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A Different Where

By Rebecca L. Monroe
Published in ART TIMES September 2013

He sat stiffly on the car seat, belt nearly overwhelming him. He knew that if he twisted around he would see Mommy fading in the background as the car pulled away. He didn’t turn, didn’t look. Mommy had said it was all right. This lady, Mary, was her friend. He swallowed hard. Mommy had said her friend was lonely and he was going to keep her company for a while.
* * *
Mary looked down at the silent little boy, seeing the strain in his pale face. He was scared. He also didn’t want to admit it. She was tempted to reach over and tousle his hair, tell him it was okay but she didn’t think it would help.
* * *
Tommy stared out the window at the tops of trees and blue sky since it was all he could see from his low seat. Mommy had to work. She’d explained it. His normal sitter was busy and this lady was going to watch him. This lady was lonely, wanted Saturday company. What if she didn’t want to give him back? No. Mommy said the lady was a friend. Friends gave things back. He glanced at the woman. Right?
* * *
Mary felt him look at her. “Do you like McDonalds?” She smiled across the expanse of seat at him.

Tommy nodded, eyes too large.

“Good. I thought we’d go there for lunch and afterward, I know a place that has a horse. You can’t ride it but we can stop and visit. Would you like that?”

Tommy nodded again because it was expected. What if the lady couldn’t find Mommy? What if she got them lost? Mommy would wait and wait…and they wouldn’t show up. A large tear rolled down his cheek and he brushed it away. Mommy had asked him to be a big boy.
* * *
Mary pulled the car into McDonalds, hoping a Happy Meal would put the poor little guy at ease. She wanted to tell him she remembered what going with a stranger was like; the uneasy, queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. She also remembered no words could get rid of it. Only the end of the ‘ordeal’ would do that.

“Do you want a Happy Meal?”

“Yes,” Tommy said. Then he remembered. “Please.”

“All right! Let’s go then.” Mary helped him unbuckle.

As they walked toward the restaurant, Tommy finally looked back the way they had come, his heart yanking at the unfamiliar signs. He couldn’t stand it any more. “Do you know where my Mommy is?” They’d come so far!

“She’s at work, honey,” Mary said gently before turning to order for them.

“No but, where IS she?” Tommy said.

“At work, remember? That’s why you get to stay with me,” the worry in the lady’s eyes was evident.

Tommy wanted to grab her arm and shake it.
* * *
It was no good. No Happy Meal, no pony, was going to make him feel better. She picked up the sacks. “Do you want to eat inside, or outside?”

“Here.”

Here? Here where? Mary frowned….where….where! “We’re going to eat in the car. Can you be very careful?”

The little boy nodded.
* * *
The box sat in his lap, making a warm spot on his legs. He wasn’t hungry. He knew he should open it but he was too busy trying to figure out how he could keep track of the landmarks; help the lady find her way back. It was hopeless. He couldn’t see anything except the tops of trees, sky and an occasional sign if it was tall enough.

“Aren’t you hungry?” The lady said in her too cheerful voice.

He shook his head.

“All right, well, maybe later,”
* * *
She hoped this was what he meant. If not, it was going to be a very long day. No. If not, she would try again because he was struggling so hard to be brave. As she drove, she racked her brain for something to entertain him in case the horse failed.
* * *
Tommy frowned as a sign went by. It had an airplane on it he liked. It was just like the one by where Mommy worked. He craned his neck backward but couldn’t see it anymore.
* * *
Mary pulled over by the curb, unsnapping Tommy’s belt. “We can’t go in because your Mommy is in a meeting. Is this what you meant by whether I knew where your Mommy was?” She grabbed the Happy Meal as it slid toward the floor when Tommy launched himself to his knees to look out the window.

“Yes! That’s where my Mommy works! That’s her car right there; see the one by the truck? Can I have my Happy Meal now?” He looked at the lady, with a huge smile. She knew. She was safe. “Will you open my ketchup for me? I squirt it,”
* * *
Mary’s heart lifted. She felt as if she’d just won a medal. “You betcha!”

(Rebecca L. Monroe lives in Troy, MT)