The Lemonade Stand.
“Those kids are going to get kidnapped,” her high-pitched voice echoed in the foyer. “No decent parent in their right mind would allow their children to sit on the corner like that.”
Craig was tired. It had been way too long of a day at the office for this. He slipped off his shoes at the door, yearning to get past her to reach the refrigerator and its collection of import beers hidden in the back. “Honey, it’s a lemonade stand. We used to do things like that all the time when we were kids.”
“It was different back then,” his wife insisted, putting her hands on her hips. “It’s a scary world out there.”
“We live in a wealthy suburb, Laura.”
“But they’re at the end of the development, right by the a major intersection! Anyone coming down 82 can stop, snatch them up, and drive away. I’m calling their parents.”
“Alright, alright.” Craig put his shoes back on with a sigh. “I’ll go talk to them, okay? Just put the phone down.”
The neighborhood was quiet, free of the typical background noise of roaring lawnmowers and kids playing in their front yards. He wondered if the residents of Treeflower Lane even mowed their own grass - since they’d moved in to their new McMansion at 8614, he’d yet to see one. It’s funny how things like the sound of obnoxious lawnmowers are what one becomes accustomed to, and how its mere absence can breed nostalgia. He shook his head. They had been so excited when he first got the promotion, but it turned out that life was still just as big a pain in the ass as it was pre-brand new big house in ritzy development with good school system. Their problems were just more expensive.
He squinted in the setting sun to see the two young kids up ahead, seated behind their folding picnic table, their little hands folded, watching the cars pass them by with big innocent eyes. He was sad to see their jar held only a couple coins, their pitcher of lemonade far from empty. Guess the rich people around here didn’t want any lemonade.
As he got closer, he realized they were the Brooks kids, and suddenly, it all made sense. Tom Brooks inherited his parent’s house and immediately moved in, even though he was an auto mechanic up at the nearby Shell station who worked extra shifts at the oil change place on the weekends. Craig had met him when his kids were out making a snowman without boots, his wife horrified to see their reddening skin above their sneakers. He seemed a nice enough guy, just very distracted. He felt for him - he couldn’t imagine raising two kids as a single father with no help.
The rest of the neighborhood, however, did not feel the same way, treating them like an abomination that had no part among the neatly manicured lawns and Homeowners Association approved mailboxes. His heart broke for the kids - he couldn’t even imagine what school must be like alongside the richest kids the nearby counties had to offer.
Craig reached into his pockets, grateful he had a few dollars stashed away with the single serving packs of nicotine gum. “Hello,” he greeted them as he pushed the bills into their jar. “I’d like a cup of lemonade, please.”
The little girl (he couldn’t remember her name for the life of him) eyed the crumpled bills at the bottom of the jar. “A cup is only 25 cents.”
The little boy (his name had to be Max, Craig was sure of it) pointed to their cardboard sign that read, FRESH LEMONADE - 25 CENTS!
“It’s a tip,” Craig shrugged.
The little girl accepted his excuse and hurried to get him a cup, sloshing the liquid all over the grass as she did so.
“Careful, you’re going to waste it," Maybe Max warned her.
“It’s okay,” Craig assured them. “How long have you guys been out here? It’s got to be close to dinner time.”
Maybe Max shrugged. “Dad’s working late tonight.”
Craig knew his wife would kill him if he invited them over for supper, but she would also kill him if he didn’t get them off the street. “Why don’t you guys let me get you some McDonald's? I’d invite you to come along with me, but I don’t want to be that creepy stranger who invites kids into his car.”
The little girl laughed as she handed him his cup. “We know who you are, Mr. Talbot, you live across the street. My name is Cyndi, by the way.”
“Cyndi, that’s right,” Craig nodded as he sipped the lemonade. It was surprisingly cold and refreshing, with just enough sugar to soothe the tartness without hurting your teeth. He was genuinely impressed.
“It’s a recipe our grandma gave us,” Maybe Max told him. “We’ll go with you to McDonald's. Come on, Cyndi, just grab the money.”
Craig was grateful his driveway was long enough and his house big enough that his wife didn’t hear him as he snuck up and took the car. The kids settled quietly into the backseat, putting on their seat belts without any fuss. Such good kids, he thought to himself as he pulled out of their development and headed up the street to McDonald's. They didn’t even demand shakes or Big Macs, even when Craig waved away their earnings and assured them he could afford whatever they wanted. They were content sipping on their Sprites with a hamburger and small fry each on their laps.
Laura and he had tried for children when they first were married, but after rounds of treatments, trials, experiments they’d finally decided to try out life as a childless couple. Sometimes he wondered if that was why she was so centered in on children that weren’t hers, her maternal inklings pushing to break free. Craig had accepted it, but if he were to have kids, he'd hope they were like the Brooks kids.
“Thanks for the food, Mr. Talbot,” Maybe Max said as the car grew closer to their street. “I was hoping you’d finally take us out of there before the explosion.”
“Explosion?” Craig looked at him in the rear-view mirror.
“Yeah, you know, the one that kills us,” Cyndi replied with her mouth full.
Craig suddenly felt a wave of unease behind the steering wheel. “Are you guys messing with me?”
He saw them look between each other before Maybe Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m sorry, Mr. Talbot, we thought you were remembering, that’s why you came to save us.”
“Listen, kiddo, I was just helping you guys out with a bite to eat,” he told them. “I don’t know about any explosion -” He brought the car to a screeching halt when he realized their street was missing, grateful there weren’t any other cars sharing the road when he swerved, parking it on the grass. “Did I make a wrong turn somewhere…”
He looked around him. The street was still the same. The trees were still the same. But their development was gone. There was no road, no houses, no street signs, no streetlamps. Nothing. Just a lemonade stand.
Frantic, he looked at the kids sitting silently in the backseat. “What is going on?” he demanded.
Maybe Max bit his lip uncomfortably, Cyndi’s wide brown eyes bore into his. She decided to be the one to speak, “Dad, you really don’t remember?”
Craig was starting to tremble, wanting very badly to get out of his car and go somewhere - go anywhere, but there was nowhere to go. “Remember what?” he whispered in a voice that didn’t feel like his.
“We wanted to set up a lemonade stand outside, but Mom wouldn’t let us,” Max said gently. “So we were there when the house exploded. She was at the grocery store.”
Craig’s mouth went dry, his nose overwhelmed by the smell of gasoline.
“We were hoping one day you would come with us,” Cyndi said with a sigh. “But you never want to leave. Max and I have been trying to get your attention, but nothing ever works. Until Max came up with the lemonade stand idea. He said, Dad will come if it’s a lemonade stand.”
Craig stared at his son, speechless, noticing the thick waves of sandy brown hair he’d inherited from his mother were in patches.
“Come on, Dad,” he said gently. “It’s time to go.”
Craig looked back at the woods where his development had just been, the development they’d never lived in, wondering if he’d ever get the scent of burned wood and plastic out of his clothes. He suddenly felt peaceful, glad he’d gotten the kids something to eat even though his weekend shifts at Reddi Oil were getting cut short and money was tight again. A few droplets of blood fell onto the dash as he adjusted his rear-view mirror, smiling at the kids with grinning skulls and charred skin sitting in the backseat.
“Make sure you don’t leave the wrappers on the floor,” he told them as he put the car in drive.
“We won’t,” Max promised.
Craig suddenly remembered his paper Dixie cup sitting in the center console, and took a long sip. There really was nothing quite like fresh, sweet lemonade.