Lost in Lake Charles

How I was foiled by a sugar packet

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I shivered inside my puffy, gray coat, a hand-me-down from my older sister. I hadn’t expected it to be cold in Louisiana, even in December. My navy blue corduroy pants and purple Puma sneakers weren’t keeping me warm enough, and I wished my family would hurry up and join me outside. Shoving my hands deep into my pockets, I shrugged my shoulders up to my ears.

It was our first time visiting Granddad in Lake Charles. He lived in a two-story condo in the middle of a long, narrow brick building, surrounded by many others. From the outside, his condo looked just like the rest.

I was waiting for my younger brother Ben to return. Moments earlier we had snuck out, down one of the winding concrete pathways that connected all the buildings. Huddling together, we’d lifted our palms to reveal the single sugar packet we’d each pocketed from the bowl next to the coffee maker. We grinned at each other before eagerly tearing our packets open. The paper had crinkled loudly in the hush of the early winter morning as I poured its contents into my mouth. The granules stuck together at first in a clump, like sand, then resigned. As they dissolved, I gulped the sweetness down.

“I’m gonna go get more!” Ben then said.

I said I would wait outside, since our family would be leaving soon for breakfast at a nearby restaurant. In my brother’s absence I stood and looked around at the rows of buildings angled like branches on a Christmas tree. The grass between the pathways wore a coat of glistening frost, but since the sky was pale blue, I knew it wouldn’t snow. The sky always went gray before a snowstorm in New Hampshire, where we lived.

Nobody was coming to meet me on the pathway, so I started back toward what I thought was Granddad’s place. I walked back and forth along the same row several times, unable to recall the house number.

My footsteps quickened as I frantically tried to find something I recognized. Heart pounding rapidly, I could see my breath as I sucked in the dry, crisp air through a wide mouth. I was afraid Mom and Dad would leave without me, not noticing I was missing.

I stopped where I was and started to cry. If only I hadn’t left the condo to eat sugar in secret, I would still be safe and warm with my parents and siblings.

Suddenly, I heard my father calling my name. He had come looking for me! I wasn’t abandoned after all.

“Dad!” I shouted. “I’m over here!”

I spotted him down by the next building. He was wearing a beige wool fedora with a pinched front crown and a small pheasant feather sticking out of the hat band. I ran to him and collapsed into his arms with relief when he knelt to comfort me.

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