These were the kind of days children dreamed of. A warm sun shone over Coronado, California. December weather on the island didn't prevent outside play. The wind off the bay remained soft, even if chilled. Church had let out early. There was time to play before the mid day meal.
Jeremy Turner had been charged with his sister Sue. He dragged her along on his adventures with the Palmer boys. Jeremy was showing off his brand new red Schwinn by racing up and down H Avenue. Brain and Doug Palmer took turns on their grandmother’s relic trying to keep up. Doug and Brian never fussed about Jeremy dragging Sue along and Jeremy never made fun of the boys on a girl’s bike.
A large hedge separated the Turner’s yard from their neighbor, Mrs. Drake’s yard. The hedge provided just enough concealment to swap baseball cards out of Jeremy’s parents’ sight. Mrs. Drake recently lined her front walk with red poinsettias from Tijuana. Sue thought it was a path laid for Santa Claus. The boys dismounted their bikes and sat on her lawn. Mrs. Drake liked having children in her front yard. Her three boys were all in various stages of the Navy. The youngest would graduate from Annapolis in June. Her middle excelled in his Florida flight school. The oldest had the good fortune of being stationed somewhere in Hawaii; all doing justice to the memory of their distinguished father The Captain.
It was quieter than usual outside. Jeremy peered over the hedge for signs of life. Up the street, the Brandt children were being called in. Their requests to continue their game of catch were flatly denied.
“The street is empty. Let’s have a race.” Jeremy said.
“Jeremy? Sue?” Their father called out. Spotting them, Mr. Turner motioned them into the house.
“Ah, Dad! You said we could stay out until lunch.”
“Come inside now.” His tone was serious.
Jeremy and Sue made their goodbyes and hurried inside. Doug and Brian set to watching some ants when they heard the Turner’s screen door open and shut again.
“Doug? Brian?” Mr. Turner rose over the hedge. The boys tried to think of anything they might have done wrong in the last half hour. Mr. Turner never had time for the Palmer boys. He made not-so-hushed comments about them being left alone while their mom worked up at the hotel concession stand. And he had nothing to say about a man like Mr. Palmer who ran out on his wife with two small boys. When he looked at the boys’ grandmother’s house, he just shook his head. It had gotten rougher around the edges since she’d died, they'd noticed.
“Doug? Brian?” He called again. The boys stood up as straight as they could.
“Where’s your mom, Boys?”
They looked to the ground.
“Is she at work?” Mr. Turner asked genuinely; usually this was an accusation.
Doug nodded. Mr. Turner looked up and down the street. He waved the boys over.
“Come on in, sons.” They walked quickly to the Turner house. In all the times the Palmers had been in the Turner’s home, never once had it been at Mr. Turner’s invitation. 'Sons' sounded nice in his powerful voice.
Mrs. Turner, momentarily interrupted from performing needless tasks, regarded the boys. “I will call the hotel and let Patricia know where they are.” She said to Mr. Turner. “Go on up to Jeremy’s room, boys. They’re playing up there.” She motioned up the stairs.
The boys went up as quickly as they could without seeming disrespectful. They made it in the room before anyone changed their minds.
Jeremy and Sue welcomed them excitedly. Children don’t question a sudden change of heart when the result is something wonderful. Why the Palmer boys were being allowed to play with the Turners on a Sunday afternoon when they had not even attended church was not a question they needed to ask. Instead, they looked in admiration at all of Jeremy's new toys he'd received for his recent birthday. Sue hummed to herself and combed her doll’s hair.
“Look at these!” Jeremy proudly displayed a couple of die cast Spitfires in his hands. He made them arch and dive as he performed “whooshing” sounds.
“I could defend London! At your service, Your Majesty,” he said in between machine gun noises.
Mrs. Tuner entered with biscuits and milk, completely paralyzing the children as snack was never allowed anywhere but the kitchen table. A radio was talking excitedly but indiscernibly from the living room.
She gasped when she regarded Jermey firing his jet, “Stop that this instant, Jeremy Parker Turner!”
Mrs. Turner never used a harsh tone.
“I don’t ever, ever, want to see you doing such a horrible thing again.” She grabbed the toys from Jeremy’s hands and quitted his room. Jeremy and Doug settled on a safe game of jacks to avoid the Palmer boys being sent home. None of the four understood why today was so different but they didn't want to disrupt it either. Brian read the latest Superman comic book. Sue sat on the bed, making up stories to which no one listened. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon.
A knock fell on the door. Mr. Turner entered. “Boys, your mom is here.”
Brian and Doug made their way slowly downstairs, praying Mr. Turner had given their mom a good report. Before they hit the bottom step, their mother grabbed them in a strong embrace. Suddenly aware of her impulsive show of affection, she straightened and offered her gratitude to the Turners. She instructed the boys to do the same. Mr. Turner asked after their radio and canned goods. Mrs. Palmer simply nodded. Mrs. Turner offered to watch the boys any time Mrs. Palmer needed and Mr. Turner didn't correct her. Doug and Brian could barely conceal their excitement. Their mother promised a better life in California. Maybe she was right after all.
As they left, Mrs. Palmer turned to Mr. Turner and asked with a quiet nervousness, “Will they make it to us, Mr. Turner? Is that possible?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Palmer. I didn't think it possible to have the US Fleet sitting on the ocean floor in Honolulu.”
“God help us.” Mrs. Palmer said, clutching the cross at her throat.
Mrs. Palmer thanked the Turners one last time and walked the boys across the street. Doug turned for a last goodbye. Instead, he waved at Mrs. Drake who stood, staring out her window at nothing wringing a dish towel.