Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Baby, Will You Still Love Me?

Photo by Martin Parr

It might have been a coincidence that things turned out how they did, but maybe not. But we were enjoying the sea air, visiting from the city. We always stayed a week at Burke’s Beach in July, maybe two if Len had enough vacation time. So our minds weren’t on random people, they were on each other, for once, and the rolling waves, and welcome sunshine eking through the clouds. It had stormed the night before; the air was thick with leftover moisture. My hair was going nuts, wild and curly. Len said he liked it that way–he told me this every summer there. It was good for us both, that beach town.

I had, though, noticed the guy on the bike earlier. He was weaving back and forth along the walkway, a bit wobbly, maybe tired out, undecided where to go next, wasting time. But a grown man–I guess it did strike me–on a kid’s bike. Maybe he borrowed the bike from his son. Once he zipped past us and we were distracted by other things I thought nothing more of him.

I never saw that young gal strolling up the sidewalk. If I had, I would’ve looked twice, sure. It isn’t every day a grown woman carries a baby doll under her arm– in public, anyway. When the gossip started its rounds, she–who we learned to be Elaine Moss–was a huge focal point, so I knew I’d missed the boat as the whole thing unfolded. But Tole Tolman, the bicyclist, took up much of the daily rag’s headline the next day.

Yet we were there and it feels odd we wouldn’t have known more. A person on a bike who vaguely caught my attention–Len pleads ignorant–partly because his jacket was peachy, hair bleached blond. Well, I’m a hairdresser. I notice these things. Possibly female, I’d considered, then settled on male–but whatever people are, they can be, no matter to me. Then Len suggested we find that new good restaurant, not go back to the old fish and chips joint so heavy on the grease. His stomach doesn’t welcome grease, though he loves his fish and chips. I didn’t want vacation ruined by his nagging ulcer so we turned away before that woman started down the sidewalk.

But I glimpsed her moving toward past the guy, blithe as can be. Len, too. A bit of a swagger, but mostly moving fast, a day out and about. And then the guy on the bike slumped over, fell off the bike–so they said later. We’d turned to stare out to sea, then heard commotion behind us, a yell, feet scurrying. Len turned abruptly, then tugged at me, saying, “Let’s go, Denise, we don’t need to be a part of any scene.”

Of course I wanted to see what was going on–how can you not want to find out the details when something unusual occurs? Not Len–he took my elbow, rushed me away as I craned my neck to see a group growing.

He’s very clear on priorities. That’s why he’s successful; he knows when to get on it and when to let the world run itself. That is what he tells me: “Let the world do its own business, we have our own.” He’s not like me. I volunteer for things, participate in gardening club, book club. Hands-on sort of person. Len, he’s hands-on mostly when it benefits him, mostly. But I fell in love with him thirty-six years ago and still feel he’s the one.

So we left and started a search for the restaurant that would make us both happy, and soon found one.

At the corner table with the fresh white candle lit and shining between us, we enjoyed companionable quiet after ordering. The place was attractive with simple, gracious surroundings, deep greens and tawny beige. It was busy but not overly busy for a Wednesday night. I admired the window sashes and curtains and while I leaned over to examined the material I began to muse. Or as Len calls it, overthink–but what does he know of people matters? He’s a manufacturing guy, likes machines and numbers.

“What do you think happened back there?”

Len looked at me steadily. He knew this was not going to be put to rest with a simple shrug. “I guess the guy was ill and fainted. Simplest deduction.”

I considered. Maybe that was why all the weaving. “Like a diabetic, perhaps like that man who fell over in front of our house a few years ago? Went into insulin shock or something? But what else was going on…?”

“How would I know? We left, the right thing to do.”

“I saw a woman walking past. Wonder if she helped him–someone did, for sure.”

“I saw her, too.” He smiled faintly. “Had a doll with her, carried it in her arm. Like it was half-real.”

“Oh, you saw her coming, then. But with a doll. What sort? And why?”

“People do odd things, Denise. Maybe it was a gift though it wasn’t dressed from what I could tell. I don’t think it had a bunch of hair. Really, there were more interesting things today than that little scene, don’t you think?”

“Well, you got more info than I did!”

“One and only time, I suspect.”

Our salads arrived and we dove in.

More interesting things? Maybe not. We took a morning swim–chilly and fast–and strolled around the town’s rose gardens, read after a picnic lunch, stopped at a wine bar for a couple glasses, rested at our cottage, then headed out to the boardwalk area. Now, dinner.

The snippet of a scene nagged at me; I wanted to find out more. Len has always said I make much of little but the fact is, life is chock full of tiny nothings that add up to something bigger. As a hairdresser–had my own salon for twenty years–there were at least ten ongoing stories daily. People were walking books, needing to be shared, in my opinion. And we could each do with more listening and observing. But that’s just me, going on about things, as usual.

“What did that guy on the bike do when she was coming along the sidewalk, anything of interest?”

Len waved his fork lightly in the air, pieces of avocado, romaine and red onion falling back in his bowl and on the table. “You should’ve been a detective, for crying out loud. I don’t really know–give it a little rest, darlin’.”

I fell silent, stung, but then he put his two big feet aside my small ones and winked at me, silvery hair flopping over his lined forehead. I sighed, slipped off a golden sandal, ran bare toes over his shin and chuckled with him. Our conversation moved on. The night got its lovely glow back. That’s what our vacations are meant to be about.

******

Burke’s Beach Weekly blared its unusual headline as I grabbed it from our doorstep. I carried it to the patio out back, reading as I did so. Len poured our coffee, then slipped a steaming omelet on each plate.

“Man attacks woman, steals doll: arrest swift,” I read, then looked at him, agape. “It’s the two we saw yesterday! What on earth…”

I sat down and Len scanned the paper over my shoulder, then sat back down and began to eat. “Enjoy it while it’s hot,” he suggested but I was busy absorbing the news. I finished the article, sighed hugely and took a fast drink of coffee, scalding my tongue and letting out a gasp. Len was a third done with breakfast and he paused, his small grey eyes held mine, thick brows aloft.

“Tongue stings now. So it says that one Tole–Tole?– Tolman, the man we saw, pretended he fainted, then suddenly grabbed Elaine Moss by the ankle, tackled her to the ground and forcibly took her doll. There was a tug of war over it but he got it loose from her– in one piece, I gather– and hopped on his bike and away he went. But someone had watched them, called the police and he was apprehended. And the doll was valuable, apparently, but more than that, it had belonged to Mr. Tolman’s aunt. It was her favorite of a collection. She had raised him, it says. She had some money. The doll was sold off in an estate sale–to that Moss lady–and he had despaired of ever finding it again. So when he saw it, he took it.”

“Despaired, really? Your word or the paper’s?”

“Well, it had been his mother’s childhood toy… he was very sad to have lost it… but anyway, Elaine Moss collects dolls and owns a shop outside of town. She was taking it to get clothes made for the baby doll. I wonder how it fared. And why she didn’t just give it up to Tolman. Money?”

“Such fanfare over a doll! A grown man attacking a woman, robbing her of it. Unusual, wouldn’t you say? Life is strange, Denise. I’d personally rather not think much on it.”

I began to eat, thoughtfully. I had a mind to visit the shop and wondered if it was open after the press coverage.

“I know, Len, but it keeps things interesting.”

“So you say,” he said, and got up to pour more coffee in the big white mugs. “I know you’ll have quite a tale to offer when you get back to your salon. But the thief was arrested and charged, I imagine, and the woman recovered okay, with doll intact.”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“Well, justice done.” He shook his near-shaggy head–he loved my hair wilder I loved his untrimmed–and bent over a book on production methodology, discussion over.

But I wondered.

******

I walked down two short side streets until I came to the store. Moss and Wright, Emporium, a painted blue and white sign stated, elaborate scrolls along the edges. It was open and I went in, the bell on the door chiming my entry. It was busy, a couple of men and several women milling about with items in their hands, talking softly among themselves. I hadn’t heard of it until now, a shop of wonders. It had to be new since last summer.

Everywhere were shelves and tables and displays full of brightly colored and textured items, a variety imported from other continents, also antiques and beautiful, random odds and ends: refinished or painted furniture pieces, lamps of all sorts, pillows fat and small, lovely jewelry here and there, fabrics and ribbons, glass vases and candlesticks, tea sets, old books and magazines that were a bit musty and more. I needed nothing but had my eye on a necklace when a sales woman stopped by. Not Elaine Moss, I surmised due to different coloring.

“May I help you find something special?”

“I’m new to the shop, is it just opened?”

“Just last September.” Her hand fluttered to smooth her bangs, which were wavy and thick. “So glad you found us–so many have come today…” She tried to look congenial but barely succeeded, and there were crinkling lines creeping about her young eyes, and skin as pallid as if drained of natural blush.

“Ah, the news– everyone from out of town reads the newspaper,” I said.

“I’m afraid so. You didn’t come to see Elaine, too, did you? She’s not in today, nor tomorrow.”

“My sympathies…no, but I did come to see all the dolls.”

“We don’t sell dolls–just a couple now and then. She keeps a private collection, under lock and key due to their value. Surprising what antique or rare dolls can bring.”

“I see. Like the one Mr. Tolman tried to get?”

“No, well, that was different…” The woman peered at me, eyes narrowed. “You with the paper or something…?”

I found myself stepping back, gesturing with palms up. “Oh, no, we were just nearby right before it happened, coincidentally. I’m just wondering what it was all about. I mean, a doll doesn’t usually warrant an attack, does it?”

The woman’s head swung around left, then back to me. She was again composed. “Odd timing for you. Perhaps you should contact the police, they might be interested? Excuse me, someone wants to check out.”

“Of course.”

I wandered about then went back to the necklace. It appeared to be made of sterling and tourmaline. It would go with my summery dress purchased just for our trip’s last nice dinner out in a few days. Pricey but not too pricey so I decided to buy it and went to the back of a small line.

Two women in front of me spoke in low, exclamatory voices, easy to overhear so, of course, I listened in.

“They say he is, you know, mentally challenged. Not right, anyway, and at some point he was sent away–to be raised by the aunt. Who was also Elaine’s, I guess.”

“Oh, really. The same aunt? They’re cousins? He robbed his own cousin! Of a doll! How peculiar.” She giggled. “I wonder if he was in love with Elaine as a kid or something!” The woman shrieked, hand clamping her mouth.

“Shhh! “The first whisperer glanced back; I stared at the necklace, so she resumed. “I don’t know if they’re related, exactly. Ask Carolyn Wright, that’s the business partner up front. Yeah, inheritance issues that finally got to him, I guess. He still lives in the deceased aunt’s house, but who knows when he gets out of jail. He might end up homeless, poor thing. Elaine Moss has clout, you know she married Hugh Moss. Gorgeous woman, too. Anyway, no one is going to leave valuable things with someone who is so–well, odd… maybe even actually gay. Certainly he comes up rather mentally short!” She turned to her friend. “Hey, maybe she walked right past him with that doll on purpose, you think–to shake him up?”

The friend put a hand on the other woman’s arm, stifling a laugh, and they shook their heads in unison.

I cleared my throat loudly and stepped forward. The women turned to look at me. “Moving along, aren’t we? Not gossiping about such sad news, are we? I mean, really?…Come on.”

“None of your damned business–no doubt you don’t even live here, right?” It came out tartly, one hand on the rail-thin woman’s hip, but the two gossipers moved forward. Nothing more was uttered despite my wanting more than anything to lay into them both. When they purchased their items they loped past with cold glares, arms linked.

I studied the gleaming necklace, fingered it gently. Thought of the man on his bike and the woman–his relative–walking right by him, the beloved doll thrust under her arm, its presence taunting him. Who knew exactly why it meant so much to them both? Why he had to get it any way he could? It was more than a little painful to contemplate now as she recalled him weaving about on his too-small bike, his peachy jacket loose on a thin frame, his blond hair too bright in the clouded July light. Alone. A man born with less, perhaps, than he may have needed or surely desired. A child abandoned, a man unaccepted and brimming with needs– and once more left behind.

It was all too terrible.

My cheeks burned with embarrassment that rapidly felt like shame. I had been too curious, full of a hunger to glean more–personal details that were not even mine to know. I had looked askance at the man on the bike, perhaps, and had a few of my own unwise ideas. I was not so pure of intent. And I had listened a long time before having the courage to say anything…I shook my head in an effort to clear it, stepped out of line, put the necklace back on its display and left the store.

The air had become crystalline, the temperature had risen. I noted sunbathers and swimmers swarming the beach as I approached our modest, dear cottage. I wanted to go lie down, hide my head awhile. Feel only the fan sweep salty air back and forth, the ocean’s energy hush my writhing thoughts. Not even talk to Len, who would, mercifully, then go back to the patio with wine and book. And just wait.

******

The next morning Len snuggled up to her, fresh from his shower. He knew better than to awaken her but her eyelids quivered, then blue irises and dark pools of pupils peeked at him. He planted a soft kiss on her cheek. He didn’t ask how she was. He didn’t ask for anything. Nor did he expect continuing silence from her as she rolled closer.

“It just goes to show what you can learn,” she murmured. “Even at our age.”

“What now?”

“You seldom know where a person’s story begins or ends and you’re lucky to know any of its true middle parts. But you also can learn more about yourself in the unfolding. I’m going to remember that when I get back to the salon.”

Len liked that thought but frankly, he didn’t know entirely what it meant to her this morning and watched the yellow flowery curtains flap in the breeze. He did know she had a good heart and a very inquisitive mind and he adored her. He wrapped his arms about her but she pulled back to look at him better, then seemed satisfied and found her place within his embrace.

“Thank goodness we come here every summer–maybe we should come in winter, spring and fall, too! Why not?”

“I second that, my darlin’ Denise,” he said, a rush of relief underscoring his chuckle.

They remained just so, soft belly to rounder one, wrinkling chest to pudgy parts, until the coffee he’d begun was done perking, its sharp, happy fragrance filling the place with its welcome.

Chase and Taylor: a Riddle

Photo by William Eggleston
Photo by William Eggleston

“Chase, where you going? Mom will be mad you left without telling her.” Sharon watched him over the top of their fence.

He tossed a frown over his shoulder, not so much at Sharon as at the windows to see if her mother was even tracking him. She was not.

“Aren’t your parents coming home in two days?” Taylor called out. “Are we meeting up with the gang this week-end, anyway?”

She grabbed the fence links as if considering catapulting over. He waved at her, sped up, crossed the Beckley’s yard, then the Hart’s and cut between the houses. Sharon saw his shirttail and one brown hand vanish as he zipped around the corner.

“Never mind, he’s just being Chase.” Sharon turned to the little ones–JB,  Jean and Darla– who scattered, then picked up a dirty, mashed tennis ball to play toss. “We’ll hear from Mrs. Braden.”

“What do you mean?” her sister asked.

“I mean, dummy, if Chase tells his mom his feelings got hurt she’ll be on the phone asking why are we always picking on him? Is it because he’s not the same? she’ll say. Or because he’s so smart and special? That’s what.”

“Oh, be quiet. We never pick on him,” Taylor said, “you do. You better watch out, you’re acting racist lately. Besides, his parents had something important to do, they left work early to catch a flight somewhere for business. So that’s why Chase came over after school today, just until his mom’s friend, Janet, comes to stay with him a couple days. He wanted to stay with Justin, he said, but no deal.”

Sharon gave her the evil eye–that she should know so much, too often!–then shrugged and went inside. Taylor finished the lime sucker JB had given her and thought it over. Chase would never run home and whine to anyone, Sharon was wrong about that. His mother could be protective,  she could think stuff was wrong that wasn’t then ignore stuff she should pay more attention to according to Taylor’s mom’s jaded opinion. Taylor knew him, though; this time he was bored. Chase often got a notion there was something better to do elsewhere and he’d wander about. He was usually right, but he might have taken her along.

She and Chase knew her older sister was a bully. Now that she’d just turned thirteen, more so. Taylor didn’t get it. Sharon was their dad’s favorite–except for JB. Taylor was second in command at eleven and a half, JB was seven, and the twins were five–but she felt last in line sometimes. Even though she was the one who did most chores. Sharon acted like she was perfect while shirking her part.

“I’m a bit distracted,” their mother would say if Taylor complained. “I’m pulled this way and that. You can’t manage things?”

Taylor saw their dad worked too many hours; he wanted order when he got home. He had “deputized” Sharon because she was the oldest, he said, to her dismay.

“That’s not right,” Mom said and scrubbed the Dutch oven harder, strands of her hair falling into her eyes. Her soapy hand would shove it back and it would cascade down again.

Taylor wondered why she didn’t just pin back the mass of dark blond hair. It always seemed to blind her. Taylor was more like her, though, skinny and pale and fast on her feet, quieter than the rest unless she was outdoors. A book lover; her mother was not that. Sharon looked like their dad–broad, dark hair, a great throwing arm when they played football or baseball. Big mouth.

Chase had it easier by far, Taylor used to think. He was the only child. Mrs. Braden had tried to have other kids but they hadn’t made it into the world. Her husband moped around more than she did, her mother said, until they finally had Chase. Then he was gleeful, announcing the news to neighbors at six in the morning, shoving cigars into hands. (“I hate cigars”, their dad told him years later, “but what the heck, you were due respect–a boy finally making good!”)

Chase was half Black, half white. Mr. Braden was Black, his wife white. Chase was a medium chocolate brown with ebony curly hair he kept cropped close.

“He met Mom at Northwestern, ” Chase confided in Taylor. “He said it was like that,” and he snapped his fingers sharply. “He was going to have a career in finance and she wanted to teach high school. They were a perfect match even though she was white so they just made it legal, graduated, went to work and moved to western Idaho. Smack in the middle of Nowheresville. And finally had me. They seriously suspect I’m some magical being because I survived when others didn’t.”

They were sitting on a picnic table under the willow tree at his house. Chase talked like that most of the time, direct, open, bigger sentences. As if he wanted to make sure people were correctly informed. Taylor wasn’t bothered but some were. It was one more thing that didn’t get or accept.

“Well, it’s true you’re smarter than even me, ha. And can play piano like a grown up. And your mom did almost give up on having kids so you are their one and only.” She threw a stone she had taken out of her shoe earlier but it hit a tree trunk with only a tiny thud.”My mom had five and none of us are that fantastic.”

Chase shook his head. “I know, I know.” He turned to Taylor and laughed. “No, I don’t mean you guys aren’t, uh, I meant that I hear that all the time but it drives me crazy.”

Taylor shoved him with her shoulder.”I knew what you meant.”

“I’m supposed to be someone else, you know.”

Taylor squinted at his deep brown eyes.”Meaning?”

“You know, a jock, not that great at school, somebody who can rap or something–”

“I happen to know you sing, even dance pretty well–”

“–and entertain everyone. Taylor  you’re not slow, come off it. You get it. I’m Black in this white town. But not one hundred percent. It is–I am–a kind of conundrum.”

“Wait, wait don’t tell me…a conundrum means: a problem.”

“Well, it can mean a riddle, puzzle or problem, yes.”

“You’re not a problem to me, a riddle, yes, but way beyond color…”

You’re pretty strange, you know. You create your own comic books, watch old horror movies alone and make cheesy videos with Justin, Audrey and me. Geek Central.”

“Yeah, a regular club member, please save me! Hey, we’re making another video this week-end, right?”

“Ten o’clock Saturday, my house. We’ll do it in the rec room, the basement.”

“I still have wigs, sword and candles; Justin has the other stuff.”

But though they were friends from way back, Taylor knew she could only make a weak attempt at imagining how it was. Chase was one of three students of color; the other two were Japanese. She’d seen them all harassed and if she stepped in she was shoved about, too, amid disgusting names aimed like arrows at their targets. Chase eluded them most of the time, got beat up some. If only they took the time to know Chase, she thought, how funny and nice he was mostly. Interesting. He had his moods. He didn’t like Idaho much, especially after the family had gone on trips to Los Angeles, then Hawaii. He’d sent Taylor pictures from his phone and it all looked exotic, like those movie sets with honeyed sunshine flowing and turquoise ocean waves, people milling about in their beautiful bodies, skimpy swimsuits. Chase beamed at the camera, his bare shoulders squared and bronzed. He was almost like a different person. He nearly blended in.

“I want to live there someday. And you can come visit, if you want,” he’d said the last time he came back from a trip to see relatives in LA. “But don’t think you’re my girlfriend just because I said that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

But every day she wondered what he really meant. And that word–“girlfriend”–was from another language she might want to learn.

Sharon would never understand such things, even if she was older. No one could, not even Audrey. Not in her town. It stayed Taylor’s secret, burned like a very small, unsteady fire.

******

The videos they made were a combined effort but that didn’t mean they created anything without conflict. It was to be about twelve minutes long when completed. That might be too long, Taylor thought, to hold people’s attention. She and Chase would edit it, as always.

Justin adjusted his scruffy penny red wig and stood tall. He liked wearing it, it changed his shy demeanor. “I’ll be in the laundry room, right? With my sword and cape readied for entrance. Red Lion Strikes Again!”

He stood atop a table brandishing his silvery hard rubber sword. Taylor poked his own brown hair back in, smoothed his cape. He looked more like a boy playing a homely Musketeer but could appear decently ferocious.

“Audrey, you need to float down the stairs with candles lit in each hand,” Chase directed, “and Tay, curl yourself up behind the workbench with your precious painting, be fabulous Marie. Prepare for Justin to discover you and attempt to flee with your painting.”

“How many segments does this story have? Is The Red Lion dying this time for good? We’ve done two videos already.”

Taylor ignored Audrey’s complaining and hid behind the workbench with a large painting swaddled in a paisley scarf. It was to be secreted away in dark underground tunnels–the large, multi-roomed basement–and The Red Lion was going to dash after her. It was a million dollar piece of art. She had to elude him but the basement wasn’t that big.

“Ready? All in your places?” Chase yelled into a cardboard megaphone. “Scene 2, Take 1!”

Chase was Detective Charles Dubois in the next segment but he was always stage and music director. He had recorded some of his piano compositions, appropriately spooky with a classical touch–he couldn’t help himself.

“I can barely see you, Chase,” Justin said. “Move a little.”

“Of course you can’t. I’m in the dark except for one low wattage bulb over there and soon the candles. We all are, it’s called ‘atmosphere’.”

“Yeah but you’re darker, you about disappear…”Audrey responded, “and I don’t want to stumble over you as I come down the stairs and break my neck!”

Silence fell. They could hear each other breathing, see faint outlines of bodies.

“Well, that’s me, just living in the shadows alongside you geniuses! Come on, Audrey, just watch where you’re stepping. A little candlelight makes darkness brighter but you have to look confident.” Chase said. “Take your place, be the wicked accomplice. Everybody ready? We’ll make it a rehearsal this time.”

Their story unfolded as Chase directed the heck out of it.

Taylor thought as she listened for her cues: this is the best year of my life but Chase can’t stay here forever. Someday we’ll all say we knew him.

The thought stung a soft spot in her center, the spot where where such things dug in and didn’t let go. She clutched the oblong painting of red roses and lilies-of-the-valley some family or person had in their house for decades, and then one day the owner died and it was put in an estate sale where everyone could touch it and dicker over it. And now Taylor owned it, had begun to like it. She hoped Justin wouldn’t successfully damage it. It meant something to her.

“Action!” Chase called.

This time they got it together and made what would be the next-to-last of their childish videos. Taylor sensed nothing could remain the absolute same. She knew she was going to undergo change, too, like something sticking its nose out of the earth to find a whole other world out there. Like it or not.

******

“We’re moving,” he said. “In two months, after school is out.”

“Where?” She then held her breath; she didn’t want it to escape into the moonlight, not yet.

Chase was sitting by her on the second floor balcony of his house. It overlooked his large back yard and several others. She could almost see hers. He had brought a bowl of popcorn and two sodas. They’d eaten their fill on an ordinary blooming spring evening.

“Los Angeles. My dad got a job transfer, a bigger bank. My mom will look for another teaching position.”

“Oh.” Air hissed from between her lips, hot then cool.

“I’m going to a private school, Taylor, oh man!”

“Makes sense.” She hugged her knees close, felt them press into her strong, wing-shaped ribs.

“There’s a famous piano teacher there, that’s the thing. I’ll learn so much. I’ll play more!”

“Right. I know there isn’t any fine teacher for you here, not anymore.”

“Not so much is here, in general, for me. I do like the grand mountains, our house. My three friends.”

“Yeah, love our mountains, too, and maybe there’s more here for me. Or not, now you’re leaving.”

Taylor glanced at Chase to see if he agreed but his eyes told her he was already dreaming of another life. They were wide open, struck by moon rays that glanced off large black pupils then high cheekbones, full lips. He was silver and gold yet only a hint of the man he would be. And he shared with her a tender night full of things she didn’t understand and didn’t have to, perhaps. Taylor wished he would leave tomorrow–or not for a few more years. Maybe if it happened either more quickly or took longer it would be less maddening. Desperate feeling.

They sat closer to one another, her left and his right arm side-by-side. His brown arm and her white one. His large hands tapped a rhythm on his knees, an answer to some inaudible tune, then the right hand moved over to hers and rested there, dry and warm. She caught his little finger with her thumb and he hooked it tighter. The scent of lilacs rose from beneath them, that flourishing bush he and his dad had planted when he was barely five.

“I’m afraid, Tay…of leaving. Of not being around you. That huge city. Of failing. How will I fit in, in LA of all places? Growing up…yuck, I don’t like those parts.”

“I know, I know, but we’ve been afraid of things before, Chase. Both of us, right, fighting off the creeps, coping with the parents, getting hurt. But we’re okay, so we’ll stay okay, right? Conundrums, riddles, puzzles or not.” She laughed, more a funny whimper. “Or we can make up some new parts.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “That’s right. Smart.” He looked right at her. “I’ll call. Write. Skype. I’ll record my piano pieces if you want…”

“Oh, Chase, really, what’ll I do in Idaho?”

A tiny tremor ran through her and he felt it. She lay her head on his shoulder; his rested on hers. She liked the smell of his warm skin, the feel of him close. If time could please just stop or jump forward ten years. Please God.

Five night birds stirred in the top of the willow tree, took wing as Chase and Taylor raised their hands at once to say farewell to them, to praise something bigger than themselves, to usher in the coming of the beautiful unknown. But she saw his hand meld with deepening night sky. Knew he would not be around to walk it with her. They would have to figure it out, each their own way. Somehow.