Jeremy realized he was feeling happier than he had for months. His good mood evaporated on Friday as soon as he saw his Mom's face when she picked him from school. That set, guarded look must mean trouble. They walked to the car in silence. His nerves jumped with anxiety.
When they were in the car, his Mom finally spoke. "Jeremy, before we go home, we need to talk. There have been some - changes while you were at school that you need to know about."
Jeremy froze in his seat. His mom didn't look at him, just stared out the window, her brows furrowed, her clothes wrinkled, her eyebrows doubled.
She sighed. "Our lives have been healthy. We needed stability in our lives, but that is going to change and there is nothing I can do about it. " She smiled sadly, "Your father has decided he wants to be part of your life again. And he has the legal right. I hope this will be a change for the better and not for the worse. " And when Jeremy went home, there was his father waiting for him.
During each of his visits with his father, his dad showed him how to handle the sound and lights for his band, and how to know which groupies to charm with his youth in order to usher them back stage to stay with the band, and how to budget any money left over for beer. His dad showed him the importance of proper musicianship, especially with his favourite instrument, the harmonica. “People just think you can blow and suck on a harmonica and you’re making beautiful music. Those kinds of people should be taken down. Just take the harmonica out of their hands and throw it away. No explanations are necessary. You are doing them and the rest of the world a favour. Promise me Jeremy, if you hear bad harmonica-playing, that’s what you will do. It should be your most sacred oath.” Jeremy had never seen his father so serious before, and he immediately swore, to his father’s satisfaction.
Jeremy was surprised when his father told him during one of their visits, they were going to go camping over a weekend. His Dad had a new girlfriend and she was the outdoorsy type. It sounded great, or would have if he hadn't known his Dad was not the outdoorsy type. Jeremy had the uncomfortable feeling that plans were being made around him. It made him nervous.
"OK, OK!" Jeremy hurried over to the fire-pit and dumped his armful of dead twigs and branches beside it. "Is that enough for now, Dad?"
"Should be." His father straightened from the remains of the lager he had just drunk, and wiped the sweat from his Welsh-green eyes. "Go ahead, join Chantal for a long walk. A very long walk. Just the two of you, if you know what I mean. Amber and I have some adult business here. And Jeremy, Chantal is here for you.”
"Just be sure you all stick together, and don't go too far, just far enough I don’t have to hear you. No rough stuff." Chantal’s mother looked up from the pot pipe she was assembling; her dark eyes warm as she smiled at him. The sun was well in the west when Jeremy and Chantal were out of the sight and sound of their parents. Chantal was standing and looking around, her face anxious.
“Do you like Pokémon? I got Pokémon Red and Blue for my Game Boy. Do you wanna play it?” Jeremy said to break the tension. They played the recently-released Japanese videogame for awhile. Chantal was amazed by how much she liked playing the game.
“All I have are these Canadian video games. There is one is called Torture Animals. At the first level you torture a goldfish. Then when you kill it you go to the next level where you torture a dog. After you kill it, then the next level is where you torture some comic strip readers with a comic strip about torturing a fish and a dog. It’s boring.” Chantal declared with a decisive air. After some hours of video-playing, Chantal said, “They’re probably done by now. I think we can go back.”
Jeremy gathered up his Game Boy, and started toward a break in the forest.
"Are you sure this is the right way?" Chantal looked anxiously around as she scrambled over the rough ground after them. "Everything looks different now. I don't think this is where we came in."
Jeremy wasn't sure either, but he didn’t want to admit that to Chantal. "Yeah, this is the right way. Look, there's those two trees leaning together. We saw them, remember."
Chantal eyed the trees dubiously. "Maybe. But I don't think so."
Jeremy ignored her and kept walking, his eyes straining for the first glimpse of the trail they had followed from the camp site. They went deeper and deeper into the woods, and still there was no sign of it. They had walked for what seemed hours when they came out abruptly onto the campsite. Chantal was delighted. "Mom! We’re back!”
But there was no sign of either Annekin or Amber. Chantal said, “Where are they?” Jeremy looked around and said, “They’re not in the tent.” Chantal said, “The truck is still here too.” Jeremy and Chantal called their parents names, but there was no response in the deepening and darkening forest.
Jeremy swallowed down the fear rising in his throat. "They must have gone down to the river to do…you know. Dad likes doing it in water. He likes taking baths with his groupies.”
"I knew this wasn't right!" Chantal burst into tears. "And now we're - we're going to get lost! We’ll go out in the dark and get lost and maybe we'll never see our parents again, we'll just walk and walk until we die out there trying to find them. And it's all the fault of your stupid father and his baths!"
"Oh, shut up." Jeremy glowered at her. "We're not going to get lost. We'll find them, don't you worry, Chantal. I know just how to find my dad.” he said, as he felt for the harmonica his Dad gave him in his pocket.
"I’m tired." Chantal flared up. "We should go to sleep and let them come back to us."
"No, we have to keep going. It's going to get dark soon. If we don’t find them, they may never get back." Jeremy met Chantal's eyes and saw a strained anxiety there to match his own. "Look. We’ll just go down to the river, and if we don’t find them, we’ll come right back.”
By the time they had trudged down to the river, there was no longer any doubt. Their parents had gone this way.
“Here are their clothes” Chantal remarked as she found the little pile where they had been laid by the river. “Here are some empty beer bottles” as Jeremy noted his usual method of tracking his father.
Looking at the river, Jeremy felt his fear rising again. "This current is way too fast. If they tried to do it in there, they would have been washed away like a little girl in a ravine with no dog to save them.” “Maybe they washed ashore somewhere down the river” Chantal remarked hopefully.
But as they looked, it was clear their parents were nowhere in sight. Their zigzag efforts to find them around the river had left them confused, with no idea any longer of where their parents were.
"Look, we can't keep walking like this." Chantal pushed up beside Jeremy and caught his arm. "We're probably just getting lost ourselves. You know what our folks always told us. If we're drunk and passed out somewhere, we should just stay put until someone sobers up. Besides, it's getting dark and it won't be safe to keep trying to find them much longer. So let's stop, OK?"
"You want to stop?" Jeremy wheeled on her. In the thick spruce woods, with the light fading, it was hard to see very far in any direction. "Fine. I have one more thing left to try.” Jeremy took the harmonica out of his pocket and started to play, “Skip to my Lou”. Chantal said, “Why are you doing that? It sounds awful.” Jeremy did not respond but kept on playing. That set Chantal crying. Jeremy didn’t bother to reply. He just settled the harmonica more comfortably on his lips and started blowing, steadily seeking out the middle notes, the off pitches, the blaring sounds, which left all the in tune pitches trailing unhappily behind them.
It was not more than a few minutes later that Jeremy heard a shout. Looking down at the gleaming curve of water in river, Jeremy saw a frazzled-looking, scratched-up set of adults heading toward them. It was Jeremy’s dad screaming at him to stop playing. “’Skip to my Lou!’ You are debasing the sacred harmonica, boy!! You swore an oath!”
"You children did fine." Back at the campsite, Chantal's mother filled his plate with a helping of canned tuna. "I'm proud of you."
"Proud?" Jeremy’s father stared at her. "The little fool interrupted us in the middle of something important. I don't see much cause for pride in that."
"No, Annekin.” Chantal’s mother said. "Anyone can get lost in the bush. There's no shame in admitting that. I never guessed how far down river we had gone. It's how a person gets found that shows what they're made of, and our kids did us proud." She gave Jeremy a warm smile. "From what Chantal says, you were the hero this time. That was smart thinking, playing that harmonica so your dad could find you in the dark. I sure appreciate the way you took care of your parents."
Jeremy's face flamed with embarrassment. He didn't dare look across the fire to where Chantal was sitting.
"Your parents?" he protested uncomfortably. "Are you getting married?” Chantal's mother chuckled and settled deeper into her lawn chair. “Hell, no. I was speaking metaphorically. Our little adventure is over now; everyone is safe and no harm done. And I imagine you've all learned a lot from this little scare which will do you good in the future."
Jeremy knew for certain that it was true for him. The harrowing adventure had shown him something about himself that he had never known before. He never wanted to go camping with his Dad again.