Dennis stood next to the doorway to the IKEA play center, his teenage height making the ruler behind him look cartoonishly short. The walls of the play center were all solid, and no light leaked out from the door. Inside, something large and heavy thumped into the wall by them, making Lily jump.
“Come on, guys, you used to love this place!” Their mother said, sounding unsure whether she was supposed to be in control here or not.
“Yeah, when we were, like, eight .” Dennis huffed, unable to remember the actual last time they had even come to an IKEA. Beside him, Lily shuffled forward slightly, trying to balance avoiding the wall with not showing allegiance to their parents.
Patting his wife's shoulder- rather gingerly- Mr. Radcliffe spoke up. “Listen, kids, we're checking you in, but if you want to check out after we leave and start walking home, be our guest.” The location they had driven out to today wasn't even in the same city as their house, but the look on Dennis’s face as they trailed behind their parents into the play center suggested he had already made his choice and Lily hastened to gently tug his sleeve.
“Oh, hell no. I am not playing this game. Or any games, for that matter, since I'm going home.” He almost snarled, the low volume at which they were talking seemingly the only thing keeping his voice calm. He flinched as his mother attempted to pat his shoulder, shifting to stare at Lily instead of returning a wave as their parents walked out.
With a sigh, Lily turned and looked at the rest of the room, much smaller from the inside. It seemed to be empty, despite the sounds she had heard earlier. “Den, you know if we aren't here by the time they get back, they'll have every policeman in the country after us, just to tell us we're grounded.” Her brother could be a real hothead sometimes, despite the coolguy look- and attitude- he usually liked to show off. It was a miracle he- no, she couldn't get distracted. She had to keep Dennis from doing something stupid(er than usual).
Dennis just stared at her, venomously at first, but his expression relaxed after a moment and he glanced over at the short train table behind her. “Not used to being on the other side of the whole damage control thing. But I guess you're right. That's probably exactly what they want us to do anyway, and I'm not getting heatstroke just so they can laugh it up over a plate of Swedish meatballs.”
Lily gave a short laugh and strode away from him, slipping her shoes off to place them in one of the cubbies set into the side of a short staircase. Dennis shook his head but followed suit, ending up needing two of the child-sized holes for his bulkier sneakers. The wall of plastic cubbies looked cherry-red in the dim light, and was quite out of place on the wooden stairwell, which led up to a small landing. At the top, piles of cushions formed a semicircle around a TV mounted on the wall, playing Spider-man 3 with the volume turned down. Across from that assembly was a small 'forest’ consisting of six tall 'trees’, tall green poles from which three heavy, conical green curtains were hung so that they looked like an evergreen. The bottom layer, Dennis recalled vaguely, made quite a comfortable little hiding spot. Next to the forest was a ball pit, oddly as vast to them now as it had been when they were children.
All of a sudden, Lily broke away from Dennis- who had assumed they were both going to spend a moment reminiscing- and strode over to the pit. Unconsciously donning a slight smirk, she gathered up the hem of her skirt and pulled it tight around her thighs like she was about to wade into a pond. Right hand out to steady herself, Lily backed up a bit and then jumped into the assemblage of multicoloured plastic. More accurately, she jumped onto it- the ball pit was unusually full and usually dense. After a second of kicking and digging, though, she started to sink in.
Dennis was frozen, open-mouthed. “What are you doing?”
“Checking to see how deep it is. Remember when we were kids it felt like the ocean?” As her feet touched the floor, she shook her fist triumphantly. “There.” Though he hadn't processed it at first due to the dim light, Dennis now noticed she was buried up to the chest, an absurd depth for a child's ball pit. “Quite dangerous, don't you think?” Lily said, seeing the look on his face.
As Lily turned around to start making her way to the edge, Dennis sighed. “Quite. Now, come o-”
“Woah!” Lily exclaimed, her head and shoulders suddenly shooting beneath the plastic surface. One arm stuck out like a flag, and although he knew she had just slipped and he himself had done so many times in the past, the way it just seemed to hang there, still, made him nervous.
Rather hesitantly, Dennis moved to the edge of the ball pit and slid in. “Lily? Let me pull you out.” When he got no response, Dennis began making his way over to her. “Lily?” Her arm still hung there, unmoving, the only sounds the odd plastic slide of the balls Dennis pushed aside. “What the- Lily?” Panic starting to creep into his voice, Dennis slowly reached out to touch Lily's hand. Immediately it jerked down to the side, and Dennis stifled a scream as Lily's other arm burst out, followed by her head. “Oh, my G- why?” Dennis exclaimed.
Laughing, Lily extricated the rest of her body from the pit and started moving over to the edge. “If you saw the look on your face, you wouldn't have to ask.” Pulling herself up onto the floor proper, she quickly crossed the room and plopped down on the stairs.
With a bit more difficulty, Dennis made his own way out of the ball pit. When he went over to stand at the foot of the stairway, he ended up looming over Lily slightly, and she scooted over a bit to avoid the shadow he cast as he spread his hands. “No- come on, Lily, let's get out of here. We can get a princess cake in the cafeteria or something.”
Sensing now would be a stupid time for a fight, Lily relented. “Sure. Not much to do here anyway unless you want to watch-” she glanced up at the TV, which showed that the film had ended “-the menu screen for Spider-man 3.”
Rising, the two grabbed their shoes and slid them on. Lily paused to check them out, and then they were done, filing back out into the lobby. Both of them flinched at how much brighter the lights were out there, Dennis pushing his sunglasses up his nose. Glancing at the escalator that led up to the showroom, he realised something very important.
“Do you know how to get to the cafeteria?”
The faint smile on Lily's face froze. “Uh, no,” she said, looking around them for a map, “but it can't be that hard. This is a store.”
“Yeah. Let's just go.” Dennis said, stepping onto the escalator.
The second they reached the top, the two siblings were immediately struck by a riot of colour and clutter in scores of plush, pastel forms. Living room sets, laid out for a nice family evening of watching the sinks across the aisle, sat next to dining table heaped with untouched silverware. Nets full of stuffed animals hung from the ceiling, and every corner sprouted bins of umbrellas or socks or 4pc Tupperware. Young couples roamed the 'halls’, giggling with the hysteric terror of a first home. To the left was the elevator, while the path broke into one going right and one going forward, indicating a grid layout.
This was, in fact, the case, as Lily pointed out for the sixth time in 40 minutes. If they just followed the right lines, they'd be at the cafeteria ASAP. Or at least, that was the theory.
“This is ridiculous!” Dennis groaned, splaying himself out on a nearby sofa. “ How can we be so lost?”
“I don't know,” Lily said, rolling her eyes at Dennis's theatrics, “maybe you were just meant to discover this couch. It's so you, don't you think?”
“Sure.” Dennis muttered, throwing his arm over his face. “Hey.” He said, perking up. “Do you still have mom's credit card?”
Lily let her hand fall to her purse. “Yeah. Why?”
Dennis sat up all the way now, his eyes bright behind the lenses. “Hit that buzzer. We're buying a sofa.”
“This helps us how?”
Dennis rolled his eyes. “Three ways. Somebody leads us out of this deathtrap, we make us the winners of this family outing, and I get a cool sofa.”
Lily pressed a small blue button on one of the 'walls’ that would supposedly call an associate. “Two of those are rather suspect, but I do want to get out of here.”