A concerned mother is terrified upon checking the surveillance cameras at a gas station and watching her missing son get into a stranger’s car. Will she succeed in finding her child before it’s too late?
Rachel’s heart shuddered like it had several times before. How could it not? She was always so worried about Zach. He was the first thing she thought of when she got out of bed in the morning, and he was all she could think about that day.
Zach was a teenager and more than capable of looking after himself. But Rachel just couldn’t leave him alone. If he weren’t around her, she would break out in cold sweats, and her heartbeat would quicken until she saw his face.
Zach, on the other hand, was sick of his clingy, paranoid mother who wouldn’t meet her friends or visit the spa or go on a date or give him his freedom. Zach adored her, but he was also a growing boy with his own set of interests and hobbies, which Rachel somehow couldn’t comprehend.
Setting the breakfast table for Zach every morning was her love for him, but it was something Zach desperately wanted to end. He was a big boy, and he no longer liked the pancakes, oatmeal, and orange juice Rachel made.
“Mom,” he tried telling her about it one Sunday. “You know, we could just stop this.”
“Stop what, Zach? What do you mean?”
“This whole thing… you make me so much food every morning. Actually, I’ve wanted to go gluten-free for a long time.”
When love becomes overbearing, the relationship becomes suffocating and unhealthy.
“Oh!” Rachel said. “I guess I’ll get some cooking books and learn some gluten-free recipes for you then? What do you think?”
Zach hunched his shoulders. “No, Mom, no,” he murmured, moving his fork around. “I just don’t want you to hover and fuss over me all the time. I can look after myself, and well…” He raised his head and saw Rachel’s eyes well up with tears. “Why don’t you go out and live your life, Mom? Is it because of me? I feel like I’ve been holding you back.”
“You’re not, honey!” Rachel said as she quickly averted her gaze and began slicing her pancake. “I want to support you, Zach. I’d like to do things for you that your father did not.”
That’s what Rachel’s broken marriage had done to her. Zach’s dad leaving them abruptly led her to believe she had to do everything for her son. So she would take him to all the basketball tournaments and even to movies and games.
Rachel was a good mother, but she couldn’t seem to notice her adolescent son’s need for boundaries. Her constant care and I-have-to-be-there-for-Zach attitude had turned her into an overbearing mother, something she clearly wasn’t aware of.
Zach now wanted Rachel to find someone who would make her happy. He desired for her to have a man who would love her, respect her, and help her in living her life happily again.
Zach had seen how distraught Rachel was when his father walked out on them. She never cried or begged him to stay, but a part of her just vanished when he left. She had never been truly happy again, and all she was doing was ‘surviving’ life, not living it.
Zach, as a son, wanted that to change. He had high hopes when he strolled out of his school gate one day and saw his mother talking to his teacher, Mr. Patel. He was a six-feet tall Indian man with tanned skin, brown eyes, and a heart that wanted Rachel.
“So, how did it go?” Zach asked Rachel on their way home.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t have to pull an act in front of me, Mom! I overheard you and Mr. Patel. And he asked you out on a date!”
“Well, I said no, Zach,” Rachel said flatly, parking the car outside the grocery store. “Just remain in the car. I’ll go get some groceries and be right back. Do you want me to get you something?”
“Mom! You can’t be serious!”
“How could you just turn him down? He’s literally the hottest teacher at school! I mean, so many female teachers are crazy about him, Mom. And he asked YOU out on a date, and you said no?”
Rachel sighed. “Look, honey,” she said. “You might be a teenager, but you still don’t know how the world works, alright? Mr. Patel might be your hottest teacher or whatever. But he’s not the right guy, OK? And I’m not looking for a relationship right now. Now, all you going to do is wait here, and I’ll be right back.”
“Not the right guy?” Zach muttered angrily. “Nobody’s ever right for you, Mom! I think something’s wrong with you!”
Zach was dejected. How was he supposed to convince his mother that she was wrong and not Mr. Patel? He was a kind and sweet person who genuinely wanted to date Rachel. Wasn’t she taking him too casually? Wasn’t she taking him for granted?
A few days later, Zach told Rachel over breakfast that he wanted to take her on an excursion in the desert. He had been planning it for quite some time, and he finally wanted to take that trip with his mom, now that summer break was here.
Rachel didn’t want to go, but Zach talked her into getting them the tickets, and a week later, they were on a bus to the desert. Away from the hectic life and its stress for the first time in a while, Rachel forgot her worries as she gazed out the bus window.
She found herself smiling as the breeze gently ruffled her hair. Life appeared so different when you were living in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future.
Rachel closed her eyes and gently rested her head on the window, letting the fresh air caress her face. Their city was five hours away from the desert. Zach was ecstatic to show her the hot air balloon show she’d always wanted to see.
Rachel had a ton of pictures of hot air balloons at her house and office. She had purchased an entire library of books about Montgolfier hot air balloons because she couldn’t get enough of reading about them.
“Mom, we’re going to be there soon! I can’t wait!” Zach said excitedly, but Rachel could hardly make out his voice. With her eyelids closed and mind relaxed, she dozed off. When she awoke, she heard the bus driver’s voice telling her they had almost arrived at the destination.
But when Rachel rubbed her eyes and grabbed her bag from the bottom of her seat, she realized Zach was not on the bus. Even his luggage was missing. Rachel’s heart shuddered. “Zach? Zach! What the hell! Where is he?”
Rachel sprang to her feet, terrified, and began searching the bus seats for her son, but he was nowhere to be found. She looked out the window as well, but he wasn’t there. Rachel pulled out her phone and called him, but Zach’s phone was not reachable.
“Ex—Excuse me!” she cried as she dashed to the driver, Zach’s photo on her phone. “Have you seen this teenage boy? He’s my son, and he was on the bus with me. We boarded together, and—”
“Oh! I did see him! Yes, I did. This young man got off near the gas station. At the last stop,” the driver said.
“Wait, what did he do? Are you sure he got down at the gas station?”
Rachel’s heart dropped when the man said yes. “Sir, could you please take me back there? I doubt I’ll be able to find myself another ride out here, and I’m worried about my son. I’m not sure why he’d stop at a random gas station, and I’m… I’m at a loss for what to do.”
“What?” a passenger yelled at her. “Ask her to hitchhike! We’re not going all the way back there! It’s 45 minutes from here!”
The passengers on the bus began to voice their concerns and displeasure, threatening to get off the bus and sue the driver if he drove them back to the gas station. But the kind bus driver stood up for Rachel.
“You fellas ain’t got a heart, do you?” he snarled. “This woman is worried sick about her son! The very least y’all could do for humanity’s sake is bear with her! Now I’m going to turn this bus around, and if you don’t want to be here, you can get off! Ladies and gentlemen, help yourself,” he added, holding the bus gate open for them.
Rachel could hardly hold back her tears. “You take a seat, ma’am,” he said. “You’ll find your son; don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” Rachel whispered as she returned to her seat. Her heart wouldn’t find peace, though, until she saw Zach. Where had her son gone? Why did he get down at a gas station without waking her up?
It was all her fault, she reasoned. If she hadn’t fallen asleep, Zach would have been here with her, and they would have been enjoying the trip together instead of her crying now, wondering if she’d find her son safe and… alive.
Rachel arrived at the gas station after a 45-minute commute that seemed no less than an eternity. It had already begun to get darker. Fortunately, despite the eerie, tranquil surroundings, the gas station was illuminated with canopy lights and showed signs of human life.
As Rachel was looking around the gas station, a voice from behind caught her attention. “What’s going on here, lady?” it inquired.
Rachel noticed a man behind her, a towering, giant male with tattoos on his left arm. He squinted as he stared at a frail Rachel. “My name is Greg, and I’m the attendant here. What are you doing prowling around?”
“No, Greg, I’m not. I’m just…” Rachel took out her phone and showed him a picture of Zach on it. “Do you have security cameras around here? Can you please check them? My son… he’s gone missing. I have to find him! He was last spotted at the bus stop next to your gas station.”
Greg looked at Zach’s picture intently. “That’s your son?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, he is. That boy in the front… clicking the picture. And I’m Rachel.”
Greg nodded. “Alright. Well, the cameras would have caught him if he got down here. Come with me.”
Greg brought her to a dingy room with monitors and loosely wired cables and entered something on the keyboard of one of the computers, which activated the camera footage. As it started showing the events around 4:30 pm, Rachel asked Greg to stop the footage.
“Wait!” she cried. “That’s my son! That’s Zach! But… why is he getting into a stranger’s car?”
Rachel felt like she would collapse. She finally found her son, but the car’s license plate was not visible in the recording. How was she supposed to track it now? All she could see was that it was a metallic gray car and that Zach got into it as if it was their car.
Rachel burst into tears and was about to dial 911 when Greg, who was munching on a sandwich in his creaky chair, said, “Wait, I know that one! I’m almost sure that car is Mr. Baxter’s!”
“What?” Rachel asked in tears.
“Generous man. His garage is 20 minutes from the main road. He puts his vehicles out for hire. I could offer you a ride because you won’t find an Uber or taxi at this hour.”
Rachel had no idea who Mr. Baxter was, and she had no idea why her son would get into a stranger’s car after stopping at a gas station. But she had no choice but to meet Mr. Baxter at this point.
So Greg drove her to Mr. Baxter’s garage and parked right outside it was the car Rachel had seen in the footage. At least it looked the same. When she peeked through the window, the tinted glass rolled down, and Rachel was shocked to find Zach inside.
“Hey, Mom!” he said, getting down. “So you’re right on time!”
“Zach!!” she cried angrily. “What in the world is this? What exactly are you doing here? Do you have any idea how worried I was!?”
“Mom, relax! You’ll find out! Look, I’m very sorry, but please trust me for a little longer. I did tell the bus driver and Greg to sort of help you out! Close your eyes.”
“What? What do you mean? How do you know Greg? What the hell is going on, Zach?”
“Close your eyes, Mom!”
Zach blindfolded her, then led her into the car, which began to move. “Zach, where are we going? What exactly are you doing?” Rachel asked. “I was worried sick about you!”
Zach scoffed. “Sorry. Only a few more minutes to go, Mom, and you’ll know!”
When the car finally stopped, Zach helped Rachel get out and told her not to remove the blindfold until he said so. Rachel could hear voices around her and feel the cool evening breeze.
Her palm rushed to her mouth in shock when she finally opened her eyes. “Oh my God!” she gasped, staring at the massive hot air balloon in front of her and a smiling Mr. Patel beside it.
“He arranged for us to watch the sunset, Mom. We can ride the balloon. The sunset looks the brightest from here! It was his idea to plan this surprise for you after I told him you loved hot air balloons.”
Rachel looked at the sun, then at the love in Mr. Patel’s eyes, and how her son and his teacher were the men trying to make her life happy and bearable for her now. She wanted to scold them for terrifying her, and she would. Just not at that picture-perfect moment when the colors of the sky were changing.
Three years from that day, Rachel and Mr. Patel still recall that evening sometimes and laugh. If Mr. Patel and Zach had not hatched that silly plan together, Rachel wouldn’t have found her ‘Mr. Right’ in her son’s teacher.
What can we learn from this story?
When love becomes overbearing, the relationship becomes suffocating and unhealthy. Rachel’s concern for Zach had become overbearing for him, and he sometimes felt suffocated due to it. Thankfully, things changed after Mr. Patel came into their lives.
Just as we want the best for our children, our children also want the best for us. While Zach sometimes found his overbearing mother annoying, he wanted her to be happy and found the ‘Mr. Right’ for her.
Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.