A New Story
Searching For Dad
Begins in 6 Days
A New Story
Searching For Dad
Begins in 7 Days
Love to Run: A Story of Two Sisters
Chapter 6 ~ An Invitation to Run
Lisa was lying on her bed scrolling through social media apps when a text message popped up on the screen. For a brief second, she thought it was Nicole. Her heart sunk about six feet when it wasn’t Nicole, it was Mia Hale. Mia was one of the X-Country team’s co-captains. The other co-captain was Leah Landau. They were both seniors and Lisa thought they were really, really, fast. They were not nearly as fast Nicole, but they were really, really, fast. Lisa touched the text and watched it open.
Hi. Coach Kappa thinks we should run together tomorrow. You up for a ten miler? Meet you at the high school at 8. We’ll run out to Twine’s Pond, cut over to Paley’s Farm then back to the high school. You in?
Lisa texted back, Sure.
A moment later, “We’ll run together. I want to see what you can do. Coach Kappa thinks you have a chance to make varsity.
Lisa felt her heart race. Mia Hale placed fourth in last year’s state tournament. The big race where Nicole won and clinched her full scholarship to the university. The three girls led the cross-country team to their fourth state cross country title in a row. Now she was going to really push me, thought Lisa. Lisa texted back, C U at 8. ~ Lisa Her stomach hurt.
She was sure Mia was going to enjoy pushing her hard and showing her who was boss
Lisa thought Mia probably invited the whole cross country team to go on the run, she hardly knew Mia. She’d seen Mia run last year when Nicole led the team. She looked at the time, it was 9 p.m. Lisa turned off the light, rolled on her side, and closed her eyes. She rolled on her left side. It didn’t work. She rolled to right side. It didn’t work. She tried sleeping on her back, putting a pillow over her head, and pulling the blankets up over the pillow on her head. Nothing worked. She was still wide awake. She’d never sleep. At 10:46 p.m. She heard a text come in. Lisa reached for her cell.
You awake Lisa?
It was Nicole.
Yes, What’s up? Lisa texted back.
She watched the little bubble, she knew Nicole was texting.
Had my first run with the team. They’re good. I mean really good.
Lisa texted back.
Bet U were at the head of the pack.
Coach told us to take turns leading. We ran eight miles lapping around the entire athletic complex. I led the team for the seventh mile. Then we went to the stadium and ran up the stairs until we all thought we were going to collapse. Coach told us after, today was an easy workout, then she laughed. U run 2day?
Lisa thought for a second about how she was going to answer. She didn’t want to tell Nicole she thought of quitting running before she saw Coach Kappa. And, she didn’t want to tell her Coach Kappa showed her the text she sent. And, most of all, she didn’t want to tell Nicole, Coach Kappa saw her dogging it. She simply texted:
I did our 6 mile loop. On the river trail, over the Lawson Street bridge, and looped the athletic fields at the high school, before I headed home. It’s not the same running w/o U.
Lisa saw the bubbles again.
I bet it wasn’t the same. U were probably faster. LOL.
Lisa smiled and sent her a text.
Mia Hale texted me. She wants me to run with her 2morrow. Said I would.
Lisa waited. No bubbles. Five minutes, ten minutes. Nothing. She guessed Nicole was busy with her friends. Then she heard the incoming text tone.
Sorry Lisa. The team captain, Allison, came by & told me I ran well today. Mia’s a good person. You’ll like her. g2g
Lisa lied in bed trying to imagine Nicole running around the university athletic fields taking turns leading the runners. No matter how hard Nicole said it was, she knew Nicole would probably be the best by the end of the season. She was always the best at whatever she did. Lisa fell to sleep seeing Nicole run in her mind.
Chapter 27 ~ Will Brad Find Matt Before The Cold Front Arrives?
Brad studied the area around the mountain lion’s kill. He slowly walked in the concentric circles with the deer carcass being the center of the circles. He made each circle three feet further away than the last circle. It was almost as if he were an anthropologist looking for signs of a lost civilization. He was meticulous in his scouring the area for any clue that might lead him to Matt.
He took the large machete-like knife from its holster and began swishing at the thick underbrush. He worked hard, his shirt now soaked with perspiration. Brad continually wiped away sweat droplets from his brow with his forearm. He worked for an hour and had not seen a trace of Matt. He felt his blood sugar level hovering near the warning signal. He stopped his search and spotted a large cropping of rocks and made his way to it. He climbed on top of the cropping, opened his backpack, took out a protein energy bar and one of his water bottles. Brad closed his eyes, quieted his mind, said a prayerful thanks for the bar and water and that Matt would safely return.
Brad opened his eyes, and tore open the protein bar wrapper. The sun was now at an angle where it seemed almost parallel to the tree tops. Brad knew it wouldn’t be long before the sun dipped down behind the mountains and he would be surrounded in total darkness. As much as he wanted to continue his search, he knew that ignoring the natural ebb and flow of the day in the forest could end in disaster. Even though it was still sunny, Brad knew sun quickly set in the mountains. One moment it is blazing bright and the next it slips below the mountain peaks laughing at hikers who thought they knew the ways of the sun. Brad knew the ways of the sun, he became its friend in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. He stilled his mind and thought now of searching for shelter, he knew he needed a good night’s sleep if he was to have any hope of finding Matt before the cold front hit.
Brad estimated the sun would set within forty-five minutes. He finished his protein bar, folded the wrapper and slipped the wrapper into his backpack. He flipped open the top of the water bottle, placed the tip of the bottle into his open mouth, and he squeezed the bottle. A thick stream of water quickly filled his mouth. Brad took enough liquid to hydrate his body, then capped the water bottle and slid it into his backpack. He stretched and slowly pivoted around. His mind repeatedly saying, ‘Where are you, Matt? Give me a sign.”
He made three-fourths of a complete turn when he stopped. He stooped to one knee and peered over the edge of the rock. He jumped off the rock, landing on both feet and walked ten yards away from the rock formation. He stopped and bent down and picked up three pieces of an orange peel not yet completely dried out. He placed the peels in his backpack, stood up and caught the dancing light of the last rays of the sun.
Brad walked back to the rock outcropping. He had fifteen minutes before it was pitch black. He quickly scavenged for kindling and some pieces of firewood. He used his machete to hack at dead branches of fallen trees. He scurried around grasping at dead grasses to act as starter fuel for the kindling. He placed the kindling on top of the dead grasses in a small circle, and put two larger pieces of dead wood on top of the kindling. He opened his backpack and pulled out his waterproof matches. He struck a match and lit the dead grass. He bent low over the flames from the dead grass and blew on it to provide oxygen to fuel its igniting of the kindling. The kindling began to glow red, then suddenly burst into flames engulfing the two larges pieces of firewood.
He raised himself tall on the rock outcropping, cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “Matt! Matt! Matt!”
There was no return call, only the echo of his voice. Brad squatted in front of the fire and placed his hands over the top of the fire. The heat from the fire felt good against the night’s chill. He wondered how Matt was handling the chill. Fortunately, the temperature wouldn’t go below freezing tonight. He expected it bottom out at relatively mild 60 degrees. Matt would get chilly, but hypothermia was not an issue, tonight. Once the cold front came through with the pouring rain and chilly temperatures, hypothermia became both Matt and his greatest enemy.
Brad reached into his backpack for his space blanket. He pulled it out and his extension cell phone caught his eye. He took a deep breath, he remembered he hadn’t text Grace his cell number. He type in her number from memory and hit send. Within seconds the message came back with the big red exclamation mark and message, message not delivered. Hit try again. He hit try again, and again the same message. He turned the phone off to save the battery and slid the phone into the backpack. Brad placed two more pieces of wood on the fire and lied down on top of the waterproof space blanket. He did not want his body to be chilled by the rocks. He placed his machete within arms reach. He closed his eyes and began to breath deeply. Within minutes he was sound asleep. A pair of large green eyes stared at him from thirty feet away.
Chapter 24 ~ I’ll Be Strong
Brad and Grace stood in front of the rustic, log building in front of them. a sign post n front said, Ranger Station. An olive colored four wheel drive was parked on the side of the building. A symbol on the side read, “US Forestry Service. Brad assumed the four-wheel drive belonged to the Ranger. He walked up to the door and didn’t bother knocking He twisted the nob and walked in. Grace followed, a half-step behind.
Brad noticed a long counter with a desk behind it. On top of the counter was a map of Big Elk State Park covered with a glass top. A series of photographs of wildlife in the park hung on the station walls. There were photos of mountain lions, coyotes, feral pigs, black bears, eagles, red tale hawks, and a variety of poisonous snakes. Off to their right stood a large rack filled with brochures and maps.
Brad called, “Hello?”
A door behind the desk opened. A thin man, a head shorter than Brad, dressed in khaki colored pants and shirts, wearing a khaki colored ball cap stepped out. On the right front pocket of his shirt was a name plate that read, Todd Stone. On the left side of his shirt in cursive were the words US Forestry Ranger. “Can I help you,” said the Ranger.
Grace spoke up, ” Matt is missing. He’s my son. You’ve got to help. I’m afraid something terrible has happened to him.”
The Ranger looked at both Brad and Grace. He said, “You’re Matt’s parents?”
Grace said, “I’m his mother, Brad’s a friend. We went to town for coffee. We invited Matt. He wanted to stay home. Brad thinks he went hiking.”
“How long has he been gone?” said the Ranger.
“I don’t know. I don’t know when he left. We were gone about two and half hours.”
The Ranger gave half a smile, “Two and a half hours isn’t much time, Ma’am. It’s not unusual for folks to be gone on hikes for six hours or more. I can’t count the number of moms who’ve come in here worrying about their teenagers who went off hiking. We’ve never lost one.”
“He’s not a teenager. He’s eleven years old,” said Grace with an edge to her voice.
Brad eyes could have burned a hole in the ranger’s skull. The ranger averted Brad’s gaze and looked directly at Grace, and said, “Could he have gone swimming? I don’t want to think something happened to him in the lake, but you never know. We have to think of all possibilities.”
“We all swam this morning. Matt is an accomplished swimmer. He would never have a problem in the water. We checked with Jane and Larry in the cabin next to mine. They came with us. They didn’t see Matt either. Can you do something, anything? Can you call a helicopter search, call for a search party, use search dogs. Do something, please,” Grace pleaded.
The ranger shrugged, gestured with his hands and give her his best hangdog expression and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I can’t help you. It’s against regulations to start a search unless someone is missing for at least 12 hours. I’m required to follow policy. I understand your anxiety. I’d feel the same way if it were my son, but I can’t help you until the morning. Do you have any idea which trail he may have taken? We have four trailheads. All of them are closed right now, but it’s really easy to slip under the bar and hike the trail. Lots of folks do it.” The ranger gestures to the four trails on the map that lie on the counter.
Brad knew the ranger’s gestures were as empty as his words. He tugged on Grace’s arm and said, “Grace, let’s go. We’re not going to get anything done here. We’ll be back at dawn if Matt hasn’t returned.” Brad turned away from the ranger and headed for the door. Grace followed Brad out the door.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Grace placed her hand on Brad’s arm, “Brad, what are we going to do? I don’t want to wait until morning.”
Brad turned around. He put both of his hands on Grace’s shoulders and looked into her eyes, “I am not waiting. I’m going after him. I want you to stay here in case Matt shows up. If he doesn’t show up and I haven’t come back, go to the Ranger station at dawn and refuse to leave until they put out a search team. Take a piece of Matt’s clothes for them to give to the search dogs. I also want you to call the Sheriff’s office.”
“Do you think you’ll find him before dark, Brad?” Grace’s eyes were filled with tears.
“The only thing I’ll promise you Grace is that I won’t come back until I find Matt or you call me and tell me Matt returned safely. Please don’t leave the cabin area. I don’t want to worry about two people. I’ll give you cell number to my extension cell phone. If you can’t reach me, I’m out of cell service. I think I’ll be okay. I’ll text you number before I leave.”
Grace put her arms around Bard, and said, “Please, Brad. Please find Matt. I can’t lose him.”
Brad stepped back and placed a hand on each of her upper arms, and looked into her brown eyes, and said, “Grace, it’s time for strength. Together we can deal with whatever we have to face. Don’t allow yourself to think about what ifs, they’ll only take you down a road that is counterproductive to helping Matt. Let’s only think about what we can do right now. What I can do is to use my training to search for Matt. You can check with all the other people who are staying here. Maybe they saw Matt. If you get any information, text it to me. Don’t get into a fight with the ranger or anyone else. We have one concern only, to find Matt.”
Grace looked into Brad’s eyes, “I’ll be strong. Thank you, Brad.”
Brad, nodded, smiled, and said, “I’m making a quick stop in my cabin. I have to change. There are a few things in my truck I’ll want to take along and then I’ll be gone.”
Brad turned and ran toward his cabin. Grace stood there watching him and wondered what she would have done without him helping her. Grace closed her eyes and repeated prayers she learned as a child. Each prayer ended with a petition for Matt’s safe return.
Chapter 6 ~ Don’t Worry About Me Mom
Grace parked her five-year-old Chevy next to the curb in front of Jane’s house. She pulled her visor down, opened the small mirror, and stared at herself. She looked at a tiny line near her eye. Next, she noticed a gray hair. She reached into the car console and picked up a brush, she moved her hair around until the gray hair disappeared. Grace took a deep breath when Matt interrupted her.
“Mom, you look great, I like your shirt. We’re going to a barbecue, you don’t have to look perfect,” said Matt.
Grace thought, perfect? I’m not wearing makeup, I have a gray hair. I have a line near my eye. And, I’m wearing the light blue Cowboys’ t-shirt Matt gave me for Christmas, year old jeans, and my Nike’s. Some fashion plate, she thought.
Grace said, “Best behavior, Matt. I don’t know if you’ll have anyone to play with. Just be polite. We’ll only stay an hour or so, then we’ll leave.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mom. I won’t cause a problem. Can I take my basketball in with me?”
“No. It’s a barbecue. Don’t overstuff your plate. You can always go back for more,” cautioned Grace.
“But everything tastes better with barbecue sauce, Mom.”
“Matthew, let’s go,” said Grace opening her door and sliding out.
Grace and Matt walked up the sidewalk to the front door. Grace heard country music coming from the rear of Jane’s house. When they reached the door. Grace saw a note posted on the door.
The Door’s Open
Bring Your Appetite and a Fun attitude
The Party is in the back.
Matt nudged Grace, “I brought my appetite. Let’s go.”
Grace took a deep breath, she wondered if Jane set her up with another guy who was as interesting as a rock. The last guy Jane set her up with was a piano player. He played in jazz clubs throughout the city. When Jane introduced them, the first words out of his mouth were, “If you’re into jazz, I’m into you, dig?”
“Great sense of humor, too,” added Jane. Jane hurried off to the kitchen to work on the dinner leaving Grace alone with the jazz guy who talked non stop about his last ten gigs. Grace vowed to never listen to jazz again after the evening was over.
Grace and Matt walked into the house, through the living room, and into the dining room. A sliding glass door was open and led to a large wooden deck overlooking Jane’s backyard.
Matt said, “It already smells good. I’m starving.”
Grace rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and said silently, “Lord, help to get through this afternoon without making a scene, amen.” She followed Matt onto the deck.
Grace walked aside Matt. She went on high alert when saw Jane handing a beer to a man about her height, blond hair, cut neat and wearing clothes that made him look like he stepped off the cover of GQ. He was dressed in a white shirt, new jeans, and cowboy boots. Grace thought, give me a break, a want to be cowboy.
Jane turned and saw Grace, she hollered, “Grace. I’m so happy you came. Come over here, I want you to meet someone.”
Matt tugged on Grace’s arm, “Mom, can I go and check out the food?”
“Not until we’re introduced, then you’re on your own,” said Grace.
“I don’t like him,” said Matt.
“You haven’t met him,” said Grace.
“I can tell. I bet he doesn’t know the name of the starting quarterback for the Cowboys. Want to bet a dollar?” Said Matt.
“You’re on,” said Grace.
Jane met Grace and Matt halfway. “Hi Matt,” Jane said, then she took Grace by the arm. She added, “His name is James Donald. He’s perfect for you. Same age. He has a good job with a prestigious law firm. He’s never been married. I did my homework. This time, I know you struck gold.”]
“Mom, remember our bet,” said Matt from behind Jane and Grace.
“What bet?” Jane asked Grace.
“It’s nothing. Something about how much Matt said he could eat.”
A moment later, Jane gave a big smile and said, “James, this is Grace and her son Matt.”
Grace smiled, extended her hand and said, “Hi Jim, pleased to meet you, I’m Grace, but you already know that.”
“I prefer James, but it is a pleasure to meet you. Jane’s told me so many wonderful things about you. And, this is Matthew? Pleasure to meet you, Matthew,” said James extending his hand.
Matt shook his hand and said, “I prefer Matt. And, do you know who the starting quarterback is for the Dallas Cowboys?”
Chapter 5 – I Don’t Know What I’m Going To Do With You
Grace didn’t dare wait on the porch for the man of the house. That’s what Matt considered himself. The thought made her chuckle to herself. She stood by the living room window staring up the street, the opposite direction from Ellen’s house. She checked her iPhone, it was two oh five. Matt promised to be home by two. Then she remembered, Mike, he was never on time. He was even late for their wedding. He made some excuse to Father Pailo he was held up by a long train. It was a bitter sweet memory for her.
A quick movement at the end of the street interrupted Grace’s thought. There he comes, she thought. Matt was in the lead and three other skateboarders followed him. He signaled to his friends to catch up and parallel him on the street. The four boys skateboarded down the street in one line spanning the road’s width. Matt carried the basketball and tossed it to Tommy who tossed it to Jimmy who tossed it to Todd. And, so it went, the ball traveling back and forth between skateboarders until Matt peeled off into his driveway waving goodbye to his friends.
He jumped off the skateboard and watched it glide into the open garage stopping when it hit the rear garage wall. He bounded across the lawn and took the three steps onto the porch with a single bound. He opened the door, “Hi, Mom. You catch the way we came down the street passing the ball? Really cool, right?”
“Yes, it was really, cool, but I think it’s a bit dangerous. What if cars were coming?”said Grace.
“We were careful, Mom. Besides, there weren’t any cars. I had it all under control,” said Matt heading to the kitchen to grab a snack.
Grace followed Matt. She watched the way he walked, just like Mike. I’m watching a small version of Mike, a image of Mike came into her mind. Oh, I wish I didn’t have to go today.
Matt walked straight to the refrigerator, opened the door, and stared, “What’s good in here, Mom? I’m starving.”
“We’re going to Jane’s for the barbecue, remember. We leave in forty-five minutes. There are oranges and grapes on the table. Leave time to shower, and change your clothes.”
Matt took an orange and picked off four grapes, “Do I have to, Mom? I’m clean, look at me.”
“Yes, you have to and before you put the grapes in your mouth, wash your hands. You must have a billion germs on your hands,” said Grace.
“No, I don’t, Mom. I only have two thousand, three hundred, twenty-one. I counted them,” said Matt heading to the sink, turning the faucet on and placing his hands in the running water.
“Soap. Soap, Matt.”
“Got it,” Matt said and turned toward Grace and gave her the same impish smile his dad did so many times.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” said Grace.
“Do what Dad always said when you said the same thing to him,” said Matt.
“And, what was that, Matthew.”
“Remember, Mom. When you said, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, Dad would always says, love me. It always made you smile,” said Matt wiping his hands on his t-shirt. He turned and headed toward his room, tossing the orange up close to the ceiling and catching it behind his back.
Grace stood across the kitchen area and followed Matt as he walked to his room, her eyes moistening, and she gently shook her head.
Chapter 4 – Doing It Our Way
Jane called Grace later that night. Here’s how the conversations went:
“Grace, you’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“Then, why are you telling me, if you don’t think I’ll believe you?” said Grace.
Jane ignored Grace’s comment, “I called Ellen and invited her to the barbecue. Ellen asked me who else is going. I said, a few friends and there will be someone to play with Tommy. Then she said, if your friend Grace and her bully son are going, we’re not going.”
“What did you say?” Asked Grace.
“I said, “what happened?” That’s what I said. And, do you know what she said?”
“No,” answered Grace.
“Ellen said, “you’ll take her side. I’ve seen you two paling around with one another. Take this as a big, fat no.” And, she ended the call. What happened, Grace?” Asked Jane.
After Grace finished providing the details, she added, “It’s okay to cancel the barbecue, I understand.”
Jane said, “Not so fast, girlfriend. I have an iPhone and I know how to use it. The party is on 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at my house. Look your best, I’ve handpicked the one for you.”
“Who is he?” Asked Grace.
“Let’s say he’s a year older than you. He drives a BMW. He’s tired of playing the field and wants to settle down. And, his looks? If I wasn’t happily married to Fred, I’d tell you not to come and take my best shot at him. He’ll make you drool. Drop the gym clothes. A bit of makeup and take a trip to the Salon, please? It’s my last best shot for you,” pleaded Jane.
Grace chuckled, “I’ll drop the gym clothes, one out of three is pretty good, right?”
The friends had a good laugh. Grace went into the bathroom and began searching for gray hairs and seeing how noticeable the tiny lines were around her eyes. She walked out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, she stared at a photo of Mike and she on her bedside table and said, “Mike, what should I do? Can you help me? I’m so confused. I know Matt needs a good man in his life. I can’t imagine meeting another man like you. After all, you were the best. You always told me not to settle for second best. Please Mike, send me a sign. I’m running on a treadmill and going nowhere.”
Grace went back into the bathroom, played a bit with her hair, then went back to the dining area. Matt was sitting at the table texting on his phone. Grace said, “Who are texting, Matt?”
Matt turned at looked at Grace, “Tommy texted me and we’ve been going back and forth.”
“Yes, he apologized. He said he was out of line. I told him it was okay. Now, we’re trying to figure out where to play basketball since his mom is made at you and me. He said it’ll take her a week, but she’ll get over it.”
“What about his tooth?”
“The dentist saved it. Tommy wants to be on my team the next time we play two on two.”
“I don’t understand you boys at all,” said Grace.
“I told you, Mom, it was nothing. I can take care of myself. Dad always told me I was strong enough. Remember when he got deployed the last time, he told me, I was the man of the house. So, you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
Grace took a deep breath, fought back the flood of tears that were threatening to overspill her emotional dam. She walk to Matt and gave him a hug and kiss on his forehead. She said, “Thanks, Matt.” Grace quickly turned away and went to her bedroom and cried.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another.” – Thomas Merton