Jade and Caron could see the heat rising off the concrete in front of them. They were heading nowhere in particular just racing. Simply something to do on a blistering summer day. It hadn’t rained for a minute. Grandpa and grandma were worried at the fact. Drought is the worst. Besides killing the crops and making the prices rise on fruit and vegetables, the trees fall over when the storms come. They heard them chatting in the kitchen. “I don’t want to spend another one thousand dollars to take down that tree, but we gotta do it,” grandpa spoke.
Jade and Caron didn’t want trees falling on the house in the middle of the night, or while they were outside playing nor while they were eating their pizza, like earlier. The river though was of no concern. There was too much river in their eyes for it to go dry. Later, while out exploring it is at the river where they first meet Orchid. They wave. She was about their age. Nine, ten. She waves back. They had never seen her in school. So she’s likely new to the neighborhood.
It was summertime and school was out. So Orchid could be from anywhere. Here in New York, or California, Texas or from another country. “Did you just move here? Or are you on summer vacation?” They called out at the same time. Orchid waved again and put her hand to her ear. The river was too loud for her to hear and rushing by too fast for them to cross.
They point back up the river where it is narrow and shallow and race each other waving to Orchid to come along. She mouths ok and runs alongside the river. Jade and Caron cross on the jagged rocks rising a couple of inches above the surface. They balance on the ten or so rocks crossing to the other side and sprinting the last few feet in shallow water. Their sneakers become drenched with every step.
“Hey. I’m Caron,” he said smiling extending a swarthy hand.
“I’m Jade,” she said running into him from behind. The color of her eyes matching her name.
“Orchid,” the girl replied shaking Caron’s hand then Jade. “You’ll twins?”
“No, we found her…” replies Caron.
“Shut up, Caron.”
“What?” asks Orchid.
“That story of them finding me wandering through town broke, a bottle of wine, and a blanket. Pay him no mind. Yes. We’re twins.”
“Are you here on summer vacation?” asks Caron.
“No. I just moved into the neighborhood,” says Orchid.
“Where do you live?” asks Jade.
Orchid points to the trail that leads between the pine trees. “Right through there.”
“How long have you been here?” asks Caron.
“A month give or take a few days,” replies Orchid.
“A month?” says Caron and Jade.
“Yeah,” she says nodding. “I’ve seen you two crossing here on your way home from school plenty of times.”
“Why didn’t you come to school?” asks Jade.
Orchid shrugged her shoulders. “There was no point,” she says. “School was just about finished. I didn’t want to take any tests or fill out any new student paperwork. I didn’t want to answer a whole bunch of questions about where I’m from and why I left my school so close to the summer break.”
“Excuse me,” says Jade.
“Oh, I don’t mind you’ll asking because it’s only you two. But I didn’t want half the school interrogating me.”
“Jade. It’s not like she needs our permission. You’d be telling them to mind their business too.”
“I didn’t say that,” replies Jade. “And I wasn’t talking to you,” she continues pointing at him.
“And get your finger out my face.”
“My finger’s not in your face,” Jade retorts.
“It’s close enough,” replies Caron swiping at it.
“Orchid,” a voice calls from the distance.
“I have to go,” replies Orchid. “Why don’t you’ll come meet my mom.”
Jade and Caron ponder the invitation. “I don’t have anything better to do,” says Caron.
“Me neither,” replies Jade as Orchid disappeared beyond the trees.
“Race you,” says Jade sprinting toward the trail.”
“And you’ll lose,” replies Caron in hot pursuit.”.
Pine straw drifts down around them. The pine cones crunch under their feet. They could see Orchid round the corner in front of them. “Okay,” adds Jade. “She’s a runner.”
“When her mom says move I guess she means in a hurry,” replies Caron.
“I bet you can’t catch her,” challenges Jade.
“I bet I can,” replies Caron smiling and pulling away.
“Not before I do,” Jade states. The ever-present competitiveness is evident between the twins as Caron and Jade kick up rocks, and leave a trail of dust and a startled dog retreating quickly in their wake. Predator or not it wanted nothing to do with whatever it was that just burst through those bushes.
When they came to the clearing Orchid was halfway across it and the house could be seen about three hundred yards in the distance. Orchid was still running strong toward the house. She looked behind her, smiled and picked up the pace. Mrs. Morris, Orchid’s mother, was standing by the entrance of the clearance. She smiled as Orchid and her new friends raced toward the house. Already Orchid had found new friends to go on runs with.
“Quint,” Orchid’s mother called into the woods. She whistled then called again to the family dog. “Quint. Time to go home.”
Orchid takes the steps to the log home two at a time and enters the house.
“So much for catching her,” says Jade. “But I can still beat you.” Jade and Caron give it one final push to the finish line. They reach the stairs of the log home taking the set of six by two the way they saw Orchid do. “And Jade in another photo-finish at the tape.”
“You didn’t win,” retort’s Caron. It was a tie if anything.
“Who won?” Jade asks Orchid as Orchid is walking through the door and holding it open for them to come in.
“Well she did hit that top step a hair in front of you,” states Orchid holding her thumb and forefinger so close Caron could barely see through them.
“You had a head start, Jade. You cheated.”
“Bring it right here little brother,” Jade replies and chest bumps Caron as he walks to the door. It’s been like this forever. He wins he’s just smarter, faster, stronger. I win, I cheat. Head start or not I couldn’t catch you,” Jade says to Orchid. You run all the time?”
“Not all the time. Here and there. I like to get up in the morning and jog with my mom and our dog, Quint.”
“Yeah, I think we might’ve run across him near the edge of the trail,” said Caron smiling.
“Oh did you. I never saw him,” replies Orchid.
“Yeah. He was just off the trail to the left,” says Jade. When we went off-trail through the bushes trying to catch you. He must’ve thought we were wolves.”
“Got somewhere pretty good for an older dog.”
“Yeah. Quint’s never been too confrontational. A handful of times he did flare up when someone threatened mom,” said Orchid smiling. “He’s still in pretty good condition, but he doesn’t bite.”
The trio entered the kitchen where two turkey with swiss, lettuce, pickle, and tomato toasted sub sandwiches had been placed on the table. “Mom made sandwiches. You two can have ours. I’ll make some more,” she said walking the plates to the island sitting in the middle of the kitchen. I drank all the juice this morning. Is bottled water fine?”
“Yeah, good,” said Jade and Caron after Orchid set the bottles on the table.
Caron opens the water and manages to pour some into his mouth and not waste it while looking straight up into the skylight, despite Jade tapping the bottom of the bottle.
Caron smiles and slaps at her hand. “I like that,” he says referencing the skylight.
“Yeah. It’s one of my favorite things about the house too,” says Orchid’s mother entering the kitchen. Hello. I’m Orchid’s mom,” she says shaking Caron and Jade’s hand.
“Where’s Quint mom? They said they saw him at the edge of the woods.”
“He’s outside,” Mrs. Morris replies. “For some reason when we got to the house he stopped at the edge of the stairs and won’t come any further.
“Why?” asks Orchid.
“I don’t know. I stopped, looked around, went to the back of the house, looked for predators. There were no stray dogs, no bears, no wolves. So I guess we’ll have to feed him outside for now. Maybe later he’ll come inside.”
For the next three weeks Caron, Jade, and Orchid would spend the remaining summer exploring the woods, canoeing, fishing, and cooking out with Mrs. Morris. Quint would be at home in the morning, but minutes before Caron and Jade showed up he would disappear.
On the first day of school, Orchid looked for Caron and Jade to come by early so they could walk to school together. There was no sign of them. Mrs. Morris and Orchid walked to the river. She knew the transition would be easier on Orchid if she started the school year in a new town having well-known friends to show her the way of things beyond simply going to class.
Jade and Caron where nowhere to be seen, before school, during school or after school. The next day, Orchid walked through the cafeteria searching for Caron, searching for Jade. Nothing. Other students called to her to sit and have lunch. She waved, smiled, held up her phone and gestured she would return momentarily. She went to her homeroom. Her teacher was typing on his laptop.
“Hello,” Orchid said.
“Hello, come in,” he said. “Not hungry?”
“Yes, and no,” she replied. “I brought snacks. I’m good. I have a question.”
He looked over at her, looked back at his screen and nodded.
“I’m looking for two people I met this summer that go to this school. Jade and Caron Charles.”
He begins typing on his computer. “Let’s see,” he replies. “We don’t have a Jade and Caron Charles that attend Maple Grove but we do have a teacher, Sterling Charles. He teaches second grade. You could check to see if he’s any relation. You’re in luck. He’s just down the hall on the left. And he doesn’t have a class this hour. Hurry before he leaves for the library.”
“Okay,” says Orchid as she runs from the room quietly closing the door behind her. Orchid zips down the hall and finds the name tag next to the door that reads, Charles. She reaches for the handle just as the door opens and practically runs into a round black man with round rimless glasses and a goatee.
“Yes, Ms. Morris. I’ve been informed you’re searching for my sister, Jade and my brother Caron. How did you hear about them?”
“I didn’t hear of them. I spent the summer with them. I met them by the river behind my house. They came to visit. We had lunch on several occasions. We walked through the woods, raced through the woods, they met my mom and my dog, Quint. We went canoeing, We cooked out. But ever since school started they’ve disappeared.”
“They’re about ten aren’t they?” asks Mr. Charles.
“That’s about right. We’re all the same age,” replied Orchid.
“Yup. That would’ve been about the time they were lost to us.”
“Lost. As in stolen; kidnapped?” asks Orchid.
“No, Orchid. Caron and Jade were killed in a car accident when they were your age. My mother, my father, Jade and Caron. The driver that hit them wasn’t hurt in the accident but later died of alcohol poison. I was on a field trip to the museum and planetarium. When our bus pulled in front of the school I looked for our car. I thought no one was there to pick me up. I was about to walk home when I heard my grandparents call me. Everything was in a frenzy. And then the funeral. A blur.
“So who was I spending time with this summer?” asks Orchid.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Orchid. Are these the ten-year-olds you’re talking about?” Asks Mr. Charles lifting his phone and showing the picture of Caron and Jade.
“Yes,” she replies.
“Again. I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t deny who or what you saw. But I would follow this advice. You might want to keep it to yourself for a while. Until we can figure out what really happened this past summer. Good?”
“Good,” replies Orchid nodding and somewhat in shock at the news of the death of her friends long before they became friends.