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“Miranda, pass me the shovel. We’ve got to get all of this crap from autumn out of the way first.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Miranda wiped the sweat off his forehead and passed the tool to Maine, who sauntered off to the composter, jingling her belt as her hips swayed. He turned to LaJean, who was busy cleaning out the planter. “What exactly are we doing out here, anyways? Maine probably isn’t going to do anything, just poke around in the composter until it’s time to go back inside.”

Amid Maine’s feeble protestations, LaJean stood up and wiped her work pants off. “We’re planting flowers today once Claude comes back form the store with as many as she can fit in the truck. It’s finally warm enough to start growing things.”

“How long is this going to take?” Miranda glanced behind him at Sheila, who stumbled across the backyard deck and threw the back door open, tossing her shoes off before collapsing inside. “Is she okay?”

“She’ll be fine.” LaJean squatted back down and raked her long hook underneath the deck, retrieving all sorts of balls and outdoors toys abandoned since the last visit of children late in August. “Sheila usually wimps out early. She’ll go take a shower and bring us drinks, probably. I locked the downstairs door, and she doesn’t know the password, so she won’t be procrastinating on the computer anytime soon.”

Miranda felt a presence at his right side, and he turned his head to find Audette crouched beside him. Her arm was outstretched and leaning over Miranda for the hoe beside LaJean. “Pass that to me, please? For great carrot justice?”

“Sure.” Miranda handed her the hoe. “What are you using it for, exactly?”

She stood up, tossing a pair of gloves to Miranda before pointing the hoe towards the medium-sized pile of dirt behind the shed. “Work with me, please?”

“Fine.” Audette bolted to the pile, bewildering Miranda for a moment before following. He tramped across the crunchy faded grass, dead from last year’s burial under the long-melted snow. Small little shoots were poking out of the soil of the pile, which Audette tapped with her foot once Miranda had arrived. “What do you want me to do?”

“Dig out all of those little plants-” Audette pointed the hoe towards the wheelbarrow at Miranda’s feet- “and plant them in there. Jeaneé was messing with the carrot crops last week, and now I’ve got to fix everything.”

Audette left to grab another set of gloves, and Miranda squatted by the pile, which was almost as tall as where his shoulders were now. He began picking through the pile, dropping handfuls of dirt with tiny green shoots into the wheelbarrow. He’d dropped five or six in when Sheila bumped his shoulder and set a water bottle full of ice next to his feet.

“Thanks.” Miranda deposited the current shoot along with the others and took a sip from the bottle. Sheila’d clothed herself in a simple white sundress and was fanning her face with a paper plate, silently feasting her eyes on the growths in the wheelbarrow. “Why are you waiting here? Shouldn’t you be chasing down Audette?”

Sheila shifted the three other water bottles in her arms against her chest. Her wide-brimmed hat flapped in the light breeze as she explained, “She’ll be back soon enough. Audette’s never been one to dawdle.”

“That’s good… I guess.” Miranda set the bottle down and continued transferring the greens. “Why does LaJean keep the basement door locked? She said that you liked to dawdle in there.”

“Because dial-up is frustrating to deal with, and LaJean hates long lines and complaining, so she schedules out the computer.” Sheila took a few steps back, allowing Audette her usual place beside Miranda. “Isn’t that right, Aude?”

“Everything in this household’s got to go through that woman. Even whatever Jeaneé does in her free time.” The spit in Audette’s voice was accentuated by Jeaneé’s squeals from across the yard, where she was digging a hole in the dirt with her bare hands. Claude, back from her shopping trip with a box of flower bulbs and blooms at her side, unboxed and planted the flowers in the shallow holes that Jeaneé readily dug in the straight line that she’d set out. “Sometimes I wonder why LaJean took her in. She’s a peculiar one.”

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