Packed to the gills with beach and baby gear, the young couple sang along to their scratchy car radio when their favorite song of the summer came on. “I Can’t Stop Loving You, I’ve made up my mind…,” they belted out, hoping their toddler wouldn’t wake up from her nap in the back seat. Janet and Robert went to the ocean on every vacation before they had Emma, and they hoped she loved it as much as they did.
Not too many cars were on the beach since it was a weekday, and Robert skillfully drove onto the beach finding just the right spot. Still humming the Ray Charles tune, they unloaded the gear and the baby, setting up camp and settling in on what seemed to be the most beautiful sunny, summer day. Chubby and adorable at 18 months old, they watched as Emma played happily, flinging fat fistfulls of the damp sand in no particular direction. Everything about the beach fascinated her. The warm water and gentle surf soon lured Dad and baby to its edge. Emma slapped the water as a wave came to her, squealing every time the salty water retreated. Then she had the idea to chase the wave, and toddled straight in without any hesitation. Robert was close behind, keeping her safe, happy knowing that this area was quite shallow.
After the requisite sandy lunch on the beach, Janet dragged the raft to the water and placed Emma right in the middle. Robert had collected his camera gear from the car, the Kodak Motormatic that he was so proud of, and carefully planned his shots for the first beach portrait of Emma. Jan pulled the raft a little ways out into the gentle surf.
She looked over at Rob taking his precious pictures. “We’re so young. We should never have had this baby.”
“What? What are you talking about? Emma is awesome!”
“No, she’s not that awesome,” she sighed. “I’m so tired, and I can’t work, and I just want to have fun again. Be a couple. No responsibilities.”
Emma bobbed in her raft, and Janet and Rob just stared at each other like strangers.
“What would happen if we just let her drift? Drift away. She’s so happy in that little raft. No one would even notice.”
More staring, more silence. Rob’s face stuck in a look of disbelief, he began to yell, “Are you fucking kidding me?! What? She just disappears and no one will ask where she is? You can’t be serious. Of course people would notice. That’s just fucking stupid! What the hell is wrong with you?!!”
Minutes passed and they kept staring, Janet stone-faced and silent. When they looked back out toward the water, there was no sign of the raft, no sign of Emma. Rob splashed out into the water, swimming when it got too deep. Spotting Emma, still bobbing along, Rob caught up, sputtering, “Thank God, Emma. You’re okay. Oh my God. Your mom. I just don’t know who she is,” continuing to speak gently to her as he grabbed the handle on the raft, and pulled her back to the beach.
Robert dragged Emma and her raft up onto their perfect beach spot, and saw nothing. The car, all the beach gear. Gone. Janet never looked back. And Rob? He stood up a little straighter. He would be all the parent Emma ever needed.
Today’s fiction story is based on the prompt from both last week’s and this week’s challenge. While I’ve been steering clear of the fiction grid, this is an unmoderated week, so I’m giving it a go.