It was at that exact moment that my dad walked in the front door, home from his trip two days early. My mom's face had a look of such profound shock and confusion--think Socrates at the San Dimas Mall--that I immediately began to cry. All my feelings of betrayal and shame poured out of me, and I spent the next hour and a half in tears, lined up next to my brothers on the floor of the dining room like three broken jailbirds hauled back in after an escape attempt gone rotten. My mom was furious--and maybe at the same time a bit dazzled by the extent of our chutzpah and ingenuity. She slammed us and stretched us until every invented phone call had been dragged out into the light. I even came clean about Mrs. Machida and Dr. Burke. My mom kept putting her head in both hands and moaning, though sometimes it seemed like she was laughing, too.
"You guys are all in more trouble than you've ever known," she said at last. "You're obviously grounded for the rest of the year. And there'll be more to it than that. I might need some time to dream up a punishment harsh enough to fit the crime." She surveyed us. "Is there anything else you need to tell me about? I want to know now. No more surprises."
Peter's sad, weary gaze had come to rest on the door frame between the dining room and the kitchen, where the painted-over doorbell was tucked. He raised his hand and pointed, too deflated to even sign to her.
"Wait!" my dad cried. "Don't get carried away! You got to leave us something."