He should make an honest woman of you.” Her frown emphasized the lines in her face. “I don’t like to see my baby sister living in limbo.”
“I’m perfectly happy with the way things are.” Becca stifled a sigh. “I-” She stopped when she heard footsteps thumping.
“Mom, I’m ready to go!” Ellie plopped her suitcase down in front of her.
Becca grinned. “Guess that settles that.” She stepped out of the doorway. “The car’s unlocked; go put your stuff in the back seat.”
Ellie nodded and headed outside. Becca turned back to Frances. “You take care of yourself for the next couple of weeks, OK?”
“I’ll be fine. Anderson’s due back from this assignment Tuesday and he has the rest of the week off.”
“Good. You two can relax together.” Becca walked outside, Frances following behind. Ellie shut the car door and ran up. “Can we go?”
Becca nodded. “Bye, Mom!” She ran back down to the car. “Come on, Aunt Becca!”
She smiled. “We’ll call in a few days.”
Four days later, Becca sat cross-legged on her driveway, the bucket of chalk next to her. Ellie’s braids trailed down her back. “Now what, Aunt Becca?”
“Now we make the hieroglyphics under the pyramid.” Becca picked up a piece of chalk. “What do you want to write?”
Ellie frowned and wrinkled her nose. “What was the name of the king again?”
Ellie nodded. “That’s it. Pharaoh.”
Becca looked at the book they had picked up at the art museum’s Egypt exhibit. “See, here.” She pointed to the page. Ellie nodded and took a piece of chalk, starting to trace the lines on the asphalt.
“Good afternoon, ladies.”
Becca looked up to see Mr. Boyle on the sidewalk. He walked with a cane now, but still kept up his end of the practice with Riordan.
“Hi, Mr. B.” It was the only thing they had been able to agree on, what to call him. “Ellie, I’d like you to meet Mr. Boyle, Mr. Riordan’s dad. Mr. B, this is my niece Ellie. She’s visiting for a few weeks.”
“Hi.” Ellie looked up, then back down at the book she was copying figures from. “Aunt Becca took me to see the pyramids yesterday. Have you ever seen them?”
Mr. Boyle shook his head. “No, my dear, I can’t say that I have. I don’t get out of Exeter much these days.” He paused. “My days of exploring are long past.” He leaned on his cane. “Are you joining us for dinner?”
Becca shook her head. “No, we’re going to a magic show at the library tonight. Eileen Reilly mentioned it to me. She’s bringing Dan and the girls, and I thought it would be a good way for Ellie to meet some other kids around her age since she’s here another two weeks.”
“You said we could look at the star room, too.” Ellie kept writing.
At Mr. Boyle’s frown, Becca explained. “Ellie loves the library building, especially the reading room with the murals on the ceiling.”
“Ah, yes, with all the constellations. You know, if you stand under the compass rose in the corner, you can see Orion in the opposite corner.” Mr. Boyle shook his head. “That was quite the brouhaha at the time the Cook family donated the building. I remember my father talking about how it was too grand a building for such a small town.”
“It’s a beautiful building, far nicer than most of the buildings on campus.” Becca smiled. “Of course, that’s not saying much. But it’s also much grander than Town Hall.”
“The Cooks were fighting the march of time.” Mr. Boyle shrugged. “They were one of the Yankee families that used to run the town, and they didn’t like all the immigrant families coming in and changing things. But the college didn’t open until some years later, and the Cooks had lost most of their money then.” He shook his head. “Well, Riordan will be worrying that I slipped and fell on my way to the house if I don’t arrive soon.” He tipped his hat to Becca. “It was nice to meet you…” He trailed off.
Becca managed not to roll her eyes. “Eleanor.”
“Nice to meet you, Eleanor.” He headed down the sidewalk, his steps firm despite the use of the cane.
Ellie looked up from the drawing. “Aunt Becca, nobody calls me Eleanor unless Dad is mad at me.”
“Mr. Boyle doesn’t like to use nicknames,” she explained. “He’s the only person who calls me Rebecca. He wouldn’t call you Ellie.”
Ellie just shrugged her shoulders. “As long as it doesn’t mean he’s mad at me.” She shivered. She pointed at the figures under the pyramid. “Did I get it right?”
Becca checked it against the book and nodded. “Exactly right.”
Ellie grinned. “Good. I don’t like being wrong. It’s not fun.”
And Becca filed that away to think about another time.