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Joe Came Home at Midnight

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Joe had no idea what time it was. Not that he cared but he thought it would have been nice to know. Joe wasn't worried about getting caught. He had done this so many times before; he had it down to an art. During the summer months he put his two little sisters to bed at 9:30. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted until eleven. It didn't actually matter if he went to bed at eleven; he just knew that if his parents knew he was going to bed before eleven they wouldn't bother him once his bedroom door was shut. It was almost too easy for Joe. His big window had a pop out screen that could be removed without too much disruption. His room connected to the roof of the porch and, from there Joe could climb down the terrace on which his mom tried to grow flowers. She could never understand why she couldn't get them to grow and why it always looked like the stalks had been crushed. Joe had never bothered to explain to his mother that it was impossible for the terrace to be used as garden decoration and ladder. He was inclined to support his father's guess which was that the flowers had been killed in the wind.
Joe knew that his parents were never in the dining room after eight o'clock, which was the only room in the house in which they would have had any chance of seeing his well planned escape. From then on he had as much time as he wanted to do what he pleased.
Joe's parents would never have suspected their son's whereabouts. As they lived on a farm, the closest neighbors were half a mile away. They had sons about Joe's age but they were all good boys who did what they were told. But during the early weeks of summer the boys had been exploring the woods that separated the two houses. There they had found the beginnings of a river that could be crossed by an old wooden bridge that seemed to be well used though it was beginning to rot with age.
There were also three boys who lived a mile to the west of Joe. Every night they would walk to Joe's house and hide in the apple tree that was outside of Joe's window. The tree had many branches close to the ground so the boys were able to get up easily and though by the end of summer they could attribute most of their bumps, bruises, and scratches to that tree no one was ever seriously hurt.
So there they sat until the lamp turned on in Joe's room. That was their cue to make their presence known. Nick, who was the oldest of the boys, would launch an apple at the window, taking care not to actually hit the glass. Then out would come Joe, who would retrieve the apple from where ever it landed and climb down to meet the other boys on the ground. Then the four of them would run for the cover of the trees. They were always careful to keep mouths shut and flashlights off until they had reached to outside of Joe's backyard and even there they were cautious. The boys knew that if they were ever caught outside past even by themselves at their age they would be stopped and questioned harshly about their whereabouts.
They boys crept behind bushes until they made it to a path that led to their destination. Once the path was found they started moving fast. The boys no longer had to worry about being spotted from the road so the laughed and yelled and ran the last part of the journey. When they could hear the gurgling of the stream they knew they were close. Usually they were the second of the two groups to arrive Benny and Michael were almost always beet them there because they didn't have to stop and wait.
Then the boys had the rest of the night to be what ever they wanted. Every night they built a small fire. Usually they had some kind of food. Most of the time it was just candy bars and cans of pop, but some times they were able to take hot dogs out of the freezer when their mothers didn't notice and it was considered a feast.
The boys would pretend to be pirates, kings, and warriors. They made the trees their enemies and the bushes their forts. Canopies of leaves hid them from the beasts and creepy crawlies that roamed the night. They would climb in the high branches of the oaks that stretched their monster like arms across the creek and jump off into the cool water. The summer passed with great memories of hide and seeks and ghost in the grave yard. But as August drew closer and the air began to turn cool, the boys knew that their days of sneaking out at night were numbered. Soon would come stricter bed times, more chores, and home work to occupy their time.
It was a Wednesday night at 11:45 of the last week in July when they boys decided they were tired and wanted to start heading home. As the two groups parted company they waved merrily with the plans of tomorrow already running through their heads. Nick was impatient to get his younger brothers home so together the four boys ran up the path back to the road. From there they moved hunch backed as quickly as they could manage growing more tired ever minute. Thoughts of bed were making their feet drag but their weariness of being caught kept them moving. When they reached Joe's house the group slunk through the yard up to the apple tree. Joe made his way to the terrace and started his assent up to his room. But when he pushed the wooden frame up it would not budge. Joe couldn't understand; he was sure he had left it open; there was no way he could have locked it from the outside. His sisters were in bed so the only other explanation was that his parents had found out he had gone missing. Joe climbed back down and joined the other three who were confused by his return. Joe explained the locked window and pure terror passed over Nick face, as the oldest he was responsible for all of them, including Joe. Leaving the little boys behind the tree Joe and Nick ran from door to door trying to break into the house. Finally they discovered that the back door to the garage had been left open and so had the garage door leading to the house. Once certain that Joe was in, Nick ran back to his brothers and rushed them home, sure that if Joe had been discovered missing his parents would first call Benny's house and then his own.
Joe crept into the laundry room. He slipped off his well worn sneakers so that he wouldn't make noise. He dropped the shoes into the bin by the door, trying to make it look as if they had never been taken out of their rightful place. No lights were on as he walked through the house and though he knew it well, every creek of the floor boards made him jump. Joe tip toed up the stairs trying to be as light footed as possible. Joe snuck into his room and closed the door. With out turning on any lights he quickly changed his clothes and got into bed, amazed with his luck of not being caught. Weariness took over and he fell asleep.
The next morning Joe got up at the usual nine o'clock. He ran downstairs and poured himself a bowl of cereal. As he ate his mother entered the kitchen and started washing dishes. 'So,' she said casually, 'What were you up to last night?'
'What do you mean mom? Last night I read my book and went to bed,' replied Joe, but as he spoke his stomach dropped like a roller coaster, he knew he had been caught.
'I went in to check on you last night and it was rather drafty in there so I took the liberty of closing your window for you. There was such a gusty wind!' she answered coolly.
'Oh mom you didn't have to do that I was fine; I wasn't cold at all.'
'Really,' she said sarcastically, 'Well you look a little sick, why don't you go lie down in your bed the rest of the day. Little boys who are up running around all night shouldn't be playing hard all day too. You go lie down and think about what you did and I'll have your dad go up and fix that 'drafty' window for you. Oh, and don't let me find an empty bed again or next time I won't leave any doors open.'
'Yes mom,' answered Joe glumly as he made his way back up stairs for the rest of the day.
It turned out that Joe's mother had been in the dining room and had seen Joe sneak out. And so the boys' summer ended with strict but loving punishment which made them have no desire to sneaking out for a long while.





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