tagRomanceIt's Complicated

It's Complicated

byMSTarot©

(Debated where this should go. It's truly a romance story, but since it doesn't contain a sex scene it maybe should be in non-erotic. If I write a part two though it will. In which case, this is the prequel story. You decide.)

*

"If you're not a man with a woman on his mind I don't know what one looks like." I hear a soft voice break through my thoughts.

Looking up from the cluster of cooing pigeons I see first brown house shoes, worn on the tips badly, then a polished, knobby, wooden cane. It has a white porcelain hound's head at the top. Wrinkled fingers rest on it lightly.

"Am I right?" he says.

The man's face is lined with care and worn with time. He smiles kindly at me.

"I am aren't I?" He reaches up and tugs on his flat cap. "I was watching you. You walked around this park a full thirty times without ever looking up. It's a mile around this lake. I'm glad to see you finally sat down. May I?" He gestures to the bench beside me.

"Sure... I mean please," I tell him sliding to the side.

He smiles and walks those few steps with a slow gimpy walk. He sits down carefully. He comes to rest with a pleasurable sigh.

"Ah thank you. Old bones don't like to be up that much any more." He leans down resting his hands on his cane and his chest against his hands. He looks at me then grimaces. "Women ... they confuse the best of us don't they?"

I nod at the truth of that.

"So want to tell me about the one that's bothering you? I'm a total stranger so telling me can't hurt. Right?" He gives me a soft grin. Then a wink.

I sit quite for a minute then decide he's harmless.

"It's kind of complicated." I tell him.

He shrugs.

"Between you, me, and these pigeons we can work out anything." He chuckles.

"There's this girl ...." I start then stop.

"I got that part." He says laughing. He gives me a second then smiles. "Just start at the beginning."

"That may take awhile," I warn him.

"Well, till I run out of bread crumbs the pigeons have nothing better to do." He tosses out a hand full of crumbs. They cluster around us hunting the ground. "And they are the busy ones."

I nod slowly.

"Okay." I take a breath. "Well, to begin with my Mom recently got divorced."

"Is she the woman?" he asks giving his cane a twist till the dog head is looking at me.

"What? No ... lord no. I mean I love my Mom but not like that." I stutter at the idea.

He gives a shrug.

"Well, you got to admit that would be a complicated situation. Never mind me, though. Continue."

I look at him for a second then nod.

"Well like I said Mom just got divorced."

"From your Dad?" he asks lifting an eyebrow.

"What? No. He was my step dad. I never knew my father."

I watch him take out a second hand full of crumbs from a bag in his pocket and hold them down. Soon a pigeon is sitting in his hand eating.

"Sad that. Never to know your real father." He gives a sigh. "Sorry, I interrupted you, continue. Your mom just got divorced. By the way, since she's single is she into older men who like to feed pigeons?" he asks with a grin.

Chuckling, I shake my head. "Anyway the man she divorced is named Jeff. Well he has a younger sister." I shrug a little.

"How young? For that matter how young are you? I would say maybe twenty-five, but I could be off by a few years." The dog head is back to watching the pigeons.

I smile.

"Just by one I'm twenty-six. River's birthday is tomorrow. She'll be eighteen." I look at the lines around his eyes and mouth. I realize both ages must seem absurdly young to him.

"Just eight years between you? That's not that bad. I was ten years older than my first wife was. It didn't cause that big of a difference in our relationship." He gives me a wink. "Marry a younger woman. They will have the stamina to keep you younger than your years."

I smile then shrug and look down at the pigeons. A white one is following a bluish gray one around.

"He's trying to get him a piece of tail too. Maybe I should be giving him advice. He might give me more to work with."

"Sorry." I look up at him. My eyes go to his cane. The dog is watching me again.

"Don't be sorry. It wastes time. Don't apologize, make things right or do no wrong. So ... she's not too young for you. Does she have a boyfriend?"

"No." I give a shrug. "She's had a few over the last couple of years, but nothing recently."

"So what's the problem? Go to her party. Bring a dinner invitation to a delightful restaurant as your gift. Take her out to eat and see if she likes your company."

"I can't do that." I tell him looking away.

"Why not?" he asks with a tap on my foot from his cane.

"It complicated."

"Oh, were back to that again. Do you love her?" he asks sharply.

I look back at him. After a second I kind of shrug.

"That's not an answer. Do you love her?" He looks at me intently watching my face with sharp eyes.

I look down at my hands. His eyes are hard to look at their so fierce.

"I don't know."

"You don't know if you love her?" he asks tilting his head a little.

I shake my head no.

He gives a sigh and leans his chin down onto his hands, atop the cane.

"Do you think about her?" he asks after a second.

I take a breath.

"All the time," I answer softly.

"Speak up, I'm a bit deaf in my right eye." He closes the left and looks at me with a grin.

I chuckle.

"All ... The ... Time," I tell his slowly.

"With your head, your heart, or your nuts?" he asks with a toothy grin.

I chuckle at his antics.

"All three. She's beautiful." I picture River in my mind. Her light blond hair, smiling face. The memory of a long hug she gave me once a few months ago comes back to me. The feel of her in my arms then.

"All women are beautiful. There is something about every one of them that is beautiful. What is it about River that makes you remember her?"

I think of her face and realize I know that answer without even thinking.

"Her eyes"

He gives his cane a twist and the dog is back watching me.

"What about her eyes? Are they some special color? What color are they? Do you know?" He smiles.

"They're blue. Like a deep lake blue. An autumn sky blue. It's not the color though." I shake my head.

"What is it then?" he asks softly, looking intently into my eyes.

"They're like yours," I say as the thought comes to me.

"Like Mine! Old and wrinkled? That poor girl." He grins as I smile and shake my head.

"No. Intense. Like you can see the answer even before I say it. She's like that. When she looks at you, her whole face is alive with her eyes. When she's happy, you can see it there. When she's sad, it's the same."

He slowly nods.

"Well take it from me if you can't trust what your own heart is telling you. I can hear the way you feel about her and these old eyes can see what your head isn't telling ya. You're in love with her."

I nod accepting.

"So you going to do what I said? Take her to dinner?" I notice the cane has turned around till it's looking up at him. It slowly turns to look at me. The little porcelain eyes almost seem to focus on my face. I shiver.

"I can't!"

"Why not?" he asks forcefully. Several pigeons fly off startled. He tosses some more crumbs out to them. "Why the hell not? And if you tell me it's complicated I'm going to kick you."

I sit silent looking out at the lake for several seconds. I see several ducks swimming around the wood stumps of an old pier.

"My mom and her brother just went through a very bitter divorce. I don't want to be the one to drag all those feeling back into the open. Things just settled down."

He sighs.

"That's terribly noble of you. To sacrifice your happiness so they don't have to suffer."

I look at him not appreciating the sarcasm. Then I see in his eyes that he's being sincere.

"But let me ask you. This man, Jeff? Did you call him Dad? How long were they married?" He leans back on the bench, resting his cane between his crossed feet. I notice the dog seems to be watching a large V of geese that fly over head.

I sit quite for a second. I can feel hot tears wanting to come to my eyes. Not all of the bitter part was between Mom and Jeff.

"Yeah, I did. They were together for nearly fifteen years." I finally tell him. I can't look at those eyes. On River they pull me in, on him they make me want to hide.

"Was he a good man? Did he try to be a good father to you?" When I nod, he second the motion. "Sounds to me like he's the type of man would love to see his 'Son' happy. Maybe even at his own expense. I also guess he knows you pretty good. Probably wouldn't mind his little sister going out with a nice ... fairly clean cut guy." He eyes my ponytail with a smirk.

I shrug and give it a twitch to the other side. I notice his eyes go to my ear and I know I've just uncovered my earring.

"How about your former grand parents? River and Jeff's mom and dad? Are they still this side of the daisies?"

"Oh, Yeah. They're a little old ..." I stop when I say it, but not quick enough.

He grins at me.

"I felt the same when I was your age. My grandfather died when I was twelve. I thought he was so old. I saw his deaths certificate once. He died at forty five." He chuckles. "Hell, if I was fifty again I would be chasing those girls over there playing volleyball around trying to get me a piece."

I look to the girls he's talking about. I hadn't noticed them till then. He sees that on my face.

"That many girls playing a game that makes their tit's bounce and you didn't even know they were there? Yeah you're in love."

I nod and look back down at the birds.

"So her parents like you?" he asks after a few moments of silence.

"Oh yeah. They love me. I was their first grandson. They kind of treat me like I can do no wrong on this earth." I shake my head. "I don't really know how to feel about them now. I still care for them but ... now they are no longer related to me."

"Well, dating their daughter is certainly a first step towards correcting that. Or do you not think you love River enough to maybe put a ring on her finger some day?"

I notice the dogs head turn slowly towards me as I take a bit of time to think through the answer. I'm really starting to get the creeps from that walking stick.

"I haven't given marriage a lot of thought, but if I was going to marry anyone ... yeah, River would be at the very top of the list of women I would like to spend my live with."

He smiles at me.

"See not so very complicated. You love her. Her family still loves you ... like a son or grandson at the very least." He sits up and tosses out more breadcrumbs. The cooing mass cluster around our feet. "How about your Mom?"

I look up from the birds.

"What do you mean? What about her?" I ask with a son's defensive tone coming to light.

He looks up at me with those wrinkle-encased eyes. They focus on my face like the gaze of a wolf.

"I won't ask if your Mom loves you. She's your mom; it goes with the job title. That and the ability to forgive almost anything no matter how stupid. Can she handle the idea of you with Jeff's sister? Does she like River?" He twiddles the cane around in his hand for a few seconds. "Some women couldn't take that kind of thing in stride. Is she that type?"

"I think she ... might be hurt a bit if I didn't tell her about it first. Yeah, she loves River a lot."

He smiles.

"Well the best advice I can give to anyone ... ever, is so long as she's alive always go to your Mom with these type of things. More often than not she will help you get back on your feet when the world knocks you down. Also part of the job description." He takes the bread bag from his pocket and up ends the last of the crumbs to the ground. "Well, you have till those are gone and then you're stuck with just me. I don't know how well you'll make out without the wise advice of these featherheads."

I smile down at the white pigeon. He is sitting on my foot now fighting with the blue gray bird he was casing earlier. He looks up at the dog cane and cocks an eye towards it for a long time. The dog slowly turns to look at the bird. Then back up to look at me.

Okay, I've had enough of that.

"Thank you. You have really made me think." I tell him getting up slowly so as not to chase the pigeons from their meal.

"That was my intent." He smiles and offers me his hand. When I take it, I surprise at the hard strength of his grip. He looks me steady in the eye and I can't look away. "If you do decide to go to her with words of love make sure of one thing. That it's your heart and not your nuts, that's led you there."

I nod, and he tilts his head a little to the side looking at me intently.

"I bet you River already has some strong feelings for you herself. I would be willing to put a silver dollar to a dime that she does." He smiles. "Good luck and get you a piece of her birthday cake. Even if it's her 'pie' you might be wanting to eat."

I listen to him cackling as I walk away smiling.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The hard bottoms of my boots click on the steps to Mom's apartment as I walk up them. I always wear my boots. Like my long hair, they are a part of me. They are part of the image of myself I see; don't know what I'll do when they finally wear out. I'm afraid I can't get another pair like these anywhere.

Apartment number sixty-eight. I look at it and smile. Mom had said she had dodged a bullet with that.

I knock.

Mom is in sweat pants, socks, and a beige T-shirt when she opens the door. It's a look I know well. She looks like a comfortable piece of furniture. She smiles seeing it's me.

"Come on in. Don't look at the mess, I'm still unpacking." She steps around a stack of empty liquor boxes. I remember the dozens of trips to the liquor stores around us to get them. I see her handwritten descriptions of what the boxes contained. Some of the boxes are very familiar. I carried them, just under my nose, up the stairs.

"You've been saying that for weeks."

Mom laughs.

"And I probably will be for months to come. I have a lot of stuff to go through."

We walk around unopened boxes and into the kitchen. All the cabinet doors are open and there are three open boxes labeled 'Kitchen' on the table. A black garbage bag full of bubble wrap and newspaper lies nearby.

She picks up a souvenir glass from one box and, shaking her head, puts it into a larger box on the floor. I remember the trip to Florida when it was bought. Jeff had gotten it for her.

I grab the kitchen stool from under the island and slide my butt onto it. I start taking out plates and handing them to her to inspect. About half go into the box at her feet.

"Mom."

She looks up from a box of silverware.

"Yeah hun?" Her eyelids lower. "Is something wrong?"

I shake my head. "Not so much wrong as I need to talk."

"Okay." She moves over to the island and hops up on top. The butcher-block top easily supports her. "What's up?"

I take a second to compose how I want to say this.

"I was at the park ... I got to talking with this guy there. He got me to thinking." I pause and look down at my hands.

"That's a good thing. Thinking a good thing." I look up at her. "Now what were you thinking about, that's got you in such a tizzy?"

I smile at her use of that word. Grandma used to say it all the time. Her mom ... she passed away when I turned twenty-two. Seems like yesterday we were at the funeral home.

"I was thinking about a girl." I tell her. She smiles.

"Of course you were, you're a guy. All guys think about is girls. Is this someone new?"

I shake my head.

"I was thinking about River."

Her eyebrows slowly rise a little.

"River?" She watches my face till I nod. "What about her?"

I notice then I'm turning a small cup in my hands. It's one I drank my morning milk from when I was five. The faded blue picture of a cartoon duck is just a ghost of what he once was.

"I think I'm in love with her ... No, I know I'm in love with her." I look up to my Mom and see a dozen emotions cross her face in the span of as many seconds.

She gives a low sigh.

"Well. I don't know what to say. She's a great girl if a little young for you. You sure it's love? I still remember Mandy." She gives me a teasing grin.

Mom had walked in on me and a girl named Mandy when we were both in less than our full clothes. We had met in high school. Mom has teased me about her ever since then.

"The guy in the park showed me that. He was a strange fellow, but he got me to really thinking about how I feel." I put down the little cup. "Yeah ... it's love."

Mom hops down off the island and comes over to stand in front of me. She lifts my chin till I'm looking into her brown eyes. I see her eyes start to shine.

"Then you go after her with every thing in your heart!" Two tears slowly leave her eyes and run down her cheeks. "You tell her how you feel and make her know it every day. You love her as strong and as fiercely as you can."

Mom's arms come around me in a hard embrace.

"And for your sake I hope to god she loves you just as much," she says by my ear.

I hold on to my Mom as she cries. I feel more than a few tears leave my own eyes. After several minutes, she gives a sniffle and pats my back.

Mom looks at my tears and smiles. "I love you. I always will."

"I love you too, Mom. I don't want this to hurt you."

She starts to shake her head.

"I'm beyond pain. Nothing that happens with Jeff or his family can hurt me now. I'm going to get my house in order and my life as well. This is my new start." She wipes my face with her hand. "Now you go find yours. I'll be here." She laughs. "Probably still unpacking."

She gives me a second hug that almost hurts it's so hard. Then, wiping her face, she starts turning the kitchen upside down.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The driveway is crowded with cars. Some are familiar. People I once called family.

I drive past and park down the street. Slowly I walk up to the big brick house.

Always loved this place.

I walk past the rock garden. None of the brightly painted gnomes seem to be watching me. Since the dog cane in the park, such things with eyes have made me uneasy.

As I walk past the cars, I start to hear laughter and splashing from around back. When I step around the corner, I see the pool is filled with River's friends and younger relatives.

I don't see River.

A few of them know me. I get hands waving and smiles.

From a few at least.

As I slide open the glass door into the kitchen, a short gray haired lady comes bustling out with her hands full of pitchers of ice and golden liquid. She passes me without seeing me for second then notices who I am. She smiles and sits down the lemonade.

"I didn't think you were coming," she says as she gives me a hug.

"I wouldn't miss it Granny," I tell her as I take comfort from her hug. It kind of takes me back into an older life.

She smiles up at me.

"Well, get you something to eat inside. This place is a mad house today. River is around here somewhere, I know she will be glad you came." She grabs back up the drinks and heads towards the pool.

Walking into the kitchen I slide the door shut behind me. The little table where I sat eating cereal the first time I was brought to this house is loaded with food. I don't want any of it.

My stomach is in knots.

I step through the dinning room going towards the living room. I stop and look at the dining table. A huge cake sits under a plastic cover in the middle.

I'm a little late it seems. Half of the cake is gone, cut away into slices. I can still make out River's face in airbrushed icing. I look at the smiling half that remains. Her eyes are just as beautiful in sugar as in real life.

Turning towards the living room a near naked body slams into me. Strong arms wrap my ribs in a tight embrace.

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