The smell of warm spices swirled around the second floor hallway of Sunset Hills Apartments.
“YES! Grandma’s home!” Connor dropped his books and bags in a big pile on the floor. “As soon as my shower is done I’m coming to your place for dinner!” he announced excitedly as he fumbled for his house key.
Daisy laughed at the outburst. “See you in a bit.” She walked inside her apartment alone, put her books on the coffee table and wandered into the kitchen. “Whatcha make ‘in Grandma?”
“Chili and rice. You’re so late tonight. Was school alright?”
“School was fine.” She plopped down in a kitchen chair, exhausted from the long day. “It’s just people…,” she combed her fingers through her hair and yawned, “People, work, there’s always something. Oh and Connor’s eating with us tonight.”
Grandma looked up from her pot with an amused smile. “Watching him eat is a confidence builder. I wish I was making one of my new recipes.”
“Don’t think it’ll matter much what you make tonight.” Daisy yawned again. “We’re beyond starving.” She went to the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of milk. “After dinner, and homework of course, can we take a walk on the beach?”
“It’s already so late darling. If you need a walk, do it first, then your homework.” Rose stirred her pot slowly, carefully adding more spices as she spoke.
Daisy leaned over Grandma’s shoulder watching the spicy mixture bubble. “Man, that smells good. Is it ready?”
Connor happily strolled into the kitchen sniffing the air.
“WOW!” Daisy giggled. “That was a fast shower!”
“I can smell the food all the way across the hall!” Connor kissed Rose on the cheek. “I’m starving!” He sat down at the table ready to gobble down whatever was placed in front of him.
“You were born hungry and haven’t changed a bit since that day!” Rose smiled.
“Grandma says to walk first, then do homework.” Daisy placed a glass of milk in front of Connor and sat down.
He grinned thankfully at the large plate of food that floated down over his head by Grandma’s hand. “Whatever, let’s eat.”
Rose couldn’t help but laugh at the positive effect her cooking had on the boy, it pleased her so. “I’m come ‘in, I’m come ‘in, hold on.” She fixed two more plates and sat down. They bowed their heads and Rose prayed. “Dear God in heaven, thank you for this meal and for these two children who make even a pot of beans seem like a banquet. Amen.”
Connor looked up when they were done. “Where’s Joe?”
“He went shopping. He can eat when he gets back.” Rose blew on her food. “It’s hot, be careful.”
When the mountain of chili given to Connor was all gone, he rubbed his stomach. “Man, that was great!” He whipped out his cell phone and called Andy. “Hey Andy-man, let’s walk first then type our reports up later… Sweet! We’ll be on the beach not the platform…. okay…. bye.” He looked over at his favorite Grandma. “Is there any trash to take out?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is.” She pointed to the corner where a bag of trash sat.
Connor grabbed it up. “Let’s go Day-Day.” He took her hand and they left.
Downstairs, he threw the trash bag in the dumpster and washed his hands off with the hose while Daisy sighed at the starry sky. They walked out into the warm night air, breathing deeply. In a relaxed manner Connor tossed his arm around her shoulder. “Nice night.”
“Yep. You seem to be in a better mood now.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a squeeze.
“Aaaaa, ” was his contented response to her squeeze. “I’m not hungry any more, for one. Second, I’m walking to the beach with my girl. And third, I’m planning to lie in her lap and look at the stars. So yea, I’m now in a better mood.”
“The simple things in life are really the best things.”
“That’s right.” He kissed her hair then repeated his words with more conviction, “That’s exactly right.”
When they arrived at the boardwalk, the sun had already set below the horizon. The ocean waves rumbled out a low, restful greeting to the pair. They responded to the warm sound by walking down to the edge and touching their old friend with their toes.
“The water is warming up, isn’t it?” Daisy noticed.
“Yea, it’s probably warm enough to swim in.”
“If the weather is nice this next week, let’s swim after work.” She looked up at Connor to see if he agreed.
“Maybe, after the championship.” He laid his head on hers for a short moment and watched a boat move across the horizon with her. “Let’s find a place to sit down.” He looked around. “How about there?” He pointed to a soft spot and she sat down. Connor stretched out in the sand and plopped his head in her lap. Looking up he whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She ran her fingers gently through his hair. He shut his eyes, enjoying her affection. Daisy amused herself for a long time in this way. She would arrange his hair one way and then another way, trying to decide where she liked his part the best. She watched his sleeping face. Occasionally, she would look up and watch the ocean or a person walking by but mostly she looked down at Connor sleeping in her lap and played with his hair.
“Hey Daisy,” came two voices from behind her.
She looked around and saw Andy and Maria. “Where have you guys been? We’ve been waiting so long.”
“Ice cream. You know I must have ice cream when I’m nervous.” Maria put her hand on her heart. “What can I say, prerace jitters caught up with me tonight.”
“It’s all in the head Care-Bears! Ya gotta think, WIN, every single moment of the day,” Andy advised confidently.
“He looks peaceful.” Maria leaned over and took a closer look at Connor, who had so far, not said a word. “Isn’t he stressed about the Championship?”
“Why not? I’m super stressed,” Maria admitted.
Connor opened his eyes and answered the question himself, “Because I’m not thinking about it. I don’t think win or fail. I just think about Daisy. That’s all.” He hugged her legs closer to him and grinned contentedly.
“That’s why I win and you,” Andy kicked Connor’s leg, “You always come in second.”
“Not always.” Connor smiled. “Don’t underestimate the power of love.”
Daisy giggled. Enjoying her sound, Connor looked up at her again.
“I thought you were asleep,” she whispered.
He shut his eyes again. “I am.”
Andy playfully bumped Maria’s shoulder with his. “Walk with me up to the first aid station Care Bears. I want to ask them about a job.” He helped her up and they strolled off to the first aid station to check on the summer time job situation.
Daisy breathed the warm salt air and looked up to the stars. “Dear Lord, it would be so cool if Andy could get the job he wanted here.”
“That’s right, super cool,” came the sleepy agreement of Connor.
“Then maybe they won’t leave when high school is done,” Daisy added hopefully.
“I don’t think a life guard job will accomplish that.” Connor stood up and brushed the sand out of his clothes. “Come on babe.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her up. They walked down to the water to stick their feet in again.
Connor suddenly splashed Daisy and she squealed! She splashed him back and ran from him trying to avoid another splash, but he was too fast. He splashed her a second time, all over her back.
She squealed when the water hit her. She whipped around to see him just standing there laughing so she splashed him again. He kicked another giant wave of water at her, soaking her to the bone.
“Connor I’m gonna get you!” She pounced on him playfully.
He caught her in the air and carried her deeper into the warm water.
“No! Connor! No! Connor!” she squealed trying to wiggle out of his hold.
He roared laughing as he held his wild girl tight. She was kicking and wiggling with all her strength. When he thought they were deep enough, he held her tightly to himself and let himself fall into the water. They rolled around under the water then came up for air.
“We’re all wet!” she screamed.
“Yea.” He was totally pleased with what he had done. He kissed his wild girl. She stopped kicking and wiggling. They relaxed and fell a second time into the water. Floating to the top, they let the waves push them back to shore. They rested at the water’s edge while the gentle waves rushed lightly over their legs.
“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?” Daisy whispered.
“I love all the nights with you.” Connor looked at her lovingly in the moon light. “Every single one.”
Daisy just beamed, she couldn’t help it, she was speechless. What could a girl say when something that lovely was said to her? She looked into his eyes, and he understood how she felt. “Every single one,” he whispered again.
“Hey you two,” Andy shouted out to them from the dry sand. “Get out of the water. I need to talk to you!”
Connor and Daisy both looked up where Andy and Maria were standing. “What is it? We’re busy.”
“Yea, I can see that. You’re a mess, but get up here anyway, man.” Andy laughed at his sandy friends.
“You did invite them down here. It’s rude to not talk to them.” Daisy gave Connor a little push to make him move. “Go on.”
“Yea, I guess.” He reluctantly stood, grabbed Daisy’s hand and pulled her up. They walked a short distance up the bank of the beach to the dry sand where Andy and Maria were.
“You two are a sight man!” Andy teased. He and Maria laughed heartily when they got a closer look at the fully clothed, dripping wet, covered in sand, pair.
“The water is nice. You should get in yourself,” Connor returned slyly.
“Don’t touch me, Connor! I’ll win! You know I’ll win!” Andy threatened.
With a tame chuckle Connor withdrew the challenge and changed the subject. “Well, what happened? Did you get the job?”
“Yea, I did. I start the Saturday after Championship weekend. I’m supposed to walk the beach front and keep order. They have a new title for it now. Last summer when I worked here they just called me a lifeguard. Now, they’re calling me and the three other guys they hired, beach police.” Andy was very pleased with his new title.
“That’s a cool name.”
“If I’m here all summer combing the beach, I’ll be the first to know if Mr. Adams turns up. Did you know they have his ugly mug posted up in the office? There’s a reward. Everybody is looking for him,” Andy’s excitement rose as he thought of the possibility that he might be the one to catch Mr. Adams.
“I’d love to see that guy caught.” Connor crossed his arms across his chest and looked around the beach front. “I wonder if he’s here?”
“I wanna be the one to catch him!” Andy exclaimed.
“Catch him, man!” Connor gave Andy a high five in the air.
“How’s your job situation going? Are you and George gonna build that daycare center?”
“Sure are. We’ll work more on it over the summer. We hope to open in September,” Connor explained.
“What’s Daisy gonna do?” Maria asked.
“I’ve got to finish school first.” Daisy sighed. “I can help more when there are actual kids in the building. I want to work with the kids.”
Connor placed his hand on Daisy’s sandy shoulder and pulled her up close. “It’ll be a combined effort for sure.”
“I wish you two were staying here, instead of going off to that University. It won’t be the same around here without you.” Daisy looked at her friends sadly.
Andy held Maria around the waist, propping his chin on her shoulder. “Yea, well, since all our schooling is on Mr. Adams tab now. I figured we should run it up as high as it’ll go.”
“I hear that, man!” Connor stuck his hand high and Andy slapped it. “Have fun at that University for me!”
A light twinkled in Maria’s eyes. “We’ll still come home for holidays and summer vacations and stuff. Don’t worry Day. We’ll be around.”
“Yea I guess.” She sighed again. “All Mr. Adams accounts have been taken over by the city. You two are gonna run up a pretty high bill for him. I’m sure he knows it too.” She passed Maria a worried glance then continued, “Connor and I, our bills will start slower because I’m still in high school and Connor’s got to get Baby Builders off the ground first. But eventually, we’ll start stacking up classes at the junior college. That’ll cost Mr. Adams too.”
“What’s your point, Day?” Connor was puzzled by her tone.
“Well, it’s just that I couldn’t understand why Mr. Adams stayed in town. He had a way to escape. Why didn’t he take it? At least now I can see an understandable reason for his crazy behavior. We are fixing to absorb a lot of his money, probably more than he can afford. He wanted that money for his own sons to go to school.”
“That jerk started it! It’s his own fault!” Andy defended. “And I don’t feel a bit sorry for the aggravation brothers either!”
Maria looked down at the sand, trying to repress her response to Andy’s words.
“Aw, come on Maria, don’t start with the forgiveness stuff again. They broke the law. They went to court and this was the verdict, plain and simple. This is about consequences not forgiveness.” Andy toned his voice down for Maria sake but anger was still evident to all.
“Why did they pick on us?” Daisy questioned softly. “I mean, if you think about it, our whole life they were picking on us in one form or another. Why?”
“Well, not you babe.” Connor touched her cheek. “You were just the last straw.” He pointed at Andy. “It was you, man. All those fights growing up. They were you and Gary or you and Glenn. Later me and Mark got into it. Then last of all, the girls.”
With studied expressions they all stared at Andy.
“What! I never did anything to that family. They started it!” Andy continued his angry defense.
“How exactly did they start it? I can’t remember?” Maria interjected.
Andy stopped in his angry tracks, not knowing who to be more angry with, the aggravation twins or his girlfriend. “What?!”
“I’m not saying they were right, Andy. I’m just trying to recall how it all started. What was the bottom line for the fighting?”
Andy stared angrily out into the dark sky. “I don’t believe this,” he mumbled as he tried to think all the way back to the beginning. “It… it… they… they always made smart aleck comments about my mom or my birthday. Which is the stupidest thing ever. They had a thing about my birthday that I totally don’t understand. But the biggest thing was always, always, smart aleck comments about mom. They started it, I swear.”
“Your Mom?” Maria turned the words over in her head like they were foreign to her.
“Your birthday.” Daisy chuckled. “How weird.”
“I know they started it. I saw it first hand, man.” Connor stuck a friendly hand back out to his buddy. Andy slapped it weakly. “The criminal mind, who can understand it? Not me.” Connor punched his friend’s shoulder. They made fists and knocked them together. “Not to worry, he’ll be caught soon and it’ll all be over.”
“Soon isn’t soon enough.” Andy sighed.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, Andy. I was just trying to put it all together. Connor’s right, there’s no figuring out a criminal’s mind.” Daisy smiled. “Sorry.”
“Yea, me too. I wasn’t trying to upset you.” Maria pulled Andy’s arms around her waist again. “Sorry. Okay?”
“Yea, okay.” He gave her a friendly squeeze.
“Maria, I think it’s time you move away from him.” Connor waved at her to move to the side.
“Because I know you don’t like getting roughed up, and Andy is in need of a deep ocean experience right about now!” Connor narrowed his eyes as he stared at his buddy. “Come on, Andy! Stop hiding behind your girl like that!”
Andy cautiously released Maria. “You will never… in a million years… get me in that water!”
Quick as lightning the two guys charged each other, full force. They wrestled wildly in the sand.
The girls walked around the energetic wrestling match. “The water really is warm. Let’s take a swim,” Daisy suggested.
“I think I need a dip after that conversation.” The girls entered the water and floated around. They looked up into the peaceful evening sky, releasing the stressful circumstances of the day.
“I still wish you were staying,” Daisy said sweetly to her long time friend.
“Yea, me too.”
The peaceful ocean suddenly churned with violent thrashing. Connor finally got his way. Andy was in the water! He kicked and hollered all kinds of things as Connor dunked him. Andy rose from the water like a wild animal and slam dunked Connor right back! The two of them continued their violent horseplay until they were exhausted and gasping for air.
Andy gave in and accepted the fact that Connor won. “Okay, you win! You win! I need to catch my breath. Give me a second!”
Connor released his buddy. They both rolled over on their backs and floated while catching their breath.
Maria and Daisy decided it was safe to swim near the guys so they ventured over.
“Hey, Care Bears,” Andy said still panting from his wild tussle.
Maria held on to him lightly and floated with him. She apologized four or five more times for upsetting him. He wrapped his legs loosely around hers and whispered sweet words in her ear that made her smile.
Daisy swam up close to Connor and held on to him like a raft. He placed one arm gently around her, letting her bob at his side. He was tired now and did not want to disturb her ability to float.
The four of them floated around until the ocean pushed them back up to shore. At the edge of the water, they lay in the sand and looked up at the stars.
“Well, Day-Day, we have homework. We better get going.” Connor and Daisy hopped up together. “We’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Yep, tomorrow, man.” Andy stuck his knuckles out and Connor tapped them. “You ready Care-Bears?”
“Yep, my typing fingers are as ready as they’ll ever be.” Maria typed an imaginary keypad in the air as the four of them walked up the beach to go home.
Back at home, Daisy yawned, “I don’t like Algebra.” She pulled her book out unhappily and went to work. After a while her book dropped to the floor.
Connor looked up from his study spot on the floor to see Daisy sound asleep on the couch. He took her notebook and looked at her work. It appeared finished so he put her stuff back in her book bag and pulled her legs up onto the couch. She sighed and stretched out. He smiled at her sweet manner.
Connor went back to work. He knew where he wanted to go with his research paper and didn’t want to lose momentum so he typed long into the night. Once his final draft was done, he saved and exited. Turning to look at sleeping Daisy, he laid his head on the couch against her shoulder and shut his eyes. “Just for a minute,” he told himself. “Zzzzzzz…”