The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Nathan and April showed up to visit SarahJane. April had missed SarahJane until Anna had tracked her down. Nathan and Cassie met and flirted a bit. Liam was introduced, then hurried away after asking Nathan to stick around a while.
“Can we go swimming?” April tugged on my hand and I smiled down at her. I’d missed her gap-toothed smile. Although …
“Your front teeth are in!” I ruffled her bangs.
She nodded. “And I won an award at the end of the school assembly for good citizenship, but you missed it.” Her tone held more than a hint of accusation and it hit its mark.
I blinked rapidly to keep the tears from spilling. “I’m sorry about that, sweetie.”
She gazed into my eyes and must have seen my true regret because she shucked off her shorts and T-shirt and turned to water.
“SarahJane, is everything okay?”
I turned and introduced Linda to Nathan. “And that’s my niece April. They tracked me down and came for a visit.”
Cassie, Nathan, Linda and I stood in a line, watching April. She clutched her elbows in knee-deep water.
Linda shook Nathan’s hand and waved at April. “Is everything all right?”
“April and I wanted to see SarahJane for ourselves.” Nathan grinned at Cassie. “And see who she’s been hanging out with. Make sure no one’s corrupting her morals.”
Linda laughed. “I think it’s the other way around. The girls seem nicer to each other when SarahJane is near.”
I shook my head. “I doubt that.”
“No, she’s right,” Cassie said. “I hadn’t put it together that it’s you, but I noticed a different feel to the group at times.”
“Is it cold?” I called to April.
She shook her head. “Come in with me, Auntie SJ.”
“Excuse me.” Even the chilly Pacific waters was better than listening to Linda and Cassie paint me as some goody-goody wet blanket who dampened the party when she showed up. I splashed to April’s side. A wave swelled against my legs and I shivered. “I’ll be able to stay in a few minutes.”
“Sissy.” April’s gaze swept from my face to my knees. I could see the little gears turning as she thought about splashing me.
“Don’t do it.” I paused, one foot hovering over the sand while I debated closing the gap between us.
She beamed that angelic smile that meant I was in big trouble. I turned but that only meant my back got drenched instead of my front. I gasped as the cold penetrated my suit and chilled my skin.
I whirled. “You rascal.” I kicked flat-footed and sent a nice spray toward her. She ducked underwater just before it reached her. She came back up, blinking and triumphant.
“You can’t get me!”
“Just watch me.” I reached and had her arm before she could get away. I swung her around, up and into my cradled arms. “I’ve missed you so much, my punkin pie girl.”
She snuggled closer. “Why did you leave?”
I sighed. “I don’t think there’s one reason. It was just time. I needed to get away from the house and the memories of Opa and Oma.”
She nodded. “Mom turned his room into her sewing room. I miss his smells in there.”
I couldn’t speak past the lump in my throat. Anna hadn’t wasted any time erasing reminders of my parent’s presence from the house they built and lived in for nearly sixty years. “That must be hard,” I finally said.
She wriggled and I set her down. “Mom said if you’re not back by the fourth of July, she’s going to start on your room. She wants a … a medium room?”
I smiled in spite of ache in my heart. “You mean a media room?”
“That’s it.” She squeezed my hand. “I told her you’re coming back. July fourth is next week.”
So it was. “April, sweetie, I have a commitment here. Do you know what that means?”
Her brow furrowed.
April and I turned to shore. Liam stood with the others motioning us to come closer.
We trudged through the water.
Nathan stood with his arms folded, a stunned expression on his face. Liam’s lips were tight. Linda and Cassie appeared to be holding in laughter. They kept exchanging glances before smothering giggles and looking away.
“What’s up?” I asked when we were back in camera range.
No one spoke.
“Hello?” I waved my hand in front of Liam. “You summoned me, remember?”
“Talk to your brother, please.” Liam turned and strode through the sand.
“What’s going on?” I looked from Nathan to Cassie to Linda to April. Only April met my gaze. She shrugged. “Come on, you’re freaking me out.”
Nathan finally unfolded his arms and put his hands on his hips. “It’s crazy. I just brought April to visit you.”
“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” I would have stomped my foot, but the effect on sand isn’t impressive.
Cassie pushed her sunglasses atop her head. “Liam wants Nathan to stay and join the show.”