WILD FIRE & STAR SHINE
“Where’s Jack,” the little girl asked, finishing off her bowl of oatmeal and looking up at her mother hopefully.
Mother smiled. “He’s outside chopping wood.”
“He hasn’t left?”
Mom tried to muster a smile. “Not yet.”
Her daughter looked up from her breakfast. “But he will?”
“Eventually, I suppose.” She turned from her child to the sink. “They always do.”
The little girl put her spoon down and slid her chair from the table. “I wish one of them would stay. I always miss them when they leave.”
Then she was bounding out the door for the wood pile and the man who waited there.
“I do too, Sophie,” her mother said in her absence. “I do too.”
Sophie ran on ten year old legs around the back of the house where a man stood over a pile of logs he was in the process of splitting. Though it was fall and a little chilly at the base of the mountain, he worked shirtless, his muscles rippling with each swing of the axe.
The child watched him for a moment as he worked on the wood and then said, “I hope I have muscles like yours when I grow up.”
The man smiled as if noticing her for the first time. He looked at her, his sky blue eyes bright in the morning sun. “From what I have seen that would probably make people uncomfortable. Little girls aren’t supposed to dream of being men.”
“Mama says women can do things better than men. And that girls aren’t afraid of com..commi…”
“Commitment?” Jack suggested.
Jack lifted his axe and brought it down on a log. “Well, your mom is probably right.”
“Are you afraid of commit..commitment?”
He snorted. “That’s a deep question for a little girl.”
Sophie sat down on one of the logs. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I’m not going anywhere, little one.”
“Mama says you will. She says men don’t like baggage.”
Again, he smiled. “Your mama says a lot.”
Sophie brushed her chestnut colored hair off her face. “She likes you, you know.”
“I like her, too.”
She smiled mischievously. “Are you going to kiss her?”
The shout startled the girl, and she turned to see her mom standing there with two coffee mugs in her hand.
“That’s not the way girls talk to grown men,” her mom scolded. “Now go inside and get ready for school.”
“He’s not a grown man.”
“Sophie! Mind your manners and do what I tell you.”
The girl hung her head. “Yes mam.” She looked up at Jack who had a look of amusement on his face. “I’m sorry Mr. Jack. I shouldn’t have said that about grown up.”
The man sat down the axe and walked over to her. He jostled her hair with his hand. “It’s okay, wildfire. Maybe I do have a lot of growing up to do still. I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. Still not used to this air.” He winked and looked to the blue expanse of sky overhead. “I’m so used to cramped spaces and a faster pace of things.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “I’ll get used to it. But right now, you better do what your ma says.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied and headed off to the house.
Jack put his hands on his hips and looked at the girl’s mother. “Is that for me,” he asked, pointing at one of the cups in her hand.
“Um yes, of course,” she replied, trying not to look at his bare chest. She attempted to ignore how the sweat ran in rivulets down to his abs, disappearing into the top of his faded black jeans.
He took the cup she offered and drank from it in spare sips. Some of it missed his lips and ran down his chin, but he seemed not to notice.
“Thanks,” he said. “How do you say it? It hits the spot?”
“Yes, that’s what we say, “ she agreed, hoping he had forgotten the interchange between himself and her precocious daughter. He handed the cup back and picked up the axe again, hefting it over his shoulder to return to the task of woodcutting. “So, what is this thing about kissing?”
She dropped both cups. “Um..I..you have to understand something…about children. Sometimes…they, um, say the craziest things.”
He nodded as if digesting some new kind of information. “Hmmm. And is this something they grow out of?”
“This kissing thing then?”
“Don’t worry, “ she replied, her voice catching in her throat. “It will pass. Nothing to concern yourself with.”
He could tell she was nervous, that this was an uncomfortable kind of topic for her. He knew enough to change the conversation before it made her even more uneasy..
“How about them Cowboys?”
“Excuse me?” She asked.
“I saw that on the…what do you call it?…television. When you want to avoid a subject?”
“Um..yes, of course. How about them cowboys.”
She tried to muster a confident smile and turned to go back inside. She needed to check on Sophie and drive her to school or they would be late. She took one last look at Jack and almost felt sorry for him. Where he came from, on his planet, kissing must have truly been an alien concept.