Letting herself into the Sun’s apartment, Lilly decided to do two things. First, I’ll see if Momma and Marco are available to Skype, then I’ll give Sarah an update on what we found, she thought. But before she could do either thing one or thing two, hunger, that stealthy force, robbed skype-ing of its first place position. She set about warming up the Mou Shu pancake wraps Eia had saved for her from that morning’s breakfast. She sprinkled sugar on top before taking a bite. “Delicious!”
Pressing the power button on her cell phone, Lilly was dismayed to see it was at one percent. She remembered her charger was in Emmy’s room and picked up her plate. “Come along,” she said good-naturedly. “You’ve got a job to finish.” Right then, Evan Sun entered the kitchen, stopping Lilly in her tracks with a cheery “Hello. How are you today, miss?”
“Splendid!” Lilly replied, for she was. “How are you?”
“Not quite splendid,” Evan answered. “But I am very well and having splendid people like you and your father stay under our roof has made my day so much better.”
Evan noticed her plate. “Oh! You’re having what Eia made earlier. She would be so pleased. I hope you will find the food to your liking.”
“I already have,” Lilly said. “Thanks. If I’m not here when she returns, please tell her I said her cooking is wonderful.”
“About that,” Evan began, “she’s staying with the kids at their tutor’s place for the weekend. It’s something they do once a month. Eia believes it’s helping Echo and Emmy improve their exam scores and music skills.”
“Now, I wish I had told them not to bother since you’re here and I’m not a kid you would want to play with.” Evan smiled warmly.
Lilly laughed. “No biggie. I’m pretty good at entertaining myself.”
Evan seemed to be searching for something else to say. He finally settled on, “Well, if you need anything, I’ll be here.”
“Thank you,” Lilly said. She was eager to get back to feeding the discontent beast—her growling stomach. She then looked at her dead phone and turned on her socked heel. “Actually, there is something I need now. Do you have a computer I can use?”
“Sure, miss. Will a laptop work?”
“Well, it’s a computer,” Lilly said.
“Indeed.” Evan Sun brought his laptop into Emmy’s room so that Lilly could be more at ease. It turned out that Mrs. Hill and Marco were available to video chat. They popped up on the screen making kissy faces at Lilly. She blew them kisses back, and the familiar family chatter began.
“Marco, how have you been living while ‘big sis’ is away?”
“Sickly,” he said in a shrill voice. For some reason, this set Mrs. Hill to laughing.
“How come?” Lilly asked. “You do look wiped out!”
“Well,” Mrs. Hill began, “he got sick about one day after you guys left. It’s probably due to a summer flu that’s going around.” She cradled Marco’s head in her arm.
“See, I need you, Lilly. You’re my life’s good luck charm,” Marco said jokingly before asking, “Where’s Dad? I must confess my sin. The time has come.”
“You flatter me, Marco, but Dad is away right now. What—?” Lilly began.
“And where are you at, sweetie?” Mrs. Hill asked, her voice filled with motherly concern. “If he left you in some dungeon teeming with henchmen, I’ll swim the ocean to come and save you!”
“Oh, Momma! I’m in a right proper house,” Lilly said laughing, ducking from in front of the screen to give her a full view of Emmy’s room. “In fact, we’re staying with some people this time around. Don’t worry. They are a nice civilized family with two kids. So I’m not alone, even though the kids are gone right now too.”
This answer eased Mrs. Hill’s concern for her daughter.
“So what were you saying again about sin and redemption, Marco?” Lilly asked.
“Nothing about redemption,” Marco said. “But I feel the need to make a confession about why I am sick—probably,” he said gingerly.
“Go on,” Mrs. Hill prodded, raking her hand through her rich hair which she had dyed a slightly different shade of brown than before. She quite enjoyed putting her children on mock trial and serving as a judge eager to dole out merciful sentences. Otherwise, she steered clear of the real serious legal stuff which made up her husband’s world.
Marco obeyed her command. “Mom and I went to a pet store in the airport and I saw some really cute doggies that you can buy us for my birthday…But that’s not the point! We bought some dog food and dog supplies and when we came back I ate some of the food because I was so curious about how it tasted. I mean, the titles on the canned foods were very tempting, so I couldn’t resist one iota! Unfortunately, it all tasted gross, but I powered through at least half a can. So that’s why I am queasy, Sis,” he ended limply.
At this revelation, Mrs. Hill looked sick herself.
Lilly was at a loss for words. But she quickly found some. “If I were there, I would make you my magical Milky Way meatballs. That would make you feel better, right?”
“One hundred percent,” Marco said. He felt a sudden urge to dance on the couch as blissful memories of Lilly’s Milky Way meatballs set his mouth to watering. He thought better of doing so while Mrs. Hill sat beside him.
“How do you guys come up with such icky morsels?” Mrs. Hill asked, not stopping to let Lilly and Marco answer. “Who else would have thought of making meatballs with chocolate bars inside?”
“Nobody! We have the most ingenious ideas,” Marco said proudly. “You should have treated yourself to them, Mom.”
Mrs. Hill shook her head sending ripples through her long locks which flowed from her head like a majestic waterfall. “I wouldn’t touch those things with my handbag much less my hands,” she said in her diva-ish fashion designer voice. “Why do I even let you guys concoct that stuff in my beautiful kitchen?”
“Because you love us so,” Lilly said sweetly. All three of them laughed heartily before Lilly suggested that Marco should go to a doctor and receive a check up. “Animal food probably has antioxidants and stuff in it special for them.”
“Oh, I already saw a doctor although it was before my confession,” Marco told Lilly. “Her name is Mom. She prescribed two teaspoons of purple medicine and sleep. I followed her orders.”
“Good boy,” Lilly said. “You should get well soon then, based on my personal experience with Doctor Mom.
“Thank you, sweetie,” Mrs. Hill said. “Now, Marco, give this some thought: Imagine if your dad and I ate all the baby food up before you arrived. How can you be a good parent to that puppy when you have already taken its food for yourself?”
Lilly held in her laughter.
“I can,” Marco replied. “See, I’d say you’re a great parent even if you robbed me of my Goober every now and then. Besides, I plan to leave all dog food alone from now on because I know it tastes gross. Well, except for the dog biscuits, you might find me chomping on those sometimes. It will be a bonding experience for me and doggie. Lilly too, if you wish to join in.”
“Um, no thanks, I’ll bond with our dog in other sane ways,” Lilly said quickly. “But, Mom, Marco is right in one respect. Somehow you eat most of my Speculoos from the supply Aunt Mina gives me every Christmas. The evidence is always on that glass spoon you use as a page holder.”
“O.K., guys. Momma is guilty as charged,” Mrs. Hill acknowledged good-naturedly. Speculoos and Goober were her secret not-so-guilty pleasures. She didn’t use them as spreads, but indulged in them straight out of the jars occasionally, with the now infamous glass spoon. “Enough talk about us,” Mrs. Hill said changing the subject. “What happened at our mystery caller’s house, Lilly? Have you and Dad headed there yet?”
“We have,” Lilly told her before launching into a detailed account of all they had learned in regards to Pastor Manchu and Sarah culminating with Manchu’s disappearance. When she finished, Marco’s eyes were widened to comic proportions, and Mrs. Hill exclaimed, “I don’t like this government business. Is the pastor still missing?”
Lilly squirmed. “We think so, yes. But Dad’s looking for him, and—”
“So that’s why he’s not available,” Mrs. Hill interrupted. “At least you’re not out searching alongside him. Be good, sweetie, and stay out of danger, even possible danger.”
“I’ll try,” Lilly said. She refused to promise such a thing when her mind was set on doing anything and everything to locate Pastor Manchu. “Will you pray with me for Manchu’s safety?”
“Of course we will,” Mrs. Hill said. “I’m positive God knows Manchu’s whereabouts.”
“Marco?” Lilly questioned.
“Sure, Sis,” he suddenly said. “Even a sick dude can pray.” His voice grew hoarse. “My stomach is trying to spew itself out, so excuse me while I go puke.” In a flash he was off the couch.
“Goodbye, Lilly. Come home soon,” Mrs. Hill said. She pressed her hand firmly against the screen. Lilly did the same. “Bye, Momma. Love you.” Then Mrs. Hill rushed in the direction in which Marco had taken off.