He had intended to take her all the way to her house in the tree, to have Fresnel (that was his name, right?) deal with her, but he didn’t make it as far as the fountain before she finally threatened to make him sorry. He did not want to become sorry, so he tossed her right as she went to spray him. Luckily for Rhodes, but unluckily for one of the construction workers, Maple missed her target. The little Machop girl got hit right square in the face... and consequently passed out. It was very good that she wasn’t carrying any heavy or cumbersome items, very good indeed! Rhodes was starting to get a little ticked off though. Even all the kids he played with in Missy’s house were less of a handful than Maple! All of the kids combined!
“Look what you did, Maple! She wasn’t even doin’ nothin and look what you did to her! You better go make sure she’s okay and go say you didn’t mean it!”
Maple continued to look indignant and defiant, though Rhodes thought he could see a bit of reason slowly working its way through cracks that formed when she misaimed. “Yeah well... you made it happen. This is ya’ll’s fault, not mine.” She made a little sneer with her snout as she said this.
Rhodes picked his next words out very carefully, trying to figure out the best way to get Maple reined and under control. He could do this, he just needed to quickly figure out what would grab her attention over anything else. Mike was gone... so he couldn’t threaten anything about that. But there was that Fresnel guy. He saw Maple with him on more than one occasion, so that had to be the trick. She seemed fond of him, so Rhodes had to place his chips on her whimsical and fickle kid nature not having already caused her to 180 her stance on the guy.
“I guess I’ll go talk to Fresnel about that then,” Rhodes said calmly. He talked low, like he was speaking to himself. It was important to pretend that he didn’t care if Maple heard him or not.
“What? What, why?” she asked with a hint of panic. “You got no reason to do that!”
Rhodes looked at her, as if momentarily confused that someone had butted into his solo conversation. “What? Do... what? Sorry Maple, I gotta go. Maybe I’ll see you around or somethin’.” And with that, Rhodes made a mad dash for the treehouse.“NOOO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”
she screeched, darting after him.
Rhodes was up the ramp in an instant (and boy did it help to be able to make amazing leaps). He didn’t know his way around the massive treehouse at all, but hoped that it wouldn’t take longer than a few seconds extra (which was all the spare time he had, really). Many Rescuer teams’ casual conversations were being cut short as Rhodes flew through each of the rooms in a blur. It occurred to him that he should have asked one of them where Fresnel was before continuing, but by the time he came to this conclusion, he found himself climbing a steep flight of stairs up and up and up. The final room... the “lighthouse” room... this had to be his. Rhodes scrambled at the plain wooden door until it opened, dashed in, and closed the door behind him, placing himself against it. He could still hear the angry banshee screeches from Maple steadily climbing up to his height.
Rhodes’s heart was pounding something crazy; he had nearly forgotten all about his goal in his anticipation of Maple’s arrival when he suddenly heard a clearing of the throat.
“Yes? May I, erm, help you?”
Rhodes turned around and caught sight of the room’s sole occupant-- how had Rhodes even missed him before? The orbs on his tail and head glowed so brightly, even in this early afternoon light! He realized how absurd he must have looked in this situation: storming into the room, Maple unleashing deathly screams from below... And this guy didn’t really seem fazed by it, either. As a matter of fact, he simply seemed worn down and listless. If Rhodes wasn’t mistaken, there were lines under his eyes, too. Had those been there a few weeks ago? He couldn’t remember.
“Oh, um, Maple was acting... up. She was being kinda like a bully and, well, I didn’t know what to do. So I guess I made it out like I was telling on her. I don’t really care, y’know, but I wanted to get her out of the store since she was bothering the other customers n’stuff.” Rhodes now felt a bit sheepish for dropping more problems on this guy when life itself was clearly dumping enough of those on him as it was. But, Maple wasn’t the problem of the Merchants. Rhodes would do as he had to to maintain peace in the store. It gave him a bit of pride to make things a little easier for PK lately. He knew that she, too, had gotten enough problems dumped on her lately.
“Mm, I thought that was her I heard out there.” He gestured out one of the windows in the direction of the Merchants’ Hut. He slowly got up and ambled toward the door. “I’ll get it from here. Sorry to have troubled you. She’s been...” he trailed off, searching for the least offensive words.
“She’s been a handful since Mike left.” Fresnel let out a hollow laugh and dimmed considerably.
Rhodes felt very uncomfortable at that. “I bet...”
He suddenly realized that he had to get out of the treehouse before he felt too bad about the situation there. As much as he liked helping others, he sensed that it was just too complex for a single kid to deal with, and so he climbed up and out one of the windows and hopped down through the branches ‘til he reached the ground. For now, he would stick to helping mainly Sandy, Malt, and PK.
Part 29 of "The Dates"