Authors: Teresa Trent
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths
"We're home!" I heard Tyler, my stepson, yell from downstairs. The bus dropped him and my son Zach off just a block from the house, and the two of them usually headed straight to the kitchen. I heard the plopping of backpacks by the front door and then listened as the refrigerator door opened.
I closed the file I was working on and headed for the stairs. Now that we were in the new house, a wedding gift from my estranged or maybe just strange mother I had more room to spread out and more distance between my office and the kitchen.
Tyler stood with his head in the refrigerator. I looked around for Zach who could usually be found with his hand in the cookie jar about now. "Is Zach with you?"
"Yes, Betsy. That's why I used the word 'we'". Tyler said as he pulled out ingredients for a sandwich. I was Tyler's stepmother, not mother and had only been on the job for about eight months. Sometimes when he answered back like that I wasn't sure just how to address it. I wanted him to like me, but I also needed to be a parent. My way to deal with Tyler's mouth so far had been to ignore it. A parenting strategy sure to pay off some day.
"So where is he?" I asked.
"Oh, he went straight to the bathroom. I think he's got the squirts."
"Ewww, Tyler. Do you have to say it that way?" I said forgetting to ignore him.
"How do you want me to say it?" I held up my hand to stop him before he went into any more graphic detail.
I walked over to the closed bathroom door off the kitchen and knocked gently.
"Zach? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, Mom." I stood there waiting for him to tell me his symptoms.
"Uh, Mom? Could you stand somewhere else?"
I jumped. "Sure ... sorry." Tyler laughed into his sandwich.
I walked back over and started putting away the sandwich meat and the mayonnaise. "So how long has he been feeling this way?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I didn't see him until we got on the bus." Zach and Tyler were eleven months apart so Tyler was in seventh grade. The middle school kept the sixth graders separate for much of the day. It had to be difficult going to school with your stepbrother. Especially with a group of kids that always knew you as an only child.
"What did he say on the bus?"
"Not much. I don't think he wanted to talk to anybody because he got caught in the supply closet with Grace Galvez." he said over his shoulder as he went out of the kitchen to the living room.
"Yeah. The whole school's talking about it. They said they got locked in, yeah right. I just hope she isn't hugging the toilet now too. Ah Zach, the price of a few stolen moments."
I stepped back over to the bathroom door.
"Zach, can I get you anything? What did you have for lunch?"
"Lasagna and salad. I had a little bit of that I guess. Oh, also a cinnamon roll. I ate all of that." It amazed me that the school lunch would include lasagna and a cinnamon roll served together.
"I'm okay, Mom."
The front door creaked behind me.
"Anybody home?" Leo called out as he took off his jacket and placed it on the hall tree.
"Everybody but you." I left my post by the bathroom. We were still technically newlyweds. I was so happy to see him come in the door. He reached down and kissed me.
"Aren't you early?" I said.
"Yes just a little. I had to go over to NUTV for an emergency meeting."
"What's the emergency? It's November so I know it can't be a hurricane."
"Stan has asked me to stand in for Hurricane Hal for about a week or so. Seems that Hal's come down with some sort of flu bug."
"You mean you're going to do Hurricane Hal's job?"
"You act surprised." He sorted through the mail on the side table. "Remember I did the weather report in Dallas a few times."
"I know. But doing the weather report in my hometown seems to be a little bit different to me. I just don't know how we'll shop down at the Fiesta store if you get recognized by your adoring fans."
"Very funny. The only adoring fan that I care about is you, Betsy."
"You're so sweet."
Zach came out of the kitchen bathroom. The color of his face was somewhere between Kermit the frog and oatmeal.
"Oh, Zach. You don't look good at all."
"I don't feel good either, Mom."
"You go on up to bed," Leo said. "We'll bring you up some soda crackers." He turned to me. "Do we have any Sprite in the house?"
I looked under the kitchen counter and found an old bottle of ginger ale. I held it up for him to see. "I guess this will have to do until we can get some at the store."
I yawned, feeling suddenly very tired.
"And how are you feeling?"
"Me? I'm fine. I need to start supper." I stifled another yawn.
Leo reached back for his jacket. "I can run back out. No problem. I'll pick up some dinner, too."
"Okay, just watch out for the paparazzi."
A few minutes later I thought Leo had forgotten something as I heard noise at the front door.
"Leo is that you?" There was no answer. Maybe it was an animal of some type or somebody putting a flyer on my door. I stepped closer trying to see an outline in the glass but not show myself on my side.
There was a person standing at the front door, but for some reason they were not ringing the doorbell. I waited for a moment thinking that they would leave their flyer and walk away. Still the person did not move. I had a choice to make. I could go back into the kitchen and ignore them or I could go would open the door and asked what they wanted. I decided to find out what they wanted.
I opened the door, and there stood a young girl of about twelve years old. She was painfully thin and was holding a small brown teddy bear in her hand that had a sash around its middle that said "Get Well". When I open the door suddenly she jumped back as if I was going to attack her.
"Can I help you?" I realized she was shaking a little.
She stumbled with her words. "Is...... Zachary here?"
"He is, but he's sick. He's upstairs." She raised her hand to her mouth and nodded.
"Yes. I know. I brought him ... A bear." She stuffed it into my hands and then turned and ran down the sidewalk.
"Wait!" I called after her. She froze. "Who shall I say sent this to him."
"Grace. Grace Galvez." She ran to a waiting station wagon with a magnetic sign advertising Galvez Gift Shop plastered to the driver's side door. I had bought a few things in their store but didn't know they had a daughter named Grace who liked my son enough to bring him a teddy bear when he had the flu. This was very interesting.
"Thank you." I called after her, and then went upstairs to deliver Zach's surprise.
"You just received a gift." I said.
He sat up and smiled taking the little bear into his arms. He was probably getting a little old to have a bear, but right now, it seemed like a wonderful thing.
"Who gave me this?"
"Your friend, Grace."
His eyebrows drew together as he thought for a moment. "I don't have a friend named Grace."
"Was she certainly seemed to know you. She wanted you to feel better. Isn't she from school?"
He pondered for a moment. "I guess there is a Grace in my math class. At least I think that's what her name is. She's really skinny, and she sits on the front row. She knows lots of the answers. I didn't even know she knew who I was."
"It seems that she not only knows you, but she likes you enough to bring you a teddy bear. Her family owns the Galvez gift shop." I tried to draw the story out of him. "Uh, Tyler told me something about you and Grace...what was it?"
Ignoring me he held the little bear out by its plush paws. "Oh, so she just picked this up from her family store and brought it to me?"
"You have to admit, it was very thoughtful." Zach took the little bear and placed it on his dresser no longer wanting to hold it.
"Don't you like it?" I asked.
"I do. It's just that..."
"I've never seen you voluntarily give up a gift."
"It's just that Grace is kind of... weird. I'm afraid that if I take her bear she's going to think that I like her."
"Yes. It's hard to explain. If I take this bear it's like were boyfriend and girlfriend or something." Going into a supply closet together could do that to you too, I thought.
"Zach you're putting way too much into this. She just brought you a bear. Like you said she picked it up at her store this afternoon. I don't think you have to go out shopping for rings quite yet."
He gulped. "I really don't think I'm ready to give her a ring."
"I didn't say that you wanted to. Just take her gift and be gracious about it. Tomorrow you can tell her you really appreciate it; then, treat her like you always do."
"You mean ignore her?"
"No. Don't ignore her. Maybe you'll find out that she's really a nice girl, and not just weird."
"Mothers. What a bunch of dreamers you are."
I laid down for a quick nap while I was waiting for Leo and was surprised to find out upon waking that Leo had fed the boys and even stuck the empty Styrofoam containers in the trash. It was awfully nice having an extra parent on the job.
"You really are wonderful. You know that don't you?"
"I've heard rumors." He set a plate of Kung Pao chicken in front of me. "Oh before I forget, your aunt called. She wants you to call her back."
Smelling the chicken, I pushed it back. "Looks great. I think I'll give her a call first though."
"Okay, but don't let it get cold."
Aunt Maggie picked up on the first ring.
"So, are we ready to start planning our big blended family Thanksgiving?" I asked.
"Excited are you? Now before you start stressing out, let me reassure you that yes I will make the pies."
She knew my baking challenges quite well. "I can keep us out of the Emergency Room anyway."
"Could you make that one pie--the one with the bananas and the cherries?"
"Do you mean the banana split pie? We haven't had that since, gosh. I don't even think Zach was born yet. "
"I also wanted to warn you that Zach has the flu. It might be a good idea for you and Danny to stay away for a few days." My cousin Danny was an adult with Down Syndrome, and when he was feeling bad, he could be a handful.
"Thanks for letting me know. You know what Danny can be like when he's sick. I appreciate the heads up."
"Sure. I just thought it would be best to keep you away. There's always some sort of bug going around at school.
"How's Tyler doing?"
"Right now he seems okay to me."
"You just keep an eye on him. Now that you have two kids you'll find out one will work his way through it, and then the other one starts the process all over again."
"Speaking of somebody else coming down with this thing, Rocky sure was eating antacids like candy today."
"That ain't good. It looks like the flu is hitting you on all fronts. Keep washing your hands."
"I will. I promise." I hung up the phone.
"Mom?" I heard from upstairs. "Can you bring up my backpack?"
I trudged up the stairs with his blue and silver nylon backpack.
"What do you need, Zach?"
"My spiral. I need to work on a homework assignment." When I handed it to him I felt his forehead.
"You're burning up."
"But Mom, you don't understand. I have to do homework. I have a project due tomorrow."
I drew in a sigh. "What kind of project?"
"I have to write a biography of a scientist." My mouth hung open. "But don't worry mom, I already know who I am going to write about. I'm going to do my report on Albert Einstein. He's pretty interesting. Listen to this." He opened the notebook and held up the chicken scrawl he called writing. He says "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning."
"Wow. That's pretty awesome. What do you think he was trying to say?"
"He's saying to learn from your mistakes and never stop asking questions."
"That sounds like advice to live by."
"It sure does, and if I could just get a whole page out of that one sentence, I would be done with my report."
"I think you have to work a little bit harder than that. Zach, how long have you known about this?"
"About two weeks I guess."
"Mom, please. I'm sorry. I know I should have thought about this before now. It just kind of snuck up on me." Zach looked like he was about to cry.
"Okay, okay. I'll do whatever I can to help."
"Thanks, Mom." Before he could finish his sentence, he jumped out of the bed and ran down the hall to the bathroom. Immediately the sounds of his throwing up echoed back to me. I followed him to the bathroom and grabbed a washcloth, dampened it, and placed it on the back of his neck as he was hunched over the toilet.