Cynthia Littleman was briefly checking on a batch of cabbage rolls in the oven as she looked out her kitchen window. She was watching her husband, Roger, practicing martial arts in the backyard with their son, Eric. Roger was showing him how to high-kick.
"You've got to get your leg up as high as you can, son," Roger said, "and be as quick as you can. The harder and faster you kick, the faster your opponent can go down."
Suddenly, she heard some vehicles pulling up. She hurried to the living room window and saw a car drive into the driveway of the house across the street, and a woman get out with a little boy. Then she saw a moving van park in front of the car. She smiled. The family was getting a new neighbour.
Cynthia turned off the cabbage rolls and went out into the backyard. She said, "Roger, we've got some new neighbours. Come see!" Roger smiled, picked up Eric and went into the house.
They went out into the front porch to see movers unloading furniture and boxes, and the woman giving directions for each item. The boy was tugging at her skirt and pointing at the family. The woman then looked at Roger and Cynthia, smiled and waved.
Roger and Cynthia took Eric and walked over to the woman and child. "Hi there!" Cynthia called. "Welcome to the neighborhood. She introduced her family and shook hands.
"I'm Cheryl Hobbes, and this is my son, Lucas," the woman said. "He's eight years old."
"What a coincidence!" Cynthia exclaimed. "Eric's eight, too."
"Well, then, perhaps they can be friends," Cheryl said, grinning.
Roger cleared his throat and said, "Listen, Cheryl, if you want, maybe I can take Lucas to the park with Eric and me, while you deal with these movers."
"Oh, could you?" she replied. "I wouldn't want Lucas getting in the way."
He nodded and took Lucas's hand. "We'll talk to you later, all right?" he asked. Cheryl nodded, waved goodbye and went back to the movers.
Over the summer, Roger and Cynthia became close friends with Cheryl. Cheryl told them all about how her husband left her, and their recent divorce, and Cynthia would give regular updates about her home-based nutritional catering business, new clients and such. Often, Cheryl left Lucas with them while she went to job interviews. When she started working, she brought Lucas to their house every day.
One day in the middle of August, as Cheryl was picking Lucas up, she sat down with Cynthia and said, "Cynthia, may I ask you something?"
"What is it?" Cynthia asked.
"I'm planning to go to Winnipeg with Lucas on Saturday," Cheryl explained. "It's mostly last minute back-to-school shopping, but maybe we'll drop by to see my sister later on. Would you and Roger mind if we took Eric with us?"
"I don't know, Cheryl. We'll have to see what Roger thinks about this."
Just then, they saw his car pull into the driveway. When he walked into the house, Cynthia went up to Roger and revealed what Cheryl said to her. Roger looked at Cheryl.
"You want to take Eric to Winnipeg with you and Lucas?" he asked. "I really don't think…"
"Roger, please?" she begged. "I think it'd be nice if the boys did something like this together. Besides, if I take him off your hands for the day, you and Cynthia can have some time alone."
Roger and Cynthia had a short, private discussion, then turned back to Cheryl. "All right, you can have him," he said, "if it's only for the day."
"Thank you," Cheryl said, beaming. She picked Lucas up and said, "See you soon," then left the house.
Late that Saturday morning, Cheryl rang the Littlemans' doorbell. Cynthia brought Eric to the door when she answered. As Cheryl took Eric's hand, Cynthia was giving him kisses and saying things like, "Be good, Eric," and, "Don't get lost in the shopping malls."
"Don't worry," Cheryl said. "Eric will be in good hands with me. See you later." Then she walked away.
At nine o'clock that night, Cynthia began to worry. Cheryl hadn't brought Eric home yet. Roger tried to comfort her. "Maybe she decided to visit her sister after all," he assured her. "She'll be home later, I'm sure."
Two hours later, Cynthia looked outside. Cheryl still hadn't returned. She shook her head and sighed. "I don't know what's going on," she said. "She should be back by now."
"It's already eleven," Roger said. "She'll come home soon enough. I'll bet the boys are tired and wanting to go home. She's probably on her way right now." He kissed her softly and whispered, "You get to bed now, all right? I'll wait up for her." She nodded and went to their room.
At half past midnight, Roger joined Cynthia in their room, looking worried. "She's still not home yet," he told her.
What could she be doing?" Cynthia whispered. "Why didn't she contact us?"
"I don't know. I left the outside lights on so Cheryl can spot us. Let's leave the door open and sleep light so we can listen for her." He climbed into bed, and both of them fall asleep.
The next morning, Cynthia woke up and went to Eric's room. She opened the door and said, "Eric, it's time to get up." But when she walked in, she discovered his bed was still made, never slept in the night before. She screamed and ran to wake Roger.
"Roger! Roger! Get up!" she screamed. "Eric never came home!"
Roger awoke, pulled back the covers and sat up. "What?" he asked. "What do you mean 'never came home?'"
He's not in his room!" Cynthia cried. "He hasn't been in his bed all night!"
Roger rushed to the bedroom to find that Cynthia was right. They ran to the front door, opened it and received a surprise. Cheryl's car was not in her driveway.
"Where in God's name is Cheryl?" Cynthia screamed.
"Do you suppose they were in an accident?" Roger suggested. Cynthia retrieved the newspaper, but there was an article and photographs of a series of car thefts in Winnipeg on the front page. They searched through the news section. No mention of an accident.
"I'm getting the police," Roger said. He rushed to the telephone and dialed 911.
He reported that Eric was missing. "He's eight years old, has short brown hair and blue-green eyes, weighs about 90 pounds, and is three feet, eight inches tall," he described.
"Does he have any identifiable marks?" asked the operator. "Any birthmarks?"
"He has red spots all over the back of his right hand," Roger answered.
"And when did you see him last?"
"Yesterday morning. Our neighbour, Cheryl Hobbes, took him to Winnipeg, and we haven't seen either of them since."
Roger gave a brief description of Cheryl, and the car she drove, as well as the license number. The operator thanked him and said, "Don't worry, sir, we'll contact Winnipeg police and get your son back safe. Thanks for calling." Roger hung up, went to Cynthia and caressed her.
"Don't worry, honey," he whispered. "Eric will be home soon."
About an hour later, Roger and Cynthia were standing outside their house. They saw a police car drive into their driveway, then two police officers bringing Eric to them. Cynthia ran towards him and picked him up.
She was kissing him all over. "Oh, thank God!" she cried. "Oh, my baby, you've come home! Thank God you're all right!"
The officers showed them their badges, then one of them turned to Roger. "Sir," he said, "we were able to track down the car you described to Emergency Services. We found your son in the back seat with another kid. A lady claimed she was taking both of them home after spending the night at her sister's."
"That was Cheryl, our neighbour across the street," Roger explained. "We put Eric in her care yesterday, and we thought she would bring him back last night."
"That was a mistake," Cynthia cried. "Let her do time in jail – she deserves it for what she put us through!"
Roger tried to calm her down, "Now, honey…" he began.
"No, Roger!" she barked. "How dare she keep him for the night without consulting us first!" Up until now, I thought she kidnapped our son!"
"Well, she has been placed under arrest for kidnapping," the other officer said. Cynthia smiled, looking relieved. They talked a little more with the officers before saying goodbye.
"Well," Cynthia said as they went to the kitchen, "this is the last time we trust Cheryl with anything, that's for sure!"
"Don't get all worked up, Cynthia," Roger said. "The important thing is Eric's safe here at home. Perhaps you should go lie down for a bit. I'll make Eric lunch and take care of everything." They kissed and she went to her room.
A few days later, Cheryl and Lucas went back to their house. Right when she got out of the car, she walked over to the Littlemans' house and banged on the door. Cynthia answered it and looked at her angrily. "What do you want?"
Cheryl showed Cynthia a sheet of paper. It was a bill for 1,500 from the auto body shop that towed her car when she was arrested. "You owe me money!" she blasted.
"The hell I do!" Cynthia shot back.
"Well then, how am I supposed to pay my sister back?" She put the bill in her purse. "And another thing, you really inconvenienced Diana! My bail came to four thousand dollars! You know how she got the money? She had to pawn all the family heirlooms, that's what! All of them – including our grandmother's prized ruby ring!"
"Cry me a river, Cheryl!" Cynthia snarled.
"But that's not all!" Cheryl continued. "Not only did I miss two days of work, but I'm going to go back with kidnapping on my record! You may have very well cost me my job – and all my hopes of another one!"
"You should've thought about that before you kept Eric all night without telling us!" Cynthia shouted. "For God's sake, Cheryl, we thought you intentionally kidnapped him!"
"Diana and I were talking well into the night! I wasn't going to walk out on her before we finished! I think it was around close to half past midnight by the time we wrapped up. And I certainly wasn't going to drive home that late. She wouldn't let me, anyway! How crazy do you think I am?"
"Oh, you could chat with your damn sister until all hours, but you couldn't ask her permission to make a five-minute call home for arrangements! Baloney!"
Cheryl said nothing, so Cynthia concluded, "Just stay off my property and keep away from Eric! Leave now!"
"Not without my money!" Cheryl said, holding out her hand.
"Fat chance!" Cynthia slammed her door. Cheryl was bewildered and infuriated, and she went back to her house and slammed the door once she got inside.
A week later, Cheryl came back to the house with Lucas. She rang the bell and sighed. Cynthia answered the door and stared at her solemn face. "What is it?" she asked.
"I just want to talk to you guys," Cheryl said. "May I come in?" Cynthia sighed lightly and let them in. Lucas and Eric went downstairs while Cheryl sat down with Roger and Cynthia.
"Look, about these past days…" Cheryl began.
"I want to apologise about how I acted," Cynthia said. "I shouldn't have lost my patience like I did. But I was really worried about Eric."
"No, it was all my fault," Cheryl said. "You're right – I should have called and asked about keeping Eric overnight. You had every right to be angry with me. But did you really have to involve the police? I did intend to bring him back that day, you know."
Cynthia placed her hands on her hips. "Oh, really?"
"Yeah, I was on my way home when they stopped me."
Both Roger and Cynthia looked dumbfounded. "Well, gee, Cheryl," she said to her, "why didn't you tell me when you were popping off at me last week?"
"Because I was too angry to think straight," Cheryl answered. "Besides, would you have believed me if I told you then?"
Cynthia thought for a moment, then, "Well, not really."
There was a silence, then Cheryl said, "look, you guys, I'm really sorry about what happened. It'll never happen again, I promise. Right now, I'll do anything to make it up to you. Can we start over?"
Cynthia was thinking again. After a few moments, "What happened to your job when you got home?"
Cheryl sighed. "I called my boss when I first got back home. Apparently, he heard about my arrest for the kidnapping because he fired me on the spot." She sighed again, her head hung, and Cynthia rubbed her upper back.
"I have a question," she said. "How are you cooking skills?"
"Fabulous, since Lucas eats everything I make," Cheryl replied. "Why do you ask?"
"How would you like to work for me in my catering business?" Cynthia offered. "I could always use some extra help."
"I'd love to! And if you want, I can also handle the books for you. I've got lots of accounting experience." Cynthia smiled and replied, "Sure."
The women stood up, shook hands and hugged each other. They renewed their friendship, and vowed to forget the "kidnapping" that jeopardized it.