My life fell apart when I was ten -- and that night will stick with me forever. It was mid-summer and Mom and Dad wanted a weekend to themselves. I was spending it with my grandparents -- Dad's parents. We'd had a good time with a quiet day -- just Grandma, Grandpa, and me.
That evening, one of their friends, Gene, came by to visit. We were sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and nibbling on cookies, when Grandma grabbed a deck of cards and commented that I'd been getting good at poker-- thanks to her, of course-- so we should play some hands. We used the cookies for our poker chips, so, as the game went on, we were steadily chewing through our piles of coins. The game had us all so focused that when the phone rang, it came as a big surprise. Grandpa got up to answer it, but all we could hear was his side of it.
"Hello? Yes, that's me..." That was followed by a small gasp and him suddenly starting to look and sound very serious. "I... yes, I understand. Five minutes? We... ahem... we'll be ready. And, yes, I will be able to drive." He hung up and turned to Gene, saying the game would have to end right then and Gene needed to leave. He was surprised but said it wasn't a problem, grabbing his things to leave.
Grandma asked what was going on and Grandpa told her it had been the police on the phone. A patrol car was on its way to escort us to the hospital because... there'd been an accident. That was all he said before going to get his jacket and keys. She put her hands over her mouth for a moment and then ran to put her shoes on. I didn't have any idea of what was going on. An accident? What accident? What was going on?
A couple of minutes later, the doorbell rang. All of us went to the door and there was an officer, his car out in the driveway, the lights still flashing. I thought it would be pretty cool that we were going to be chasing a police car, with his lights and siren on to clear the path for us. I didn't realize, just then, what any of this meant.
Grandpa and Grandma didn't say anything to me or to each other while we were racing along, speeding through red lights and stop signs, but I could see how he kept reaching over to hold her hand. When we pulled up to the hospital, another officer was there to meet us. He said he would take care of parking the car-- we should go in and there'd be someone waiting for us.
The rest of that night is a blur. There had been a car accident. Someone had run into a deer... which, somehow, had then caused someone else to crash into Dad and Mom's car, and both of them ran off the road, tumbling over and over. We were told the driver who hit the deer was down at the police station, while they tried to figure out how responsible he was for any of what had happened. The driver that ran into Dad and Mom's car had died right there and the doctors were working frantically to save Mom and Dad.
Grandma or Grandpa stayed with me constantly, the other one walking around, trying to find out what was happening. No one told me anything... until two doctors came out, looking very grim. All they said was that they'd tried... but they hadn't been able to save either of them.
Grandma broke down and just started crying, with Grandpa putting his arm around her and pulling me in for a hug.
It didn't really hit me, just then, that I wasn't ever going to see my parents again.
# # #
Things were really different after that. It was rough for all of us-- I'd lost my parents and Grandma and Grandpa had lost their son and daughter-in-law. I moved in with them, with the guest room I usually stayed in turning into my room.
I tried to deal with it, but I really missed Mom and Dad. I'd often sneak up into the attic with a flashlight, digging out the photo albums showing pictures of the three of us. This required also bringing a box of tissues with me. All the time up there didn't really make me feel any better, but I liked looking at the pictures and I, somehow, felt like it was a reminder that they wouldn't want me to just completely give up. I had to do well in school and just... in everything... to show that I was a son who would have made them proud.
It was five years later that things changed again. It was, again, a quiet summer day and Grandma suggested that we go out to the county fair-- just for something to do. Grandpa and I both grumbled about it, but, ultimately, none of us felt like just sitting around at home that afternoon and evening.
We got there and had started walking around when we ran into some friends of theirs and started talking with them. I quickly got tired of just standing there, listening, so I asked if I could wander around... maybe get some popcorn or something. Grandma smiled at me, pulled some cash out of her purse, and said we'd meet up later. I thanked her, took the money, said good-bye to everyone and walked off.
It was while I was walking around that I saw, out of the corner of my eye, someone doing bicycle stunts. I had just noticed him and was still walking when I bumped into her. Before I even realized it, we'd both fallen to the ground, a jumble of arms and legs, a cup knocked out of her hand and rolling away, liquid spilling out.
Still on the ground, I started apologizing profusely, "Oh! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I wasn't looking where I was going and..." That was when I actually turned my head to look at her. She was about my age, with shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes that just... I could get lost in them. She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen.
"What were you thinking? Watch where you're going! I'm standing there watching that guy on his bike and you just come along and knock me over!"
"Yeah-- he'd caught my attention and I hadn't quite stopped walking to watch him." I started smiling like an absolute idiot who couldn't do anything else.
"Uh-huh." She seemed to calm down a little. "He was doing some pretty good tricks, wasn't..." That was when she turned her head to look at me. I guess she saw my stupid smile because she suddenly stopped talking and I could see her mouth starting to turn up a little into the beginnings of a smile. She was clearly trying to stop herself from smiling back at me, but the corners of her eyes showed that she was working really hard at holding it back. I don't know how long we stayed there, me smiling at her, and her trying not to smile back at me, before she finally said, "So... are we just going to stay down here in the dirt until the fair closes? Or maybe we should get up so you can get me another cup of lemonade?"
When she said that, I suddenly couldn't stop myself from giggling which quickly turned into laughing almost hysterically. I rolled off of her and onto my back, laying in the dirt, trying to stop laughing, and barely able to gasp out, "Of... course... Maybe some... lemonade... for me, too..." My laughter must have been contagious because she started laughing as well. Another minute or so and she stood up, reaching down to help me up.
I got up and was finally able to get myself back under control, brushing the dirt off my T-shirt and shorts. "Hi. I really am sorry about that. I'm Leonard... but everyone calls me Lee."
"Hi there, Lee. Samantha. And, as you might guess... I'm Sam."
"Sam. Nice to meet you... although I would have preferred not doing it by having both of us tumbling into the dirt. How about we go and I'll get you some more lemonade, and, maybe, some popcorn for me that you could share with me?"
She finished brushing some of the dirt off her shorts and her legs, let herself fully smile, and said, "Sounds good to me!"
# # #
It turned out the lemonade was being made fresh. It looked really good and seeing them make it made me realize I was thirsty, so I ordered a large cup for each of us. I also got a bag of popcorn that we both began to nibble. Then, we started walking around, talking about ourselves.
We'd wandered over to the area that was set aside for a flea market when I got to talking about how I was living with my grandparents because of what had happened to Mom and Dad. She stopped and reached out for my hand. I let her grab it and turned to face her. I could tell that she had suddenly turned serious.
"My dad died seven years ago... he worked in construction... buildings. There was a..." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "They said that someone hadn't secured the chains properly and the lumber fell, knocking him over... and off... and then landing on him."
"I'm... I'm sorry."
"It's all right. I've still got my mom, and we're... Well, we've managed."
"It's tough. I know that. I keep going to look at the pictures of Mom and Dad, not wanting to lose them."
She moved closer to me and put her arms around me. It felt so natural and so right to have her next to me like that. I put my arms around her, holding her. "Lee-- you won't ever lose them. They're a part of you. Just like I won't ever lose my dad, because he's a part of me."
She squeezed me tighter, then let go and moved back, looking at me. "I know what you need. Let's go through this flea market and see if we can find it!" Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me after her.
"Wait!" I said. "What are we looking for?"
"I'll tell you if we find it!"
# # #
We spent maybe half an hour walking around looking at all the tables that people had set up. The whole time, I kept trying to figure out what she was looking for based on what she would ignore. It wasn't fabric or clothing or furniture or anything like that -- she'd just drag me past anyone who only had that kind of stuff on display. However, everyone who had jewelry or other assorted small knick-knacks was a guaranteed stop and she'd rummage through everything. Then she would say, "Nope, not here," and we'd be off once more.
Finally, she sort of... chirped... when we walked up to someone who was making and selling belts, of all things. This guy was sitting there, decorating the belts-- mounting stones of some sort on leather belts-- with a whole bunch of buckles laid out for purchase. Whenever anyone walked up, he'd say that you'd get a great deal if you bought a belt and a buckle together. I looked at all of what he had laid out, but it didn't seem to be all that special. It was just belts and, like... trucker buckles. The stones that he was mounting didn't look special either-- more like they were just... rocks. Ok, so they were small stones and clean and smooth, but I had no idea why someone would care about that.
Sam, though, was watching him. He had a cigar box of these stones sitting on the table next to him and he'd keep reaching in to grab another one and then, with some wire or something like that, sew it onto the belt he was working on. She said, "Excuse me? What are these stones?"
"Hmmm? Oh, they're just stones that I find when I'm driving and stop for a break. I pick up the ones I think look like they might be nice. Then, I get 'em home and wash all the dirt and crap off. If they still look nice, I polish 'em up and add 'em to the pile that I use for the belts. I started doing it as a hobby, but... well... some friends thought they looked pretty, and told me to try to make a couple extra bucks by selling 'em to anyone who wanted."
"Can I look through the stones? Please?"
"Go right ahead, little lady."
She started to run her fingers through them, mixing the stones up. She pulled one out and started staring closely at it. I wasn't sure what to say about it. It didn't really look any different from any of the others. From what I could see, it was about an inch or so around, mostly flat with curved edges, a mix of brown and some blue and maybe even some dark red.
She whispered, "Perfect..." and then looked back at the guy. "Can I buy this one?"
"Huh? Just the stone?" He laughed. "Girl, I've probably got a few thousand just like that back at home. You want it, it's all yours-- go ahead and take it."
She tossed it up, snatching it out of the air, and turned to me, saying, "Ok, that's what we needed. Let's go and talk."
# # #
Holding hands, we walked out of where the flea market tables were, onto open grass. She sat down and patted the space next to her. I had no idea what any of this was about, so I sat down also and waited for her to explain it to me.
She held up the stone. "This... is now your... source of support, as well as being an outlet for everything that's bothering you."
"Huh? It's... it's just a rock."
"Yep. It is... And it's not. It's something to be there for you, and for you to take care of."
Saying that, she reached out for my hand and put the stone in my palm. Then she leaned back a little and put her hand into her pocket, pulling out a stone that also seemed to be flat with curved edges, pinched between her fingers and her thumb.
"See this? This is mine. Every time that I feel like things are getting to be too much for me... or I get angry about my dad not being around... I just grab this and start rubbing it." She started rubbing the stone with her thumb, pressing really hard against it.
"After my dad died, I went to the construction site, trying to understand how it could've happened. I was so angry and I kicked at the dirt. I didn't see it, but this stone was sticking up and the tip of my foot caught it and it went flying. I don't know why I did, but I chased after it, put it in my pocket and took it home with me. I forgot it was in my pants and it got washed when my mom did the laundry. She asked me why I was throwing stones in the washing machine. I laughed and told her I forgot it was in there and why I had a stone in my pocket. That's when she said that, maybe, it would be something for me to remember Dad by and a way to... keep him with me. I've carried it with me ever since then."
She tucked it back into her pocket and leaned over to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. "Maybe you need something like that-- to let you carry your parents with you all the time and not just run up to the attic every now and then to look at pictures of them. So ... now you've got it. I know it's not quite the same thing as mine, but... if nothing else, at least you'll know there's someone else out there who's dealing with something similar, right?"
I looked down at the stone sitting in my palm... and suddenly I was remembering the last time Mom and Dad had been with me, leaving me with my grandparents... both of them giving me a hug and telling me they loved me... Mom telling me I was a good kid... and Dad ruffling my hair and telling me to behave for Grandma and Grandpa. Thinking of that, I clenched my hand into a fist, holding the stone tightly in the center.
"Yeah, Sam. I think that, maybe, you're right about that."
# # #
We spent another hour or so, going back through the rest of the flea market. Then, we went back into the fair where I was, apparently, completely incapable of knocking over six cans with a baseball, even after trying five times.
Finally, as the sun was going down, she looked at me and said, "Hey... it's really been nice spending time with you, bu ... I have to go. I told my mom I'd meet her back at the car about now." Another kiss on my cheek and she walked away and back out of my life.
I've never seen Sam again since then. I don't think she was local since no one I've ever asked has said they had any idea of who she was.
But... I've still got that stone. And every time I rub it, I think of Mom and Dad... and Sam... and that one day at the county fair, when it felt like they came back to me... and have been with me ever since.