Coming up after the news on All Things Considered, the latest developments in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Adam groaned and switched the damn thing off, then got to inch forward all of half a car length. He punched the phone again. This time, to his surprise, Claire picked right up. “Just got off the plane. How’s Sweetie Pie?”
“Still at school. I’m on the Downtown Connector, stopped dead. It’s pouring. Again. All the skyscrapers are lost in clouds. At this rate, I’m gonna be most of an hour late. I shoulda taken Piedmont. How pissed off do they get if you’re late?”
She laughed. “They don’t. Because you have to pay the teacher. Three bucks a minute.”
She laughed again. “Keeps you on time.”
“This is going to cost me a hundred bucks. There’s no exception for stuck in traffic?”
“This is Atlanta: when are you not stuck in traffic? Call ahead, though, so Simon doesn’t worry.”
“Um, I don’t think I even have the number. Oh, no; I do, but the card is in my briefcase.”
“I’ll do it. Kiss him for me!” and she rang off, to leave him staring at the back of a white pickup covered in Ron Paul stickers, all beaded with the endless rain, each drop reflecting an ocean of brake lights in the premature dusk brought on by the storm.
Simon looked up as Mr. Darius came back in the room. “Audrey’s mom came and got her,” he said as he added another brick to his Lego tower.
“I just saw them. And your mom called: she said your dad was coming to get you?”
“Yeah, Mom’s on a trip. Dad’s going to take me for pizza.”
“That is awesome. But he’s going to be late: he’s stuck in traffic. So it’s just you and me for a while here, big guy. You want a book, or you want some more Lego time?”
“Um, Legos is good. Can you show me how to make the bricks over…?”
“Hunh? Oh, overlap. Of course. But in a few minutes you’re going to have to hang out in the lobby while I make sure the rest of the place is locked up tight.”
But Mr. Darius took forever back there. Simon could hear him, on the phone, but not loud enough to know what he was saying. Outside the front door, it was pouring rain, which was why they missed playground time again this afternoon. Lots of cars were on the street outside. A bus pulled up to the shelter across the street and a lady got in. After the bus drove away, there were no cars. And he saw it: a kitty, a black one, standing under the seat of the bus shelter. He was hunched over, with his fur sticking out, so he was all wet. Simon really wanted a kitty. But Mom has allergies.
“Mr. D?” He called. No answer. Simon went back to find him, but the halls were dark and now he couldn’t hear Mr. Darius’s voice. He looked back, forth, back, then went to the front door. This time he got to press the button to open it because Mom wasn’t there to tell him no.
Once outside, the rain hit him like the shower at the outdoor pool, only it didn’t smell like the pool. He walked to the curb and stood there, watching the kitty from between all the cars that were zooming by. But the cars never stopped. He could only see the kitty if all the cars lined up just right. He sighed. He’d get in so much trouble if he crossed the street. It was jaywalking, the police lady told his class.
He went to go back inside, but now the door was locked. And pressing the button didn’t work because you need to slide a card first. He, knocked again, called for Mr. D, but nobody came. And he could see on the bench inside the lobby his Spiderman backpack, with the emergency phone in it. He started to cry, but made himself stop: either Mr. D would–
“Dad!” he shouted as the car came to a stop. But it was the right car and the wrong dad: this man wasn’t bald. “Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were my dad. He drives the same kind of car.”
“Well, you’re soaked to the bone,” said the man. “Hop on in, and I’ll give you a ride.”
“Okay,” said Simon. Then he paused and remembered the police lady. “I’m not supposed to get in a car with strangers.”
“I’m not a stranger,” said the man. “I’m your dad’s friend from work.” Simon slumped back against the door, not knowing what to think. The man looked back and forth. Somebody else honked their horn. “Okay,” the guy said, and drove away.