This is a work of fiction.
“Let’s see if we can find those boys,” I said. I’d already seen they weren’t in the kitchen, so I walked by the bathroom, but the door was open and nobody was inside. Next was the office, but that was locked, so they couldn’t have gotten in there. Time to go upstairs. I’d been sick when Stacey and Chuck had been house-hunting, and had no idea who slept where. It was such a shame that the boys had had to move, but Stacey and Abe’s house only had four bedrooms.
Lydia followed a couple of steps behind me as I went up. Right away, I noticed the upstairs bathroom door was closed.
“Boys?” I called. “Are you in there?”
“Gross!” Freckles yelled from one of the bedrooms. Lydia looked worried.
Was he in her room?
“She thinks we’re gay,” Sammy said.
“Yeah,” Curly said. I went to the door and looked in. It had to be Lydia’s room. It was all pink and frilly. All three boys were there; Sammy was on the bed, Freckles was half inside a huge doll house, and Curly was sitting at the desk.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“We can’t find Popeye,” Curly said. “We came in here to see if he was hiding somewhere.”
“He’s at the kennel,” I said.
“No, Mom and him forgot to take him,” Sammy said. “We can’t leave until we find him.”
“Yeah,” Freckles said. “We don’t want him to starve to death all by himself.”
Sammy sniffed the air and said, “I think he did some do-do under the bed.”
Freckles sniffed and said, “No, it’s—”
“Enough,” I said. “Popeye is at the kennel, and he hasn’t been in here. Everybody out of Lydia’s room.”
“This bed’s comfy,” Sammy said. I turned around and started back down the stairs.
Over my shoulder, I called, “Anybody who wants breakfast, come now.” Soon, all of us were in the kitchen.
“What’s for eats?” Sammy said.
“Roasted girl!” Freckles said, grinning wickedly at Lydia, who cowered away from him.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “There’s not much here, so let’s go out for breakfast.”
“Where?” Curly said.
“I don’t know yet. First, I’m going to check the house. Which one of you takes out the trash?” The boys all pointed at Lydia, who shrank down in her seat. “Well, I’m going to take out the trash,” I said.
“That’s not fair,” Sammy said.
“Yeah,” Curly said. “We have to do our chores, so why are you doing hers?”
“What are your chores?”
Three sets of shoulders shrugged.
“Well, until I know, I’ll do them. While you’re with me, you keep your own stuff tidy, and you’ll take turns helping me wash or dry the dishes. Anybody who helps me out with other stuff will get paid.”
“Mom just puts them in the dishwasher,” Freckles said.
“I don’t use one. Now, everybody follow me from room to room. I’m just going to check the house over quickly.”
It was fine. I took out the trash, and made myself not give everything a good clean. Doing that was Stacey and Chuck’s job.
With the kids behind me, I walked into the living room.
“Grab your suitcase and follow me out to the van, please.” The boys got theirs through the front door, but Lydia had trouble maneuvering hers, and it got stuck.
Freckles said, “She’s too fat.”
“Yeah,” Sammy said. “Now we’ll have to call the fire department.”
“Don’t be mean,” I said, and pulled the suitcase free of the doorjam. “There. Let’s go.”
Somehow, we made it to the van, and I opened the back. The kids loaded their suitcases into the large space.
“Now I’ll lock the house and check the garage,” I said.
Everything was fine, and soon, we were climbing into my van.
“I get the front seat,” Curly said.
Lydia didn’t speak but she gave me a pleading look.
“My purse gets to sit there,” I said. “Lydia, you can sit right behind me, and boys, you can sit in the back where there are three seats.”
“Who gets to sit behind her?” Freclkes said.
“Curly. Sammy in the middle, and you beside him.” Everyone sat where I’d asked.
As I started the engine, Freckles said, “Why are we leaving Popeye behind?”
“Your mom doesn’t think he would enjoy as much running around as I’ve got planned. At the kennel, he can play with other dogs if he wants to, but if he gets tired, his bed is right there.”
I was sure Stacey had explained this to them, but maybe he’d forgotten or was trying to slow us down.
“Now, where should we go for breakfast?”
“McDonald’s!” Sammy said.
“Yeah,” Curly said.
“Yeah,” Freckles said. “He, like, won’t ever let us go.”
“Who won’t let you go?” I asked.
“Mom’s new dude.”
Sammy said, “He says it’s junk.” I glanced at Lydia, and she made a disgusted face.
“Well, I have the strawberry yogurt for you Lydia, and McDonald’s has milk or apple juice.” She gave a small nod. “I agree with Chuck. It isn’t the greatest place, but let’s have it today.” The boys cheered, and I drove to a McDonald’s. We all piled out of the van and entered the busy little restaurant. I counted nine people in line in front of us, and more came in behind. “While we’re waiting, what would you like?” I said.
“Two large fries,” Freckles said. “And coffee.”
Did Stacey let them drink coffee, or was he just being silly?
“Definitely yes to the fries, but I’m not sure about the coffee.”
“He lets us,” Sammy said. Curly nodded. I looked at Lydia. She nodded and made a disgusted face.
“Well, I’d like to make sure you don’t drink too much coffee, so I’ll get one and divide it among four cups. And it will be after you eat and drink, sort of like dessert. What would you like to drink, Freckles?”
“Can I have a vanilla shake?”
“Sure. Sammy, what about you?”
“Chicken McNuggets, medium fries, and Coke.”
“Coke is in the same category as coffee. Which one would you prefer?”
“Coke,” he said.
“Okay, and what else are you having to drink? Fruit juice, milk, or water.”
“Four burgers with everything and water please.”
“No fries?” He shook his head. “Wonderful. Lydia, would you like anything?” She shook her head and gave me a questioning look. “And I’m having a cheeseburger, medium fries, chocolate milkshake, water, and my share of the coffee.”
There were still five people ahead of us, and I tried to think of how we could pass the time so Freckles or even Sammy wouldn’t start acting up.
“Are you all excited about going camping?”
“Dunno,” Sammy said.
“No,” Freckles said.
“Have any of you been camping before?” Curly nodded but the others shook their heads. “Curly, when did you go camping?”
“A month ago. I didn’t stay the night.”
“Who were you with?”
“Oh, I didn’t know you were a Scout.”
“It’s new,” he said. “I joined in May.”
The line started to move faster, and soon, we reached the front. I recited our order, and included a couple extra items in case anyone wanted more, and then Lydia was pointing at the menu. I followed her finger.
“And a hot chocolate, please,” I said. I paid and Curly helped me carry the food to a table.
After breakfast, we all got back into the van.
“Are we going to sleep outside?” Sammy asked, as I pulled out of the parking lot.
“Not unless you want to. I’ve brought tents. There’s one for the three of you, and one for Lydia and me. We have about a forty-five-minute drive to the camp site. I’ve paid in advance so we won’t have any problems.”
Hadn’t Stacey told them any of this?
“What have your mom and Chuck told you?”
Sammy said, “She said we were going camping with you.”
A little short on details, but I probably should have said she should tell them a bit more.
“Okay. Well, we’re going to a place sort of in the woods, but very close to a main road. There’s a lake nearby, and lots of trails for hiking. If you drive a little down the road there’s a store and post office. We’ll probably see other families camping too. We’re going to have fun!”