Emma started picking up the feathers and smiled. “Picture?” she asked. I hurried inside to get Steven’s old Polaroid camera to take the usual picture of Emma holding the feather for her ‘Daddy and Me’ box. When I came back, Emma was sitting on the porch with her bright smile and dozens of feathers surrounding her.
“Okay, say cheese!”
“Cheeeeeseeee!” she screamed.
The picture printed out, and Emma ran inside to add it to her collection.
My eyes looked out at Tristan, who was cutting the grass as if he had no clue what was happening. Walking over to him, I shut off the lawnmower. “Thank you,” I said.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
He rolled his eyes. “Can you just let me be?”
He went to turn it back on, but I placed my hand over his. His hands were warm—rough, but warm. “Thank you.”
When our eyes locked, I felt his touch grow even warmer. He smiled a true smile. A smile I hadn’t known his lips were capable of creating. “It’s no big deal. I found the freakin’ feathers in Mr. Henson’s shop. It didn’t take much work.” He paused. “She’s good,” he said, gesturing toward the house, speaking of Emma. “She’s a good kid. Annoying as all get out, but she’s good.”
“Stay for breakfast?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Stop by for lunch.”
He bit his bottom lip. He glanced down at the ground, debating my request. When our eyes met again, I almost fell over from the single word he spoke. “Okay.”
The neighbors all gossiped about what it meant, me having Tristan work on my lawn, but I was slowly starting to care less and less what others thought of me.
I sat on the porch, surrounded by the feathers as he finished the lawn work. Emma played fetch with Zeus.
And every now and then, Tristan remembered how to smile.
Later, we sat down at the dinner table, Emma yapping away about a dead bug she found on the porch that Zeus ate. She was being extra loud and extra messy with her spaghetti. I sat at the head of the table, and Tristan sat at the other end. Every now and then I would catch him staring my way, but most of the time he was smiling out of the corner of his mouth at Emma.
“And Zeus went CHOMP! Like it was the best thing ever! Now he has bug guts in his teeth!”
“Did you eat the bugs too?” Tristan asked.
“Ew! No! That’s gross!”
“I hear they are a great source of protein.”
“I don’t care, Tick! That’s gross!” She made a gagging face, making us all laugh. “Ooo ah! Oo ah ah!” she said, transitioning into her gorilla speech. For weeks now, she’d been exploring her gorilla roots after watching Tarzan. I wasn’t sure how to explain it to Tristan, but within seconds, I understood that I wouldn’t have to.
“Oo?” Tristan responded. “Ah? Ahhh! Ahhh!” He smirked.
I wondered if he knew he made my heart skip a few beats that day.
“All right, Jane of the jungle, I think it’s time for you to go pick out some pajamas for tonight. It’s getting past your bedtime.”
“But!” she started to complain.
“No buts.” I smirked, nodding her out of the room.
“Okay, but can I watch Hotel Transylvania in my room?”
“Only if you promise to fall asleep.”
“Promise!” She hurried off, and as she left, Tristan stood up from his chair. I stood with him.
He nodded once. “Thanks for dinner.”
“You’re welcome. You don’t have to go. I have wine…”
“There’s beer, too.”
That pulled him in. I kept myself from telling him that the only reason I’d bought beer was in hopes that one night he would stay for dinner. After I put Emma to bed, Tristan and I took our drinks outside and sat on the front porch with Zeus sleeping beside us. Every now and then one of the feathers would get picked up by a gust of wind and blow past us. He didn’t talk a lot, but I was growing used to that fact. Being quiet with him was kind of nice.
“I was thinking of ways I can pay you back for helping me with my lawn work.”
“I don’t need your money.”
“I know, but…well, I can help you with your house. With the interior,” I offered. I went on to tell him that I’d gone to school for interior design, and that it only made sense for me to help him out. His house always seemed so dark, and I loved the idea of adding a bit more life to it.
“Just think about it,” I said.
“Are you always so hardheaded?”
“No.” He paused and smiled a bit. “Yes.”
“Can I ask you a question?” I wondered out loud. He turned my way and nodded.
“Why do you give food to that homeless man?”
He narrowed his eyes and placed his thumb between his teeth. “One day when I was running barefoot, I stopped near that bridge and fell apart. Memories were attacking me and I remember just becoming short of breath. An overwhelming panic attack. The man walked over to me, and um, he patted me on the back and stayed with me until I caught my breath. He asked if I was okay, and I said yes. Then he told me that I shouldn’t worry too much about falling apart because the dark days only stayed dark until the sun came up. And then as I started to walk away, he offered me his shoes. I didn’t take them of course but…he had nothing. He lived under a damn bridge with a tattered blanket and a pair of broken down shoes. But he still offered them to my feet.”