“Mitchell and I met because a man got out of hand in a bar and Mitchell saved me. I didn’t even know he was a cop then, just that he was this big, strong, commanding guy.” She smiled up at him with so much love in her face, and he smiled down at her with the same warmth showing. It was a good look, so why did it bug me?
Nathaniel wrapped his arm across my shoulders. “Anita rescued me . . . from myself.” I think he added the last so they wouldn’t ask what I had rescued him from. Some of the rescuing had included me killing people, which the police tended to frown on.
I turned and smiled up at him. “Thanks, pu**ycat, but you’ve saved me, too.”
He kissed me then, and I realized that it was true. He had picked up a gun and shot someone to save me once, but he’d saved me in so many other ways. Can you really rescue anyone, or anything, without rescuing a piece of yourself at the same time?
Matthew hugged us both, wrapping his small arms around our necks before we’d moved apart. We hugged him back, Nathaniel’s arms wrapping around me as I held the little guy. Micah’s hand came up to touch the side of his still-damp curls, and Nathaniel opened his arm enough to let Micah into the hug.
Matthew chimed out, “Group hug!” in a happy voice.
It made the whole Forbes family laugh. Jeannette said, “Pick me up, Daddy; I want a group hug, too.” That made all the adults laugh, and the Forbeses did their own group hug.
We ended up with a play date with Jeannette Forbes and Becky Appleton. They were both five and in kindergarten, older women. Matthew was precocious.
The first lightning bugs came out, and the children ran trying to catch them. It seemed like there were more of the twinkling bugs when I was a little girl. Was that just nostalgia on my part, or truth? I wondered if anyone had done a study on it somewhere. I’d look online and see.
I made sure all the kids knew that fireflies were catch-and-release only, and that no one tore the insects’ bright abdomens off and pressed them to their skin like macabre jewelry. I’d done that once as a child and felt horrible afterwards. The other kids hadn’t understood why it bothered me, but now I could explain to the next generation that lightning bugs were for looking at, not tearing apart.
Micah had helped me wrangle the kids chasing fireflies so the ones even younger than Matthew could have a chance to see the blinking lights up close or even have them crawl over small toddler hands. I wasn’t sure where Nathaniel had gotten to, until he came out to the yard and knelt whispering to Matthew. His grin showed in the soft light from the deck. After speaking to Matthew he went up to Becky and Jeannette first, then some of the other girls, and they scattered back through the other children saying something I didn’t quite catch. Then most of the children between three and ten ran toward the house. The number of boys went down as the ages went up, and the numbers of girls remained the same. In fact some of the older boys looked offended. I had a clue what Nathaniel and Matthew were up to, and Micah and I trailed behind them, holding hands.
Katie, Zerbrowski, and both their children were in the living room with the furniture pushed back against the walls so that the hardwood floor was clear and gleaming under the overhead lights.
Nathaniel had taken his shoes off, and said, “Kaitlin and I have already stretched.” He held his hand out.
Kaitlin Zerbrowski had changed into tights, ballet shoes, and a gauzy overskirt. She’d put her long brown hair, so like her mother’s, up in a high, tight ponytail. She looked taller, leaner, in the outfit and moved gracefully to take Nathaniel’s hand.
Zerbrowski used a remote to turn on the sound system that went with the big-screen TV, but worked just fine with the speakers scattered throughout the room, too. Ballet music that I didn’t recognize was suddenly everywhere in gorgeous surround sound.
Nathaniel and Kaitlin began to dance. He had partnered some of the older girls at the ballet school where he took lessons, and I knew that he and Kaitlin had come up with some simple choreography. I was betting this was recital music she was already practicing to, and Nathaniel was a quick study. He held her hand while she went up on pointe. He went down on one knee so she could do a beautiful arabesque. He stood and helped her balance for pirouettes. All the while he moved gracefully beside her, and at the end he lifted her overhead, one armed. Kaitlin held her body in perfect position while he did it, which showed that she had core strength that didn’t show in her slender frame. He walked carefully, easily in a small circle around the room, before spilling her through his arms so that she came back to pointe on the floor again.
The music stopped and everyone applauded. We had quite an audience by that time. Kaitlin was smiling as big as I’d ever seen her, glowing with it. Nathaniel went down on his knees so she could hug him, then she ran to her mother. “Mommy, I told you I could do it! I told you, if I had someone to hold me I could do it just like a real dancer!”
Zerbrowski shook Nathaniel’s hand and did that one-armed guy hug. “I know this is a dastardly plan to win our bet, but it’s worth it to see her that happy.”
Nathaniel grinned at him. Matthew was sitting on the floor struggling with his double-tied Spider-Man tennis shoes. Micah helped him take them off, and when he was barefoot he ran to Nathaniel. He picked him up and then said, “Whoever wants to dance has to stretch out.”
The little girls ran en masse toward them. The boys held back. It was Jeannette of the blonde curls who grabbed one of the boys and pulled him into the group. Kaitlin went through the boys between eight and teens and looked them over like she was at a used car dealership. She declared, “You look in good enough shape.” Or, “You think you’re strong enough to do this?” I was betting that Nathaniel had coached her in the social verbiage as much as the dancing. Greg Zerbrowski got some of the oldest boys on the floor. I couldn’t hear what he said to them, but they gave covert looks to some of the older girls who had walked onto the floor in graceful, laughing groups. Learn to dance, and you can hold girls close without anyone getting mad at you.
They coaxed, bullied, and embarrassed a surprising number of the boys onto the floor. Among them was Cyrus, who Jeannette had dragged onto the floor personally, which meant to me that she knew exactly the effect she had on the little boy. It made me wonder if she’d kissed Matthew to start the fight. Surely not. She couldn’t be that aware this early, could she?
Nathaniel and Kaitlin led the stretching and limbering. One of the oldest boys, about fourteen, said, “This is some of the stuff we do before baseball practice.”
Nathaniel said, “Dancing is athletic and you want to stretch out just like you do for baseball, or any other sport.”
The stretching reminded the boys of a lot of their sports practices and seemed to put them more at ease. Zerbrowski put on more music and this time Nathaniel and Kaitlin helped Matthew and Becky through a short dance. He braced Becky while she went up on tiptoes, one arm trying to form that round, half circle of arm movement that is one of the first things you learn in ballet, or try to learn. Matthew did his part as the guy half of a ballet couple, which meant he was mostly a prop for the girl, but he did it to the best of his ability, face serious.
Jeannette wanted her turn next with Matthew. She was a little more graceful than Becky, but she was also taller, so it was harder for Matthew to partner her. Nathaniel picked the taller, beefier Cyrus out of the watching boys.
“I can’t do this,” Cyrus said.
“You’re a better height for Jeannette, and you’ve watched Matthew do it, just try and Kaitlin and I will spot you.”
It was Jeannette coming and taking his hand that persuaded Cyrus to try. Nathaniel helped Cyrus figure out how to stand, how to hold his ballet partner, and Cyrus gave it the same serious-faced concentration that Matthew had. He was actually able to go down on one knee and brace her while she went up on that classic one-legged stance. She was only on tiptoe, not pointe, but the lines of her body were all there. I wondered how long she’d been taking lessons.
Kaitlin showed some of the younger boys some basic moves, while Nathaniel paired off the older kids. Greg Zerbrowski managed to magically appear beside a tall, leggy girl who was probably three years older, but most of the older boys were still making fun of it all, so he was the tallest one willing to come forward.