"I wish you would stop trying to fix me up," Ellen said, sighing. For about the hundredth time since Jim died, her friend Anne had found another man she had to go out with. Ellen wasn't opposed to dating, but Anne's fix-ups were always duds. "Ryan Marshall sounds like a stuffed shirt."
"Come on, El. Ryan is my neighbor and I promised him a date for his company dinner. He's new in town and not at all stuffy."
Five-year-old Jimmy tugged on Ellen's hand. "Can I get a tattoo, Mom? My kindergarten teacher's giving them."
His teacher, a young woman wearing a fuzzy yellow wig, shiny red nose, and polka-dotted clown suit, looked to Ellen, who nodded her approval. This was Jimmy's first school carnival and she grew misty-eyed, watching him climb up on the tall wooden stool. It didn't seem possible he'd started school already.
This would be the first of many school events and first thing she knew, he'd be graduating and she'd be left, alone. Shaking away the dismaying thought, she inhaled and looked around. A canopy of leaves--red, gold, and green stretched out like a circus tent overhead. A warm fall afternoon, the aroma of buttered popcorn floated on a gentle breeze. Sunlight dappled the playground where parents chatted while their kids played games. Parents--pairs.
After three years without her husband, Ellen still felt like half of her was missing. Anne was a single parent too but happily engaged, and Ellen sometimes envied her.
Jimmy eyed a teddy bear sitting on a cloud, and she smiled her encouragement, but he chose a skull and crossbones for his tattoo.
When he climbed down, looking proud, Megan, Anne's daughter, climbed onto the stool and the kindergarten teacher painted a rainbow on her cheek.
The teacher smiled when she finished. "How about you ladies?"
"Yeah, Mom, go ahead," Jimmy urged. "Tattoos are cool."
Ellen and Anne looked at one another, laughed, and Ellen shrugged. Jimmy was Ellen's biggest admirer...her only admirer...so why not?
After the clown painted a small rose on her upper arm, she recklessly asked her to paint a heart just below her collarbone. They looked so real, she felt like a new woman. Renewed, with a sense of fun.
Ellen was still chuckling over her tattoos when her friend dropped her off at home. Anne stopped her from opening the car door. "Will you go with Ryan tonight? Puh-lease?"
She hoped her mouth to refuse, then thought better of it. She'd won a cosmetic set playing Bingo, watched her son sink a basketball to win a rubber pirate's knife, and become a tattooed women. How could she say no on a day that had gone so well, so far?