“Okay Rob, rake all the leaves in the backyard, and we’ll give you a reward,” Dad said.
“Are you going to be all right here alone Robbie?” Mom asked.
Robert considered reminding them that his name was just Robert, not Rob or Robbie, but they were his parents and knew his name perfectly well. He settled for rolling his eyes when they weren’t looking.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. Soon they were out the door to celebrate something-or-other. Robert hadn’t really been paying attention, so he’d only heard the end of the conversation.
He went out to the garage and found the rake and some old gardening gloves. Going back through the house, he paused to put on a jacket and grab a water bottle. It was time to get started.
The work wasn’t too hard. It just took a long time. He hummed little bits of songs while he raked and the pile grew.
It grew and grew. It was mostly leaves, but there were a few small branches tossed in there too. Finally it was done. He leaned his rake against the plastic garden table and dropped the gloves on the leaf pile so that he could open his water bottle.
The leaf pile shook, and a sudden wind tore around it, but the leaves didn’t scatter. Instead, the leaf pile rose up in a pillar, until it was standing on two legs that were just smaller piles of leaves. It had two dark red leaves for eyes and a cavernous mouth. Two larger branches jutted from its sides as arms, with the gloves hanging from the ends. It was a little creepy.
“Give me a name,” it said in a whispery voice.
“Leonard,” Robert said. “I suppose you could shorten it to –”
“No,” the leaf pile said. “Just Leonard.”
Robert could respect that. “So, what do you want to do?” he asked.
“Go inside and eat cake,” Leonard said.
“Isn’t it too hot for you in there?” Robert asked.
“I’m not made of snow,” Leonard said. “It’s my birthday and I want a cake.” Leonard began to stride toward the house. Instead of leaving a trail of leaves, they seemed to be attracted to him. By the time he reached the house there wasn’t a leaf left on the ground in the back yard. Robert opened the door and let him in.
Robert found his mother’s favorite cookbook and began measuring flour and cracking eggs. Once the cake was in the oven, he started the frosting. There wasn’t any powdered sugar, so he ground up regular sugar in the blender. It was still gritty, but Leonard wouldn’t mind.
When the cake came out of the oven, Robert stuck it in the freezer to cool. “It’ll need at least half an hour before we can put the frosting on,” he said. “Would you like to watch cartoons?”
“Okay,” Leonard said. “Lead the way.” They sat together on the couch and watched cartoons. Leonard had a rustly, crackly sort of laugh. It somehow made everything even funnier. They laughed and laughed.
Eventually, Robert went in to frost the cake. He left Leonard in the living room watching cartoons. When he returned, Leonard had become a formless mass of leaves spilling off the couch. “Oh, Leonard,” he said sadly.
He grabbed some garbage bags from the cupboard and dug the gloves out of the pile of leaves and put them on. He scooped up the leaves and stuffed them in the bags and left the bags on the back porch. Then he turned off the cartoons.
There was a roundish yellow leaf stuck between the couch cushions. Robert picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Just then, his parents returned home. His dad was carrying a little paper sack. “Let’s see how well you did, Rob,” he said. He peered out the sliding glass door at the back yard. “Honey, come look! There isn’t a leaf left on the lawn!”
“Great work, Robbie,” Mom said. “You definitely earned your reward. Let’s go to the kitchen and we can tell you about the movie we watched.”
Robert followed them to the kitchen. “Wow,” his mom squealed, “Robbie made us a cake for our anniversary!” She hugged him tightly. “You are such a good kid.”
“Well, that makes his reward kind of pointless,” Dad said.
“Nonsense, he’ll just have two pieces of cake. Right, Robbie?” Mom said.
“Well, we do need to celebrate,” Robert said. He’d eat one for himself and one for Leonard. After all, it was Leonard’s birthday. Maybe he should save a little slice in the freezer later too, just in case Leonard came back again one day.