“Norah, are you done unpacking?” her mother calls from downstairs. Norah lets out a groan. As her mother mounts up the stairs, Norah braces herself for her mother’s scolding. When Mrs. Blackwood reaches the upstairs foyer, she nearly has a heart attack at the sight of her nine-year-old daughter’s room.
“Norah Marie Blackwood, we have been in this house for three whole days and you haven’t unpacked a single box! Your brother Evan already unpacked all his stuff the day we got here!” Norah rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, because that stink-face likes this house,” Norah points out, “I hate it here. Can we please move back?”
“Don’t talk about your brother like that! And Norah, for the last time, our old house was too small which is why we moved to this one. Whether you like it or not, this is our new home.”
“It’s not my home,” Norah scowls while crossing her arms.
“That’s it, young lady! You’re not having any friends over until your finished unpacking.” Mrs. Blackwood swings around with her laundry basket and approaches the top of the spiral stairs.
“That’s not fair! Isabella was supposed to come over today!”
“Well either tell her your busy unpacking or invite her to unpack with you,” Mrs. Blackwood shouts back. Norah grunts. She grabs the home phone and dials Bella’s number. Beep, beep, beep. Rrrrrrring.
“Hello, this is Colleen Lee speaking, who’s this?” Mrs. Lee’s voice is silvery and clear.
“It’s me, Norah. Can I speak with Isabella please?” Norah impatiently taps her toe to the cool floor.
“Yes, of course, I’ll get her.” As she waits for Isabella, Norah loops her pointer finger through the telephone line over and over again until it becomes a hazy purple. After waiting for what feels like twenty minutes, Isabella’s high-pitched voice pipes through the phone.
“Hi, Nor, whatcha up to?”
“Stupid unpacking. My mom said you have to help me unpack when you come over today.”
“Oh okay, what do you want to do when we’re finished unpacking your stuff?”
“I have no idea, Bella.”
“We can decide when I get there at eleven.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Click. Norah places the phone back in its holder. She trudges back up to her room and stares at the jungle of boxes, debating whether or not she should start unpacking. I’ll wait for Bella, she thinks to herself.
When Mrs. Lee’s car pulls up to the side of the house, Norah races down the stairs, her mismatched socks gliding across the mahogany. As Bella sprints towards her, Norah opens her grand front door to let her best friend inside. Bella waves goodbye to her mother and Mrs. Blackwood welcomes her by offering a warm smile to her.
“Hello, Isabella, did Norah tell you about her duties today?” Mrs. Blackwood glances at her daughter, who has a smug grin on her face.
“Yes, she did,” Bella answers.
Norah gestures towards the stairs and the girls climb the steps two at a time. When they reach Norah’s bedroom, Bella scans the space for the first time. In the bedroom, there is a full-size bed, a bookcase in the bottom right corner, and cardboard boxes everywhere. The walls are painted a murky beige and the floor is coated with a fine layer of dust.
“Nor, I like your old room better.”
Bella and Norah look around the swarm of boxes, deciding which box they want to open first. They both end up agreeing on the large cube box that is filled with Norah’s dolls. Norah grabs a pair of green safety scissors and slices trough the sealed package. Her and Bella’s fingers pry open the cardboard lid, revealing the jumbled contents inside. The girls stick their hands in the box and take out the precious dolls.
The first figure Norah pulls out is a red-headed sailor doll that her brother, Evan, had given to her before he got accepted into Westchester academies. Norah gently strokes the doll’s knotted yarn hair.
“Hey, you found Lily!”
“Remember when we made a fort for Lily, Bernie, and Coco?”
Bella’s eyes dance as she mentions the memories made in Norah’s old basement. Bernie is Evan’s stuffed frog while Coco is Bella’s little stuffed poodle. Norah smiles at the thought of her, Evan, and Bella huddling under their fort of blankets in her basement. Bella takes out another doll.
“Hey Nor, do you remember Grace?”
Norah nods and grins at the sight of her sparkly purple fairy. She looks around her room, and her face dims at the thought of having to put her dolls in the somber bookshelf in the corner. The new house didn’t have a basement for Norah and Bella to play and build forts in.
At around three in the afternoon, Mrs. Blackwood climbs up the stairs and visits Norah’s room.
“Norah, honey, you and Bella have been up there for hours!” By then, the girls had gone through about half of Norah’s boxes.
“Does that mean we can take a break?”
“I guess so. I’ll be in my room taking a nap. You girls behave yourselves alright?”
“Okay,” the girls promise in unison. Mrs. Blackwood yawns and closes the door of the master bedroom. Bella turns to Norah.
“So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want to continue unpacking?”
“But playing with your toys has been fun!”
“Not really,” Norah whips back. Bella remains silent, and a crippling silence fills the air.
“Bella, I have a great idea,” Norah suddenly announces, “Why don’t we visit my old house?” Bella’s brows furrow.
“Nor, you’re crazy. Someone is living in your house, you can’t just go inside!”
“Bella, I’m not an idiot. We’ll just ask to look inside my room and the basement. Plus, I know the hairy dude that lives in our old house. I think his name is Mr. Mullin.” Bella purses her lips, seemingly not convinced.
“Oh, come on Bella, stop being such a wimp. The other house is just a few blocks away. We’ll go and come back before my mom wakes up.”
“Oh fine,” Bella stands up, reluctantly agreeing to her best friend.
The girls tiptoe down the stairs and soundlessly slip on their crocs. Norah gently opens the front door and she and Bella slither between the door and the door frame.
It takes Norah and Bella about five minutes to walk over to Norah’s old home on Grandview Avenue. When they reach her old house, Norah studies the exterior, disapproving of the new changes. The Home Sweet Home mat is now a Welcome mat, the curtains in Norah’s room are brown shutouts instead of the sparkly pink ones she had, and the pink flamingo on her front lawn is gone. Norah grimaces.
“Mr. Mullin is horrible at decorating.”
“I don’t even think he’s home. There’s no car in the driveway.”
“You’re right,” Norah admits. Bella pivots on her feet and gestures at Norah, calling her to follow her back home.
“Bella, come back! I know he’s not home... but I don’t think he would mind if we looked around right?”
“Nor, you’re crazy! You can’t just break into someone’s home!”
“I know, bu -but I promise it’ll be fast. We’ll run-up to my room and then the basement, and we run out,” Norah pauses and cups her hands together. “Please, Bella.”
Bella doesn’t say anything and sighs. She follows Norah, as she leads them towards the back of the house. The girls climb over the locked picket fence and pull open the back door. To their surprise, the back door is unlocked. Norah grins at Bella while her best friend reciprocates an uneasy smile. Norah leads Bella down the hall and upstairs to her old bedroom.
When they open the smooth white door, Norah feels her heart plummet to the floor. There were no toys, games, books, clothes, or even a bed. The room had nothing but boxes stacked on top of one another. The room was even repainted. It was no longer the soft pastel lavender that Norah grew to love, but a dull gray that she despised.
“This is nothing like my old room.” Norah crosses her arms and looks at the paint, that she notices is still wet.
“You couldn’t have expected Mr. Mullin not to change anything right?”
“I guess not.”
Bella strolls around Norah’s room, peering into her closet and then out the window. Her round hazel eyes widen as her gaze falls on the red sedan that is pulling into the driveway.
“Nor, Mr. Mullin is home!”
“Bella, let’s run to the basement!”
Before Bella can argue, Norah drags Bella to the bottom of the stairs, into the finished basement. The basement is filled with even more boxes than Norah’s old room.
Just then, the front door opens. Mr. Mullin sighs and strips off his huge black overcoat, hanging it into his coat closet. Bella and Norah’s hearts sink to their shoes as they hear the old floorboards creak above them. Mr. Mullin enters his living room and lies on his couch. The girls instantly hear the distant drone of the news channel he is watching.
Bella paces around the basement, nervously shaking her head while looking at her bitten fingernails.
“Norah, how are we ever going to get out of here!” Bella hisses.
“Well, our house has two exits. The first being our front door. But, that wouldn’t work because the door creaks loudly when anyone pushes or pulls it. Our second exit is the back door, but that wouldn’t work either because we have to pass the kitchen and living room on the way.” Bella squeezes her head between her knees, rocking herself back and forth on her heels.
“Norah, we’re going to jail! And it’s all your fault!” Bella’s eyes turn bright red and salty streaks of tears seep out of her eyes. Norah’s throat almost gets caught in itself at the sight of her best friend, when she thinks of a plan.
“Bella, don’t worry. Tonight, when Mr. Mullin goes to sleep, we can crawl out of this basement and go out the back door.” Norah pats her friend on the back to cheer her up.
“Yeah, but our mothers will be furious with us!” Bella cries. Norah puts a thin finger to her lips.
“Keep it down,” Norah whispers, “we can just tell them that...that we were at a friend’s house and stayed a bit too late.”
“But what if Mr. Mullin goes to bed super late?”
“Look Bella, Mr. Mullin is a hard-working man. I’m sure he’ll be in bed by nine.” Bella glares at her best friend as if to say she isn’t convinced. Norah isn’t sure she is either.
At around seven, Bella and Norah’s stomachs growl at one another, longing to be satisfied. They both look down, miserable, and hungry. Norah remembers her mother mentioning homemade bolognese and her mother’s infamous cheesy garlic bread for dinner. Norah’s mouth waters and she nearly cries when she notices a spiderweb in her corner of the basement.
“Why did we even come here?” Norah shakes her head. She came to this house expecting the warmth of games, friends, and family, but only ended up feeling cold, empty, and hungry.
“Because you said you missed the place,” Bella snaps.
“I don’t miss it anymore.”
At around nine at night, the girls exchange yawns, and their bodies become attracted to the carpeted floor. As much as they want to leave and be back in their already-made beds, they know Mr. Mullin is still up because of the raucous he is making in the kitchen while washing the dishes.
“Bella, It must be midnight by now.”
“And he’s still not asleep.”
“We’ve got to stay up so we can get out of here,” Norah whispers to Bella. They lay side by side, staring at the basement ceiling. As the hours pass, fatigue eventually sweeps the girls up and cradles them into a cavernous slumber. Norah lightly snores on the floor, while Bella’s soft breathing is as thin as the air.
At around three in the morning, a thunderous knock comes at Mr. Mullin’ door. Mr. Mullin rubs his aching eyes and steadies his feet to the floor. The people outside the door rap at his door again, more urgently this time.
“This is the police, open up!” Mr. Mullin, in his fuzzy green robe and fine slippers, pulls the door open. Three officers push past him and one of them shoves him to the wall.
“Hey what’s going on!” Mr. Mullin’s head is smashed into the wall while a tall, blonde police officer latches cold metal handcuffs on him.
“Anthony Mullin you are under arrest on suspicion of holding hostage two nine-year-old girls by the names of Norah Blackwood and Isabella Lee.”
The officers storm through Mr. Mullin’s house and easily find the half-awake girls lying in Mr. Mullin’s basement. A female, brunette officer around the age of thirty pulls the upper arms of both Norah and Bella as their feet drag up the stairs. Mr. Mullin’s mouth widens as his face scrunches up.
“I don’t know these girls. I really don’t! I’ve never met them in my life! I don’t know how or when they broke into my house. Please officers you gotta believe me!” Mr. Mullin’s voice is brittle and his voice cracks every other sentence. Mr. Mullin becomes so desperate that he begins to sob. Norah’s heart swims in thick mud, as she watches a grown man weep for the first time.
“Is this true?” the female officer asks.
No, Norah wanted to scream. No, no, no, no, no. I came here because I missed my home. But this isn’t my home. My home’s with my family on Elm Street, not here on Grandview. She almost spills the truth when she bites her tongue. No, I can’t tell them. They won’t let me go home. Mr. Mullin doesn’t have a home or a family. It won’t matter where he is.
“Girls?” The female officer waves her hand in front of Norah and Bella. Bella’s bloodshot eyes glance at Norah expectantly.
“Yes,” Norah replies, staring in between the officer’s eyes. Red and blue flashes of light fill the looming entrance of the house, as the female officer nods at the blonde officer to take Mr. Mullin away. Mr. Mullin begins to bawl again, not even looking back at his new house. Norah doesn’t look towards his direction because she knew if she did, the guilt would gush in her eyes and give her away.
When Norah returns home, her mother, father, and brother swallow her in their arms. After numerous questions and multiple I’m okays from Norah, Mrs. Blackwood heats some of the leftover bolognese and garlicky cheese bread. As Norah licks her bowl clean, her mother turns on the TV. Various news channels flash numerous headlines on the kidnapping story: Man in Oregon Kidnaps Two Young Girls, Forty-two-year-old Man Keeps Two Girls Trapped in his Basement, Two Nine-Year-Old Girls Trapped in a Man’s Basement. Mr. Mullin’s neighbors appear on a few news channels and testify that they saw Bella and Norah “scared” through the windowed basement. Norah’s eyes water as she places her bowl in the sink and kisses her mother goodnight. As Norah flees up the stairs, her mother stops her.
“Norah, I know today’s been very hard on you, but I want you to know we’re here for you; your father, brother, and I. So let me know if you need anything okay?” Norah’s throat shatters and she sits on the stairs, curling up in a small ball. Ugly, sloppy tears spew everywhere.
“Oh Norah, honey, what’s wrong?” Mrs. Blackwood rushes to her daughter and cradles Norah as if she were a baby.
“I messed up, Mommy...”
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Yikes. Wow. That's something I can definitely imagine myself doing as a little girl, I got chills. Superbly told. Poor Mr. Mullin. Just one thing. I can imagine Norah's mom thinking she'd go back to the old house and hide inside it. But Mr. Mullin would take no blame in this situation. Maybe they enter the house to search, and only arrest Mr. Mullin when Nora blames him, to avoid getting arrested for trespassing?
Thanks for your feedback! It means a lot to me. Honestly, though, you're right. I definitely should've constructed the ending better and it would've made more sense of Norah's mother entered the house and Norah pinned the blame on Mr. Mullin. I am glad you enjoyed Norah's Home. When I get around to it, I'll try to edit the ending, so that it makes more sense. Thank you!