My pencil scratched across the yellow legal pad mutinously, with dark, heavy strokes. Apart from the scratches, the only sound to be heard was Quint occasionally turning a page of his book or Jagger sighing in his sleep. Both of them looked perfectly peaceful over on the couch. Quint was pretending not to notice the attitude of my pencil.
I reached the end of the sheet. Picking up the pad, I flipped to a blank one before slapping it down on the table again. Quint continued to read. The man is maddening.
Since he obviously didn’t intend to give me an opening for further discussion, I made one for myself by starting, “I only wanted to entertain them! When they’re bored, they–”
“Theodore, either write or go to the corner. The choice is yours, but neither option involves arguments.”
He hadn’t even looked up from the book. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t arguing, I was trying, once again, to explain. Of course, that’d just get labeled an ‘argument.’ And I had no desire to stare at the wall any longer, either. We’d had enough time for that earlier, when he parked me there and went to give Jagger a bath.
Hunching my shoulders, I bent over the table again and began to print my umpteenth repetition of the same sentence in a hurried scrawl. This one barely stayed on the ruled line.
“Remember that they need to be legible,” Quint said.
You’d think he could see it from all the way over there. I shot him a glower. “It is. It’s not straight, but neither am I, and you seem to like me anyway.”
He coughed to hold back a laugh. He thinks I don’t know about that trick. Without a hint of humor, he said, “Yes, I do find myself to be rather fond of you.”
My glower faded to half-strength. Fighting to keep the same level of irritation as I continued writing, I muttered, “Who even says stuff like this anyway?”
“Pardon?” asked Quint.
“The quote,” I answered. “‘Example, whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence.’ Who said it? Did you make it up?” It did sound a bit like him.
“I wish I could take credit,” he said, “but no, it was George Washington in a letter he wrote to Lord Sterling in 1780, if I don’t have my dates mixed up. Now, the next words I’d like to hear out of you are ‘Quint, I’ve finished.’” He flipped another page in his book and settled deeper into the couch, one hand petting Jagger’s head.
I sighed. Should’ve figured it’d be some dead president. Besides being a secret sci-fi geek, Quint’s a history nerd, too. There’s a book of letters by old G. W. somewhere around here. I remember him reading it to me last time I was sick and didn’t care what he read so long as he was nearby. In fact, I could remember….
An idea came. Probably not a good idea, but such a tempting one. I waited until I was nearly done and Quint looked very absorbed in his book, and then snuck my phone out of my pocket under the table. A quick google search and some skimming refreshed my memory.
At the bottom of the very last page of lines, I added another quote, complete with citation, in neater print. Then I said, “Quint, I’ve finished.”
“Bring them here,” he said, setting the book aside.
I flipped the legal pad back to the first sheet and handed it over before standing in front of him, half curious to see his reaction and half worried I’d just won myself a spanking.
He took forever counting them. His finger meticulously taped each one, and his eyes went back and forth as he read to make sure every word was legible. That was why he didn’t see my addition until he got right up on it. I knew when it happened, though. He blinked.
Then he looked up at me. “Yes, there’s a hundred, plus one more.” Reading off the pad, he said. “‘A man’s intentions should be allowed in some respects to plead for his actions.’”
“Letter from George Washington to the Speaker of the House of Burgesses, December 1756,” I added.
“I know,” he said, with one eyebrow twitching up. “You wrote that as well.”
“He was a wise man, George was.”
Quint leaned forward and an inch to the side so he could reach the coffee table behind me and put the pad down. Sitting back again, he folded his hands together and said, “I’ve already heard about your intentions. I am aware that Lyra, Griffin, and boredom do not mix well, and that you wanted to keep them entertained while you babysat. That does not excuse your actions.”
“They’d been cooped up from the rain for days! All I did was let them play outside!”
“In a muddy pit in the middle of Zeggy and Ike’s backyard. All of you, including the dog, were so covered in grime when I turned up that I could hardly tell you apart.”
I wanted to tell him that I was the tall one, and Jagger was the one with four legs, but he kept on before I could.
“On top of that, you’d brought them into the kitchen before cleaning off. You should have hosed them down outside, at the very least.”
Okay, he did have a point there. I didn’t think of it until it was too late and there was a trail of muddy footprints from the back door to the bathroom, straight across the tiles. Still. “I did mop it,” I said. “Without you telling me to.”
“Yes, and that was the good example to which the quote refers,” he replied, which surprised me. The whole time I’d been writing it out, I’d focused on the bad part. He added, “I see you being a worthy role model for the twins all the time. They adore you. That’s why it’s important to be conscious of how all of your actions appear to them. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, the fight finally going out of me. “I’m sorry I gave you grief over the lines. I think I was just mad thinking you meant I was an unfit guardian for them or something.”
“Oh, angel,” he said, holding his arms out. “I’d never think that. Come here.”
I sat in his lap. Jagger picked his head up and put it back down on my thigh instead of Quint’s. Giving the dog a scratch behind his newly-cleaned ear, I said, “I’m sorry about the mud, too.”
“I know,” he said. “You’re forgiven. By me, anyway. What Zeggy says when she sees the ruined clothes is up to her.”
I could imagine what she’d say, and it made me snort with laughter. Through it, I asked, “Do you think she’d buy my Washington quote?”
“She might,” Quint said, smiling. “It’s worth a try.”