It’s been a long time since they’ve come out this way. Danny still remembers the trail like he was the one who made it, leaping over large stones and ducking under low hanging branches. Every now and again, a few birds give warbling trills of protest. Aside from that, the forest is silent.
“Slow down,” calls his mother, balancing Danny’s baby sister on one hip. “You’re going to trip and hurt yourself!”
His father laughs. “He does that when he’s walking, honey. Let him have his fun.”
Danny grins at them both. “We’re going to the picnic spot, right?”
“Yes,” says his mother, as if he hasn’t already asked this five times since they left the house. The trail wraps around behind their backyard, winding through the forest. It’s not dense, and the late day sunlight is still streaming through the branches. “But that doesn’t mean you can – Danny!”
But Danny has already darted off again.
He knows where the picnic spot is, even though they haven’t gone since before his little brother was born. Tendrils of kudzu have grown over the dirt path. The toe of his sneaker catches on one, and he stumbles. Danny hits the ground and rolls, but he jumps right back up. The only damage is a dark stain on his white tee-shirt.
“Danny,” fusses his mother. “I told you, we were coming out here to take pictures today!”
“It adds character,” says his father, after giving Danny a quick pat down. “It was just going to look posed otherwise.”
“That was the point,” his mother grumbles, but she lets it go.
The picnic spot isn’t very far away. It’s a nice little clearing, where an ancient oak tree has grown up and hangs over a naturally bare section of land. Danny helps his father lay out the blanket and then drops down right in the middle of it.
“We get to come out here more often?” Danny smiles when he asks.
His father says, “do we get to come out here more often.”
His mother laughs. “Yes, honey. We’ll start coming out on the weekends, just like we used too. Here – sit up straight!”
Danny spreads out his legs and sits up; both his younger siblings are deposited in his lap. He gives a surprised squawk, arms making to wrap around them both.
“I want to get one with all three of my precious babies in it,” says his mother, holding up the camera.
Danny’s little sister tilts her head back and garbles. There’s drool on her camouflage jumper. Her skin is very, very warm.
“Smile,” says his father. “And don’t look at the camera!”
Danny gives his parents a gap toothed smile. Just as the flash goes off, he looks pointedly at the sky. The dirt on his tee-shirt is hidden behind his little brother but, somehow, it still comes away without looking posed.
Written by Katelynn E Koontz