“Mom, I’m home,” Amy announced, entering the front door after school.
“Good to see you again, honey,” Mrs. Newberry came in from the living room, “Hope you had a good first day...oh, you did find a friend, wonderful,” she saw Monica coming in after her daughter.
“Hello Mrs. Newberry, I’m Monica Carpenter,” Monica greeted her, “Just want to make sure it’s all right, but I invited Amy to come spend the weekend with my friends and I. Since it’s a three day weekend. I figured it would help her adjust better...”
“That’s wonderful, Monica. Where are you going?”
“It’s an old hotel outside of town; my friends and I hang out there all the time in the winter. Don’t worry, it’s completely safe; it only closed down a few years ago, so there’s no danger.”
“Well that’s fine by me and Amy’s father then. See, honey, I told you things would work out,” Mrs. Newberry beamed at Amy.
“Well, so far, yes,” Amy admitted.
“Go get your soccer ball; we’ll play a bit out back until the others get here,” Monica told her. Amy nodded and rushed upstairs to her room. Grabbing a bag of unpacked clothing, she shoveled that into her book bag once she’d emptied it of her books; she’d get the rest of her items later, she figured. She picked up her ball and rushed back downstairs, where Monica was waiting by the back door. “An old hotel?” she asked, following the brunette out into the backyard.
“The Mountain View Hotel. It was built way back a century ago when the mines and railroads were in full swing, as a retreat for the wealthy to escape the cities during the summers,” Monica explained, gesturing for the ball, “It’s gone through a number of ownership changes over the years, and shut down for good two years ago. Craig and Beth’s father’s the head of the bank that foreclosed on it, so he has the keys and everything now. He told them we could stay there in the winter months for our get-togethers as long as we don’t trash the place, in case someone wants to open it back up again down the road.”
She gave the ball a soft kick in Amy’s direction. Amy kicked it back, and soon the two of them were gently fighting for control of it. “So we’re out in the middle of nowhere then?” she asked Monica.
“I guess you could say that. But no one ever bothers us, since no one ever comes up that way. And a lot of us appreciate the quietness, and I think you will too,” Monica told her, swiftly pulling the ball away from Amy with her foot and kicking it into the rear fence. “Score!” she declared with a fist pump.
“Not bad,” Amy conceded, the fear of not being good enough to make the team surfacing again deep down. She rushed for the ball and kicked it around Monica. “Not bad,” the brunette nodded encouragingly, “Just relax and enjoy yourself, Amy Newberry; you’re going to have a lot of fun this weekend...”
“I’m here,” he declared, pulling his car over into the parking lot of the small abandoned motel alongside the highway and quickly maneuvering around behind the main building, where another car was already parked, “Where are you?”
“No more than three minutes away. I’ll be there before you know it,” came the response on the other end of his phone, “Any signs of any authorities?”
“Nope, no one knows I’m here, and if you pull off the road when no one’s coming, no one’ll know either. See you soon,” he hung up and climbed out of the car. “Afternoon, babe,” he broke into a grin at the sight of the red-haired woman waiting by the other car, “Glad you could come for this.”
“Glad to see you too, Nevin,” she greeted him with a kiss, “So this is the big one?”
“Should be if we play our cards right. And of course I’m make sure you get a big...great,” he nodded at another car pulling in behind the motel now. “Fred, Lou, glad you agreed to help with this,” he told the two men climbing out.
“Just so there’s little risk and high reward,” the man getting out of the driver’s seat told him.
“I’ve looked this over carefully, Fred, and I think we can pull this off with minimum fuss. And we’ve got the perfect place to stash everything afterwards until everything blows over, thanks to my...” he stopped as his cell phone started ringing again. “Well, speak of the devil,” he exclaimed, recognizing the number. “Where are you?” he asked after taking the call, “I’m having the initial rundown right now...”
“Um, there’s a bit of a problem here, Uncle Nevin,” came the voice on the other end, sounding hesitant, “My friends are all going to the hotel for the weekend; there’s a new girl in town a couple of them are interested in inviting to be part of the group, so they’re all going up there. It all happened too fast for me to do anything about it...”
“Just terrific, already complications!” he muttered, rolling his eyes, “Was everything critical locked up there?”
“As far as I know, yeah. I’ll take a look when we get there and make sure they can’t find anything. I don’t know if I’ll be able to break away, though...”
“Well don’t tip them off. Go along with them, but stay in touch with me. We’re probably moving tomorrow afternoon, so see if you can break away then at all.”
“I hope so, Uncle Nevin. Do we have contingencies in case...?”
“Yep, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Just be on standby for when I call. And let me know if anything changes on your end,” he hung up. “Slight complications, my friends,” he told his crew, “The primary hideout might be taken over by some blasted partying teenagers. The good news is, though, I had several backup locations set up deeper in the mountains, so we’re not deep in trouble.”
“What about everything from the previous...?” the woman started to ask.
“Should be securely locked up and out of sight from them, Vera. We’ll probably drive by after dark and take a look just in case. Now, as I said earlier,” he looked over the whole knot of people, “I called you here today to offer you a big opportunity...”
“It was really nice of you to offer this campout to Amy, Monica,” a now returned Mr. Newberry commended his daughter’s new friend, who was glancing out the Newberrys’ front window, “Where exactly is this hotel you’re going to again?”
“Mountain View Road, up in the hills about three miles north of Coalport,” Monica told him, turning back to him, “It’s all perfectly safe there. And don’t worry, no one in our group uses drugs or anything like that; we’ll basically play soccer with Amy and otherwise have clean fun with her all weekend. And I’ll try to convince the rest of the group to let her join up as a full member herself.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Mr. Newberry nodded warmly, “Looks like you’re going to fit in great here after all, Amy,” he rubbed her shoulder at the window.
“Hope so, Dad,” she cracked another small smile.
“One more thing, Monica; how can we reach you and Amy in an emergency, if God forbid there is one?” Mrs. Newberry entered the front room as well.
“Um, that’s the one issue there, Mrs. Newberry; the phone lines are down there, and there’s really no cell reception,” Monica admitted, “But you can drive up there easy any time; it’s a big hotel, so you can’t really miss it. In fact...here they come,” she declared, gesturing at a gray station wagon pulling to a stop out front. “Time to go, Amy,” she told her, patting her on the shoulder, “Time for the best three and a half days of your life.”
“Here’s hoping, Monica,” Amy quickly slipped on her coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, then picked up her backpack and bags from the floor. “Bye, Mom, Dad, wish me luck,” she hugged each of them goodbye, “See you in a couple days.”
“Enjoy yourself, Amy, and don’t shy away from anyone tries to be friendly with you,” her mother gave her a last bit of advice. “Take care of her, Monica,” she instructed the brunette halfway out the door.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Newberry, she’s in good hands with me,” Monica vowed. Amy followed her out the door and down the walkway to the street. “Thanks so much for this, Monica,” she told her friend, “I could...”
“Don’t mention it at all, Amy. After all, Jesus says to extend a hand to those in need, and I could tell you needed company as the new girl,” Monica gave her a grin, “And all I ask in return is that I get to sleep over your house one night next week, and then you come sleep over mine.”
“I can manage that,” Amy agreed. They bustled towards the car. “Just put your stuff on the floor,” Craig leaned over the driver’s seat once they climbed in, “We’re picking up another member of the group before we head on up; everyone else is on their way up to the hotel. You ready?” he gave Amy a warm smile.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Amy said, buckling herself in, “Monica told me the basics of where we’re going; sounds interesting enough...”
“You’ll like it,” Beth leaned over the front passenger seat as her brother started driving, “The way Sidekick weekends usually work is, we play one informal game per day, boys versus girls. Whoever wins the most games over the weekend gets treated out the following weekend by the other side. The rest of the time, it’s all about fun; whatever we want to do with each other, we do it. Games, food, or just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company, like friends do. Which’ll be a good way to get you eased in here, Amy.”
“Good,” Amy grinned, watching the houses go by out the window, “So, what gave you and Craig the idea to do all this?”
“I guess, hmm...I guess you could say about three years ago,” Craig mused, “Our parents always took us camping out in the woods around here as little kids. When Beth and I reached thirteen-should mention we are twins, in case you haven’t guessed...”
“I guessed,” Amy said; Craig and Beth’s physical similarities had been a strong clue to this.
“I see. Well, anyway, as I was saying, when we got to thirteen, we were allowed to camp out on our own. And we did that a couple of times together at first. But it felt a little lonely being just the two of us. So one night, we were huddled together in the tent as it poured down rain, and I forget which of us said it, but one of us said, basically, ‘This would be a bit more bearable with our friends here, so next time why don’t we ask them all along?’ So we decided we would. We’ve basically hung out with the same soccer crowd our whole lives, and being twins, we’re all familiar with each other’s friends. So we called them all up the next time we wanted to go camping and asked them to make it a whole weekend together with us. And we’ve been having weekends like that ever since, as friends.”
“Since we all help each other, we’re each others’ sidekicks-and of course we play a game where you kick the ball around, so it makes sense that way too,” Beth explained, “Our mom works in the garment industry, so we had her make up uniforms for each member of the group. I told Laurie to bring hers along for you, Amy; you’re about the same size as her, so it’ll be...”
“Laurie?” Amy inquired.
“Laurie Hurst; she’s one of the core members of the group, and one of the best players among us. We’re picking her up next-right down the next street here.”
“But why would she give up her own uniform for...?”
“Unfortunately, she...well, see for yourself,” Beth grimly pointed to the left side of the street as her brother pulled over to the curb. Amy followed Beth’s finger to see a glum-looking red-haired girl on crutches hobbling towards the street, her right leg in a large cast. “Thanks for not ignoring me,” she muttered to the Kleins as she slid into the backseat, tossing her bags on top of everyone else’s, “You the new girl?” she asked Amy.
“Yeah, I’m Amy Newberry. You must be Laurie; nice to meet you,” Amy extended a hand towards her. Laurie did not take it. “She’s not having my Sidekicks uniform, Beth,” she told her sternly, “I earned it, and I won’t let anyone who hasn’t proved themselves worthy take it.”
“Come on, Laurie, if you’re not going to be using it...” Beth started to protest.
“And another thing, I will not be replaced by her or anyone,” Laurie growled, giving Amy a harsh look, “Because I know what you and Craig are thinking: since I’m going to be laid up for the next few months, you’re just going to shove me aside for the next girl who shows up. Well I refuse to be treated like that...”
“Laurie, this isn’t about you!” Monica snapped, “Amy’s new in town, she’s on her own, she likes soccer too, so the least we could do would be invite her along. So please don’t be so cold about this!”
“You don’t want me to be cold? Then prove me wrong over this weekend, Monica. Prove me that you don’t consider me expendable now,” Laurie turned her face to the window and said nothing more. Amy knew it would be pointless to try and continue a conversation. “What happened to her?” she whispered to Monica.
“I’ll explain later,” Monica whispered back, glancing a worried look at Laurie, “I just hope she won’t be any trouble for you this weekend...”
“Wow, that is impressive,” Amy exclaimed ten minutes later as Craig turned their car off Mountain View Road and up a driveway. The hotel, five stories tall and very long, loomed high over them at the end of the road.
“Sure is,” Craig looked back at her with a grin, “And nowadays, it’s all ours, whenever we all want to have a weekend or more together in the colder months.”
“How about in the summer?”
“During the spring and summer, we camp out up in the mountains not far from here, roughly over there,” Craig pointed at the hills to the northeast, “You’ll have to come along for one of those too, Amy. Well, anyway, here we are. You got the keys?” he asked his sister.
“Right here,” Beth tapped her coat pocket. “Good, looks like everyone else is there,” she said, taking note of the quartet of cars that had already parked in the hotel parking lot. Craig parked next to them. “Everyone, glad you could make it this weekend,” he announced to the other boys and girls milling around by the cars.
“Glad to come, even for a last minute invite,” a blond-haired boy with glasses spoke up, “But you know, Craig, they said on the weather this morning that there’s a chance for some big snow this weekend...”
“Well, that’ll make it feel more like Christmas, Shawn. Nothing to worry about,” Craig told him.
“If you say so, Craig,” the bespectacled boy conceded, although he didn’t sound too convinced, “So you said there was someone new...?”
“This is Amy, guys, she’s the one Craig and Beth mentioned to you,” Monica put an arm around her new friend once Amy had exited the car, bags in hand, “She’s hoping to officially join us.”
“Hello,” Amy waved to everyone, seeing a mixture of reactions from accepting smiles to deep frowns. “I’m Amy Newberry, I’m from Philadelphia...”
“No need to notice that I’m here,” Laurie groused, lurching towards the front door on her crutches, “Not that I’m important to anyone if I can’t play...”
“I’m glad you did come, Laurie,” another brown-haired girl walked over and put an arm around her, “It’s not the same without you.”
“Thanks, Andrea, I knew I could count on you,” Laurie cracked a small smile. The two of them walked slowly towards the door. Amy watched after them, but was redirected by a soft tap on her shoulder. “Great to meet you, Amy,” a smiling boy with long brown hair shook her hand, “I’m Patrick Clay. Glad you could come here.”
“Glad to be here, Patrick,” she told him, “It’s good to be here with other soccer players...”
“What position do you play?”
“Well, I’ve kind of been all over the field...”
“OK then, I’m sure we’ll find some place for you where you’ll fit perfectly. This is Judy O’Leary; we live three houses down from each other,” he pointed to another girl with long blond hair (although hers was straight rather than curly as Amy’s was) that was walking over behind him. “She’s one of the best goalies in the county.”
“Patrick, please,” she gave him a playful shove, but was grinning. “Like he said, I’m Judy,” she shook Amy’s hand as well. “You been playing long?”
“Since I was eight.”
So you want to be a Sidekick?”
“Well, if I could.”
“Well here’s the thing, we don’t just take everyone who applies,” Judy grew serious, “We’re all friends, but we hold ourselves to a high standard. One has to be a good player to be a full Sidekick.”
“Uh, I see,” Amy gulped, her heart starting to sink. If she didn’t make the cut based on her level of play...
“Oh come on, Judy, don’t make her nervous before she starts,” Patrick countered. “We’ll judge you fairly, Amy, trust me on that,” he told her encouragingly, “Say Craig, are we starting with the game right away?” he called to him at the door.
“Probably should, since it’ll be sunset in about an hour and a half,” Craig agreed.
“Sounds good. You can warm up with me once we’re all ready if you want to, Amy,” Patrick offered her.
“Thanks, Patrick, I appreciate it,” she smiled, glad another member of the group was being so openly accepting of her.
“And while you’re here, help out and carry these in for us,” another brown-haired boy abruptly shoveled a stack of seven pizza boxes into her hands and bustled away. Swaying from the weight, Amy walked briskly towards the hotel’s front door, which Beth was unlocking. “Remember, same rules as always, guys, let’s be as clean as we can so Craig’s and my parents don’t get upset if they bring someone to look at this place later,” she informed the rest of the Sidekicks, “OK, someone go down and switch on the power; the rest of you, pick out your rooms for the weekend and get dressed; we’re starting the game early today while we still have light.”
“I’ll take it, Beth,” a red-haired boy walked over and extended his hand for the keys, which she handed to him. “Oh, and good to meet you,” he greeted Amy warmly, “I’m Dylan Wilson. Nice of you to join us, Amy, I guess it is. You are real pretty.”
“Oh, thanks,” Amy blushed. Dylan smiled at her and then walked behind the old check-in counter, where he unlocked a door and disappeared behind it. “Uh, where do I put these?” Amy asked to anyone in earshot.
“Just put them on the counter, Amy; we’ll heat them up later on after the game. Come on, we’ll room together,” Monica eagerly waved her down the hallway to the left. Amy slid the pizzas onto the check-in counter and followed Monica-and the rest of the Sidekicks-down the hall. Many of them stopped at the rooms along either side of the hall by the end of the corridor and entered them. “We’ll take this one,” Monica pointed at the last one down on the left and opened the door.
“Isn’t the security system for the door in place? Amy asked her.
“Nope, that was all deactivated after the hotel closed down. Maybe if it does reopen, they’ll get it back up, but till then, all doors only lock from the inside, as it should be with friends. Well, what do you think?” Monica asked her, leading her into the room. It was a standard hotel room, but larger than normal, Amy thought. The beds were fully made, as if the guests had just stepped out and would be back at any moment. Outside the window was a wide view across the spacious hotel lawn, and, in the far distance, the highest buildings of Coalport could be seen. “I think I’ll like it here,” she admitted.
“I think you will too, Amy,” Craig spoke up from the doorway behind her, smiling, “You’re going to have fun here, I guarantee it. Oh, and also, before the game and everything, I got these while Beth and I were getting things together for this. I wanted you to have these, as a sort of early welcome present...”
He drew a large bouquet of pink flowers from underneath his coat and handed it to her. Amy gasped in delight. “Oh Craig, you didn’t have to...this is really sweet of you...” she stammered.
“Well I think you’re very pretty and very sweet, Amy, and if anyone deserves these, it’s you,” he told her warmly.
“Thank you, Craig, this means a lot to me,” she couldn’t stop herself from going over and hugging him. Her expression crashed, however, at the sight of Laurie giving her a murderous glare across the hallway. Laurie mouthed something at Amy, although she did not move her lips clearly enough for Amy to make out what she was saying. “Laurie, your uniform for Amy,” Beth approached her as she started to turn to leave.
“And I told you no, Beth,” Laurie snapped at her, “She’s not taking what’s mine...!”
“Laurie, we discussed this,” Beth rolled her eyes, “I’m asking you nicely, be a good sport about this...”
“She doesn’t belong here!” Laurie raged, pointing a finger at Amy, “Sidekick weekends should be just the original members, not any new wannabe off the street who think she can...!”
“Laurie, we’ll let Amy prove if she’s a possible Sidekick this weekend. In the meantime,” Beth leaned right in the redhead’s face, “Either hand the uniform over, or Craig and I might vote to make you an ex-Sidekick. Because he and I don’t like your attitude so far today at all.”
Growling, Laurie hefted a plastic bag and tossed it roughly into Beth’s hands. She turned and hobbled into the room directly opposite Amy’s, slamming the door hard behind herself. Beth shook her head softly. “OK ladies, once you’re moved in, we meet to get dressed and go over strategy in Monica’s room here,” she called up to the hall to Judy and the girl that had aided Laurie earlier, nodding as the lights went on overhead, signaling the switching on the hotel’s power.
“Guys in Beth’s and my room to do the same,” Craig called to the other boys. “Ready for another defeat, Elizabeth Ann?” he teased his sister playfully.
“Sidekick girls don’t know the meaning of defeat, Craig James,” Beth put him in a headlock and rubbed his hair teasingly, “You boys’ll know the sting of defeat this time.”
She hefted her own bags and entered Amy and Monica’s room, closing the door behind her. “Well, here you go, Amy,” she handed her the bag Laurie had thrown to her. Amy dumped its contents onto the bed closest to the window. The Sidekicks uniform consisted of a green T-shirt, white shorts, green socks, and black cleats. “I...I’m not causing any trouble by taking Laurie’s jersey, am I?” she asked hesitatingly.
“Don’t worry, Amy, you’re not causing any trouble at all. Laurie, she’s just not in a good place right now,” Monica shook her head sadly.
“A month ago, her family’s car was T-boned by a drunk driver outside town,” Beth related grimly, pulling the room’s blinds closed and switching the now functional desk light on, “Her dad died, her mom was badly injured, and Laurie’s leg got broken badly. She’s been angry at everyone and everything since then.”
“Oh my God...I’m so sorry for her...” Amy mumbled in shock, “I’d probably be angry too if...is there anything I can...?”
“Probably not on your own, Amy. It’ll have to be her decision,” Monica cautioned her, “I’ve tried to offer her comfort a couple times since it happened. She threw it back in my face each time, shouting that nothing could bring her dad back and that God doesn’t exist. I hope she’s not lost for good; she’s going down a really dark path.”
“It also hurts Laurie not to be able to play. She was easily one of the best players among us; first team all state on the varsity girls’ team freshman and sophomore year. Here, let me give you a look,” Beth pulled out her phone, swiped up a video, hit play, and extended it towards Amy. Amy watched as a red-haired blur that had to be Laurie weaved wildly around no fewer than five opposing defenders on a soccer field, then kicked the ball into the net in a very tight window from midfield, right past the goaltenders’ outstretched fingers. “That’s just the most recent highlight. Laurie at her best was a flat out magician with the ball. And now, it’ll be months before she can play again...” Beth lowered her head, “I just wish there was something I could say or do to her to cheer her up and give her some comfort...”
She shook her head gravely. “Anyway, though, let’s not dwell too much on that, Amy,” she turned back to the newcomer, “After all, this is your weekend whether you make the Sidekicks or not. Now you said you played every position before?”
“Well then, for starters, I’ll put you in my regular striker position and play defense for today’s game,” Beth offered, sitting down on the bed nearest to the door and unzipping her knee-length boots, “That way you’ll be playing across from Monica here; since the two of you have clearly gotten pretty close already, that should help you ease in a bit. If you do good as a striker, maybe we’ll keep you there going forward. If not, we’ll move you around the field and see what does work.”
“Well, I’ll do my best, Beth. I just hope I do make it; I really do want to be a Sidekick now,” Amy confessed, holding up Laurie’s uniform and staring at it.
“Give it your best, Amy. I’m sure you’ll make it,” Monica encouraged her, patting her on the shoulder, “And even if not, I’ll be here as your friend, and I think most of everyone else will be too.”
“Uncle Nevin, it’s me,” came the hiss on the other end of his phone from outside the abandoned motel, “I don’t have time to talk-we’re suiting up for our first game with each other-but want you to know, the new girl’s a real bombshell, an absolutely knockout gorgeous blonde beauty.”
“And?” he asked impatiently.
“And, well...considering what you have in mind, maybe, I don’t know, she’d come in handy for afterwards? I mean, it stands to reason that...”
“Well, tell you what, I’ll think about it,” he interrupted, “We still have a good twenty-four hours before we go for it. You just make sure you can break away and get down here for it-and make sure everything else up there’s out of sight of your friends.”
“I’ll make sure of it, Uncle Nevin, trust me,” the caller vowed.
“All right. I’m going over the plans with everybody else; call again when you’re alone or they’re asleep and I’ll give you the rundown and timetable-and maybe talk more about this new girl...”