By morning, the nightmare was all but forgotten. Valeria couldn’t put it out of her mind, but remained quiet about it. Her husband, though concerned, remained positive. After all, they did live in the United States and the country was supposed to be a democracy.
Natalia seemed to have moved on, forgetting the scenes of her last nightmare. She skated out on the drive as if nothing had happened. No one found it the least bit odd that she wasn’t riding her bicycle. But when no one seemed to be looking, she was peering around corners to make sure there were no trucks coming.
She was still afraid. Momma hadn’t eased her fears. They had started those strange drills at school. She had hated them.
The drills, duck and cover, had begun at the end of the last school year, just as vacation was nearing. She knew they would be starting back up when school was back in session this year. They were pointless.
And everyone who had money was building fallout shelters. There was a mania gripping the country. From the fear of inside enemies to all out nuclear war, it was hell on earth. No one was safe.
Sanity seemed to have left the country. The wise were seen as evil. The foolish were seen as good. Maniacs were seen as saviors. And none really had the answers.
Stacy, Natalia’s best friend, said her daddy was building up his survival stores. Food that they would live on once they were in the shelter. But what good was that when nothing was going to warn anyone of an attack?
There was no safety in duck and cover, either. Had they learned nothing? She shook her head. She thought it was all stupid.
School was starting again in two weeks. She dreaded it now. The drills, the lack of Papa and Mama Venechek, the impending inquest into her daddy’s past, and the potential of being an outcast. It all seemed to be meant to make her life impossible.
Stacy’s voice yanked her back to reality. “Nat? Wanna go to the park?”
She nodded. “Sure. Let me go ask Momma if I can.” She disappeared into the house and then returned a short time later. “OK. Let’s go. Is Iris going to be there? And Maddie?”
Stacy nodded. “Yep. They’re gonna meet us there. We’re gonna watch the baseball team.”
All the boys seemed to be on the little league team. At least, all the cute ones. And Nattie’s friends all loved to watch them practice and talk about how dreamy they were. Nattie followed suit.
Her favorite was Tobias French. He could hit harder and farther than all the others. The way he swung a bat made her heart beat wildly. And his smile! It sent shivers down her spine.
She was definitely twitter pated. She had herself a crush. But, she knew it would pass. They always did. She had suffered through more than one since her ninth birthday. They never lasted long.
Of course, she had a crush on nearly half the older little leaguers. And that was roughly half the team. Drew Hartley. Now there was another boy who could get her all tongue-tied. As was Mark Leeland. Oh, and George Kinney.
And her friends all knew that she had crushes on those boys. They teased her about them all, and she secretly loved the teasing. She just wasn’t ready to give her heart to any single boy. She would rather hold secret crushes and adore as many as possible from afar.
At night, sometimes, she wondered what it would be like to kiss them all. But that remained her secret. She never admitted to thinking of such things. She just thought about them when she was alone.
At nine, she was fairly tall. She was a bit more developmentally advanced than her peers, but she was still mentally a nine-year-old girl. Her blond hair had a permanent wave that made the sunlight sparkle as it played through it. Her innocence and naiveté was hallmarks of her youthfulness.
Indeed, she was at that awkward age. She was not yet a woman, and would not be for some years. And yet, she was running out of childhood and she knew it. But she didn’t care, not yet.
She was going to try to enjoy what childhood she had left. But, suddenly, events in the world was interfering. The Cold War, The Red Scare, Papa and Mama’s departure, and who knew what else. At least, she could go and watch the boys practice baseball.
Stacy looked over at her. “What’s wrong?”
She looked at her friend. “Mama and papa Venechek moved. I can’t go visit them anymore.”
Stacy smiled understandingly. “I am so sorry, Nattie. I know how much you loved to go and see them. Will they be coming back to visit?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. Uncle Fred lives in Texas and rarely comes to visit. And we hardly ever leave this city.”
Stacy put her arm around her friend. “You still have us, Nattie.”
Natalia smiled. “Thanks.”
Stacy, Maddie and Iris had been her friends since Kindergarten. They had become known as “The Four Musketeers” as they grew. Where you found one, the others were sure to be. Other girls congregated around them, but they were always at the core.
Of course, Shasta had her group as well, but they seemed to always be in less trouble than Natalia and her friends. Not that they were always in trouble, but they were suspected of many things. They had just never been proven to have done them.
It was a good thing that Momma and Daddy never knew, they would have whipped her for sure. But none of her henchmen ever said anything simply because they knew they would get the same thing if all were ever to be told. And the teachers couldn’t prove anything, so it was never mentioned.
As the two girls stepped onto the bleachers at the ball field, they were greeted by Iris and Maddie. Maddie was short with light brown hair. Iris was Natalia’s height, with strawberry-blond hair. Stacy was the brunette of the group and was nearly as tall as Natalia. She was Natalia’s equal in nearly everything.