No Money Back
"Ok, time to get out of your seat, Chels." Mommy unbuckled her. She stretched and enjoyed the freedom from the pain of the straps. Then she jumped out of the car, away from the door. The door to the outdoor museum was just past the row of cars. Before she made a dash, Mommy grabbed her arm and said, "Chels, where are we?"
"In a parking lot." Chelsea sighed and leaned into her mother's arms. She heard the other car door slam shut and waited for Daddy to come around to her side.
"That's right. Are parking lots playgrounds?"
"No. Daddy pick me up." She held up her arms but her father shook his head.
"No. Do we run in parking lots?" Her father did not smile.
"No. We hold someone's hand and look both ways when we cross." Daddy held her hand while Mommy closed and lock the door. She liked when the car squeaked twice because she knew they would be going to the museum.
Once they were on the grass, Chelsea laughed as she kicked through the leaves. They were still soft and colorful and fell in slow waves, back and forth, to the ground. She picked up a pile and ran to her parents. They did not stand close to each other so when she threw the leaves on them, it wasn't enough. She picked up another pile and threw some on each on separately. It was harder work but she could still do it. They did not laugh like she expected and they did not throw leaves on her like she thought she remembered.
The museum had creaky wooden floors. There was a particular spot by the salamander cage that she liked to step on and off and on and off because it made a great squeaky noise. She laughed and waited for Mommy and Daddy to laugh and tell her to stop it. Today they did not and it took the joy out of it. Their silence made her skip outside, down the steps and to the wooden fence by the pond. The sky was a pale gray so she did not have to squint her eyes from the sun. She climbed up the bottom fence post and expected her father to be there right behind her. He wasn't and Mommy wasn't close by either. Chelsea looked behind her and saw them walking toward her with sad faces. Maybe not sad, maybe angry, but not really; she knew, though, that they did not look happy.
"Let's go this way," and the little girl bounded away.
Chelsea ran down the path for a long time. She ran so long and so far that she could not see her parents behind her. The trees and the leaves which were so fun by the cars looked scary and unfamiliar. She called to her parents but did not hear their voice. She began to cry a little and ran back the way she came.
It seemed that she had run for hours when she saw her parents walking towards her. They did not seem the least concerned that she was crying or that she had missed them so much. She called her mother's name and as she ran she tripped over and landed face down on the ground. Her knee hurt and she was afraid because they were so far away. But then her mother was next to her hugging her and Daddy was brushing leaves off her Dora hoodie.
"Are you ok?" asked Mommy as she hugged her.
"I guess so," Chelsea said. Mommy wiped her face with a tissue and helped her blow her nose. Daddy walked over to where she had tripped and cleared away the leaves. Nestled under the leaves, a tree root stuck up in the ground, just enough.
"Sometimes there are things underneath the leaves. They make us trip. We didn't know that they were there," said Daddy. He picked leaves out of her hair. Chelsea lifted up her arms and her father carried her for a little while.
The autumn wind made her hands cold as she rested her head on his shoulder. She pushed away from him and he set her down. Her legs were itchy to run so she did but not too far this time. She picked up more leaves and threw them on her parents. This time they threw some back at her. She ran to them and walked in between, holding both their hands.
"Swing me," she said as she jumped. They only did once before they said something about her being too big. Then she giggled and put their hands together. She ran ahead and spun around as red and green and yellow and orange and brown fell over and around her. When she looked back she saw that they were not holding hands and her mother looked the other way. Chelsea stood there for a moment and stared. The trees and the leaves were strangers again and she felt lost, even though she could see Mommy and Daddy in front of her.
"Chelsea. Daddy and I, we have something--"Mommy looked to the left side of the path, away from Daddy. Her nose was red.
"Honey, I'm going to be living in a new place, away from you and Mommy." Daddy looked at Chelsea, hard, like he did when was watching the baseball game on television.
The only sound she heard for a moment was the wind in the treetops. They made a crackling noise, crunchy. Her parents seemed to be walking extra slow.
"How will you eat, Daddy?" she asked. She saw her mother laugh a little and blow her nose.
"It has a kitchen and a bedroom just for you," he said with a small smile.
She turned and walked. For a long time she kicked leaves and watched the path in front of her. She could hear her parents behind her as they stepped on the crunchy, soft path behind her. When they reached other duck pond, she knew that they were almost ready to go back to the car.
"Will you still love me?" Chelsea spun around to look at them. They did not look so much like Mommy and Daddy as they did just people, nameless people. Her mother bent down and took a huge pile of leaves. Her father looked at her mother and did the same thing.
"Totally love you," said her mother, with a red nose and still crying a little.
"One hundred percent love you," said Daddy, who poured leaves on her and picked up another pile. Her mother poured leaves on her and they smiled.
"Always. Without a doubt," said her mother.
"To the moon and back again," said her father. Her parents did not look like strangers anymore, just sad. "How about you?"
Chelsea grabbed as many leaves as she could hold and threw them into the air.
"Absolutely, one hundred percent, no money back!"
They fluttered down soft, red, green, yellow, orange and brown.