Mom and I rush into the kitchen, with Andrew on our heels.
When we reach the doorway, however, we stop short. There's Gretchen, sitting in the middle of a huge, colorful puddle of paint on the white tile floor. Her legs are sprawled out like a rag doll, and her clothes are dripping with red and purple goop. Spatters of paint decorate her perfect blonde hair like confetti. A bunch of plastic paint jars lay around her on their sides, still spilling their contents onto the floor in multicolor streams.
Gretchen looks up at us with a look a sheer exasperation as she drops the paintbrush she has clutched in her fist. "I was carrying the paint and there was some on the floor and I ... I ..." Gretchen shakes her head, casting her eyes to the ceiling. I can't tell if she's about to cry or scream. "I can't DO this!"
She slaps both hands down at her sides, sending splats of paint shooting up into the air, and attempts to push herself up. Her bare feet – now rainbow smeared – slip and slide in the muddled colors as she tries to stand.
Mom suddenly seems to recover from her shock. "Here, let me help," she says, reaching down and grabbing Gretchen's elbow to hoist her up.
Gretchen finally plants her heels on the ground and looks at my mom. She sighs loudly, blowing her speckled hair out of her face. "Than--"
What happens next seems to occur in slow motion. As Gretchen goes to take a step, her left foot wobbles and then slips. Her leg shoots out from under her and she almost does a split as she tumbles back to the floor, pulling my mother on top of her.
“Watch out!” I cry as they hit the ground with a splat.
I feel myself holding my breath for a second as Mom and Gretchen lay there in silence for a moment – until Mom bursts out laughing.
At first Gretchen looks shocked, and I'm afraid she's going to be mad as my mom rolls onto her side in near hysterical laughter. But then Gretchen lays her head back in a puddle of paint and starts to laugh so hard that tears squeeze from the corner of her clenched eyes. “Oh…my…goodness!” she pants.
"You guys are nuts," I say, trying to fight the smile that's turning up the corners of my mouth.
"Oh yeah?" Mom asks slyly, and before I can move she's lurching forward and grabbing me by the waist, pulling me on top of the Mom-Gretchen paint pile.
"Ak! My shirt!" I screech. My sneakers skid and slosh against the paint-covered floor as I try to scurry to my feet.
“Oh poor baby!” Gretchen whines in a mock pity tone, still laughing. She reaches up and pulls my wrists so that I fall back on top of them both.
“Fine!” I yell, giving in. “This means war!” I scoop a blob of paint off the floor and wipe it across Gretchen’s forehead, and the three of us continue to fake wrestle, laughing like crazy – until we notice Andrew looking on with a shocked expression on his face, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.
"Come over here, silly!" Gretchen calls, holding her hands out in his direction. Andrew laughs and shuffles his feet across the paint toward us. “Whoooaaa!” he calls out dramatically as he slowly makes himself fall onto his butt. “I fell in the paint!”
Gretchen scoops Andrew up in her arms and he squirms under her ticking fingers. I giggle, leaning my head back on my mom's laughing belly. And that’s when I realize that this is the first time I've heard her laugh like this in a long, long time.
Maybe, I think to myself, just maybe this trip to Connecticut will be worth something after all.