The wheels passing over the roughly joined paving stones gave a thrilling jolt, threatening a fall. Suzie realised roller skates were not the most sensible footwear for running away in. For hours she’d whizzed and wobbled up and down the front path waiting for her mum’s attention to slip away. Finally out onto the street the world ballooned before her, randomly she rolled left.
One hand clutched the Mr Bump duffle bag made by her Nan, the other waved around as if trying to point out twenty things at once. The skates had been a birthday present and over the last two weeks Suzie had tried to look as graceful as her best friend Judy, failing due to a complete lack of balance.
Suzie also received three crisp five-pound notes inside her birthday cards, one each from Aunties Mary, Doris and Anne. They lay folded inside her purse, the one shaped like a little sailor hat. This was her running away fund.
Three wobbly streets from home she stood opposite the Tea Turtle, a café famous locally for its ice cream sundae, four scoops topped with a whole glacé cherry, half a banana and lashings of raspberry sauce. Without hesitation she threw herself across the road, arms flung wide yelling, “Wheeeeee”. This abandon found a sudden halt as whirring wheels struck the kerb full force, flinging her towards the pavement, straight down like a dropped broom.
Inside the Tea Turtle he sat with his back to the door, half turning as it dinged cheerfully open, a pavlovian response, before returning his attention to the apple pie. Only the gasp of the waitress made him turn back around. In an instant he was off the stool and heading across the floor with the waitress close on his heels.
Suzie wavered on wheeled feet, knees and nose dripping blood onto the clean linoleum. No words came out but in her mind she was trying to ask for that sundae. Her chin bobbed up and down instead; nose screwed up with the effort of holding back tears.
He looked beyond the girl; eyes scanning the street outside then dragged them back to her startled bloodied face.
“You on your own?” sounded gruffer than intended. Suzie bobbed her head as a yes, making more blood spatter onto the floor. It reminded her of raspberry sauce and she wondered if she could ask for extra with her sundae.
“I’ll get some tissue,” said the waitress flashing the girl a quick smile. He scooped Suzie up and in two strides was back at the counter, plonking her on top of a high stool. She clanked her skates against the wooden legs, absently swinging her feet until she caught sight of his brow furrowing and stopped mid swing. In case she started up again he bent down saying, “I’m just going to take these off, don’t want you taking another tumble.” He didn’t see his own little girl very often, on the road with work all the time. Slightly out of his depth he fumbled over the laces and cursed quietly. A giggle bubbled up within her that wouldn’t go away so she let it loose, peeking to gauge his reaction through scrunched up eyes.
He tried to swallow the smile that crept up on him, saying, “Well little miss, looks like you’ll mend.” Once all the blood was wiped away Suzie looked a lot less damaged, she’d have some great scabs to pick at on her knees but the nose wasn’t broken. With a toothy grin she turned to the man, “My name’s Suzie, what’s yours?”
He hesitated before replying, “Elvis”, returning the toothsome smile. “Pleased to meet you miss, fancy an ice cream sundae?” The words made her eyes sparkle, expanding the grin towards her ears she declared, “Uh-huh”, nodding her head in time with each syllable.
“Don’t tease the man,” scolded the waitress. Suzie furrowed her own brow in confusion. She was so busy wondering how she’d said the wrong thing she forgot to ask for extra raspberry sauce.
Elvis watched her delve into the dish, spooning huge lumps of ice cream down her throat faster than it could melt. “Suzie, where’s your Mum?” She didn’t look any older than his girl who was seven and there was no way he’d let her wander the streets alone.
“I’ve run away” she said, thrusting out her chin, “I thought it was about time I tried”, she added matter-of-factly, returning her attention to the sundae. Elvis stifled a chuckle behind a cough. Ignoring her reply he said, “Your skates look shiny – are they new? I’ll bet they were a present.”
“Ooh yes, my Mum and Dad gave them to me for my birthday. I got lots of other things too; in my purse I have three five-pounds.” She waved the tiny sailors hat triumphantly.
“Well isn’t that wonderful, your family must love you a lot,” he said. Then as if the thought had only just occurred to him, “I suppose they’ll really miss you now you’ve left home.”
Suzie sank her eyes low. She hadn’t considered that, lost in dreams of adventure. The spoon hovered before her mouth as she struggled to find an answer. Ice cream puddled in her dish, finally she said, “I miss my Mum.”
The waitress shook her head, tutting quietly as she fussed with a cleaning cloth pretending not to listen.
Elvis reached out a hand, and stroked Suzie’s cheek. His fingertips felt rough not at all like her mums, more like Samson her cat’s tongue. She missed Samson too.
“You’ve had a rough day with that fall, why don’t I take you home and you can try running away another time?”
A great sigh escaped Suzie as relief hit her belly. “Can we go now? My Mum might be worried.”
Elvis took a deep breath before pushing the doorbell holding firmly to Suzie’s hand. He gave her a little squeeze of reassurance. Her mum threw open the door, face taut, braced for the worst, eyes wide with worry that widened further at the unexpected sight in front of her. Before she could speak, Suzie launched into her adventures, “Mum I fell over on my skates and Elvis bought me an ice cream sundae.”
“I’m sure he did sweetie,” interrupted her Mum, “but who is this nice man that brought you home?” casting an apologetic glance at the stranger on her doorstep.
Elvis blushed, “Err, I’m Elvis. I know. Can’t sing for toffee unlike the other one.”
Suzie’s Mum felt her face redden. “I’m so sorry. Thanks for bringing her home.” She turned to glare at Suzie, “And you, little madam, where have you been?” Suzie looked at Elvis for help, realising she was in big trouble. With a little shake of his hips Elvis said, “She’s all shook up. Got lost practising on those skates and took a nasty tumble.”
Suzie’s mum felt a grin loosen her face up. “Don’t think twice, it’s all right.” A huge guffaw escaped as she pulled Suzie in for a hug, over her shoulder she said, “Sorry, I am huge fan! I thought it was why she concocted the Elvis story. “Please come in, have a drink.” Unable to resist the temptation, with a wink she turned and headed indoors, shouting, “Justin, she’s back! Fetch some beers…we’ve got Elvis visiting…”