by Heather Klassen
"Let's go letterboxing, Natalie," I heard my
I looked up from my book to see Josh, my
stepfather, standing in my doorway, holding a box.
"What's letterboxing?" I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Letterboxing is like hiking and puzzle-solving and treasure hunting all rolled into one," Josh explained. "I've been reading about it on the Internet and I'd like to try it. With you, Natalie," he added.
Okay, this did sound interesting, I had to admit. "How do you do it?" I asked.
"People hide letterboxes, which can be wooden, plastic, or metal boxes, all over," Josh continued his explanation. "Mostly outdoors, like in woods or parks. Then they post clues on the Internet about how to find their box. Sometimes the clues are simple directions, sometimes you have to solve a puzzle in order to find the box."
"What do you do when you find a box?" I asked.
"Inside each box people place a logbook and a stamp and ink pad. You carry your own logbook, stamp, and ink pad. When you find a box, you stamp that logbook with your stamp, and stamp your logbbok with their stamp. That's how people know who's found their letterbox."
When I didn't reply right away, Josh added, "Mom and Zach are napping right now, so it seemed like a perfect time for the two of us to try this. I have a notebook and one of your mom's stamps. And a box." Josh held up the box to show me.
I stared down at my book while I considered Josh's offer. As far as stepfathers go, Josh is fine. I mean, I'm glad Mom finally found someone to share her life with again. And Zachary, my new half brother, well of course I love him. But ever since Zachary arrived it seems like the entire world revolves around him. I guess that's the way it's supposed to be with a new baby. And I guess that's also why I spend so much time alone in my room. Now Josh is offering to spend time with me while Mom and Zach nap. Well, why not? This letterboxing thing did sound kind of fun.
"Okay," I finally answered, setting my book down. "Let's do it."
"Great." Josh smiled at me. "I already packed a backpack with hiking gear, hoping you'd say yes."
In the car, Josh told me we were heading to Landon Park to search for our first letterbox. "The clues they gave didn't seem too hard for our first time," he explained.
As we set off on the trail, I held the compass, while Josh read the clues out loud. We took a few wrong turns, did some backtracking, and puzzled over the compass and the clues together. Finally, I spotted a log that seemed to fit the clues. I sprinted for it, jumping over the tree roots and fallen branches littering the path.
Crouching down, I peered in to the hollow log. And saw the prize we had been searching for.
"I found it!" I yelled as I reached in and pulled the box out.
Josh watched while I opened the small tin box and lifted out the contents.
"Look at this stamp!" I exclaimed. "It's beautiful."
"Most people carve their own stamp," Josh explained. "So they can be creative and make it personal."
"Can we carve our own stamp?" I asked.
Josh smiled at me. "Sure, Natalie," he replied. "If you think you like letterboxing enough to continue doing it."
I nodded. "Yes," I said. "This is fun." And, I thought, but didn't say out loud, it's kind of fun spending time just with Josh. We had actually been talking a lot, about Zachary of course, but about other things, too. Like other things going on in my life.
"Can I do the stamping?" I asked. After Josh nodded, I inked both stamps and stamped the logbooks. Then I carefully placed the letterbox back in its hiding spot for the next treasure hunters.
As we hiked back down the trail, I suggested, "It would be fun to hide our own boxes, too."
"Sure," Josh agreed. "Let's round up the supplies and do that. Of course we'll have to work hard to find good hiding places and make up challenging clues."
On the way home, we stopped at an art supply store to pick up the materials to carve our own stamp. Ideas for the stamp were already dancing through my head.
Mom met us at the door, holding Zachary. "You missed his first smile!" she exclaimed. "But I'm sure you two had fun, also."
Josh took Zachary from Mom and pressed the baby to his chest, kissing his son's soft head.
"Mom, look," I said, spilling out the contents of our shopping bag. I explained to her all about letterboxing and carving our own stamp. "Josh said we can go letterboxing again next Saturday."
"That's great, Natalie," Mom said, smiling at me.
Letterboxing practically consumed the week between Saturdays. Josh and I worked hard, carving a personalized stamp, figuring out where to hide our first box, making up the clues to post on the Internet.
By the next Saturday we were ready to head out, both to hide our first box, and to hunt for others. We ended up being gone the whole day, arriving home just in time for dinner. Luckily, Josh had packed a lunch for us this time.
"Mom," I called as I burst through the door that evening. "We found three letterboxes and hid ours in a really great place."
"That's wonderful," she replied, watching as Josh headed right to where Zachary reclined in his bouncy seat. "Guess what? Zachary rolled over today!"
I headed over to my little brother, too, so all three of us could ooh and aah over his latest accomplishment.
Letterboxing became our Saturday routine. Josh and I would head out in the morning, carrying more supplies each time. We explored countless parks and trails, hiding boxes, finding boxes, filling our logbook with stamps. I loved letterboxing. I loved figuring out the clues, exploring trails and parks I had never been to before, finding the treasure at the end of each search, and going back to our hidden boxes to see who had discovered them. And I liked talking with Josh, and getting to know him better.
Meeting us at the door with Zach's latest accomplishment became Mom's Saturday routine. Zachary sat up for the first time, cut his first tooth, ate his first banana. Each time we stepped through the door, Josh headed straight to Zachary, enveloping the baby in his large arms and soft kisses.
One Saturday after we came home, I put away our supplies and headed back toward the kitchen. I heard Mom and Josh talking; I don't think they realized that I could hear them, so maybe I overheard something I wasn't meant to.
"You're missing so much time with Zachary on Saturdays," my mom said.
"I know," I heard Josh answer. "But Natalie is just as important to me. I wouldn't miss this time with her for anything. Even my baby boy."
Then I heard those familiar kissing noises and I knew that Josh was once again cuddling his son in his arms.
His son. My baby brother is Josh's son, I thought. My stepfather's only child. But instead of spending Saturdays with Zachary, Josh chooses to spend an entire day off, every week, with me. And I'm not even his real child.
I shook my head. Maybe I have to stop thinking this way, I told myself. In terms of real children and stepparents, half brothers and birth parents. It sure seems like Josh isn't seeing things in those terms. Maybe I need to drop all the categories. Maybe it should just be children and parents, brothers and sisters. Families with no qualifiers.
I coughed loudly so Mom and Josh were warned of my arrival as I stepped into the kitchen.
Zachary, in Josh's arms, reached for me.
"Hey, little brother," I said, taking him from Josh. Zachary smiled his one-tooth smile at me and grabbed for my hair.
I looked at my parents. "I have a great idea," I said. "Now that Zachary is getting older, maybe he and Mom can go letterboxing, too. We have that backpack carrier for him, right?"
"We do," Mom said. "I think that's a wonderful idea, Natalie."
"I agree," Josh added. "The four of us going letterboxing together sounds great. Although I don't know if Zachary will be a lot of help with the clues just yet."
Mom, Josh, and I all laughed. Zachary looked from face to face, then, not knowing why, joined in our laughter.
I hugged my baby brother, tight. Sometimes love grows right in front of you, I thought, like my little brother Zachary.
And sometimes love grows when you're not even paying attention, I realized, as I handed Zachary back to Josh, and smiled at Zachary's father, and mine.