“Mommy, I want to see the monkeys!” My four-year-old, Gloria, tugged at my hand as I stopped to put my wallet back in my purse.
“Let me just tie this balloon on your wrist,” I said, stooping down beside her. “That way it won’t get lost and I’ll also be able to see you better. There...how do you like that?”
Gloria looked up at the bright blue orb bobbing above her. The laughter shining in her eyes lightened my heart. Even though money was tight, this outing was something we both needed.
She turned her attention from the balloon and, with the single-mindedness of a preschooler, said, “Monkeys now?”
Laughing, I relented. “Okay. Monkeys first, but then it will be my turn to pick.”
I glanced at the map I’d picked up at the ticket office and turned down the path indicated. The monkey exhibit, on the right, had drawn a large group of spectators. A baboon lumbered closer to the fence and stopped in front of a man and little girl.
“Mommy, it’s Jill. Can I go see her?”
Gloria pointed at a child I recognized from her preschool class, however I’d never seen the man holding her hand. But then, I normally picked Gloria up early, so it wasn’t strange I’d not met Jill’s father.
As we stepped up beside them, the baboon in front of Jill and her dad made a silly face. Jill laughed and the noise made the baboon growl. Without warning, it pursed its lips and spat. A glob of spittle landed right on the man’s face.
Jill and Gloria both yelled, “Ewww” and backed away from the fence. I dug in my purse for the tissues and hand sanitizer I always carried, biting my lip to hold back the giggles welling up. I did not even know this man. No way was I going to laugh at him!
Without a word, I held the tissue out and he took it. Once our gaze met, however, all my good intentions flew right out the window and I couldn’t hold back the laughter one minute more. His lips twitched as he wiped his face and I couldn’t help but notice the dimple at the corner of his mouth. Both Jill and Gloria looked up at us, joining in the laughter.
“That was pretty...um...” I paused, searching for the right word.
“Icky?” he suggested, as he threw the tissue in a nearby trashcan and accepted the hand sanitizer I held out.
“Yeah....icky is a pretty accurate description.” I held out my hand when he was finished. “I’m Jenny, Gloria’s mother. I think our daughters are in preschool together over at Miss Daisy’s Darlings.”
“I’m Stone.” He shook my hand and smiled down at me. “I’ve heard Jill talk about Gloria. It’s good to finally meet you. My mom—she normally picks up Jill—had told me we needed to try to arrange a playdate between them sometime.”
I noticed he didn’t release my hand, and I let him keep it. His touch sent little tingles of awareness from my fingertips to my toes. “They’re apparently all but inseparable at school, so I’m certain Gloria would love that. Have your w-wife,” I stuttered over the word, realizing I had been flirting with a married man and tugged my hand away and cleared my throat to start over. “Have your wife call me and we’ll set up a time one Saturday.”
His face clouded over. “Jill doesn’t have a mom...well, at least not one around here. She left when Jill was a baby.”
“I’m sorry.” I knew the inadequacy of the words, but what else could I say? I couldn’t understand how a woman could leave her child. But then, how did that old adage go about walking in someone else’s shoes? Anyway, at least I didn’t have to feel guilt over the attraction I was feeling.
He forced a smile that didn’t quite reach his blue eyes. “Thanks, but it was a long time ago and my mom does a good job taking care of us. So,” he said in an obvious attempt to change the subject, “have you two been here long?”
“Actually, no. Gloria insisted the monkeys be our first stop.” I glanced over at our daughters, a fair head and a dark one pushed close together. They giggled and pointed at the monkeys’ antics. I couldn’t help but smile at their obvious joy.
“Ours too. Would you...” His voice trailed off.
“What?” My heart had sped up with his words.
“I was just going to ask if you wanted to walk around the zoo together. I think the girls would like it. That is, if you think your...husband wouldn’t mind.”
I smiled. Was there the slightest lifting of his voice on the word ‘husband’?
“I’m a single mom and, let me ask Gloria. After all, I told her this was her day.”
I stooped down beside the girls and asked, “Gloria, Mr. Stone, Jill’s daddy, wants to know if we would like to see the zoo with them. What do you think?”
The smiles that wreathed both girls’ faces answered the question.
I looked back up at Stone. “I guess the answer is yes,” I said.
The afternoon rushed by. Stone treated us all to ice cream and the tissues and hand sanitizer again came to the rescue when the girls got more ice cream on their faces than in their mouths.
As evening drew near and the girls grew tired, we found a bench to rest on.
“This has been fun,” I told him. “I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.”
“I’ve really enjoyed it too.” He paused. “I know this might be kind of sudden, but... do you think we could see each other again some time?”
My heart leaped to my throat, and I had to struggle to speak over the thrill I felt at his suggestion. “Sure.” I glanced down at both small heads resting on my lap. “I know the girls would love it. Gloria’s had such a good time today.”
“Well... I was kind of thinking maybe they could watch a movie at my mom’s one night. And, then, you can I could have an adult meal together. I’ve been wanting to try that new Italian place that just opened up.”
I brushed the hair back from his daughter’s face and then my own.
“I think I would like that very much,” I said.
About the Author: Judy Thomas is a writer, editor, co-owner of a website, wife, mom, and amateur photographer. She and her husband also own a tree and stump removal company. In her spare time, she thinks about cleaning the house. You can hang out with her at her blog: http://jhthomas.blogspot.com .