They’d had a lot of freedom back then and not just because their environment was safer – few children had been allowed to roam as much as they.
Perhaps this was the reason they had a certain fearlessness about them. Together they claimed they could conquer the world. The whole neighborhood had become their playground. No tree was safe from being climbed. No hole was left hidden. And when even their whole neighborhood had become too small for them. They turned to areas outside of their street. As long as they stayed together, neither felt afraid. They ran to the grocery store for Popsicle, or went to the park. No one ever bothered them. It was like something told everyone they were going to be okay.
Once in a while, they wondered why they were allowed to roam so far and freely, and the other children couldn’t. At first, they thought it was because they were so responsible. Their parents thought they were old enough, strong enough and good enough to be on their own. But as time wore on, they saw more and more parent with their children. More and more they began to wonder after their own. They would go home and there they would be wondering why they were back. There wouldn’t be much of an answer except for them to go back outside to play. In the beginning, there was no hesitation. With each year that passed, it was like something was screaming at them to stay, to yell at them to care if they were there or not.
They began to see their freedom as a lack of caring in their parents. Together, they postulated. What if something had happened to them when they were out? Would their parents notice? They began to test how much their parents cared.
At first, by just staying out too late, or leaving earlier. Their parents said no word. They brought home increasingly strange items. It would never matter what. The longer they stayed out, the happier their parents became. Or so they soon found out. One night, they even chose to stay in their treehouse all night. They watched to see if their parents would come out crying wondering where they were, but they saw adults going over. Bottles appeared in their hands. They laughed, watched the tv more, played games and did things they never did around them.
The morning after their night in the treehouse, they sat together thinking of what to do. Their parents didn’t care where they were here or there, home or not. They barely even acknowledged their existence. When they were there, they were sad. She even told him once, when she went home without him, she saw their mother crying. That had solidified it. They were going to leave. They weren’t ever going to come back. If their parents didn’t want them there, he told her. It didn’t matter. They would find someone who did want them.
He led her into the house resolving to get their things and leave.
“Last night, was the first good night we’ve had in a long time.”
They heard them talking.
“I felt like I was finally free.”
The relief in their voices brought them both to tears. They didn’t have to ask if they really wanted them or not. To them, it was clear. Their parents never did want them. That’s why they were always drinking from those bottles when they were near.
“Come on, Ellen.” He beckoned her. As they walked down the hallway to their bedrooms, they froze in the door way. There was nothing there. Their beds. Their toys. Nothing was there.
As they turned around, trudging towards the front door. He tried to console her as she sobbed in his chest. Their parents must of heard them because they stopped talking.
“Bye, Mom. Dad.” He managed to say as he went back out the front door.
What had they done? Did they do something wrong? Were they not good enough? Maybe they just didn’t want kids and they had come along by accident?
Standing out front of the house, they looked back at the house. They both quietly said good bye again before wondering off down the street. Now, they felt confused as to why they had such freedom. Why they hadn’t been wanted. Why they drank from those bottles when they were around and celebrated when they left.
That night was the worst. They sat all alone in the park swinging not sure what to do now. The days prior had been filled with such happiness, but now nothing seemed to hold the same thrill. A stranger walked by looked over at them before going wide eyed and hurrying on. That seemed to be the reaction to them these days.
“Sam.” Ellen whispered almost not daring to ask. “Why do think everyone seems to hate us? Did we do something wrong?” She turned her head to look at him on the swing next to her.
“I don’t think so.” He replied trying his best to be strong, for her at least. “I think it’s the same reason it’s always been.” Jumping off, he spun around trying to be enthusiastic to make her happier. “We’re responsible. We don’t do anything bad. Ever. We don’t hurt any animals. The police never have to worry about us. We don’t damage people’s stuff. We’re good kids. Now, come on, Ell. Let’s go find somewhere else to play. This place is gloomy.”
Turning on his heels, he began to lead her from the park, but seeing a woman standing there unnerved him. He put his sister behind him wary. They had never been afraid to be out at any time of day or night, but this woman scared him and Ellen. He puffed up trying to appear bigger than he was. It was his job to keep his sister safe.
“What do you want?” He asked in his strongest voice.
The woman came closer to them. Her greying hair tied back in a tight bun. The clothes were covered in flour, but had recently been patted with wet hands. Her blue eyes were soft and loving. The wrinkles on her face told of countless hours laughing and smiling.
“You look lost, Little Ones.” She said.
The girl clung close to him not sure what was going on. He tried his best to step away but now it felt impossible.
“What happened?” She sat on the stairs to the playground not coming closer as if sensing their distress.
“We…We can’t go home.” He told her, though he wasn’t sure why. “Our parents don’t want us any more.”
She nodded knowingly, even sad. “Why do you think that?”
Taking a deep breath and steeling his upper lip, he told her everything they had seen, all that had happened.
“Oh, Little Ones.” She went over to hold them both. It was a feeling they hadn’t felt in a long time. A glimmer of memory stirred in their heads.
“Grandma?” They asked. When she nodded they held onto her even tighter.
“My Little Ones.” She said again kissing their heads. “Come. Let me tell you about what happened.” Drawing them close, she sat down on the stair. “Your parents love you very much. It isn’t because they don’t want you. You see, there was an accident. They don’t see you because they can’t.” They looked up into her face somehow understanding now.
“It’s time to come home.” She smiled.