I saw the dark blond haired blue eyed two year old run past me on his way towards the playground. His baby blue shirt the perfect compliment to his light eyes. What looked like a larger brown haired brown eyed version of him chasing behind, wearing a red shirt with a black outline of the Blues Brothers ablaze on the chest. Hip kids. The two starting climbing up the structure, their smiles planted firmly on their faces. The sun shining down on their tan skin. They laughed and rough housed with each other, clearly enjoying one another’s company. Must have good parents I thought to myself, happy kids. Reminded me of times with my three brothers…when nothing in the world mattered but playing as hard as we could together. I was always the leader. The older brown haired one reminded me of me at that age, instructing the little one on how to climb.
I was sitting on a bench at the park across from my office in Burbank taking a break from writing for a quick lunch, a dip in the sun and a couple pages in The Meadow. Even though I had read it before, the book always gave me some sort of inspiration when I was suffering from a touch of the block. Having moved here from Athens, GA a month earlier, a chance meeting with a television producer at the restaurant I worked at, my pilot finally picked up by NBC, I was sitting pretty on a huge wad of cash, a new spacious condo in the heart of Burbank, and a brand new life in California. I was content. So different from the backwoods life just outside of Athens, barely getting by on a chef’s salary, living in a trailer, working long shifts at a restaurant where I passed my days telling jokes, flirting with the waitresses’ and talking smack to the waiters. Throwing low blows every chance I got just to get a laugh. And though I was calling California my new home I was still refusing to use hair products or wear flip flops. That’s just how I roll.
I continued watching the two brothers run about when out of the corner of my eye I caught a pair of legs walking towards the playground, tan, muscular, a light blue skirt, hitting them right at the knee. Very understated and sexy I thought to myself. So unlike most of the women of this area who were all about showing off the most skin. Flip flops though, why do these California woman always have to wear flip flops? Don’t they understand that they are bad for their feet and do nothing to make their calves look better? Moving upwards, the linen tank top hit the top of the skirt, but I caught a glimpse of a tan stomach, just a hint. The left hand bore no sign of a ring as it sauntered back and forth with the movement of walking. On the other side, a straw colored bag over a shoulder, a blanket draped over an arm and a traditional wood picnic basket clutched in a hand. Higher my eyes travel to some fantastic breasts, the linen shirt had a small bow underneath them, where it pulled the fabric together. It was tight, but not so tight that it was obviously begging for attention. Again I thought to myself, classy. Brown hair cascading over shoulders, along the breast line. A beautiful strong, without being a WWE female wrestler, jawline graced the bottom of the face, full lips almost in a pout. And then the eyes. Wide eyed and brown. Not a hint of makeup. Or if there was, it was so skillfully put on that the untrained eye could not tell. Long dark eyelashes blinked in the sunlight.
It was you.
It had been a year since we were last in contact. A cell phone conversation while you were shopping in Walmart was the last time I had heard your breathy voice. A couple emails, text messages and then silence. I never pushed it, thinking that you had worked things out with your husband, who at the time was threatening to leave you because he went through your emails and found our conversations. I always wondered what had happened to you. But I was dealing with aggro of my own, my girlfriend of two years had left me because I was spending too much time working on the TV pilot. I was determined to make it to California, so I retreated further into writing cave to make it happen. And hell who wants to be with a girl who doesn’t have a door on her bedroom? So I wasn’t too broken up when she brought back my UGA sweatshirt she used to sleep in and said ‘Maybe this will keep you warm at night because I’m not going to any more.’
My eyes searched you hungrily as you found the perfect spot in the grass, close enough to the playground and yet almost uncomfortably close to the bench I was sitting on. You set down the basket, I pulled my red ball cap down lower on my eyes, closed my mouth which had been sitting agape while reminiscing of our last conversation and of your giggle as you described the panties at Walmart with words like ‘hottie’ ‘fantastic’ and ‘fabulous’ embroidered on the front to me, while shopping for some of your own. I brought The Meadow up higher, so my face was covered, and my eyes hiding under my hat so I could watch you without looking too pervy. I mean I looked pervy siting alone on a bench in the park, but tried my hardest to look engrossed in the book. A jogger in whip whip pants jogged past me and the sound is the loudest thing in my head next to my own heartbeat.
I couldn’t believe that you were not five feet from me, laying out a maroon colored blanket on the green grass. Bending over in my line of sight, you pulled the corners flat, I felt myself tingle because I’d seen that angle, but only in pictures. You reached into your bag and pulled out something small in your hands. They quickly moved to your hair, fingers combing through the right side, pulling and combing into a pony tail. You twisted the small item, I assumed a hair tie around your hair. Then moved to the left side, combing and gathering with your fingers. I could see your nails were pink. You pulled the tie around your hair. Pigtails. PIGTAILS my brain screamed out. Again the memories of your pictures you’d sent me. The first one especially when I knew I was in trouble. You in a green tank, no cleavage which I so desperately wanted to see, one hand on a pigtail, your eyes gazing, even electronically into my soul. And even though the pictures became racier, that first one, taken just for me, always stuck out in my mind. Still buried in a folder on my laptop, I took it with me.
You grasped one pigtail in each hand, gave a little tug, the beautiful brown locks framing your face, and your breasts, the bottom of the pigtails even with that little bow on your shirt. You hair had gotten longer over the year since I’d last seen your image on my computer screen. Something you had wanted.
You slip out of your brown flip flops, kneel down on the blanket, and then laid down on your tummy, propped up on your elbows. Your right hand reached into your bag and pulled out a brown covered book, while you’re watching your boys, the kittens, I remember you calling them, swing on the swings. I know right away that the book you’ve retrieved from your bag is The Man Without Qualities by Musil. I am clearly impressed that you are taking on such a literary work of art and one of my suggestion a year before. You book marker in the dead center, you’ve worked through many pages. You slowly raise your feet up and move them back and forth. I’m praying to God that the wind blows and lifts your skirt from the back of your legs every so slightly so I can can see more of you. The sunlight is dancing through the leaves on the big oak that you’re laying under. The colors are so vibrant that its almost hurting my eyes. The bright blue sky, green grass, the maroon blanket, your pale blue skirt contrast against it. A red car drives by in the distance. Your tan skin which I’m sure smells like coconut like you always told me soaking up the filtered sunlight. Your pink fingernails turning the pages of the book.
Your head always looking towards the playground but your eyes lowering to drink in the words of Musil. Minutes passed and I can’t stop watching you. I glance at my watch and realize that I should be getting back to the office for a meeting with production in 15 minutes. But I can’t seem to pry myself from the bench. Should I get up and say hello? Should I just leave you to your book? What if your husband was about to show up? Would he recognize me? Of course you would recognize my face if I said hello. You’d seen it countless times too, and even though my crappy digital camera from Walmart only cost 25 bucks, it still got the job done and you knew what I looked like. I never did get around to telling you it was my greatest lift from the superstore, and my last as you scolded me about stealing from the man. Then I look down at your left hand which is fingering the pages of the book. There is no ring. There is no ring tan line even. My head gets dizzy with the thought.
As I am mustering the courage to stand, when a cry pierces the quietness of the afternoon. You leap to your feet and run barefoot towards the playground. I follow your gaze and see that the little blond one had fallen off the swings and was now crying in the sand. You scoop him up with ease and he lays his head on your shoulder, whimpering. Your left arm under his butt, and your right hand cradling his face. He instantly stops crying. The older one hops off the swing and stands close to you, as if to ward off anyone coming close. He scowls. Tough kid. I see you mouthing words into the little blond one’s ear. He cracks a grin, pull back from you, grabs your face with his two pudgy hands. You pucker your lips at him and he sloppily kissed you. Lucky kid.
You carry the little one back to the blanket and set him down, he drives for your bag, and pulls out a red ball ball, throwing it at his brother not too far away. The boys begin to throw the ball back and forth to one another. You sit down cross legged in one motion, reaching for the picnic basket, and start unpacking containers from inside. What looks like strawberries, in one, carrots in another, and sandwiches. Probably turkey, like you used to joke about making for me on Vent when we played that video game that brought us into each others lives.
The little one throws the ball a bit skewed and it comes rolling towards my feet. I freeze as I see the bigger one come running towards me. I glance at you turning your head in my direction. The child draws nearer, the ball is silent next to my foot. He is upon me, and you are staring straight at me.
I lower the book, reach down with my right hand to pick up the ball. Two little feet come into my view. Bent down at the waist I grip the ball in my hand, raise my eyes to meet the child’s. Firey his gaze, just like his mothers. Green tints the outside of his eyes, his lashes long and dark, just like his mothers.
“Can I have my ball please?” He asks in perfect pitch and annunciation. His brown eyes looking deep into mine, his right hand extended. He cocks his head to one side and squints searching my face almost like he’s seen me before. I raise up, dart my eyes towards you, and see you rising to your feet. My heart pounds. My eyes quickly back to the child, I hand him the ball.
“Here you go.” I say quickly.
“Thank you!” He quips with a toothy grin. He takes the ball and runs back to his brother. I pull the book back up to my face just as I hear bare feet padding on the ground and feel a shadow being cast across me.
Built up with courage, I snap my head up and look you right in the face. You’re standing in a spot where the sun is back lighting your head so I to squint to get you into view. You toss your head back to get the side swept bangs out of your left eye. Your arms are folded in a defensive stance, right foot tilted out slightly, you have that grin going on. Its intense but not so intense that I’m going to lose my cool. Your mouth parts slightly as if you’re going to speak, but I cut you off.
‘Hey Claire.” I say as casual as saying hello to my mailman.
‘Hey Daniel.” You reply equally as aloof. You grin at me, raise your left eyebrow, eye me up and down like I’m some piece of meat and you the hungry lioness.
“So come here often?” I say motioning around the park with the book. You look at the book in my hand, drop your arms down to your sides, then bring your hands together right at crotch level. You fidget with the ring on your right thumb.
“Ah The Meadow. I just finished that for a third time last week. I like to read it when I have trouble with a piece I’m working on. Really clears my head.” You pause, glance over at the boys, then continue. “And yes, we do come here often. I work across the street. How about you?” With your last line, you tilt your head to the left just as your son had done to me when I had his ball. I wonder where he learned it from. The boys start yelling and running towards the street. A very large man is walking swiftly towards the playground, eying me, then looking at the boys, then back to me again.
“Daddy! Daddy!” The boys shout in unison, their little feet tripping over themselves as they run across the grass. Your back to the man, who’s almost upon us. You’re still smiling at me. With one movement he pulls boy boys into his large arms, and carries them towards us. You turn you body to one side and glance over at them. With the boys in his arms, it’s obvious to me that this is your husband, the boys the spitting image of him.
“Hello Mark,” You lean your cheek in towards him. He grazes it with his lips, stares coldly at me, nods his head my way. I see you smirk, wondering how you’re going to handle this. The silence is uncomfortable.
“Boys, get your stuff so we can go.” Mark says, setting the boys on their feet. “I have a surprise for you both in the car.”
The two run towards the tan Toyota Sienna parked in the parking lot. You reach into your pocket, with your right hand, pull out your keys and aim the car alarm button at the van, press the button. The side door slides open, the bigger one, pulls out a green back pack, spins the little one around and helps him into it. He then grabs a red backpack and slides his arms around the straps and pulls them up to his shoulders. They hold hands as they walk back towards us. Mark turns towards me. I thrust out my hand and speak.
“Hi. I’m Dan.” I say quickly. Mark takes my hand and nearly crushes it with his shake. I squeeze back equally as hard. Baring my teeth in a big smile. I am a man. You stand there, arms folded watching us do this male dance. I shift my feet.
“Oh right. You’re the new writer over at the show right?” Mark asks dropping my hand. It pulses with the absence of his. Puzzled that he knows this, I look towards you, your grin playing on your lips. You cock your eyebrow at me again then turn slightly towards Mark.
“That’s right Mark. Dan is our new golden boy,” you say, I stifle a laugh at the fact you called me the golden boy. “One of the most original writers we’ve had in a long time. It was a lucky find that Charlie was in Athens and happened to meet him.” My head is spinning, how do you know all this. The boys call out to their father, who turns towards them, puts his finger to his lips and shooshes them. They fall silent at their father’s request. Mark turns towards me again, eyes me up and down.
“Athens, GA?” He asks accusingly. I pause before I speak. The breeze picks up, I glance at the boys who are sitting in the grass together. Look up at you, finger The Meadow in my left hand. Look back at Mark. I shift my feet. Mark is a broad man, as tall as I am but almost twice as wide. His hands are large and almost clenched. He relaxes them, open.
“Yes, I moved here from Athens about a month ago. Charlie came into my restaurant and I gave him my script.” I say cautiously. Mark eyes turn to slits. He purses his lips, you grin, thoroughly enjoying the scene. Fold your arms across your chest and rock back on your heels, your bare feet in the light brown dirt. You’re grinning so hard that all your teeth are showing, bright and white in the sunlight.
“You a Bulldogs fan?” Mark asks me as though I’m a child molester. I laugh.
“Somewhat. Didn’t play sports while I was in college there. But I rooted for the home team.”
“Hmm. Sooner fan here. We kicked your butt….” Mark’s voice trails off in my head as the wind blows again. He’s rambling about defenses and some player’s name that I’d read about in the paper. The wind was making your hair move, your bangs dusting your eyes, I start to reach out to brush them out of your eyes, which are staring at me. I stop myself. It was an unconscious movement. I still hadn’t touched your skin and you’re standing here in front of me. I realize how badly I want to touch you. Its almost painful and I recall the words you’d written to me. ‘The ache of wanting.’
“…should be a good season for both teams.” Mark finishes. Mark turns towards the boys. “Boys come say goodbye to your mother.”
The two little ones get up off the grass and run towards you. You crouch down your blue skirt sliding up your thighs, if I had only been a little more to the right, I would be able to see what color you’re wearing. I look up quickly at Mark who’s watching me with a glare on his face again. You hug the boys tight. Hold each one in your arms, whisper in the older ones ear first, he breaks into a grin and kisses you. Then the little one jumps in your arms, you stand up with him with ease. The muscles in your legs working to support the extra weight. These are not small children you have created. You hand the little one to his father who leans in and kisses your cheek again with his lips. You close your eyes with his touch.
“Goodbye Mark.” You say coolly. Wave your fingers like I’d seen you do in videos you’d sent me. Each finger starting from the pinky to the index tanking a bow. Very feminine, very you. Mark extends his hand to shake mine. I take his, the grip this time less macho and more friendly. A quick shake and he drops my hand again. The bigger one comes up and takes his father’s hand.
“Don’t let Claire give you a hard time at the office.” He says with a laugh. “I don’t know if I could deal with having her as a boss.’ With that he turned and walked off with the little one in his arms and the bigger one at his side. His strides are long, focused as he disappears into the distance.
“Boss?” I look at you. A seagull flies over head and sqaws at us. Signaling that we are in fact the only two people on the planet at this moment. Strange that a seagull would be this far inland as we are at least a thirty minute drive form the nearest beach. You take a step towards me, your feet are silent with your movement. Your eyes are looking deep into me. You lick your full lips and they glisten in the sun. The breeze blows, a car alarm goes off in the distance.
“Yes Daniel,” you say with a grin. You reach up and remove my red hat from my head, spin it around and pull it down onto your own. tucking your hair that is still in pigtails behind your ear. We still have not touched. You step closer, I can feel the vibrations of your energy. You look towards the bench. “Have a seat Daniel.”
You step over to the bench, turn and sit down, your eyes never leaving mine. You pat the bench with your right hand, motioning for me to sit too. I look at my watch again. 10 minutes late for the meeting. I start to speak, you interrupt.
“Let me see your cell phone.” You say sternly. I thrust my hand into my left pocket and pull the device out. I extend my arm to hand it to you, the phone cradled in my hand that is turned palm up. You place your hand on top of mind but do not pull the phone away. Your right pinky finger, dips down and gently touches my thumb. From the exterior I am acting completely unaware that we’re touching, but I know you know I know. You smileMark slyly at me, cock your head to glance down at my crotch. I’m fighting back the urge. Guns and Roses comes into my head.
You grip the phone with your other fingers and slide it slowly away. Still staring at me from under my red hat with the frayed edge. You flip open the phone without looking at it, and dial numbers again without looking, pull the phone to your ear, smile. You look away, take a breath then you speak quickly.
“Stacy. It’s Claire, we have that production meeting at 2 right? Yes, lets push that to 3:30, I have some things to take care of. Right. Right. No I’ll let Daniel know. Alright, thanks.”
You shut the phone with a click. Finger it with both hands. I extending my hand to take it back hoping that we’ll touch again. You hand it to me with no contact this time.
“Sit down Daniel.” You say, patting the bench again. I take a step towards the bench and sit, only inches form your thighs. Your legs are crossed right over left, and your blue skirt is dancing around your knees, I turn my body towards you, put my left arm around the back of the bench, close to your shoulders but not touching them. You shift towards me as well, flip your right pigtail over your shoulder, your soft hair falls over the back of the bench resting on my arm. Your hands in your lap, left hand over right, your ring finger naked. I grab the bill of the hat with my right hand and lift it off your head, place it back on mine. I reach up and place my hand on the top of your head and smooth your hair down, wrapping my hand around your pigtail near your ear, the backs of my fingers slightly touching your left cheek for the first time, I slide my hand down your hair to the very bottom of it and let go. I place my hand back in my lap.
The seagull flies over head.