Star-City Parade

by Jamie Sughroue Brown

With the airy whisper of "I'm going to follow Mom," my pink, mittened hand slips out of my dad's loose grip, and I dart away, absorbed into the mass of bodies clustered on the downtown sidewalk.

It's a brisk morning. Grey clouds hang low in the sky, dense and full, hinting at a coming snowfall. All I see are colors, energetic, exciting, luring me along the parade route.

I slip through the hues, crouching behind a vibrant orange parka for a moment to tie my shoe.

I hop up, and then peer between a verdant green coat and a soft, buttery brown leather bomber.

"Mom! Wait up!!" I shout, poking my head around the jackets surrounding me, blocking my path onto the street.

The startled face belonging to the green coat looks down, and then behind me, wondering whom I belong to. I dash off before she can utter whatever words her lips are forming.

I spotted my mom, and don't want to lose her again. I belong in that parade. I couldn't believe it when I wasn't included. Nick, my dumb brother, is in it, and I'm not? Incredible!

Who helped make the banner they carry while striding down the center of the street, waving and smiling at the people clapping? Didn't I stay after school every day with the art club too?

Excellent! There they are! I scurry along the sidewalk, duck under the barrier, and then make the bold dash through the street to join the group I've been tracking.

My mom's face is unlike anything I've seen before.

Puzzled, I notice her cheeks, tinged red with the bold wind, heightened in color as she snaps at me. "What are you doing here?!"

I'm utterly dumbfounded as I respond. I thought she'd be excited to see me.

"Um...I wanted to be in the parade?"

"Where is your father?" She hisses through pursed lips, sliding me aside as though expecting to see him behind me. I briefly wonder if she's eaten one of my lemonheads.

"I don't know?" I squeak while slowing grasping that, no, indeed, she is not pleased to see me. "It's okay, I told him I was going to go and find you."

She clasps my hand, a little too firmly, in my opinion, and won't let go until she's plopped me down on the hard, vinyl seat in the bus that takes us back to the elementary school.

Now that I'm slightly more attuned to the emotions rattling off of her, I start nervously chomping on my nails. I didn't like where this is headed. She'd lectured me the rest of the parade route, and now she has me smashed against the window in the bus, a captive audience to her intermittent bursts of yelling.

Every mile or so she cuts loose with another, "What were you thinking??"

And then she drops the figurative hammer. "Wait until your father gets a hold of you," she mutters.

I cower next to her, defeated. What's going to happen? I can't imagine. My giant of a father, all six feet, four inches of him, is my best friend. His is the hand I hold prancing through the grocery store, he is whom I tell my secrets.

What have I done? Does he hate me? My stomach roils, and I stare blankly out the window. I only wanted to walk in the parade.

We exit the bus, and walk the three blocks home in silence. I'm petrified.

Is his car here? Is he waiting at the door?

No. He isn't there. Is that worse?

I'm marched into empty, silent cavern of a house, and I wait at the kitchen table with my mother as she contemplates what next step to take.

The phone rings, an angry, aggressive shrill.

I leap up and answer it before she can move. "Hello?"

A gurgle; a mis-step of sound. That's all that echoes back at me. And then, a halting, "Jamie?" It's my dad.

"Yes! It's me!" I shout into the phone.

My mother deftly maneuvers the receiver from my clutch and addresses my dad.

I hover, listening to her side of the conversation.

"Yes, she's safe. She's fine. No. She said she told you. You didn't hear her? Yes. She followed us all the way through the parade. I know--I couldn't believe it when she darted through the street. You're where? At the police station? Oh my god."

I slink away, miserable, and tiptoe down the hallway to my bedroom. I slip into my bed, noiselessly, and curl into a ball under my pile of blankets.

I must have fallen asleep. I pop my eyes open, and there's my dad.

He's found me.