Saturday October 9th
Saturday night had arrived faster than Andrew wanted it to. His anxiety got the best of him as he paced back and forth in his bedroom, wishing none of this ever happened. He wanted to call the whole thing off, but he knew the bullies would come and get him if he didn't show up.
“You okay, buddy?” asked Steven, who had gotten permission to sleep over. “You’re making me nervous.” The boys exchanged a worried glance. “We’re going to be okay,” Steven continued, but Andrew could see the fear in his eyes.
Although he was happy that Steven was allowed to spend the night, and that everything was going according to plan, Andrew couldn’t help but feel guilty for dragging his buddy along. Who knows how those bullies would treat poor “hamster cheeks” in the middle of a forest, late at night? The thought of it haunted him, and he was tempted to send Steven home.
They had spent the last hour or so getting ready for the trip, trying their best not to look suspicious around Mrs. Harper. Andrew gathered everything he thought they’d need for the trip, and Steven did the same.
“I think I’m all set,” said Steven, zipping up his backpack. “How about you?”
“Yeah...I’m just about ready,” Andrew responded. He stopped pacing for a moment to go over his supplies again. “You sure you want to do this?” he asked. “I won’t be offended if you don’t come.”
“Yes I’m sure,” said Steven, in a sullen tone. “And besides, what would you do without your best buddy in the world? I don’t want you to be alone all night with those two hoodlums.”
Andrew gave him a slight pat on the shoulder. “I’m gonna owe you big time for this! I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
Later on, when Mrs. Harper was finally sound asleep, the boys made their move. Carefully and quietly, they walked out of Andrew’s bedroom, all dressed and ready to go. They tiptoed past her bedroom, down the narrow hallway, and into the living room, where sliding glass doors lead to the back deck.
They loaded an old fashioned pull cart with most of the supplies, including two rolled up tents, and a small cooler filled with bottled water. The rest of the stuff they shoved into their backpacks.
“Good idea to use the cart,” said Steven. “I just hope no one sees us walking through town with all this stuff.”
“Don't worry, we’ll take the trails on the side of Cedar Road—no one will see us.”
“Until we reach Kensington Avenue,” said Steven, with a frown. "Then we have no choice but to cross over the main road. How are we going to manage that without getting caught?”
Kensington Avenue was one of the busiest streets in town, and police cars often patrolled it. They’d have to cross it to get to Woody Hills Park.
“We’ll just have to move fast,” said Andrew. “We have no other choice.”
“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Steven mumbled. “I just know our parents are going to find out.” He shook his head.
“Well, it’s too late now, unless you want to go home.” Andrew put his hand on Steven’s shoulder. “I’d never hold it against you.”
“Not a chance,” said Steven. “I told you I’d come along, and you of all people should know that a Trooper never goes back on his word!”
Andrew smiled at him. “I promise, if we do get caught, I’ll tell your folks that it was all my fault, that you only came with me because I begged you to.”
“Okay,” said Steven, “but you know I’d never let you take all the blame.” He glanced down into the cart. “Let’s go over the supplies again real quick; I’d hate to forget anything important.”
“We don’t have time!” Andrew glanced down at his watch. “It’s already ten o’clock. But don’t worry, we have everything we need: two tents, two flashlights, my compass, pocket knife and the water.”
“What about a first-aid kit?” Steven raised his eyebrows and smirked.
“Ughh!” Andrew slapped himself on his forehead. “I had it out and ready to go. I guess I’ve been so worried I forgot to put it in my backpack.” He glanced at the house for a second. “I don’t know if I should risk going back inside, and waking up my mother.” He shook his head, and sighed. “How can I forget something so important!”
“And you want to be Junior Troop Captain?” Steven laughed, but Andrew didn’t so much as crack a smile.
“Maybe I’m not ready to be the Troop Captain after all.”
“Oh, I’m just kidding,” said Steven. “If anyone should be voted in as Junior Troop Captain—it’s you.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Andrew's face turned red and he lowered his head. A prospect for Junior Troop Captain should know better. “You’re right, though, so go ahead and laugh... I deserve it. I should’ve known a first-aid kit was a top priority.”
“No worries,” Steven smirked again. He pulled a first-aid kit from his backpack, and held it up with pride. “Never leave home without it.”
“You’re the best!” Andrew shouted, then quickly lowered his tone for fear of waking his mother.
“Why thank you, sir,” said Steven, taking a bow. “Oh—the food. Did you bring enough?”
“Sure did.” Andrew pulled out a bag of snacks from his backpack. “I’ve got a bunch of granola bars and energy bars. Should be enough for the four of us.”
“No cupcakes?” Steven frowned for a moment. “Or cookies? Brownies?”
Andrew sighed and shook his head, then cracked a smile. “Nope, sorry pal. Didn’t think of it.”
“That’s okay,” said Steven. “I’ve got some marshmallows. Can’t go camping without them!”
A few moments later, when the boys were ready to start their trek across town, they heard a girl’s voice in the distance. "Who could that be?" Andrew whispered, as he and Steven headed toward the end of the driveway.
“Hey guys, what are you doing?” the girl asked. They could barely see her until she moved under the streetlamp across from Andrew’s driveway. Berta Moore was a tall, slender girl, with a bob-style haircut, wearing a Thornbrook Junior High football jersey. Andrew’s long time crush.
“Nothing,” answered Andrew. “Just going for a walk, that’s all.” He gazed up at her and she smiled at him—a smile that could light up a room, as he always put it. He’d been smitten over her since pre-school, but too shy to ask her on a date. She was one of the prettiest girls in school, and a popular cheerleader. She’d never date a dork like me, he’d always tell himself and then sigh.
“A walk? At this hour?” Berta glanced at all their equipment. “Looks like you’re going camping to me.”
“Well, we’re not!” said Steven, stepping in front of the wagon. “And what are you doing out at this hour so far from home?”
“So far from home?” Berta giggled. “You know where I live, silly. Whitman Drive is right down the hill from here.” She patted him on the head. “But if you must know, I’m going to the hayfields—there’s a football party up there tonight.”
“Your father’s letting you go?” Andrew asked, surprised. He knew her father was one of the strictest police officers in town. “He actually gave you permission?”
“Well...not exactly,” said Berta.
“So you snuck out too?”
“ Sort of…”
“Guess we’re not the only ones.”
Berta smirked at him. “I wanted to ask you something, Andrew.” She turned serious. “Why were you talking to Butch Johnson and Shane Reilly the other day?”
The boys shared a quizzical glance for a moment, and Andrew wondered how she knew about his meeting with the bullies.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, playing dumb. “I don’t talk to those guys.”
“Are you sure?” Berta raised an eyebrow. “I saw the three of you chatting in front of the school yesterday when I was getting on the bus. Then you all disappeared.” She cocked her head to the side. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” Andrew tucked his chin into his chest; he couldn’t look her in the eyes. “Anyway, we have to go now. Have fun at your football party.”
The boys started to walk away, but Berta grabbed one of the straps on Andrew’s backpack, forcing him to an abrupt stop.
“Andrew, are you in some kind of trouble?”
“No...but I’ve got to get going.” He started to walk away again, then turned around to face her really quick. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw us.”
She put her hands on her hips and squinted her eyes. “I promise I won’t say a word. But are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine,” chimed in Steven. “Just make sure you don’t tell anyone you saw us...and we’ll make sure we don’t tell your father we saw you. Deal?”
Berta rolled her eyes. “Deal.” She glanced back at Andrew, then reached into her pocket, and pulled out a necklace with a round charm attached to it. “Here Andrew, take this with you.” She handed it to him.
“What’s this?” Andrew held it closer to get a better look. It was a golden orb of some kind, enclosed inside a silver filigree cage, with tiny wings on top.
“It’s a good luck charm,” said Berta. “Miss Bonsworth gave it to me the other day when I was at her store. She’s always giving away neat things.”
Andrew narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think I need good luck?”
“I have a feeling you’re both heading for trouble tonight. And even though you won’t tell me what’s going on, it’s obvious you both look nervous. Maybe the charm will come in handy.”
“Uh...okay,” said Andrew. He placed the charm in his backpack. “Thanks...Berta. I’ll see you later.”
“Alright. Be careful!” said Berta. “Oh, and make sure you give it back to me.”
“Give what back?” Andrew was puzzled for a moment.
“The charm, silly. I'm loaning it to you.”
They parted company from Berta and began their trek across town, taking turns pulling the cart. They managed to avoid any contact with people, and ducked for cover whenever a car drove by. They even crossed Kensington Avenue without being noticed—or so they hoped. And it was just about eleven o’clock when they finally reached Woody Hills Park…