Kelsey squirmed, adjusting her seat belt. Considering the way her mom and dad had been fighting lately, she couldn’t believe they were still making this two-hour drive. She wondered, in fact, why they had ever planned it.
Kelsey was mad at her mom anyway. It seemed they could never agree, as if Mom just tried to make her life difficult. Now, Dad was different. He usually gave in to what she wanted, even if it meant disagreeing with Mom. He understood what it was like to be in high school. Mom doesn’t have a clue, Kelsey fumed inside.
Her younger brother Cole pretended to be sleeping, but Kelsey knew he was brooding and worried. He had asked her several times lately if Mom and Dad were going to get a divorce. Kelsey usually shrugged it off as nonsense, but she was beginning to feel uneasy. Many of her friends had parents who were divorced, but surely not.... She refused to think about it.
Their destination for today was a mystery. Over a week ago, Mom had instructed them to cancel any plans for this Saturday, and to leave all electronics, especially cell phones, at home. How archaic can you get? Kelsey thought. Probably Mom’s idea.
Last night, she and Cole had heard them again, with voices raised in anger, until very late. After that, she was sure they would cancel today’s plans. Yet, here they were, on this long, silent ride. Cole elbowed her, pointing toward the front seat where her parents quietly stared ahead. Kelsey had heard them speak only once, sounding sad and tired.
Then a terrible fear gripped Kelsey. Maybe this was all set up to announce that indeed a divorce was coming. Her stomach lurched. Guilt flooded over her as she remembered her hateful words and attitude toward Mom, along with trying to manipulate Dad to get her way. Could this be her fault? She knew she was certainly not making it easier, but...her troubled thoughts trailed as Dad turned off the main highway.
This looks familiar, she thought. The narrow road seemed to be winding beside a clear rushing stream.
The river! Years ago, when she was nine or ten, they had come here. The memories flashed quickly now. Cole perked up beside her in the seat, peering out. Kelsey wondered if he recognized it as she did. She recalled the campgrounds, the shallow water rippling, Mom and Dad laughing and wading with them. It had been a lovely, happy time. Her teenaged heart warmed as she pictured the scenes. When had their lives changed so much?
Without speaking, Dad pulled into a parking spot with only a few people in sight, further down the riverbed. For a moment, they all sat in the car. Were they remembering too? Kelsey wondered.
A bit timidly, she and Cole stepped out, looking around. A short distance away, the clear, gurgling water flowed over giant, flat rocks, making tiny waterfalls all around. The trees nearby were draped in early fall leaves of red and gold. The sight was breathtaking.
Cole grinned, and Kelsey knew he was recalling too. Suddenly they raced to the edge, shed their shoes, stepped in, and gasped at the cold temperature of the water. Getting past the first shock, they giggled and began to splash each other. A tiny fish brushed over Kelsey’s foot, sending her into shrieks that delighted her brother.
Cole motioned toward their parents. Dad had taken Mom’s hand and, with a serious look, was speaking words Kelsey and Cole couldn’t hear. They saw Mom wipe away tears. Kelsey thought she was smiling. She watched them hold each other for a long time. Then they turned and opened the trunk of the car, removing something that made Kelsey’s memory complete.
The red-checked tablecloth! Where had it been? She watched Dad spread the worn cloth on the rustic picnic table. When she and Cole joined them, it was covered with almost-forgotten favorites: fried chicken, watermelon, string cheese, chips, lemonade, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Before they ate, Dad asked them to join hands around the scrumptious food. He bowed his head, praying in a way that made Kelsey know it was a new beginning. In her own heart, she would need to make some changes. They would be a family again.
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