The woman sat in front of him, poised and graceful. The wrinkles on the sides of her eyes were deeper than they should have been for someone not yet seventy and her hair, though white, was shoulder length and smooth. The way she stared intimidated him and he cleared his throat, struggling to remain in control.
“So, you're the one who's supposed to fix me,” she stated and eyed him. Perhaps taking in his youth and inexperience. He wondered, for he couldn't tell, if she wanted to curl those facts up into a bitter ball and squeeze it hard between her long, veined fingers. He eyed the small silver pail that stood empty beside the desk and envisioned her throwing it there. It wasn't his job to wonder.
“Actually,” he responded, “I don't fix anyone. I only help you to work out issues that might be holding you back.”
“How old are you?” she asked and he realized that it wasn't bitterness that consumed her. It was sadness. Sadness and a simple interest in him. He also thought, I've seen her somewhere before.
He cleared his throat again, aware of how inexperienced it made him sound. “Nearly forty,” he said with pride. She couldn't imagine him so inexperienced at a respectably lived age of forty. He watched as the woman smiled. She had a nice smile. It reached her eyes and he was surprised at the difference it made in her face. “Forty,” she repeated.
He nodded, “So, tell me. What brings you to me?”
She stared, momentarily silent. There it was again, the intimidation. He wondered if she was doing it purposely or if this was how she looked at people. Deeply, analytically.
“Am I on a job interview?” she asked and he forced a chuckle.
“No. I just want to know why you're here.”
She shifted in her seat, then crossed her legs. She wore black pants and a simple white sweater. He noticed the nail polish on her toes, peeking through the opening of her shiny leather shoes. It was pink and fresh.
“I just wanted someone to talk to,” she said simply and in that moment, he saw her weakness. She was lonely.
He nodded, waiting. When she didn't continue, he began. “What's on your mind?”
She put a cigarette to her mouth and motioned for a lighter. He retrieved one from the top of his desk and lit it for her. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes for a few seconds, before exhaling a long, smooth wind of smoke. “I didn't always smoke, you know,” she said and he nodded.
“When did you start?”
“I started, maybe ten years back. I like it. I should have started when I was young. It's relaxing.”
He thought the statement was odd. He was used to people, at this age especially, wanting to quit. Cursing themselves for being young and foolish and starting such an unhealthy, self-consuming habit. He said nothing, though. It wasn't his job to give his opinion.
“When I was young, I was in love,” she said.
And he felt that this was progress. They were about to get somewhere.
“How old were you when you fell in love?” he asked and she paused for a moment, thinking, before reaching into the black leather carrying bag that sat beside her feet, slightly opened. She took out what seemed to be a book. It was brown and thick. She placed it on her lap and opened to the first page.
“A journal?” he asked and she nodded.
“There's so much to tell,” the woman's voice became low. “This helps...”
She sat in front of her lemonade stand watching the lemon halves float, lazily, against the pale liquid that sparkled beneath the hot July sun. Her hair was brown and uncontrollably curly and the spirals ended just past her shoulders, some strands sticking to the sides of her face as beads of sweat began to form. The freckles that sprinkled across her nose were light and charming but she hated them and wished she looked more like her striking cousin, Delia. Despite the fact that they were as close as sisters, Delia always stood apart from her and consumed the attentions of everyone around them.
The old Victorian house across the street was one of many in the quaint little village of Babylon, Long Island. It was white with wide, red doors and green shutters. Its large wrap-around porch held an old wooden rocking chair that she swore sometimes rocked when the wind was calm and no one but her was watching.
The house had been vacant for some time now and she often wondered when someone would occupy it. She dreamed of a little girl living there. She would have long blonde hair, a contrast to her own dark features, and she would love lemonade stands and playing ball and the two of them would become inseparable.
The empty street showed no promise of customers, but she was content to watch two tiny birds as they hopped, daintily, before her. One of them seemed angry at the other – lunging at it, its melodic voice becoming seemingly frantic. Only moments later they flew away, one right behind the other. Marian watched as they glided, effortlessly into the bright blue sky. I bet they’re best friends, she thought and smiled at the idea of it, Best friends can argue, but they will never stay cross for long. She closed her eyes, taking in a slow, deep breath as the glorious sounds of nature filled the little road. Then, another sound disrupted it.
Her eyes opened to the sight of a large, white truck turning the corner of her block. Its angry motor was out of place – unwelcome. She frowned, impatient for it to pass, when it stopped, abruptly, in front of the empty house.
She watched as men began unloading the truck and boxes were being moved from it through the vast wooden doors. Almost too quickly, in the blazing heat, she noticed they were sweating. Large, dark circles began to form around the pits of their arms; the moisture that caused their t-shirts to stick to their backs began peeking through the cotton until the dark, wet streaks formed shapes between their shoulder blades.
She glanced down at her pre-filled cups, the ice now almost completely gone, and contemplated going up to them and offering them drinks. She knew that she wouldn't, for she was far too shy. However, she imagined their grateful reactions and long, satisfying sips they would take as they looked at her, telling her they never tasted better lemonade.
Marian was a dreamer. There were so many things she saw in her head that she could never actually do in real life. Even in school she kept to herself and didn't make friends easily. Her overly sensitive nature contradicted the tomboy at heart and she always felt the other girls looked at her as if she were strange. Perhaps a creature from another planet. For dolls didn't interest her, neither did pretty clothes. Delia was her closest friend, surely by default because she was family, and Marian spent many weekends sleeping over there, watching her cousin, who, only a few months older, would dress up her many precious dolls and brush their long, fabric hair to perfection.
Only two years ago when Marian was five, her father had passed away in his sleep. A brain aneurism, they had said, and her mother cried for a month straight. Since then, it had just been the two of them, but Rosa (Marian had always called her that) never seemed satisfied with her ball playing, dirt magnet of a daughter. Marian tried, really tried, to wear the dresses that Rosa constantly bought her, but she was never in them for more than ten minutes before they were stained and Rosa was cross. Constantly, her mother would compare her to Delia.
“Why can't you be more like your cousin?” she would ask.
Marian would just shrug, she didn't know.
“You must be a lady, Marian – this stuff you do, it's for boys!”
Marian didn't really understand why.
Rosa was born in Lima, Peru and came here when she was eighteen. She met Robert, Marian's father, only a year after she arrived and the two of them fell instantly in love. He was the typical all American man she dreamed of finding – Irish and German, a CPA for the IRS and a cultured, educated being. Six months after they had met, Rosa became pregnant with Marian and feared she might lose him. But he had already purchased the simple diamond solitaire he was going to present her with and when she told him the news, he was ecstatic.
After his death, Rosa was scared that she might be looked down upon – an uneducated, foreign woman with no husband and a child. But she was naive in her thinking and her efforts to make her daughter into the poster American child were unnecessary. She was a strong, fiery woman who people respected and only her sister, Delia's mother, who also came here at a young age and married an Italian business owner, understood her determination to blend easily into the North American culture.
Now, Marian turned to see her mother's face in the window. Rosa's thick, black hair was up in a loose bun, and she waved at her daughter, giving an over exaggerated thumbs up. Marian sighed, focusing her attention back on the truck.
The men seemed to be taking a break. They stood casually in front of the house, wiping their foreheads and talking. One of them stretched his arms above his head, as if he were only just waking up. The shiny, black car that pulled up in front of them caused them to disperse; Marian could feel the anticipation building in her heart, at the sight of it.
She saw a man get out of the driver's seat – he seemed regal to her and tall. The woman who got out next had an air about her that Marian could feel from across the street. She was a tiny woman with blonde hair cut to the nape of her neck and she pointed at something, waving her hand briskly and speaking, her voice loud and commanding. The moving men seemed to bow to her as she shook her head and walked, quickly, past them into the house. The man stood back, talking with one of the movers, his hands in his pockets, his face calm, and for a moment he tilted his head back in laughter.
A figure came out from the back seat on the other side of the car and Marian stretched her neck to see. She was sure that it was a girl about her age, she could see the blonde hair from where she was and she began to get excited. Maybe her wish was coming true. Through the car windows she saw the long hair blowing with the breeze that the open bay nearby was gifting them with, so she stood up, walking closer, to see more of this girl.
There was a ball - perhaps a tennis ball - being bounced. She heard it from where she was and could see the ball hitting the floor and coming back up. Hitting the floor and coming back up. Then it hit the floor too hard and went flying over the car, toward Marian. She immediately went to the ball and picked it up, excited at having a reason to make contact with her new friend, when she looked up and saw the beautiful long, blonde hair attached to a boy.
His hair was down to his shoulders. She had never seen a boy's hair so long, but clearly he was a boy. He wore boy shorts and a boy's shirt and his face, tanned against big blue eyes was clearly that of a boy. She immediately became flushed not having expected this at all and looked down at the ball in her hand, unsure of how to react.
“How much?” he asked her, and she looked at him.
“For the lemonade,” he nodded to the lemonade stand behind her and smiled, “I'm thirsty.”
Marian had forgotten all about it, “Fifty cents,” she said, and she pointed to the sign.
He scrunched his eyebrows and his lips turned up into a half smile. A look he would carry with him, way into adulthood.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“I'm seven. I'm going to be eight next week. July eleventh.”
“Figures,” he said, shaking his head and taking the ball from her. “Well, I'm nine and a half. If you were older, you'd know that people are getting at least a dollar for lemonade these days.”
Marian looked at him with surprise, “A dollar?” She thought of it, “For one cup?”
He began bouncing the ball again, “Sure. Just in the summertime, though.”
“Well,” Marian stated, “Nobody sells lemonade in the winter. I've never seen it.”
“That's cuz there's not a need for it. People aren't thirsty as much in the winter as they are in the summer. In the summertime people are hot from the sun and that dehydrates them, making them thirsty and needing a drink. When there's a need for something, that's when you can raise the prices. I betcha you can get a dollar twenty five for a cup of lemonade!”
Marian's eyes widened, “I don’t believe it. Nobody will pay that!”
“Oh yeah?” He was ready to challenge her, when the handsome, tall man came up from behind him.
“Time to go, Adam,” he said and smiled at Marian, “And what's your name?”
“Marian,” she said, feeling shy again. She looked at her feet.
Adam interrupted, “Can I have some lemonade, Dad?”
His father nodded, reaching into his pocket. He took out a dollar, “How much, sweetie?”
Adam answered for her, “It's a dollar twenty five, Dad.”
Marian's heart raced nervously, but she didn't deny it. And she hoped Adam's father wouldn't notice the big sign that said FIFTY CENTS behind her. She kept her eyes at her feet.
Instead, he took out another dollar. “I don't have any change,” he said, then winked at her. “So keep the rest as a tip,” and he handed her two dollars and began to walk away.
“Come on, son,” then to her, “Nice to meet you, Marian.”
When he was out of earshot, Marian looked at Adam in amazement, “Wow! I can't believe it!” She handed him a cup that he drank from, quickly, then crumpled in his hand.
He smiled, proudly, “I told you.”
“You're really smart,” Marian said to him.
Adam shrugged. “Well, I have to go now,” and he began to run toward his house, “See ya!”
“Wait!” Marian called and he stopped, turning back around. She held out the dollar to him. “This is for you,” she said, “It's only fair, since you helped me.”
He took the dollar and smiled. “Thanks,” he said, nodding. Then he raced toward the big, red doors.
Marian watched until he disappeared into the house. When it was only her and the moving men again, she heard Rosa's voice from behind her, “Why don't you come inside now, sweetie?” and her mother's hand touched her shoulder.
She shook her head, not wanting to, “No, I'm just going to stay out here for a little longer,” and a feeling, she couldn't explain, began fluttering in the pit of her belly.
*PURCHASE ON THE BIG WHITE OAK TODAY ON ANY ONLINE BOOK RETAILER (AMAZON.COM/BARNESANDNOBLE.COM)
*FINISH THE STORY OF MARIAN & ADAM AND MEET DELIA, THE ONE WHO STEALS HIS HEART!*