Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Reluctant Santa

"I cannot believe you're asking me to do this," I grumbled, while sitting at Mom's kitchen table, eating a homemade cinnamon roll and drinking coffee.
At the sink, washing dishes, Mom said, "Shhh! Your dad loved playing Santa Claus.
What would he say if you refused?"
"Dad was, like, forty-five when he started playing Santa—I'm twenty-five, Mom."
"But he would be so proud of you."
Mom was right about that—Dad would be proud of me if I took over his Santa job. The job started years ago when she talked him into being Santa for classes at the elementary school where she taught second grade. Over the years, he also ended up being Santa for the kids of many of his fellow firemen who asked for his services.
I was now a rookie fireman and I think Mom thought it would be just natural for me to jump into Dad's Santa costume and carry on as if nothing had happened. But something had happened. Dad passed away shortly after Christmas last year. And to make my life unbelievably miserable, my girlfriend of three years dumped me just before New Year's Eve.
I wasn't much up for the holidays this year.
I definitely wasn't going to play Santa.
"I've got the suit unpacked and hanging in the closet," Mom said. "Thought you might try it on this morning. I'll definitely have to find a bigger pillow for you."
"Mom, I don't think—"
"Shhh. This is a new beginning, Brody. Someone's got to be Santa. Think of all those kids you'll make happy."
Refusing Mom turned out not to be an option for me. I pasted a merry Christmas smile on my face and trudged off to school with her on the morning of the last day before Christmas break, my Santa suit packed in a knapsack slung over my shoulder. The first person Mom introduced me to was Mary O'Brien, the kindergarten teacher, who smiled at me with sparkling blue eyes and said, "Thank you so much for doing this. The kids are so excited. They'll come trooping in"—she glanced at her watch—"in about a half hour."
Mom said, "I'll leave you two alone," and scurried off to her room.
"Your first time playing Santa?" Mary asked.
I gulped. I hadn't looked at a woman since Charlene ditched me. But Mary O'Brien's smile—I don't know—momentarily seemed to light up my world. "Right. First time. I'm a little nervous."
Her hand darted out. "Don't be." We shook hands. Her hand was smooth, warm, strong, and a little shiver shot up my arm. "You can dress in the restroom in the teachers' lounge. And then I'll add a little makeup."
Finally dressed as Santa, I sat in the teacher's lounge while Mary applied rogue to my face. Squaring my Santa hat on my head, her blue eyes crisscrossing me, she smiled and said, "You look great! You'll be in my kindergarten room first. Then the other rooms throughout the day."
"Why not gather the kids all together in one big assembly?"
"They get more individual attention this way. And they feel more comfortable with their own group. Don't worry. The kids are going to love you!"
And they did.
At first, a few were nervous. Like me. Especially the younger ones. But eventually many crawled onto my lap—some slowly, others eagerly—and rattled off long lists of gifts they hoped Santa would bring. "I'll try," I kept saying. "I'll try very hard." And then I'd give a hearty, deep-throated "Ho! Ho! Ho!" Beaming parents stood aside and snapped pictures. In each classroom, joy filled the room—and unexpectedly filled my heart.
Buy the end of the day I was bushed. Back into regular clothes, my face scrubbed, I slumped in a chair by Mary O'Brien' desk in her room, while she finished erasing the blackboard. "You were marvelous," she said.
"Thanks. I'd never seen myself playing Santa. Ever."
Mom poked her head into the room. "Congratulations on a job well done, Brody. You two getting acquainted?"
"We are, Mom."
Before Mom and I'd arrived at school this morning, she'd pointedly told me about Mary—single, her first year of teaching. And I'm sure Mom'd told Mary about me, though maybe not all the details about the bad time I was going through.
"Are you going to hire out as Santa?" Mary asked.
"Never. I did this only out of the goodness of my mom's heart." Then I thought of my firemen buddies—Dad's buddies, too—and said, "Um, I might play Santa for a few guys at the fire department who have kids."
Mary smiled at me—I loved that perky smile. "Faculty's getting together after school at Johnnie O's Pub. Would you like to come along?"
For the second time today, I gulped. "Your date?"
She nodded, honoring me with another smile.
"I'd love, too," I said, and stood to shake her hand once more. "Playing Santa has been pretty fun."
The End
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

She Spoke no English

Guadalupe Diaz Sr.
             "Would you like to dance?"
“No. No thank you. No English,” she said, nodding and smiling.
"I will show you how to dance." I smiled back and extended my hand.
"I’m good at teaching. Dancing's not hard—you can do it."
“No, I no good," she said, blushing.
“It’s just a Bachatta. It's a romantic dance, really easy to learn. It's one, two, three tap. One, two, three..."
“Yes," she said, but she was shaking her head no. Her Spanish accent was strong.
I wasn't ready to give up. “I know you don’t want to because of what people will say about you, dancing with me. But it's just a dance. Not a marriage proposal."
She smiled and shook her head no again.
"Tomorrow," I said, "you'll wake up in the morning and say to yourself, 'I should have danced with that good-looking guy.' Tomorrow you will wish you would have danced just to see if you could do it. To see if you could have learned to dance like all the other pretty girls. Instead, you will sit here, and I will get up, walk away, and dance with someone else."
She shook her head no again. This time without the smile.
"It’s just a Bachatta, The dance is so simple. One, two, three, tap. One, two, three, tap. You can do that. Haven't you heard this song before?"
Suddenly she pushed me away. I was forced to stand. She arose, and I thought she was going to hurry off to the restroom, but instead she marched to the dance floor, the Latin music still beating loudly, thumping its steady rhythm.
Agile dancers—turning, flinging, spinning—packed the dance floor. She waited for a split second before I reached her, and we began in an awkward ritual of one, two, three, tap. First, in the direction of her right—one two three tap. Then, toward her left we continued, the Latin music never stopping.
We danced to a different song, same rhythm. We moved as one. I showed her the Cradle move, the Vamperia, the Hair-comb, the Yoke. Then her inside turn, my inside turn, and the turn in unison. I continued to teach and she continued to learn. As we danced, the Latin music pounded on, and our steps flowed.
The dance floor cleared then filled.
Then cleared and refilled itself like a tide.
She clung to me in the dark, noisy inside night. She clung to me as if she were drowning, holding on tightly to her life preserver. We floated upon the ocean crust. Together we rode the waves of the music, one score after another of the familiar tempo.
She inhaled my fading cologne, mixed with my sweat—my favorite shirt was drenched. And we were soaked in the sea of dancers and the sound of the crashing waves of loud Latin music. We spun together as one, elaborately in unison. We released then reengaged, smoothly. The music continued without end, as did our embrace. She danced as if it were her first time. Maybe her final time.
Surprisingly, the ballroom lights switched on, as if the sun had risen. A bilingual announcement replaced the music:  "Thank you. Have a safe trip home. Adios, amigos."
We separated from our lovers' grasp. I walked her to her chair. She flung on her coat and bid me goodbye and thank you with her eyes and her smile.  I caught her quick glance at her left hand as she dabbled at her ring finger. It possessed only a faded tan line where a diamond ring once was. The faded tan line symbolized the slow acceptance of lost love.
Sadness now washed across her eyes.
She padded my soaked chest and looked up at me.
A gleaming grin, a flicker of eyelashes, a glance over her shoulder, a hair flip—then she spun and looked back at me, her eyes capturing mine for an instant.  Her high heels clicked on the hardwood floor her as she stepped through an exit door and into the darkness. I realized she spoke no English.  
The End
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Proposition

A thirty-year-old widow with twin boys, I never expected a proposition over a cup of coffee at a booth in the Lunch Box Cafe. Seven-thirty in the morning. Just before work. But that's exactly what Jason said to me: "I have a proposition for you, Christy."
I felt my eyes narrow.
"Don't look at me like that," he said. "I'm serious."
"Jason, I told you—"
"I know. After work and school, what little time you have left, you devote to the boys.
I understand that."
I glanced at my watch. I'd have to scoot in a minute.
"I'm serious," he said again.
He said he'd like to start baby-sitting for me next week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights while I attended class—he knew my evening sitter was moving. No fee. In exchange, I'd sit for him on Saturday nights with his three-year-old daughter, Joy. My boys—John and Mike—are four.
He paused and added, "I'm going to start dating again."
I frowned. "You have someone in mind?"
"Not yet." He drank the last of his coffee. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," I said, feeling doubtful. "I've got to run."
"Think about it, will you? Meet me in the park after work. We'll iron out the details."
All day at the insurance agency where I'm a secretary, I thought about Jason's offer. I knew I could trust him with my kids. He was a widower, a loving father devoted to his daughter. Ever since Howard's death two years ago, I visited Jason often at the hardware store he owned, asking for advice on how to solve little fix-it problems around the house. Then I accidentally ran into him six months ago one morning at Mrs. Lombard's day care center when he walked in with Joy and I with my twins. I accepted his offer for coffee. I couldn't resist his easy smile. But two weeks later, when he asked for a date, I made it clear I wasn't available. Still, we continued to enjoy coffee with each other one or two mornings a week.
That afternoon at the park, under a cloudy sky, I sat with Jason on a picnic table. I had never seen him look so solemn. "I'm discovering I can't be a mom and a dad forever," he said.
"I know. Filling both roles is difficult."
"And after two years without Deb, I still feel an empty place inside."
I looked at the gray sky. I felt that same empty place, but if I stayed busy—work, school, the kids—I didn't notice the emptiness so much. I didn't need anyone.
"A deal?" he said.
"Think you can handle two boys?"
"A piece of cake."
"A deal!" I said. "I can't wait to pamper a little girl."
The baby-sitting was done at my house. My boys adored Jason, and because he'd be with them, I felt a great piece of mind while attending class. I intended to be a certified public accountant.
The second Saturday night I baby-sat, just before Jason left, I asked cautiously, "How's your search going?" I felt sheepish, poking into his private life, but persisted. "I mean, have you found anyone?"
He shrugged. "Lone Tree's a small town. "
Then he bent, hugged all three kids, and said, "Good night all."
For a moment, I felt relief that his search had failed, but I realized that was selfish of me. Jason deserved a good woman.
When he called the following week to ask me to baby-sit Saturday night, he said, "I've found someone."
"Really?" I said briskly. "Who is she? Do I know her?"
I wanted to ask more questions: Was she married, divorced, single? Did she have children? Was she young? Beautiful?
But Jason brushed me off saying, "I'll tell you when I see you Saturday night. Five o'clock."
He looked handsome when he showed up Saturday dressed in jeans, loafers, and a light-blue Polo shirt. Apparently he wasn't taking his lady to any place fancy. He stepped into the house, Joy in his arms, released her, and the kids trooped outside to play in the backyard.
"Big event, huh?" I said coolly, catching the wonderful scent of his cologne.
"Yes," he admitted. "I haven't dated in years."
"Very." His Adam's apple bobbed. "Any advice?"
"Be yourself, you'll do great. Is she pretty?"
"A real beauty."
My heart suddenly ached. "Young?"
"Umm...same age as I am." He pointed at the lounge chair in the corner. "May I sit down?"
"Certainly." I sat on the sofa across from him, wondering why he wasn't rushing to meet his lady.
"Kids?" I asked.
"A widow," he said evenly. "Two boys."
"Really?" My lips pursed. I thought it odd that he should know two widows with sons. "Will you be coming in late tonight?"
"Not at all. I'm going to ask her to bring her kids along. We'll be home early."
"If her kids are coming along, then why leave Joy—" I halted, my jaw dropping. "Jason, if this is this some kind of prank—"
"No prank," he said. "I thought we might go to the circus—the kids, you, and I. It's in town for the weekend. "
My hands clamped my knees. "You don't really have a date for tonight?"
"I do," he said. "You—Michael, John, and Joy."
I gave him a sideways look. "What have you been doing the past two Saturday nights?"
"Inventory at the store," he said, and grinned.
"You planned this?"—a stupid question.
"I didn't know what else to do."
I jumped up. I felt duped. But immensely pleased that he hadn't even looked for anyone else. "Jason, I told you how I felt."
He stood, squeezed my shoulder gently with one hand, and patted two fingers of the other hand across my lips, silencing me.
My knees seemed to melt, and I knew my face must be scarlet.
He said, "Christy, I think we can make time for each other, kids included—if you'll give all of us a chance."
I looked away from his smile. I fumbled my way into the kitchen, hung on to the back of a kitchen table chair for balance, and peered out the window at our kids playing on the swings and slide in the late afternoon sunshine.
"Is it a date?" he said. "The circus? All of us?" He aimed the words at my back, but they hit me in the heart. "Everyone loves a circus."
I steadied myself. I felt my eyes grow misty. I turned, faced him, smiled, and said, "I don't believe I've ever heard such a lovely proposition."

The End
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Lot in Common

            I decided to slip back inside the house to tell my boss thank you for a great party, nice of him to invite me, but it was time for me to go. Then the glass door to the deck where I was standing slid open, and a tall young man stepped onto the warm summer night with me. The party clamor followed him until he pushed the door closed.
"Hi," he said. "I saw you escaping several minutes ago.
I thought I might join you."
"I needed a breath of air."
"Pretty loud in there. "
He strolled to the edge of the balcony, stood next to me, and looked across the lake. "What a view!" he said. "You work for Leo Goldwyn?"
"I'm his secretary. Laura Prescott. And you?"
"Tim Crockett. I'm Leo's mechanic."
"Your boss is into sports cars big time," Tim said. "Porsche and Jaguar." Then Tim explained he owned his own gas station and garage in Fairfield, thirty miles from here, and was the only guy for fifty miles around who worked on foreign cars. "Leo's going to be in a car rally Sunday and wanted his Jag tonight no matter how late. I drove it over—purring beautifully—gave him the keys, and he asked me in."
"How will you get back?"
"He'll loan me his Mustang and drop his wife off next week to pick it up." Tim pointed at the sliding glass door separating us from the party. "You're boyfriend's probably wondering what happened to you."
I turned and rested my elbows on the railing that surrounded the deck. "No," I said. "I'm not with anyone. I wouldn't even be here except..." My voice trailed off.
"Except if you're the boss's secretary, and if you're invited, you have to at least show up."
I nodded. "Mr. Goldwyn is a wonderful man, I have a great job, but this isn't my kind of affair, I guess."
"Mine, either," Tim said. "A lot of glamour and glitz in there." Then he hesitated a moment, and asked, "Want to walk on the beach?"
I looked at him curiously. "A Saturday night—you don't have a date?"
"No girl, no date," he said.
I peered at the stairs leading from the balcony to the ground. Wearing a  summer dress and heels, I wasn't exactly dressed for a stroll on the beach. But Tim said, "Nothing like soaking up a lake breeze in the light of the moon and stars."
"I agree with that," I said. I pushed off my heels and set them on the railing.
I followed Tim down the steps to the grass, already delighting in the pine scent from the trees close to the lake and the hoot of an owl. When we passed the corner of the house, a motion light above us flicked on. We halted in our tracks, like deer caught in headlights.
My heart skipped. I saw instantly how handsome Tim was—chiseled features, wavy blonde hair, and blue eyes. After he'd had a good look at me and we'd stepped out the light's glare, he said, "You any relation to Curly Prescott? Runs the bait and tackle shop in Cascade."
"My dad. Why?"
"Small world, " he said. "I've been buying bait at your dad's place since I was a kid."
"Really? We might've met. I mean, I worked behind the counter when I was a kid."
He tilted his head and peered at me. "You were skinny with freckles and braces, right?"
"Right! You were tall and"—I smiled—"kind of clumsy."
We laughed and ambled across the grass to the sandy beach. The trees on the far side of the lake silhouetted the brightly lit sky, and the breeze blew my hair. We were silent for a while. Finally I said, "Look at that moon. Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes it is," Tim said. "You like to hike in the woods?"
"Whenever I get a chance."
"Paddle a canoe?"
"My favorite."
"Sit around a campfire?"
"Nothing better."
Tim let out a long breath, and I became warmly conscious of him standing close to me. "We really do have a lot in common," he said. "You have a car here? You like pizza?"
I nodded twice.
"Rudy's Pizza Palace okay?"
"Let's split—unless you want to go back to the party."
"I'll pass on the party," I said. "But I have to get my shoes and say good night to Leo."
"Right. I'll tell him I won't need to borrow his Mustang."
As Tim and I started toward the deck, my heart skipped again. I wondered what else we might have in common. "Do you like black olives on your pizza?" I asked.
"Love 'em."
My smile felt as wide as the moon above us.

The End
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