For a moment, Grace believed that sleeping in on a Saturday was possible. That bubble burst when her six year old son, Chase, jumped on the bed screaming, “Mommy, wake up! It’s sunny outside!” Grabbing him and forcing him to lie down crossed her mind, but she decided against it. He would just fidget the entire time.
Once she sat up Chase flopped down next to her, a big cheeky grin on his face, dark brown eyes sparkling with excitement. Color was in his pale, chubby cheeks. His fine dark blond hair stuck to his forehead from the layer of sweat he formed. His tiny chest heaved with every breath he took. Somehow, he still found the air to ask, “Can we go to the zoo today?”
The zoo was Chase’s favorite place in the world. Every weekend he asked to go. Family functions and Grace’s work schedule made things difficult. Today was different. “You have to eat breakfast and get changed first.”
The pure joy on his face was worth that sentence. It had been a while since she last seen him that excited about the day, and it warmed her heart. Chase was always so bright and cheerful, but she still worried. Grace was a single mother and because of work she spent less time with Chase than she liked. Every spare minute she had was spent with him. And she made sure they read together every night. She would be damned if she would not get to read her son to sleep.
She got a lot of help from James, Chase’s father. He paid for half of Chase’s school supplies and clothes. He would pay for more, but Grace refused. Picking Chase up after school was more than enough.
James took an active part of Chase’s life. He even helped by cooking dinner sometimes giving Grace extra time with Chase. Helped that they were friends before a drunken night made them parents. They decided against trying to date, fearing it might make things harder. There were conversations of moving in together, but it was just talk. Grace didn’t know how she felt about that, or James. She still needed time.
The overly excited Chase jumped off of the bed onto the floor and landed with a loud thump. Grace winced. Her downstairs neighbors would say something about the noise. A couple in their mid-fifties, they always complained about some noise either she or Chase made. The husband the worst of the two. The wife, Mary, would just ask to keep it down, but Tim would come up screaming and questioning her ability as a mother.
Brushing thoughts of them aside, Grace got out of bed and headed to her dresser. She grabbed a pair of worn blue jeans and a gray shirt. No point in dressing nice or wear any makeup. She was going to the zoo with a six-year-old boy. Getting dirty and sweating while chasing after him would happen. She would prefer not to ruin what little nice clothes she had and avoid having mascara running down her face.
Grace stepped in front of the tall mirror on her dresser and brushed her mid-back length auburn hair into a loose ponytail. “I need a haircut.”
Staring at her reflection reminded her how much Chase took after James. She had round hazel eyes, a thin-bridged nose, a high forehead, medium cheekbones and a pointy chin. In the looks department, there was hardly any of her in him at all except for her pale skin. Unfortunately, he had gotten her temper. She had a tendency to hold things in until she exploded. It was not healthy. She would have preferred Chase to have James’ cool demeanor. Nothing ever seemed to bother that man. Something she always admired about him.
Finished, she headed into the kitchen-dining room combo. Coffee was a gift from the gods and Grace could not allow herself one day without it, and so it was the first thing she started. After that, she grabbed eggs and shredded cheddar cheese from the fridge. Eggs with cheese were the only things that Chase ate for breakfast. He did not want toast, did not like cereal, barely ate bacon, just his scrambled eggs and cheese with a small glass of milk. Many times Grace tried to get him to eat something else, but he refused. Eventually, she gave in and made them every morning. It was the only thing he was picky about food-wise.
Over the past year, Grace became a pro at cooking scrambled eggs and setting the table at the same time. The times Chase finished dressing and brushing his teeth, he would come in and help her, but mostly she was on her own. It was not different that day, and she had everything ready before he sat down.
Chase sauntered into the kitchen wearing a navy blue shirt and a pair of jeans he wore so often, a hole had formed in the right knee. His hair combed and parted down the middle. Some people liked to tell her she needed to do something with his hair, but it was fine that way. It was long, it was not the ever-dreadful bowl cut, just an average haircut. Chase didn’t like it styled so there wasn’t a reason to do anything with it.
When Chase came into the room, he jumped into the chair and shoveled food into his mouth. “Sweetie, slow down.” Grace couldn’t help but smile at him. “You keep going like that, you’re going get sick.”
“But if we don’t hurry up the zoo will close!” Grace was lucky he didn’t spit out eggs at her.
She had to stifle a laugh. “Chase, the zoo doesn’t close until seven tonight. It’s nine in the morning. There’s plenty of time.”
He gave her a skeptical look. “Will we get to see everything?”
“We should be able to. If you don’t stay too long with the bears.” Bears were Chase’s favorite animals. All bears. Did not matter what kind they were, he loved them, as long as they weren’t teddy bears those weren’t real bears. His room was full of bear posters and toy bears. Any time there was a special on bears on a nature program, he had to watch it.
“The bears are the best part.” He jutted his little chin out, not wanting to give up his favorite animal.
“I’m not saying we can’t see them; we can’t spend hours watching them like last time.” Almost four hours of watching bears laze around. Some had moved, but most sunbathed. Chase seemed placated by just watching them do nothing, which was impressive considering he was six. Grace was happy he found something that interested him, but she didn’t have it in her to stand in one place that long.
That he took time to consider. She saw it in his eyes him weighing the options of seeing all the animals, or seeing some of them and spending most of his time with the bears. “Okay, but I want to see them first!”
Grace smiled at him, proud and relieved by his decision. “Finish your food first. Make sure you drink all your milk, too,” she added.
The rest of the time they ate in silence. Once finished, Grace cleared off the table and rinsed the dishes in the sink while Chase put on his white and black tennis shoes. He had already learned how to tie his shoes, but it still took him a little time to do so. It was hard to watch him struggle with the black laces, but he had to do it himself.
While she waited, she put on her own shoes. For a moment she wondered if she should make them some sandwiches for lunch. They could have a picnic. But if she spent another twenty minutes making food, Chase would have a heart attack. He had already been so eager to leave, she did not think he could wait. They would just eat at the zoo. It would be pricey, but the bank account was healthy. They weren’t living from paycheck to paycheck.
“Done!” Chase announced, jumping to his feet.
Grace stood up and offered him her hand. “Let’s go!” He took it and they headed out the door, she took extra care to grab her purse and keys from the table next to the door on the way out. The door locked mechanically, so she didn’t bother with the deadbolt. You needed a pass to get into the building anyways. Besides, if someone wanted to steal from her, a deadbolt would not stop them. Not like she had much expensive stuff. Her television was as old as she was, the computer broken, and she had no game consoles. The dishwasher might be worth something, but if someone sneaked that out of the building, they deserved to have it. Seriously, that would be impressive.
Her car was a beat up, blue, four-door sedan. There were, by far, prettier cars in the apartment complex parking lot, but it was their car and she loved it all the same. Grace’s mother had given her that car on her sixteenth birthday, and she had vowed to keep it until the day it died. So far, it had been doing well.
Grace ushered her son into his booster seat once she unlocked the car and buckled him in. Satisfied, she went to the driver side and got in, putting her own seat belt on. She started the car, threw it in reverse, and off they went!
About halfway there Grace realized she had no sunscreen for Chase, and he burned easy with his pale skin. “We’re taking a detour, little man.” She put her blinker on to get off the highway. There was no way she would buy sunscreen from the zoo gift shop. It would be too expensive. She conceded on the food, but not sunscreen. All she needed was to find a place that sold it. She wasn’t familiar with the area, but it couldn’t be hard to find a place. Hell, even a gas station should sell it. And there was one off the highway.
As it turned out, gas stations don’t carry sunscreen. The one she had gone to did not, at least. The gentleman behind the counter was kind enough to point her in the right direction. A little mom and pop shop less than a mile down the road. It was a nice enough place. The owner, a young woman, was nice and even gave Chase a free lollipop. It was a small one, but he was still excited about it. He even said thank you without Grace having to prompt him, making her proud. Manners were important.
Again, they piled into the car. Before taking off, Grace threw her new purchased of SPF 100 sunscreen in the front passenger seat. She would worry about putting it on him when they reached the zoo.
Soon, they were back on the highway and headed toward the zoo. Grace glanced in her rear view mirror to see Chase smiling and staring down at his lollipop. It always amazed her how happy he was with something so simple, such as a lollipop or a piece of candy. She wished he could always stay that way. That he wouldn’t face the harsh realities of life as he got older. But everyone had to go through them, learn from them. Some sooner than others. Maybe he would stay a kid for a little longer.
Grace put her eyes back in front. Panic welled inside of her before everything went black.