OUTSIDER ~ Roberto Gonzales wasn’t disappointed when his wife gave birth to a little girl. It wasn’t his first choice, but it was for Sofia, and he thanked God for that. He’d looked forward to teaching a young boy to climb mountains and hike rough terrain. He couldn’t picture a little girl by his side on a trail in a gingham dress and hiking boots. He and Sofia were young—another child would come.
As he held little Elaina, he wondered what she would be like. She looked like a cross between his dad and Sofia—nothing like him. Will she be intelligent like her mother, or adventurous like me? Elaina opened her eyes, took one look at him, and started crying. He had that effect on babies. Maybe it was his bushy eyebrows or his pock-marked face. He handed Elaina back to her mother.
Growing up, Elaina rarely left her mother’s side, but Roberto left it a lot. When he wasn’t working as a carpenter, he’d be hiking with friends, or alone if he had to. He loved the outdoors, and jumped at the chance to work for San Bernardino Search and Rescue. Sofia worked there as a dispatcher. The job was a blessing for the whole family—he rarely went hiking after work.
One day the unthinkable happened. An accident was reported over the emergency network. Police, ambulance, fire department—no call for the SBS&R. He heard the address. He was close by, so he went to see if he could assist. He shouldn’t have. As mangled as it was, he still recognized the car. Someone should have kept him away from it. Their marriage had gone from acceptable to incredible. They’d recently learned that Sofia was pregnant again. Was. The hopes, the plans, the dreams, the love—it was all gone. He could barely contain his anger at the other driver, and at God. He was angry at himself for the earlier years he’d wasted. He was even angry at Sofia for being on the road that day.
The next few days were a blur. He remembered seeing Elaina and his parents. He told dispatch he’d be gone for a while. He punched the sofa so many times his fist hurt. After a week, he forsook the self-pity. After a month, he began spending time with Elaina at his parents’ home. After two months, Roberto saw something in Elaina’s eyes he hadn’t noticed before—Sofia. Those eyes pleaded for his love, and he needed any love he could find. He worked out a plan with his parents to help Elaina make the transition back home.
One day, years later, Roberto realized he had the answer to his question when Elaina was born. She had Sofia’s intelligence and his sense of adventure. One short hike on a nature trail led to her begging for more. She handled herself well when he had to leave her at the SBS&R base camps. They even climbed San Gorgonio Mountain for her fourteenth birthday. Right or wrong, she rarely wore the dresses her grandparents bought her.
Roberto never decommissioned the listening station they’d set up for Sofia. It became a serious time consumer for Elaina. Her homework suffered, but Roberto wasn’t concerned. Elaina had her mom’s smarts and usually aced the tests. There was something she did with those smarts and that scanner that annoyed Roberto. She’d race to wherever he was in the house and beg to go on a rescue—just before he got the call for it. At first, he’d say no, but she’d figured out how to manipulate him with her eyes.
On a typically quiet Tuesday morning, he got another burst of Elaina energy—but not to go on a rescue. Something was wrong with the scanner. He listened half-heartedly until he recognized something. There was a familiar pattern to what he thought was random static, and it was spelling out SOS. He pointed it out to Elaina, her imagination ran wild, then it abruptly stopped. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to what he was doing. So did she—listening to the scanner.
She heard the noise a few times over the next month, even trying to decipher the message. He explained to her that it was too haphazard to be official. Some kid must be playing with a toy. Then came the eyes. Even if it was a child, she wanted to know where it was coming. He couldn’t dissuade her, so he helped her. Through his work he borrowed sensitive instruments to triangulate the signal, which was now happening at a regular time every day. He reasoned some hands-on training may result in a communications job for her—much better than search and rescue work. They were shocked at what they discovered.
One thing led to another, and now here he sits alone in his home office. Elaina is out there, somewhere, hiding from the Authorities with someone she hardly knows. This was not how it was supposed to happen. Once again, he found himself wondering what she’ll be like when this is all over.