The Long Wait

Children love to play and enjoy treats, and few occasions provide better opportunities for them to do both than birthday parties.

There is also no mythical creature known to help children revel in friends and fun more than El Papa. According to legend, he is little and round and brown, like a potato, with dark eyes and beard. He wears white overalls and a round hat. He has a huge grin.

Autumn claimed to be one of the few who could see El Papa, and he liked to visit her once in a while. Because he was immortal, El Papa had all the time in the world. To him there was never need to rush or hurry. He only wanted to make the most of any moment, and he encouraged others to value time the same way he did. He gave great advice.

“Can’t we get there any faster?” Autumn said.

“I’m driving as fast as I can,” her father said.

Finally, Autumn arrived at the home of the birthday girl, Juanita. It was a hot sunny afternoon. Autumn handed Juanita a birthday present, and Juanita handed Autumn a popsicle.

“Daddy, may I eat the popsicle?” Autumn said.

Although Marshall preferred his daughter didn’t eat sweets, he agreed.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll burn off the sugar.”

Autumn ate the popsicle, and then she ran wild with her friends in a bouncy house. Marshall joined some parents on the front porch, and they watched their children play.

As time passed, more guests and treats arrived. Juanita’s family rolled a cotton candy maker onto the driveway, and the children lined up for the pink, fluffy sweet.

“Daddy, may I eat some cotton candy?” Autumn said.

Although Marshall preferred his daughter didn’t eat sweets, he agreed.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll burn off the sugar.”

Autumn ate the cotton candy, and then she ran wild with her friends in the bouncy house.

As time passed, the sun crossed the sky and was preparing to set. The party was scheduled to end, yet it seemed to be just beginning. More guests, and treats, arrived.

The atmosphere became so festive it was easy for Autumn to get carried away. She slipped by her father with a bottle of fruit punch in her hands without even asking if she could drink it.

Marshall snagged the fruit punch and replaced it with water.

“This will keep you hydrated,” he said.

Autumn was too excited to complain.

Marshall was not. He and some parents on the porch began glancing back and forth at their children and watches.

“It’s close to Autumn’s bedtime,” Marshall said. “We might have to skip out, before the cake.”

“Same with us,” another father said. “This party seems like it could go all night. We have to be up early in the morning.”

Marshall crept next to Autumn and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “I think we ought to leave soon. You need to get to bed.”

But Marshall’s voice, it seemed, was not the only one whispering in her ear.

“Not yet, Daddy,” Autumn said. “I’m still having fun!”

At that moment, a lady wearing a pink dress and golden crown appeared. The children gathered around her in a circle. The lady began making balloon dolls and swords, doling them out slowly to good girls and boys.

“I want a balloon!” Autumn said.

“Of course you do,” Marshall said, rolling his eyes.

The moment to escape had passed.

Autumn joined the circle and waited patiently with the other children.

Marshall returned to the porch and also waited. And waited. And waited. A half hour later, he and Autumn continued to wait for her to get a balloon.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “You have been very patient, but the balloon lady is taking a long time. Wouldn’t you rather play with your friends?”

“She’s not a balloon lady, she’s a princess!” Autumn said. “And I do want to wait, I do!”

Autumn was tired and cranky. Marshall realized the sweets and the heat finally were getting to her. He reached for Autumn’s arm, to usher her toward his car, when he heard a voice inside his head.

Give her a chance,” it said. “The only one in a hurry is you!”

So, Marshall returned to the porch and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour later, he and Autumn continued to wait for her to get a balloon.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart, you have been very, very patient, but the balloon lady – sorry, princess — is taking a really long time. Wouldn’t you rather play with your friends?”

Autumn glanced away from her father. She was so absorbed in thought it seemed like his must not have been the only advice she was considering.

Marshall watched his daughter’s eyes drift toward a group of friends. They were playing in the bouncy house. Some had balloons, but some did not, and those who did not, did not seem to mind. They were too busy having fun to worry about what they didn’t have.

“Okay, Daddy,” Autumn said.

She stood and broke away from the circle. She ran wild and free, once again, immersed in her time with her friends.

Long after sunset, a lone white balloon shaped like a sombrero slipped through the princess’ hands. It floated across the yard and onto Autumn’s lap as she flopped out of the bouncy house.

Many guests, Marshall included, seemed surprised. Some clapped.

But not Autumn. It was as if she expected it. She took a bow and donned her white balloon sombrero.

There was a round of laughter.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Does this mean we can go now?” he said.

“What about the birthday cake?” she said.

“Fine, we’ll stay for cake.”

Autumn stared into her father’s eyes; they reflected her fatigue.

“That’s okay, Daddy,” she said. “We can go. I’m feeling … tired.”

Autumn reached up for her father. He lifted her into his arms and carried her away.

“Thanks for being so patient with me today,” she said, whispering in his ear. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, sweetheart,” he said.

Marshall was so touched, his eyes welled up with tears. Autumn had a magical way of knowing just what he needed to hear.

Bob the Mystic Frog

Bob the Frog 2

On the nights Autumn stayed with her father in his apartment, he told her a bedtime story, and then she fell asleep in his bed next to a big stuffed frog, which she called Bob. He had a pink heart.

Later that night, after reading a book or watching a movie, Autumn’s father, Marshall, joined them.

And that’s how it was, for years: Marshall slept on one end of the bed next to Autumn, who slept in the middle of the bed next to Bob, who slept on the other end of the bed.

And while Autumn and her father were close, Autumn and Bob in some ways were closer.

“We share the same dreams,” Autumn said one night as Marshall put her to bed.

“Oh, yeah?” Marshall said. “What do you and Bob dream about?”

“Bob and I dream about a town where everything is made out of rainbows,” Autumn said. “The houses are made out of rainbows. The cars are made out of rainbows. The fridges are made out of rainbows. Even the fruit roll-ups are made out of rainbows.”

“That sounds like a beautiful place,” Marshall said. “Are the people made out of rainbows, too?”

“No, they’re normal,” Autumn said. “Except for Bob. He still looks like a frog.”

“That must be neat, to have a friend that shares your dreams.”

“It is,” Autumn said. “Bob’s really cool. He can read minds. He’s a … mystic!”

“I see,” Marshall said. “Sleep well.”

And the three did, until Chloe started spending the night, too. She not only often joined Autumn and her father for Daddy Day, she sometimes stayed until the next morning.

Autumn remembered the first time. She woke up with her father to one side, as usual, but Chloe was on the other. Bob was nowhere to be seen.

“This is so surprising!” Autumn said, playing with Chloe’s poofy hair.

“Chloe was too tired to drive home last night,” Marshall said. “I thought it would be better if she stayed here.”

“You had a sleepover?” Autumn said.

“Yes, is that all right?” Chloe said.

“Yes, I think that’s a great idea!” Autumn said. “You can sleep over any time.”

Autumn quickly learned, however, that sleeping in bed with her father and Chloe was a little different than it had been with her father and Bob.

There was less room in the bed, because Chloe was larger than Bob. Everybody was squished.

One day, Autumn arrived at her father’s apartment, and it wasn’t only his anymore. It had plants and books and crystals and blankets and spoons. Chloe was moved in.

“Is all of this stuff yours?” Autumn asked Chloe.

“It came from my apartment, but now it’s all of ours,” Chloe said.

“Are you going to marry Chloe?” Autumn asked her father as he put her to bed.

“Someday, probably,” Marshall said.

“Will there be a big wedding, with lots of cupcakes?”

“Big wedding, no. Lots of cupcakes, maybe. But only if you sing.”

“I will sing, Daddy.”

“I hope so,” he said. “Love you, baby.”

That night, Marshall told Autumn a bedtime story about her and Bob’s first adventure leaving the rainbow town. It involved a treasure hunt on a flying carpet for magic cupcakes that gave Autumn and Bob super powers.

It was such an exciting story, Autumn and her mystic friend dreamed about it together all night.

When Autumn woke the next morning, she was sleeping in a new bed.

Just for her.

And Bob.

Story Clouds

aliens and spaceships

Because she often was bored during car rides, Autumn liked to play games to pass the time.

During the drive to her cousins’ house one Sunday, Autumn played Story Clouds. In this game, passengers take turns telling stories about the images they see in the clouds.

“I see a frog jumping off a lily pad!” Autumn said. “Daddy, what do you see?”

Marshall, her father, glanced out the window.

“I see a kitty eating a cookie,” he said. “What do you see?”

“I see an alien spaceship, and it’s coming our way!” Autumn said. “Daddy, what do you see?”

Marshall saw the red flash of brake lights as cars stopped ahead of them. He applied his brakes, and the car he and Autumn were riding slowed down.

It was stop-and-go traffic on the freeway as far as Marshall could see.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “I’m going to have to keep my eyes on the road for a while. You’ll have to play by yourself.”

Autumn sat in her rear car seat and watched silently as the alien spaceship approached. To her it looked like a giant hamburger, a meal her father always wanted her to try but she was always too afraid to do so. She only liked eating the bun.

“Why are all of these people honking at us?” Marshall said, confused. “I’m as stuck here as they are.”

Autumn knew. The alien spaceship hovered above their car, and people were excited. Everyone wanted to meet the aliens, even Autumn.

“It’s nothing, Daddy,” Autumn said, not wanting him to be anymore confused than he already was. “You just keep your eyes on the road.”

Finally, the cars began moving again and didn’t stop. As Marshall continued to drive, Autumn noticed the spaceship fly past the freeway toward the hills where her cousins lived.

Autumn’s aunt, Misty, and her cousins, Star and Krystal, were happy to see Autumn when she arrived.

“Okay, sweetheart,” Marshall said. “It was great seeing you this weekend. Have fun with your cousins. Your mom will be by to pick you up in a few hours.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Autumn said. “See you next time.”

Autumn, Star and Krystal decided to play on the trampoline in the backyard. They unzipped the safety net, climbed aboard, and began to jump.

Autumn told Star and Krystal about the alien spaceship she saw on the freeway. They didn’t seem impressed.

“There’s no such thing as aliens,” Star said. “You just imagined it.”

“Yeah, Autumn!” Krystal said.

“I did not!” Autumn said. “They flew this way. I think they are landing on the street. The aliens are coming for us.”

“Why would they come here?” Star said. “What would they want us for?”

It was a good question, but Autumn had an even better answer.

She sprang toward Star and whispered in her ear.

“They aren’t coming for us,” Autumn said. “They’re coming for our food!”

Star, Autumn and Krystal laughed. They jumped around the trampoline in circles, pretending to be aliens chasing each other.

Aunt Misty called them to the patio table. It was time for lunch.


“I’ll be right back, girls,” Aunt Misty said. “I need to get more water from the kitchen.”

Star and Krystal piled their patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle. They squirted ketchup and mustard on their bun and swirled it together with a butter knife. They began to eat.

Autumn was a little jealous, but not enough to do the same. Since Star and Krystal were so busy with their food, they didn’t notice what Autumn did with hers.

Autumn gave her patty to Sabina, the old family dog, who fetched it from Autumn’s hand and disappeared around the corner.

Aunt Misty returned from the kitchen.

“Done so soon?” she said to Autumn.

“I guess the alien ate her food,” Star said.

“What?” Aunty said.

Star explained to Misty Autumn’s fascination with the aliens.

“Maybe they came here to make you eat your food,” Aunty said.

Star laughed.

“Yeah, if that were true, would you still say aliens are real?” Star said.

“No,” Autumn said, taking a bite out of a bun. “That would be silly.”