“Okay,” I said, my face still warm. “Have fun tonight, and if I don’t talk to you, have fun in Haiti. Be safe.”
“Oh, we’ll be safe. Kyle might have some doubts tonight, but we’ll be safe.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Wow. Okay. Well, I hope you don’t scare him off.”
“Handcuffs and body chocolate, Lorrie! He will never see that movie the same way. See ya!”
I giggled and hung up. To her credit, she was probably right. If I knew Daniela, she was going to make sure Kyle wouldn’t forget the night his dark knight rose while he was watching the movie.
It was good to talk to her and hear she was doing well. Even though we were probably never going to live together again, she was still my closest girlfriend. I needed to make a better effort to maintain that friendship. Having friends like her made me feel more connected to the real world and not get so trapped in my head.
Still smiling, I walked back to the living room where the family was gathered. Hunter was seated on one couch, while my aunt and uncle were on the other. The boys were on the carpet playing with the kittens, as usual.
“Where did you go?” Hunter asked. “And what are you smiling about?”
I did my best to wipe the smile off my face as both my cousins turned to look at me. “Oh, nothing. Just Daniela up to her usual.”
“How’s she doing?”
I sat down on the couch next to him. “Good. She’s going to Haiti on an Alternative Spring Break to build houses for earthquake victims.”
“That’s commendable,” my uncle said.
“Yeah,” I said, laughing softly. “I think she’s really going because there’s a guy she started seeing who’s going.”
“Ah,” he said.
“Well that’s still nice,” my aunt said diplomatically.
“Dad, where’s Haiti?” Joel asked.
“Next to the Dominican Republic,” my uncle answered.
My uncle smirked. He enjoyed these little teaching moments with his sons. “They’re both on the same island. Kind of close to Florida, I guess.”
That was the magic word. “Florida! Dad, when are we going to Disney World again?”
“Yeah!” his brother joined in. “When are we going to Disney World? I wanna ride on the big kid rides!”
Hunter and I laughed as the boys upped the pressure to go Disney World. The night passed in much the same vein. It was amazing how much better I felt than I had a week before. I didn’t know what the future held, but for now, everything was perfect.
The next morning we ate breakfast together. After, I did some drawing while Hunter worked on the dining room. It felt good to be doing something positive after I had been barely able to get out of bed the previous week. Waking up then had been agony. Now, I was looking forward to what I was going to do with my day.
Before I knew it, the sound of little feet scurrying through the house came from downstairs, followed by my aunt calling for the boys to stop running. I looked at the clock. It was already three-fifteen. The kids had just gotten home from school.
I put some last touches on a sketch I’d been doing of a real life Bernie working as a ski-rescue dog and headed downstairs to the living room. When I got there, I found the boys already horsing around with Hunter as he “taught them some wrestling moves” while a couple of the kittens alternately watched and scurried out of the way. Aunt Caroline was slicing apples in the kitchen for an afterschool snack.
“Don’t be too rough with him, you two,” I said with a smirk. They could combine all their muscle any way they wanted, there was no way they were moving Hunter an inch.
That didn’t stop it from being fun to try, though. Hunter was on all fours, with Joel on his back and Billy trying to take out one of his arms. The boys squealed with delight when Hunter stood up, Joel still on Hunter’s back with his arms around his neck and Billy being lifted off the ground as he clung to Hunter’s bicep.
“Megatron!” Billy yelled.
I wasn’t sure if Billy thought Hunter was Megatron or he was Megatron. Deciding Hunter had things under control either way, I went to the kitchen to see if I could help Aunt Caroline with the boys’ snacks. She had her nose in the pantry when I walked in.
“Hi Aunt Caroline,” I said cheerfully.
She poked her head over her shoulder. “Oh, hello dear. I didn’t hear you come in the kitchen. Have a good day? You hardly came down from your room.”
“Yeah, I got a lot of drawing done. Can I help you with the snacks?”
She straightened her back and turned to me. “That would be lovely,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to find the peanut butter. If you could find it and get some into a dish for the boys’ apple slices, that would be super. I’m going to go put in a load of laundry.”
She went to the laundry room and I resumed the search for the peanut butter. It ended up being behind some chicken noodle soup cans in the back of the pantry. I took it out, globbed some peanut butter into a dish with a spoon, and set that in the middle of the plate of apple slices.
Finally, I picked up the plate and brought it into the living room where the boys were still wrestling with Hunter. “Snack time,” I said brightly.
The boys scampered over, with Hunter close behind. Everyone took a slice and chowed down.
“I don’t remember the last time I had apple slices with peanut butter,” Hunter said. “Not sure I’ve ever had it, to be honest.”
“Really?” Joel said. “Our mom makes them for us all the time!”
Hunter shrugged and chewed his snack in silence.
A buzzing came from my back pocket. It took me a while to realize what it was. I was still getting used to having a phone again.
I pulled it out and looked at the screen. It was a Chicago area code—which I knew from growing up there—but I didn’t recognize the number. My lips pursed, I hit answer and put the phone to my ear.
“Is Hunter there?” the voice on the other line asked. It was a woman and she sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Who is this?” I asked, putting the plate down on a coffee table. Hunter looked at me questioningly as I walked out of the room for some privacy, stopping at the foot of the stairs.
“He’s there, isn’t he? I knew it.”
That tone of voice was familiar. Finally I recognized it. “Is this Ada?”