The trip began like any other. Family loaded into the car, driving up the thruway towards a destination that remained a mystery for the kids. Alex was just happy to be getting a day off from school — high school would do that to a kid. Melissa thought she was on a field trip, and that would do just fine for mom and dad.
David had convinced Gail this was the right thing to do. The getaway was much needed, for both their sakes. But that was silly, just something he said to appeal to the romantic in her. If he’d told her the real reason they were taking the trip to Lake George, she would’ve called him a lunatic, taken the kids, and run away.
That would’ve been okay for him, too, but those damn kids and their damn smiles. Every time they smiled, whatever romantic nature was left in David would spring forth and he’d feel just a little bit of love, just the right amount that was needed to serve as a fragile glue to hold the family together a little longer.
They arrived at the caverns just before dinner, stretching their backs and David explaining to Melissa why they were camping out instead of staying in a hotel.
Alex could care less. “You’re such a wimp,” he yelled at Melissa, before running to climb a tree.
“Alex, stay on the ground!” Gail walked after him, sure he would ignore her and hoping all the same to keep him safe, keep him protected.
David stayed with Melissa who helped him build the tent. “We have to stay out under the stars tonight. So they can heal us.”
“How do stars heal us? Aren’t they far away?”
“They are, but do you know what stars really are? They’re angels,” he said, Melissa watching him with wonder. “And every twinkle from every star means someone is watching over you, very carefully, and protecting you. And if we sleep one night under the stars, as a family, we’ll be protected forever.”
Melissa just nodded, looking up at the sky. “They’re heroes, then, like the man with the cape?”
David just smiled.
At night, the family snored in synchronized patterns. David was a little amazed as he listened to the kids snoring — but he also hoped they didn’t have breathing problems. He waited to be sure Gail wasn’t just faking it — like she tended to do lately — and then he climbed out of the tent and took the flashlight to the caverns.
He jumped the chain link barring people from entering the more dangerous parts, and slowly worked his way down to the waters underneath the caves. He estimated he’d been climbing down for roughly an hour, which meant he really only had twenty minutes before he’d have to start climbing out.
The walls were slippery, which would make the journey a tough one. He pulled out his knife and started carving the walls under water. His flashlight showed only a black, murky water, so he couldn’t be sure exactly what he was scraping.
But this was what Mike had told him to do.
As he scraped, David tried to think of their future, the reason he was doing this. Their mortgage was rising, he’d been fired three months ago and hadn’t told Gail yet. He was lucky that his old comic collection had earned him as much as it did, otherwise he’d be losing a lot more. Soon he’d have to come clean, and risk losing not only his family, but probably some of his mind.
And Melissa’s illness, that was a whole other mountain of painful meetings and tests to worry about.
David was so lost in thought that he almost didn’t feel it come loose. The rock that would determine his future. He caught it in his hand before it floated away, and brought it out of the water. The green glow of the mysterious mineral was surprisingly bright, powerful. He could feel life inside of it, and pushed the image out of his head of the pain it would bring to The One.
The “Benefactor” was ready to pay top dollar, that’s what Mike had said. David didn’t like the idea, but his family came first. When your family is on the brink, and you’ve lost almost everything, you’re bound to do anything to keep it together.
David climbed out of the caves and was just walking out of the caverns as the sun came up.
Standing in front of the tent, wiping her eyes, was Melissa. She had a pee stain on the front of her pajamas. “I think the angels got mad at me.” She cried, and David hugged her until the tears stopped, then cleaned her up.
That afternoon, they sat on the beach building fortresses and playing with action figures. Even Alex joined in the fun despite being a “cool high school kid”.
Because everyone always wants to be that guy with the cape.
When they turned to skipping rocks, David added the green one to the pile and it skipped ten times before sinking into the lake. “That’s my best one yet,” he declared, high-fiving his son.