"There's Always 'Hope'"
"I suppose you're going to tell me your sister did this." growled Regal Heart.
Connie didn't say anything one way or the other; she was too shocked, and she feared punishment. Either way, she was in trouble. On one hand she could take the fall, since she had been the one to do it. On the other hand, she could blame it on Hope, and run the risk of having Hope deny it; then she would be punished for lying. One way or the other, her goose was cooked.
Regal was tapping her foot, and the splashing sound of it almost made Connie giggle. Almost. Regal Heart was up to her ankles in water, and she was not happy about it. "I'll ask the two of you one more time, and I better get an answer; which one of you tried to flush an apple down the toilet?" She suspected Connie, but Hope had played her fair share of pranks too. Once when Noble Heart was babysitting them he had fallen asleep, and Hope decided it would be fun to spray whipped cream into his hand and tickle his nose with a feather. When he reached up to scratch his nose, he got a rather messy surprise; his response was that he was just glad it wasn't shaving cream, because it had gotten into his mouth.
Stellar Heart, who was busy with the plunger, gave a brief snort of laughter, which his wife ignored. It wasn't that he was amused, exactly; he wasn't, since his job at the moment had no dignity to it whatsoever. It was just that Regal had a funny way of saying things when she was annoyed. He was also happy that he wasn't the one in trouble. There was a gurgle and a 'sploosh', and he straightened his back with a sigh. "Got it!" he held up the apple triumphantly in his rubber-gloved paw.
Connie couldn't seem to find her voice to tell them the truth, and seeming to sense this, Hope stepped forward and put on her most contrite face. "I did it, Mommy..."
Three pairs of eyes looked at Hope in shock.
"Hope, you should know better." said Regal, helping Stellar to mop up the water.
"I'm sorry too, because you're grounded." said Regal, and she did look sorry. She had never liked giving out punishments. With Connie, though, it was somewhat easier; Connie was a bit of a spitfire who fought tooth and nail against authority. With Hope it was much harder. She would hang her head and pooch out her lower lip, and her parents felt like a couple of heels when discipline was necessary. This case wasn't any different.
Connie couldn't believe her good luck! She caught her sister in the hallway, and hugged her. "Thanks, Hopie!"
"You're welcome." Hope replied, forcing a smile. She had been planning on spending the weekend playing 'Tea Party' with Hugs! She couldn't believe her rotten luck...or her own stupidity. Connie skipped off to play with Tugs, and Hope trudged up to her room to sulk.
"That's the last of it." sighed Regal, sitting on the edge of the tub.
Without a word, Stellar Heart passed her and stepped into the shower, closing the curtain. A moment later the sound of running water reached her ears, soon to be joined by her husband's singing. It was too bad he was too shy to sing outside the shower. She had tried to convince him how good his singing voice was, but all he did was blush, mumble, and change the subject. The April Fools talent show and Christmas Eve notwithstanding, he generally preferred not to sing. Right now, though, she couldn't properly enjoy it; something was nagging at her, and wouldn't let her be. "Hey, Stel?"
"'And if they ever build that highway to the moon, I'll just find somethin' else to promise you.'" he sang, not hearing her.
"Stellar Heart!" she said louder.
"'When a...' huh?" he peeked out, sporting a crown of lather on his head.
"Do you think I was too hard on Hope?" she asked.
"Well, no..." he frowned, uncomfortable. "That really isn't like her, though."
"Yeah, that's what worries me..." she replied.
Hope sighed, walking over to the open window to look out. It just wasn't fair. She had only wanted to get her sister out of trouble, not get herself into it. She hadn't thought about the consequences, and now her weekend was shot to pieces. Oh well...at least she had kept Connie out of trouble, and avoided another fight. She comforted herself with that thought, and was feeling much better about her decision until she heard voices from outside.
"I can't believe they bought it!" Connie excitedly told her friend Tugs.
"Well, I don't think that's very nice..." Tugs replied. Then he asked, "She did it on her own?"
"Yeah! I always knew she'd do anything for me, but I didn't think she'd take the heat for the apple-toilet thing." Connie was saying, and one could practically hear the gears turning in her head. "I can do anything, and she'll step forward and back me up! Why didn't I think of that before?"
"I think you're being mean. I don't wanna play today...See ya, Connie."
"Well, fine. Do what you want to." Connie huffed as Tugs left the yard.
Hope couldn't believe what she had just overheard. She had only meant to be nice, but now Connie was planning on using her! She got to her feet to tell her parents, but she halted before she had made even three steps. What if they didn't believe her? Or if they did, what if she got a reputation as a tattle-tale afterwards? No, it was too late. But one thing was for sure; Hopeful Heart Liger would not be a doormat! She went downstairs to stare at the blank television screen; being grounded also meant no TV.
Regal Heart had just taken her turn in the shower, and was still a bit fluffy from the blow dryer when she came down to see what the rest of her family was doing. She found her husband sitting in the kitchen with a glass of milk, and went to join him. "Where are the girls?"
"Hope's upstairs, and Connie's out in the yard." he replied, taking a sip from his glass.
"How come you aren't watching her?" asked Regal, getting up again.
"I am, on and off. She's playing with Tugs." he told her.
Just then, Connie came through the door and breezed by without saying hello, which wasn't all that odd for her.
"Have fun?" asked Regal.
"Huh?" Connie skidded to a stop, looking rather like a deer caught in the headlights of a truck. "Oh. Yeah." Connie continued on her way, and Regal narrowed her eyes in suspicion. 'She's certainly jumpier than usual...' she thought.
"Sometimes I worry about her..." murmured Stellar Heart.
Regal looked curiously back at her husband. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I can't put my finger on it, but something's out of the ordinary with her. Haven't you noticed how guilty she's acting?" he asked.
"Sure I have, but why?" she returned.
"Don't know that, do we?" he sighed. "I don't know, I just think she's more deceptive than any Care Bear Cousin has a right to be...I hope she grows out of it. She's my daughter, and I love her, but that's not the sort of image we want to have, is it?"
Regal smiled a little and reached over to rub the back of his neck, eliciting a contented purr from her husband. "I'm sure she'll grow out of it. She's a good cub, and she knows right from wrong. It's her temper that worries me more."
He chuckled, and was about to reply when the crash of shattering pottery reached their ears.
"Uh-oh..." Connie whispered, gazing down at the blue shards of porcelain that littered the floor. In her hurry to find Hope, she had forgotten about the vase that stood in the hallway. Connie took off running, and vaulted onto the couch beside Hope.
"What's wrong?" asked Hope.
"Nothing, just be cool..." whispered Connie.
Stellar Heart entered the room, wearing a confused sort of frown. "Who knocked over the vase? Were either of you hurt?" he asked.
Connie didn't say anything, and neither did Hope. Connie glanced over at her sister, who laid her ears back and frowned in negation. Uh-oh...
"Well?" Stellar put his fists on his hips, and deepened his frown. "What's with all the secret looks? Something's going on, and I want to know what." He spoke calmly, but they could see that he was beginning to get annoyed.
"What are you doing?" hissed Connie.
Hope simply said, "I heard you."
Connie gaped at her sister in disbelief, and Hope simply sat there and glared straight back at her. Stellar had pretty much figured out who the culprit was by now, but still he waited. He wanted to give Connie a chance to own up, and he reasoned that there was still a chance he might be mistaken. Both twins subsided into an almost identical pair of sullen frowns, looking for all the world like a pair of bookends. When he saw that no answer was forthcoming, Stellar Heart heaved a sigh and shook his head.
"All right...Why don't you two go upstairs and talk this over? I'll be up with your mother in about ten minutes or so." he told them, standing aside to let them pass. The reversal in their demeanors certainly got his attention; Connie passed him slowly with her head hanging low, but Hope flounced up to their room in a fit of righteous ire. Something was definitely brewing with those two, and he thought it best that they work this one out on their own.
As soon as they were upstairs with the door closed, Hope rounded on her sister and ground out, "All right, I heard you talking to Tugs, so don't even try getting out of it! I'm not gonna be in trouble for this one, and if you don't tell 'em, then I will!"
Connie's look of shock turned into a scowl. "You were spying on me?"
"Hard not to, when you're talkin' under my window! I don't mind stepping in and taking the heat sometimes, but I'm not gonna let you use me!"
Connie got nose-to-nose with her sister. "Oh yeah?"
"Yes!" Hope snapped.
Connie wasn't expecting that, and she opened and closed her mouth as she tried to formulate a response.
"Shut up!" growled Hope, determined to silence her sister for once. While Connie stood frozen in astonishment, Hope retreated to her side of the room.
Connie looked down at the floor, and mumbled, "I'm sorry..."
Hope didn't answer her, but she felt her anger beginning to melt away until she was waxing mellow. Connie's apology might have mollified her, but it was far more likely that the cause of her sudden calm was that she had been the one to lose her temper for once. It was both liberating and exhausting at the same time.
As Stellar Heart had promised, he and Regal Heart soon went upstairs to speak with their daughters. Hope sent Connie a look that stated very clearly that, apology or no, she wouldn't step forward this time. Connie couldn't really blame her.
Regal sat down on Connie's bed, and beckoned the girls over with a wave of her paw. Her face was serious but reassuring at the same time, and Hope obligingly went over and sat on her mother's lap. Connie went over to her father, since there was only enough room on Regal's lap now for one of them, and looked hesitantly up at him. He smiled a bit and sat down so that she could sit on his lap, then he looked over at his wife.
"You want to start, or should I?" he asked.
"You better start." she said with a bit of a smirk. "You seem to have something in mind."
"Right," he agreed, "well-"
Connie interrupted him. "Daddy..."
He stopped in mid-sentence, and looked down at her. "Yes?" He looked like he had been expecting this, but Connie didn't notice.
The cub worked up all her nerve, and said, "I broke the vase...and I was the one that put the apple down the potty..."
Hope raised her eyebrows; she hadn't been expecting her sister to admit to that.
"Oh, I see..." Stellar Heart nodded his head, "Do you feel better now?"
Connie began to cry; was she ever in for it! "No..." she sniffled, buring her face in his shoulder. "You're gonna punish me!"
"Well, yes..." he said truthfully, "But since you told the truth, it won't be so bad."
Hope piped up, "Am I still grounded?"
Regal Heart shook her head, "Nah, you're off the hook...but why did you say you did it when you didn't?"
"I dunno...I guess I didn't want Connie in trouble again." Hope replied with a shrug.
Connie peeked out from behind her father's arm, and scowled at her sister. "Whaddaya mean 'again'?"
"Well, I don't like it." said Hope, "Mommy and Daddy get mad, then you get mad...It's like bein' in a game of 'Monkey in the Middle'."
Their parents' faces became regretful as they heard this; they hadn't realized that sometimes Hope was feeling trapped in the middle, but now it was painfully obvious. They tried their best to be good parents, and for the most part they were successful, but that didn't mean they were immune to making mistakes. At least this one was relatively easy to clear up, now that they were aware of it.
"You mad at me?" Connie asked her parents, looking worried.
"We're a bit disappointed, but we're not mad." said Regal, "You did the right thing, you came clean; so you're only grounded for the rest of the day. But you have to learn to think before you do something. Ask yourself, 'Should I be doing this?'"
Connie sighed, then nodded her head, still sniffling. Hope jumped down off her mother's lap and got her a tissue, which she gratefully accepted. "Thanks...I thought for a second you weren't gonna stick up for me anymore, Hopie..."
"Sure I will, you're my sister." Hope replied, and what she said next was probably the most groan-worthy pun in the history of the Care Bear Family. "There's always 'Hope'."
Connie curled her lip, and pinched her nostrils shut. "Pewie, Sis, that stinks!"
As their parents burst out laughing, the sisters exchanged a glance that was plainer than any words; 'And they say cubs are easily amused...'
Author's Note: Stellar sang a line or two of the Allen Jackson song, "Buicks to the Moon", and I don't own that. Please excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes, as I'm stuck using Wordpad, and the free online translator site I go to seems to be taking a powder right now. More to come soon!