Vacation Bells

Tommy sat in the backseat and licked the ice cream cone that his Daddy had bought him at the drugstore. Tommy had never had one like it before—vanilla and chocolate twisted together—and he was enjoying the combination of flavors. Outside the sun was shining down and making the sidewalk ripple, but Tommy was nice and cool in the backseat. Daddy had left the car’s engine running while he and Mommy went inside the bank across the street, and the air conditioner was on, which was good. Tommy would have been upset if the hot sun had melted his ice cream.

He gave the cone a lick and scooted over to look out the window. The leaves on the big tree in front of the bank waved in the bright sunshine, dappling the narrow white columns dangling from the bank’s roof with shadows. Tommy wondered how many leaves it took to make them all, and he thought about counting them. He was good at counting; he helped Mommy count the money in her bags all the time. But he could tell just by looking that there were almost as many leaves on the tree as there were crunchy green bills in Mommy’s bags, and counting Mommy’s money always took a very long time. There was no way Tommy could count them all before the vacation bell started ringing.

It would ring soon, too, because the vacation bell always rang after Mommy and Daddy went into a bank. Sometimes right away and sometimes after a few minutes—but it always rang. And when it did, Mommy and Daddy would come running out and jump in the car, and then they would all go away on a trip.

The bell still hadn’t started today, however, even though Mommy and Daddy had been in the bank for almost half of Tommy’s ice cream cone

But it was probably because everyone inside was busy laughing at the funny rubber masks Mommy and Daddy had put on. Usually they wore black wool masks like the kind Tommy had worn the time they went skiing, but Daddy had said it was time that he and Mommy ‘stepped up their game.’ Tommy didn’t know what that meant, but he’d laughed last night when Daddy showed him Mommy’s new mask. It looked like a pig. Daddy’s mask was funny too; it looked like a gorilla. Daddy had let Tommy wear it at the hotel, and Tommy had climbed up and hung on the bar in the closet and pretended that he was King Kong. Mommy had told him to watch out for airplanes, and then tickled his armpits while she made zooming noises until he laughed so hard he lost his grip.

Tommy had wanted to play King Kong some more this morning, but Daddy had asked him to wait until tonight because he needed to clean the guns. Tommy had pouted briefly, but then sat down to watch Daddy work and listen to the gun speech. Daddy always gave Tommy the gun speech while he oiled the shiny guns, and Tommy knew it by heart. It went:

    Guns are very dangerous.
    Never, ever touch a gun.
    Guns are only for Mommy and Daddy, and then only for when they go to a bank to ‘make a withdrawal’
    (Daddy always said that last part funny, as if it were a magic word, like ‘abracadabra’).
    If you see anyone besides Mommy or Daddy holding a gun, hide until Mommy or Daddy comes to get you.

Tommy had said the words along with Daddy, and when Daddy had finished, he’d laughed, ruffled Tommy’s hair, and kissed him on the forehead.

Tommy was still thinking about how proud his Daddy had been when five loud bangs sounded from inside the bank. The noise made Tommy jump, and he almost dropped what was left of his ice cream cone. It sounded just like Mommy’s old car used to when she turned off the key and black smoke shot out of the tailpipe. Tommy had never heard that noise come from inside a bank before, though.

When the vacation bell started ringing a moment later and neither Mommy nor Daddy ran outside, Tommy started to worry. And when cars with flashing lights drove down the street and screeched to a halt in front of the bank, Tommy thought about getting out of the car to go find Mommy and Daddy and make sure that everything was okay. But when the men in blue suits jumped out of the cars holding guns, Tommy changed his mind. He crouched down on the floor in the back seat and stayed out of sight instead, just like Daddy had taught him.

Only Mommy and Daddy were supposed to hold guns. That was the rule.

As Tommy sat on the floor and hid like he was supposed to, he wondered if it was still okay to eat his ice cream. The cone would crunch if he bit into it, and that didn’t seem very sneaky, but it would melt and make a puddle if he left it uneaten. After a moment, Tommy decided to compromise by eating the ice cream and leaving the cone. He didn’t really like the cone part anyway.

The decision made, Tommy curled up against the back of the front seat to wait. He tried to distract himself by thinking about today’s vacation. Mommy had said that this time they were going to the beach, and that they were never going to leave. Tommy liked that idea. He was tired of always being somewhere different, and if he was going to stay in just one spot, he couldn’t think of a better one. He loved the beach. He would get some new flip flops and play in the sand, and then chase funny red crabs around through the water and throw lost starfish back into the ocean.

It would be fun.

And there wouldn’t be any more banks, or bells, or funny rubber masks, or loud, scary noises, or men with guns—just Tommy and Mommy and Daddy, playing on the beach in the warm sun forever.

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