Molly and her mom came over. Molly came down in the basement to play with me while mom and Molly’s mom talked in the kitchen. Molly had a “Sky King” toy airplane that her dad had got her. We played that I was Tom Swift and she was Sky King. Her airplane landed on my flying lab.
Dad had taken David out to ride his tricycle with Hannah. Even though she was older than David, I think she liked playing with him BECAUSE she was older. She never could be older with her sister.
Mom called down to Molly and me from the top of the basement stairs asking us to come up to the kitchen. I looked at Molly and she looked sad and mad and didn’t want to look back at me and didn’t want to go upstairs. I looked back up at mom, at the top of the stairs by the side door. She looked at me, pushed her lips together and nodded, thinking. She went back up into the kitchen and I could hear her talking to Molly’s mom.
Then Molly’s mom came down the basement stairs, followed by mom. I couldn’t remember if she had ever been down in our basement before. Molly kind of looked to see it was her mom but didn’t turn to really look at her.
Her mom said to her, “Molly dear, I think you and I should go home, and let Cooper’s mom talk to him about what’s going on with your dad and I.”
Molly didn’t look at her but kept flying her plane around. “I don’t want to go home”, she said.
Molly’s mom put her hands over her mouth and looked up at the ceiling. Her eyes looked worried. She took her hands away from her mouth and hooked her fingers together and looked at mom. “Jane, with all my psych courses, I really don’t know what to do here”, she said, “Spock is certainly no help!”
Mom nodded. She kept nodding slowly and looked like she was thinking, but didn’t say anything. Finally she said, “Joan, I haven’t taken all the classes you have, but my instinct is to be as straightforward and honest with kids as possible, just like I would be with adults.”
Molly’s mom pushed her lips together, closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.
Still flying her plane and not looking at her mom, Molly asked, “Why don’t you like daddy anymore?”
Molly’s mom put her hands on either side of her face and blew air out of her mouth and said, “It’s not that simple dear. We can talk about that more later.” Then she looked at me and said, “Molly’s father and I are getting divorced. We decided we shouldn’t live together anymore. He’ll still be Molly’s dad, but he won’t be my husband anymore and he won’t be living with us anymore. He’s found his own place to live.” Then she looked at mom and said, “Is that straightforward enough Jane?”
Mom pushed her lips together, closed her eyes and nodded. Then she opened her eyes, looked at me and said, “I know this is all new to you Coop, and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you have anything you’re thinking or worrying about, it’s okay to say it, or ask ANY question you might have.” Molly was still flying her plane and not looking at any of us. Her mom looked at me too. I didn’t like it when both the grownups were looking at me.
I wanted to say something to let Molly know that I was on her team, but I didn’t know what I could say to the grownups. Instead I asked something that I was worrying about. “Is Molly going to go away with her dad?”
Mom looked down at the floor and nodded her head slowly again. Then she looked up and looked at Molly’s mom.
Molly’s mom looked at mom then at me and said, “Molly will still live with me at our house, though she’ll also spend some nights at her father’s new place.” She kept looking at me like I might want to ask something else. I shook my head and looked down at the floor. I could see Molly look at me and then look back at her plane as she continued to fly it.
Molly’s mom looked at mom and asked, “What else Jane? What else?” Mom looked up at the ceiling.
“Don’t know Joan”, mom said, “It’s a challenging situation and we’ll all just have to take it one step at a time.”
“Of course”, said Molly’s mom. Then she looked at Molly, who was still flying the plane and said, “Molly dear, I need to head home to take care of some things.” Molly kept flying her plane and didn’t look at her or say anything. Her mom looked at mom with a worried look.
Mom looked at her and nodded, like they were talking but not using any words. Then mom looked at Molly and said, “Molly, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like.” Molly nodded just a little bit but still flew her plane and didn’t look at any of us.
Molly’s mom put a hand on mom’s shoulder, shook her head, squeezed mom’s shoulder, and walked up the basement stairs. Then I heard the front screen door creak open and clank shut.
Mom sat on the basement stairs and looked at me and looked at Molly but didn’t say anything for a minute. Then she asked, “You two have anything else you’re thinking about or worried about and want to say? There’s certainly a lot to think about.” Then she looked at Molly for a minute and said, “Molly, I know your mom and your dad both love you dearly, and so do we.” Molly didn’t look at us but lifted her shoulders and then let them go down again, like she didn’t know what to say, or that what mom said didn’t make any difference.
Mom looked at me and said, “Cloob, you let me know if you guys need anything.” I nodded. I felt kind of like I was in charge of Molly, at least for now, until she got back to how she usually was. That was strange, I had never felt like that before.
“I’m going to go out back and hang the wash”, mom said, as she got up and walked into the laundry room. Soon she came out with the laundry basket full of stuff and said, “Let me know if you two need anything”, then she headed up the stairs and out the side door.
Molly stopped flying the plane but was still looking at it and not looking at me. I didn’t know what to do, because Molly wasn’t doing things she usually did. I could tell that she was mad, sad and worried, all those things. Sometimes when dad was mad and wasn’t doing things HE usually did, mom would ask him, “Are you alright?” Sometimes she’d ask me that too. I wondered if I should ask Molly that. I decided to try.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
She finally looked at me, like she didn’t think I would say that, like only grownups said stuff like that. Then she looked at her plane again and finally said something.
“You can ride your bike without training wheels, right?”, she asked, but still looking at her plane and not at me.
“Yeah”, I said, “Dad took them off.”
“Let’s go ride our bikes”, she said, looking at me this time. She didn’t look mad or worried or sad, or even happy, but something different. Like she had decided to do something, but she wasn’t mad or worried or sad or even happy about it.
Since she was looking at me, I just nodded.
“Good”, she said, “I’ll get my bike.” Then she ran up the stairs and went out our side door. I heard mom’s voice and then Molly saying, “We’re going to ride our bikes.”
I ran up the stairs and out the side door too. Mom was hanging clothes on that thing with the poles and the strings by the spruce tree that had our secret place.
She looked at me and said, “So you’re going to ride your bikes? Maybe that’s a good idea. Molly may need a change of scenery.”
“A change of scenery?” I asked.
“Yeah”, she said, running her hand through her hair and looking up at the sky, “How can I explain that in other words. Molly may need to go somewhere different so she can think about things in a different way. Does that make sense?”
It did. Mom was usually pretty good about explaining things. I nodded.
“Keep an eye on her, and try to be a good listener. She may be sad, or worried, or even angry. This is a really hard thing for a kid.”
The way she said that last thing I wondered if all moms and dads got divorced, but I was afraid to ask her, because what if she said yes.
Mom looked at me and I could tell she was doing a lot of thinking. She said, “Cloob, if you’re worried that your dad and I might get divorced, you don’t need to. He and I are fine. Yeah we have our arguments, our ‘fights’. We see things differently sometimes but we love each other, and god do we both love you and your brother! Just know that!” She pointed a finger and tapped it against the side of her head. “And once your dad finishes his dissertation and gets his PhD, everything should be easier.”
I nodded again. That made me feel better, but I still wondered. I never got mad at my really good friends like Molly or Paul, and they never got mad at me. I saw other older kids in the park get mad at each other, but I don’t know if they were even friends. But all the grownups who were moms and dads seemed to get mad at each other a lot. Well I hadn’t seen Paul’s mom get mad at his dad, but she was always kind of silly with him, like he was a kid instead of a grownup like her.
Molly came back on her bicycle and was out on the sidewalk looking at me.
“Go”, said mom.
Molly nodded her head and started riding her bike along the sidewalk. It was hard for me to keep up with her because she was better at riding than I was. She had been doing it longer.
She turned left when we got up to the street with the park on the other side and went down toward Paul’s house to that “corner” where those lilac bushes were where we had our meeting. When we got to that “corner”, I caught up with Molly and we walked our bikes across the street to the place where Paul’s house was. Then we walked across the other street to the sidewalk that went up past Marybeth and Hannah’s house.
Their grandmother was sitting on this big chair for two people on that “porch” part in front of the house. She looked pretty old and she waved to us. I didn’t wave back because Molly kept going and I was afraid to let go of one of the handlebars with a hand so I could wave back.
Then we got up to that street on the other side of the park. Some cars drove by. I caught up with Molly and rode up next to her.
“Where are we going?” I asked. I had never ridden my bike this way farther than where we were now. Molly raised her shoulders then let them fall back down again.
Then she got off the bike, and when no cars were coming, walked it across the street. I was a little worried but I followed. When she got on the other side she got back on her bike and started to ride down the sidewalk, so I did too. It felt easier to ride, we didn’t even have to push the pedals, because we were going downward. There were lots of big trees on this part that were close to the sidewalk and their branches were up above us and up above the street even. We even rode by other kids who looked at us, wondering where we were going. I was wondering that too, but I figured that I was in charge of Molly right now so I had to keep going behind her.
We came to another corner where there weren’t as many trees or houses, at least on the left side. The sidewalk we were on kept going straight but there was also a road going to the right with sidewalks on either side. I looked at Molly and was kind of worried and I think she could see that.
“We’re not going to keep going forever?” I asked. She looked at me like maybe she wanted to, but she was also thinking about it.
“Okay”, she said, “Let’s go this way”, and she pointed across the street to that other street that went off to the right. We walked our bikes across and then started riding on that new sidewalk. There were trees around us and above us again. It was almost like being in a giant green tunnel. I was getting more worried, but I still could remember how we could go back to where the park was, and if we could get back there, we could get back home.
Then we got to another corner that had four streets. Some cars went by. Some older kids went by on their bicycles, but they were riding in the street, and they looked at us but didn’t say anything, and rode by us really fast like they were showing us how much better they were at riding their bicycles. They were better. We walked our bikes across that street and kept riding on the sidewalk, though I thought that when I was a big kid I would ride in the street too, so I wouldn’t have to get off and walk at every corner.
All of a sudden Molly stopped, and I almost ran into her before I stopped too. There were girls in front of us playing on the sidewalk. There were white squares on the sidewalk with big numbers in them. First a square with a “1”, then one with a “2”, then two next to each other with a “3” and a “4”, then a “5”, then two others next to each other with a “6” and “7”, and finally an “8”. A girl was hopping on one foot from square to square, but when she saw us come up she looked worried and put both feet on the ground.
“That’s a mess up”, said a second girl, “Now it’s my turn!”
“That’s not fair”, said the first girl, sounding mad and pointing at us, “They messed me up! It’s not my fault!” Both she and the other girl looked at the older girl who was sitting in the grass by the sidewalk.
“Yeah I think she should get another chance”, said the older girl.
The second girl made a growling noise.
“Two to one”, said the first girl to the second girl. Then all three of them looked at us. The older girl looked at me then at Molly.
“You riding with a BOY?” she asked Molly.
“So what!” said Molly, looking fierce.
“Is he your boyfriend?” she asked.
“No”, Molly said, still fierce, “He’s my BEST friend!”
“Okay”, said the older girl, “He’s not your boyfriend. But if he was, that would be okay too.”
“But he’s not!” said Molly.
“I’ve never seen you two before”, said the older girl, “Where do you live?”
I figured I should let Molly do the talking because they were girls.
“We live by the park”, Molly said.
“Which one?” she asked, “Allmendinger or the secret one over there behind the houses?” She pointed to a corner up ahead across the street. “I’m not sure what it’s called.”
“Allmendinger”, Molly said.
The older girl nodded. “I think I’ve seen you two there.” Then she looked at Molly and asked, “Do you play with girls too or are you a tomboy?”
I’d heard Margie, Marybeth, and Paul’s mom call Molly a “tomboy”, like that was a girl but different than a regular girl because she liked playing with boys.
“A what?” Molly asked, then sounding fierce, “My name is MOLLY and I’m a GIRL!”
“She’s got hair like a girl”, said the first one.
“But she’s dressed like a boy”, said the second one.
Molly looked at the second girl and said, “So what! It doesn’t make any difference!” All three of the other girls were wearing dresses.
“I wear dresses at parties, so I’m a girl!” Molly said.
“My name is Lindy, and I didn’t say you were a BOY”, the older girl said, still sitting on the grass, “I said you were a TOM-boy. That’s a kind of girl.”
Molly looked at the older girl and wrinkled her nose. “That’s stupid”, she said.
That older Lindy girl raised and lowered her shoulders and said, “That’s just what people say. I’m just telling you.”
Then she looked at me and then back at Molly and asked, “Where you going?”
I didn’t know where we were going, I was just following Molly, so I lifted my shoulders and dropped them back down again. Molly kind of looked like she didn’t know where we were going either.
Lindy looked at me and asked, “Don’t you talk?”
“He talks”, Molly said, “His name is Coob.” Molly looked back at me with a fierce look like I should be talking.
“I can talk”, I said.
“Okay, just checking”, Lindy said nodding, then asked, “So you two don’t know where you’re going?”
“Well”, Molly said, “We’re just riding our bikes. But I want to find my dad’s new house.” When I heard Molly say that, I was surprised, because she hadn’t told me that before.
“Doesn’t he live in YOUR house?” asked the first girl, still standing on the sidewalk with the squares and numbers.
Molly shook her head and looked worried, like she had said something she didn’t want to.
“Why not?” asked Lindy. I could tell she really wanted to know, but Molly was looking at the ground and looking really worried and like she wanted to cry.
Since Molly had talked for me, and since I felt like I was kind of in charge of her, I thought I should probably talk for her too, even though I wasn’t sure that I was saying the right thing.
“She doesn’t want to talk about it”, I said. I could tell Lindy just really wanted to figure out things by asking questions, but didn’t want to make us mad.
Lindy looked at me and nodded. “Okay”, she said, “Maybe I’ll see you in the park sometime.”
I nodded. Molly pushed down on her pedal and started moving towards the first girl who got out of the way. I followed Molly and we left the three girls behind and continued on the sidewalk.
We got to kind of a different corner. It was actually two corners right next to each other, one going to the right, and then just past it, one going off to the left where Lindy had pointed out that other “secret” park was. That sounded interesting.
“Let’s go to that secret park”, I said. Molly nodded and we crossed the street to that second corner, where the street went off to the left. We looked down that street and it just stopped but there was no corner, and there were no more houses. We rode down the sidewalk towards it but the road and the sidewalk stopped when there were no more houses. There was just grass, and then trees, and then a bigger grass part behind the trees. We rode on the grass part between the trees but it was hard to keep pedaling. As we kept going it got easier because we were going downhill.
Molly decided to stop, so I did too, but we stayed on our bikes. I guess we felt more like big kids as long as we were on our bikes, like we could go anywhere. The sun was warm but the wind was a little bit cool. The grass was slippery and I could even smell it. I’d never been so far away from my house without a grownup around. It felt kind of scary. I liked being somewhere without grownups around, like Allmendinger Park, but there were almost always other kids around and even if there weren’t, I knew I was close to my house. But here there were no other kids around and my house seemed really far away, and I wasn’t even sure I could remember how to get back to it.
But it felt even more exciting than scary. I really liked that it was a “secret” park, hidden behind houses and trees, and it was just Molly and me here. And even though I didn’t feel so much like I was in charge of her anymore, I did feel like I had to be with her to help her, until she got back to her regular self. I wondered if this place could make Molly feel better, if it was a “change of scenery” like mom had said.
We looked out over some trees farther down in front of us and could see buildings in the distance. They all looked small, like a toy city rather than a real one. A few of the buildings were taller than the others and they kind of stuck out, especially that tower one mom had showed me with the giant clock on the side, though I couldn’t see the clock from here and tell what time it was. There was so much to look at that we just kept looking and didn’t talk for a while.
Looking out at the city and not at me, Molly finally said, “I wonder if I can see my dad’s new house from here?”
“Maybe”, I said, “Do you know where it is?”
“It’s over there somewhere”, she said, pointing her finger in front of her and moving it back and forth, “I went there and I kind of remember what it looks like.” I could see her trying to remember, then looking worried like she couldn’t.
“You’ll go there again soon”, I said, “And then you’ll be able to figure out where it is.”
She finally looked at me, and I could see that she was still worried and also sad. I could see she was doing more thinking and her nose wrinkled and I could tell she was getting mad.
“It’s mom’s fault”, she said, looking at me and sounding really fierce. I didn’t know what to say, so I just looked back at her and nodded my head. I could see the mad part get smaller and the sad part get bigger. It was like being able to tell me that she was mad made her less mad somehow.
Still looking at me she said, “I’ll never make you go away Coob. Never!” I still didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded again. She looked out at the city, thinking, and didn’t say anything else.
I just looked out at the city too, and was also doing a lot of thinking. If I was helping her, I figured I should be doing or saying something else, but all I could think to say was the same thing she said to me.
“I’ll never make you go away either”, I said.
“I know”, she said, still looking out at the city, “Cuz we’re the same.”
I wasn’t really sure anymore we were the same, even though we wanted to be, because she was a girl and I was a boy. But I also wasn’t sure how that made us different. Her hair was longer than mine, but that’s because dad took me to that place to get mine cut. And she wore dresses sometimes, though I don’t think she really wanted to. And I never wore dresses, because if I wore one, other boys would say I was a sissy. Some girls liked to play with dolls, but Molly didn’t, though she had some dolls people gave her for birthday presents and I didn’t.
I started to notice Molly starting to feel and think something different, and she looked down at the trees below us. “I think we should go down there. His new house might be down there. I remember it had big trees around it.”
We rode our bikes down toward the trees. We didn’t have to pedal because it was downhill. But it was bumpy because we were riding on grass and it wasn’t all flat. My front wheel hit a bump and went kind of sideways and the bike fell over and I did too. I put out my hands and my arms banged into the grass and the hard ground underneath it. My left elbow got scraped and it hurt. It was pretty scary.
Molly was down farther ahead of me and looked back and stopped her bike and got off, then ran back up to where I was. I could feel the tears in my eyes as I looked up at Molly from the ground.
“You know you shouldn’t cry”, she said, “I can cry cuz I’m a girl but I wouldn’t, unless I was hurt bad. If you’re hurt bad it’s okay to cry.” She took my hand and turned it so she could see my scraped elbow. “You’re okay”, she said.
I wasn’t sure how she knew I was okay, but it was scary to think what if I wasn’t okay. So I figured if Molly thought I was okay I would think so too. So I rubbed the tears out of my eyes, stood up and picked up my bike. It was scary because I hadn’t fallen off my bike before, and I hadn’t really thought that I could. I remember when dad had me practice falling off my sled in the Arb, so I wouldn’t worry about falling off, and could have more fun when I was sledding. But he hadn’t had me fall of my bike when I was practicing. I guess that was different, because the sidewalk isn’t as soft as the snow.
So Molly walked with me as I walked my bike down to where her bike was near the trees at the bottom part of the park. She got on her bike and started riding down through the trees. I did too, but now I was more worried riding on the bumpy ground rather than the flat sidewalk. But we rode through the trees and finally got to the flat sidewalk at the other end of the park.
We were on a street near a corner and we could go three different directions. Up or down the sidewalk we were on, or cross the street and keep going the direction we had been going but on a different street.
“I think his house is around here”, she said, “But I don’t know which way to go.”
I looked at her and she looked sad again, and I could see she had some tears in HER eyes. I wondered if I should tell her not to cry like she had told me. I wondered if that would be helping her, since I still figured I should be helping her. But she quickly wiped her eyes with her arms before I could say anything.
When I looked down the street again, I remembered I had been on it before when I went with dad to that “dairy” place where we got ice cream.
I pointed that way and said, “Let’s go this way.” Molly looked at me like she was hoping I knew where her dad’s new house was, but I really didn’t because I had never been there. She started riding that way and I followed her.
We crossed two streets and when we got to the third, we were right by that “dairy” place. Molly looked at it and smiled, not looking sad anymore.
“My dad takes me here”, she said, “We get ice cream.”
I nodded. “My dad too”, I said.
“Let’s go in”, she said. I nodded, and we got off our bikes and leaned them against the wall.
Both of us had to pull on the handle of the door together to get it to open so we could go in. It felt colder inside the place than outside, and it smelled really sweet. There was that big glass wall that had all the ice cream behind it in those round things. There was this guy behind it that looked at us and smiled. He was wearing one of those white things on the front of his body over his regular clothes. He didn’t look like a grown up, but like an older kid like Margie. There was another guy who looked like a regular grownup on the other side of the room working on something but kind of watching us too.
That older kid asked, “Can I get you two something? What would you like?”
“I like chocolate”, I said.
“Me too”, Molly said.
“Cups or cones?” he asked.
“Cones”, we both said at the same time.
He looked at the two of us kind of worried. “You two have money to pay for this?” he asked.
I shook my head then looked at Molly. She was nodding instead. She looked back at me. For the first time today she smiled.
“My dad gave me money”, she said to me. Then she looked at the older kid and took two of those silver “quarter” things out of her pocket and showed them to him in her hand. “I have these two moneys”, she said.
He pushed his lips together and nodded. The grownup guy nodded too.
The older kid took one of the quarters from her hand. Then he pressed some buttons on that metal thing that looked kind of like dad’s typewriter, except it didn’t have as many buttons. It made a cha-ching noise and the bottom part came out and you could hear things clinking inside it. It was pretty neat. It had a window part on the top and numbers popped up. This time it was a “2” and a “1”. Other places mom and dad got stuff with money had them too, and the numbers that popped up were different. He put the quarter in and took four of those brown “penny” things out and gave them to Molly. She put her money back in her pocket, still smiling.
We watched him use this metal thing to make a big round “scoop” of chocolate ice cream and put it on each cone. He handed one to Molly and one to me. We carried them outside and sat in the sun by our bicycles. We both knew how to lick them so they wouldn’t tip over and fall out of the cone part. You licked them down against the top part of the cone, and only licked the bottom part when they started to melt.
I watched Molly smiling and licking hers. I could tell she wasn’t thinking about and worrying about all those other things while she licked it. When I ate ice cream the only thing I usually would think about was how good the next lick or bite was going to taste. Now I’d seen grownups still look worried while they were eating ice cream, but never another kid. I guess grownups liked to worry and not even ice cream could stop them.
Though I was MOSTLY thinking about the ice cream, I WAS thinking about something else that felt good too. That Molly and I were not little kids anymore that needed grownups to help us do things. We could tie our own shoes, make our own cereal and sandwiches, ride bikes, go places without grownups, and even get things with money. I didn’t have any money yet, but I’d figure out how to get my mom or dad to give me some. And I looked at Molly and could tell she was thinking that too, we didn’t even need to talk about it with words. We might have been worried about how far we were from our houses and how to get back there, but we were eating ice cream so we weren’t thinking about that.
When we finished licking that ball part of the ice cream and then ate the cone part where the rest of the ice cream got pushed down into, we got back on our bikes. Molly seemed all excited like she wanted to keep going and find her dad’s new house, but I could tell she didn’t know which way to go. I was excited too. Eating ice cream always made me want to do more things. We decided to keep going the direction we were going, crossed the street and got to this really big corner with one of those light things above us with the three circles, the one on top was red right now. Lots of cars drove by on the big street in front of us.
Across the street from us was a building with a big window that had a bicycle in it and looked like it had toys in it too.
“Look at that”, I said, pointing at it.
“Let’s go see it”, Molly said.
We walked our bikes across the street and leaned them against the side of the building. Just like that “dairy” place, the door was hard to open, but we both pulled together and opened it and went inside.
It was amazing inside. There were toys everywhere. Bicycles all lined up next to each other. A whole bunch of those round things with Tinker Toys or Lincoln logs. Dolls that looked like grownup women in boxes with a clear window part so you could see them. Those little boxes with pictures of cars on them that had the little cars inside. Cardboard cans of that stuff that smelled really good that you squeezed into different shapes. Those big plastic circles I’d seen some girls making go around their stomachs. And lots of other stuff that I couldn’t figure out but all looked like toys, like these red things with circle knobs that looked like little TVs. Then there was this whole wall with baseballs, bats and gloves, footballs too. The store smelled like that shiny smell of new things, that reminded me of opening presents at Christmas or my birthday party.
“This is a TOY store”, Molly said, like she didn’t think there really were places like this, “This is where grownups get us toys.” I looked around and figured that that made sense.
Suddenly there was a grownup looking down at us. “Can I help you two?” he asked, but it felt more like he was worried about us.
I got kind of scared, like we shouldn’t be there, but Molly didn’t. She reached into her pocket and showed him her money, the silver quarter and those four brown pennies.
“Can we buy toys with this money?” she asked.
“Well”, he said, “Maybe a wiffle ball or some packs of baseball cards. You’d need a little more to buy a Matchbox car.” Molly nodded.
I knew what wiffle balls and Matchbox cars were. “What are baseball cards?” I asked.
“Oh, well”, he said, his eyes twinkling, “These are the cards kids like to trade with each other to get all the players they want. And each pack also comes with a big piece of bubblegum.” He reached into a box by that typewriter thing that stores kept money in and took out a shiny yellow packet with a picture of a baseball and also words on it in different colors. There was an orange “5” down on the bottom below the baseball with one of those money signs after it, the one mom had showed me for “cents”, that she said people usually said instead of “pennies”. She had told me that a quarter was “25 cents” and a penny was “one cent”.
I remembered seeing boys in the park with cards with pictures of baseball players on them. They would talk about the really good ones they had like “Mickey Mantle”, “Al Kaline” or “Ted Williams”. Mickey Mantle was on mom’s favorite team the “Yankees” and Al Kaline was on dad’s favorite team the “Tigers”. Dad said that “Ted Williams” guy was the best player of all and was left-handed like me.
Molly looked at me. “Should we get some?” she asked. I nodded.
She looked up at the guy and held up her hand with the money in it. He took the quarter, walked over and pushed buttons on that typewriter thing so the bottom part came out, and came back with two of those smaller silver “dime” ones and put them in her hand and gave her the yellow packet.
“There ya go”, he said. Then he asked, “Where are your mom and dad?”
“My mom’s in our house”, Molly said, looking up at him, “My dad is in his new house. It’s around here, but I can’t find it.”
“Oh dear”, he said, “Are you two lost? I can call your mom or dad if you give me your phone number.”
Molly shook her head and said, “We’re not lost, we have bicycles.”
“So you know the way home?” he asked, “Do you live around here?”
I shook my head to answer his second question.
He looked worried again and said, “I can call your house if you give me your phone number.”
Molly and I just looked up at him. We weren’t used to talking to grownups we didn’t know. It was hard to tell what they were thinking.
“We know how to get home”, I said. Molly looked at me then looked up at him and nodded.
“Okay”, he said, looking less worried now, “Come back anytime. If your bicycles ever need fixing we can do that. Can I see your bikes?”
“Sure”, Molly said, and I nodded. He followed us outside and looked at our bikes.
“Well”, he said, “Those are models that we sell. Did you get them here?” We both raised our shoulders up then down because we didn’t know.
He looked at me. “I think I remember selling that one to your dad last month.” Then he looked at Molly. “And I think I sold yours earlier this year too.”
He looked at both of us, smiled and said, “Well, two of my best customers then.”
We looked up at him, and if I knew him I might have asked what a “customer” was, but I didn’t. Molly and I looked at each other, and I could tell Molly was thinking what I was thinking, that he was another one of those grownups. But at least he wasn’t worried anymore. It made me worried when grownups were worried about me.
We got on our bikes and I looked at Molly. I felt like everything was different now. We could go places, talk to grownups and use money to get things, just like big kids. We just had to go home when the street lights were on, that was easy enough. I didn’t have any money yet, but maybe I could get some from mom and dad.
“You want to keep looking for your dad’s new house?” I asked. Molly pushed her lips together, put her hand under her chin and looked up at the sky thinking.
When I asked that, Molly looked worried again, like all the other stuff that had happened had made Molly forget about thinking about her dad, but now what I asked made her think about him again, the “scenery” wasn’t changed anymore. I remembered that I was kind of in charge of her, though it wasn’t in charge like I was telling her what to do. I was only used to being in charge of myself, and letting Molly be in charge of herself. I figured I should say what I thought we should do.
“I think we should go home”, I said. She looked kind of sad and mad like she didn’t want to. I remembered when she had helped me ask mom about getting a bicycle. “We can ask your mom where your dad’s house is so we can go there tomorrow”, I said, ”I’ll help you ask and I’ll go with you on our bikes to his house.”
She kept thinking and looking at me, like she was wondering if I could really do all that. I just kept looking at her like I could.
She looked down at the ground. “Okay”, she finally said. I was happy that I had talked like I was in charge and it worked. Though it did make me feel less like we were the same. We were different enough that we had to be in charge of each other sometimes. But I guess that was okay as long as we took turns. Grownups never took turns with kids, they always wanted to be in charge. Yeah they knew stuff that kids didn’t, but that didn’t mean they HAD to be in charge ALL the time!
“We should go back the same way”, said Molly, which was just what I was thinking too. That was good because maybe we were back to being the same and I didn’t have to be in charge anymore.
The toy store was on a corner by a big street with cars driving down it. Up above us it had one of those light things to tell people driving cars when they had to stop and when they could go. We weren’t sure about walking our bikes back across the street right here, so we rode up the sidewalk to where that dairy place was across the street and we walked across there. Then we start riding again back up the way we came down before. It was harder to pedal when you were going up and it made my knees hurt, probably Molly’s too. We got to the trees by that park place.
We hadn’t seen it before, but there was a wood sign with words on it that were, “WURSTER PARK”. Molly pointed to the “PARK” word and said, “That word’s ‘park’. Allmendinger Park has a sign with that word too.”
I nodded. I knew that “park” word too. But I didn’t know the other word, but mom and dad had told me about all the letters and how you made them sound. I tried to say it. “Woo-are-st-ee-are”, I said slowly. Then I remembered my own name “Cooper” had those “E” and “R” letters at the end that you said as “er”. So I said the word again. “Woo-are-st-er”.
“It’s Woo-are-ster Park”, Molly said, nodding and looking happy that we could figure it out. Big kids could read and we were figuring out how to do that too, so we could be like them. I also wanted to be able to read the words in my books by myself so I didn’t have to ask dad or mom to read them to me. And to read the words in dad’s books downstairs, mostly the ones about the war.
We tried to ride our bikes through the trees on the grass and dirt up into the park but it was harder than when you were going up on the sidewalk, so we got off our bikes and walked with them instead. It was warmer now and the sun was up there in front of us making it hard to look where we were going. It felt warm and good on my body but hurt my eyes so I had to close them enough so it didn’t hurt anymore but I could still sort of see. Finally it wasn’t going up so much, and we got back on our bikes and rode through the grass up to the other trees at the top part of the other end of the park.
We rode by other kids who were playing. Two girls were swinging on the swings and three boys were crawling around in this dirt part looking like they were playing with toy soldiers. One of the girls on the swing pointed at us and she waved. Molly waved back, just holding one bike handlebar. I was afraid to do that, remembering when I fell off my bike earlier.
Then there was that street we’d been on that just started at the park without a corner. It just seemed really strange not having a corner, because every other street I had been on had corners on both ends. We now rode along the sidewalk which was a lot easier than on the grass. We rode over that sidewalk where the girls had made squares with numbers in them and played that jumping game, but the girls weren’t there anymore. We walked our bikes over that one street we had before, where off to the right you couldn’t see the end because it went down.
We kept riding to the next street, and walked across that one too. As we got back on our bikes to ride I felt my knees and ankles hurting, and the elbow I had scraped when I fell off my bike was hurting too, when I tried to make my arm move. My whole body felt tired, and I could tell that Molly’s did too. We continued, and got to a corner where we had to go left or right, but I couldn’t remember which way to go.
“I don’t remember this place”, Molly said, looking down the street each way. I got worried when she said that because I didn’t either.
I remembered being in the back seat of our car when dad was driving and mom was sitting in the front seat next to him. Mom would say, “Eric, I think we’re lost, you better ask someone for directions.” Then dad would say, “Let’s go back, I think we missed a turn.”
I looked around for someone who maybe we could ask. A car drove up and stopped for a second at the corner, but I didn’t know if it was okay to ask someone who was driving a car. Then the car started going again and was gone.
“I think we should go this way”, Molly said, pointing to the left.
“I think we should turn around and go back that way”, I said, pointing behind us down the sidewalk we had just rode on.
Molly looked at me and wrinkled her nose. “You sure?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was a good idea, because I didn’t remember being where we were now, but I remembered that last corner.
“Let’s go back there then decide which way to go”, I said. She nodded and we turned our bikes around and rode back to that other corner. There was a grownup woman walking out of a house towards a car in the driveway. She looked at us and smiled. I didn’t usually talk to grownups I didn’t know unless they talked to me first. But maybe this time I should.
“Where’s Allmendinger Park?” I asked.
“Just up there”, she said, pointing up the street to the right. “Are you two lost?”
Molly shook her head and said, “We’re not lost, we just don’t know how to get back to Allmendinger park.”
“Okay”, said the woman, nodding and putting on a smile, “Are you two new to the neighborhood? I don’t remember seeing you before.”
I’d heard mom and dad and some other grownups say that “neighborhood” word, but I didn’t know what it meant. It seemed like a place somewhere, like that “west” place where all the men wore those hats and shot guns at each other. Molly probably heard it too, but I looked at her and she didn’t know either. We both looked at her like we didn’t know the answer.
Seeing that, she asked a different question. “Have you lived here a long time?”
Molly shook her head and said, “We don’t live HERE. We live by Allmendinger Park.”
“I see”, said the woman nodding, and I could tell she was trying not to laugh, “Well you’re in luck because it’s just around the corner here and up one block.” She pointed up the street off to the right. We both nodded and started going on our bikes again in the direction she pointed.
As we rode away I heard her say, “Happy to be of assistance!” But it sounded like she didn’t really mean it or she was trying to be silly.
Once we had gone around the corner it all looked like I remembered, and when we got close to the next corner we could see the park. We rode past Marybeth and Hannah’s house, and her grandmother was out on that big chair thing holding a giant sheet of paper that she was looking at. When she saw us, she put it in her lap and waved to us. Again Molly waved back with one hand but I was afraid to. When we finally got to our street we rode our bikes up Molly’s driveway and then put them in her backyard by that “garage” place that our house didn’t have.
Molly pointed at the garage. “Dad still has stuff in there but mom has locked it up”, she said, “He doesn’t have a place to put it in his new house. It has a garage, but other people use it to put their car. Once we figure out where it is we’ll go there, okay?”
I had said I would do that, when I was being in charge, so I nodded my head. We went inside the backdoor to Molly’s house, which was kind of like the sidedoor of our house, and was between the kitchen and the stairs down to the basement. Molly’s mom was sitting at the big table in that “dining room” part of their house. She had pieces of paper all over the table and was writing things on another piece of paper.
She looked at us and said, “THERE you two are. Did you have a good time?”
I looked at Molly and I could see her looking down and thinking and wrinkling her nose like she might be mad. I decided I should be in charge again, like Molly had been when we told mom that I needed to get a bicycle.
“Yep”, I said, nodding my head. I didn’t say anything more because I didn’t know if she would like where we went on our bicycles, and I didn’t want to tell her other stuff instead that wasn’t really right.
Molly still looked like she might still be mad at her mom and say something bad. So I decided to say something.
“Molly wants to show me her dad’s new house”, I said.
Her mom nodded her head and looked like she was thinking and said, “Well that sounds like a really good idea actually. Molly’s dad can maybe take you along when he picks up Molly tomorrow. How about I talk to your mom and see if that’s okay?”
Then she looked at Molly and looked worried and said, “Molly, does that sound like a good plan?” Molly nodded, but didn’t say anything and I was still worried and decided I still should be in charge.
“Can Molly come over to my house for a while?” I asked.
“Of course”, she said looking at me, “You’re such a good friend Cooper.” I nodded and looked at Molly, who still hadn’t done any talking.
“C’mon”, I said to her, “I want to show you the base I made for Captain Nemo in the backyard.” Molly’s eyes twinkled a little and she almost smiled when she nodded. I went back out the backdoor to get my bicycle to take it over to my house. Molly followed me. When we got to my house I put my bike by the maple tree in the backyard. Mom was sitting in the middle of the yard in that special outside chair. She had her bathing suit on and her skin was all shiny like it was wet and sparkling in the sun. It looked like she was looking up at the sun but her eyes were closed.
She turned her head, opened her eyes and looked at us and said, “THERE they are.” Then she asked, “Molly, did you let your mom know you’re back?”
Molly nodded and I said, “We just told her mom.”
“Oh good”, mom said, “There’s peanut butter and bread down there in the kitchen if you two are hungry and want to make sandwiches.” She closed her eyes again, and turned her head back to look at the sun.
I nodded and then said, “Okay”, because mom had closed her eyes and couldn’t see me nodding. Molly followed me into the kitchen. I opened the door down low where the peanut butter, bread and plates were, and gave them to Molly to put on the kitchen table. Then I opened the drawer and got a knife.
“I want one too”, Molly said, and I gave her a knife. We each made our sandwiches and put them on plates and sat at the kitchen table and ate them.
We ate and didn’t say anything. But I could tell she wasn’t as worried as she had been this morning. I didn’t have to be in charge of her anymore. We could go back to being regular, like we were the same. And grownups didn’t have to be in charge of us anymore. We could go to the park when we wanted to and even go on adventures on our bikes. We just had to come home when the streetlights turned on.
Everything felt different now, like we weren’t little kids anymore and we were starting to be big kids. I still had to figure out how to read things, like signs and books. But if I could figure out how to tie my shoes, something that seemed impossible until I finally figured it out, I could figure out how to read too.