There was the usual card with a date and time, but this time there was also a brief letter.
“Congratulations on accepting the challenge set before you. The way is not easy, but it is always worth it. Please be aware that your life is quite likely going to become more difficult now. More will be expected of you, and the obstacles will be many. Remember that if the darkness cannot get you to ignore its presence, it will try to discourage you from doing anything about it.
Do not be afraid. You are not alone. There is a guardian appointed specifically to you, and you have met your mentor already. We will be in touch. Stay strong, continue praying, and remember that you do not fight people, you fight the darkness that surrounds them.”
The time was 10 am and the date was tomorrow. She was fairly certain her mother wouldn’t have a problem with her going out for a bit tomorrow morning, but it would mean setting the alarm clock so that she could be sure of waking up on time. She wished she could tell her mom, but she didn’t want to betray Kevin and the group that had taken her in. She wasn’t sure her mother would understand.
Kate tucked the card and the letter back in the envelope and headed back upstairs to put them in her top drawer alongside the other notes that she’d received along the way, then headed downstairs to help her mother with Saturday chores.
“So what was in the envelope?” her mom asked.
“An invitation. Kevin’s family wants me to come over to their house tomorrow at 10 am for brunch, if it’s okay with you,” Kate said, grabbing a broom and starting to sweep the kitchen floor.
“I don’t see any problem with that,” her mom said, “we don’t have any plans tomorrow.”
“Great! I’ll let Kevin know,” Kate said as she emptied the dustpan into the trash bin and began sweeping again.
“Kevin seems like a nice boy. He seems to really like you, too,” her mother observed.
“I think he does, Mom. I think he really does,” she replied.
“He asked you out yet?” her mother asked.
“No. Did you know his parents don’t let their daughters date until they are 16?” she asked, amazed.
Kate’s mother looked amused. “Your dad would have preferred that you not date until you were 30.”
“How old were you when you started dating, Mom?” Kate asked, curious for the first time.
“Oh, goodness. I was 14, I think, when I had my first real boyfriend but we didn’t date. We just saw each other at school, but that was enough. I was about your age, I think, when I first went on an actual date,” her mother replied.
Kate had trouble imagining her mother with anyone other than her father. “What was he like?” she asked, trying to imagine the boy who might be worthy of taking her father’s place.
“Oh, his name was Aaron Smith. He’d been a friend of mine since we were in elementary school, and we thought we were in love. We dated all through high school. I really did think I was going to marry him someday, but it didn’t work out that way,” her mother said without regret.
“What happened?” Kate asked, marveling at the thought of her mother living a life with some other man. She just couldn’t see it. The two of them had been perfect for each other.
“Life, I suppose. He went off to college and at first we would call every day. Then it got to be calls every other day, then calls once a week, and then the calls just stopped coming,” she said. “I met your father, and we ended up dating, and then we ended up married with children. I think it all worked out in the end.”
“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you guys had kept in touch?” Kate asked.
“Oh, I think we all do that from time to time, but it’s not something I do very often. I love my life the way it is, troubles and all,” she said smiling at Kate.
Kate thought about that as she put the broom away and began to mop the floor. She was glad that her mom didn’t have any regrets about leaving behind her old boyfriend. She wondered if she and Kevin would make it past high school.
“Mom, how do you know for sure when you’ve found the right guy?” she asked.
“When you’ve walked away from him, absolutely certain you’ll never see him again, and every road leads you right back to him and he’s still waiting there for you, that’s when you know,” her mom replied.
“You left Dad?” she asked, even more amazed.
“Well, for a while I broke up with him. He was different than any other guy I’d ever known, and I wasn’t sure what to make of him. After I broke it up, I kept running into him. I’d ask him if he had a girlfriend yet and he would tell me he was waiting for the perfect one to come to him. I didn’t realize he meant me,” she said.
“So how did you know, finally?” Kate asked. She’d heard the story before, but not quite like this and she liked hearing it anyway.
“One day, I was having a really hard time of things. Nothing was going right. I even ended up getting caught in the rain. He came along and gave me a ride, then he gave me his number and told me that if I ever needed him I should call. He would always be only a phone call away for me,” she answered. “I knew right then that he was the one.”
“Did Dad date a bunch before you guys got married?” Kate asked, wondering.
“No,” her mother chuckled. “I was his first, last, and only.”
“Why?” Kate asked.
“Your father was a unique individual, Kate, and I think it just took the right person coming along to see that uniqueness for the beauty it was. He was not an easy man to love or to live with, but he was always worth it,” she said.
Kate smiled, finishing the mopping. She wondered if she and Kevin would end up telling their own story to their children. Just then, the phone rang. It was Kevin.
“Hey, Kevin,” Kate said, answering the phone.
“Hey, Kate, how are you?” he asked.
“Doing good. How about you?” she asked.
“Much better now that I’m talking to you,” he said, “Do you think you can meet me at the park?”
“I don’t see why not, let me ask my mom.”
“Mom, can I got to the park?” Kate asked.
“Sure, sweetheart. You planning to meet some friends for lunch?” her mom asked.
“Just Kevin, really,” she replied.
“Sure, no problem,” her mom said.
Kate returned to the phone, “Mom says I can. I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, okay? By the slides?”
Kevin replied, “By the slides is fine. See you in 10.”
Kate slipped on her sneakers and headed out the door. She was glad she would get the chance to talk to him, and wondered what it was he wanted to talk to her about. Things must be tough for him right now, she mused. Even when her dad died, at least she wasn’t left wondering where he was or whether or not he was okay. She had known from start to finish what was going on, for better or for worse. She wished Kevin could have the comfort of knowing the same thing.
She got to the slides first and waited patiently for that tall, dark head to appear. Her day felt immediately brighter once she spotted him. She wondered if he felt the same way, and for his sake she hoped he did. He smiled when he looked up and noticed her watching him, then moved in to hug her. She hugged him back and they stayed like that for a few minutes before Kevin broke it off suddenly by stepping back.
“I’m glad you’re here, Kate,” he said softly.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Just needed to get out, that’s all. There’s still no word on where my dad is, and Mom’s called every source from her journalism days she can find. Nobody knows anything. If they do know, they aren’t talking. She says she’s never seen anything like it. She says she thinks they’re all scared to talk,” he replied.
Kevin sat down on the edge of the slide, his shoulders slumped and his head buried in his hands. “Kate, my mom keeps telling me that God buries His greatest treasures in moments like this, when the crisis is greatest and the darkness looks like it’s about to overcome you, but right now I just don’t have the strength to keep looking for it. I just want my dad back, and I want my family back. I just want everything to be okay again, and I know it’s not going to be and wishing doesn’t change anything, but that’s where I am,” he said. His voice sounded so tired, so old, that she ached for him. She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing and listened instead.
She slipped a hand into his and sat on the edge of the slide with him. She wasn’t prepared for the sound of sobbing coming from him, or the feeling of his hands shaking as his shoulder shook with them. She had seen her dad cry only once or twice, and Kevin did remind her a lot of her own dad, something she hadn’t realized until now. It was part of what drew her closer to him, she supposed.
She slipped her arms around his shoulders and hummed tunelessly like her mother had done when she was little. She rocked him back and forth, as if caring for a frightened toddler, and let him cry. She wished she could do more, but for now this was all she could offer him.
A few minutes later, she felt him relax and she let go of him so that he could sit back up. “Thanks, Kate,” he said. He sounded a little embarrassed but mostly grateful. She was glad she’d been able to serve him like that.
“Anytime, Kevin,” was her only reply. They held hands without speaking. There really weren’t any words needed at the moment. She didn’t have any answers for him, anyway.
“You going to be able to make it tomorrow morning,” he asked after what seemed like forever.
“Mom already gave me permission,” she affirmed. “I’ll be there.”
“That’s good,” he said giving her a smile. “Things wouldn't be the same without you, you know?”
“Oh, that’s for sure. I’m a one-of-a-kind original,” she joked.
“And so modest, too!” Kevin joked with her.
“Hey, you take that back,” she said, hopping up off the edge of the slide and starting to chase him.
“Not a chance,” he said, grinning at her. They played tag for another hour or so, and then Kate told him she needed to get back to her mom. Kevin walked her home, and the two of them hugged each other goodbye.
Later that night, in bed, she thought about what he’d told her, how his mother hadn't been able to find a single person who could or would tell her anything. There had to be something she could do to help find his father. She could hardly sleep, it was bothering her so much. She wondered why nobody else seemed willing to talk about the men and women who were disappearing by the day. Somebody out there knew something, and Kate was going to find out who.
As she was lying in bed, she realized that she’d forgotten to pray her rosary. She hopped up out of bed to grab the rosary and the pamphlet from the drawer. She prayed it quietly, offering it up for a resolution to the problems faced by Kevin.