I dove behind a clump of evergreens, praying the intertwined branches were thick enough to hide me. Snap. Crunch. Nate’s boots scrunched across a carpet of dead leaves and twigs.
Breathe. Just breathe.
I looked down. My faded jeans and dark sweatshirt didn’t exactly blend in with my surroundings. Too bad I’d brushed off after Eric and I crashed. Dirt made excellent camouflage. Oh no – my backpack.
Scrunch, scrunch, snap! The sounds grew louder. Nate was getting close. I slipped the backpack off and squished Chantilly’s bright pink ears down inside.
Sorry, girlfriend, I apologized silently. This is a covert mission. I lowered the pack to the ground ever so gently, but not gently enough.
Snap! I jerked my head up, ears straining. Was I busted?
Scuff, scuff, rustle.
No – if I was, Nate’d be laughing in my face.
This is it! I can’t believe it!
I hunkered down and got ready to spring. Nate hiked closer. My legs shook, aching with the strain. If I could just keep still a little longer…
“Aaaaaiiiiiiieeeeeeee!” I screamed, launching myself into Nate’s path, arms and legs flailing.
“Aaaaagh!” Nate shrieked, jumping back and clutching his chest.
It wasn’t as good as Tanya’s, but it would do.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!” I jabbed my fist higher with each word.
Nate leaned against a tree, catching his breath. It was a beautiful sight.
“You’re it!” I crowed, dancing down the trail for home.
Easter Sunday dawned as gloriously bright as that first one must have. Everyone – kids included – went to the chapel with their family. Normally I would’ve argued, but today I was glad. Gone were the black drapes, the darkened windows, the lonely candle. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows making kaleidoscope patterns in red, blue and green on the worn pews. The cross was draped with purple and tiers of snow white Easter lilies crowded around its base. Everyone was decked out in their finest, complete with fancy hats and colorful silk scarves, long, droopy earrings and chunky bright beads. Waves of various perfumes wafted on the air. People smiled easily, laughed often, and hugged constantly. I could hardly take it all in.
When the organ started pumping out the joyous chords of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” I sang my heart out. When I belted out a particularly screechy “Hallelujah,” Nate made a face. I leaned close.
“You’re still it,” I said – and sang even louder.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I waved happily at Eric.
“See you after lunch,” I mouthed.
He gave me a thumbs up. I leaned back and closed my eyes, savoring the sun’s warmth on my skin. At home, a juicy ham and heaps of buttery, cinnamon-topped sweet potatoes waited. I’d gorge myself in record time, top it off with a couple of chocolate bunny ears (the solid kind, of course), and then meet Eric at our tree.
The car slowed as we neared the only stoplight in town. Opening one eye, I spied the boarded up gas station from our very first, very lost, day in town. Only this time the boards were gone. I rolled my window down and leaned out, the warm air silky against my face. The billboard still sported the same wacky items with chili dogs and money orders topping the list. Underneath, something new had been added: “Open for Business Memorial Day Weekend.”
I laughed right out loud. Shaking my head and looking skyward I said, “Thank you, Lord.”
I wasn’t sure if it was my over-stimulated imagination or if the quiet answer just wafted in on the breeze.