It’s been a busy, busy day, so by the time you slide into the booth at Red Robin, everyone’s energy is flagging. Your daughter hasn’t napped, your husband is sick, and you’re tired, but you persevere because you want to surprise her with a sundae and a birthday song. Because you want to see her face light up and shine. It seems like a good plan, it really does.
But before you even order, she lets go of her balloon, the one you insisted she keep tied onto a weight. She unties the string, tricky fingers and luck, and the balloon sails into the rafters fifty feet up. She doesn’t even notice that it’s gone for a few minutes, but when she does, all hell breaks loose.
She screams for a good long while, cries big, round tears. You pick her up and take her outside to calm down. You stand there on the curb, watching the cars drive by, bouncing her on your hip the way you used to when she was a tiny baby. You hum something quiet under your breath. You wrap your sweater over her arms.
And then, miraculously, she does calm down, enough for you to walk back inside to your booth, where she attaches herself to your husband. She eats her chicken fingers and swipes a french fry through your Ranch dressing, dripping sauce onto the table and down her arms. She is allergic to Ranch dressing. You tell her that is her last fry. She doesn’t seem to mind.
Instead your girl smiles and dances and shakes her head to the music. You wonder how she can change her mood so quickly, go back and forth so fast.
Finally, when the meal is cleared, the waiters do come with an ice cream sundae and a song. And your daughter’s smile is shy and hidden behind your husband’s shoulder. She hugs him tight, leans across the table with her eyes closed to kiss you on the lips. All night long she is grateful. You let out the breath you’d been holding.