Cascades of tears stream down pinched cheeks. I swiped viciously across my eyes with my bubble gum pink turtleneck sleeves but it doesn't matter, I'm soaked. The reflection in the car window magnifies red-rimmed eyes and chapped lips. My nose is a leaky faucet but the tissue box stuffed in the seat pocket is empty. I guess sleeves are a good enough substitute.
I kick the back of Daddy's seat as he flies down Main Street.
"Faster Daddy, it's getting away." My urgent cries punctuate the small interior of our Mustang. Mom prefered to drive the van so Daddy got to pick his choice of cars from Barry's Bargain Lot for used cars. She's four years old but Daddy says she purrs just fine. I just don't understand why adults think cars are like cats.
"I still see it, Lele" Daddy says, screeching to a halt at the red stoplight at Jefferson and Main. "We'll get there."
I don't care about reassurances. Those words are like the empty promises my third grade teacher made about the pizza party for Valentines Day. No pizza with its warm gooey cheese and crispy pepperonis. No party with fruit punch and cupcakes decorated with miniature hearts and flowers. No Fun!
All I want is Red back safe and sound. I barely even got the chance to hold her. Ms. Cindy gave me Red today and told me to take Red home to Mom. "Moms always know the best way to spread smiles" Ms. Cindy said, grinning a bit like a kid on Christmas morning.
The red light fades, giving way to bright green.
"Go Daddy, Go!" I yell even though I'm supposed to use my indoor voice.
"Hold your horses cowgirl, I'm going." Daddy grins in the rearview mirror but I can't manage to smile back. I'm too worried we won't catch Red in time. That she'll get ruined and I'll never get her back.
Then life will be horrible.
The tears which had finally dried up start to trickle out again. I wipe them away roughly, scratching my cheek with the mood ring I wear on my left hand. Cheap blue and purple plastic Cracker Jack prize which Melly and I fought over before agreeing to share it.
I have to find Red! Now!
My fingers twist together, tangled and wound tighter than C.J.'s guitar string winding around its peg. My short breaths sound like puffs of smoke from a choo-choo train. Daddy lowers the window so the gentle April breeze catches my bangs, blowing them into my eyes.
Through the open window I can see Red go behind the abandon MallPark shopping center. The white paint has chipped and faded but the mural of Cedearville City Park is still visible on the far end where Sears used to be open.
Taking two quick lefts, the Mustang bumps over a curb as we race into the empty parking lot in the shopping center. Daddy swerves around a cart corral before winding behind the building. Two dumpsters, three speed bumps, and one yield sign later, we are behind the building.
Daddy slows to a slow crawl as we search desperately for Red. I can't see her anywhere and I feel my heart began to rap a beat faster than a Nascar racer. It's almost painful to breathe and my now stuffy noes doesn't make it any easier.
"She's here, she has to be here." My voices sounds strange with its high-pitched urgency. Daddy pulls to a stop and I am jumping out of the car before Daddy can unbuckle his seat belt.
My legs burn and I think I need to start working hard in gym class with Mr. Nofsinger. Maybe actually join in the sprint races instead of hanging back and watching the other kids jostle for their places.
My lungs burn and I stumble over my shoelaces, falling to my knees. Asphalt grinds into my legs but I ignore the pain. "Where is she" I whisper, unable to say more.
"Over here," I hear Daddy call. He steps into the grass lining the parking lot, reaching for something caught in a small bush.
It's Red. She is deflated and dirty. There is a plastered to her side and her white string is tangled. My beautiful, perfect red balloon is ruined. Destroyed. There is no way to patch the tear across one side.
I softly gather the rubber piece and wound string into my hands. Inside Red, there is a piece of notebook paper and a small hand-drawn picture.
"She's ruined" I sob. Daddy wraps his arms around me and I burry my head in his flannel shirt. "Red is ruined" I murmur over and over.
Daddy rubs my back then says gently, "we can buy another red balloon from the store."
I pull away with a gasp. "No, we can't. Red was Melly's balloon. Ms. Cindy said so. I was supposed to bring her to Mommy and we were going to send her up to Melly."
Dad looks at me quietly, not understanding. He wouldn't, he isn't seeing a counselor.
I cradle Red in my arms. "Ms. Cindy, my school counselor, she said Red is a gift. To Melly. She helped me write a letter to her and I drew a picture of us playing on the playground." A few more sniffles escape. "Mommy and I were going to send Red to the stars. Then Melly could read my letter and hug my picture."
Daddy rubs slow circles on my back while my shaking shoulders slowly release. "I miss Melly. She was my best friend."
"Then let's buy a new balloon. We can put your letter and your picture inside and let it fly." Daddy's words wrap around me like a warm jean jacket.
The first smile, since we started chasing Red, breaks across my face as I stand up. Grabbing Daddy's hand, we walk back to the car, Red safely clutched in my other hand.
I look up toward the sky and watch a Cardinal soar by-Melly's favorite bird. My heart beats once saying "yes, it all will be ok."