A memory. We are at the ice cream shop as a team. Coach is buying, because we won. Kelly and I both get Bubble Gum ice cream, which is her favorite flavor. I don’t have a favorite flavor like everyone else. I just choose what Kelly chooses. We sit side by side, eating and spitting the mini gumballs out onto a napkin between us. All the girls on the team are laughing and joking and squabbling. One girl, Lisa, who used to be team captain, has strawberry syrup all over her face and licks her spoon.
“You two are already finished?” she asks, incredulous and mean. Kelly is team captain now, not Lisa.
“Me and Tilly aren’t finished! We still have gumballs!”
Kelly and I eat gumballs for the rest of the night. My sweatshirt pocket is sticky when I get home, and I put two gumballs in my memory box, reverently. They feel important for some reason. It’s the last happy memory I have from home.
There’s a bowling team eating ice cream in the cafeteria at the De Young museum. They all have little bags from the Museum Store, which is where I saw them. They were wearing matching shirts at first, but the museum got cold and now they put on mismatched jackets.
I know where all their wallets are.
I can tell, just by looking, that Phil (I read his embroidered name) is the leader. Everyone looked to him in the gift shop to see if he was buying something. When they went to buy food, the other three saw Phil get ice cream and followed suit.
The Phils and Kellys make the world go round, and the rest of us are all content to enjoy the ride.
It’s hard to tell you exactly when everything began to change, but when I ran away to San Francisco, it wasn’t because I wanted more chaos. I wanted to get away and find a routine all my own. I thought it was foolish while I packed my backpack, and I cried for most of it, especially when I realized I couldn’t keep my memory box.
Lots of stories have little kids running off to scare their parents, but I knew my parents wouldn’t get scared about me. It was in their dark, sunken eyes. They didn’t even register who I was anymore, I was a cog in their broken machine.
When I got to San Francisco I was pleasantly surprised that my planning was mildly worthwhile. Part of that was E.L. Konigsburg’s guide to running away, From the Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I also like to think a good deal of it was my hardscrabble Oliver Twist nature.
I hid in museums. There were groups of kids for camouflage, and families to pretend to be part of. There was my fort in the linen closet in the Cafeteria where they kept their special occasion tablecloths. I had to be there by 7pm, but after midnight, I could roam.
Pickpocketing turned out to be a necessity. I discovered the hard way that since Konigsburg had written, the fountains, with all their glittering quarters, had alarms installed. Some guards recognized me sometimes, so I had to start switching museums more often, with different clothes, at different times of the day. There were new versions of Tilly hidden all over.
Life would have been perfect if it weren’t for my memory, reminding me of everything normal I had thrown away when I ran. I missed my books and school more than any normal 14-year-old should.
Phil and his bowling team finish their ice cream and start to move, and I follow behind, stop-starting my walk like a kid caught up in wonder. They go back to the Picasso exhibit and I stop in front of the littler guy, Chet. Phil bumps into Chet, and I fake stumble, grab for Chet’s leather wallet out of his front right pocket and slip Phil’s moneyclip out of the inner pocket of his coat and apologize.
“I love the blue period,” I say nonchalantly. Phil and Chet regain their balance and smooth themselves over.
Phil and Chet’s wallets are the perfect sort of wallet. Older folks don’t trust banks and credit cards like people in their thirities, so they are bursting with twenties. I pocket the cash and then dump their wallets on the museum floor. Someone will return them.
I spend the rest of the afternoon happy. I eat chicken salad in the cafeteria and buy myself a memory box in the Museum store, a little wooden one with gold filigree and a mosaic design.
I fondle the box back inside the museum when someone says my name in half recognition and half surprise.
“Tilly?” I know the voice. The coach of my team, the dad of Lisa, former team captain. Lisa doesn’t turn.
The museum is sort of built for hasty retreats. There are so many exhibits, switchbacks and twists and turns, but Coach is a lot faster than I give him credit for and I burst out the museum doors followed closely by startled yells of jostled patrons and the squeal of Coach’s tennis shoes on the buffed tile floor.
I duck into bushes on the other side of the sidewalk and he comes through the door shortly after me, running left, calling my name.
I go back into the museum, and spin when I see Phil and his bowling team come out of the museum, mumbling about lost money and the blessing of returned wallets. I don’t want them to see me, recognize me. I want to run, but I’m scared to inadvertently find coach.
I keep my side towards Phil and look left the way Coach ran, and realize how steely my resolve truly is.
I don’t want to be found.
There’s a discount stock room for the Museum Store, dusty from misuse. I head there to wait for night.