After a few hours of smiling and nodding and being pulled into a hug or some complicated dap hand technique he sought the refuge of his mother’s back deck that faced away from all the activity. The porch had adequate shade and it was the perfect time of day to lay Mikaela across his knee in hopes that she would soon take her nap. He looked down in her face and saw the almond shaped eyes that were so like Regina’s. Her honey brown eyes looked up at him in mischief as she kicked her legs and arms at him. She began talking to him and laughing and he laughed back while silent tears slid down his cheeks. He slowly rocked her on his knee as he wondered if he would ever have all the answers to the questions she might inevitably ask one day.
Slowly he watched her lids begin to droop and then she suddenly gave into the nod. The background noises of the construction began to lull him as well until he became aware of approaching steps. The sun bright behind the person blinded him a little to the identity. He wondered who sought to deny him this little peace that he had managed to capture. He couldn’t help but to feel irritated.
“Well Brainiac did you think you could just hide while the rest of us built your house?
There was only one person that called him that. “Tina?”
“Oh my! I get the royal treatment.-calling me by my given name!” She laughed as she sat in the bench across from him.
He couldn’t help but to notice how Tina had changed since he’d last seen her. Her ankles crossed bringing attention to very shapely legs that the denim shorts she was wearing flattered tremendously. His eyes lifted to take in her pink tank top and finally took in her toned shoulders, lovely neck until finally resting upon her butterscotch complected face that had definitely blossomed from the cute girl he’d last seen to the woman of surprising beauty it had now become. “Bugaboo! I feel humbled that you came to say hello to your old friend,” he teased.
“Now I feel like family.” She giggled handing him a beer before easing back onto the bench sliding one leg leisurely over the other. “Thought you could use that.” She said winking.
He looked at the brand. “Ah, you remembered. I trained you well I see.” He chuckled before pulling back the tab and taking a swallow. “So how have you been Tina?” He asked finally while trying to take in all her changes and wondering if he could resume the same ease that they’d shared throughout the years since they met through her brother and his best friend Darcy, after he’d initiated their introduction by pulling one of her pigtails.
“I’ve been okay. I can’t really complain. I moved away to Alexandria for a few years. But eventually found myself missing home.”
“Yeah? What did you miss?” It wasn’t that he couldn’t relate he just needed to hear someone else articulate what he’d been trying to make sense of all the time he had tried to get the nerve to persuade Regina to move to his home.
“It’s so funny Chris, all the time we were growing up we all couldn’t wait to move away. We thought living here was so boring and especially when we had relatives visit from anywhere else. I mean what could compare to roaming the woods and walking dusty dirt roads in the summer? The thing is after living in the city, some days while stuck in traffic commuting from D.C., I’d find my mind skipping down memory lane remembering the smell of pine trees and clusters of honey suckle bushes and the hours we spent picking blackberries for your mother’s pies. Or at night, I’d remember looking out the window from my childhood bed and staring up into the ink black of the night sky seeing stars that twinkled like diamonds that seemed so close you felt you could reach out and touch them. Last of all, it was the irony of being surrounded by crowds of people and still feeling overwhelmingly lonely.” She shrugged as if that said it all. “In the end, I missed driving to the gas station and running into a cousin or classmate-in a nutshell I missed home.”
He nodded because she had captured in a just a few words everything he’d been feeling for years. In fact, he knew had he not met Regina he probably would have moved back before now as well. Mikaela began to squirm and fuss. He leveled his gaze across to Tina. “That’s her way of telling us we are disturbing her.” He said dryly.
“I see we have a princess in the making.” Tina whispered.
“Exactly.” He said winking.
“Would you mind if I held her?” She didn’t reach for her, she just waited to see what his comfort level was. She could see he was in pain. She had expected nothing less and it didn’t help that everyone told her so. It was partially why she’d waited so long to come see him. She could see the baby was soothing him, but she still couldn’t resist asking. Even from where she sat the baby was beautiful and her arms itched to hold a baby-although her heart hurt to ask.
“You think you know how to hold a baby Bugaboo? She’s not one of those raggedy doll babies you used to drag after us back in the day.” He teased as he stood to walk the baby over to her. Tina felt her breath constrict in her throat. She had forgotten how it felt to be so close to Chris. His familiar scent took her by surprise and when his muscular thighs came into her line of sight she had to remind herself to breathe-evenly. But then the little baby was in her arms and it was all she could think of as she gazed into the face of Chris’ little princess. “She is absolutely breathtaking and I don’t mean like the old Seinfeld’s episode. I mean she could really be a baby model Chris.”
“You seem surprised that your old friend could produce such a specimen of a child.”
“Well I’m thinking she probably looks a great deal like her mom.” She taunted.
“Yeah-you guessed it.” He countered though she could hear the mourning in his tone. But that was what she would expect of a man that had loved his wife and there was nothing wrong with that. It would have been something very wrong if his tone had reflected anything but.
Soon Mikaela eased into her sweet spot and settled back into her nap. Tina leveled a gaze across at him surprised to connect with his. Something flashed across his eyes but just as quickly disappeared. “So you think you can settle back into this sleepy old town after living in the big city?” She asked.
He just looked at her for a bit. She found it strangely disconcerting.
Finally he responded, “You did. Why do you think it would be hard for me?”
“I don’t know. You always seemed like you needed and wanted . . . more.” She said hesitantly.
“Don’t pull your punches now Bugaboo.” He taunted.”
“I didn’t think I did.”
“Yeah-but you thought about it; and that wouldn’t be the friend that I remember or need at this time in my life.”
She nodded understandingly not exactly sure why he would need her at all. Still she waited for him to respond. And he didn’t disappoint.
“Well you are right. There was a time that I did feel I needed more. And I had more. But life has a way of taking more away from you and stripping you down to the necessities of life.” He looked off and she noticed his features become particularly hard before he continued. “In fact, you can be forced into realizing exactly what’s important in life. So here I am back in the small town I aspired to leave and I’m feeling pretty grateful to have the choice to do that about now.”
Tina found herself looking down at Mikaela so that he didn’t see her eyes well up with the tears of a compassionate friend. She didn’t want to fill the silence with all the words that people said to mean well but that actually did very little, so she said nothing. The fact of the matter was she didn’t know what to say. And then suddenly she did. “Well I know this is probably highly unlikely with your mom and sisters around, but if you should find you need someone to keep Mikaela to get some time to yourself just let me know.”
“I’d hate to cramp your social life like that Bugaboo. I’m sure you would want to fill your free time with the love of your life.” He said winking.
“If I didn’t know any better Brainiac I would think you were digging for information? She teased as she slid to the edge of the bench in preparation of standing.
“Now why would I need to do that when all I have to do is be anywhere near my mother’s kitchen to get all the information that I do or don’t need to hear.”
“Touché” She said as she walked toward him leaning to gently place Mikaela into his arms. “Well I better go and assist your mom and the other women in serving the lunch. Besides, I would hate to be accused of blocking you from all the single well-meaning women who want to offer you their condolences.” She said before straightening and leveling a gaze full of amusement at his shocked expression.
“W-What? What are you talking about?”
“You heard me and I’m not repeating it.”
He stood and fell in step beside her. “You have to be kidding me.”
“Oh don’t be so shocked Chris. There are plenty of women that would love to volunteer to ease your mourning.”