She was at the part at five the next day. She walked up to the swingset; he was already sitting on the bench, looking for all the world as if he actually had waited here all night.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," she said back.
"Sit down and start talking," he said.
"Okay. Shut up and start listening," she countered. She sat down on the bench beside him. His arm was already laying across the back of it; and she ended up sitting in such as way that it almost felt as if he'd put his arm around her, offering silent comfort.
"Okay," he said quietly. "I'm ready to listen."
"So," she began. "Last night, I was out with my friend, well, not friend exactly, but he's not my boyfriend either, he just asked me out. I guess you could say that he was my boyfriend, if you really wanted to. I'm rambling, aren't I?"
"It's perfectly fine."
"Well, I'll try to keep it short and sweet. Anyway, we were driving home—his car; I have to wait a while before I'm old enough to get my license—and he started saying some really weird stuff. Well, weird for the first or second date, anyway. He asked me if my parents were home, and whether I was going to invite him in…"
"Wait," he interrupted. "You're telling me you were crying like that because your boyfriend was hitting on you?"
"No! I'm not finished yet. Anyway, we pull up to my driveway, and he starts kissing me, you know, really intensely, with open mouth and tongue and everything, and I sort of pulled away, but then…" She flushed, and walked over to the swingset in an attempt to put more distance between them. Sitting down on the nearest swing, she continued. "So then," she said, eyes on the ground, "He told me that he had some condoms in his pocket and that he was planning on using them tonight, and asked me if I was okay with that. Well, obviously I told him that I wasn't, I mean, sex isn't really something that I can see in my near future. He didn't really say anything, but he kept kissing me and he put his hands up my shirt…I told him that he was going too fast, but he wouldn't listen and he tried to go farther…By this point, I was trying to get out of the car, but it was locked…and then he put one of his hands up my skirt…I slapped him, and he got mad and told me that we were going to have sex that night whether I liked it or not…and he called me a few names…Anyway, I finally got out of the car and ran away." She realized that she'd just told Angel some very personal things. Nervously, she bit her lip, wanting him to respond.
There was silence. "You nearly got raped, you know," Angel finally said, quietly.
"Yeah, I know," she said.
"You're lucky you escaped."
"Yeah, I know."
"What are you going to do now?"
"Stay away from him. It won't be hard; it's not like I'm forced to see him or anything because it's summer." She started swinging back and forth. "So, Angel," she said, swinging higher. "Why were you at this park last night?"
"Oh, I usually come here to help comfort sobbing teenage girls."
She smiled. "Very funny. Why were you really here?"
He shrugged and got onto the swing beside her. "I come out here to clear my head a lot. It helps with my problems."
"Such as?" she asked almost breathlessly; she was working at swinging as high as possible.
"My father." She counted to three and jumped, scattering woodchips everywhere as she flew some six feet and landed, miraculously, on her feet.
She leapt again, metaphorically speaking, by saying, "What about your father?" She held her breath, not sure where she would land. She sat cross-legged on the ground facing him; he'd come sedately to a stop.
He said bluntly, "He's dying."
For a moment she couldn't believe that he'd shared this with her, a girl that he'd just met the night before. But then again, she'd trusted him with her story; why shouldn't he trust her with his? She looked him squarely in the face, not afraid to meet his eyes. "I'm sad for you." She'd landed. Perhaps not on her feet, but safely.
"Yeah, well," he said as he looked away. A slight breeze ruffled his hair. He stood up.
She came up behind him, put her hand on his shoulder. He turned around. His mouth trembled. Automatically, but without really knowing why, she put her hand up to his lips, trying to smooth away the worry lines that held them locked in place. She watched his dark eyes as a single tear spilled over, rolling past his cheekbone and onto her finger.
Suddenly their arms were around each other and he was holding onto her like a lost child who needed his mother—or father.
She stroked his dark
hair, just as he'd stroked her the night before, as her other hand
made circles on his back. He gave a great shuddering sigh and sat
down on the bench once again.
"I'm sorry. I don't even know you—I don't know what came over me."
She found herself saying, "That's quite all right. You just needed a hug, that's all."
Silence. Not quite a comfortable one, but a silence like in the dentist's office, or the waiting room, where everyone is too preoccupied with his or her own thoughts to let any of their words out.
More silence. Then:
"I've never cried in front of a girl before. Not like that, anyway."
"I've never seen a guy cry before," she responded. "Not like that, anyway."
"First time for everything, I guess."
"What's he dying of?"
"I don't know…something to do with his kidneys…I've tried not to get involved in the gruesome details. Does it matter what he's dying of? It's going to kill him, whether it's kidney failure or lung cancer or anything else. The outcome's the same: I won't have my dad anymore."
"I really am sad for you, you know."
"I think you said that already."
"I don't know what else to say."
Silence. The waiting room silence.
He held his breath, and then let his mouth form his thoughts. "You could say, hey, Angel, do you need a hug?" He waited anxiously for her response, not knowing whether he'd said too much.
"Hey, Angel, do you need a hug?"
He stood up and offered her his hands. She too them, and he pulled her to her feet. "Yes."
"I do too, Angel."
They opened their arms to each other, burying their heads in one another's shoulders. This time, it wasn't a waiting room silence; it was an I'm-listening-to-you-breathe silence, an I-can-feel-your-heartbeat silence, a companionable comfortable deep silence. It wasn't that they needed words to fill up some space between them; it was that there was no space, so words were not necessary for the bridging of these two souls.
Neither one knew how long they stayed like that. But they needed the connection, so they stayed.
"What right did that guy have to say those things to you, anyway?" He muttered.
"He didn't," she said into his collarbone; she was tucked against his chest, him being quite a bit taller, while he'd laid his cheek on top of her head.
"If I ever see him, Querida, I'll kick his ass for you."
"Thanks." Pause. "What does "querida" mean? I'm assuming it's Spanish."
"It means sweetheart. It's like a term of endearment."
"Querida," she said slowly. "I like it."
"Good, because I'm calling you that from now on."
"Querida and Angel. I like it."
He sighed and released her. The silence was almost awkward, but not quite. They began walking aimlessly on the sidewalk.
"You know," he began, "With most people, I manage to avoid the subject of fathers entirely."
"Not with me, though."
"Nope. That means you must be special."
"Yeah. Why not?"
She mused. "I like that idea."
He grinned. "Same here."
"But then you must be special, too."
"How so?" he asked.
"You just are. For one, I already trust you more than I trust half my friends, and both of my parents. I don't know why that is. You could be a creepy psycho who's about to kill me or rape me, but somehow I know that you're not. You know?"
"I feel the same way," he paused. "Although I didn't think it very likely that you'd rape me last night. It seemed like you wouldn't, for some reason. I wonder why?"
She swatted him lightly on the arm. "Don't joke about rape. After what happened last night, I'm not in the mood for it."
"Sorry," he said quickly. For a moment, he looked her, taking in her appearance. Dark blue-gray eyes, long dark brown hair, naturally tan skin. On the surface, she seemed just like any other girl. And yet… "For what it's worth, Querida, I probably trust you more than anybody outside of my family. And that's rare for me; I don't usually trust people. Shoot," he said, glancing at his watch. "Speaking of family, I have to get home for dinner. Same time tomorrow?"