Chapter 38

9 3 9

Art and Natalya watched Joey as he climbed the monkey bars. They had walked with him to a local park not far from Art's house. While they had been on their journey to the Bahamas, it had rained almost non-stop in Pennsylvania, and Joey developed a raging case of cabin fever. They needed to get him outside to burn off all his excess energy.

Since the rain had passed, the humidity broke, blessing them with a perfect spring day, sunny and balmy.

"Mom," Joey called from the top of the monkey bars. He held out a hand in invitation for her to climb up there with him.

"Oh, no, sweetheart, I'm too old and might break it."

Art chuckled. "Not a chance. Most kids who climb that thing weight a lot more than you do."

"Dad." The boy now held his hand out to Art.

Art exchanged a glance with Natalya. She didn't correct her son.

He walked over to Joey feeling warm inside the little scamp thought of him in that way. "I'm older and heavier than your mom, so it won't work for me to climb up there. If you come down, I'll push you on the swing."

Joey clambered down with the ease of a little kid and started running toward the high swings.

"This old man could use some of his energy," Art said.

"I wouldn't be able to keep up with you then," Natalya said.

Joey sat on the swing, looking back over his shoulder, an impatient look on his little face.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming," Art said.

"Hold on tight," Natalya said as Art pushed him higher and higher.

Joey squealed with delight.

After a while, Art got bored with pushing and Natalya took over. Joey fussed when she wanted to stop. She raised an eyebrow at Art. "You created a monster by starting this. He's going to always want to come here now."

After she convinced Joey the ride was over, Art said, "Your turn, Nattie."

"Oh, no."

"How long has it been since you've enjoyed the simple pleasure of having someone push you on a swing?"

"Not since I was a kid."

He grabbed the swing and beckoned her.

"Mom, swing!" Joey exclaimed.

She groaned and relented, sat on the swing and grabbed hold of the chain handles.

"You push her first, Joey."

He tried but didn't get it how he was supposed to step out of the way of the backswing. Art scooped him up and set him to the side. "Let me show you." He pushed Natalya until she started gaining momentum, then he shoved her higher. She arched back into the swing and laughed. He imagined the years falling away while she swung, the little girl in her lingering just beneath the surface of her adult façade.

He relished seeing her that way, happy and carefree for a short period of time. Of course, that was the heartbreak of all fantasies. They ended.

During the walk home, Joey walked between Art and his mom holding their hands.

Just like a family, Art thought. Except they weren't. When this was over, they would leave. He needed to distance himself, to spare his feelings when the inevitable happened.

After they arrived back at the house, Art retreated to his office and closed the door. He rummaged through the mail that had piled up during their trip and opened some bills. He needed the distraction of normal humdrum activity.

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