“I don’t even know why you care about Old Man George and his wife,” said Andrew, giving Josh a weird look. “I mean, have you heard the rumors about them?” Steven snickered.
Josh felt his fists clench together in his pockets. Who were they to tell him what to do? “C’mon, guys—you know those rumors aren’t true.”
That remark seemed to only spark more ideas of Josh’s neighbors. “I heard,” Steven added, lowering his voice as though passing on a secret, “that Old Man George murdered his first wife and buried her in the front yard. He plans to kill Marie on the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve.”
Josh stared, dumbfounded, at his friends. They actually believed that horrible rumor? Not for the first time, he wondered how true his friends really were. More than ever before, they just seemed like jerks.
He was still thinking about them as he walked home after school that day. He passed through the cul-de-sac houses, symmetrical lawns and all, and replayed the conversation over and over again. As he went by George and Marie’s house right beside his own identical home, a pang of anger welled up inside of him. His stupid friends had no right to make up rumors about the old couple. And now he was determined to prove them wrong.
With a new sense of energy, Josh began to run home, across his freshly cut lawn, jumping up the rickety porch steps, past his mom baking in the kitchen, and hopping over his two year old dog whining next to Claire, his sister, before he burst though the back door and raced to the shed to get the lawnmower. He knew that Marie would be home in precisely thirty minutes from bowling, and George should be home later from his daily stroll around the neighborhood, so he had to act quickly.
Josh smiled as he opened the rusted shed door—he was glad that his dad had thrown out their old and broken-down push mower and had finally purchased a brand-new riding mower just a few weeks before. This he now drove out of the shed, shouting to his mom through the open kitchen window that he’d be back soon. He bumped down to the sidewalk, grateful that he was neighbors with George and Marie, for it was only a moment later that he had arrived at their lawn and had begun to mow around their property. It was a good thing that they only had a small yard—and half of the lawn was covered with flowerbeds and plants anyways—because with only a half an hour, and the fact that Josh had had little practice with this type of mower, he needed to finish it was soon as he could. Hopefully he’d be done and had already gotten home by the time Marie got back from her bowling league.
His mind fluttered yet again back to the conversation with his friends during lunch. He had known George and Marie since his family had moved in beside them eight years ago, when Josh was only three. Because of the depressing lack of available grandparents he had—his grandmother was a missionary in Africa, and his other grandparents lived somewhere cold in Canada—George and Marie had been his grandparents in replace of the ones he had never met. (Indeed, Grandpa Joe was the only grandparent Josh had met and loved, and he had sadly died a few years back.) When Josh was younger, a Saturday hadn’t gone by without a visit from “Grandpa” George and “Grandma” Marie. Sure, he was older now, and maybe he didn’t exactly qualify them as grandparents anymore, but he still had a place in his heart for them—why should he give them up just because his friends had told him to?
Josh had been so distracted by his thoughts of George and Marie that he hardly noticed two boys casually sauntering down his street. The echo of their basketball hitting the sidewalk could be heard clearly in the practically still neighborhood. It wasn’t until the boys started to laugh and Josh turned a corner to finish up the front lawn did he realize it was none other than Andrew and Steven. Josh couldn’t help but desperately wish that the lawnmower would swallow him up and make him disappear from their view. Unfortunately, they had already spotted him—that was, in fact, the reason for their laughter.
“Hey, lawn-boy! What’re up to?” called Andrew. “Digging up the Old Man’s dead wife?” It was obvious he was attempting to conceal a snicker beneath his grinning face.
Steven, on the other hand, was laughing so hard that he couldn’t speak. He was gasping and snorting and doubling over. Josh was reminded of a hyena. “Digging…” (snort) “wife…” (gasp) “dead?!” Steven tried to say, but his words were lost as he drowned with laughter.
Josh didn’t think it was that funny. He was starting to wonder why he was friends with them anyways. “No, I’m not digging up their yard,” he seethed, eyes flaming. “Does it look like I’m carrying a shovel?”
Steven just found that all the more reason to laugh, but Andrew looked as if he didn’t know what to do or say. Josh took that as a chance to continue.
“Why do you hate George and Marie so much? I don’t get it; what have they ever done to you?” The more he spoke, the more disgusted he became with them. He drove the lawnmower over the last patch of long grass and took a deep breath. “Your words aren’t going to determine my actions.” With that, Josh turned the mower in the direction of his own house and drove away, slowly bumping along.
Andrew and Steven could do nothing but stand there, stupidly holding their basketball, before they started to walk away. In their eyes, their friend had ditched them, leaving them over some old neighbors.
But to Josh, he had just made a choice that he knew was the right one. For he, not his friends, was the decision-maker of his life.