I slammed the phone into the cradle and ran. Hopping in the driver’s seat, I pressed the garage door button. Come ON, I thought, as the door slowly raised. When it was high enough, I quickly backed down the driveway, pressed the button again, and sped to the stop sign at the end of the street. If Liv had not been fully awake before, she was now. I looked in the rearview mirror.
Dan’s station wagon was pulling into our driveway.
Had he ever seen the Jeep? I didn’t think so. It was generally parked in the garage, and the handful of times I’d driven over to their house or gotten dropped off, he’d have seen either my mom’s Taurus or the old beater my brother and I shared when we were home. I’d feel better when we were out of range, though. Still looking in my rearview, I watched him get out of the car and stride up to the door. Ignoring the panicked thought What if I didn’t lock it?—both because I was certain I had, and because there was nothing to be done about it now in any case—I pulled away from the intersection.
Several minutes later, we were at the donut shop on the other side of town. It was considerably out of the way, a point in its favor. It also happened to have the best donuts around. Liv was daintily pulling apart a cinnamon roll with disturbingly pink frosting, and I was washing down a couple of old-fashioneds with several cups of strong coffee. It was amazing how a few years of college had turned me into a devotee of the stuff after a childhood spent completely ignoring the countless pots brewed at home.
The only other patrons in the place were the crabby old men who were fixtures there every morning, reading newspapers and grumbling about the state of the world and their neighbors’ lawns. I didn’t mind them. Their constant refills kept the coffee fresh, and their low-key complaining reassured me that not everything in my world had changed.
Careful to keep my voice low anyway, I said, “So, Liv, you know how I told you we were going on an adventure?” She nodded, her mouth full of donut, then swallowed. “Well,” I continued, “your mom is actually a part of the adventure, in a way, even though it’s just you and me in the Jeep. She told me that I should ask you about the secret that you and her have.” She looked puzzled, so I continued, guessing. “Maybe a hiding place?”
“Oh!” she said, loud enough to turn a few heads. I put my finger to my lips, and her next words were in a whisper. “I have a secret pocket in one of my bags. She hides things there for me. It’s only for Mommy and me. Daddy doesn’t know about it. It’s okay, though, because it’s a fun secret, not a bad secret.”
“Yes, that’s okay,” I said. “Where is the bag?” I hoped it wasn’t at their house, because that was the last place I wanted to be.
“With my other bags in the car,” she said. That was a relief.
Back in the Jeep, I handed her the indicated bag, and she stuck her arm inside, reaching all the way to the bottom. A few minutes of fishing around later, and she pulled out a zippered pouch that had my name on the outside. She looked a little disappointed, but handed it to me. Then she put her arm back in and immediately pulled out another baggie with her own name on it. That one had a chocolate bar in it. I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only one not above bribing a child with sugar. Nutrition wasn’t going to be a high priority for a while, probably.
After I set the bag in the back seat, I turned my attention to the pouch, unzipping it and reaching inside to pull out more cash—at least money wasn’t going to be an issue—a map, and a note.
Image credit: Flickr user kwl.
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