… and her husband, Jeff, was not the first to sling that word at her. Yes, she was inquisitive, but a gossip? People needed to know what was what, especially if it was important. She wasn’t sure if this was important, not yet anyway. Her husband, Jeff, didn’t think so, and told her to mind her own business. This was her business. She lived here. What went on in her neighborhood affected her. It affected the whole block. What did he know? He was at work all day.
Millie pulled her threadbare, velour housecoat around her while she sat at her dining room table nursing her morning coffee. She watched the house across the street as she had every morning since the young couple moved in last week. In fact, she watched the house all day long as a regular stream of people came and went. People just didn’t have that many visitors unless they were up to no good. She decided two days ago that they were running some kind of “sales operation.”
She couldn’t wait another day. She had to get over there to meet these people. A homemade welcoming gift was the perfect door opener. She leaned back in her chair and peered into her oven. A meatloaf nestled on a bed of seasoned potatoes and carrots was beginning to brown on top. Who could resist that?
The first customer of the day pulled into her new neighbors’ driveway. A well-dressed older man popped out of his shiny black sports car, strode up to the porch and knocked. The door opened, he disappeared inside, and three minutes later, he exited. His tires squealed as he backed onto the street and made a quick get-away.
Oh, she hoped a drug operation hadn’t moved in. It was her biggest worry with all the news about cracking down on drugs in the city. This had always been a quiet, safe as can be, doors always open, friendly neighborhood. If a bad element had moved in…well, she would call the police the minute she knew what was going on. First, she had to confirm her suspicions.
Her lovely meatloaf had another nineteen minutes. She went to the bedroom and put on a dress she hadn’t worn in years. The bodice still fit her, though she struggled with the back zipper. The blue field of flowers set off her eyes and pulled a lovely silver sheen from her mousy brown curls. She found her light blue pumps in a box on the top shelf of her closet. She couldn’t remember the last time she wore them, but surely they hadn’t pinched her toes like this. The pain was worth the picture. The skirt flared around her calves just as she remembered.
As she stroked the last coat of mascara on her top eyelashes, the timer on the oven buzzed.
The meatloaf pan was hot. She put it in a serving basket and covered it with a cheerfully checkered cloth napkin. Satisfied with the presentation, she waltzed out the front door, down her walk and across the street. At her new neighbors’ driveway, she hesitated a moment as a sudden chill of fear paralyzed her. She was an unexpected guest. What would she do if one of them came to the door with a weapon?
She would throw the meatloaf. The weight would catch them off guard giving her time to run around the corner.
What was she thinking? She should turn around right now and abort the mission. No, no. All she had to do was act neighborly. She walked straight to the door, and knocked. From inside, she heard a female voice sing, “Just a minute.”
Footsteps clattered on hardwood flooring. Millie’s heart pounded what if, what if, what if.
The door opened and a very pregnant young woman dressed in a flowery sundress answered the door. “Hello. Can I help you?” she said.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” said Millie. She lifted the basket toward the young woman. “Do you like meatloaf?” As an afterthought she said, “I live across the street. Matilda Whoosits, folks call me Millie.”
The young woman said, “Millie, how lovely. My husband will really appreciate a home cooked meal. I haven’t had the stomach for cooking in so long.” She rolled her eyes and hugged her belly. “My name is Susan.” She held out her hands for the basket. “Would you like to come in?”
“Yes,” said Millie, handing it to her. A feeling of dread fluttered under a wave of giddiness. “You have a lovely home.” Dozens of unopened packing boxes cluttered the middle of the room. There was no furniture except three fold out chairs and a bistro table cluttered with paperwork squashed by an opened, over-sized box on top of it.
Millie looked down the hallway to her left wondering if Susan was unpacking rooms at the back of the house first. She said, “It will be glorious when you are unpacked.”
Susan sighed. “Yes. My husband’s new job keeps him busy, and I am desperate to establish a new client base before the baby comes.”
Millie was shocked at her openness. “Oh?” she said. “A client base?”
“I sell essential oils. Do you use them?”
“No,” said Millie, never having heard of such a thing. Was it a catchword for marijuana or some other drug?
“Let me show you,” said Susan.
Dear god, what had she stepped into. She backed up a few steps toward the door, pretending to look around.
Susan grabbed a brown vial from the box on the table. She said, “This is Wild Orange. Here, hold out your palm. I’ll put a drop on your hand. Rub it in and smell. It’s delightful.”
“Uh…,” said Millie.
“It’s okay. It’s completely natural,” said Susan.
Timidly, Millie held out her hand. The drop didn’t cause any weird tingling. The light in the room didn’t fill with strange lights or colors. She sniffed. Nothing happened. She rubbed her palms together and sniffed again. The heady scent of Wild Orange filled her nose. “You’re right. It is lovely.”
“It’s great for cleaning. I put a few drops in a spray bottle of water and clean counters, the stove top, the refrigerator. It works like a charm and everything smells fresh. Because it’s natural it won’t hurt the baby. Or anyone else. Here.” She grabbed a small mesh bag out of the box and handed it Millie. There was a tiny brown vial inside it, a smaller version of the one in Susan’s hand. “Take that sample home and try it. If you like it, it’s only $13.99 for one this size.” She held up her vial. “And it will last you for months.”
“Thank you,” said Millie, not at all prepared for the charm of Susan’s cheerful delight in her product. Surely there was more going on than this.
There was a knock on the door.
“Oh, my distributor is here.”
A distributor? Millie timidly followed. Susan ushered in a young woman with a baby in her arms. She had a large bag slung over her back, but she was very clean, well dressed and didn’t look at all like Millie imagined a drug dealer would.
Susan introduced them.
Millie was too nervous to catch her name so she muttered, “Well, enjoy your meatloaf, dear. I will leave now and let you attend to business.”
Susan held the door for her, but placed a warm hand on her forearm as Millie stepped onto the porch. “Thank you very much for the meatloaf. It was so nice to meet you. Please come again. Oh, and enjoy the oil.”
She handed Millie a business card. Then she and her distributor disappeared behind the door as she closed it.
Millie stood on the porch, a little stunned. She pulled out the minuscule bottle of essential oil and opened it. She sniffed. Was this the cause of all the comings and goings? It really did smell refreshing.
She stepped off the porch, and wandered down the short sidewalk to the driveway. She drifted across the street, sniffing the Wild Orange in the small sample bottle. This was such a lovely neighborhood. The trees sang with birdsong, flowers waved in the soft breeze. She walked to her front door. The red paint she and Jeff had decided upon was very pretty. She sniffed the Wild Orange again. If she started right away, she had time to vacuum the house, polish the windows, change the sheets, clean the bathroom, and make a second meatloaf. Jeff would love that.