“Ok,” the perky red-head replied, “back in a few.”

“So are you desperately hungry or moderately ravenous?”  Eilea asked a smile in her voice.

“Ravenously starving!”  Brandon replied.  Everyone laughed, for they all knew how much both he and Cliff could pack away.

A few moments passed and Eilea asked, “Has everyone had enough time to study the menu?”

“Yep, I think so,” Brandon said on a sigh of expectancy.

When the waitress returned carrying a tray laden with drinks, she set them near the edge of the table and walked around handing them out.  “Hey, thanks, you got everyone’s drink right.”

“I practice,” the waitress replied, winking at Andrew.  They ribbed him but secretly applauded the fact she did.

“So, you folks ready to order?  Where do we start?”

Eilea volunteered, “I’d like a small steak, well done, with garlic toast, from the children’s menu because I intend ordering dessert since I happen to know the dessert menu has a scrumptious array of delicacies to tempt the palate.”

Brandon ordered next; a double-decker hamburger with fries and gravy seconded by Cliff and Andrew.  Christina ordered pasta, Theresa, a Caesar Salad and Paul ordered a steak and salad from “the big people’s menu”.  Everyone laughed.  An awkward silence followed as the kids exchanged glances, their gaze shifting to Paul and away.

“I’m sensing some discomfort at my presence.  Would you feel more relaxed if I left?”

“No, that’s not necessary!”  Eilea answered quickly.

“Mom surprised us, that’s all.  She doesn’t usually invite strangers to join us for lunch.”

“Let me put your mind(s) at rest.  First off, I’m a police officer, and second I don’t have any weird designs on your mother or your family.”  Stunned expressions washed across each face in turn, to which Paul replied, “What?” having witnessed this reaction before.

“It’s not like he’s an axe-murderer for heaven sake, he’s a police officer,” Eilea observed in amusement.

Changing the subject, she asked, “Anyone else having dessert?”

“I was going to have a chocolate sundae, but I’ll have to wait and see if I have room.” Andrew spoke up.

“Well, I’m going to have a piece of chocolate cheesecake if they have it, and another cup of coffee,”  Paul added.

Lunch arrived a few minutes later, smelling as heavenly as it looked.  Either everyone was very hungry, or they didn’t know what to say and they sat and ate in nearly total silence with a few whispers thrown in.

“What about dessert?”

“Too full, can’t, although I’d love to,” Christina exclaimed pressing a hand to her stomach.

“Everyone up for a movie before heading to camp at Black Creek?”  Eilea asked.

“I have an idea,” Paul offered, “why not stay at my place.  It’s a block and a half from the beach, there’s plenty of room for everyone.  If the kids would rather, they can camp out in the backyard.  After you check me out with the local detachment that is.”

Looking closely at her mom, Christina replied, “Not a bad idea.” Before adding, “After we check you out of course,” she added cheekily.

“Let’s finish eating, and then we’ll go straight to the station,”  Paul suggested.”It’s important you all feel comfortable.”

“Mom, do you mind if I take another look at that outfit I saw earlier?”

“No, not at all.  Let’s meet back at the car in forty-five minutes.  That should give you enough time to look and still gives us enough time to check Paul out, drive to his place and take in a show or something afterward.  The plan agreeable with everyone?”

“Sounds good to me,” Theresa agreed.

Relaxing back in her chair Eilea added, “Besides, I’d like to finish my coffee first.”

“Here’s the money for Christina and me.”

“Thank you, Brandon, but it isn’t necessary.”

“I’d like to.”

“Here’s our share,”  Cliff offered, following suit.  Sensing she was out-numbered, Eilea graciously acquiesced.

“Thank you, Cliff.”

“We’ll meet you at the car in forty-five minutes,” he added before they turned to leave.

“Sounds good.  Andrew, you going with the others?”

“I guess so.” He didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the idea.

“See you in a bit.”  Eilea watched as they left in a tight little huddle, heading toward the shop Christina mentioned earlier.

“You have a fine bunch of kids there.”

Eilea agreed with a smile and a nod, “I think so.”

“They love you enough to want to protect you.”

“They do especially as this is “out there” for me. I’m usually pretty cautious.”

Page 19                                                                                        Page 17

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