I hear him before I see him, the quiet squeak of the wheels on the stroller reaching me as I bend over my garden bed, trying to rid it of a sudden burst of spring weeds. The sound makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, partly in shock, partly in disbelief, and when his familiar frame comes into view around the hedge from next door, I stand and take a deep breath.
I haven’t seen him for a week. A week in which I’ve wondered, probably too many times, how he is. What he was doing. If I should try to see him.
But now here he is, as if nothing has happened, pushing the bright red stroller along the sidewalk, looking my way and smiling as he slows down and stops near the mailbox.
I wipe my dirty hands on my jeans and try to match his casual ease, but it’s difficult. This is surreal.
He looks so happy. How can he when I feel like my stomach is made of stone?
“Hi.” That tiny word is almost too much, but even so I follow it up with a smile, trying to hold back the storm of anxiety that’s crawling over my skin. “How are you?”
“Bon.” he says, the sun bright in his coily hair. The strands are tangled and rugged. I want to believe what he says, but there is nothing but illumination and truth out here. “Beautiful day. Thought I take Bri to the park for play around. You know she gets crazy if I not let her run around.”
I swallow, noticing the dark circles under his eyes.
The briefest flicker of shadow passes behind his eyes and his smile falters, but then it’s back, too bright, stretching across his face like a glass mask, in danger of shattering at any second.
“Well, we gonna go. Lylah leave pancakes in the oven for when we get back, and I not know how long my stomach will wait.”
“Larry, if you want to talk—”
“Gotta go!” he says, waving. “See you later. Have fun playing with you dirt.”
He walks away, smile still firmly in place as the squeaky wheels echo down the empty street. I watch until he turns the corner toward the park, and then I burst into tears.
For the rest of the week I avoid working in the front yard. I’m at a loss as to how to speak to him. How to act. And yet I still watch him from the window, and the sight of him pushing Bri’s stroller as he talks quietly to her, pointing out trees and birds as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, absolutely breaks my heart.
I remember the day he and his girlfriend moved into the house behind mine three months ago. We’d quickly become good friends when I’d brought over a basket of muffins, and our conversation was instantly easy. We’d talked about Lylah’s dream of becoming a singer. Her plans were on hold however, since Larry’s career as a dancer forced him to travel so often. He was there the first day the movers brought their furniture in, and then I didn’t see him again for a month straight.
And then there was Bri. As soon as I saw her, it was clear she was an adorable mix of both of her parents: Lylah’s creamy skin and perfect face, and Larry’s vibrant chocolate eyes and hair. I’ve never been much of a kid person, but right from the start, Bri was different. She’d always struck me as four going on forty, and the fist few times I spoke to her, I was amazed at how much she understood without me having to explain.
“Your house is big,” Bri says, squinting at my bedroom window as we sit on the swings in her backyard.
I always thought that her little accent was funny. It wasn’t as thick and profound as her parent’s but there were faint remnants of her birthplace inside of her small voice. The fact that Larry liked to take her to the states with him while he traveled, caused for her English to excel. Especially, since Lylah usually stayed behind in France to work on her own projects. Whenever he had her, she’d always have to have a nanny to watch her while he worked. It was ironic and maybe even a little amusing, that her English was better than both of her parents.
“Yes it is. Too big.”
“Why is it too big?”
“Yeah. Is it because you’re there all by yourself?”