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Or Not

Never ignore a mother’s instinct.

My preteen is a sweet soul who loves life and friends in a subdued, affable way, unlike his gregarious younger brother. He’s not quick to make friends or break into a social scene. I am always fascinated with his friends. He kept telling stories of Ned early in the school year. They talk on the phone for hours, giggling and discussing memes. They sit together on the school bus. I was astounded to learn that he and Ned were clowns on the bus. Not just in the safety of their little booth, but the whole bus!

I decided to invite Ned over for a play date. His mum works long hours and he’s sometimes home alone till his parents get there. They were in the process of packing up their house and moving to  a nearby town deep in the country. His mother and I arranged, via text, for me to pick him up at his house.

He is tall and lanky, awkward really. He was wearing a hoodie, his hands thrust deep in its pockets and he lumbered unhurriedly towards the car when we pulled up. He settled in and said hi to his friend. As he buckled in, I asked my son if he was going to introduce us and I tried to catch Ned’s eyes while we were introduced. His mother, Kelly, picked him up at the end of the day. I walked him to her car and introduced myself, thanking her for letting him visit. She was tired from the stress of packing and moving, and grateful he’d had a fun time and behaved himself.

They planned for my son to visit shortly after they moved. Kelly offered to meet me at a gas station halfway as they lived up a remote hill where most cell phones lost coverage and she wasn’t sure I could trust my GPS to get him there. I was a little uneasy about that as I would have been comfortable having seen their home. She said to have him wear “dirty” clothes as they would be spending time outside.

At the last minute, my coworker couldn’t show up for work and I was stuck, unable to get my son to his play date. He’d been looking forward to it and I hated to disappoint him. I found a friend who was available to drive him to meet Kelly at the gas station.

As my son rode away from our driveway a wave of panic hit me. I’m normally not a nervous person. I must have been watching too much crime TV. Where was I sending my son? Who were these people? I couldn’t even remember her face. I would make a lousy witness in the line up. I texted Kelly and got her address, playing it cool. A few minutes after my son’s departure, I texted him and asked him for Ned’s phone number. He didn’t answer me. I called and he didn’t answer. Dread rose within me. I desperately dialed my friend. The phone rang on and on. Finally she answered.

“Why aren’t you answering your phone?” I asked my son when she handed him her phone. “You keep your phone on you and answer me when I call. Text me if you need anything.” I got Ned’s number and dutifully jotted it down on a sticky note on the fridge. I texted Kelly that my friend would be dropping him off.  I couldn’t  remember her car. I asked her what kind of car she drove. She texted, “A dirty black jeep :)” A groan rumbled in my chest. She then added, “Ned is not with me. I only have room for one. My car is full of stuff. They are here now. See you at 4.”

I should call the police now, I thought. I suppressed the feeling. What kind of stuff was her car full of? Oh no, what was her last name? What was my son wearing? My head reeled with foreboding. Would the authorities be able to ping his cell phone if the area was so remote? Had I told him I loved him?

________________________________

I picked him up right on time. He lept out of her car and came bounding towards mine, covered with mud from head to toe and beaming brightly. I walked up to her and she rolled down her window. “They had a marvelous time. Thank you for letting him come over. They are already planning their next escapade.” She piped cheerfully. I studied her face carefully and as she went on and on about the stream, and the 25 foot swing, I thought, ‘I would not have picked her out in a line up.’

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