Fire and Ice
The past is frozen
I had just hit the age of 17 . And moved to the other end of town with my friend who had her own place. It was mostly a sleepy town, except for at night. This was something I was learning very quickly. There was a long strip of sidewalk along the railroad tracks that stretched from one side of the city to the other. I worked at a café that opened at 5am and my friend Elise worked at a restaurant that didn't close until midnight. We didn't always get to see much of each other so when we had a day off we planned to do something together. Tonight was going to be something new for me. Elise was having some friends over and I had never met them . They were all older, by 3 to 5 years. She said they were a lot of fun and they were coming over to hang out and try on clothes. Sounded like a lot of fun to me but I was shy and not sure how I would fit in or if I would.
I walked to the restaurant Elise worked at and hung around inside until close, which was about an hour and half. I loved to draw so I just sat away from everyone and drew my pictures. People stared but I ignored them. One day I would get out of this town. One day I would know who I was. I would be someone. To myself and if I'm lucky, to somebody. I must admit, I am a hopeless romantic and the thought of falling in love one day seemed grand. But for now, I'll stick to my drawings. I could draw anything. When Elise was ready, we left and started home to her tiny house that I adored and hoped to one day have my own. But for now, we were roommates and she was the greatest. I looked up to her so much . We got about two streets and the payphone by the city fire department rang. She just looked at me “ You answer it, she said, smiling excitedly. So I did. And on the other end I heard the beginning of the Bruce Springsteen song “ Hey little girl, is your daddy home?”
I didn't know what to say. I was so awkward. “ I don't know where my daddy is, who is this?” I asked. I heard a laugh. “ Look to your right darlin'", he said. And I did. And there stood a man outside of the fire department. I just stared.” Why don't you come closer?” he whispered. Okay, today, if this happened, I would not have answered the phone. But like I said. Hopeless. I put the phone back on the receiver as he stared at me. Elise was much more talkative and they seemed to hit it off better than me and him. I found out his name was Mark and he was a 36 year old firefighter. Dark hair and green eyes. Tanned skin. Had the voice of Sam Elliot. He sure was handsome and charismatic. He just kept looking over at me as he was talking to Elise . He did ask me my age. And when I told him his response was “ Almost legal, just the way I like it. “ I don't know what was going on inside of me. All I can say now is yes, I did have abandonment issues with my dad. I was looking for a father figure. Not money, but someone to show me affection and protect me.
He seemed impressed I had graduated a year early and was taking time to hone my artist skills. He wanted to see my drawings. I was very shy but Elise grabbed the sketchpad and let him see. I felt naked. He closed it and looked into me. “ You girls happen to be walking this way tomorrow evening?, he asked, looking at me with a twinkle in his green eyes. “ I'm sure that can be arranged", Elise said with a smile as she was also looking at me . “ Layla has a birthday coming up in 2 months. “ Oh, the big 18. We will have to celebrate.” , he looked really excited. More so than I was. But it was cute. Maybe he understood what I had been missing. We started home and I felt him staring all the way down the block until there were no more streetlights. “ Got yourself a sugar daddy just like that. How'd you get so lucky?”, Elise halfway joked. “ I'm not looking for that and you know it", I said laughing but serious.
We got home and there stood her friends by a small sports car. There were 3 beautiful girls and one beautiful man who was so sweet and made sure I was not left out. He talked and talked about his man named George and the things he opened up about, just came out so easy for him. I was mesmerized by them all. They were all so friendly and sweet and full of laughter and life. I wanted to be like that. I found out they were strippers. Yes all 4 of them. And they were teaching Elise a few things about it. They needed more at the club and she wanted out of the restaurant business. They tried on clothes and new makeup. Did her hair. Then Antonio didn't leave me out. “ Let's see what kind of beauty is underneath", he said as he brushed my hair away from my face. All of them were drinking except me but I was having the time of my life and I felt a change in me. A sensual change when I looked in the mirror. I had Mark on my mind. If he could see me like this, he would for sure be smiling. And that made me smile.
Soon it was morning and as they were leaving, I was about to pass out for the morning. I slept until afternoon. Elise woke me and told me she had to go to work. Exhausted, she left and I got up. Just a normal day. Just on a countdown to when I can walk by the fire department, hooking for someone to see me. I had butterflies and I didn't even try to contain them. Just the thought of his face made me smile. I got dressed and walked by slowly, not even looking up. But he never came out. I walked to Elise's job and hung out a bit. She told me she got the job at the night club. She was officially on a two week notice before she was to become a stripper . I was happy but concerned for her. I felt sad as I would probably never see her now and eventually I would be moving and would we still remain friends. She did invite me to come work with her once I hit 18 .
I got up and started back home, not even expecting what was to happen next. The phone rang and of course I took a deep breath and answered. “ I'm sorry. We had a meeting with the captain and me and all the other guys seen you walk by , which made me jealous. But there was nothing I could do. Would you like to come see the inside of the fire department and meet the guys?”, he asked. He was jealous. Oh my. I walked over and he let me in. He smelled so good. He looked so good. And I met everyone. I was there for hours. And then it started. Every day. The flirting. The phone calls to my house. He couldn't wait until I turned 18. I was his then, he would say. And I didn't mind. I couldn't wait either. And finally I turned 18. He was the second, to Elise to wish me a happy birthday. We didn't see much of each other but we were both happy and we knew it. My birthday was perfect. He was working but he had me come over that night and stay with him in his room. For the first time, we made love. It was everything I wanted.
And for a few months it was great. Then winter started to set in. The visits learned. He was busy. The calls were not as often. I was there one night though and in nothing but a t shirt . He got a call. There were times I was there and the bell went off so I'd have to leave or go to his room. But this phone call had him in a panic. You have to go hide he said. And he ushered me through hallways upstairs and outside on a porch with a rail. In nothing but his tee shirt. And I seen her through the glass. Beautiful blonde haired, tanned woman. And a little girl, with hair darker than his. Bricks. It felt like bricks were being thrown at my heart. I stood out there, shivering. I don't know how much time passed. He finally came for me and I slowly walked in. In front of him. “ I am sorry, you're so cold. Let me warm you up baby.” , he said, trying to throw his jacket over me . I looked down at his hands and then in his eyes. Silence. “ It is a bad marriage Layla, I'm just staying until my little girl grows up.” Tears were forming in my eyes. “ And when will that be? How old is your little girl?”, I asked. “ Ten. She just turned ten. This has nothing to do with you. I have to stay for my little girl. But you're the one always on my mind.” Whether that was true or not, I still don't know. But I knew I could not forget being left out in the cold and seeing him laugh with his wife and kiss her cheek as they left. I knew she had no clue about me and I couldn't hide for the next 8 years, if he was even telling the truth. I knew he got what he wanted. The best thing for me to do was walk away. And I did. Shortly after, I moved out on my own and I went to visit Elise . But she was not home. I just had this feeling. I walked down the street, by the payphone and sure enough, there they were, Elise and Mark laughing. I knew she was backup and I knew she was just waiting for me to get out of the way. Neither of them seen me. And it did hurt. Now ,10 years later. Mark is still with his wife, who adores him. And I feel so lucky that I got away. It has been 9 years since Elise went missing and was found in a frozen pond, right behind the fire station. The last time I saw Mark was when I sketched the face of the man Elise was last seen with. Old habits die hard I suppose.