“In here, Mommy,” Tori called as she bounced over to the tallest table she could find inside Burger King.
“Okay, but wait. I’ll help you climb up,” I answered, scurrying behind her with our fizzy drinks.
As I plunked them on the table, I glanced behind us. What I saw made my hackles bristle.
It was just two people. A man and a woman. Grossly overweight and poorly dressed, but that’s not what got me. It was the way they were eyeing us.
Quietly, I said to Tori, “hey, honey, why don’t we move somewhere warmer. It’s chilly by these windows.”
“No!” she yelled. “I want to be TALL.”
So much for discretion. Sighing, I reached down to pick her up, and the woman caught my eye.
“So how old is she?”
“Hmmm? Oh, she’s three,” I mumbled with what I hoped was a cold smile.
“And whatser name?”
I had no intention of answering this, but my never shy daughter answered, “I’m Tori!”
“Where’d you get that name?” the man asked.
I shrugged and pointedly turned to Tori. “Wanna help me get some ketchup?”
“I don’t like ketchup, Mommy!”
“But I do, and I need your help.”
And I was not about to leave her sitting there unattended for even a second.
Eventually, though, we had to return, and they were still there.
“So,” the semi-toothless woman said. “Are you having another one, or are you just fat?”
“Just fat,” I answered, fake-cheerily, determined not to let Tori know how upset I was becoming.
I unwrapped her food and set her to eating.
“You’ve got to eat at least one nugget,” I told her.
“Okay, mommy. We’re not getting another kid, are we?”
“No. No, we’re not.”
“Good. Because I don’t want a sister,” she said, frowning.
“I know,” I answered, and gulped down my now tasteless Whopper Jr.
Eventually, though, I made the mistake of looking up.
“So, does she go to school, or daycare, or something?” the man asked, looking far too interested for his own good.
“Nope. No school. She stays home with me.”
“Yes I do, I’m going to…”
“Dance class. She’s going to dance class.”
Confused, Tori nodded. “Yeah, but…”
“You like dance class, don’t you, honey?”
She just nodded.
“So where does she go?”
“You know. Just a little studio across town.” If I had been a dog, I would have been snarling involuntarily at that point. ” Tori, hurry up, we’re going to be late!”
“But we just got here, mommy!”
“I know. But we have to go. Three more bites! Let’s count.”
“One!” she said with her mouth full.
“Chew fast or the nugget monster is going to come!”
“Two!” she giggled.
“…and three. Okay, let’s go.” I said, as I bundled the rest of her meal up in my purse.
“Can I eat it in the car?”
“Of course. Let’s just go.”
And we did.
But my hackles were still bristling, even as we peeled out of the parking lot.
When we got home, I checked the Sex Offender Registry, telling myself I was being silly all the while. But the woman that turned my mommy alert on high? I’m almost positive she’s one of the people on it. The picture matches the one in my memory anyway.
The world. It’s full of bad people.
I just wish my daughter didn’t have to come into contact with them.