Everyone should have a hobby. As a matter of fact, I have several, but the one that I always fall back on is good old fashion girl watching. That's just what I was doing after I sat down on a bench in one of the city's larger parks.
It was an unusually hot spring afternoon. The weatherman finally hit one right, as the temperature was almost eighty-five. A few stubborn clumps of snow hung on with great tenacity as they hid behind the trees. I decided to get a run in before the weather changed back to rain and storms. It appeared quite a few people had the same idea as the place was packed. I can't blame them, as Compton Hill Reservoir Park had to be one of the nicest parks in St. Louis.
I took a well-deserved break on a park bench. Besides, the view was great. There were scores of young women out and about trying to tan up those white legs from the dark winter months. As I caught my breath, I watched a pair of early robins searching frantically for small twigs and other nest building material. Love was in the air, at least for the robins. Me, I didn't have plans for love. No, there were just too many lovely girls to pick from. As a matter of fact, the more I thought about being tied down with a snotty nosed kid and a wife caused a chill down my back.
There were dozens of kids out and about, and I'm sure their mothers were glad since they've been cooped up all winter long. There was a small pond for lack of a better description in this park. Water just draws kids to it; always has. A handful of kids were playing around the water's edge that day. It was also where a dozen geese call home.
I sat about thirty feet from the water and watched this little blond haired kid play with the geese. He had several slices of bread clutched in his hands and would run out into the geese. They would come from everywhere trying to pull the treat from his little fingers. He'd giggle, chase the birds back, only to retreat again to a picnic table to fetch another slice. He was quite a towhead with perfect snow-white hair, cut with bangs above his eyes. From the scraps and cuts on his knees, I bet he was quite a handful.
There were several young women that had gathered around the entrance to the pond. Some were sitting on park benches, other standing and talking to each other. Every now and then, one or two of them would glance over at the group of kids playing; keeping an eye out like moms are supposed to do. I tried to figure out which one was his as there were quite a few blond haired women in the group. Some were just plain drop dead gorgeous.
I turned my head for an instant to follow a pair of shapely legs as a pretty girl walked by. That's when I heard a scream so blood curdling it damn near stopped my own heart. I looked up and saw this mop of white hair bobbing in the water. That's when everything just clicked together. At light speed I found myself in chest high ice-cold water fishing for a tuff of hair. Lucky for me, the water was still mostly clear, the summer pond scum had yet to grow, and I yanked him out by his belt.
Once out of the water I notice his lips were blue, yet I could feel his little heart beating. I flipped him over on his back and a half-a-cup of water came pouring out of his mouth. I pinched off his nose and puffed in a few quick breaths and lo and behold I had one screaming scared kid on my hands. He pinked right up.
I stood at the water's edge when his mother ran up; the cold wet mud oozed between her toes.
"I just turned my head for a second! Just a second!" she said in a panic.
The kid was really yelling out a storm and she took his wet body from me.
"S'okay... S'okay," she said while she rocked him in her arms.
"That's good. Let him cry. It will help get his blood oxygenated again," I said to her.
"Are you a doctor?"
"Naw, thought about it. I do read a lot—a hobby of mine." I told her trying to break some of the tension.
I guess it helped some as she flashed me a quick smile. Apparently someone phoned in the accident as I could hear a siren off in the distance. I could pick out the ambulance's bubble gum light atop its roof as it sent out its rays of red and blue light. It seemed that within seconds the ambulance pulled up.
Someone handed me a blanket, I was shivering from the cold water, and I noticed the kid and his mom getting into the ambulance. An ambulance attendant was trying to take his blood pressure, and the kid was just screaming his lungs out. Seizing the opportunity I fished my wallet out from my back pocket letting the water drain from it and I pulled out a soggy business card.
"Here," I said as I handed the soaked card to her, "give me a call. He's going to be just fine but I'd like to know how you both make out anyway."
She flashed me another quick smile. "Thanks for saving his life. I'm Ellen, and this is Andy," she said as she leaned out the rear door of the ambulance.
"Not a problem, Ellen, glad I was here to help. I'm Jacob Peters by the way. My friends call me Jake."
I looked up at the small boy, "Well, Andy, I guess you'll have a story to tell your dad when he sees you."
Ellen's face suddenly took on a cold hostile look. The look of fear on her face evaporated as quickly as a snowflake on a hot spring rock replaced by something sinister. "Andy doesn't have a father."
I rubbed the top of his wet head. "You can tell your friends your story then, Andy."
I handed the blanket back to one of the guys from the squad as the sun was quickly warming me up.
"You okay, sir?" someone asked.
"Just fine. I've got a bit of adrenaline to burn off, but I'm just fine."
I turned and watched the doors close on the ambulance. I waved at the kid and strangely enough, I saw him wave back. I started down the running path and as I ran, I started thinking why in the world was Ellen so pissed about Andy not having a dad; especially in this day and age.
I was thinking of Ellen and Andy when two young beauties passed me by. "Oh shit," I said probably to loud. As I watched the derrieres of the two girls bounce up and down as they jogged down the path, a gorgeous woman in short shorts ran past me going the opposite direction. I've always been an ass and leg man so I wasn't going to past that up. Literally. I did what any red-blood man would do after being cooped up all winter long surrounded with women wearing long skirts and flared jeans—I made a quick U-turn and started to run behind her. Everyone should have a hobby; I happen to like watching girls.
The days piled up and it seems that the teaser Mother Nature gave us was just that. The rest of the week reverted back to the gray, dull days of late April. I didn't give much thought about Ellen and her son. Ellen was not drop dead gorgeous. She was no Playboy bunny. Call her cute. Attractive. You know the kind; pretty in a girl next door way. Yet I wouldn't mind getting to know her better. I was just about ready to call it a day when my phone rang and I saw line two light up.
I was surprised when it turned out to be Ellen. We had a brief conversation. Andy was just fine. A few tests were conducted and he wasn't even in the emergency room for an hour. I felt bold and on a whim, I asked Ellen out for a dinner date at Rolando's. I was somewhat surprised that she agreed so quickly. I was to pick her up around seven this coming Saturday evening.
The rest of the week seemed to fly by. I was anxious as hell about the date I had arranged with Ellen. After all, I wouldn't mine wrinkling the sheets with her. Before I knew it, Saturday night arrived and I pulled into the parking lot of her apartment. The place seemed to be quite nice, no holes in the yard and no cars up on blocks. I walked up on the porch and pushed the doorbell button. The door's hinges creaked just a bit and there standing before me was Ellen.
"Wow!" I said almost startled.
"I've never been to Rolando's before. I wasn't sure what to wear."
I didn't want to stare. But I wondered to myself what happened to the young girl with the muddy feet I watched leaving in the ambulance and whom this beautiful young woman was that stood before me. Perhaps I was a bit too hasty in my assumption about Ellen's appearance.
I thought she had changed something. I remembered her hair; long, straight and parted in the middle. Just like all the other women wore their hair. I looked at her and her hair was shagged. Layered in softness that surrounded her round face. Her skin, slightly ivory, seemed to glow under her pink blush. Under straight brows her blue-green eyes were filled with the golden light of the fading sun.
She wore a deep burgundy wrap dress with coffee colored hose. Her square heeled shoes were only a couple of inches high. I tried not to stand there and eye her up one side and the other, but I couldn't help myself.
"From what I can see, you hit it right on the head."
I watched her blush. "Thanks..."
We arrived at Rolando's and soon entered that awkward phase of a first date. Each of us would toss those little quick questions back and forth at each other trying to dig up a bit more information. I could tell Ellen was up tight so I ordered a sweet red wine. A glass and a half later, Ellen seemed to open up.
"So, how's Andy?"
"It's one day at a time with him. He's so darn accident-prone."
"He's just a little stinker. How old is he?"
"He just turned three several months ago, and he's been non-stop ever since."
"He'll outgrow it. I did. He's just a boy." I tipped my glass to my lips and drained it. "Say, I don't want to pry, but you mentioned at the park that Andy didn't have a father. You're divorced?"
Ellen didn't look at me but instead swirled the red liquid around the bottom of her glass. "No...not divorced. I never married."
"Oh, I see." I watched her stare into her glass with such intensity I thought the glass would break. "A lot of women are having kids now and aren't getting married."
"I'm sorry." Now I felt like a pile of shit. "Perhaps this isn't the time."
"Naw, it's okay." She placed her glass down on the table with exaggerated care.
I poured a bit more wine into her glass. Ellie stared down into it and I thought for a second or two that she was going to tear up and cry. Instead, she pushed herself back into her chair and smiled at me. Then she brushed a few stray hairs out from her eyes and leaned over.
"He was on leave from the Army," she began, "We knew each other for years, went to the same high school, partied when we could. Had a lot of good times, him and me." Ellen let out a long, smooth breath then continued. "He gave me that old line. You know, the one about going back to the war and we may never see each other again. So we ended up in bed. Russell, that was his name, went back and three weeks later he was killed in action. He never knew he had a son."
"Oh shit, Ellen, I didn't want to drudge up bad memories. I guess you must have loved him an awful lot?"
Ellen fidgeted with the silverware as I watched a corner of her mouth turned up and a small smile snuck out. Then, just as quickly, it was gone.
"I loved him enough..." Ellen voice faded into the din of the restaurant.
I tried to change the direction of the conversation. "I spent two years in the Army, too. They needed medics, so I became one. But, you know, I wrote a short article for Stars and Strips and it got noticed. Next thing I knew they set me up in front of a typewriter and I became a journalist. Guess they didn't need that many medics after all."
"You're a writer?" Ellen asked as she played with the silverware.
"Apparently a better writer than a medic. Oh, city desk editor for the newspaper downtown." I could see Ellen's confused look.
"I work with other reporters and edit it all together. City desk reports on the political workings of the city, county, and state. I love my politics. Politicians are experts at lying, stretching the truth and hiding facts. I love watching them squirm when I catch 'em in a lie," I said. I think I may have pushed my chest out a bit and Ellen giggled.
"I work in a law office," Ellen said. "By the way, my friends call me Ellie."
"Ellie. I like that."
I watched her blush and then I just said it without thinking. "Ellie, you're quite attractive."
Ellie opened her mouth as though to speak then shut it again. Her gaze was making me nervous. Something in her eyes had changed. I wasn't sure just what it was. Without knowing why, her body arched for several seconds. She squirmed slightly in her chair and her eyes darted about. A single finger moved around the rim of her glass.
"I didn't mean to come on to you like that," I said.
She reached over and touched my hand. Her fingers were so smooth and I felt goose bumps pop up on my arm.
"I'm flattered," she said. "It's been a long while since a guy told me that."
As though on cue, our food arrived. Before I knew what happened, we were standing in front of Ellie's apartment. Our evening together was over. And now the awkwardness of a first date coming to the end begins. I entertained the idea of a good night kiss but somehow I felt Ellie wasn't going to do that. We stood together, her hand on the doorknob to her apartment for what seemed like forever.
"I had a great time tonight, Ellie." She just nodded her head. I reached out with my hand figuring a handshake was all I'd get when suddenly Ellie rose up in her heels and placed a quick kiss on my right cheek.
"Thank you for saving my son."
She smiled at me for a second, and then lowered her eyes to the ground. Then suddenly she rose up again and placed a long, wet kiss on my lips. "I haven't been told I'm pretty in a long while." I heard the door open and she stepped in. Just before the door closed I said, "You're welcome, Ellie."
It was back to the grind. Two weeks passed. We talked a few times on the phone and met for lunch now and then. Ellie always seemed to be on my mind.
The staff and I were busy with the latest news and most of the reporters and photographers were out in the field. Just my friend Mick and I were in the office. Mick had just finished an article about the city council and dropped it into the out box sitting on his desk. He pushed a plug of tobacco into his pipe and brought it to life with the snap of his lighter. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him turn his head. "Damn, who's the new girl?"
I heard the distinct tap-tap of a woman's heels as they struck the floor. I watched as Mick straightened his tie. I was looking for an article and I had just turned my back to the door.
"Hi. They told me in the other office Jake Peters was in here."
I knew that voice. "Ellie? What're doing here in this den of iniquity?" I asked as I turned around.
"I was thinking 'bout you and had some free time. I just wanted to stop in and say hi."
I introduced Ellie to Mick and then Ellie sat on the edge of my desk swinging her left leg back and forth. We chatted for no more than fifteen minutes. It seemed no sooner than she sat down, when she stood. "I've got to get back to work." Ellie caught me by surprise when she slipped her hand around my neck and placed a kiss right on my lips. "I been thinking of doing that all morning." Ellie smiled at Mick and me and then walked out of the office.
I looked over at my friend. "I wonder what the hell that was all about?"
"She has feelings for you," Mick said.
"Now don't you go starting things."
"Well," Mick said as he drew a long draw from his pipe, "she walked at least four blocks, maybe more to get here."
"How would you possibly know that?"
Mick pulled the pipe from his lips and touched his big schnozzola with the tip of his finger. "I've been sniffing out news and facts while you were still shitting in your diapers. The nose knows."
I laughed at him. "Now, Mick, how would you know she walked that far? She drove her car I bet."
"Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary."
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, Sherlock, you're up, how'd you know?"
He pulled the pipe from his mouth, took the bowl in his hand and pointed the stem at my desk. "Ellie is a fine looking woman. She's got nice legs. I noticed she wore tan nylons, pantyhose most likely given her age. I saw several sandy gray splotches on the back of her right calf. They were caught in her hose."
"Granted, Ellie has attractive legs, so what's your point?"
"It hasn't rained for the past five days so they're not mud."
"So?" I prompted.
"But there is construction downtown and they were pouring cement in front of the Howard building yesterday and today. So, the splotches on the back of Ellie hose must be cement that got splashed up as she walked along the sidewalk. The Howard building is two blocks from here. Therefore she walked at least from that building to here and back. At least four blocks round trip." He touched his nose. "The nose knows."
I shook my head. "Damn, you never cease to amaze me."
I heard the bottom of Mick's desk drawer open and the clink of a pair of glasses. "Here," he said, "we need to talk." He poured a half an inch of Kessler's into each glass.
"You know, that young woman that was just in her has feelings for you. Don't you think perhaps there's more between the two of you that you're letting on? "
"How do you know what she feels?"
"I don't. But look, it's simple. She walked over here—in heels—just for a short chat about nothing-in particular and a quick kiss. Now what do you think?"
I spun the caramel colored liquid in the bottom of my glass then tipped my head back and swallowed half the booze in one long gulp. It burnt my throat going down.
"She's certainly not hard on the eyes," I said.
"No argument there."
Mick sat on the edge of his desk, his left hand resting on a notebook. Cupping the bowl of his pipe in his right hand, he moved it 'round in the air as he talked. When he'd stop, small rings of white smoke would escape out the stem. Then he put the pipe back into his mouth and the bowl would turn orange as he pulled a long smooth draw. "Tell me, Jake, what did you notice about Ellie?"
I kind of shrugged my shoulders. "She's pretty. Dresses nice. Nothing much else."
"You didn't notice how the yellow blouse she wore matched her honey brown hair?"
"No, not really."
"I see." Mick tapped his pipe into the ashtray. "What about the silver ankle bracelet on her right foot? And the shoes she wore? Black pumps with a heel just high enough to bend her ankle and round out her calves. Ellie wore better hose than most women her age, as they didn't bunch up at her ankles. Her black skirt was short enough to call attention to her figure, yet still professional. It suggests to me that her position where she works is a bit higher up the ladder than most women her age would have. "
"You're speculating," I said.
"Jake, you look with your eyes, but you never see." His pipe glowed orange. "Did you notice the heart shaped necklace around her neck? There were Emeralds all along the edge and in the middle a blood-red Garnet."
"I was looking elsewhere."
Mick snapped open his lighter and brought his pipe back to life. "Thinking with your dick again, huh," he said. "You told me last week you got her something on her birthday. Emeralds are the birthstones for May, and I'd bet the Garnet in the middle is for her son. Garnet is the birthstone for January."
I thought for a few moments. "When I pulled Andy out of the pond, she said he just turned three several months before. Yeah."
I watched Mick smile. "A heart shaped necklace... Emeralds circling a Garnet. A mother's love surrounding her child. Jake, you look but you don't see."
It seemed as though a horse kicked me in the chest. Damn him anyway. I reached out for the phone when I felt Mick's hand on it. "She walked over wearing heels."