A/N: Hi, everyone! Long time no update. I hope everyone's doing well during this crazy pandemic. I've been trying to update during this quarantine but Animal Crossing has taken my life. Anyway, stay safe and enjoy this new chapter. I was missing this one.
People Are People
There was something about the feeling of summer that brought Lana memories of Johnny's toddlerhood. Perhaps it was the heat or the smell of fresh cut grass in the neighborhood that reminded her of blushed cheeks and little bare feet running on top of concrete. The memories of her son at such a tender age felt like another lifetime and the nostalgia slowly began to eat away at Lana. It was the beginning of June but if life had taught her anything, Lana knew time would fly them by in an instant.
Before she knew it, it would be the end of summer and Johnny would be attending school for the first time. It was really bittersweet to say the least.
She sat on the porch of their home that June afternoon while Johnny played in the front lawn. He had turned on the water hose and was pouring water on the lawn. Lana's eyes gazed through the newspaper, quickly reading over articles and muttering to herself. She came upon a children's ad for clothes and a slight frown covered her face. Johnny was growing out of his clothes like a weed and Lana couldn't ignore it as much as she tried.
"Mommy." Johnny made his way over to her. His shirt and shorts were wet.
"Yes, my son?" Lana asked without taking her eyes off the paper.
"What're you reading?" Johnny motioned the hose at his feet, sprinkling water on Lana.
She gave a startled jolt and moved the paper aside, "Johnny, turn the water off now please."
Johnny dropped the hose on the walkway and did as he was told. Once the hose was turned off, he made his way back to the porch. "Why do ya like reading so much?" He asked, his tone a little bored. He tilted his head to the side; his lush dark hair had grown past his ears and cowlicked at the back.
"Why do you like asking so many questions?" Lana responded as she picked the paper back up.
Johnny shrugged, "I dunno."
Lana bit back a smile and lowered the paper to look at her little boy. She hadn't told him that she was going to enroll him in Kindergarten for the fall. He had attended daycare before but had yet to attend an actual school. Lana supposed that was her fault, she just tended to cling to the boy more than need be. Little by little she would need to start letting go.
"You must know if you do it every day." She teased him as she rested her chin on the palm of her hand.
Johnny looked back at her with those chocolate eyes of mischief and inquisitivity. "Nu-uh."
"Yeah-huh." Lana teased back.
Johnny laughed but his attention was taken away when a group of kids rode by on their bikes. He turned to watch them ride past his house and down the neighborhood. His little lips parted and his squinted eyes watched in curiosity. Guilt slowly began to consume Lana. All she wanted was to give Johnny a normal life but she often felt like she failed him in the simplest ways. She thought back to the holidays when he questioned their small family unit. It was always just the two of them.
Lana sighed and wiped the wet hair from his forehead. "Hey, how about we do something fun today, hmm?"
Johnny whipped his attention back to her, bright eyed and bushy tailed, "Fun? Mommy, you know fun stuff?"
Lana scoffed and brushed his nose, "Wise guy, huh? Do you want to or not?"
Johnny laughed, "Fun like what?" He dangled his arms back and forth.
Lana shrugged, "What would you like to do?"
Johnny tilted his head back, exposing the small scar he had gotten earlier that year in mid spring when he fell off his bike on the driveway. He hadn't cried but Lana almost did out of fear and panic. She was sure he had broken his jaw with how hard he landed on the ground.
"Like anything." She confirmed.
Johnny's eyes widened like he had gotten the best idea in the world. He stepped up the porch and tugged on Lana's arm. "Can we go to McDonald's?" He jumped up and down.
Lana frowned at this, "McDonald's?"
"Not even to the zoo?"
Lana exhaled. Needless to say, she was not a fan of the burger joint and had only gone in for the excessive commercials had gotten his attention.
"What about the diner with the big strawberry shakes? You like that place." She tried to dissuade him from the popular restaurant chain but Johnny was stubborn.
"McDonald's! Ya said I can said." He pouted his bottom lip. God, Lana thought, he was truly her son with those persuasive eyes and stickler personality.
Lana sighed again, "Okay, fine. McDonald's it is."
"Yeah!" Johnny cheered and ran in the house, "McDonald's!"
Lana tilted her head back. How she longed for his toddler days where he didn't have a say in where they went for the day.
The McDonald's in downtown Boston was loud and boisterous to say the least. The restaurant was filled with running children and groups of teenagers sitting with their friends. Parents sat in booths, occasionally looking over at their children who ran amuck in the indoor play place. No wonder Johnny loved the joint. Endless tubes and things to climb, not to mention the ball pit Lana was weary about. There was a cut out of Ronald McDonald standing by the entrance of the play place with a measuring pole announcing what ages and heights were allowed to play inside.
Once they ordered their food, they sat at a table near the play place so Lana could keep an eye on the boy. She knew it was impossible but the thought of Bloody Face coming to snatch the boy sent her anxiety through the roof. Lana knew it was a silly fear. It was like thinking a shark could appear in the bathtub. Impossible.
"Johnny, sit down and eat please." Lana opened Johnny's kid's meal and set it before him. Johnny turned on his chair to look at all the children playing in the tunnels. He wore a rose red baseball cap so Lana could easily spot him amongst the rest of the children.
"Can we go in to play after?" He asked, keeping his eyes on all the playing children. Their laughs and high pitched shouts bounced off the walls.
"According to the clown, I'm too big to play there." Lana gestured to the Ronald cut out. She never did like that clown. Sure, he wasn't the most terrifying thing she had seen in her lifetime, for she had seen far worse in Briarcliff alone. Alas, that didn't stop the uneasy feeling she got from the giant red smile. At least he wasn't wearing someone else's face, she told herself.
"Oh." Johnny turned back around, a bit disappointed but still happy to be there. He looked at his food and then turned back to watch the kids play.
Lana softly tapped the table, "Hey." She got his attention, "Eat please. Then you can go play."
Johnny did as he was told and took a couple of bites from his cheeseburger. He munched on a couple of fries but the temptation of the indoor playground was too much to handle. "Can I go play now?" He asked, interrupting Lana who was telling him they needed to do some shopping. She had his upcoming first day of school in mind and wanted to be prepared for it.
Lana looked down to Johnny's food. His burger was half eaten and he had only had a couple of fries. "Johnny, you barely ate."
Johnny pressed his lips together and gave her that innocent face. "You look so pretty, Mommy."
Lana scoffed and then laughed, "Wow, you sure do know how to sweet talk me, don't you?" She sighed and set her own burger down, "Fine. Go play."
Johnny's face instantly lit up and he jumped off his chair but not before Lana reached over and grabbed a hold of his raglan. "Wait a minute-" She felt the anxiety pulse through her, "You be careful in there, okay? And behave yourself Johnny Winters. I mean it."
He smiled reassuringly, "I will, Mommy."
"Mama" was slowly going out the window and the name "Mommy" always brought Lana memories but she wasn't going to deny him that right. She exhaled softly and slowly let go of his raglan, "Okay. Go play."
Johnny beamed and ran off without further hesitation. Lana watched as he stopped in front of the entrance to a tunnel and then ran back to her, "Can you take my shoes off?"
Lana chuckled sheepishly, "Yes. Come here."
Lana watched the best she could as Johnny explored the tunnels. He would occasionally stop at a plastic window and wave at her. He seemed so happy when he did so that Lana couldn't help to smile. It was funny how something as simple as crawling through plastic tunnels in a burger joint made children so happy.
When Johnny wandered away from the window, Lana began to pack away his food in his little kid's meal bag but left his fries out. She quietly munched on them, occasionally looking over at the other parents who sat and waited for their children to play. A group of teenagers stood from their booth in the eating area and left.
Lana turned her attention back to the tunnels, scanning the round windows to see if she spotted Johnny. The minutes passed by and he didn't appear. A heavy feeling began to fill in the pit of Lana's stomach and her heart picked up the pace. She began to bounce her knee up and down, trying to calm herself down. A bundle of children had gathered in the ball pit but she did not spot the red baseball cap amongst them.
Lana glanced out the window to see the group of teenagers huddled in the parking lot, laughing amongst each other. Their faint laughter could be heard from inside. The sound of children's shouts and laughter faded in the background and a buzzing sound slowly filled Lana's ears. She was sure Johnny was still playing inside the tunnels. She hadn't seen him wander out. But what if he had when she looked away?
Lana bit down on her bottom lip, trying to ease her insane worries but she couldn't take it. She stood from the table and went to the entrance of the tunnel Johnny had crawled in through.
"Johnny!" Lana called in through it but received no response, "Johnny, we have to go now!"
A little blonde haired girl ran by Lana; she stopped her, "Excuse me, Sweetheart, have you seen a little boy with a red cap inside?"
The little girl shook her head, "No, sorry."
Lana forced a smile and nodded, stepping back so the girl could go in and play. Lana stood straight and gazed up at the tunnels. She could hear her heart beating in her ears. It was then the corner of her eye spotted something red on the floor by the ball pit. She turned to lock her eyes on it and her heart froze when she realized it was Johnny's cap. Lana immediately went to it and snatched it off the floor.
"Johnny?" She called his name out. Her voice shook with fear and a couple of the other parents looked up. Lana stepped away from the ball pit and called his name out louder, "Johnny!"
Lana gasped and jumped a step back when Johnny jumped out of the tunnel slide. His hair was messy and missing the hat that once sat on top.
Lana exhaled the breath she had been holding the entire time and knelt down in front of him, grabbing him by the arms, "Goodness, where in the heavens were you?"
Johnny became a bit concerned by her tight grasp. "Inside playing with this kid..." Johnny looked up to see the few adults that were still watching. A pair of kids ran by them unfazed by the situation.
Lana relaxed and let go of his arms. She felt the adrenaline rush through her the same way it had when Johnny ran out into the street that day in downtown. "What happened to your hat?" She asked in a calmer tone, lifting the hat for him to see. "It was on the floor."
"Some big kid took it." Johnny took the hat and put it back on, "Thanks for findin' it, Mommy." His little lips jerked into a half smile, completely unaware that his mother almost had a heart attack.
Lana took in a deep breath. She knew she had overreacted but her anxiety always got the best of her. "I was about to go in and look for you."
Johnny giggled, "You're too big."
Lana nodded, "Yes, I am." She fixed his raglan. "How about we get going, hmm?"
"Can I play for five more minutes?" He put his hand up, all five fingers sticking out. "Please."
Lana looked over her shoulder; those watching had looked away and returned to their conversations. Lana slowly turned back, her eyes downcast. She nodded and Johnny grinned, "Thank you!"
Lana stood to her feet, "Just five minutes!" She called after him.
Johnny ate his leftover fries on the ride back home. "Did you have fun?" Lana asked him from the passenger's seat. She drove the car into their neighborhood.
"Mhm." He answered from the backseat where he was strapped safely.
"Good." Lana replied, "I'm glad." She saw their house coming up ahead and slowed the car down to pull into the driveway. She parked the car and turned off the ignition. The car turned quiet and all she could hear was the wrapping paper of Johnny's burger.
"Still hungry?" She turned around with a soft smile. Her appetite had gone out the window in the play place.
"Ahuh." he nodded and sat back with his burger, munching away quietly.
Lana leaned back against her seat, thinking back on the scene she almost caused at McDonald's if Johnny hadn't shown up when he did. She had grown tired of the anxiety crippling her; she was better than that- she was stronger than that. Alas, Lana Winters was human and the scars her past had left on her body and mind were there to stay. They had changed her permanently. All she could do was continue to endure forward.
Lana looked at Johnny through the rearview mirror, "Hey, Johnny Boy?"
He perked up at the sound of his name.
"How do you like the idea of school?"
A/N: Thanks for reading! Currently working on other updates too.
Ps. Did you know Happy Meals weren't introduced until 1979? Because I sure didn't.