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Where's Matthew?

Wind whipped my face, and the boat bounced on the waves as we came nearer and nearer to the small island that we’d be camping on. We’d been planning this trip for ages. It was the first time that our son, Matthew, was going to go camping and my husband John and I were excited to show him how it all worked. And today was the perfect day too. The spring sun shone down from the New England sky brilliantly; we didn’t even have to wear our jackets.
Soon, the distance between the island and us closed in and the engine sputtered as John turned it off. The waves sluggishly washed our little powerboat onto the sandy bottom, and quickly we both hopped out, leaving Matthew snuggled safe inside. We pulled it up onto the beach, tying it securely to a boulder with a flecked red and white rope.
After unloading our gear, including food and drinks, our tent, sleeping bags, a fishing pole, and sand toys, John went fishing on the other side of the island while I played with Matthew on the beach. He was a brilliant little boy for his three years; I was so proud of him. He loved the ocean, happily picking snails off the rocks and laughing as blue crabs scuttled away. Matthew asked so many questions, many of which I couldn’t answer. “Why do some snails look like they have bloody teeth?” he’d wonder, “Why do mussels squirt water at us when we squeeze them?”
When John came back from his fishing expedition, he shouted, “Hey, guys!” I turned, and Matthew ran to Daddy, eager to show him the hermit crab he had trapped inside his yellow bucket. John responded excitedly, and at that moment I was filled with joy at our small family we had created.
We walked along the shores for some time, John and I walking arm and arm as Matthew ran ahead. But when the sun got lower in the sky and Matthew was getting cold, we went back to our campsite to set up our tent. We set up camp where the grasses were growing, far enough that when the tide came in we wouldn’t float away, but close enough so that we could still see the ocean. Matthew loved the tent; his big brown eyes were wide with excitement that we’d get to sleep there, just like John and I knew he would be.
As it got darker we put on our sweaters and roasted hotdogs on the fire we had started, watching the sun set. John told Matthew a story about pirates, and I listened too as he described the ragged features of Captain Black, with his eye patch and pet parrot. Soon Matthew’s eyes had closed, and John carried him back to the tent, where he tucked him in and kissed him goodnight. Then he came back out to me, and we watched for shooting stars up in the twinkling sky until we too went to bed.
I was startled awake in the middle of the night by a bird’s cry. I checked to make sure everyone was okay before I went back to sleep. I felt around, I might as well have been blind in the absolute darkness. I felt John’s body, but, as panic rose in my throat, I could not feel Matthew. Where was he? I felt all around the tent, from corner to corner, and finally got a flashlight from outside. Sure enough, only John was there, and dread slowly, agonizingly sunk into me. Unable to speak for a moment, I finally cried out, “Matthew, where are you?!” John stirred and woke, while I kept calling. He heard me and understood what had happened, and cried out in horror, his voice deepening. He took our second flashlight while we headed down to the ocean, searching, crying out his name. I looked for a body washed upon the shore, but hoped for his little figure to come running. Scanning the beach, I saw nothing. It filled me with both hope and fear. Was he okay, or had something much worse happened?
Since searching near the water had been fruitless, we vigorously started looking around the tent, adrenaline still rushing in my veins. Then I stopped, seeing a silhouette of a body tucked inside the grass. I pointed the flashlight at it, and saw that it was Matthew. I ran over. Was he okay? And then, as I saw his belly rise and then fall, and heard his little breaths coming in and out, my body relaxed, tension spilling out of me, and relief replacing it. “John,” I called, as quietly as possible, trying not to wake Matthew. I picked Matthew up and went to John, and he too relaxed. We stood huddled together, holding Matthew, for a long time, happy that he was okay. It had been horribly terrifying, what we had just experienced. It had been the first time that something like this had happened with Matthew. But now he was safe, and everything was okay. Everything was okay.
Why had Matthew wandered out into the night? John and I never found out, but we guessed. Maybe he was sleepwalking, though it would be hard to imagine a three year old doing that. Or maybe he had been trying to get back home, forgetting where he was. We both have no clue, it doesn’t really matter, all that mattered was that he was all right.



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