I liked to hide. I liked to be in a place where no one could see me or find me until I wanted them to. A place where no one could tell me what to do, or even say that they liked or didn’t like what I was doing, like grownups did. I liked it the most when, from where I was hiding, I could see and hear other people but they couldn’t see me. Then I could watch them without worrying about them watching me back. If another kid was hiding with me, that was okay, because they didn’t count. Especially Molly. I never wanted to hide from her.
Molly’s mom brought Molly over to play with me. Molly’s mom always wanted to talk about the baby in mom’s stomach.
“Jane”, she said, “You look like you’re ready to pop any day now!”
Mom nodded, rolled her eyes and said, “Joan, I’m a week from my due date. I’ve had some contractions, but my doctor says they’re not real labor yet.”
“They say the second one generally comes quicker than the first!” Molly’s mom said. She was always trying to tell mom things like that.
“I’ve heard that too”, mom said, “I’d be happy if it was quicker this time. Cloob…”, she paused and made a funny face like she wasn’t sure what to say next, “I was in labor with Jonathan for twelve hours! I’m counting on this one being a lot quicker.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. She had used that word “labor” before but I was afraid to ask her what it meant. It seemed like something that women talked about with each other but not with men because men would think it was yucky. If I asked, I was afraid that she would think I was being bad, or that word I’d heard, “naughty”.
“So know that Jack and I are always ready to take you to the hospital if Eric can’t do it for some reason”, Molly’s mom said, “You have all our phone numbers, right?”
Mom pointed down at her foot. “I do. You and Jack are sweethearts! I keep the list in my sock all the time, since these damn pants don’t have any pockets! I’d show you but I’d have to bend over.”
Both of them laughed. I started to laugh too but I didn’t know what we were laughing about. Molly didn’t laugh, and she looked at me and made a funny face.
Molly’s mom took mom’s hand and looked at her very seriously. “Jane, I appreciate you watching Molly while I do the shopping. It won’t be more than an hour. I’ll be at the A&P if you need to call and get them to find me there. You know I’ll watch Cloo…” she paused then said, “Jonathan anytime you need me to. And when your time comes, call me or call Jack and we’ll drop whatever we’re doing and take you to the hospital if you need that, or watch this guy”, she said pointing at me.
Again I didn’t like it because they were talking about serious things and I felt I couldn’t do anything. I wanted mom to get that baby out of her really soon so things would be regular again.
Mom got that look where her big blue eyes got kind of watery and she made a sort of pretend sad face. “Joan, that means so much to me! And make sure to tell your Jack that he’s a sweetie!” They squeezed each other’s hands one last time and Molly’s mom went out the front door and walked across the street, got in her car and drove off.
Mom looked at the two of us and smiled. Then she looked at Molly like she was thinking what to say to her.
She said, “I’ve been telling Jonathan that I’m going to have a baby any day now and he’s going to have a younger brother or sister. Your mom said she talked to you about it?”
Molly nodded and said, “Yes Misses Zale”, like she was using words someone else told her to say but not her own.
Mom made her biggest smile and said, “If I can call you Molly, you can call me Jane. Okay?”
Molly’s shoulders relaxed and she nodded, and I could tell that she was happy mom said that.
Still looking at Molly, mom said, “We won’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl until he or she is born, but I feel like it’s going to be another boy. We’ll see if I’m right again this time. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if it was a girl like you.”
Molly kind of squeezed her face thinking, and finally nodded.
“Well, okay”, mom said, clapping her hands together. “I’m going to sit in the backyard and try to get a little sun. You two are welcome to play in the basement or in the backyard.”
Molly’s eyes found mine. “Show me the island”, she said. I had told her the day before about what I had made with all the dirt.
“Okay”, I said and I started to run around the side of the house and Molly ran after me.
I stopped by the big tree and looked at the fort I had built under it. I had used pretty much all the dirt dad and I got. The green good guy soldiers were along the walls and in the towers of most of the fort, but the gray pirates had captured part of the fort and were in that part.
Molly came up next to me and looked at everything, thinking. She got down on her hands and knees and slowly crawled around looking at everything even closer. She pointed at the green soldier that had one hand pointing and the other holding a pistol.
“Is that the goodguy captain?” she asked.
“Yep”, I said.
She crawled over to the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.
“These are the pirates?” she asked.
“Yep”, I said. I was happy she was getting it and that she was taking so much time to look at every part.
She pointed at the gray figure with his hands on either side of his waist and his elbows sticking out.
“Is that the pirate captain?”
“What about these guys?” She pointed at three green soldiers lying on their side in the dirt in the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.
“They’re dead”, I said, as seriously as I could.
“And these guys?” She pointed at two more green soldiers surrounded by gray soldiers.
“Captured”, I said.
Mom walked by carrying a clear plastic bottle. She was wearing white shorts and a white shirt that covered her big stomach.
“Not to interrupt you”, she said, “But I was wondering if Molly wanted to see how the tomatoes and cucumbers are growing.”
Molly bounced up on her feet all excited, nodded, and ran across the grass towards the back of the yard. She let her body fall to her hands and knees in the grass right in front of the garden. I was mad that she seemed to want to see the plants rather than the dirt island, but I ran after her. Mom more slowly followed us.
So when mom got to the garden she got down on her knees and showed Molly the tomato and cucumber plants like she had shown me before. I got down on my hands and knees next to Molly, not so much because I wanted to look at those plants again, but because I didn’t want to be left out.
But Molly was done looking pretty quick at the green tomatoes turning red and the tiny hotdog shaped cucumbers with their little pointy things, which she ran her fingers over. She stood up again, her knees and elbows green from the grass. She looked up at the sky and made a funny face with her mouth.
Mom saw that and said, “Well okay, I just thought you’d like to see how they’re growing. Again, you two are welcome to play here out back or in the basement.”
Mom stood up groaning and slowly walked over to that “lawn” chair and carefully sat down on it, doing more groaning as she did. The sun was shining on her body, and she put a pair of glasses on that were dark in front of her eyes. She squeezed some clear liquid into her hand from the clear plastic bottle she was carrying and rubbed it up and down her other arm. It made her skin look all wet and shiny. She did the same thing in the other hand on the other arm. And then on each leg from inside her shorts down to and over her feet. Next was her ears and neck and down under the top part of her shirt. Finally she put some of the liquid stuff on parts of her face, sticking her lips out in a silly way as she did. When she was all done, her body was all wet looking and even more shiny in the sun. She put her head back and just sat there quietly. It all seemed like a strange thing to do. Just one of those strange things grownups did. When I looked at Molly, I could tell she was thinking that too.
Molly looked back at me. I could see the little blue circles in her eyes in the sun. She put her thumb in her mouth and bit on it. I could tell she was thinking things, lots of things, but I couldn’t tell what. When she was thinking just one thing, I could usually tell what it was. I always liked it when I was with her. I liked watching her think, and waiting for her thinking to turn into talking.
“Let’s hide!” she finally said.
Her idea surprised me. “Where?” I asked.
She looked at me and tilted her head. “I don’t know.” I could tell she thought I should know where because it was my backyard.
I tried hard to think of a place but couldn’t right away. She gave me a fierce look like she was waiting for me to come up with a good idea. I finally thought about that “spruce” tree.
I walked over to it and she followed me. I moved a big low branch with lots of needles, and then a second one, to where an open space was on the ground by the trunk between those two and other low branches. It was dark in there and the ground was covered with needles that had fallen off the tree and turned brown.
Molly nodded, like I was showing her a good hiding place. I held back the branches as she crawled in, the needles crunching softly under her knees and hands.
“Now close the branches and see if you can see me”, she said from inside.
I did, and walked away from the tree and turned to look at it.
“I can’t see you”, I said.
“I can see you”, I heard her voice from inside the tree. “Now you try it!” She crawled out, pushing her way between the branches. She held back the branches like I had and I crawled in. The needles pricked at my knees and hands and the smell went up in my nose and tickled inside it.
She was right. From inside the tree I could see her but she said she couldn’t see me. It was strange how that worked, but it was a perfect hiding place.
She was able to move the branches apart herself and crawl back in. The hiding place was small, and for the two of us to sit in it together we both had to squeeze right next to each other with our knees together and pulled up almost against the top part of our bodies. I felt her arm and leg press against mine. She felt warm. The smell of her body mixed with the smell of the tree. I was happy and not worrying at all. I could tell she was happy and not worrying either. Pressed against each other I felt we were two parts of the same thing.
“Coob”, she whispered my name but she didn’t need to, since it was only the two of us. I liked the easy way she said it. It would just pop out of her mouth, rather than the “Cloob” that mom and dad were calling me now, that was harder for your mouth to say. I knew my name was supposed to be Jonathan, but mom and dad only called me that when they were talking to other grownups. And I knew that it was not supposed to be “John” or “Johnny”, which was what other grownups tried to call me and made mom tell them not to.
“Mom told me a baby is going to come out of your mom’s stomach between her legs”, she said.
“Mom told me too”, I said, wanting Molly to know that I knew as much about it as she did. Though mom had not told me the between her legs part. How could that happen anyway?
“It could be a girl like me or a boy like you”, she said.
I heard her say that and I remembered that Molly was supposed to be different than I was, but I couldn’t figure out that she really was. The only thing was that her hair WAS longer than mine and I wondered why that made us different.
I tried to think really hard to figure it all out, but I couldn’t. I could tell she was figuring out what I was thinking about how boys and girls might be different.
“It doesn’t make any sense!” I said.
“I know”, she said, “Mom said that it will when we get older”.
She paused, thinking, then asked, “You think you and I will ever be a mom and dad and have a baby?”
I couldn’t imagine I would ever be like MY mom and dad or the other grownups. It made sense to me that I would get older and get taller, but they were completely different than us.
“I don’t think so!” I said, but now I wasn’t sure and it made me worry.
She patted my hand with hers. “Don’t worry about it Coob!”
We sat there quietly for a while. I figured she must be thinking a bunch of different things because I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. My mind was doing all kinds of thinking that I might be different than Molly, and that Molly and I might be grownups someday like mom and dad. It was a strange world outside of our hiding place.
“Cloob! Molly!” It was mom’s voice calling out, making my mind stop going places. She worked hard to get out of the chair and stand on her feet. We could see her looking around but we knew she couldn’t see us.
We looked at each other but didn’t say or do anything. We just watched. She called our names a couple more times then picked up the clear bottle of the stuff she had rubbed on her body. Then she slowly walked by us and into the side door of our house. I could hear her calling our names inside. Finally she came out the side door again looking worried and walked to the front yard and called out our names with her loudest voice. Then she came back into the backyard not far from the spruce where we were hidden and called our names once again.
“Oh dammit”, I could hear her voice almost crying. Molly and I still did nothing and said nothing. Mom went back out into the front yard.
“This is the best hiding place”, Molly whispered in my ear, “We can stay here forever if we want to”.
“Yeah”, I whispered back. All sorts of strange thoughts went around in my head. Things were changing too much out there. Something was going to come out of mom between her legs and change everything. Molly would get a big stomach too and she and I wouldn’t be the same anymore. The grownups were in charge of everything. It wasn’t fair.
A car drove up across the street and stopped. It was Molly’s mom. She got out of the car and ran across the street towards mom who was sobbing.
“Oh my god Joan, I can’t find them!” Mom’s voice sounded very scared. “They were in the backyard with me and I think I dozed off and now they’re gone!”
Molly’s mom said, “Take a deep breath Jane, they’ve got to be around somewhere! You stay here and I’ll go over and look in our house and backyard, and then look in the park and walk around the block!”
“Okay”, mom said, taking quick deep breaths now. She put her hand out against the side of the house and cried. Still next to Molly, hidden in the spruce, but less than ten feet from mom, part of me wanted to come out and tell her that we were here and everything was okay. But now I felt afraid that she would be mad at me for not doing anything when she had called for us. Molly was quiet next to me but I could feel her worried too.
Molly’s mom looked very serious. “I’ll be back in five minutes, ten tops! We’ll find them!” She ran across the street towards their house.
“Jonathan! Molly!” Mom yelled the words in her loudest voice. “Where the hell are you two? Oh my god… please no!” She was breathing fast, her eyes were red and wet, and her face was afraid.
Still Molly and I were quiet and did not move. It was like we weren’t really there anymore, even though we were.
After a while, our car pulled into the driveway. Dad got out and went over to mom.
“Eric dammit. I can’t find them! Where the hell did they go?” She sobbed some more and dad looked like he was thinking very hard.
Dad’s voice was quiet but like he was trying to be in charge, “Liz, don’t worry. We’ll find them”, like she was making it a big problem but it really wasn’t. “They can’t have gotten far! Did you look everywhere in the house?”
Mom made a very angry look at my dad. “What do you think I am Eric, an idiot? Of course I looked everywhere in the house, ten times!” She put her hand to her forehead and leaned against the house, still sobbing.
Dad looked hurt by her words. His mouth closed and his face got very stiff.
At that moment, Molly sneezed. Then she giggled. Both mom and dad turned their heads toward the spruce. Dad quickly came over to the tree and moved the branches enough to see us.
“Here they are Liz. They’ve been right here all the time!” His face relaxed to a smile.
Mom came over and looked in the space now between the branches to see the two of us. She looked fierce at me and said, “What the hell do you think you were doing? Why didn’t you say something when I was calling you? I thought something awful had happened to you two!” She put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes. “Oh my god!”
I felt hurt and mad that mom had said those angry words to me, and my mind was blank, like I couldn’t think, or feel anything else. Everything was suddenly moving slowly and I felt very, very calm.
“Get out you two”, dad said like he was in charge and mad. Molly and I crawled out, crunching over the pine needles.
Mom’s eyes were still closed and her hand still on her forehead, now leaning against the side of the house. “I don’t feel well”, she said.
“Liz”, dad responded, “Are you going into labor?”
“Let me sit down for a minute and get my bearings”, she said.
Mom started to walk to the side door, but Molly’s mom appeared, running up the sidewalk towards our driveway where we were all now standing. “Oh thank god, you found them!”
Dad explained to her that the two of us had been hiding in the spruce the whole time.
As she listened to what he said, Molly’s mom rolled her eyes, shook her head, and let out a big breath. She kneeled down in front of Molly.
“Molly Wheeler”, her voice was quiet, not loud and angry like mom’s, “When Cloob’s… Jonathan’s mom called you two, you didn’t say anything?”
Molly’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed her lips together and shook her head.
“Did you know she was scared that something might have happened to the two of you?” her mom asked.
Lips still squeezed together, Molly said nothing. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes that she was trying to help me.
Molly’s mom stood up and looked at mom. “I am so sorry Jane!” then seeing how mom looked, “Jane? Are you all right? Are you having a contraction?”
Mom breathed hard and nodded. Finally she said, “I believe I’m having one right now!” She looked down at her wrist. “It’s two-fifteen”.
“Have you been having them today?” Molly’s mom sounded concerned, “You didn’t say anything when I left Molly here and went to the store!”
“I’ve been having them off and on but nothing strong or regular”, mom said, puffing air out of her mouth, “But this one feels much stronger”. More puffs. “When it finishes, let me lie down and pull myself together and see how long til the next one comes.”
Molly and I stood there not saying anything. The three grownups were talking about things that we couldn’t figure out, almost like they still couldn’t see us. I thought about Molly having to grow a baby in her stomach some day. I thought about mom’s angry words to me a moment ago and I still felt mad. Now there was silence all round as mom continued to puff out air.
Finally mom put her hand on Molly’s mom’s shoulder and took one long deep breath. “Okay, it’s done!”
Molly’s mom put her hand on mom’s, and patted it three times, “Okay… Jane… Eric… how can I help?”
Dad said, “Liz, should I take you to the hospital?”
Mom stretched her eyes open big after having them closed while she was puffing air. Her eyes quickly looked at dad, then at Molly’s mom, then Molly, and finally looked at me. I felt her looking deep into me. Her eyes weren’t angry anymore, but I felt like they were saying, “Well… here we go”, and for just a quick moment she didn’t seem like a grownup, but seemed more like a kid like me and Molly.
“I’m going to lie down”, she said. And then she was like the good guy captain telling his soldiers what to do. “Eric… can you fix me some tomato juice on the rocks and then sit with me until the next contraction comes. Joan… can you take these two characters over to your place for now? I’ll have Eric call you when we decide what’s what.”
“Okay dear”, Molly’s mom said, “Call me as soon as you know!” Then looking at Molly and me, “Okay you two, move out!”
We followed her across the street to Molly’s house. I could feel things were going to change. At least Molly and I were okay, for now.