Carol W Hazelwood

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Treasures of the Heart

by Carol W. Hazelwood
Chapter 1

Beth Sorenson’s hands shook as she attached a thin wire to the window latch in the back storage room of Sam’s Pet Store.

From the front of the store, Sam Ellison, the elderly owner, called out in a gruff voice, “What’s taking you so long? I’m closing for the night.”

“I’m just tidying up. Won’t be a minute.” Beth finished curling the last loop of the wire around the window’s latch just as Raymond had shown her. She eased the window shut and left a strand of wire threaded to the outside. Without a backward glance, she hurried out to where Sam waited by the store’s front door. He stroked the breast feathers of Henry, the Parakeet, who perched on his finger.

“ You’ve been fidgety all day,” Sam said to Beth. His pale gray eyes sparkled and his thin skin crinkled into a thousand lines when he smiled. “Even though you’re only sixteen, you’re a good, conscientious employee. The best I’ve ever had.”

As if in disagreement, Samson, Sam’s favorite monkey, chattered and jumped up and down in his cage. “Hush!” Sam scolded. “It’s closing time. Be a good monkey and don’t keep the other animals awake.” Sam put Henry back in his cage, switched on the alarm, flipped off the lights, and locked the front door. “Want a ride home, Beth?”

“ No. I have my bike. See you.” Beth avoided looking at Sam and hurried around the corner to fetch her bike. Had she done the right thing? Raymond knew exactly what should be done and how to do it. After all, he was twenty. Animals shouldn’t be in cages. They should be free! That’s what Raymond’s friends believed, and Beth agreed. Her head pounded. After the traffic light turned green, she pedaled frantically. Raymond would be waiting.

Her after school job made her miss some of school’s events, but she liked the extra money. Besides, she liked animals. But, best of all, she’d met Raymond when he’d visited the store two months ago. Since that meeting, she’d attended several animal rights’ meetings with him. She hoped he’d ask her out on a real date.

Soon she arrived at the gas station near her high school. She dismounted from her bike, set up the kick stand, and turned to hug Raymond, who was leaning against his pick up truck. He laughed, hugged her, then pushed her away. “Well? How’d it go?”

“ I did just as you said. It should work.”

“ It always works.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her solemn face.

She felt the warmth from his hands. “The animals will be safe, won’t they? You promise? Sam’s a nice old man.”

“ Beth, we’ve been through this. You were at the meeting and saw the film on caged animals. Do you want that monkey to go to a laboratory and be used in experiments? Remember that puppy that died and all the pictures of those horrible puppy mills.”

“ I know, but…but…”

“ Come on.” He slid his arm around her waist. “Sure, Sam’s a nice old guy, but he doesn’t understand the evil he’s doing by running a pet store. You go on home now.”

“ When will I see you again?”
“ I’ll call you next weekend when your parents are out.”

Her parents didn’t know about Raymond. She’d been afraid they wouldn’t approve of him because he was so much older. On the nights she’d gone to the meetings with him, her parents thought she’d been at the movies with her girl friends. She’d hated the deception, but Raymond was special.

He got in his truck, waved and drove off. Suddenly it seemed very lonely at the gas station. On her bike ride home, she told herself everything would be all right, but a nagging worry gave her a headache.



Beth felt nauseous whenever she thought about the store. Some of the animals were found wandering in the neighborhood. Others weren’t so lucky. Samson was run over by a car. Raymond disappeared. He never even called to say good-bye. But, she’d convinced herself, it wasn’t her fault. It was Raymond’s and he’d deserted her.

Although she’d been accused of aiding the gang in the break-in, Sam refused to bring charges. She’d sworn to her parents that she was innocent. After all, she hadn’t committed the act, and Sam had understood it wasn’t her fault, hadn’t he? Once the initial confrontation with her parents passed, they avoided the subject. Of course, she’d lost her job. If Raymond hadn’t told her all those lies, she’d still be working at Sam’s, and Sam wouldn’t have had a heart attack. Because her friends gossiped about the incident, she quit the Spanish Club, where she’d always been the leader. Everyone blamed her. She kept telling herself that she hadn’t done anything wrong? Raymond’s gang would have thrashed the store whether she’d opened the back window or not. Her motive had been for the good of the animals, but she couldn’t talk to anyone about it. No one would understand.

Her parents refused to allow her to go on a weekend to Lake Arrowhead with new friends. No chaperons, no trip were her parents’ rules. Today even the weather conspired against her. It was one of those California spring days when a heavy marine layer shrouded the Orange County coastline.

Ever since her parents unwavering big NO about the weekend trip to Arrowhead, she’d moped in her bedroom after school. What would her new friends think? Here she was stranded with no wheels, no friends and nothing to do.

Her mother knocked and stuck her head in the door. “I’ve got a meeting with the School Board, and your father won’t be back from his tennis game until five. Feed Muffin at two o’clock. I left her dog food on the counter.”

“ What’ll I do all day?” Beth flopped on her bed.

“ For starters, you can clean up your room.”

Beth made a face and sighed. “Mom, how come you and dad don’t do anything together any more?”

“ What makes you ask that?” Her mother leaned against the door jamb, her expression stuck between a grin and a frown as she pushed her auburn hair away from her face.

People said Beth was just like her mom. They both had olive complexion and dark flashing eyes and an exuberant nature. But lately her mother’s vitality had waned. Her parents seemed to be waiting for something.

“ It’s true,” Beth said, before her mother could shut the door. “You used to play tennis together, laugh a lot… you know.” Beth fiddled with her pink bed comforter. “Now the house is like a morgue. Is it because of me?”

“ You’re exaggerating. It’s not you, Beth. Your father has his business, and I have mine, that’s all. His photography assignments have increased, so he wants to relax with his friends when he’s in town.”

“ He used to relax with you and me.” How far should she push? She was scared to know what was going on between her parents, but afraid not to know at the same time. Maybe it was all her fault. If only she hadn’t met Raymond.

Her mother glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to run. We can talk at dinner. If you go out, leave a note.” Her mother gave a half-hearted smile. Before she shut the door, she said, “Don’t forget to feed Muffin.”

Beth gazed at her bedroom wall covered with posters. She’d removed all pictures of animals and replaced them with Rap artists and Madonna. Her mom hated the new posters, but her dad just shook his head and talked about the bands he’d liked when he was a teenager. That made her feel better. He never said too much about anything, but when he did, it was always interesting. She walked over and put on a CD.

When the phone rang, she darted into the hall to pick it up. “Megan? I thought you went with the gang to Arrowhead.”

At least Beth wasn’t the only one stuck in town for the weekend. Megan had her parents’ car and was going to the South Coast Mall. Since losing her job, Beth was strapped for cash and shopping wasn’t high on her list of things to do. But anything was better than staying home. Besides, Megan was a year older and made everything seem exciting. Through Megan, she’d made new friends, although Beth’s parents didn’t approve of them.

After agreeing to join Megan, she hung up the phone, raced back to her room, threw open her closet door, and yanked out a clean pair of jeans and a lace trimmed tee shirt. Stuffing the sweats she’d worn earlier into a corner, she grabbed a new pair of sandals from under her tennis racquet. For a second she thought of the tennis games she used to play with her parents. Nothing was the same anymore. She threw the racquet deep into the closet.

Before she’d finished brushing her brown hair into a ponytail, the blast of a horn shattered the quiet street out front. A cotton sweater, belonging to her dad, hung from her arms as she galloped down the stairs. She flung open the front door and slammed it behind her.

With a grin on her face, she plunked down in the front seat of Megan’s parents’ Oldsmobile. Megan’s long, blonde hair fell like a waterfall down either side of her face; her heavy eyeliner and dark red lipstick made Beth feel mousy. “I thought you’d be wearing jeans.” Beth noted Megan’s mini skirt and lacy camisole.

“ You never know who you’ll meet at the mall.” She pointed to the back seat. But I brought along a bulky sweatshirt. It’s good to have when shopping.”

Beth frowned. “Why?”

Megan laughed. “You’ll see.”

“ How’d you get the car?” Beth asked. “I thought you were grounded ‘til school let out.”

Megan laughed as she drove off. “Easy. My parents feel real bad they didn’t let me go to the mountains. I made a deal. I get to use the car, and I’ll get better grades.”

“ But I thought that’s why you were grounded.”

“ Logic has nothing to do with my parents.” Megan drove like a maniac, darted in and out of cars, screeched to a halt at a signal, then raced away as the light turned green.

Beth swallowed hard and realized she’d never driven with Megan before. Did she always drive like this? Maybe she should have left a note like her mom had asked. “Darn!”

“ What?” Megan glanced sideways at her.

“ I forgot to feed our dog.”

“ Big deal.”

“ Yeah. Big deal.” Beth’s laughter was hollow. She pictured Muffin, her Golden Retriever, with her sad eyes beseeching Beth for a morsel of food.

After parking the car, the two girls hurried into the large mall then strolled along looking at various window displays. Megan elbowed Beth in the side. “Look at those two guys over there. Cute huh?”

Beth nodded and smiled but thought they looked creepy. “Where do you want to shop? How about the Gap? Marcia works there on Saturdays. I know her from Spanish Club.”

“ Marcia’s a drag,” Megan said. “Besides, you quit Spanish Club. She’s not your friend anymore. Let’s go to the Limited. I saw something there I wanted last week.”

“ I didn’t bring much money, but it’ll be fun just to look.”

Megan eyed her. “I’ll show you a thing or two. You need to get educated.”

Inside the Limited, they browsed through the clothes. Beth held up a red blouse and looked at herself in the mirror. “Doesn’t this color look great on me? And this is super.” She held up another one, but sighed when she read the price tag.

It wasn’t until they were in the dressing room trying on clothes that it dawned on Beth what Megan had in mind. “You can’t do that,” Beth said as Megan put two shirts on under her sweat shirt. “You’ll get caught.”

“ No, I won’t. See.” She pulled a special scissors from her purse and cut away the cumbersome anti-theft device on the blouses. “Got this when I worked at that crummy store in Costa Mesa last summer. Come on. Put that blouse on under your sweater just like I’m doing.”

“ I….I don’t really need anything. I’ll meet you out front.”

“ Chicken! Okay. If that’s how you feel. Stay away from me. You’ve got guilt written all over your face.”

Beth left Megan and waited outside the front of the store and pretended to window shop. After a while she became uneasy. She couldn’t just keep walking back and forth in front of the store. Where was Megan? She looked at her watch. Perhaps she’d changed her mind about stealing the merchandise. Beth re-entered the store in search of her friend and caught sight of long blonde hair between a man and a woman. Beth ran over to them. “Megan, what’s happening?”

Megan’s eyeliner was smeared, and her lips trembled. Two security guards held her firmly between them.

The woman stopped short and glared at Beth. “Were you with this young lady?”

“ We drove here together.”

“ Did you steal something too?” The man’s voice snapped at her like a hyena.

“ No!”

The woman eyed her suspiciously and looked closely at Beth’s clothes. “You’d better leave unless you want to accompany your friend to security. We’ll be calling her parents.”

Beth’s knees felt weak. “What about the car?”

Megan handed her car keys to Beth. “You’d better take the car back to my house, so my parents can come get me.”

Beth dashed out of the mall and, despite her anxiety, drove the car slowly back to Megan’s house. With a curt nod, Megan’s father drove off to get Megan, leaving Beth stranded. On the long walk home, Beth became angrier and angrier.

“ He could have driven me home,” she said out loud to no one. “Megan’s a jerk.” She kicked a paper cup into the gutter. “I told her not to do it. She’ll probably blame the whole thing on me.”

By the time Beth got home, her parents were waiting for her. Megan’s mother had called Beth’s mother out of the School Board meeting. “Beth got my daughter arrested,” she’d told Beth’s mother. “She’s a bad influence.”

Even Beth’s father, upon hearing the news, had come home early. His blue eyes and jutting jaw made him look as if he were carved from ice. Beth sat on the old sofa and rubbed her hands along the cushions. Across from her sat her parents, each in their special chair. Her mother’s forehead wrinkled into a deep frown. Even Muffin looked more forlorn than usual as she lay on the rug next to the couch. The dog’s wet nose nudged Beth’s ankle.

“ I fed Muffin when I got home,” her mother said.

“ Oh.” Beth’s shoulders sagged. “I didn’t steal anything,” she blurted out. “Megan did.”

“ We know you didn’t steal,” her mother said, “but your father and I have been concerned for some time about your new friends at school this year. Ever since the incident at the pet store you’ve been…well…difficult. You quit the Spanish Club. You were Vice President, next year you would have been President. ”

“ No, I wouldn’t have. They all just gossip behind my back. They weren’t my friends anymore.”

“ What about Marcia and that nice boy, Joel?”

“ Yeah, well, Marcia’s been nice, but Joel is just a…a… well, you know, a boy.”

“ And what’s the matter with a boy?” her father asked with his head cocked to one side.

“ Oh, Dad, you know what I mean.”

“ He’s not older like that creep, Raymond. Is that it?” her father said.

Beth’s eyes flew open. Her parents had never once mentioned Raymond, and she had presumed they hadn’t known about him.

“ Look, young lady, your mother and I realize you’ll meet a lot of different people, but right now you’re rudderless,” her father said in his usual gruff manner. “You’ll learn one day that your actions must be governed by more than just spurts of mindless energy.”

“ Next year you’ll be a senior, and it’s important you to keep your grades up.” Her mother justified all discipline with this argument.

Beth raised her chin. “My grades are okay.”

“ Okay isn’t good enough these days.” Her father’s fair skin was bright red from his day in the sun, but it made him appear angrier than Beth thought he ought to be. After all, she hadn’t done anything wrong. “Are we expecting too much from you?” her father asked.

“ No.” Beth had trouble controlling her breathing. “But you’re both mad at me and each other all the time now.”

“ I don’t recall yelling at you, Beth.” Her father cleared his throat; a look passed between her parents. “But you’ve got to take responsibility for your actions.”

Beth felt it was her fault her parents didn’t get along any more. No matter what she did, it was wrong. She leaned over and stroked Muffin’s large silky head.

“ We’ve decided,” her father said, standing up, “that you’re going to visit your god-mother, Lucia, in Mexico this summer.”

Beth’s mouth dropped open. This was the last thing she’d expected. “Does Lucia know? Will she want me?”

Beth’s mother smiled. “We talked to Lucia earlier about such a visit. This isn’t a spur of the moment idea, although today’s events pushed us to a decision.” The tick of the hall clock stroked through the silence of a long pause before her mother continued. “She’s looking forward to your visit. You’ve always enjoyed her visits here.”

“ But my Spanish isn’t that good and I…I….”

“ You always get As in Spanish,” her father said and sat back down. “Being in the country will improve your linguistic ability. It’s the best way to learn.”

“ You can speak to Lucia in English if you need to,” her mother said. “She takes teenagers on her archeology digs. They help out. You’ll enjoy it.”

“ You’re not just trying to get rid of me for the summer? You won’t separate or anything while I’m gone?”

Her father raised his eyebrows. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

Her mother’s gaze faltered. Was she trying to convey a message to Beth? Something was wrong, but Beth was too scared to ask.

Treasures of the Heart

formerly published as Chema

available as an ebook