Cam squirmed but he remained in place while Liz rubbed aloe vera gel on his nose. “It smells bad.”
“I’ll tell you what smells bad,” Liz added some gel to his forehead, “skin cancer.”
“I’m not going to get skin cancer,” Cam balked.
“You’re right because I am going to make you take care of your skin.” Liz kissed the top of her son’s head. “Just remember this when I’m old, and you have to take care of me.”
“I will.” Cam wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist. “Then, you’ll have to wear skin gel.” He squeezed tightly.
“Cam,” Liz grunted against the pinch. “You’re getting too strong.”
“Sorry, Mom.” His grip loosened, and he rubbed her sides, mimicking what Liz did when he fell or bumped something too hard. “Can I go play with Bentley?”
Liz hadn’t heard of anyone new moving to town. Then again, it was summer. Cousins and friends from other states visited to get a taste of small-town life. “Where does Bently live, and who else will be there?”
“We play at the park,” Cam answered. “Sam and Chris will be there.”
In one sentence, Cam had warned Liz of the inevitable changes. Her son still enjoyed playing at the park with his friends. However, Sammy’s graduation to the mature variation of Sam was a harbinger of the changes from little boy to a young man. “Okay, make sure to be home in time for dinner.”
“Thanks, mom.” Cam darted out the front door. He turned back and popped his head through the opening, called out, “I love you,” and disappeared.
Liz followed the sounds of a conversation seeping through the screen door. By the time she reached the door, Diane was standing on her welcome mat with a plate. “I thought I’d check in to see how you’re doing.”
Keeping up with Cam’s activities limited Liz’s time to socialize. So, it had been some time since Liz had the chance to sit with Diane, Grace, and Mary. Her heart swelled, “Are the other two coming?”
“I’m sorry to disappoint. It’s just me,” Diane joked. “But I brought something to sweeten my visit.”
“I’m always happy to see you.” Liz made room for Diane to enter the house.
Diane stopped in front of the coat tree turned to the umbrella rack because of the summer. “Mary thinks she’s baking my secret recipe. This is the real secret recipe.” The cookies looked almost the same as the ones Mary had brought the week before. “Don’t tell her. I use cream cheese in my recipe.”
“You don’t say?” Liz pressed her lips to hold in the smirk. Together Mary and Diane were peas in a pod. When they were separated, they tried to differentiate from each other. Except, they were still similar.
A family of rocks Liz had painted was on a little table by the door. Liz and Cam used it to house whatever they found in their pockets. Her keys were in a small bowl. “How cute are these?” Diane poked at the rock with her finger.
“You can have it,” Liz picked the rock that looked like a ladybug out of the bowl. She plucked a larger one and held them out on the palm of his hand. “And, you can have his sister.”
“Really?” Diane marveled.
“Yes,” Liz pulled out a third rock and set it beside the two in Diane’s hand. She touched each one as she named them. “Now, you have all three friends: you, Mary, and Grace.”
“But what about you?” Diane peered over at the bowl.
Liz hadn’t realized she missed the feeling of being included until Diane’s request. Since the beginning of the year, it had been Dirk and Liz or Bryce and Liz. Now, Liz was on her own. Or so she thought. Diane’s simple request proved Liz wrong. She was a part of something more than her. The feeling of being valued brightened her disposition. She placed one more ladybug in Diane’s hand. “There, now you have all of us.”
“Thank you.” Diane clutched the painted rocks to her chest. “They’re like us. Shiny on the outside and strong in the middle.”
An hour into Diane’s visit, a rainstorm pounded the sides of the house. Liz set her cup on the coffee table. She crossed the living room and pushed aside the curtain, hoping to see Cam rushing toward the house. The park was two blocks away, but it wouldn’t take him that long to return home.
“Looking for Dirk?” Diane joked.
“Not in this lifetime,” Liz humphed. Diane, like Mary, insisted that it was only a matter of time until Dirk came to his senses. When Grace wasn’t a part of the discussion, Liz’s reply was always the same. “Too bad for him, I already came to mine.”
On the other side of the window, the rain fell in lines. Liz craned her neck.
“I probably should drive to go get Cam. He’s at the park.”
“Oh, Heaven’s to Betsy.” Diane jumped out of the easy chair. It slowly rocked behind her. “Don’t let me keep you.” She hurried to the door, paused before opening it, and circled back to the coffee table to pick up her family of rocks.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Liz poised the umbrella to open once they stepped into the downpour.
Holding the umbrella with a tight grip, Liz escorted Diane to her car.
Splashes of rain bounced up from the ground and soaked Liz’s leather sandals. With every step to her pickup, she slid in her shoes.
She had barely closed the umbrella and pulled the pickup door behind her when the rain turned to pellet sized hail. The arrival of the hailstorm changed everything. At first, she expected Cam to come running home. As she turned the key in the ignition, she prayed that he stopped for shelter under someone’s porch. Her biggest hope was that her son didn’t seek refuge under the playground equipment. The metal would serve as a lightning rod.
Her windshield wipers fought against the rain and hail but still lost. Liz strained to see ahead of her. When she hadn’t met up with Cam halfway to the park, the stress grew into a boulder that weighed on her gut. “Please, Lord, keep my son safe until I get to him.”
Her pickup crawled down the road, and she stopped to park. The rain slowed to a gentle sprinkle, making it easy for Liz to see the entire park. Broken tree limbs, and fallen leaves littered the ground. A trash can had been turned over to the side. Cameron was nowhere to be seen.
Maybe Cam changed his mind and played at Sam’s house instead. Liz pressed autodial on her radio console to call Bryce’s house. Three rings were too long of a wait. “Yello.”
“Is Cam with you?”
“I haven’t seen him.” In the background, Liz heard boys rumbling.
“He didn’t come home from the park with Sam?”
“Sam’s been here playing video games with Chris.” His voice sounded far away, and Liz imagined him pulling the phone away from his face. “Can you keep it down, guys? I’m trying to talk.”
Keep calm. It’s probably miscommunication. Liz forced her anxiety into submission. “Do you know where Bentley lives?”
“He’s the friend that the boys were supposed to meet at the park.” Liz’s anxiety tapped at her conscience, begging to take over. “Cam went to the park to play with Bentley, Sam, and Chris.” She needed solutions, not more confusion. “Do you know where Bentley lives?”
Most of the time, Bryce was a step ahead of Liz. His ignorance of Bentley threw red flags into the situation.
“Guys, do you know where Bentley lives?”
Liz heard Sam’s voice in the background. “Bentley doesn’t live anywhere. He just wanders around town.”
“We have a homeless kid in town?” Bryce voiced Liz’s question.
The rock collided with Liz’s chest at Sam’s reply. “No, he’s Cam’s dog.”
Sorry about the cliff hanger. I’ll post the next chapter on Saturday. Remember I believe in happily ever after.
Categories: Home For the New Year