Play Place

By Stephen Monaco

file0001920732979Dawn tapped her fingers impatiently on the table, trying to tune out the chaos that reigned on the other side of the sprawling glass windows, PLAY PLACE emblazoned across them. Every scream and squeal from inside knotted her stomach tighter. Thankful to be on this side of the glass, she tried to find something to focus on. She watched a butterfly alight on a newly bloomed iris. Birds chirped and fluttered about, busy building their nests. She always loved spring and its promise of new life, but not today. She glanced at her watch, sighing and looking expectantly toward the parking lot. Why can’t he ever be on time for anything!

Mitch was the quarterback of the football team, the most popular kid in school, and her boyfriend since last fall. She had been terrified when he asked her to Homecoming; she didn’t think he even knew who she was. It wasn’t that she was unattractive or unpopular. She was, she thought, just the invisible nerdy girl. During the Homecoming dance she kept glancing at the rafters, convinced there were buckets of blood waiting to rain down on her. The sight of blood always made her queasy, but now, not seeing blood was much more unsettling.

She looked at her watch again. Twenty minutes late. Christ, he can’t be depended on for anything! When she was a little girl and would swoon over boys like Justin Bieber and Taylor Lautner, her mom would say: “No matter how cute a boy is, there is a woman somewhere that is tired of putting up with his crap.” For several months after she and Mitch started dating, Dawn glowed with the blush of young love. Eventually though, she understood what her mom meant. His inability to ever be on time or take anything serious was like someone rubbing her skin with sandpaper; once in a while was fine but over and over again was maddening. Mitch always tried to make everything into a joke; sometimes she just wanted him to be strong and reassuring.

While she mindlessly shredded the edges of a paper napkin, Dawn watched a harried mother chase a toddler, wearing nothing but a diaper that was only secured on one side, across the play area. The oblivious father sat nearby at a table thumbing at his phone. Even through the glass that separated her from the play area, the chaos inside was too loud to tune out. She felt a pair of strong hands grab her shoulders and squeeze. She startled, then rolled her head around a couple of times releasing some of the built up tension.

“Don’t sneak up behind me like that! You scared me!” she said.

“Sorry, babe,” Mitch said, kissing her on the top of the head. “Your shoulders are tense.”

She looked up at him. He was handsome, but not the Greek god that she used to see when she looked at him. His eyebrows grew dangerously close to becoming one; he had a tooth on the bottom that sat too far forward and it showed when he smiled. His wavy brown hair got wiry if it grew out too much. “Sit down. We need to talk about something important.”

Mitch immediately recognized the stressed-out sound of her voice. Dawn was not like anyone he’d dated before. Most girls just catered to his every whim because he was Mitch Darling, star quarterback, soon to be college football star, senior class president, and the most popular kid in school. But Mitch loved that Dawn wasn’t like the others. She wasn’t in awe of him at all; she challenged him. He loved that the things he was bad at were things that she was great at, and he loved the way she could stress herself out and he was always able to get her to relax. Always.

“Okay, I just gotta run up and get something to eat. You want somethin’?”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Jesus, do you ever think about anything other than food.”

“Well, ya. But I don’t think we can do anything about that right here in front of all those kids,” he said, winking. “So, you want something or not?”

She wadded up the napkin she had been fidgeting with and threw at him. “Mitch, I’m late. We need to talk about this. I need to talk to you about this.”

“What do you mean late?,” he said after a few seconds of staring at her, noting the urgency in her voice seemed more urgent rather than less. He slid down into a chair across from her.

“What the hell do you think I mean! My period. I’m late.”

He looked around to see if anyone else heard her. “Shhh. You don’t need to scream it.”

“No one can hear me over all those kids screaming in there,” she said waving her hands toward the play land behind her. She pulled out another napkin and began tearing at the edges of it, this time looking down at it. “It should have come three weeks ago.”

Mitch sat down and reached his hand out toward her arm. She pulled away. “Are you sure you didn’t get it and just not notice it?”

She raised her head and looked into his dark brown eyes, her mouth agape. Are you seriously that fucking stupid?! Before she could get the words out of her mouth, he smiled, the smile she liked. “I know,” he said. “That was dumb. I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

She took a deep breath and looked into the play land. The harried mom was now spanking another kid, this one maybe four or five years old. The toddler in the half a diaper was trying to climb up the slide. The mom turned and yelled something, and the dad jumped up and grabbed the toddler. That’s my life. Only Mitch won’t be on his phone, he’d probably be in the damn ball pit too. Happily tossing balls around while I chased the kids, and fed the kids, and changed the diapers.

“Mitch, this isn’t something to lighten the mood about. I’m scared. Do you realize what this would mean about college next year? About your football scholarship?”

“Babe, I understand it would be scary. But we could figure out a way to make it work,” he pointed toward the kids running and screaming. “Besides, that looks kinda fun.”

Dawn watched a girl with long blond hair crawling across the rope ladder. The girl waved at her parents, who were holding hands across the table but waved with their free hands. Dawn then looked at the other couple who appeared to be arguing while the toddler tore loose the other side of his diaper and let it drop to the floor.

“Have you taken a pregnancy test?”

“No, not yet.”

He reached his hand across the table again, this time she took it. It was strong and solid but somehow still tender. “So, you might not be pregnant. You might just be late from being overly uptight.” Mitch cupped her hand in his, finally starting to feel her stone wall starting to give.

“I’m not uptight,” she said, looking at his smile, the crooked tooth showing, but the handsome radiated through, like the sun breaking through the clouds after a summer storm.

“You are uptight. And abrasive. And sometimes overly critical. But that’s cool. It balances me out, ya know. That’s why I love you.”

Dawn smiled at him and looked at the couple holding hands in the play land. Their pretty blonde daughter had come down and was eating one of her chicken nuggets standing next to them. When the nugget was gone, the girl ran to play again. “Do you think our kids would be that cute?,” she asked.

“Duh. With your looks and my brains, they’ll be perfect. I doubt you’re pregnant though, I used a condom every time and never had one break or nothin’.”

“Condoms are only ninety-five percent effective, though,” she said.

“That’s pretty effective. If you are pregnant, it’s because my little spermies are wearing little tiny red capes with an S on them. Faster than a speeding bullet. Stronger than stretchy latex. Super sperms!”

Dawn laughed and squeezed his hand tighter. “Thank you,” she whispered. He can always be depended on to make me laugh, no matter what. “Your brains, huh? If they get your brains, let’s just hope they are really good at sports.”

He smiled again and winked. For just a second Dawn saw the Greek god she used to see.

“Okay, I’ve got to run to the bathroom. Why don’t you grab me a hamburger, no fries,” she said.

Dawn hurried off to the bathroom. Feeling positive for the first time in a week, she allowed herself a moment in front of the mirror and imagined Mitch standing behind her, his hands protectively around her and the baby. Finally smiling, she went into the stall and pulled down her sweatpants and panties. This time the sight of the blood only made her heart sick.

Category: Fiction, Short Story