Written and Illustrated By LINDA ARNOLD
Copyright 2016 Linda A. Arnold. All rights reserved
ISBN: 13: 978-1519166005
For my grandchildren:
Charity, Zoe, Christian, Joshua, Eliana, Caden and Caleb
CHAPTER ONE - “BIRTHDAY GAME OVER”
The summer continued on, hot, humid, and sticky. Though a lot of things had been happening, everyone was still talking about the Fourth of July picnic. It had been the best ever. Even the parents were raving about the light show. The planners had truly outdone themselves.
“Won’t be long until school begins,” Rachel’s mom said one Saturday morning.
“Oh, Mom, please, do you have to remind me of that?” Rachel returned, with chagrin. “I don’t want to think about that yet!”
“I know you don’t, Rachel,” Mom continued, “but we have to think about school supplies, and, of course, clothes shopping.”
“Clothes shopping?! Awesome!” Rachel finally came to life. “When can we go?”
“Maybe next weekend,” Mom said.
“Oh, I think Caroline is having a slumber party next weekend,” Rachel lamented. “I’m sure she’ll invite me. I can’t miss it! It’ll be the best ever!”
“This came in the mail today. I think she already invited you,” said her mom, smiling.
“Yay! Let me have it!” I wonder who else she’s invited?” Rachel exclaimed, nearly breathless. “I’m sure she’ll invite Sarah – and maybe Daniela.”
“Is the party for a special occasion?” asked Mom.
“Yeah – it’s her birthday,” answered Rachel.
“Isn’t it almost Sam’s birthday, too?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know – maybe. Well, I’ve got to call Sarah right now, and see if she got her invitation,” Rachel commented as she hurried off to the phone.
The next week was chock full of exciting conversations, shopping and planning, and impatient waiting. The days seemed so long for all the girls, especially Sarah. She had finally admitted to Rachel that she had never been to a slumber party.
Finally, Friday came. Caroline had been scurrying around the house, helping her mom get things ready. Her grandma had come to get Emily and Chance, so that the girls could have the house to themselves.
Caroline’s mother was busy in the kitchen, preparing food, and, of course, baking a delicious chocolate cake. They had discussed having a theme for the party, maybe princesses or something. Caroline had declined. She thought she was getting too old for such a theme. After all, she was turning twelve!
At last, the doorbell began ringing around 6:00.
Rachel and Sarah arrived first, exactly on time. Then, a couple of other girls from the church, Amanda and Lilly came. Daniela, of course, arrived last, “fashionably late.”
The girls whispered and giggled through the hamburgers, chips, and soda. They devoured the chocolate cake in nearly seconds. They laughed over boys, things at church, and stuff at school. Caroline’s mom watched from the kitchen doorway, smiling. She was very happy for Caroline. This was the first slumber party her father had ever allowed her to have.
Next, the girls moved to the living room to open birthday presents. Everyone was happy and excited for Caroline to open her gifts. They all knew she had really looked forward to this very special day.
All the girls were anxious for Caroline to open their gift first. She finally began, among the squeals, to open each one. There was an art set
from Rachel and a sketch book from Sarah.
Amanda and Lilly had both bought books, and Daniela had brought her a new fashion doll.
“I have two just like her,” Daniela said proudly, “one with blond hair, and one with brown hair. I thought you might like one with auburn hair, like yours.”
“She’s great,” Caroline said, staring at the doll in awe. “She’s just beautiful. Thanks.”
“Well, you’re welcome!” exclaimed Daniela. “I knew my present would be the best!”
Everyone laughed. Daniela would normally annoy everyone with such a statement, but today it was just funny. The next couple of hours were full of games, laughter, silly jokes, and Rice Krispies treats. Caroline’s mom had rented a movie for the girls to watch at bedtime. Of course, everyone knows there is no “bedtime” at slumber parties. They “tried” to watch it, but all they did was laugh and tell silly stories – forever.
Suddenly, the bedroom door opened. Caroline’s mother was standing in the doorway – tears in her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Caroline. Your dad is drinking. He said the girls are too loud. They have to go home -- right now.”
CHAPTER TWO - “DOG DAYS”
Caroline hardly came out of her house for two weeks. Her brother, Chance, told everyone that she wasn’t feeling well, but all the girls knew the truth. She was embarrassed. If it was up to Daniela, all the boys would know, too – for that matter – the entire neighborhood. However, Rachel and Sarah had pretty much threatened her life. Having a drunken father was bad enough – but having everyone know was unthinkable.
Rachel tried to call her a number of times, but she wouldn’t come to the phone. She and Sarah had knocked on the door two or three times, but she wouldn’t come out. Finally, one Saturday morning, Rachel and Sarah went out to ride their bikes. To their amazement, Caroline was sitting on her porch with Emily.
“Hey! We have missed you so much!” exclaimed Rachel. Then, in a much quieter voice, “Are you Ok?”
“Yeah… I’m Ok,” Caroline sighed. “Things are a little better.”
Chance slammed through the screen door, carrying a basketball. He began to bounce it around the porch, and up against the wall of the house.
“You better be quiet, Chance!” Caroline reprimanded. The look on both of their faces meant – Dad’s home.
“Come on, Em, let’s play,” he called to Emily. They both left the porch and went out in the yard. He threw the ball to her, and she rolled it back, giggling.
“Emily seems alright,” Rachel commented.
“Yeah, Dad never yells at her – only me and Chance,” Caroline said, trying to keep her voice down.
“Listen. See if you can ride bikes with us – maybe we could go to the park,” Rachel implored.
Caroline disappeared into the darkened house for a long time. Finally, after nearly forever, she came back out, smiling somewhat.
“He said I could go to the park for one hour,” she said, rolling her eyes just a bit.
“Yes!” Rachel and Sarah exclaimed at the same time.
All the girls jumped on their bikes, and took off for the park.
Chance and Emily walked around to the back yard to look for butterflies. Their mom sat on the back steps, sipping tea. She looked tired and distracted. She smiled weakly as she watched four-year-old Emily trying to catch a little yellow butterfly. She stirred her tea, and looked down at the ground for a long time.
“Look, Mommy, I brought you some flowers,” smiled little Emily, with her soft brown eyes shining with delight. “Look, one is yellow, and one is puffy.” She proceeded to hand over a set of dandelions to her mother.
“Thank you, honey. You’re awfully sweet,” her mom replied softly.
A noise behind her made her turn around. Her husband was standing at the door. Amazingly, there were tears in his eyes.
“Janet,” her husband started, pausing for a very long moment. “I think I want to go to church tomorrow.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The girls arrived at the park in record time. There were a lot of kids at the park today. There were bikes everywhere.
The monkey bars were full. The swings were all occupied. The slides had lines waiting. A few mothers were encouraging the kids to move along and give others a turn. A few dads were playing catch with their sons.
“Why is it that it’s usually boys playing catch with their dads?” wondered Rachel aloud.
“I wish my dad would play anything with me,” Caroline bemoaned.
“Wow – it is really hot today! Come on – let’s race while we wait for the swings,” Sarah urged.
With Sarah leading the way, the girls raced around the perimeter of the park. They passed the swings, the teeter-totter, the monkey bars and the slides. They passed kids and pets, moms and dads, balls and bikes. Laughing, and out of breath, they ended up at the swings again.
Disappointed that the line was still long, the girls decided to return to their bikes. Caroline’s red bike had fallen over on top of someone’s tricycle.
The child’s mother was trying to pull it off, while the child stood by crying. The girls ran to help.
“I’m so sorry, Ma’am,” Caroline exclaimed.
“It’s o.k. Just help me,” the woman replied.
“Can I help?” a voice added. Everyone turned to see who was speaking. To their surprise, it was Sam.
“Sam, what are you doing here?” Rachel asked, eyes popping. “And who is this?”
“Oh, it’s my birthday present! My birthday is tomorrow,” Sam said, “This is my new dog, Rusty.”
Rusty held up one paw, and added, “Woof!”
Everyone laughed, including the tearful little boy.
CHAPTER THREE - “GLAD DAYS AND SAD DAYS”
It was Sunday again. Everyone filed into the church, most choosing their normal seats that they had occupied for months, or even years. A few shook hands and said hello. The musical instruments were still being tuned. The ushers were getting organized, getting offering containers ready, and showing a few visitors to their seats.
The service began at exactly 11:00. The pastor was always prompt, even when others weren’t. The choir began their “call to worship” song, standing ever so straight in their beige and burgundy robes. Mrs. Anderson, with her little round spectacles, stared too closely to the choir book. Mr. Benson, hunched over a bit, smiling happily, as he sang off key.
They sang through the rest of the song, and began the next. The congregation seemed to listen contently, some participating, some nodding approval. All the kids were sitting together today, on row four. They had been closer this summer than they had been in a very long time. Even Bryan and Daniela had moved up to join them. They were all even trying to sing the songs, in between smiles and a few embarrassed snickers.
The back door opened softly and closed again. Caroline, Emily, Chance, their mom, and surprisingly, their dad, slipped quietly into the back row. Their father, feeling somewhat conspicuous, sat down. He looked around sheepishly, and kept his eyes lowered.
The rest of the family, used to being in church, stood to sing the songs. Caroline’s mom, feeling nervous about the whole situation, turned to Emily. She leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“No! I want to stay in here with Daddy!”
“OK, it’s alright,” her mom said quietly, patting her hand.
A few people stared at the small commotion. Some smiled, meaning it was o.k. The service continued. The youth pastor stepped to the pulpit to make the announcements. A ball game was coming up this Saturday for the youth group. The kids all looked at each other, wishing they were old enough to play in the game. Rachel glanced back to the row that Caroline’s family was sitting on. She gave Caroline a slight smile and a bit of a wave. It made Caroline feel much better. She smiled back, ever so tiny a smile.
After a few comments and words of welcome to the visitors, the pastor began the morning message. Most of the people settled in to listen for the next half an hour or so. It seemed like hours to the kids, but they tried to sit as quietly as they could.
On the back row, Caroline’s mother was trying to listen – in between trying to keep Emily quiet – and worrying about how her husband was reacting to the sermon. He mostly seemed like he wasn’t listening at all. She tried to hold his hand. He would not let her. Instead, she took hold of Chance’s hand.
And Caroline’s. Emily sat quietly on her lap, looking from one parent to the other. Her dad looked away, a tear beginning to form in his eye and roll down his cheek.
After an eternity, the pastor was bringing the sermon to a close. The kids were glad – they were getting hungry. They were beginning to whisper, and stir a bit. “Sh – h – h,” one of the older ladies gave them a stare.
The congregation was standing to their feet quietly, heads bowed. Music was playing softly. The pastor was asking for those who needed help to come forward. His plea seemed to go unheeded.
After what seemed like forever, Caroline’s dad stepped out into the aisle. He solemnly walked the long journey to the front of the church. He began to talk with the pastor, then cry, then pray.
A few other church people came to stand with Caroline’s mother, who was crying, but, amazingly, smiling. It was such a glad day.
Most people had left, or were in the process of leaving church for the day. The kids were talking among themselves, making plans for the next few days. They turned to go out the side door. They noticed that Mrs. Smith’s boy, Kevin, was sitting on the front row, head bowed.
As they started to pass him, they noticed he was crying.
He glanced up at them, then took hold of Sam’s hand.
“Sam, I’m so sorry,” he paused, “but I have to tell you something.”
With a sorrowful sigh, he continued,
“I’m the one who hit Sandy.”
CHAPTER FOUR - “THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE”
Everyone was disturbed and perturbed at the confession of Kevin and his hot-rodding friends. Apparently, they had been racing. They had started at the high school, and ended up on the street in front of Sam’s house. Kevin was a good boy, but his friends were not the type to keep you on the “straight and narrow.” His mother, a teacher at the high school, was always lecturing him on his friends and church.Though he was mostly inclined to listen, his friends kept him on the edge of trouble.
His father had left the family when Kevin was seven. He reacted badly for a couple of years, but then seemed to settle down. He began to do well in school, making good grades and participating in extracurricular activities. By age ten or eleven, he was very involved in sports. Baseball had come first. By age twelve, he was in “all stars”…pitcher, no less. The last few years, he was involved in soccer…all the rage in Briarwood.
That’s why everyone was surprised and concerned to hear of his involvement in the death of Sam’s dog, Sandy. His mother was crushed when she heard about it. She had chided him again and again about his friends.
Since when, though, does a seventeen-year-old listen to his mother?
He had been attending the Briarwood church for a few years, but was never interested in truly becoming a part. Last Sunday, the sermon seemed to really connect with his heart and mind. Mostly, he had been feeling guilty about hitting Sandy. He had wanted to tell someone ever since it happened. His friends had told him not to worry about it. After all, they said, it was just a dog.
The phone rang at Kevin’s house on Wednesday morning. Mrs. Smith, Kevin’s mother, answered the phone.
“Kevin, it’s for you.”
“Hello?” Kevin answered, with trepidation.
“Kevin? Hey, man. This is Youth Pastor Tim. How’s it going?”
“OK, I guess. What’s up?”
“Listen, man. I need a pitcher for the church baseball team. As you probably know, the first game is this Saturday,” Pastor Tim continued.
“I heard you were a great pitcher.”
“That was a few years ago,” Kevin said. “What happened to your pitcher?”
“Blake? Oh, he quit. You know how it is with church work,” Pastor Tim laughed.
“No, I guess I don’t. I don’t think you should quit something you commit to,” Kevin said. For a moment he was thinking that he sounded just like his mother.
“Uh, yeah…I suppose that works in an ideal world. So, what do you think? Baseball, I mean.”
Wanting so much to say no, thinking about how embarrassed he would be…but all he could see was that beautiful golden dog lying on the street…
The guilt getting the best of him, he finally said, “Sure, I’ll help you out.”
“Fantastic, man. We practice today at 4:00. It’s too hot before that,” Pastor Tim added. “Meet us behind the church.”
The day seemed endless. Kevin was fretting, worrying, thinking, avoiding the phone – could hardly eat – and he loved to eat! Finally, it was time to go to the church.
The practice on Wednesday, and the following ones on Thursday and Friday, was nearly perfect. Everyone was cordial, helpful, and patient.
It seemed that Kevin had always been there.Before long, it was Saturday.
Kevin was excited…and somewhat nervous. He was sure that some of his friends would show up – probably to make fun of him. Somehow, he didn’t care. The church could not afford formal uniforms. They were to wear jeans and white T-shirts. He dressed as carefully as though he was in the major league. He fixed his hair perfectly, and drove to the church.
As soon as he had got in the car – the car that had hit Sandy – and started driving to the church, he knew it was the best decision that he had ever made. He knew his life was about to make a turn for the better. When he pulled into the church parking lot, his heart nearly stopped beating. There were cars and people everywhere!
CHAPTER FIVE - “PLAY BALL!”
Kevin walked to the ballpark behind the church. People were streaming from their cars, heading toward the bleachers. Excitement was definitely in the air. Long lines were at the concession stands. Hot dogs and colas were being sold to help the youth department. There were also long lines at the bleachers. Everyone wanted a good seat.
“This is amazing!” Kevin stated emphatically to Pastor Tim. “I had no idea this many people would show up!”
“Yeah, our church is really good about coming out for activities. We have a good group of people here at the Briarwood church,” Pastor Tim smiled.“I guess so,” Kevin returned.
“Alright – let’s get organized. The other guys are right over there. They’ve been warming up,” instructed Pastor Tim.
“Should I have come earlier? I came when you told me to,” Kevin questioned.
“No, it’s fine. They are just overly anxious. This team is everything to them,” Pastor Tim said with some seriousness in his voice. “They are just simple guys. They haven’t had as much experience as you have. Try to be patient with them.”
Kevin looked at Pastor Tim for a long moment…he was thinking, “What have I got myself into?”
“Well, come on – let’s get going!” called Pastor Tim.
“Yeah, sure,” Kevin replied, somewhat reluctantly.
The other team from the church across town had just arrived. They were hitting balls to each other behind the bleachers. They seemed very confident. They even had real uniforms. They might be a force to be reckoned with. Kevin swallowed hard. “Great,” he was thinking, “a real team, and I’m playing with a bunch of church kids.”
The first inning began and ended – nothing to nothing. It seemed as though everyone was still trying to “warm up.” The second inning brought a little more “life” to the game. The crowd began to perk up a bit, and actually pay attention.
Halfway through the second inning, the other team had two runs and two outs. The church team had nothing! Kevin was not too concerned…yet. However, he called the team together. They reluctantly came over to where he stood, glancing at each other questioningly. Their eyes were saying, “Who is this guy, and why is he telling us what to do?” Instinctively, Pastor Tim intervened.
“Hey, guys, this game’s going great! You are doing a super job! Now, I want you to listen to Kevin. He’s had a lot of experience. He wants to take us over the top!” Pastor Tim implored, hoping for some cooperation.
The other boys talked for a while. They seemed to take forever. Kevin kicked the dirt with his shoe while he waited.
“OK, man,” one of the boys named Steve began.
“We know that you know what you are doing, but you’re going to have to be patient with us. We’re not stars like you.”
“Well, I don’t consider myself as a star. I just want to play ball – and I want to win this game,” Kevin explained. “Now, I’d like to rearrange things a bit. OK?”
The other boys looked at each other. A few of them looked down, contemplating the situation. A couple of them nodded at each other.
“Alright,” Steve finally said. “We will do whatever you say. However, we better win this game.”
“Well, there are no guarantees, but if we do our best…and have good sportsmanship…God can help us,” Kevin answered. He felt pretty stupid even saying that. Yet, again, in his heart of hearts, he knew it was true.
He put Steve on first base. Todd was ordered to second, Josh to third, and Chris to shortstop. The rest of the guys were to play outfield.
The next few innings came and went, with some struggles, as the guys were feeling out their new places. They were determined to stick with it. At the end of inning five, the score was 7 to 5, the other team still ahead.
Innings six and seven were better for the church team. The boys seemed to be gaining confidence. Todd and Chris had scored runs, bringing the score to a tie, 7 to 7.
In inning eight, the other team seemed to get a little nervous. They never expected any competition. Steve was up to bat. He and Kevin caught eyes. Kevin’s look said, “You can do it.”
Steve steadied himself – raised his bat – looked straight into the eyes of the other team’s pitcher. The ball came fast – the crack of the bat was loud – it soared – over the fence!
Another crack was heard – thunder – then rain! Everyone ran for cover!
CHAPTER SIX - “RAINY DAYS AND SUNDAYS”
It seemed like the rain would never end in Briarwood…ever since the night of the ballgame. The storm had begun right around the time that Steve had hit a home run – right over the fence. Everyone had left the field in a mad dash for their cars and the church building.
There was also a storm brewing over the score…8 to 7. The other team said that they did not forfeit the game. The church team said that the rain had ended the game – score final.
Youth Pastor Tim said that the team would set a better example by not arguing over the score or the game. Most of the boys informed him that they weren’t arguing – they simply had won the game. The other team wanted a rematch – it would have to wait until after the storm.
There had been terrible thunder and lightning the first few days, now there was mostly a constant drizzle. The streets were full of puddles – the yards were a soggy mess. It was hard to get out to go anywhere. Some people said that the storm was the outskirts of a hurricane.
It seemed like an adventure to the kids. To the adults, it was torture. Tree limbs were all over the yards. Bryan’s yard had a palm tree down. It had just missed his dad’s new car. Rachel, Sarah, and Caroline were glad that their street was not affected as badly. They had been dying for several days to get out of the house – to get together.
The electricity had been off and on, and the telephones had been down some. Rachel had tried to call Sarah a “million” times. They were right next door, but it was raining too hard to go to her house. Go to Caroline’s? Forget it – the streets were full of water. They were all bored and lonely.
Mrs. Griffith had gone to live with her daughter up north. She was afraid of the storms. Last year, there had been five – three were severe. The church had opened its doors to anyone in areas prone to flooding. At least fifty people had spent a few nights there.
Rachel’s mother had gone to help at the church with the families that had to evacuate. The church van had come to pick her up, because the family cars were too small to go through the water in the streets. Rachel worried about her – she had been gone for two days.
They had communicated as much as they could – with the busyness of the situation – and the power outages. Her mom told stories of whole families on quilts and mats, eating cold bologna sandwiches and cereal out of small individual boxes with skim milk shipped in by trucks. All of their pets had to be left behind. It had made Rachel sad, and made her lonelier than ever.
“I need to do something with my friends, Dad,” Rachel announced. “I can’t stay in this house one more minute!”
"There was a very long pause. Finally, her dad smiled, somewhat weakly.
“OK…how about if we invite a couple of your friends over – don’t worry – I will go and get them. We’ll make some tacos…or something…and you girls can do…uh…whatever it is you do…to have fun. Then I will take them back home again. It’s only next door and across the street,” Dad smiled a little bigger this time.
“But, Dad, there is so much water – and the rain…,” Rachel lamented.
“Don’t worry…Dad to the rescue!” he said, laughing.
The plan was made, and after numerous tries, they got through to Caroline’s and Sarah’s houses. Rachel’s dad had put on his big fishing boots and a raincoat, and had trudged through the water in the street. The water was halfway up the boots. Caroline was ready, and was truly excited. She climbed on his back, and rode “piggyback” all the way to Rachel’s house
He deposited Caroline and went next to get Sarah. Although it was late August, she was bundled up in a sweater, boots, and a cap.
“I think I can walk, Mr. Burgess,” Sarah said informatively, with an underlying excitement in her voice. “I have on my boots!”
They opened the door to Rachel’s house. She was standing in the foyer with a blank look on her face. She blurted out!
“There’s a fire – at Matt’s house…”
CHAPTER SEVEN - “THE FIRE”
A firetruck drove past Rachel’s house…then an ambulance. With all the water in the streets, they seemed to drive slower than usual. Through phone calls from some of the neighbors, they learned that the cause of the fire was candles being burned in lieu of electricity. It had been hit or miss since the storm began. The family had escaped to the next door neighbor‘s house, but all else seemed to be lost – engulfed in flames!
The firetruck screeched to a halt in front of Matt’s house. The firemen jumped out of the truck, grabbing hoses on the way. Water began to flood the house, from nearly every angle. The rain, thank God, was pouring down. Everyone was sick of the rain, but, right now, it was greatly needed.
After about an hour, the fire seemed to abate. The rain had lessened, and people had moved to the street to watch the drama. It seemed like scores of dark umbrellas lined the streets. Why was fire such a calling card?
Rachel had begged and pleaded until her dad had consented to drive the girls over to Matt’s street – the street with the fire. Caroline’s dad rode along. He did not want Caroline going without him. He seemed to care more about the kids since he started going to church.
He had even started helping with the boy’s group that met on Thursday nights. The church leaders were willing to help train him. His son, Chance, and Sarah’s brother, Roger, were attending the class – and loving it. There were opportunities to earn badges, and they were planning a camping trip when the weather cooled off – maybe October. He was even helping the church with a fundraiser to raise money for some uniforms. A car wash had been in the works when the storm began.
During the training, the leaders discovered that Mr. Howard had been a Marine and knew a lot about the outdoors – making fires, tying knots, and all the things that the program required. They were all very excited – especially the boys. The plan was to expand the groups to include some of the older boys. John was anxious to begin the older group. He wanted to invite his friends from church and school…hoping something fun would entice them to join. He had mentioned it to Bryan recently. Bryan thought it sounded rather lame.
“Earn badges? That sounds stupid,” he had retorted.
“Well, maybe…but we’ll get to go on camping trips. We’ll learn about making fires…safely, of course, and using knives. It will be really neat,” John came back at him.
“I can use a knife…anytime…without some old guy telling me how,” Bryan laughed.
“I’m not sure your mother would agree with that,” commented John.
“Ha! What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, as they say,” Bryan snickered.
“Yeah, but it may hurt you,” John countered.
Bryan had rolled his eyes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The umbrellas were slowly disappearing, as a somber mood came over the group of neighbors. The ones who had stayed stood quietly, staring at the embers. Rachel and Caroline went to stand by Matt and his family. He seemed a little happier knowing that they were there.
“We’re so sorry that this happened to you…and your family, Matt,” Rachel offered.
“Thanks,” he said, with a weak smile. They didn’t say anything for a few minutes.
“Where are you going to stay?” Caroline asked inquisitively.
“I don’t know. I guess my mom and dad will figure it out,” Matt answered, wiping a tear from his cheek.
“I’m sure some of your neighbors will help…or you could stay in a motel for a few days,” Caroline continued.
“I know. It’s not that,” he hesitated, “It’s because…Lucky’s still in there.”
Rachel and Caroline looked at each other.
“My cat…he’s still in there.”
Everyone was happy, though. The storms had died down, and Matt’s cat was safe. On the night of the fire, he was thought to be inside the burning house. Matt had been very upset about his home, but was distraught over the idea that his pet was somewhere inside there…helpless.
The next day, a fireman and an inspector had come to view the damage and the remainder of the burned building. They needed to inspect the rubble, and decide what was the official cause of the fire. They scoured the entire house…what was left of it…for clues.
They searched each and every room, one by one, inch by inch. It was finally decided, for sure, that a small candle, burned during the storm for light, was the cause. The fireman and the inspector stood under a tree in the front yard of Matt’s house. They were busy writing up the report regarding the cause of the fire.
As they were writing up the report, and discussing what they felt was the cause, a tiny “mew” was heard nearby.
They began to look around. They looked through the hedge in front of the house – nothing. Then, it seemed like the tiny noise was coming from the garbage can. The inspector lifted the lid, fully expecting to find “something.” Nothing.
The fireman scratched his head. Then, he smiled. The obvious was right beside them – the tree in the front yard.
Sure enough, there was a little tawny kitten sitting on a limb, looking down helplessly.
It only took a few minutes to grab a ladder and climb up in the tree to retrieve Matt’s little lost kitty.
He was ecstatic! He had never been so happy! When he found out, he squeezed him and kissed him, and thanked the fireman over and over.
Although his house was gone, Matt was content. He knew the rest would work out.
CHAPTER EIGHT - “MR. BELVEDERE”
School was starting soon, and everyone dreaded it. Sixth grade was going to be much more difficult…more homework…more reports…more social issues. Homework…they knew all about homework.
Social issues? Always a mystery… always exciting!
School began on September 7. Though tired from their lazy summer schedule, everyone seemed to arrive early. New supplies filled all the backpacks, also new. There was something about getting new things – exciting – refreshing. The air was “bubbling” with excited voices – old friends reuniting after several months of play and vacation. A new school year will be as wonderful as it will be demanding.
The girls were worried about clothes; the boys were concerned about bikes, backpacks, and sports. Sam hoped to get on the soccer team. John planned to try out for football. The only girl interested in “sports” was Daniela. She wanted to try out for cheer-leading. She would make a perfect cheerleader. She had blond hair, blue eyes, and was constantly “squealing” about something!
Everyone stormed into their homeroom class, buzzing about classes, subjects, teachers, clothes, boys, girls, and 'when is lunch?'
Bryan and Daniela sported obvious new “duds.” Caroline had gotten her long, auburn hair cut to shoulder length. It was a big change for her. Everyone else looked pretty much the same.
“I love your hair, Caroline!” Rachel exclaimed. “I wish my mom would let me cut mine.”
“Me, too…but my mom is not the problem…it’s my dad,” Sarah interjected. “He thinks girls should have long hair.”
“Oh, good grief!” Bryan blurted out. “I think you should wear whatever kind of hair you want. I’m thinking about putting some blue or orange in my hair…what do you think?”
“Yeah, that’s cool …maybe I’ll do green,” Sam retorted sarcastically. All the girls laughed. Everyone laughed when Sam spoke. After all, he was the cutest guy in the school…and the sweetest.
What’s not to like about Sam?
The bell rang, but everyone kept talking. They were too excited about the first day of school, and getting to all be together, to settle down. They kept laughing and sharing funny stories.
They didn’t even notice when the door to the classroom opened. There was a sound of someone clearing their throat. No one really paid attention. It happened again. “Excuse me, students,” the principal began.There stood the strangest-looking man.
He had hardly any hair…only around the ears – nothing on top.
His ears were exceptionally large. He had beady, little eyes.
He had a quirky, little smile.
“Good morning, students,” the principal continued.
“This is Mr. Belvedere.”
CHAPTER NINE - “THE TICKET”
Daniela’s mother knocked on her door, and opened it slowly.
“Daniela, get up now,” she said, quietly. “You want to get there early.”
“Mom! Why are you waking me up now? It’s only 6:30!” Daniela demanded. “And, it’s Saturday!”
“Daniela, did you forget about the contest?”
She sat up suddenly, and threw back the covers.
“Oh, my gosh, Mom! It’s late! Why didn’t you wake me up earlier? I’m going to be late!”
Her mother smiled and shut the door. Daniela searched her top drawer frantically. Her ticket had to be in there somewhere. You can’t be in the contest without the ticket! To her great dismay, it was not there!
She ran to the closet, her next option. She rummaged through her coat pockets, her jeans...anything she could think of. Nothing! She slammed the closet door in exasperation, and sat on her bed. She wished that she wasn’t so disorganized.
“Are you looking for something?” her mother asked, standing at the door again.
“No, I’m not looking for something. Of course, I’m looking for something!” she returned curtly.
Her mother put her hand into her apron pocket. She held up a small item. She smiled, and shut the door.
“The ticket!” screamed Daniela. She ran to the closet again...this time to grab jeans and a T-shirt.
She fell to her knees, and searched quickly to decide which shoes to wear...pink ones? Blue ones?
“Oh, my gosh! I have to hurry!” she exclaimed under her breath. “I have to get there before Rachel...and Sarah, and Caroline... and... well, everybody!”
The shoes went on quickly...and off to breakfast she ran! She only stopped for breakfast because she knew her mother would insist.
“Mom, I’m only going to grab a granola bar today because I want to be the first one there,” Daniela began.
“That’s fine, but take some juice with you,” her mother commented. “It’s only about fun, Daniela...don’t be so serious.”
“Mother, you just don’t get anything!” Daniela exclaimed, as she ran out the door. “I just have to win!” The door slammed loudly as she took off down the sidewalk.
Her mother stuck her head out the door. “You know...your father can drive you...”
“No, thanks! It’s only a couple of blocks. I’m too excited to wait!” She disappeared around the corner.
She ran past a few elderly people walking their dogs. They smiled, but she didn’t even acknowledge them.
“Why do old people get up so early?!” she was thinking, as she ran past Sarah’s, Rachel’s, and Caroline’s houses. They were nowhere to be seen.
She ran on quickly around the next corner, past Sam’s house. He was out in his front yard playing with Rusty.
"You better get to the school, Sam,” she said breathlessly. “Today’s the contest!”
“I know that,” he smiled. “There’s plenty of time. You just have to have your ticket.”
“I’m not taking any chances!” she exclaimed, as she ran on down the street. She turned the corner again, passing Bryan’s house. He was getting into his dad’s car.
“You want a ride?” he asked, as she ran by. “Nope. See you there,” she said, as she disappeared down the sidewalk. He shrugged his shoulders, and got into the car.
“You want to walk, Bryan?” his father asked, grinning. “It’s only half a block.”
“Uh...no! I’m not walking to school,” Bryan stammered. “You’re going to drive me.”
“Of, course...we wouldn’t want you to get some fresh air and exercise,” he smiled.
Bryan “rolled” his eyes and jumped in the car. “Come on, Dad,” Bryan demanded. “We’re on a schedule here!”
“Yeah, you know all about schedules,” Dad smiled.
As they drove up to the school, hundreds of students were already there, swarming like bees.
Bryan jumped out of the car, not even pausing to say goodbye.
Dad smiled and waved aimlessly.
Bryan looked for Daniela, as he ran past all the students converging on the steps of the school.
He ran down the hallway, into the auditorium, down the aisle, to the front row seats, and, of course, she was there.
“Hey, you’re here!” Bryan exclaimed.
“Of course, I’m here!”
She answered, somewhat annoyed.
“I’m always here
CHAPTER TEN - “A TRIP OF A LIFETIME”
The principal was just coming to the microphone, tapping it to see if it was on. Bryan and Daniela rolled their eyes. The principal, Mr. Sanders, introduced Mr. Belvedere, the school’s new sixth grade teacher.
Clearing his throat, Mr. Belvedere began, “Students, good morning. Thank you for coming out on a Saturday morning. I’m sure you would rather be sleeping!”
All the kids laughed, and nodded in agreement. A few elbowed their neighbor.
“Well, now,” he continued. “Get out your tickets. We will begin the selection.”
Bryan grabbed his ticket from his jeans pocket. He began to read the numbers, which he had read many times before.
Daniela was searching her pockets, her purse, her seat
“Bryan, I don’t have my ticket!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Several weeks had passed since the big contest at the school. Daniela was avoiding everyone. She had had the winning ticket, but she had rushed out of the house without it. That was the story of her life…a pretty, disorganized mess.
Her mother had driven the ticket up to the school, but Mr. Belvedere had already gone on to the second number, and the prize had been awarded to Sarah.
It was actually good that it had happened that way.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sarah’s mother had been sick again. The family was worried, as always. No one really knew how much longer her mother could live. She was sick so often.
Although Daniela was very aggravated at herself, she was happy for Sarah and her family. The prize was a weekend at Disney World. No one was more deserving than Sarah and Roger! Everyone was happy for them.
A few business people in town had donated money for gas and a hotel. The family had left for a trip of a lifetime. Everyone in town was excited, and a good number of people came out to see them off.
The raffle had been a great success. It had raised needed funds for the library and the city park. It had also given a family something they would only have dreamed about.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Rachel was lonely while Sarah was gone, but she and Caroline kept busy. They had been friends long before Sarah had moved to Briarwood. They used to be together so often that people referred to them as the “twins.” They were rarely seen apart, except when they were asleep.
They went bike riding every day. They went to the park. They did their homework together. They walked to Sam’s house after school to hang out. They baked cookies on Saturday morning …anything they could think of to make the days pass by. Nothing they did seemed to work. The days loomed ahead endlessly.
“What did we do before Sarah moved to Briarwood?” Caroline asked, aimlessly, one afternoon, as they lay on the living room rug doing their homework.
Rachel glanced her way, but did not want to admit that she was thinking about Sarah. Her math was due in the morning, but she was not concentrating at all.
Mr. Belvedere had introduced algebra last week, and it was mostly confusing.
Sam aced it, of course, and Caroline seemed to understand it somewhat. It went right over Rachel’s head. Sarah hated math, but she was fun and cheery, and made Rachel keep up her work. When she was tired and bored, and had no motivation at all, Sarah had a way of pulling work out of her.
Rachel had stopped doing math, and was drawing little circles on the sides of the paper.
“You better at least try, Rachel. Homework counts a lot on your math grade,” chided Caroline.
“I know…I’m trying,” Rachel said, not very convincingly.
“You are not trying at all!” Caroline stated emphatically.
Annoyed, Rachel looked her straight in the eye.
“You hush, Caroline Howard! It’s not like you are doing anything either!”
They both burst into laughter at the same time.
“Let’s forget this for a while,” Rachel said, barely able to talk after laughing hysterically.
“Let’s go for a walk or something,” added Caroline.
They went out the front door, glad to be in the fresh air.
Chatting at lightning speed, they went down the walk to the street.
Barely glancing at the car passing in front of them, they continued down the sidewalk.
They only stopped walking because the car pulled right in front of them and stopped.
There sat Roger, grinning from ear to ear.
CHAPTER ELEVEN - “SNOWFLAKE”
“Bryan is getting a horse!” exclaimed Rachel, bursting through the front door one Saturday morning.
“What? Slow down there, Rachel,” Mom said. “Where did you hear such news?”
“Everyone is talking about it! I’m serious, Mom. Isn’t that the most wonderful news you ever heard?” Rachel clamored on. She was talking mostly to herself, as she disappeared back out the front door, down the walk, and across the street to Caroline’s house.
She had not been gone more than five minutes, when there was a knock on the door.
“Hi, Mrs. Simms,” Sarah uttered, somewhat breathlessly. “I need to talk to Rachel right away! Is she at home?”
“She just left…went across the street to Caroline’s, I imagine,” Rachel’s mother commented.
“I have the most wonderful thing to tell her!” Sarah added, as she turned to go.
“Bryan’s getting a new horse!” Sarah and Mrs. Simms said at the same time. They both started to laugh. Smiling, Sarah headed down the walk and across the street.
As she got closer to Caroline’s house, Rachel and Caroline stormed out the door, jumping around, practically squealing.
“Do you know the news?” both of them exclaimed at the same time.
“Yes! That’s what I came to tell you! My brother heard the boys talking about it down at the park. Isn’t it amazing? Do you think he will let us ride it? That would be so great!” Sarah was more excited than the girls had ever seen her.
“I’ll be happy just to pet it!” Caroline said, still practically hopping around her yard. Her brother, Chance, and her little sister, Emily, slammed through the screen door. They had heard the squeals, and could not wait to see what all the excitement was about.
“What’s going on, Caroline? What are you so happy about? Did we win a trip to Disney World like Sarah and Roger? Tell us, Sis!” Chance and Emily ran around the yard, laughing and begging to know the news.
“Well, it’s not a secret,” Sarah said. “Everyone at the park knows…they were all talking about it this morning. He has begged his dad for at least a year. He was always getting in trouble, so his dad wouldn’t do it.”
“Yeah, he can never get along with anybody!” said Caroline. “Sometimes I just want to smack him!”
Everyone burst into hearty laughter.
“Me and everybody else,” Caroline smiled.
“Remember when he used to be mean to John all the time?” reminded Rachel.
“Poor John. He was always so nice about it. Never even complained,” added Sarah.
“Yeah…remember when Bryan tried to start that one fight with John? His parents went and talked to the pastor about Bryan…how he is always in trouble,” reminded Caroline.
“I know. My mom said that Pastor Whitfield told them that they needed to get their whole family in church . . . and they did,” said Rachel.
“I know…I see them all the time. Bryan is at all the kid stuff. He does seem a lot nicer,” commented Sarah. “Maybe God fixed him.” They all laughed again.
“Well, I guess his dad sees the change, too. Otherwise, I don’t suppose he would have given in and let him get the horse,” Caroline added quietly. Then, more seriously,
“I remember when my dad went to church the first time. He was really nervous. But I was really happy about it. Our family has been so much better since that day. I hardly ever see my mom cry now. He is so nice to Chance and me. Before, he only was nice to Emily.”
The mood had changed from excitement to quiet and somber.
“Well, umm . . . I wonder what color the horse is,” Sarah commented, interrupting the somber mood. “A black horse would be absolutely stunning!”
“Yeah, kinda like in the movies, racing across a meadow, with the sun shining behind him,” said Rachel, dreamily.
“Rachel, you are so dramatic!” Sarah added, while at the same time letting her mind picture such a fine animal. As they chatted happily about how wonderful horses are, and how they would each love to have one, no one noticed Bryan walking toward them grinning from ear to ear.
“I want you all to meet Snowflake.”
CHAPTER TWELVE - “CHEERS!”
School had been in session for two weeks and everyone was settling in. The summer had been the shortest they had ever remembered. It had been short and hot, and school had not been on anyone’s radar…but it had begun, ready or not.
Caroline and Sam both had had birthdays. Most of the kids were twelve now and felt quite “grown up.” They had all slowly, but surely, eased into the technology stage, some competing for the most in quantity and some competing for the most expensive or most modern. Daniela and Bryan, of course, had everything.
Sarah’s family seemed to always have financial difficulties. Her mother’s medical bills were high, and her dad was the only employed parent. He tried his best to get things that he felt was needed and necessary…food, school clothes, shelter…but not many extras. Most of the time, Sarah was understanding. It was hard for her at school, however, when everyone seemed to have ways to go on the internet. During geography class, while most of the students were using tablets to look up their maps, she had to rely on the class atlas to find her answers. Caroline would help her whenever she could, and also Rachel, but they had their own maps to do. Daniela and Bryan had plenty of electronic choices, but were not into sharing at all.
“My dad has rules,” he would always say. Bryan’s rules, however, were usually of his own making…or breaking.
Rachel had planned on one last slumber party before school began, but the summer had come and gone too fast. Her mom had agreed that she could just invite Caroline and Sarah. Roger and Chance had complained because the girls were having a party. Rachel’s mother had promised that very soon they could have a special activity just for them. That seemed to help…at least for the moment.
“Are you going to have your party on Friday night or Saturday?” Caroline questioned, hoping for Friday so they could stay up extra late.
“I’m not sure just yet,” Rachel answered, thinking of how it would be fun to all ride to church together on Sunday. “I’ll decide soon.”
“Do you think I should try out for cheerleader?” Rachel asked her two close friends. She knew she wanted to, and probably would, even if they didn’t encourage her to. It was just a matter of conversation.
“Well, you know who will be competing against you,” Sarah commented.
Rachel barely glanced her way, but nodded slightly. Sarah squeezed her hand.
“What if we help you practice?” Caroline sat up straight, with a little spark of excitement in her voice. It sounded like so much fun all of a sudden.
“Yeah, that’s what we should do!” Sarah said. “We have lots of days before the try-out. We can practice every afternoon. I have to help around the house in the mornings. I have to help my mom.”
“Ok. Let’s have the party on Saturday, and start extra early so we can practice some cheers. I know a couple of good cheers. Do you know any?” asked Rachel.
“Yes!” Caroline and Sarah both yelled out at the same time.
Saturday couldn’t come fast enough for the three best friends. That’s all they could think of or talk about. Roger invited Chance over to spend the night, so that made both boys happy. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly. At 3:00 on the dot, the doorbell rang, and two anxious girls stood at the door, grinning from ear to ear. They didn’t have far to go, so it was easy to be on time. Sarah walked across the lawn from right next door, and Caroline walked across the street.
“Hi! We’re here!” both girls said almost with a squeal. They disappeared inside. The afternoon was packed full of cheerleading practice, jokes and laughter, and lots of snacks. They mostly laughed their way through the cheers, but Rachel had never been more serious about anything. The hours flew by, faster than they would have liked. They tried not to talk about school, but it was impossible to avoid. The best part was that their friends are there. Everything else, they just endure.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - “JITTERS”
Mr. Belvedere called the class to order, asking everyone to stand for the pledge. Everyone stood politely, hands on hearts, reciting by memory the pledge to the American flag.
Rachel was participating, as always, but was thinking of other things. Today was the day. She had been practicing nearly every day with Caroline and Sarah. They had gone on line and downloaded numerous cool cheers to discuss, practice, and decide which was best to choose.
“I think you should choose the one you feel most comfortable with,” Sarah had suggested.
“The problem is, I don’t really feel comfortable with any of them,” Rachel had said despondently.
“Well, let’s practice anyway...I know you will find one that you like.”
Everyone had sat down, but Rachel had not noticed. Her mind was wandering, going over the cheers in her head.
“Rachel...sit down,” Sarah whispered. Everyone was staring, trying not to laugh. Mr. Belvedere, though loved by the students, was strict in class, and would not put up with any foolishness. Even Bryan and Daniela did not dare to react.
“Oh, excuse me,” Rachel said when she realized she was the only one still standing. Rachel was not one to easily get embarrassed. Her mind was too preoccupied to give it much thought.
Caroline rolled her eyes the slightest bit, wondering what was going on with Rachel. Sarah had a little bit more empathy, and gave her a little smile.
Rachel thought she saw a tiny bit of a smile on Mr. Belvedere’s face, too. She straightened up her history book and her papers, and became engrossed in her work. This was going to be a long chapter, so she knew she needed to get busy. She didn’t mind too much because it was about one of her favorite subjects...the Civil War. Today was about Robert E. Lee, one of her favorite generals. She was confident she would know all of the answers.
Bryan was tapping his eraser absent-mindedly on his desk. It was distracting Rachel from her studying.
“Oh, my goodness,” she was thinking. “Will he ever stop doing that!”
Mr. Belvedere noticed, also, and cleared his throat as a little reminder to Bryan to stop. Mr. Belvedere had just come to the school this year, a veteran teacher, but new to Briarwood. He had such a quaint, funny look that the kids laughed at the sight of him. He was small built, too, not much taller than the bigger boys. Of course, some of the more rowdy boys had tried to get away with some bad behavior. Mr. Belvedere was not having any of that. Those boys were quickly put in their place, and never tried anything again. Now, he was loved and appreciated, and everyone cooperated...and wanted to.
Rachel was supposed to be making a list of the generals and the important battles, but in her head she was practicing the cheers. She was trying to remember the words to the two she liked the best. The class seemed to be lasting forever. She normally loved this class, but she was just too distracted today. She continued with her list, knowing that Mr. Belvedere would be asking for it at the end of class.
Finally, the bell rang...Rachel stood and moved toward the front of the class, more like a robot than a live girl. Caroline and Sarah followed close behind, looking at each other and back again at Rachel. They didn’t speak, so as not to disturb Rachel’s “mood.”
The day proceeded much the same. During lunch, Rachel stirred her food around with her fork absentmindedly. She barely took a bite. She sipped her apple juice a little, but that’s all she could do.
Caroline interrupted the situation. “Rachel, do you want to talk? Do you want to go over the cheers again? We’ll be happy to help you.”
Rachel looked her way, but did not answer. She took another sip of her juice and got up. Another class was about to begin. They walked slowly toward biology class around the corner from the lunchroom.
“Do you have your homework, Rachel?” Caroline questioned.
Rachel glanced her way, but did not answer. They walked a little farther, then Rachel stopped.
“I can’t do it. One of you has to do it instead.”
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - “THE BIG GAME”
“Why does Sarah have to ride with us, Mom?” Daniela complained vehemently.
"I already told you, Daniela. Sarah’s mom can’t go out of town right now. You already know it’s an out-of-town game. It’s only right that we give her a ride to the game since we are going anyway,” Daniela’s mother replied.
“It’s embarrassing to me. It’s bad enough that she’s a cheerleader now. Good grief. Can’t a girl get a break around here?” Daniela stomped up the stairs to her room. She flopped onto her pink comforter, and buried her head in her pillow. “My
life is horrible,” she was thinking.
“We are leaving in one hour, Daniela,” her mom yelled up the stairs. “I hope you are going to be ready.”
Daniela hardly said a word in the car, to Sarah, or anyone else, as they drove to Cummingsburg. It was a good forty minutes away, but she mostly stared out the window.
Sarah had tried to talk a little, but gave up after several attempts.
“How is your mother feeling today, Sarah?” Daniela’s mother asked politely. She already knew the answer, but Daniela was making no attempt to communicate.
“She feels pretty good,” Sarah answered, glad that at least someone was trying to carry on a conversation.
“If she rests throughout the day, she seems fine.” Sarah was weary some days to answer questions about her mother. This had been going on now for several years. She never knew from week to week how things were going to be.
After what seemed like an hour, they pulled into the parking lot of Cummingsburg Elementary. In her old town, sixth grade had been grouped with junior high. It made her feel silly to say she was still in elementary school. At least this was the last year. At least she had made the cheerleading squad. She had wanted so much for her friend, Rachel, to try out. She was too nervous and felt sick. Sarah had told her she shouldn’t have practiced so much. She told her she was going to be too tired. She reminded her to eat some lunch that day.
“Can you come on already?” Daniela was demanding. She shut the door hard. It caught her cheerleader skirt and tugged her backward. She wobbled a bit, and opened the door again. Sarah looked away, trying not to smile.
Daniela shut the door even harder.
Everyone was piling out of the car, interrupting her thoughts. She was actually nervous now, too, thinking about cheering in front of strangers. She straightened up her new uniform, proud for a quick moment. Rachel and Caroline had given their allowance for a whole month to help her get her outfit. Dad had said that he couldn’t afford it, with Mom’s medicine and doctor bills. He said he would do what he could. Sam’s mother let her help around the house to earn some of it, and Sam had mowed yards and had given her the money. Sarah loved her friends so much.
“Sarah, we don’t have all night,” Daniela blurted out. “Can we go in now?”
Sarah did smile this time. She wasn’t going to let Daniela ruin this night.
Inside the gymnasium was so loud! Sarah’s thoughts would have to wait. There seemed like a thousand people! Boys were running around on the court, warming up. Their tennis shoes were making loud, squeaky sounds, as they raced around, bouncing basketballs, passing to their teammates, trying to throw the balls into the net . . . it suddenly became so exciting to her!
As she took her place in the bottom row of the stands, she saw Sam, Matt, and Bryan. They smiled as they raced around the court, ever mindful of the coach’s watchful eye. He was yelling directions left and right.
She had never seen them in their red and white uniforms. They were a mixture of cute and funny.
The game began with a whistle, and the coach throwing the ball into the air. Bryan came down on it hard and the ball bounced to Sam.
He took off, bouncing and running, and running and bouncing. As he drew closer to the basket, he passed the ball to Matt.
Matt was terrific at sports, and, of course, after a dribble or two, jumped high and bounced it off the backboard. It slid right into the basket. The crowd roared.
The other team took possession of the ball, and down the court they went!
The night continued much the same, cheerleaders cheering, crowd roaring, boys scoring.
Sarah had never been so happy in her entire life!
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - “AUNT ETHEL”
“Wake up, everyone! Someone special is here for a visit!” Sarah’s dad said with a wink, as he opened the bedroom doors one at a time. Roger moaned and covered his head with a blanket.
“I can’t stand when Aunt Ethel comes! She is too happy, and kisses me too much!” he groaned, and refused to get up.
Sarah turned over with her face toward the wall. A tear formed in one eye. It felt warm as it rolled down her cheek. She knew what it meant when Aunt Ethel came to visit. It was a terrible signal that her mom was worse. She lay there as long as she dared, without her dad returning to remind her again.
Aunt Ethel came last year for two weeks. It seemed like two months. Sarah had had to stay inside a lot, and help with things around the house. She had really missed seeing Rachel and Caroline. They came by often, but she couldn’t go out to play much. She sighed as she thought about that time. Her mother had been in the hospital the whole time . . . two whole weeks…two weeks with Aunt Ethel’s cooking. Two whole weeks with Aunt Ethel’s chattiness. Two whole weeks with Aunt Ethel’s stories. She sighed again, as she rolled over and let her leg hang over the bed. She had to do this one step at a time.
“Roger, are you getting up?” she could hear her dad say. She knew by heart how loud the steps were as they got closer to her door. Just before his hand touched the door handle, she sat up.
“Sarah, are you getting up?”
“Yes, dad, I am getting up.” She could hear Aunt Ethel’s voice coming from the living room.
She could hear her laughing. She wished she wouldn’t laugh so much when someone is sick. It just didn’t seem right to her.
How can she feel sad and Aunt Ethel always seemed so happy. Dad says it is because she is a church-goer. . . “that’s how they are,” he would say. That didn’t seem like a bad thing to Sarah . . . to feel happy. She didn’t really feel happy most of the time. Only Rachel and Caroline made her feel like a somewhat happy person.
She knew she had to go out there soon. She dressed quickly and tried to find her shoes. She couldn’t remember where she left them last night. She remembered that she played a game with Roger, at Dad’s insistence. That was in the living room. But she was still wearing them then. Stalling some more, she thought about that they were in the bathroom when she took a shower. She remembered that her pink towel was lying on top of the shoes. It was because both were pink, and
she thought that was funny.
Her mom had bought them for her last week when she was feeling well. It was from her favorite store, the one on the corner by the hardware store. The first time she had noticed it was when she rode with dad to get a hammer and some nails.
With mom sick, he tried to fix most things himself. Sometimes he could, and sometimes he made a big mess. She thought of the time that the garbage disposal was stopped up. He crawled under the sink, unscrewed a bolt, and water and garbage blew out everywhere…in his face and all over the kitchen floor. She laughed out loud thinking about it.
“Are you looking for these?” Aunt Ethel smiled, as she opened the bedroom door. Sarah stood up quickly…she had been scrounging around in her closet floor.
“Uh…hello, Aunt Ethel,” Sarah tried to answer politely. She was thinking, however, that she really hated it when people opened her door without being invited.
“Yes, I was trying to remember where I left them.”
“Well, I told your dad when I saw them in the kitchen that you would be looking for them,” Aunt Ethel said, as she grinned way too big for Sarah’s mood. “Well, when I was a girl . . ."
Sarah had already stopped listening, as she slipped on her shoes as fast as she could, so she could get out of the situation and check on her mother.
The hallway was dim as she hurried out to the kitchen. Her mother was not there. She went quickly to the living room, hoping she was there having her morning tea. She was not there. She raced back down the hall to her mother’s bedroom doorway. She was lying there, asleep, looking frail. Sarah’s heart skipped a beat.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - “PARENTS MAKE ME ANGRY”
Bryan stood up quickly from his breakfast bowl, and suddenly announced that he wanted Sam to sleep over for the weekend.
“Bryan, you barely talk to Sam…why would you want to see him for a whole weekend?” his mother questioned with great interest.
“And what exactly are you going to do for all those hours?”
“Hang out,” he smiled, and went out the front door.
She shook her head with amazement. Bryan and Sam had known each other since they were four or five years old. They did not have much in common back then, and mostly didn’t have much in common still. Bryan’s dad had started taking them to church last year because Bryan seemed to be having a great deal of trouble getting along with all the other kids in school and the neighborhood.
Mr. Cannon was the only lawyer in small Briarwood, and they were much better off than most of the other families. It had not mattered very much to him; until the last year or two when things seemed to not be going well.
He worked many hours a week, and could not spend much time with his son. Attending the church seemed to help…at least a few times a week they were all together. He had begun to help with the boys’ group, and had really enjoyed it. Lately, however, his lack of time had hindered the situation. Things had come to a standstill . . . at home, with the family, and with the church. He found himself missing more services and more activities…and more time with Bryan. He had not meant for it to happen…it was life. Bryan came back in through the front door, leaving it standing open.
“Bryan…the door?” his mother reminded him.
“I’m going right back out, Mom. Sam is waiting for me,” Bryan answered, seeming to be busy looking for something. “Have you seen my new game? I put it right here in this drawer.”
“No, I haven’t, but your dad recently cleaned out that drawer. You know he likes things neat and tidy,” she continued.
“Oh, my gosh, Mom! Why can’t you and Dad just leave my stuff alone?” he retorted.
He went back out the front door. She could hear him muttering all the way down the walkway. She peeked out through the living room curtain just in time to see Bryan and Sam whiz down the sidewalk on their bicycles.
“Parents make me so angry! They are so annoying,” Bryan complained as they rode toward the park. “They always want to know where are you going, and what are you doing, and why aren’t you eating? Did you make your bed, did you brush your teeth, did you take your shower? It’s endless torture!” he rambled on.
Sam smiled, and kept on riding. The park was close by now. He had wondered all those things himself, but Bryan seemed to give voice to them more. All those parent-things seemed to just be how things are…he never thought to complain about it all. He just did all the things because he felt like he was supposed to.
“Look, there’s Rachel and Sarah . . . let’s go see what they are doing,” Sam exclaimed as he turned his wheel into the park entrance. He was thinking, “We used to call this a playground when we were little.” Extraordinarily, that was only last year.
Bryan rolled his eyes, but followed Sam into the park. He wasn’t really in the mood to talk to Rachel and Sarah. They seemed so boring to Bryan . . . nothing to really talk about with those two. Caroline was a little more interesting, but he didn’t see her anywhere. He would rather talk to Daniela, but she didn’t spend time at the park like the other kids.
“What are you two up to?” Sam asked, as he rolled his bike over to the big slide.
“Not much,” Rachel answered, noticing that Bryan didn’t look very happy. The three chatted for a few minutes, while Bryan looked around impatiently, tapping on his bike handle.
“Well, we better get going,” Bryan commented, as he turned to ride out of the park.
Sam smiled at the girls as he followed Bryan down the sidewalk. They quietly rode around the neighborhood, not talking much. After half an hour or so, Bryan said, “Let’s go to my house. I want to talk to my mom.”
As soon as he opened the front door, Mom was waiting.
“Bryan, I don’t think we are going to have Sam spend the night.”
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - “THE LIST”
Bryan’s father sat across from him at the table. Both of them were quiet, nearly motionless. After a while, Bryan started to tap on the table, as he sometimes tended to do.
“Bryan, you know I hate when you do that,” said his dad, trying to be patient. Bryan stopped immediately. He loved his dad, but he knew his limits. Dad could get really angry at times. He looked down at his feet, feeling self-conscious. He was wishing this would hurry up and get over with.
“Bryan, do you know why your mother said that you could not have your sleepover?”
Bryan shrugged nonchalantly. He almost started tapping again, but stopped himself when he thought of it. They both seemed to sigh at the same time.
“Son, this is difficult for me, too. I don’t like to punish you,” his dad was saying. Bryan was thinking about glaring in return, but looked away.
“Well, I guess Mom doesn’t like Sam,” Bryan commented, trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t get him in trouble.
“You know that’s not the reason, Bryan,” Dad said with another sigh. “You have been curt lately, argumentative, unreasonable, not doing what you are asked, shall I go on?”
Bryan remained quiet as long as he dared to. “No. I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just that everything makes me so mad. You and Mom are always trying to make me do things. I just get tired of it.”
“We try not to be hard on you, Bryan. There have to be some rules and guidelines. Families are run that way . . . so is society. Anytime people have to live together or work together, you have to have some basics. Everyone needs to cooperate.”
“Ok. I will try to do better,” Bryan said, not meaning it so much as he wanted to just get this conversation done.
“Not so fast, son. Your mom and I made a list of things that we want to change around here. This is your copy. If we see some improvement this week, then we will see about having your sleepover,” Dad concluded with announcing that Bryan would be helping with the dishes after dinner.
Dad put the list on the table, patted Bryan on the shoulder, and went to the kitchen to help with dinner. Dad made great spaghetti, but Bryan was suddenly not hungry at all. The list was so long that he felt like he broke out in a sweat. They had never made him do this many things in his whole life! He stared at it in disbelief.
At dinner, he took a few bites to not be in more trouble, but mostly twisted his fork around in circles. He wished he could eat . . . it smelled so good. All he could think of was the list. He almost asked to be excused, then he remembered… the dishes. His heart sank at the thought. It was the worst job ever. Especially when Dad cooked. He always made a huge mess, and used every pot in the house. He thought about complaining, but changed his mind.
Then, Mom and Dad , laughing about something, stood up, put their napkins by their plates, and left the room.
“You can’t be serious?” Bryan was thinking. “You are leaving me with this whole mess?” Bryan was never angrier, and at the same time more amazed, in his whole life. He sat at the table for a long time, wishing it would all go away. It wasn’t.
The whole week was sheer torture. He had to pick up his own laundry, put it in the laundry room, make up his bed, every day, brush his teeth and take a shower without being told. Every other day, he had to help with the dishes.
He also had to be cautious of how he spoke. That was the hardest. It was a habit now to answer abruptly and curtly. It was a constant effort. He was still in a bad mood most of the time, but worked a little harder to not let it show. Each day he checked off the list. It was becoming routine.
On Friday, it was his turn to do the dishes. It had become a habit, and not really that bad. He played a little music while he cleaned. It seemed to make it go by faster.
“Bryan,” Mom said, as she peered around the kitchen door.
“Sam is on the phone. His mom said he could spend the night.”
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - “I CAN DO IT BETTER”
Sam and Bryan slept late. They had stayed up until 2:00 playing games on Bryan’s new electronic system, and could not open their eyes when morning came. Bryan’s mom had offered waffles and bacon, but both boys were too tired to eat anything. It was nearly ten o’clock and they still could hardly move.
“Do you want to get up, Bryan?” Sam finally asked.
He opened one eye, closed it again, and rolled over facing the wall.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Sam said under his breath. He pulled the blanket over his head, sighed, and dozed off again.
The clock passed eleven. No Sam. No Bryan. Bryan’s mother opened the door, peeked in, smiled, and closed it again.
It was nearly noon. Bryan yawned and stretched and yawned some more.
“Sam . . . you awake?” he questioned.
“I am now,” Sam said in a very tired voice. Sam scratched his head, yawned, and said, “We shouldn’t have stayed up so late.”
Sitting up slowly, Sam said, “Let’s get up. I probably should get home soon, or at least call my mom. She is probably wondering about me.”
“Yeah, ok,” Bryan yawned again. “Well, at least we had fun last night.”
After a few bites of bacon, both boys went out the front door. They headed down the sidewalk toward Sam’s house. After a few steps, they caught sight of John riding his bike. He waved and did a u-turn, stopping right in front of them.
“Hey, you guys. What are you doing?” John quizzed them.
“Oh, man . . . we stayed up so late!” Bryan laughed. “It was great!”
“But now we are really tired,” laughed Sam. “And I’m heading home.”
John rolled his bike along the road, while Bryan and Sam walked.
“So, what did you do that was so fun?” John asked.
“We played all my new games, and, of course, I won them all,” Bryan stated proudly.
Sam looked at John. They both smiled. The three boys continued down the walk. Passing the park by this time, Sam saw the girls on the swings.
“Let’s turn in and see the girls…I see Rachel and Sarah over there,” Sam called out.
“Look, there’s Caroline, too,” John added.
John rolled his bike over by the swing set and leaned it against a pole.
“Hey, you guys. What are you doing here?” he asked.
“We are just hanging out,” Rachel said, dragging her feet in the sand.
“What are you guys doing?” Sarah quizzed the boys.
“Sam spent the night, and I’m walking him home. We stayed up really late. I beat him in all my new games,” Bryan said proudly.
All the kids smiled. They were all used to Bryan.
“Look, there’s Matt!” Caroline suddenly said.
“Hey, Matt!” John yelled out. “Come here!”
“What are you guys doing?” Matt asked.
“Nothing, really,” Rachel said, as she started to swing higher. “I bet I can swing higher than all of you!”
“Not higher than me!” Bryan said, jumping in one of the swings. He began to swing higher and higher.
“I can swing higher!” Rachel called out, as she swung by Bryan, going way up into the air.
“Nope! No one can swing higher than this!” Bryan exclaimed with glee, feeling giddy as he swung by Rachel and all his friends.
As he swung by, he decided to impress them all and jump out of the swing. Flying through the air like a bird, he was feeling proud and free…until he plopped right into the sand with a thud.
He couldn’t move for a few seconds…pain… shock…embarrassment. When he felt like he could breathe again, he tried to get the sand out of his eyes. When he finally looked up, there was Daniela, standing right in front of him.
“Bryan, what in the world are you doing?!” she demanded, embarrassed about him and for him.
Rachel and Caroline started to giggle. Sam soon joined in. Then Matt . . . then John. Before long, the entire group was laughing over Bryan lying there, out of breath, in the sand . . . including Bryan. Daniela was the last to laugh, but she just couldn’t hold out any longer.
They all sat down in the sand and laughed loud and long . . .all the friends . . . all together . . . again.
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© 2016 Linda A. Arnold. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.
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 eight 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 III: Amazing Journey, is due out in late 2016.
What will be the fate of Sarah’s mother; how will Sarah and Roger adjust? Do Rachel and Caroline continue their close friendship and include Sarah?
What amazing discovery do Matt and Sam make? What exciting new role does John fill? What is the latest saga for Daniela and Bryan? Who is involved in a secret love affair? Stay tuned!
Take a positive, proactive approach to choosing reading material for your children 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.
© 2016 Linda A. Arnold. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.