I woke up late the next morning and I immediately wanted to call Terin, but I knew he would be asleep. He had gone back to the flipped schedule when Jed and I left so that he could spend more time with Annelies and help his mom continue her schooling.
Instead, I texted Jed a picture of Eragon asking if he had read it. I switched between reading and texting for most of the morning, until Brooks and Daniel busted into my room and asked me to play LEGOs with them.
After playing LEGOs and eating lunch, I spent a couple hours practicing. When I was done, Gray, my dad, Kiara, Brooks, Daniel, Holly, and I went for a walk. We went down the road a mile or so where there was a bridge over a creek. Gray had told me that, when he was younger, his parents used to take them down to play in the creek when it was hot. He wanted Brooks and Daniel to have those memories too, so Gray, Brooks, Daniel, and I had on swimming trunks.
“How was the party?” Dad asked me.
“It was good,” I said. “I got to see one of my friends.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It turns out that Gray went to boot camp with one of my friend’s friends.”
“I always felt bad about Don and Leandra sending him off, but I think it ended up being good for him.”
I watched Gray as he kicked a rock with Brooks and Daniel and smiled. “Seems like it, but I didn’t know him before. I just think that when he’s here with his friends he’s a little different than with his bootcamp friends. I think with the bootcamp guys he’s more confident or something.”
“How was your friend doing?”
I shrugged. “All right. Coming back home has been a rough transition for both of us, I think. But I came home to a loving family and he didn’t really.”
“He can come here any time,” Dad offered, and I wanted to hug him.
“I’ll relay the offer. He is living with one of his old friends, and they really love him there. It’s just not the same.”
Dad nodded. “I really am glad that we got you back, Cameron.”
“Me too,” I said, smiling. I wished that I could show him how much I actually meant it.
“It’s so hot,” Kiara complained.
“The creek will be nice and cool,” my dad promised her.
“The water is kind of gross, though,” she said.
“You just don’t like the algae.”
“It’s too slimy.”
When we got to the creek, Gray showed Brooks and Daniel how to get to the rocky little sand bar to the side of the bridge. They splashed over, and with no hesitation, Brooks and Daniel ripped off their shirts and ran into the water. Gray followed them and they splashed each other relentlessly as Dad, Kiara, and I made our way to the sand bar. I took my tennis shoes and socks off carefully. The rocks hurt my feet a little bit, but I knew it would be better when I got into the water. Usually when I swam at Gerald and Kira’s, I took my shirt off. It was easy to do that when Terin was the only one who knew that I wasn’t born a boy, but here, where everyone knew that I was born a girl, I couldn’t force myself to take off my shirt. I waded into the water, which was pleasantly cool. My shirt stuck to me, which felt terrible, but as soon as I distracted myself by splashing with Gray, Brooks, and Daniel I forgot about it.
By the time we got tired of splashing and moved onto looking for crawdads and frogs, my dad had convinced Kiara to join us. I didn’t know what crawdads looked like, but Gray quickly found one, caught it, and let me hold it. Daniel ended up being good at catching crawdads just like Gray, but Brooks, Kiara, and I struggled. Brooks and Kiara screamed every time they tried to grab one, and even though I didn’t scream, I think I didn’t catch any because I was afraid that they were going to pinch me.
I joined Brooks, who had taken up frog hunting, and we caught a few small ones before going back to swimming. My dad watched us as we all bounced on our toes in the water and talked. Brooks and Daniel were barely tall enough to stand in the deeper part of the water without their heads being under, but Gray said that they were good swimmers and there was no need to worry. I didn’t doubt it, since Brooks and Daniel never seemed to run out of energy for anything.
I appreciated that my dad let us do our own thing and even believed Gray that Brooks and Daniel would be fine. I thought back to my old foster parents, who had always been worried about the dangers the kids could be getting into. I liked that Mr. and Mrs. Parker had always trusted us to take care of ourselves over night, and I realized that my dad was similar to them in that way. I wondered if that was just who he was as a parent, or if he just felt like he wasn’t supposed to parent his nieces and nephews, or even me, since I was technically an adult and I spent my entire childhood without him.
I went back to the sand bar and sat next to my dad on the towel he had carried with him.
“Having fun?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “This was my first time seeing a crawdad.”
“Really?” he asked, eyes wide. “None of your foster parents ever took you to a creek?”
“None of them,” I said. “I swam in a lake once, though.”
“And a pool?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, laughing. “I spent many hours playing in pools. One pool, mostly. It was our neighbor’s pool.”
“Well I’m glad you can swim.”
“Me too,” I said.
“I’m sorry that I never got to take you anywhere like this when you were younger. I had so many plans for you. I was going to show you everything.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Dad. It’s not your fault.”
He smiled at the ground. “I love you, son.”
“I love you too, Dad.”