Wednesday, August 24, 2011

chapter seven

Today is a day.  

It might not be “the” day - I’m still trying to hold that off, thanks very much.  But I, the guy who used to pay the check before ordering so I could take the girl home faster, am about the pull off the date of a lifetime.

I don’t remember dreaming last night, which is a good thing because I fell asleep thinking about Kristen and Old Me usually has his way with my dreams.  I’d be red to my ears today knowing about it.

I’m early, so I wait in the car.  The last girl I took out at midday showed up in a hot pink dress with three inch heels.  At lunchtime.  There’s no way Kristen is that girl but my gut still squeezes in fear.

When she sweeps out the door of her building, I swear I hear a car crash at the intersection.  Surely everyone must look at her and see something special.  Her casual outfit is all confidence and she looks like a shampoo commercial come to life.

“Hey,” she climbs into the front seat of my Land Rover.  

“Hey.”  The urge to kiss her roars inside me like the fucking Lion King.

I drive the long way through town and pull off onto a service road, trying to prolong the surprise.  Kristen gives me a narrowed glance.

“Is this where you’re going to dump my body?”

“I told you, the Lake is for bodies.”

The parking lot gives nothing away until we weave between some trailers doubling as offices and come up on a gate.

“The zoo?” Kristen is incredulous.  She’s surely been to the Lincoln Park Zoo, but we’re on a side that visitors would never use.  A woman with short hair and waders comes out one of the doors.

“Patrick!  I’m glad you’re here.  This must be Kristen.”  She’s older and looks motherly, like a grade school teacher or a nurse.  “I’m Alicia, the....”

“Shhh!” I cut her off.  “Sorry, it’s a surprise.  Can we keep it a surprise?”

“What surprise?!” Kristen cries, starting to get excited.

Alicia nods, zips her lips and asks us to follow her.  In the trailer, two sets of matching waders and rubber boots await.

“Is this some kind of community service sentence?” Kristen jokes.  She looks awfully cute in gray and baby blue overalls with suspenders.

Alicia gives me another conspiratorial nod and walks us right into the zoo’s back entrance.  She gives a little tour as we go, and Kristen is practically vibrating with excitement.  Old Me knows that this is a sure ticket to Heaven with a layover in Blow Job City, but I close up his cage.

“Okay, are you ready?”  

We’re at a plain white door on the back of a building.  Unless Kristen has the zoo memorized there’s no way she knows which exhibit this is.  Alicia opens the door, makes two right turns and stops.


“Oh my God!” Kristen squeals like a little girl.  She spins around and all at once, jumps on me.  

I can’t really catch her with one good hand but I wrap my arms around her and absorb her excitement.  Too much excitement, really.  For me.  She’s laughing hysterically and I am again wrestling the desire to kiss her into next week.  Probably not the time, as she has forgotten herself, bouncing against me like she’s trying to make static electricity.  Any more excitement and I’ll have to buy these waders.

To be honest, it smells like poop.  Bird poop to be exact, and saltwater.  But mostly poop.  

Two seconds later I don’t care at all.  A knee high black and white wobbler comes into view, standing at the edge of a fake rock outcropping and looking right at us with beady little eyes.

“Food?” Patrick says from behind me in his penguin voice.

Alicia hauls out two buckets of hand-sized fish.  There is a flutter as penguins start moving toward her in their short-legged shuffle.  She waves us over.  They converge around us - bowling pin-shaped with slick feathers and their throaty little squawks.

“Oh my God.”  There are tears in my eyes.  I want to pick them up and squeeze them like stuffed animals but I can feel they are strong, surprisingly strong.  And hungry.  Patrick laughs as they engulf him too.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to lunch time!”

I jerk my head up at the sound of Alicia’s voice over a microphone.  She’s wearing a headset now, and outside the glass are a hundred faces looking in.

Of course there are people.  It’s the zoo.  It’s the penguins.  God damn those Madagascar movies for making them so trendy!  But most of the people are not looking at the penguins.

“We have some special guests today to help serve lunch at the Penguin Cafe.  This is Kristen, and many of you know Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks.”

They start clapping.  A penguins nips my leg, wondering why he has to wait while my boyfriend gets announced like royalty.  I glare at the bird and he backs off - must be male, I think.  Then I turn my glare on Patrick.

He’s ready for me.  “It’s worth it.”

He’s right, of course.  My withering stare falters as another penguins tugs on my glove.  They are hungry little buggers.  Alicia is talking about the care and feeding of aquatic birds and passes a blue pail in my direction.  Patrick waddles through until he’s right next to me.

“They like you,” he says, surprisingly close.  Even in the freezing interior of the penguin pool, he’s radiating heat.  His breath fogs between us.  This close and everyone can see he’s not talking about the animals.

“They’re just hungry,” I say calmly.  But already I’m turning back into the whooping spazz of girl from outside.  His crystal clear blue eyes are steady on mine, like he’ll wait all day and the damned birds can starve.  I’m going to have to give.

“Thank you, Patrick,” I whisper.

His smile is so genuine I could faint.  I hope one of these penguins in a life guard.

Alicia tells us, and everyone outside, what to do.  As if they might meet a penguin on the street.  We each take a fish in hand, hold it high so all the birds raise their beaks, then put it right into the mouth of one penguin.  Each one has a leg tag - red for girls, black for boys - and a name.  Alicia introduces Snowflake, Toboggan, Slalom and Roger.

“Roger?” I say to the mass of feathers at my feet.  “What kind of penguin is named Roger?”

One of the penguins got around on the ledge behind Patrick’s shoulder and surprises him with a squawk in the ear.

“That one is Slapshot,” Alicia laughs.  I swear she’s making it up.

I don’t hear most of what she says and I’m tempted to give each penguin five fish just to keep them near me.  They are alien and adorable and so vibrant.  I’ve never done anything like this before.  Patrick is equally in love.  After what seems like five minutes but is really thirty, the buckets are empty and bored penguins are wandering back to their exciting penguin lives.  Some are already pooping out their gratitude.  Patrick wrinkles his nose.

“That was fast.”

We wave to the crowd, who give Patrick another hearty round of applause, and follow Alicia outside.  The daytime air is stifling now, and she lets us strip off the waders behind the building.  Patrick gets down to his cargo shorts and bright blue t-shirt before I have to stop.

“That was incredible,” I tell him, all breathless.

“I know.” He did this for me, but he really loved it too.

We’re quite close together, trying to hold ourselves up and shake off the heavy rubber boots.  Alicia discreetly turns away.  The background roar of lions and screams of children get quiet and I think planes freeze overhead.  For a second I feel it coming, the kiss, like every hair on my body standing up.  So many chances have passed, but this one tops them all.  It’s just hanging there, between us, waiting for someone to put their mouth where there money is.  

Deep breath.  This time I’m the one to smile it away.  After all, I probably smell like poop.

“Thank you so much, Patrick.”

He falters for a second, then grins back.  “My pleasure.”

Oh man.  Old Me is freaking out.

Old Me and Kristen would be halfway to my place by now, and halfway to the happy place in the back of a cab.  Or the back of my truck.  For a second there behind the exhibit, she wanted to kiss me.  Not the same as expecting to be kissed by me but Kristen almost went and did it herself.

At which point, I make no promises.

The moment was so long I almost suffocated for not breathing.  Then she backed off.  I don’t know why, but a little shadow crossed her face and the spell was broken.  Too soon, I guess.  Too scared.  Instead she laced her fingers into mine and pulled me off toward the farm animal exhibit.

“I can’t believe people have to come to the zoo to see cows,” I admit.  It is the weirdest thing ever.  I didn’t grow up baling hay or anything, but cows in the zoo?

“I know, but they’re so cute!”  She’s radiant, absolutely sparkling in the warm summer sunshine.  The cows raise their heads as she skirts a line of nervous-looking children and puts her open palm right to one’s nose.  They are lined up in stalls, chewing away.  The cow sniffs once, then sighs.

“Hi baby.”  Kristen rubs her hand over it’s muzzle, then up between it’s ears.  The cow shifts its heavy body, looking indifferent.  She leans way over the fence to pet between its shoulders.  Her legs stretch up long and she raises on to tiptoes....

“Woah, Patrick Kane!”

And I forgot to pay attention.  A twelve year old kid in glasses stares up at me, slack-jawed.    His mom produces a pen from her bag and I sign a zoo map for him.  He asks a few questions, looking over his shoulder at Kristen twice.  She smiles back at us.

When they leave, I step up next to her.  I’m not wearing a hat and people will know I was feeding penguins.  “Sorry, I think we should go.”

“Okay,” she points toward the next pen.  “Can we take a piglet?  In my purse?”

We clear the zoo without anymore friendly fans or stowaway farm animals and make it to my car.  Kristen sits in my front seat, shining like the sun, recounting every second of the penguin visit.  In the middle of an exciting part she stops to sniff her hands.

“Do I smell like poop?”

She waves them in my face, I can’t bat them away because my one good hand is on the wheel.  Kristen leans toward me laughing and settles for a squeeze of my arm.  It lights my right side up like a slot machine.  This is her being happy.  She can’t fight this.

Without caring, I turn into the first parking lot near our next stop.  It’s packed.  I quickly grab a black baseball cap from the backseat and pull it on.  

“Secret identity time?”

“Soon it will be you they recognize,” I promise.

Again her hands fits itself into mine and we weave between the cars and onto the street at a fast pace.  She doesn’t ask why we’re rushing.  I pray that tourists don’t watch hockey because there are a zillion people enjoying the late summer afternoon as we make our way toward Navy Pier.  Once there, I thread us through the masses and all the way out to the farthest, and most crowded, point.

“I guess you can dump my body now,” she says, free hand shading her face as she looks out over the water.  “I did get to feed penguins.”

The sunshine is so bright it’s blinding.  It reflects off the water, washing the detail from everything except the closest focal point: Patrick’s face.  He’s really quite beautiful.

It’s only two in the afternoon.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of people move behind us. His hand is warm and thick and strong in mine, and we’re standing on the absolute edge of the city with almost nothing beneath our feet.  

My mind and my heart scream so loudly I cannot make out the words.  I understand what they mean, but decide that I do not care.  Just a half-step brings me around to face him.  I laugh at what I’m doing, because it’s so foolish.

“Patrick, are you going to kiss me or what?”


  1. You ended it there? What is wrong with you. I hope you are going to update it again soon after leaving us with that.;)

  2. Haha exactly my thoughts Anon! This is killing me! I know the tension-building will be worth it, but still. Please don't torture us much longer! Fantastic as always!

  3. This story is making me a Patrick fan!

  4. Please tell me this isn't the part where he dumps her body? :) I'm hooked

  5. I am becoming obsessed with this story! I can't believe you left it there. I actually gasped. At this rate, I'm going to have to go out and buy a Kane jersey.

  6. Ahhhh you would end it there! Can't wait for the next part. Loving this story :)

  7. You're awesome. I love this story. I hate you for ending it there though. Update soon??!! :)

    P.S. Made me happy just reading this.