The minivan jolts sharply to a stop as I wait my turn at the four way stop sign. I am only a foot away from the chick in front of me. That poor woman doesn’t even know she’s in front of a maniac driver. I turn to look at Marisol obliviously talking to her friend Gabriella, oblivious to the fact that her life could be at danger with me at the wheel.
“What are you and Gabriella talking about?” I ask, watching the lady on the phone in front of me miss her turn to go through the stop sign.
“Oh, I’m talking to my new fwiend, Geowge.” I turn to look at her. Funny, another imaginary friend with a name she can’t pronounce properly.
“You mean George,” I say.
“That’s what I said, Geowge,” she replies. Why do I even bother?
“Why aren’t you playing with Gabriella? You don’t want to hurt her feelings, do you?”
Beep, beep. “Get out of the road! You’re holding up the lane ya DUMB BITCH!” I hear screamed from the car behind me.
The lady in front of me missed yet another turn to go through the stop sign as she’s on a very animated conversation on her cell phone.
Just my luck, as I pull up to the stop sign I forget in what order we’re supposed to go through it. Was it yield to the left or yield to the right? Now I’m really freaking out. Oh God, I missed my turn.
Now the guy behind me yells, “What the f**k is the hold up?” I hope Marisol didn’t hear anything.
I put my foot on the gas; the car lurches forward into the intersection, cutting off the cross traffic that was tired of waiting for me. I make it through alive, barely.
I HATE DRIVING!!!
The next time somebody behind me curses at me, I’ll just accidentally throw the car into reverse and take care of his or her bumper.
I take a deep breath and turn to Marisol who continues our conversation like nothing ever happened.
“Oh, no, I’m playing with Gabby and Geowge. I would nevew evew huwt Gabby’s feelings. That wouldn’t be vewy nice.”
“Phew,” I breathe quietly to myself. That was a close call. She obviously didn’t hear anything that guy said or she would have definitely asked what the words meant. “That’s my good girl. And for that, you’re getting a cookie and ice cream.” What did I just say? She’s going to talk my ear off.
“Yay!” she exclaims excitedly. “Thank you.”
Oh well, I sigh inwardly. I glance at her through the rearview mirror. Her face is all lit up and she looks as bright as the sun itself, brighter even. The van is quiet for a moment. Glancing back at the mirror, I see a puzzled expression on Marisol’s face.
“Maw, what does bit —?”
“No, no, no, Sunshine. Let’s not say that word. It isn’t a very nice thing to say. You don’t want to hurt my feelings do you?” I say cleverly, all the while cursing the guy out in my head.
“No, oh, deaw. I’m sowwy, I won’t say that wowd again.”
Man, did I dodge a bullet there. Marimar, you are a genius!
“What does the wowd f**k mean?”
I should’ve backed into that bastard!!!
I pull up in front of the ice cream parlor, hardly anybody’s here. I put the minivan in park before shutting the engine. I adjust the rear-view mirror so that I can fix my appearance. My hair isn’t in too bad of shape since I put it in a long braid that hangs down my back. It’s only a little messy. Fortunately, there’s a nice breeze so that I’m not sweating too noticeably — that and it’s not as humid today. I look back at Marisol and strangely she doesn’t seem to be sweaty. Maybe it’s just me then. I can’t wait to get out of this scorching hot van.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and open my door. I go over to Marisol’s door and help her unbuckle her booster seat. I fix her up a little bit, I snatch up the picture book seated next to her, I grab her hand, and we enter the ice cream parlor.
A bell goes off announcing our entrance to the few people in the parlor. Thank God for air-conditioning.
“How can I help you?” Maggie, the middle-aged ice cream scooper, asks.
My eyes gravitate to her hair that is stiff with hairspray. The overhead fan has no effect on it. Not a single strand is out of place. Damn, that’s a lot of hairspray.
“May I have a moment to think?”
“Take all the time you need, sweetheart.”
“What kind of ice cream do you want, Sunshine?”
“Hmm, what do they have?”
“They have your favorite, mint ice cream.”
“Yay!” she says while clapping her hands and jumping up and down.
“Aww, she’s precious.”
“Thank you. What do you say, Sunshine?”
“Thank you.” She puts her hands behind her back as she sways side to side. Everything she does is adorable.
“Why don’t you go pick out our seat and I’ll be there in a second. Okay?”
“Okay,” she says, turning away. “Wait,” she says, pivoting back on her toes to face me, “don’t I get a cookie?” Oops, I almost forgot.
“Um, Sunshine, they don’t have cookies here. But I’ll buy you one on the way home after we go to the park.”
“Okey-dokey,” she says as she hugs my leg. She grabs the book from out of my hand before bolting towards an empty seat.
“Aww, she’s so cute. How old is she?” Sunshine always seems to work her way into people’s hearts.
“I can see the resemblance between you two.”
“So, are ya ready to order?”
“Ah, yes. Two single scoops of mint ice cream with waffle cones, please. Thanks.”
I hand her the money and wait at the counter as she scoops up our ice cream.
“So, did ya’ll just move into the ol’ Victorian on Solórzano Street?”
“Oh, nothing.” What was that supposed to mean? Her facial expression reads concern.
“Well, here you go.” She gives a strained smile while she hands me the cones.
“Thank you. Have a nice day.”
“Ya’ll have a blessed one.”
That was weird. My thoughts change direction as I approach our table. Marisol has her favorite book, Winnie-the-pooh, lying open on the table.
“Wead, hewe,” Marisol says, pointing to her favorite part of the book as I sit down in my chair beside her. I hand her, her ice cream.
“You mean here?” I tease, pointing at the opposite page.
“No,” she giggles, “hewe.”
“Hewe, hewe!” Marisol’s cracking up.
“Oh, here!” I say, finally pointing to the correct place.
“Yes!” She nods her head as she giggles.
I read from the place she’s pointing at:
“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together ... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart ... I'll always be with you.”
At the park I find an empty secluded bench under the shade of a large oak tree. I fan myself with my book. Finally, I can read. Not that I don’t love pushing Marisol on the swings set, it’s just that I’m still not used to this kind of heat. I’m so glad that little boy asked her to play. I flip open my book and I search for my page.
“Hey Gorgeous, what’s your name?”
I gaze up from my book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the hazel-green eyes of a boy with a strong, thick country accent. I’m still on the same sentence that I was on yesterday. I check out the guy interrupting my reading time.
The guy looks like he’s old enough to go to college. Either he is a college boy or he’s younger than he looks. I’m hoping for the latter. He has dark chestnut-brown curly hair, and extraordinary hazel-green eyes. He’s tall, probably six foot something, and he towers over me by a long shot. I just barely made it to five feet. His looks scream model with his chiseled features and muscular build. The only flaw belongs to his swollen black and blue eye which is kind of hard to get passed at the moment. Whoever had given him that must have been in pretty bad shape after a brawl with him. I wonder what the other guy looks like. I’d hate to be in his shoes.
Strangely, he doesn’t look like a typical country boy with the typical Nordic features, nor is he dressed like one. He’s dressed nicely with his plain forest green t-shirt and baggy jeans; the belt holding them up is where it’s supposed to be. Not like some morons I’ve seen with their asses hanging out. Who would want to sit in a seat after they’d been their? I think, but I digress.
He must be a college boy. Damn. Papa would never let me date him. I’d better make him get lost and save myself the heart ache.
The guy is still staring at me with this stupid, cocky expression on his face. For some reason this irks me. I guess that’s probably why he got the shiner. I look up at him, not bothering to hide my irritation — wearing the expression: “Really? Are you stupid?” — before I go back to my book. At least I try to anyways, it’s kind of hard when he’s casting a huge shadow. He sits down beside me on the bench, obviously not getting my brush off. There are tons of empty benches at this park and he has to sit at this one beside me. Oh, he must be with that kid Marisol’s playing with. How did I not notice him?
“Hi, I’m Sage Sterling. What’s your name?” he says, arrogantly. I roll my eyes. Sage. Strange name, he must have gotten it because of the green hue of his eyes. Uh-oh, I guess I have been paying a little too much attention to him. More than he deserves.
Sage has his hand out for me to shake, but I decline. This guy doesn’t get a hint does he? After a second he pulls it back. He caught a clue. Great, he’s persistent. Well, let’s see if this’ll get him to back off. I lay my book down onto my lap, careful that I don’t lose my place, and I flash him a deceiving smile.
“My name is none of your business, I’m only sixteen and if you keep bugging me I’ll have my dad arrest you,” I say with a calm demeanor. At the end of my warning I can no longer hold back a smirk. My words seem to stun him. That should do the trick. I’m sure he’s going to leave me the hell alone now. I wait for him to move along, but he doesn’t. He just sits there dumbstruck. Well, dumb anyways.
“Wait? What?” he says, disconcerted.
“Did I stutter?”
His reaction is not what I expect. A low chuckle escapes his lips. “You think I’m?” More laughter. “Believe me, I’m not that kind of guy. I’m only sixteen,” he says, shaking his head.
“Oh, well, my dad’s not really a cop.” He chuckles at that. His facial expression then takes on a more serious look, and his eyes change the color honey-brown. Cool.
“I’m sorry about the, ‘hey gorgeous’, thing. I was — I-I just didn’t know how to approach you,” he stammers. Glancing up at him in the corner of my eye, I can tell that he means what he says. He no longer looks cocky, but abashed. I look into the depths of his hazel eyes. Stunning. He looks away suddenly shy. For some reason I do too. I can’t help but pity him.
Guilt hits me out of nowhere for my earlier response. Now I get why Mama calls me anti-social. Am I always this mean? Strangely, I’m also feeling an underlying relief that he is my age. Probably because that means that he’s not out of my grasp in the dating world. Who am I kidding? With Papa’s help I’ll be an old maid.
“My name is Marimar Utt, that’s Marisol,” I say sweetly. I gesture towards her direction. Hey, it can’t hurt my chances to try to be nice, he’s obviously interested.
“See that little boy over there playing with her? That’s my little brother, Oscar.” His eyes lighten again. Wow, they’re like a mood ring.
Sage extends his hand again and we shake hands.
“So, how are you liking the old blacksmiths place?”
“How did you —?”
“News travels fast in a small town.”
He was about to open his mouth to say something else when Marisol comes running over with Oscar behind her. Oscar shares the same features as the boy sitting across from me, except that he has bluish-jade eyes and his hair is darker.
“Hi,” Marisol says to Sage. She’s a people person.
“Can I have a piece of gum to give to my new friend?” Oscar asks, running up from behind her.
“Can she?” Sage asks, turning towards me.
“Sure, why not. Thanks,” I say. “Say thank you, Sunshine.”
“Thank you,” she says to both of them.
He nods his head in response. He leans away from me so that he can fit his hand into his pocket. He pulls out a packet of gum.
“Here you go,” he says as he hands Marisol a stick of gum.
She unwraps it and pops it in her mouth, chewing with her mouth open — I was worried about that, she has a nasty habit of chewing like a cow. I make a sign for her to chew with her mouth closed. She obeys.
“Where’s your manner’s, bud? Don’t you know to say, hi?”
“I did already.”
“When was that?”
“When I’d asked Mawisol if she wanted to play.”
“Oh, then good job.”
“Wait, what did you call her?” I inquire.
“Oh, no, sweetie. It’s Marisol,” I say with a light laugh.
“Then why did she tell me it was Mawisol?”
“She can’t say her r’s,” I explain
“Oh, that explains it.”
An awkward silence follows only to be disrupted a moment later by Marisol.
“That’s my caw,” Marisol says, proudly pointing at our minivan parked behind me.
“That’s my truck.” I turn to look. Oscar’s pointing at an old beater truck on the left of my minivan. Beater truck. That’s when my memory hits me almost as hard as that truck would have. Sage is the moron who nearly killed us yesterday.
Marisol runs back to play some more on the playground with Oscar, leaving me alone with the imbecile.
“Nice truck,” I say flatly; masking the fury in my voice.
“Thanks, but I know it’s a piece of crap,” he says a little chagrined.
“It probably would suck if someone banged it up, wouldn’t it?” I threaten.
“Why would someone want to do that?”
“I guess someone that you nearly hit with your truck, moron! Remember, you nearly killed my family and me yesterday?” His eyes widen in recollection, and then his face flushes with shame. He should be ashamed. If he had smirked, I would have clocked him.
“I hope the cop gave you a pretty good ticket. Tell me, what was so important that you would risk your life and others?” I ask venomously.
“I,” he stutters.
“Well?” I say impatiently.
“I was reading,” he exhales sharply, “a text message.”
“A text message. Wow, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” I spit the words out through my clenched teeth. I spring up from the bench, knocking my book to the ground. I turn to pick up my book but it’s in his hand. He’s looking down at his shoes, unable to meet my gaze. I yank it out of his hand swiftly. Now, I’m pissed!
“Come on, Marisol! We have to go home now! Say good-bye to your friend! We’ll go get you your cookie!” I shout as sweetly as I can muster. Usually I don’t have to worry about not snapping at Marisol, but the moron next to me did a pretty good job of ticking me off.
“Yay!” Marisol says while running up and grabbing my hand.
“Let’s go.” I stalk off, heading towards our minivan.
“Wait, Mar,” Sage says, grabbing my arm, forcing me to face him. I had only taken a few steps and he reached me in one long stride.
“Don’t touch me!” I shout, yanking my arm free. It didn’t take me much effort since he was letting me go. “And don’t call me that, we’re not friends.” He has some nerve to speak my name so casually.
“Look,” he says, staring me straight in the eye. “I’m sorry. I admit it wasn’t one of my best ideas, but I swear it won’t ever happen again. And,” he continues, “if it helps, it cost me a good sum. Boy, did that burn a hole in my pocket.” He said that last part more to himself than to me.
“How much was the ticket?” I ask rather smugly.
“Well, the speeding cost me two hundred and fifty because I swerved out of my lane and nearly hit ya’ll. And another one hundred and fifty for texting. The cop almost had me checked for a DUI so I came clean and told him I was reading a text.”
“Serves you right,” I say not holding back my laugh. “What did the text say?” I know I’m prying, but right now I couldn’t care less about my manners.
“My boss texted me next weeks work schedule.” His words make me fume. I can’t believe he almost killed himself and my whole family over something that could have waited. I find myself concerned over his well being, but I quickly dismiss such thoughts. Why am I so drawn to him? It takes a minute for me to compose myself. He’s waiting patiently for my answer. His eyes catch mine, instantly extinguishing the embers inside of me. His eyes once again shy away.
“So, am I forgiven?” His words are full of hope. His eyes are fixed on mine, imploringly — they instantly melt my heart. For a fleeting moment, in a moment of weakness, I almost say yes. Wait, what am I thinking? No, hell no! Mixed emotions wrestle inside of me.
“I don’t know,” I say undecidedly.
“Please.” He is so cute — his manly features soften, boyishly.
“Maw, you don’t want to huwt his feelings, do you?” asks my caring and clueless little sister. I forgot she was still here. I look down at her and she’s giving me her famous puppy dog pout. Damn. He’s using his charm to win her over too.
“Yeah, Maw, you don’t want to huwt my feelings, do you?” he teases. He flashes me a dazzling milky-white smile, working his charm over me. It takes all my self-control not to let a smile creep up my lips.
I exhale sharply. “Fine, you’re forgiven,” I respond seemingly reluctant, in truth I am already under his spell.
“So …,” he says as we sit back down on the bench and Marisol has ran back to play on the playground with Oscar, “are you planning on coming here often?”
“Maybe,” I say. Good answer, Mar. He’s staring at me with that same hopeful expression he had on earlier. The way that he’s looking at me is suddenly making me self-conscious of my appearance. I smoothly brush stray strands of my hair back like it’s nothing. I don’t have to worry about the sweat anymore since I’m sitting under a shady tree. The little wisps of wind are refreshing, not like yesterday. He nods his head thoughtfully.
“Hey, have you heard about what happened in your house?” he asks.