She only took shortcuts through the park when the need for expediency overrode her natural discomfort in being near children. But she was running late; the optometrist appointment thad gone nearly 30 minutes overdue and there was far too much to do to miss any work time and far to much to do this evening to stay later and make up for it. Feeling extravagantly out-of-place in her grey, tailed business suit amidst the forest of yoga pants, T-shirts and jeans, spattered with dirt and day-old milk, she maintained a quick step through the alternating pads of Astroturf and wood-chips towards 5th avenue.
It was always the same, the park. The same screaming, crying kids running over kingdom come, collections of women in their mid-twenties hovering protectively over expensive walkers, hair hastily gathered into messy buns drinking deeply from their Starbucks vanilla lattes. Probably arguing over different approaches to spanking or changing diapers or what to cook for dinner when their husbands came home. It was a lifestyle, a dream – no, a nightmare that oozed droplets of dread down her spine: chained to a couple of kids, stuck at home with the vacuum and dustpan and cookbooks…her potential, her skill, her ambition washed away in a flood of diapers and baby wipes. She averted her eyes as though even gazing upon them would draw her in, kicking and screaming towards the inevitable doom. Scanning elsewhere, somewhere with a view more pleasant, her gaze caught on him.
Him. A man – not wholly unusual, in today’s gender fluid society of free-thinkers and role confusion, that sort of thing was to be expected. He didn’t look trans, though. Or gay. He was…oh, god! The back of her neck heated with a flush of exhilaration. He was handsome, the late afternoon sun reflecting in the dark mop of hair that hung, just so deliciously over his eyes, shaded by classy, modern thin-rimmed glasses. He reached up with one graceful hand, (she noticed the current model Rolex with an appreciative thrill) to brush it away from his face as he shifted. Unlike other man-moms, he was clad in a crisp white button-up and tailored black suit pants that were as alien to the playground as her stilettos. An equally black suit jacket was folded neatly over the back of the bench on which he sat, so naturally casual and leisurely to make a model envious. A fluttering shiver of excitement and erotic interest rippled across her flesh. A Career man. A handsome, young, career man. Her steps slowed ever so slightly as she drank in the rest of him: his sleeves were folded up, revealing well muscled forearms – and seated within the protective circle of his right arm, was a young girl.
A swift current of chill hesitation: a child? His child? Disappointment followed on the heels of her initial thrill, flooding over the blaze of first attraction: an abrupt gulf, impassable void that forever set him apart. A single father? Baggage, probably. Injured and anxious over his ex-wife, shared custody of the kid, no freedom to date, obligations. Yet she watched him, unable and indeed, unwilling to stop drinking in the sheer eye-candy of it all (that is, if she ignored the kid). A child’s book lay open on his lap, and hovering atop it was the tousled head of the little girl. He encouraged her inaudibly, with what she imaged was a deep, soothing baritone lost in the clamor of the playground. His fingers traced the pages of the book, and settled upon the child a singular look of utter adoration as she poured her focus on the words.
Her stomach twisted with wholly unfamiliar sensation. A strange, disturbing, frightening motion; an insensible, unconscious, magnetic draw towards the enthralling beauty of the moment. Unconsciously her hand traveled towards her chest and her breath quickened in her chest. The girl finished a word and gazed up at her father with eager excitement, hope and confirmation. He drew her close into his arms, and planted a soft kiss in her hair.
Her heart pounded in her chest, blood pulsing. The sun beat down upon her skin and sweat gathered under her arms. A surge of lighthearted eagerness, anxious desire, fascination: hunger to be close to him. Her pace slowed she drew close to passing them.
God, what was wrong? He was no real life Adonis, she saw hundreds of handsome men, handsome career men, handsome young career men a day: glistening with sweat in the gym, buying her cocktails with a flirting grin at the bar. She re-directed her rising hand from holding her pounding heart to brushing a non-existent strand of stray hair from her forehead. What was it about him, this man, that made her feel as though she were a teenager again, rife and swelling with hormones/? What, in her perfect realm of men, models, rich clothes, premiere apartments, 401ks, stocks portfolios, cocktail hours and self-reliance made this man turn her weak at the knees and, despite everything that frightened and repulsed her about children, be the most beautiful man on earth?
Alana worked her way through “because” and at the abrupt shout of several kids across the playground, Nathan glanced up. As always, the park was alive with children of all ages, some of which he recognized as frequent visitors. Glancing at his watch (a gift from his father in law) with a twist of his head, he grimaced. Had to return to the office soon. Turning back to his daughter and pulling her closer to his side with a crooked smile, he caught a glimpse of an anomaly.
A woman, drastically out of place amongst the primary colors of plastic and playground equipment with her tailored skirt and suit jacket, hair drawn up into a severe and perfect ponytail, was taking a brisk stride across the path as though nervous she would be attacked. Her jacket failed, and in fact accentuated the curves of her waist and hips, swaying confidently with every step. Her calves rippled with toned muscle on her steep heels. Her blouse stooped dangerously, enticingly low and he lingered a few seconds longer on her chest before averting his eyes. She was altogether lovely – or would have been, if every step on those stilettos wasn’t lined with a sharp edge of self-reliance and confidence that was just the this side of arrogant and supercilious. Looking at how her gaze traveled around the park with the barest hint of distaste sent a twist of revulsion and anger down his neck. Her scrutiny settled on a group of women on the other bench, shifted to disapproval and aversion, and she hefted a paper-thin phone in her fingers, unconsciously quickening her pace. Nathan’s eyes slipped away. She may have had the body of a world class model, but she was quite possibly the most singularly un-attractive women he’d ever seen.