by Linda Arnold. Scroll to the end or click here for Author information.
Chapter 1 - Candy Land
“But, Mom, I don’t want to play her stupid Candy Land game. It’s so old-fashioned and boring!
She doesn’t have anything cool to do at her house!”
“Rachel, I told you already you had to be nice to the new neighbors,” Mom replied. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“Her brother is mean to me, and calls me stupid names,” Rachel complained. “Besides, he always wants to play games on my tablet. Dad said I have to take care of it – since it cost so much.”
“I know he did, and he’s right. But, you are there to watch over it. Just make sure you always bring it back home.”
Rachel sighed as she went out the back door. She let it slam…just enough to make her feel better. She reluctantly knocked on Sarah’s door. She went in the back way so none of her other friends would see her.
“Hi, Rachel! I was so excited to have you come over to play my new game! I got it for my birthday…a little early. It’s not until next week,” Sarah exclaimed. “I don’t know anyone here but you.”
“Yeah, my mom told me I should come over to introduce myself the other day, seeing that you are new to the neighborhood,” Rachel said, distractedly.
She was glancing to see if that annoying brother was around.
As her eyes surveyed the kitchen, she saw dirty dishes, high enough to make her mom croak. The table was full of half-eaten food, and dishes from the night before.
To her amazement, however, there were fresh cookies, warm and fragrant, sitting on the counter.
“Look! My mom made these for us. It’s for a celebration….me finding a new friend and all,” Sarah exclaimed happily.
“Oh, great…now I’m her new friend,” Rachel was thinking.
“Come on, I’m dying to play my new game,” Sarah said, as she took her by the hand, leading her down the hall.
They passed by a bedroom, or two. A woman lay on a bed, eyes closed.
“Be quiet, she’s sleeping,” Sarah whispered. “She’s been sick a long time.”
“What’s wrong?” Rachel asked.
“I’m not sure. They don’t tell me and Roger much. He’s only five, you know,” Sarah offered.
“Come on, let’s play,” Sarah urged. “We only have a little while before I have to wake her up, and give her the next dose of medicine. Dad will be home from work in an hour to take over.”
As they entered Sarah’s very messy room, Rachel noticed Roger in the corner watching television. She almost thought she saw a tear in his eye. Sarah already had the Candy Land game set up on the bed, in great anticipation of her new friend’s visit.
“Would you mind terribly if Roger played your tablet, just for a few minutes?” asked Sarah. “He only has a few toys, and he thinks your game is so cool!”
“Sure,” Rachel replied cautiously. “I can only stay a little while.”
'Thank goodness,' she was thinking, but continued, “We have to go to church tonight.”
The game began, each taking turns, moving their pieces around the board. They talked a little, about school, about Mrs. Chavez, their 5th grade teacher, their homework assignments, until a door opened and shut softly.
“Hi, Dad,” Roger said.
He had been playing so quietly that Rachel had almost forgotten about him.
“Come, and eat your cookies,” he replied. “Mom got up at lunch time to make them for you and Sarah, and, of course, our new friend, Rachel.”
As the three hungry kids ate their cookies, Sarah’s dad poured cold, fresh milk he had brought home from the store.
Rachel could not believe a whole hour had passed by since her arrival. She had actually had a good time.
As Rachel walked across the two back yards to her own home, she thought about her afternoon. Sarah was actually smart, funny, and interesting. Red-haired Roger had even left her alone, engrossed in her new iPod.
As the backdoor slammed again, she excitedly called out,
“Mom, do you think it would be o.k. if I invited Sarah to church tonight?”
“That would be great,” Mom said, smiling at her daughter. “Call her, and tell her to be ready at 7:00.”
Chapter 2 - Lost Homework
Caroline sat at the back of the class.
She was tired, and not feeling well this morning. Her brother had made her late for school today. He couldn’t find his homework. He was so disorganized!
She was mostly mad.
Her best friend, Rachel, had invited that poor girl, who had moved next door to her, to church last night. Mrs. Warren had even let them pass out the crafts and the snack! Rachel had smiled and said hello, but her attention was definitely spent on Sarah.
Caroline and Rachel had been friends since they were four. Rachel had been new to the neighborhood then. Living right across the street, they were bound to meet and play together nearly every day since. They told each other secrets, and promised to be friends for life.
Mrs. Chavez was calling the roll, but Caroline was lost in thought.
Several students were staring at her, so she automatically said, “Here.” Everyone started to laugh.
“Students!” Mrs. Chavez scolded. There was an immediate hush across the room.
Mrs. Chavez had always been Caroline’s favorite teacher. She was so smart, and knew nearly everything about the world. But, today, she was just staring at her, looking rather impatient.
“Caroline, where is your report on India?”
Caroline could feel the blood drain from her face. She felt like she could hardly breathe. She thought for a moment. Everyone was waiting, especially Mrs. Chavez. Her mind raced through the events of the morning. She was sure she had brought it with her to the car. She remembered putting it in her blue folder.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Chavez. I’m not quite sure where my report is,” choked Caroline. “I finished it several days ago. I – I,” Caroline stuttered. “I don’t have it.”
“That will be a zero, Caroline,” Mrs. Chavez was saying. “This report was announced a month ago.”
Caroline felt her face turn as red as a beet. Her mind was wandering again. If Rachel had not made her so angry last night! If her brother had not made her so upset this morning, making her late!
Time seemed to stand still for the next hour. Caroline hardly heard a word her teacher said. When the bell finally rang, she felt so numb she could hardly get out of her desk.
She walked down the crowded hall, wishing it was time for lunch. Maybe she would feel better if she ate something.
Suddenly, far ahead, she saw a sight that made her feel sick, instead of hungry. Rachel and Sarah were walking, side by side, laughing at a funny joke, it seemed. Maybe she was the joke! That’s what she felt like…a big joke.
She slipped into art class – her favorite.
She tried to put aside the early part of her day. She wanted to concentrate. Today, Mrs. Stewart was going to announce the guidelines for the annual art contest.
“Students, as you remember, the art contest is for grades 4, 5, and 6. Any medium is permitted, paint, ink, chalk, charcoal pencil, whatever you enjoy using. The prize for 1st place is $ 25.00. All entries must be turned in by April 15th. Any questions?”
The classroom was abuzz with questions and whispers about what each student would choose to do for their project. Though her morning had gone badly, Caroline felt better just thinking about this new venture.
She couldn’t decide between sunsets, her new kitten, her friends…oh, yeah, what friends would that be?
The bell rang. Caroline picked up her backpack, and turned to leave the classroom. As she walked slowly toward the door, full of thoughts, good and bad, someone spoke.
“Caroline, you dropped something.”
It was Sam.
She stopped in her tracks.
The cutest guy in the entire school was standing right in front of her. She barely breathed out a quiet, “Oh, thanks.”
In his hand was her blue folder.
Chapter 3 - New Friends
Daniela walked into the Sunday School class, tossing her long, blond hair behind her shoulder. Her new blue, chiffon dress was pressed perfectly. She glanced down at her shiny, white patent-leather shoes.
Easter was one of her favorite days. She always had the best outfit of any of the girls. Everyone wanted to sit with her, especially the boys.
There was John, whose father was the pastor. Brown hair, brown eyes – he was a straight A student at Daniela’s school.
He was sweet and quiet, always friendly to her.
Bryan came to mind, as she strolled to her usual seat on row three. There he was now, smiling, saving her a seat. His family lived on top of the hill. His dad was a lawyer.
Mr. Carson was beginning the lesson. Everyone was settling in for a long hour of parables, or something. She didn’t care…as long as she was sitting with John and Bryan. The class door flew open and banged against the wall, startling most of the kids. The boys snickered.
“Girls, please come and have a seat. We’ve already begun our lesson,” Mr. Carson was commenting.
Daniela rolled her eyes. It was that tacky Rachel with God-knows-who! Bryan glanced her way. His eyes said the same thing, she was thinking.
“Rachel, would you like to introduce your guest?” Mr. Carson was asking.
Rachel blushed as she tried to quickly find a seat. She cleared her throat, and stumbled through, “This is my new friend, Sarah. We live next door to each other.”
Daniela and Bryan burst into uncontrol-lable laughter. So did half the class.
“Students! Quiet down. Let’s get back to our lesson. Now, who can tell me who was the only person who stopped to help the injured man on the roadside in our story?”
A few of the kids looked at each other. A few slid down in their seats. There was a long pause. Finally, one hand went up.
“Yes, our guest, Sarah…would you like to answer the question?” Mr. Carson beckoned.
“Yes, sir. It was the Good Samaritan!” Sarah said confidently.
“That’s right, Sarah,” Mr. Carson proudly commented.
Rachel and Sarah smiled at each other. After class was dismissed, John rushed over to greet Rachel and Sarah. Daniela walked on with Bryan, looking rather annoyed.
The Easter service commenced, and was fairly uneventful. Rachel, Sarah, and John sat together, singing, smiling, and whispering most of the service. Daniela and Bryan sat near the back, writing notes. Standing to sing seemed too great an effort. Daniela yawned through the sermon, spending most of the time straightening her dress, and picking at her nails.
As soon as the service ended, Daniela and Bryan made a beeline for John.
“Come on, John! We’re going outside to hang out,” Bryan urged.
“Ok…in a few minutes,” John said, as he turned to Sarah and Rachel. “I want to introduce you to my dad, Sarah.”
Sarah shyly stood before the pastor, who was holding out his big hand to shake hers.
“It’s very nice to have you visit with us today, Sarah,” the pastor was saying. She smiled, and nodded, but was thinking about how brown John’s eyes were.
Daniela frowned impatiently, and turned to walk away. Bryan followed her like a little puppy.
“Where are we going?” Bryan was asking, as Daniela pushed through the side door.
“Out!” she said abruptly.
John had forgotten all about his friends, as he chatted happily with Rachel and Sarah.
“So, where do you live?” John asked.
“Right beside Rachel!” Sarah laughed.
As the three new friends pushed open the side door, there stood Caroline.
Chapter 4 - Art and Other Matters
The principal had posted the winners of the annual art contest near the office door.
The pictures had been displayed around the walls of the cafeteria for two weeks. Nearly fifty entries! That was a great improvement from last year.
The crowd around the posted list was too great. Caroline decided to check it after lunch.
As she sat in the cafeteria, however, the butterflies in her stomach would not permit her to eat.
She had spent a great deal of time trying to decide what to draw. She changed her mind nearly every day for a month. Finally, her kitten, Bubbles, was the choice.
She had first tried to draw him with colored pencils. The picture was good. Her mother said so. But, there was something about it that didn’t quite suit her.
Next, she had tried watercolors. That mostly ran and smeared.
Her final try was soft, pastel chalk.
The effect was amazing. Bubbles’ blue eyes looked out at the viewer, begging for a pat on the head.
Caroline had blended his soft, white fur carefully. He was lying on a pink rug, with a small, purple ball of yarn beside him. It was perfect!
The bell rang, and brought her back to her senses.She had been thinking so long, that the cafeteria had nearly emptied.
She decided to risk being late going back to class, and walked toward the office instead.
As she turned the corner, she bumped right into Mrs. Chavez.
“Oh, excuse me, Caroline,” Mrs. Chavez was saying. Mrs. Chavez was the last person she wanted to talk to.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Chavez. I wasn’t looking where I was going,” Caroline blurted out. She bent down to pick up her belongings that had scattered across the sidewalk. Trying to hide her blushed cheeks, she let her hair fall across her face.
As she stood up again, Mrs. Chavez brushed her hair back into place. Her hand rested on Caroline’s shoulder.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you. Sam told me that your blue folder was with you on that day your report was due. He said you had the report all along. Why didn’t you turn it in?”
“I was a little upset that day. After you said I had a zero, I was too embarrassed to turn it in.” Caroline lowered her head as she spoke.
“Listen, Caroline, you are a good student. You make good grades. Your assignments are excellent. You always try to do your best. You have everything going for you.”
Caroline was caught off guard just a bit. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say to all that.
“Well, um, Mrs. Chavez, things aren’t really going that well right now. My dad’s drinking again, and, well, things are hard right now,” Caroline said, despondently.
“Caroline, what other people do affects your life, true, but what you do with it all is entirely up to you. Try to rise above it. How is your mom?” Mrs. Chavez asked, compassionately.
“She’s O.K., I guess. She just gets by every day. She’s busy with my little sister, and my brother."
“Your brother I know from school. How old is your sister?” Mrs. Chavez asked, with sincerity.
“Oh, she’s three,” said Caroline. “She’s everybody’s little sweetheart.”
“I’m sure she is…but, so are you. Now, tomorrow morning, you bring that report first thing, and put it on my desk. I will give it the same consideration as on the very day it was due. Alright?” Mrs. Chavez asked.
Caroline felt a tear form in her eye, maybe more than one.
She said, “O.K.,” softly, as she turned away. She just could not talk anymore. With tears in her eyes, she passed through a dozen students, all late for class. She barely noticed them. Wiping tears from her cheek, she remembered that she was late for class, too. She paused for a moment. She thought about everything Mrs. Chavez had said. It made her feel bad that someone knew…knew about her dad.
She took a deep breath. I have to find out! She turned quickly toward the office.She walked as fast as she could. No one was around.There was the list…there was Bubbles!
On his picture was a first place ribbon!
Chapter 5 - Mysterious Mail
Sam went out the front door with Sandy, his golden retriever. Sandy was one-year-old today.
They had been best friends since the yellow dog had arrived as a wee pup.
“Let’s take a run in the park, Sandy,” Sam was saying, as he ran past Mr. Simpson, the mail carrier.
“Sam, make sure your mom gets the mail right away. It looks like something important came today,” Mr. Simpson said, as he passed by.
“Sure, o.k. I’ll let her know,” Sam said. “She’ll be home by 3:30.
Sam turned the corner on Elm Street, heading toward the city park.
Sandy trotted happily beside him, barking at a few squirrels along the way.
They entered the park from the south end, near the swings. A few kids were there, swinging, talking…a few were playing Frisbee. Sam and Sandy ran along the bike trail, at full trot. Saturday was a good time to go to the park. It was not too crowded right after lunch.
“I wonder what arrived in the mail,” Sam was thinking.
Out of nowhere, two bikers sped by, nearly knocking him over. Sandy yelped, and ran off to the sandbox. Rachel and Sarah stopped abruptly.
“I’m so sorry!” Rachel cried out. Sarah was laughing hysterically. “We’re so sorry! You just looked so funny nearly falling off the trail!”
“Where is your dog?” Rachel asked, trying not to laugh.
“I don’t know!” he exclaimed. “He ran off that way,” Sam said, pointing to the sandbox area.
“We’ll help…it’s our fault,” Rachel said. The three ran off to find Sandy.
They looked everywhere…across the entire playground. They looked by the swings. He was definitely not by the sandbox. The teeter-totters were abandoned. Finally, they heard a slight whimper. They followed the sound until they came to the slides. There he was, sitting under the big slide, panting. When he saw Sam, he crawled out, with his tail wagging.
“Let me see you, buddy! Are you okay?” Sam asked. He threw his arms around his neck, and gave him a squeeze.
“It’s kind of his birthday,” Sam said. “Hey, do you guys wanna get an ice cream? You can help me celebrate Sandy’s special day.”
“O.K. That sounds really good. It’s warm today,” Rachel said. “Ice cream would be yummy about now!”
Rachel and Sam were smiling and laughing. Sarah was not.
“What’s wrong?” Rachel asked, concerned.
“Well, two things,” Sarah replied. “I don’t have any money, and I should go home pretty soon and check on my mom.”
“Oh, don’t worry about a thing!” Sam said. “I’m taking care of the ice cream. Plus, it will only take a minute…it’s on the way home. I can’t stay too long myself. I have to check on some special mail Mr. Simpson mentioned earlier.”
The three of them took off for the ice cream parlor, laughing, Sandy running along beside. They turned the corner, and parked their bikes. After putting their bike chains on, and tying up Sandy, they went inside and promptly placed their order.
They sat in the corner by the mirrored wall. They told jokes and laughed incessantly. Sarah had never had so much fun in her life. It was good for all of them. It would be the last time they would laugh for a long time.
After what seemed forever, they were on their way. Rachel and Sarah were off to check on Sarah’s mother. Sam and Sandy were on their way home to check on the mail.
Sam was hoping he would get home before his mother. He was curious as to what this mysterious mail could be. He raced down the street, and around the corner, Sandy close behind. As he got nearer his house, he saw his mother at the mailbox.
“Great!” he was thinking. He wanted to look at it first.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, as he raced up to the house. “Mr. Simpson said…”
“I know,” his mom said, as she stared at a note she was holding in her hand. In the other hand, she held a small key.
“What does it say?” Sam asked.
“It’s a note from Aunt Dana. She says the key goes to something in our house. She doesn’t know what. She says that your grandma said to send it to us.”
“Oh,” Sam contemplated.
As Sam stood there, staring at the key, an ambulance, horn blaring, rushed past the houses on Sam’s street, around the corner, and down the next street.
Sam raced to follow it, down the street, around the corner…it stopped in front of Sarah’s house.
Chapter 6 - Emergency
Sarah and Rachel had taken their time riding their bikes home. They had gone back by way of the park. They had had such a good time with Sam. They were stretching out their last few minutes together, as they rounded the corner to Sarah’s house.
They both slammed on their brakes at the same time, as they realized an ambulance was sitting in front of Sarah’s house.
Sarah threw her bike to the ground, and ran as fast as she could down the street to her house. She ran past the ambulance and up the driveway.
The door to her house opened quickly, and a stretcher was wheeled out and down the sidewalk. On the stretcher was her mother!
“Oh, Mom!” Sarah cried. “I should have come home sooner!”
Sarah’s dad was right behind the stretcher. He took Sarah’s hand, and squeezed it tight.
“Sarah, it’s not your fault! I was here the whole time!” said her dad, tearfully. “Stay with your brother! I have to go to the hospital!”
The ambulance sped away, leaving Sarah and Roger standing forlornly in its wake. Rachel had run the entire block as fast as she could. So had Sam. They practically collided into Sarah and Roger. They all hugged in a big huddle, and cried together forever. No one knew what to say.
More neighbors had come out of their houses to see what was going on.
Rachel’s mom came from next door immediately.
“Sarah, your dad just called on his cell, and said for you and Roger to come home with me right away. I have dinner almost ready. Get some things together…you may have to spend the night,” Rachel’s mom was saying.
Sarah heard most of it, but her mind was racing.
“What is wrong with my mom? Where have they taken her? When will I see her? Dear, God, will you please help us!”
Rachel went in with Sarah and Roger to look for their pajamas and toothbrushes. Roger was crying, and was trying to find his bear.
“Roger, hurry up. Rachel’s mom wants us to come right away,” Sarah said, fairly calmly, considering everything.
“Oh,” he whimpered, and ran off to find his things.
“Sarah, what do you need me to do?” Rachel pleaded.
“I don’t know…I can’t think,” Sarah said, taking a deep breath. “Just go help Roger.”
“Okay,” Rachel said, running down the hall to Roger’s room. She was thinking about how she first met Sarah and Roger. He used to get on her nerves, and call her goofy names. Now, she was off to help him find his bear and his toothbrush.
Sarah ran to her room. What to do first? She rummaged through her top drawer. She grabbed some underwear and a nightgown. She ran to the bathroom and grabbed a hair brush, and Roger’s toothbrush.
“Oh, yeah, I need my own!” she thought frantically. She ran back down the hall to check on Rachel and Roger.
They all met at the front door. They stared at each other for a brief moment, then grabbed each other for one last cry. Then they went out, and shut the door.
Sam was still standing on the porch. He looked rather lost, standing, waiting, not knowing what to do.
“Hi,” he said cautiously. “I was waiting here to see if there was anything I could do to help.”
“Thanks, Sam,” Sarah said, squeezing his hand. “I’m glad you are here. I’m supposed to go to Rachel’s house and spend the night.”
“Alright. I should probably go home anyway,” Sam said. “I’ll come tomorrow, and see how everything is.”
Sam and Sandy walked down the sidewalk…Sam with his head bowed.
He turned around, and smiled weakly one last time. Rachel, Sarah, and Roger smiled, mostly looking sad.
They waved, and began to walk across the lawn.
Rachel’s mother came out of her house to check on Sarah and Roger, and of course, Rachel.
“Do you have everything?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah answered.
As they continued across the lawn, Rachel glanced across the street.
There stood Caroline and her mother, arm in arm. Caroline and Rachel looked into each other’s eyes.
Rachel paused, then went into her house.
Chapter 7 - The Company You Keep
Daniela and Bryan lumbered into class, late as usual.
They sat in the back, laughing and talking. “Students…quiet down,” Mrs. Chavez commanded. “We have a lot to accomplish today. Turn in your geography books to chapter 6. You will need notebook paper to outline the chapter.”
Daniela and Bryan looked at each other, and rolled their eyes. “Do you have any paper?” Daniela whispered.
“No…I don’t,” Bryan said. He glanced around at the students sitting nearby.
“Hey, John, does the ole’ preacher’s kid have any paper?” Bryan said, almost mockingly.
“Yes, I try to come to school prepared,” John whispered back.
“Excuse, me, John,” Mrs. Chavez chided. “Do you have something to share with the class?”
“No, ma’am,” said John quietly.
“Well,” Mrs. Chavez continued. “I want to see you after class.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said John.
Bryan winked at Daniela. She smiled back. They reluctantly turned in their books to the correct page. Still not having any paper, they read and underlined important facts in the chapter.
At one point, when Mrs. Chavez had her back turned to the class, writing the homework assignment on the board, Bryan dropped his book on the floor. It was on purpose, and it made a thud.
He pretended to be working, and kept his head down.
Numerous students, after a long pause, burst into laughter. Mrs. Chavez turned away from the board. Her stern look meant she was not kidding.
“Bryan, I want to see you after class, also,” said Mrs. Chavez.
Bryan sank down in his seat just a bit. He gave Mrs. Chavez a defiant look…a long, defiant look. After adding a smirk, he began to read the chapter, barely concentrating.
The hour passed by slowly, dreadfully slowly. Finally, the bell rang. Books slammed shut; students stood, gathering their backpacks and supplies.
“By the way, class,” Mrs. Chavez interrupted. “I want your outline of chapter 6 on my desk as you leave class today.”
Bryan and Daniela looked at each other. They gathered their things together, not talking.
“One more thing, class, this outline will count ten percent of your grade this term,” Mrs. Chavez added.
One by one, the students filed by Mrs. Chavez’s desk.
Some students put their outlines on the desk, others did not. John set down his outline, and sat in a student desk on the front row.
Students continued to file by. Finally, Bryan and Daniela made their way to the front. They had no outline to turn in. They had no comments to make.
“Sit down, Bryan,” Mrs. Chavez said, sternly.
He sat down rather abruptly.
Daniela hurried out the door. She didn’t dare to even glance back.
“Bryan, this is a referral slip to the office,” Mrs. Chavez was saying. “I’m rather tired of you disturbing my class. You are never prepared, you never take anything seriously, and you are very disrespectful.”
“Whatever,” Bryan said, disgruntled. He left the room in a huff.
“So, John, how are you?” Mrs. Chavez asked, quietly.
“I’m fine, thank you, Mrs. Chavez,” John returned.
“How is your father, and your mother, of course?” Mrs. Chavez continued. “And, how are things at your church?”
“They’re fine, thanks, and everything is good at the church,” John said.
“Good. Now, listen, John, I’m sorry if I pointed you out today. I’m sure I embarrassed you. I just wanted to speak to you today regarding your friends,” Mrs. Chavez was saying.
John was thinking as she spoke, “I’m not really sure those two will be my friends anymore.” He cleared his throat.
“Mrs. Chavez, it is rather difficult to be the son of a pastor. Everyone expects you to be perfect. And, sometimes it’s hard to have friends. They don’t really know how to relate to you. I want to be friends with Daniela and Bryan. They attend our church,” John stated rather boldly.
Mrs. Chavez looked at him for a while.
“John,” she finally said, “ you are an amazing young man. You are very mature for your age. I just want you to be careful. Influence your friends if you can.Just be careful how they influence you.”
Chapter 8 - A Hiding Place
Sam got up early on Saturday. He had two things on his mind.
- One – Sarah’s mom…she had been in the hospital for several days.
- Two – the letter – and …the key.
Aunt Dana had written a note, and enclosed a key.
Grandma had sent word that it went to something in his house. He didn’t remember any doors or drawers that needed a key, except the front door.
He decided he was going to look every-where until he figured it out. He decided he would be systematic about it. He would look in one room at a time, top to bottom, until he found something.
The sun was barely up. He was pretty hungry. He made a quick piece of toast. Then, he was ready.
The kitchen was a good place to start.
He opened each cabinet door, one by one. Nothing was unusual. There were plates and cups. There were spices and oils. There was cereal and rice. There were pots and pans. Everything looked normal to Sam.
He decided to try drawers. One drawer had silverware. One drawer had kitchen towels. There was a drawer of utensils; another was full of junk.
He leaned against the cabinet, and stared around the room. He looked left to right, slowly. He looked top to bottom. He couldn’t think of anything a key could open.
He went down the hallway, glancing at the pictures on the walls. There he was, age four, sitting with Mom and Dad on the porch. There was Aunt Dana. She must have been a teenager back then. She still had braces. There was a picture of his dad throwing a ball.
He went a little further.
There was Grandma and Grandpa. Everyone said that he looked like Grandpa. He looked at him for a while. He didn’t really remember that much about him. He had passed away a long time ago.
He noticed another picture of Grandma. She was holding his hand, as they were walking down the sidewalk. They were laughing. He smiled to himself. He had always liked Grandma. She was funny, and she had always been nice to him.
In the last several years, however, Grandma had gotten older, and had not been thinking as clearly as she did when she was younger. She had not been in Sam’s house for at least six or more years.
The house had formerly belonged to Grandma and Grandpa. They had lived here for a number of years before Grandpa was sick. After he passed away, she had moved in with Aunt Dana. After she needed even more care, she had gone to live in a special home for older people.
Sam’s family had bought the house from Grandma soon after Grandpa died. He thought about Grandma’s favorite places.
She always used to sit on the front porch, and watch the people drive by. She enjoyed visiting with neighbors as they walked their dogs. She especially enjoyed the children. She knew all of their names, and they all knew her.
But, there was nothing about the area of the porch that required a key.
He decided he would look in Grandma’s old room.
No one really used it, once she had moved away. Her favorite lavender quilt, with the lace overlay, was still on the bed. A lot of her knick-knacks were still on the dresser.
He sat in the big rocker that seemed to always have been there. He closed his eyes…he still could smell her special scent.
He opened his eyes after a bit, and began to look around the room…thinking.
Is there anything in here that needs a key?
He got out of the chair, and began to walk around the room. He opened a few drawers. There were some old handkerchiefs, and a nightgown or two.
He looked under the bed. There was an old pair of pink slippers, and a lot of dust.
He sat on the handmade rug beside her old wooden bed.
He looked around the rest of the room. His eyes rested on her antique chest-of-drawers. On it sat one of her favorite things.
He had heard it many times before... her music box.
Chapter 9 - Missing!
Sarah and Rachel were walking slowly from the bus stop.
School had been rather taxing. They wished they could have Spring Break all over again. Next week, testing would begin. Testing was always difficult, but kind of fun, too.
Sarah’s mom had improved somewhat. She had stayed in the hospital for two weeks. Everyone had been very helpful to Sarah’s dad, helping with meals, tending to Roger. Rachel’s mom had kept the children every other day, so Sarah’s dad could stay all night at the hospital.
Sarah and Rachel had spent many hours together, talking, doing homework, trying to help with Roger.
They had even helped tidy up Sarah’s house, and tried their hand at cooking dinner. They had learned how to cut up vegetables, carefully. They had learned how to follow simple recipes. They had tried their hand at setting the table, washing clothes, dusting, and even pulling weeds.
It had felt like fun…doing it together.
Things in the neighborhood had been going well.
Daniela had gotten a new bike… the envy of all the kids.
It wasn’t even her birthday. But, then, Daniela got something new most all the time.
Sam had found something special.
His grandmother had left him a $1,000.00 bond to use for college. He was pretty excited about that. She had passed away soon after. She must have known she was going to pass soon.
She had wanted him to know about the bond.
Bryan was in trouble at school again.
He was just too cool to do his work. Authority was an issue with him. He always felt that no one should be telling him what to do, even adults.
His parents had just been to the school last week for a conference.
“Do you want to go to my house or yours?” Sarah asked, as they approached their adjoining yards.
“Um-m, how about mine,” Rachel said, “Your mom needs her rest.”
“Okay. We’ll do our homework first – then maybe we’ll go on a bike ride,” Sarah added.
They joined arms, and walked up the sidewalk to Rachel’s house. Roger was home already, playing on his porch. He smiled, and waved at the girls.
“Tell mom I’m going to do my homework over at Rachel’s,” Sarah called out.
“Ok,” Roger answered back.
“I’ll bet he won’t remember. I’ll just call her,” Sarah said.
Sarah spent a few minutes talking with her mother, then the girls settled in for an hour of homework.
“I hate multiplication!” Sarah said, slam-ming down her pencil. “I can never remember all those numbers!”
“Me, either,” Rachel responded with a sigh. “I know what! Let’s call Sam. He loves math!”
Sam just lived around the corner.
He was happy to have the company. He brought along Sandy, and tied his leash to the front porch swing.
“Let’s practice the multiplication tables for a while, and then we’ll do our homework. Everything will be fresh in our minds,” Sam offered.
“Oh, alright,” Sarah said, reluctantly. “Can’t you just do a magic trick, and make it all go in my head?’
They all laughed heartily.
After about an hour, Rachel’s mother came to the door of the living room. She listened quietly to the kids doing their math, quizzing each other on the multiplication tables.
“Hey, I hate to interrupt, but it’s almost 7:00. Would you like to order a pizza?” she finally asked.
“Pizza!” they all yelled out at the same time.
“Sounds great!” Sam said.
“I’ll have to call my mom,” Sarah commented. “I may have to go home and help.” She went to the kitchen to call home.
She spent a few minutes talking with her dad regarding the evening.
“You go ahead, Sarah,” he said, “You need to enjoy your friends. I’ll take care of things over here.”
“Thanks, Dad, you’re the greatest,” Sarah replied. “I’ll be home after we eat.”
Sam, Sarah, and Rachel had settled in for a feast of pepperoni pizza.
They were laughing about stories from school.
The more they ate, the more they laughed. The more they laughed, the more they ate.
As they ate, there was a knock on Rachel’s door.
Sarah was thinking it must be her dad, reminding her to come home.
“I’ll get it,”
Rachel called out, running to the door.
To her astonishment, it was Caroline, wide-eyed and ashen-faced.
Chapter 10 - Police Pals and Pets
A police car sat in front of Caroline’s house, its blue lights flashing. Numerous neighbors stood in groups, discussing how to begin a search for little Emily. A policeman stood talking with Caroline’s and Emily’s mother, who was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Caroline’s brother sat on the porch, swinging his legs aimlessly back and forth.
Sam’s dad had come down the street to help out. Sam ran to meet him at the end of Caroline’s yard.
“Where have you searched so far?” Sam’s dad asked.
“We’ve searched the house thoroughly, and we’ve been up and down the street, asking everyone,” Caroline’s mother replied, her voice anxious.
“Alright. Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re all going to help. She won’t get far.”
The neighbors divided up into groups, preparing to canvass the neighborhood. Some began walking down the side of the street where Caroline’s house stood. Others chose to begin on the other side of the street, beginning with Rachel’s and Sarah’s houses.
“We’ve already been down the entire street,” Caroline said, looking rather bewildered.
“Well, we’re going to do it again, honey,” Sam’s dad said, compassionately. “We just have to.”
Rachel took hold of Caroline’s hand. Sarah took hold of her other hand.
“Come on, Caroline. We’ll walk with you,” Rachel smiled slightly. “I know everything will be alright.”
“Don’t forget . . . Mr. Carson says we should pray about everything,” Sarah added quietly.
Caroline glanced at each girl. It did feel nice to have Rachel with her once again. Maybe Sarah wasn’t too bad, after all.
“Ok. I guess we should look again,” she finally said.
It was pretty dark now outside, as the girls began their journey, looking for little lost Emily.
“So, when did you see her last?” Rachel inquired.
“Well, I was setting the table for my mom. She was cooking spaghetti. My brother was throwing his ball up against the house, and Emily was sitting in the swing. My brother was supposed to keep an eye on her,” proceeded Caroline with the story. “After a while, the sound of the ball hitting the house had stopped.
I was thinking, ‘Thank goodness, he has stopped that annoying noise.’ In a minute, the door opened. My brother was just standing there, staring at us, with a scared look on his face. When my mom asked what was wrong, he just stood there. He finally said,
"I think I lost Emily.”
“Ok,” Rachel interrupted. “Let’s talk about all the places you’ve looked so far.”
“Well, I know she’s not in the house. We searched every possible place, under beds, in closets,” Caroline continued. “We even looked in silly places, in case she was just hiding from us.”
“When did you call the police?” Sarah asked.
“After about an hour. . . after we searched everywhere, after we looked up and down the whole street,” Caroline ended her long explanation with a sigh.
Rachel squeezed her long-time friend’s hand, as they continued to walk along the street. Caroline had begun to feel somewhat better with this army of help. She felt better with Rachel to talk to. She squeezed her hand, too.
Sam had been caught up in the drama taking place. He had listened to neighbors talk of where they planned to look. He had listened to his father organize the search. Everyone was quite busy with the plan of action. He was thinking about how he could help. He decided to go back and get Sandy, whom he had left on Rachel’s porch.
“I should have fed him by now,” he was thinking, as he walked back toward Rachel’s house.
The night was pretty dark now, with only the street lights to pave his way. He felt somewhat anxious, but he knew that neighbors were out in force. He passed by a few large bushes. He ran a little faster, as he thought about that more than a little girl could hide in there.
He passed the Brown’s house and the Stewart’s. Someone was knocking on old Mr. Stewart’s door. Only two more houses to go…he was thinking that he should have taken Sandy with him in the first place. He ran quickly up the walkway to Rachel’s house.
Sandy was nowhere to be seen!
Chapter 11 - Adventures in Darkness
Sam ran down the street as fast as he could.
He couldn’t believe he had left Sandy on the porch for so long. He was having such a good time with Rachel and Sarah that he had for-gotten to walk him, or even feed him. He felt so irresponsible.
“Dad, Dad, where are you?!” Sam yelled as he ran. “Where are you, Dad?”
Everyone was out in the street looking for Emily. She had been out in the dark, alone, for several hours. And, now, his best friend, his dog, Sandy, was gone, too.
He ran past people and houses. He knew almost all these people – from the neighbor-hood – from church – from the grocery store – they were all here to help.
Even old Mr. Stewart came out! He never came out of his house for anything. He was old, and grouchy, and never talked to anyone. But, there he was, lumbering along on his walker, trying to do his part.
Mrs. Smith, his old teacher from 3rd grade, was rounding the corner with her teenage son, Kevin. He was a really cool soccer player at the high school.
“Hi, Sam,” they both called out at the same time.
Sam was amazed that Kevin remembered his name. He was very popular with all the “big kids.”
“Hi,” Sam said, a little timidly. “Listen, have you seen my dad? I need to find him.”
“Yeah,” Kevin returned. “We just passed him a few houses back.”
“Great! Thanks!” Sam exclaimed, as he ran on ahead to catch up with his dad.
Maybe he will be able to help him find Sandy. He passed a few more dark houses, and a few more people. Finally, there he was, talking with a small group that had come out to help.
About that time, a police car drove by slowly.
The officer rolled down the window to say, “Thanks for helping us out,” to the group. They all waved and nodded, as the car drove on by. The police had made Caroline and her family stay at the house just in case there were phone calls. Everyone feared the worse.
“Dad, listen, I can’t find Sandy! I left him on Rachel’s porch a few hours ago. We were doing homework and eating pizza, and. . . and. . . I forgot he was out there!” Sam was rambling on, out of breath.
“Ok…ok…slow down,” Dad said calmly, his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. We’ll find him…don’t worry. He won’t go too far.”
“Well, I just feel bad . . . I didn’t even feed him,” Sam continued.
“See there . . . that means he’ll come home for dinner,” Dad said with a smile.
' “Dad, it’s past dinner,” Sam said, still concerned.
“Ok…you’re right…but he probably just went on home. Come on, now, we have to focus on Emily. She’s out here somewhere, and we have to help find her.”
“Right, right, I’m sorry, Dad,” Sam said apologetically. “We have to look for Emily. Let’s go!”
Rachel and Sarah came running up the sidewalk.
“Guess what!” Rachel barely got out – she was breathing so hard. “Caroline says that they can’t find Bubbles. They think that Emily may have followed him somewhere!”
“Yeah,” Sarah added, “and that cat disappears, and goes everywhere!”
“Oh, great!” Sam said, with dismay. “Ok, we have to get organized. Where does that cat go? Where does Emily like to go?”
“Well, I know she loves the ice cream parlor . . . the one we went to the other day,” Rachel offered.
“Yeah,” Sam added. “I’ve seen her and Caroline in there before. Let’s go!”
Off the entire group went, to look for Emily . . . at the ice cream parlor.
As they rounded the corner, they realized that the lights were all out at the parlor – everything was dark.
There was a sign on the door.
Sam looked at Rachel. Rachel looked at Sarah. Sarah looked at Sam.
There was a unified sigh – and a long pause.
Finally, Sam said quietly,
“I know of one other place…the park.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Rachel exclaimed. “Of course!”
The three friends took off down the sidewalk, with Sam’s dad close behind.
No one was in the park – everything was dark.
They ran around the equipment frantically, around the swings, around the monkey bars, around the big slide.
There was Sandy, fast asleep. There was Emily, napping on his big golden side.
And there was Bubbles, licking his soft white fur.
Chapter 12 - The Fight
John and Daniela were walking home from school.
There were only a few more weeks left until the term was over, and summer would begin. There was not much homework left to do, and they were grateful.
The next big hurdle was final exams.
Bryan came around the corner, looking fairly disgruntled.
The scowl on his face was a common sight these days.
“Hey, Bryan,” Daniela said cheerfully.
Bryan mostly grunted, and stared at John.
“Why are you hanging out with him for?” he demanded.
“What do you mean? John’s my friend,” she responded.
“He’s no friend of mine! I’m sick and tired of this goody-goody-two-shoes! He’s always getting me in trouble – at school – at church,” he continued.
“Everybody thinks he’s so great!”
John and Daniela had stopped walking. They looked at each other. What had come over Bryan?
They had always been friends, ever since John’s dad had moved the family to Briarwood, and had become the pastor of the church. They had known each other since they were four or five-years-old.
They had been in the same Sunday school classes, had the same teachers at school. They had played together nearly every day for a number of years. They all went to each other’s birthday parties, church picnics and barbecues, and camping trips.
Just this past year Bryan had been like a different person.
He didn’t seem to get along with anybody, except maybe Daniela. He always wanted her to sit with him, at church or in school.
Usually, they always included John. However, John had been friendly with other kids in the church, and had made a lot of new friends at school.
John and Bryan had seemed to drift apart…at least in Bryan’s eyes.
The teachers at school were always praising John, and giving him awards. He was bound to win all the trophies at the end-of-the-year program at school. Bryan was just about sick of it.
John and Daniela started to walk again.
Bryan suddenly grabbed John by the back of his shirt, and tried to throw him to the ground.
John’s books and folders flew everywhere.
Daniela tried to scream, but only a squeal came out of her mouth.
“Bryan! Stop it! What are you doing?!” Daniela finally got out.
John was on his knees, brushing off his hands, scraped from the sidewalk. Gravel was stuck in his palms, and his hands were starting to bleed.
He looked back at Bryan, rather bewildered.
“Why are you doing this?” John questioned. He tried to stand up.
Suddenly, Bryan shoved him into the bushes.
“Stop it, Bryan!” Daniela screamed, banging on him with her fists. “Leave him alone!”
A door slammed shut. Mr. Stewart, hobbling out on his walker, said, “Son, you stop that now, and leave the boy alone.”
“It’s none of your business, old man! Go back inside to your rocker, or whatever,” Bryan retorted.
Mrs. Johnson came out on her porch, holding her baby. She peered across the yard.
“What’s going on, boys?” she demanded. “You woke up the baby!”
“Is everyone in the world John’s babysitter?” retorted Bryan.
John was still trying to climb out of the bushes. Daniela stretched out her arm to grab his hand. and help him out.
“O-o-h . . . does John need a girl to pull him out of the bushes?” Bryan said, mockingly.
John stood upright, and began to brush off his pants. He looked Bryan right in the eyes.
He couldn’t believe his friend had tried to start a fight.
“I’m your friend, Bryan, not your enemy,” he finally said, dusting off his shirt and his forearms.
“Says who?” Bryan said, curtly.
“Bryan, you hush your mouth right now!” Daniela demanded. “I’m never talking to you again!”
“Big deal! If you’re John’s friend, I don’t care if you ever talk to me!” Bryan yelled back.
“Just because you’re rich doesn’t make you somebody!” Daniela retorted.
“Oh, yeah? You’ve always thought so! You, and your prissy dresses and hair bows!” Bryan exclaimed.
“You’re always playing with your stupid hair and fingernails!”
“Thanks a lot, Bryan. I thought you and I were friends,” Daniela said, turning away to help John.
A car drove up to the corner and stopped.
“Get in the car, son,” Bryan’s father demanded.
Chapter 13 - Beach Bound
Finals were over at last, and summer had begun.
Everyone was glad for a break from school, even the teachers. The end-of-year program had gone well.
As expected, John won the big trophy, the Citizenship Award. Sam took home the Math trophy, and Caroline won the Language Arts award. Surprising to some, the newcomer, Sarah, had won the History award and the Science award.
It was good, some said, since her mother was in the hospital again. The family was under quite a financial strain. Also, Roger had been acting out at school. His dad had to see the teacher twice in conference, and the principal once.
Everyone was compassionate and helpful.
Bryan had apologized to John – orders from his father. Bryan’s dad had just started attending John’s church, and wanted the boys to get along with each other.
Caroline and Rachel were hanging out together again, and, of course, included Sarah. Everyone was planning a beach out-ing to celebrate the end of the school year.
“Did you remember to invite Daniela?” asked Caroline, as the girls lay stretched across her bed. “It’s only right that we ask everyone.”
“No, not yet,” Rachel answered. “I don’t overly want to, but I will.”
“Rachel, that’s not nice. We are going to invite all of our friends – even if they annoy us,” Sarah said.
“O.K., you’re right,” Rachel commented. “I’m sure she’ll have a brand new bathing suit.”
“I’m sure she will – and a new blanket, and a new beach ball, and new sunglasses, blah, blah, blah,” Caroline stated emphatically. The girls laughed until they nearly cried.
They all planned to meet in the church parking lot on Friday morning. John and Sam were there early, getting the church van cleaned out and ready. Everyone was arriving one by one.
“Hello, guys,” Bryan said, as he walked up the driveway toward the van.
His dad drove away in his new silver car, with one last look that meant, “You’d better behave.”
Caroline’s mom dropped her off. Rachel and Sarah arrived soon thereafter, with enough bags and beach balls for six girls. They laughed and chatted happily, as they loaded their belongings in the van.
“Did you bring any sunscreen, Caroline?” Rachel asked, as she climbed up the van steps.
“Are you kidding?” Caroline returned. “My mom sent that, and every other possible item for a beach trip.”
Finally, Daniela’s mom drove up in the driveway of the church. She and her daughter began to unload Daniela’s beach items. It all seemed endless. John and Sarah jumped back out of the van to help.
A young couple from the church, the Browns, had come along to drive and chaperone. They had brought two large coolers of sandwiches and drinks, along with several large bags of chips and cookies. They had also brought their twins, Candace and Cameron.
The pastor greeted all the kids, and asked about each of their families. As they all settled in the van, he prayed for the entire group to have a safe trip and a wonderful day together. A time of 4:00 had been settled on by all the families to meet back again at the church parking lot.
Everyone waved as the van pulled away.
The sun was hot already, and it was barely past ten.
The group didn’t care. They talked and sang, and laughed, and sang and talked. The van drove along the highway with a full load of happy beach goers.
After a while, one of the twins, Cameron, to be exact, had to go to the restroom. Candace complained that she was hungry.
“Dad, you need to stop soon,” Cameron reminded him impatiently.
“Ok, son, I will – as soon as I see something,” his dad said. “Candace, we’ll eat as soon as we get to the beach.”
“What are you going to do first, Rachel?” Sarah implored excitedly. “Collect shells, swim?”
“I’m going to do everything all day!” Rachel practically squealed.
The van turned off the main highway to a more narrow road.
The smooth feel of the ride had changed to bumpy. They seemed to be traveling over gravel.
Suddenly, there was a pop, and the vehicle swerved to the right.
The van had a flat!
Chapter 14 - Tires and Troubles
Daniela screamed. The other girls jumped to their feet.
The boys scrambled to the front to try to help. The twins started to cry.
“It’s alright, Cameron and Candace. It’s only a flat. Dad will have it fixed in no time,” their mother said, in as comforting a voice as she could muster.
The van door opened, and everyone began to tumble out.
Mr. Brown went immediately to the back door to look for a jack.
The boys helped him push the back seat forward to lift up the panel to reach the jack.
The jack was not there. The spare was not there.
Mr. Brown and the boys all looked at each other. Mr. Brown took out his handkerchief, and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“Sure is hot near the beach,” he said, smiling at the boys. “Especially when you’re stuck on the side of the road.”
“Dad, I need to go to the bathroom – right now!” Cameron demanded.
“Well, I don’t think I see a bathroom right now, son,” he said, apologetically. “And, we have another big problem.”
“Sir, sorry to interrupt, but I’ve been to this beach before, and I’m pretty sure there’s a little store up the road, maybe a mile,” Bryan offered.
“Alright, listen,” Mrs. Brown began.
“I will take the twins and the girls, and we’ll walk to the store. You guys stay here and look for the jack, and try to figure out what to do.”
“I knew I married this wonderful woman for a good reason!” laughed Mr. Brown. “Now, you girls all stay together, and walk carefully along the side of the road. Stay with my wife at all times.”
“We will,” chimed all the girls at once, and off they went.
The girls chattered happily as they started up the road with Mrs. Brown and the twins.
They left the boys and Mr. Brown behind, scratching their heads.
“Ok, boys, let’s take another look for that jack,” Mr. Brown said, smiling a little less than before.
Meanwhile, the girls were actually enjoying their walk to the little store that they hoped was a mile away. It was definitely hot outside now, but they were still having fun, and barely noticed the heat.
The twins were not anywhere near happy.
They moaned and complained every step of the way. Mrs. Brown patiently held their hands, and walked ahead.
“I’m hot, Mom,” Cameron complained.
“Me, too, Mom,” added Candace.
“Well, guys, it usually is hot when you go to the beach,” Mom said, in a matter-of-fact manner – but then added, “Maybe we can get an ice cream at the little store.”
“Yea!” both twins screamed, jumping up and down.
“Ice cream sounds divine,” Daniela said, nearly swooning at the thought.
Meanwhile, back at the van, the boys had helped Mr. Brown unload most of the things out onto the side of the road.
“I can’t believe how much stuff those girls brought for the beach!” Bryan exclaimed.
“Just try having a wife!” laughed Mr. Brown. “I’ve had one for eight years, and I still don’t understand how much stuff they have.”
“Oh, not me,” John said. “I’ll wait awhile on that.”
Everyone laughed. At least for a moment. Then, back to work on the problem at hand.
“Ok, guys, climb in there and look around – under every seat. See if you can see a jack, or a compartment it could be in,” Mr. Brown instructed. “I’ll look in the back some more.”
The boys climbed in the van, and began searching under each and every seat for any sign of a jack.
They were still laughing over girls and their silly ways.
After a few minutes, Sam stuck his head out of the van door.
“By the way, Mr. Brown, what, exactly, does a jack look like?”
“Mommy, are we going to be there soon?” Candace implored. “I’m getting tired.”
“Mom, can I get a juice instead of ice cream?” whined Cameron.
“You can have anything you want—as soon as we get there,” Mom said.
Up ahead was a small, grey block building. The group headed toward it with great anticipation.
After a minute or two, they stopped in their tracks.
A small sign on the front door said
“CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS”
Chapter 15 - A Day in the Sun
Mr. Brown was scratching his head again. He had fixed a few flats in his lifetime, but this one was a doozy!
First of all, he was stuck on the side of the road with numerous church kids, a wife, two tired, whiney five-year-olds…and, of course, a disabled vehicle.
Mrs. Brown and her entourage were on their way back from a futile trip to the little store. The twins were in worse shape than ever, hot, hungry, and tired. Daniela, Sarah, and Rachel, who had been excited and optimistic so far, were beginning to droop like wilting flowers.
In his search for the jack, Mr. Brown had found a city map in the glove compartment. He seemed to study it forever, while the boys grew increasingly impatient. Finally, they had taken out a beach ball and a Frisbee to entertain themselves.
Mrs. Brown arrived with her crying, moaning, hungry group. The girls perked up a bit when they saw the boys playing Frisbee. They ran off to play, while the twins ran to their dad.
“We’re hungry, Dad, and we want to go to the beach!” they both cried, as they each hugged a leg.
“Hello, guys!” their father returned. “I’ve just about figured this thing out. According to this map, we’re only a mile and a half from the beach!”
“What? Are you kidding?” Mrs. Brown asked. “That’s great news!”
“What? We’re close to the beach?” all the kids clamored.
“Yeah! We are. First, I have to call the church, and let them know of our situation. Then, if that goes well, we’ll take all our stuff, and walk to the beach. According to this map, we’re only a mile and a half away from sun and fun!”
“Well, I’m afraid we already have the sun,” Mrs. Brown smiled.
All the kids, big and small, jumped up and down with great anticipation.
After a phone call to Pastor Whitfield, the group started to gather up all their gear. It seems that the van had been in the shop for a few days for repairs, and inadvertently, the jack and spare tire had not been put back in the van. Though the pastor could not be there for several hours, no one seemed to care.
After a long, hot walk, and a trip to the bathroom, the entire group was at the beach.
The second feat at hand was to feed the starving group. Sandwiches, chips, and drinks were devoured at a record rate.
The twins chased the birds up and down the beach, and up into the sand dunes. They grabbed at the sea oats, and screamed with delight at every crab and sea gull. They, and the girls, gathered shells for several hours, and loaded their buckets to the hilt.
The boys were happy to swim and play ball, and, of course, throw Frisbee for most of the afternoon.
Finally, about 4:00, Pastor Whitfield, and a couple of men from the church, arrived to help get the van in working order. To no one’s surprise, the kids were not in any hurry to leave.
They had had the best day of their lives, and it would be in their memory forever.
Everyone piled in the van – finally fixed – with sunburns and fond memories. The ride home would just be another repeat of all the wonderful activities of the day.
The ride seemed shorter than in the morning. They had so much to talk about. No one would believe all the things that had happened. The friends seemed closer than they ever had been before. All arguments and jealousy were set aside.
It was dark when they finally arrived home.
All the house lights seemed to be lit up as they started to drop off the kids – especially at Sam’s house.
As the van drove up to his driveway, everyone noticed that his parents were sitting on the porch.
Sam got out of the van. Everyone jumped out to help him find his belongings.
“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad,” Sam said, excited from the day’s events.
“Hi, Sam,” Mom said quietly, giving him a hug. “We’re glad you’re back safe.”
After a pause, she continued,
“Sam, you need to know that…something’s happened to Sandy.”
Chapter 16 - Firecrackers
The summer was in full swing, yet it seemed different this year.
Sam’s dog, Sandy, hit by a car, had been laid to rest.
He was not much more than a year old.
Some say he was Sam’s best friend. Everyone was in a sad state of mind.
They had had a few more beach trips, a family or two had gone camping, and John had won the bike race held by the church.
A few people thought he had cheated. After all, he was the pastor’s son. There was always somebody not happy about something. But most people said it was obvious who had arrived first.
Rachel, Sarah, and Caroline had spent a lot of time together.
They had even invited Daniela on occasion.
The best time they remembered was the Fourth of July picnic.
It had begun as a very hot and sticky morning. Caroline had hoped to sleep in, but Emily had burst through the bedroom door, with Bubbles close behind, and jumped on Caroline’s bed.
“Emily, get off! I’m tired,” moaned Caroline.
“Good morning to you, too,” smiled Caroline’s mother, peering around the door.
“Get up, Caroline,” Emily nearly squealed. “It’s going to be a wonderful day!”
“Oh, alright! No one can ever get any sleep around here!” Caroline complained.
She sat up, swinging her legs around to stand up, nearly smashing Bubbles. A loud “mew” was heard as he dashed out of the bedroom, jumping under the couch to hide.
“What’s going on?” yawned Caroline’s brother, Chance, rubbing his eyes.
“Nothing much,” laughed their mother. “How about some pancakes before we get ready for the picnic?”
“Yippee!” he cried, racing off to his room to get dressed.
After breakfast, they all headed to the family’s SUV to rendezvous at the city park. Everyone was sure to be there. Everyone in Briarwood always came to the Fourth of July picnic.
As Caroline got out, she saw Rachel and Sarah immediately. Chance ran off to play with his friends. Emily stayed to help her mom prepare a picnic table for lunch.
“You’ve got to get these tables early, you know,” their mom said, as she dressed the table with a traditional red-checkered cloth. Two large baskets were filled with fried chicken, potato salad, chips and drinks.
Most of the boys had run off to play softball and tag. The girls seemed to congregate near the picnic tables to talk.
The mothers chatted as they prepared their tables of food. Most of the dads sat around talking about sports and politics. A few went to play ball with the boys.
“Mom, is it ok if Sarah and Roger eat with us? Her mom doesn’t feel well. She’s going back home,” Rachel asked.
“Sure, honey, of course,” her mom answered. “Sarah, is there anything I can do?”
“No, ma’am, she just needs to rest,” Sarah replied, somewhat despondently.
The rest of the afternoon was carefree, kids running everywhere, parents talking. The plan was to grill hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner – then fireworks, as soon as it was dark. The city always planned a wonderful display.
As dusk approached, the kids began to gather near the picnic tables. Rachel, Sarah, Caroline, and Daniela were sitting together, tired, but anxious for the fireworks to begin.
The boys began to gather last, unwilling to give up their ball game – to sit. Parents were beginning to call them, however, to get a good seat.
The anticipated end of a great day was about to start.
John, and a new friend from church, Matt, came walking up last.
“Is there room for us?” laughed John. “By the way, this is Matt.”
“Hi, Matt,” everyone seemed to say at the same time. They all scooted over a bit to make room for two more.
The city band was playing some patriotic song over by the bandstand. The girls were busy gossiping and giggling.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of blue and yellow across the night sky. There was a gasp, and an “ah-h-h,” heard throughout the park. Streaks of more yellow, followed by red, shot high above the trees.
The girls clapped and squealed. The boys whooped and hollered. The rest of the night continued much the same.
The lights, noises, and their friends, would be in their memory forever.
About the Author
Linda Arnold began her love of working with children at age fifteen. Over the decades, she has held Children's Crusades in numerous cities, taught children's groups in church settings, taught school, both public and private, and directed two Christian schools. She was the Director of Gulf Coast Christian School for twenty-two years. Her stories have grown out of her many years of experience working with children. She says, “The best thing you can do for a child is listen … really listen."
The Kids of Briarwood began as a personal project over five years ago. The stories are geared toward those who desire to instill in their children old- fashioned values, but yet find so little available out in the marketplace. The fun-loving "kids" find adventure, friendship, social challenges, and learn to love and forgive. Follow the four- part series, as best friends Rachel and Caroline learn to let others into their world … Sarah, the newcomer, sweet Sam and his dog, Sandy, feisty Daniela, wealthy, self-centered Bryan, and John, the preacher's kid.
Follow the "kids" from ages eleven through fifteen, in four exciting, adventure-filled books. Follow their transition into junior high, then high school … as they "discover" who they are. Follow their lasting friendships, through the ups and downs. They discover that no matter what happens, friends are forever.
About the Characters
All of the characters in The Kids of Briarwood are based on real people…students, personal children and grandchildren, relatives, etc. Some people “play” more than one character. All incidents stem from true life happenings.
Stay tuned for upcoming books in the series. The Kids of Briarwood Friendship Continues is due out in mid-2015. Why doesn’t Carolyn want people to know about her dad, what happened to Sandy, do Rachel and Carolyn rekindle their friendship, does Bryan learn to get along with the other “kids…”
Take a positive, proactive approach to choosing reading material for your child or grandchildren. The marketplace will give them enticing, entertaining literature, visuals, music and games. We, as their mentors, need to give them character building alternatives. This is the goal of The Kids of Briarwood.
© 2015 Linda Arnold