Planet Earth Protectors, The River's End

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4 FAMILY LUNCH

The clanging of cutlery and battling chitchat filled Teplan’s backyard as the two families sat around the patio table. The large umbrella above provided a warm and gentle shade for the table, which was full of food and drinks. Teplan and Terah sat at one end of the table, each in two large, circular cup-chairs with fitted cushions. Terah always loved sitting in them because it gave her the comforting feeling of being in a giant bird’s nest.

“I just realized that I totally forgot to tell you the news!” Terah said excitedly. “You know your favorite Grade 6 Teacher, Mrs. Martinez?”

“Uhh, favorite Grade six teacher? Good one...” Teplan replied.

“Well,” Terah said, tauntingly. “She …. She ….”

Teplan sat unimpressed at Terah’s withholding-information game.

“Just retired!”

“Pheph. Would have been a bunch nicer if she retired before I started Grade 6 instead of after I finished!” he said emphatically.

“She never did like you much.”

“Right?” Teplan responded more forcefully than he had meant to. “You know, I wasn’t always the one talking in class, but she would always blame it on me, right? Always! And I’d end up getting a detention!” He said as he flapped his arms.

“Yeah, she was a bit crazy,” Terah chuckled, knowing that although Mrs. Martinez was a bit crazy, she had liked Terah and had wondered why she had been friends with the likes of Teplan Ian Guard. “It was almost funny how many detentions you ended up getting!”

Burgers, sweet potato fries, and several kinds of salad covered almost every inch of the glass table while synchronized arms passed food this way and that. The elevation of the deck commanded the seating area an air of authority over the yard. The long steps off the deck eased their way down to the lush green grass below. Over the back fence, large trees stood tall, almost hiding the forest behind it.

“Did you bring your hiking boots?” Teplan asked.

“With all of your talk about the river since you moved here, how could I forget?”

“Okay, good. It’s a bit of a long walk, but we’ll have fun — we always do!” Teplan smiled as he stuffed a few sweet potato fries in his mouth.

Mr. Guard edged another plate of burgers onto the table between some salads and happily injected, “More burgers anyone?” A few hands waved and full mouths showed his efforts were appreciated. He left the plate on the table and squeezed himself into the spot beside his wife on the end of the large wooden bench.

“So, Mom, after lunch can we still go to the river?” Teplan asked in his best ask-mom-and-want-her-to-say-yes voice. “Please? We’ll just walk there the same way you, me, and dad did a couple of weeks ago.”

Mrs. Guard looked at Terah and then to Terah’s mom. “Is that okay with you?”

“I guess so. Terah, do you want to go?”

Terah paused halfway through a bite of her hamburger, glanced around the table, and then finished her bite. She then held up the burger, gave a little shrug, and a meek, full-mouthed nod. Teplan noticed that Terah was sitting with one leg tucked underneath her and wondered if she did that to seem taller.

Mrs. Guard scooped more salad onto her plate. “Well, it’s over a 30-minute walk. Isn’t it, Honey?” She looked toward her husband and then continued without giving him time to answer. “Do you two want a ride?”

“It’s okay,” Teplan answered before his dad could. “It’ll be fun to walk through the forest. We’re going to follow the path. Thanks anyway.”

“As long as you two go straight there and straight back and stay out of trouble, alright?” Teplan’s mom said, giving Mrs. Freedden a look that went back twenty-five years of best friendship.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Teplan replied, fighting back a little smirk. It was a skill developed over many years — just agree with parents because sometimes it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. This was one of those times.

“Why don’t you take a backpack so you can pack water and sunscreen, too?”

“Okay, Mom,” Teplan said, gobbling up the rest of his potato salad.

“Be careful in the woods, and no climbing any trees,” she added while waving her fork at them like it was a wand. When she waved something in the air like that, they knew she meant business.

Another one of those times to just agree. “Yes, Mom,” Teplan replied, wondering how long that agreement would last.

“Terah, are you going to wear those jeans to the river or do you want to change?” Mrs. Freedden asked.

“No, I’m good. I just need to put on my hiking boots,” Terah replied. “We won’t be gone too long, anyway. Right, Teplan?”

Teplan got up from the table and shoved his bottle of water into the side pocket of his kaki cargo pants. “We’re off now, but we’ll be back soon!” he said, making his way around the table.

“Don’t be gone too long!” Mrs. Guard added.

Somewhat reluctantly, Terah got up from the comfy chair, said goodbye to everyone, and followed Teplan out the back gate.

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