(A Fish Out of Water, continued)
So here we all were that Saturday. Two cars and three places to go.
My big brother Ben had planned on taking his girlfriend Sarah to the beach. They were rising college seniors, class of ‘86, and he’d just bought a heap of a car with his earnings as a lifeguard. Meanwhile Gloria, alias “Daddy’s Little Girl,” had to get over to waitress at the Clam Shack’s lunch shift.
I’d just got my license, and—yes, I’ll admit—I was always looking for an excuse to drive somewhere. But my buddy Jared and I worked for a landscaper that summer and Jared’s grandmother had asked us to help her with her yard work in our spare time.
Mom said I could use a car, but Mom wasn’t home. She’d gone to work, so we only had Dad’s Pontiac and Ben’s VW at home. As the youngest, it looked like I would be the big loser. As usual. I hated to let Jared’s grandma down, but Dad always sided with Gloria. Sure, they shared an irrational love for the ocean—I’d much rather play in the dirt than the water—but does that mean I don’t deserve equal treatment?
Ben’s feeble excuse for a car was, after all, his. Naturally, he thought he ought to have the use of it. “I’d be willing to drop Gloria off at work on our way to the beach,” Ben suggested.
Thank you, Ben.
Gloria wrinkled her nose. “That’s not a great solution,” she said. “I would need a ride home too.”
“Well, Mom should be back before your shift is over, so she could bring you home,” Dad said in his isn’t-that-a-good-solution voice.
She jammed a fist on her hip. “That won’t work. Sometimes the boss lets us go early. Should I just have to cool my heels until she comes and gets me?”
“You could walk home,” I said.
“Or you could,” she snapped.
I knew it would take her an hour to walk home from the Clam Shack, but Jared’s grandmother’s was even farther away, and we had to bring tools.
She must have thought Dad was weakening, so she went into martyr mode. “Do you have any idea how miserable it is working in a restaurant during tourist season?” She faked a catch in her voice. “Well, it’s awful. It’s busy, and smelly, and you’re always on your feet, and people are always complaining.” She blinked as if holding back tears. “After all that, walking home would be just . . . too much.” She whimpered.
Mom would have rolled her eyes and called her Sarah Bernhardt, for some reason. I saw her take a sidelong look at Dad to see if her little act was working.
“Well, I’m taking my car,” Ben said. “After all, I paid for it, and it has the beach parking permit on the window.”
“So, I’ll take Dad’s car,” Gloria said.
“Wait. I got permission from Mom to . . .” I started.
“But your trip, just like Ben’s, is optional.” Gloria knew she was winning. “I have to go to work, or I could get fired!”
I thought about that. If she got fired, she would be around the house more. I didn’t want her to get fired. But still . . .
“Jared’s grandmother needs help with her yard work, and this is the only day we can both go.”
“That’s not my problem. If we spend much more time arguing about it, I’ll be late!” She turned to Dad.
“Come on, kids,” he said in a calming voice. “Let’s all be reasonable.” He gave me a can’t-you-help-me-out-here look.
“I can give anyone a ride who needs it,” Ben said, jingling his keys, “but Sarah and I are going to the beach. It’s a perfect day and I don’t want to waste it indoors.”
I knew what I had to do. I stormed out of the house, imagining Gloria’s victorious smirk. I only wish I could have seen her expression when she realized I had Dad’s car keys with me. I dashed right to the car, started the ignition, and drove off to Jared’s house. Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. Still, I felt a twinge of guilt knowing Ben would have to deal with the princess’s tantrum as he drove her to work.
Jared and I had a good day, mowing, pulling weeds, pruning, mulching. His grandmother supplied us with all the fresh-squeezed lemonade we could drink. The place looked great when, sometime near dusk, we were done. With ten dollars each from grandma in our pockets for our day-long efforts, we decided to blow it on a burger and ice cream at the DQ before heading home.
I dropped Jared off at his house and drove toward home, hoping Gloria might still be at work.
As I turned the corner of our street, I could see down the road to our house. It never occurred to me that the flashing red and blue lights came from a police cruiser parked in our driveway. Mom worked for the police, but she never drove a cruiser.
I parked in front of the house. My first thought was about Dad. Did he have a heart attack? Why wasn’t the ambulance there yet? What was going on?
I ran in the front door.
“Dad? Dad, where are you?”
“In here,” he called from the kitchen.
Thank goodness. He sounded okay.
A cop stepped out of the doorway to let me into the kitchen. Mom was there, sitting at the kitchen table. Dad was standing at the counter starting up his Mr. Coffee. If it weren’t for the cop, it could have been any normal day. Except Dad never made coffee after dinner. No one seemed to notice me. Like I said—the youngest child.
“What’s going on?” I yelled.
Mom looked up. “Oh, Trevor.” Her lip quivered and she opened her arms, asking for a hug. I looked at the cop. He didn’t even smirk. This must be real bad.
Mom held me tighter than I knew she could.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
Coming over, Dad hugged us and said, “Ben drove Gloria to work, but she wasn’t there when Mom came to pick her up. Her boss said she wasn’t even on the schedule today.” He covered his face with one hand and squeezed Mom’s shoulder with the other. “We don’t know where she is, and we haven’t heard from Ben, so we don’t know whether they’re together or not.”
“Cliff . . . Mavis . . . don’t worry,” the cop said. “I know it’s hard to wait, but we have officers scouring the nearby beaches. And Ben’s a lifeguard, so . . .”
I was totally confused. What did Ben being a lifeguard have to do with Gloria not being at work? I knew she didn’t really need the car.
Dad poured mugs of coffee for Mom and the cop. “We called Sarah’s parents,” he explained to me as he brought them to the table. “But they said they thought she was with Ben like they planned.” He shook his head. “Maybe she is.”
“So why is this guy here?” I asked, nodding toward the cop.
“In case there’s a phone call.” Dad left it there.
Why would he need to be here for a phone call from Gloria? It took me a minute to figure out what Dad was saying. Then it dawned on me. In case there’s a ransom demand. Gloria might have been kidnapped. But we weren’t rich. Why would anyone want to kidnap her?
I wanted to say something that would fix it, but nothing came to mind.
I didn’t much like Gloria, but I didn’t want this to happen. Whatever this was.
— By BWG member Carol L. Wright