It’s time for chapter 4 of my youth mystery novel, What Was Lost. If you are wondering why I am suddenly writing youth fiction, please read the explanation by clicking here.
Chapter 4 – Horse Hooves, Not Zebras
Back in his room, with trembling fingers, Milton spread out the paper on his bed. Taking his phone out of his pocket, he prepared to take a picture of the back and front, then text the pictures to Hudson.
Before he had the chance, his phone lit up with a text message. It was Hannah.
“Impeccable timing,” thought Milton. But he couldn’t ignore her, not now.
Milton and Hannah had grown up together at church. She had often accused him of “scribble-scrabbling” when he strayed outside the lines while coloring in kindergarten. He made up for it in elementary school by relentlessly teasing her every chance he had. But the last few years Hannah had started acting, well, weird. He wasn’t really sure why, but he suspected his teasing antics had something to do with it. She had stopped hanging around him as much; he, not knowing what to do, had obliged. But she still would talk to him every once in a while. This text, though, was unusual. She hadn’t texted him in months. The mysterious paper would have to wait.
As he picked up his phone to read the text, his bedroom door suddenly popped open. His mom stuck her head in. “Milton, honey?” she said.
“Whaaaaat?” Milton said in frustration as he swung his eyes up to meet hers.
She hesitated, then, with a twinkle in her eye, said, “Oh nothing, just wanted to remind you, ‘Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he—”
Milton interrupted, ”’—he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.’ Yes. Thank you.” He looked at his mom, her eyes still fixed on him with seriousness.
“Milton,” she said, “What’s wrong?”
“Well, currently I have a text message I need to deal with,” He replied.
“And who exactly, might I ask, is sending this text message that you need to ‘deal with’?” She replied, emphasizing his last two words.
Milton knew he was better off just talking through it with his mom. She had always been willing to listen and give advice, usually with a Bible verse thrown in somewhere.
“It’s Hannah. She’s been acting weird for months now, she hardly talks to me anymore. Suddenly I get this random text from her. Of course, I was up all night, and I’m not exactly in the mood to try to work through things with her right now.”
With an invitation to talk, Mrs. Maxwell opened the door and stepped just inside his room. “Why did she text you?” she asked.
“I dunno,” said Milton, picking up his phone. “She said, ‘Hey Milton, r u busy?’”
Mrs. Maxwell paused, then started to speak, then paused again.
“What is it?” said Milton.
“Well, I have no doubt Hannah texted you because she really wanted to talk. Maybe just try to be a friend and listen. I remember one time, before I had you, the instructor from our birthing class gave your father and I some good advice.”
“Seriously, mom? Birthing class?” Milton said.
“Yes, I know, more weirdness, but don’t get distracted from the point. I still remember it like it was yesterday.” Mrs. Maxwell’s eyes glazed over as if she were recalling a fond memory, “The birthing instructor said, ‘Remember, class, if your baby is crying, and you can’t figure out why, think horse hooves, not zebras.’” Mrs. Maxwell looked at Milton and smiled.
“Horse hooves?” Milton replied skeptically.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Maxwell “Horse hooves. The instructor was referring to those old Westerns when people would put their ears to the ground to listen for a herd of buffalo or riders on horses. They were listening for horse hooves, not zebras. Yet we do the opposite; we look at a crying baby and think the solution must be something strange or exotic like a zebra. Well I’m here to tell you what you needed was usually a diaper change or a feeding or a good nap. Horse hooves! And you haven’t changed much. Could probably use a nap now. But after lunch. Which, by the way, is why I actually came here in the first place. Lunch is ready.” She smiled at him again.
Milton, speechless, stared back at her. He really didn’t understand women, and he really needed a nap. But she was right, food would be good too.
Mrs. Maxwell patted him on the back, then said, “I’d just try to listen to Hannah and try not to read into things too much. She probably needs, more than anything, a listening ear. Like it says in James, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
There it was. Milton knew the verse was coming.
“Tell you what,” his mom continued, “I’ll take your sandwich and chips up here to your room and you can text Hannah. Then try to get a nap.
“Thanks mom,” said Milton, “I really do appreciate it.”
“Let me know how it goes,” She said as she left the room.
Milton looked down at his phone on the bed. Why was it so hard to type a simple response? He didn’t want to mess up. He picked it up and typed out, “Yeah, I can talk. What’s up?”