"Your turn with the kid, huh?" I asked the young man as he sat on the park bench. I couldn't really help myself; he looked about my age, didn’t have on a ring, and had the kind of face that would make George Clooney jealous. Plus, the smile on his face as he watched the kids run around the playground- it was contagious.
"What? Oh, no. Every day is my turn. I'm a stay-at-home parent." It was one of those questions you realize you never should have asked, but only after the fact. I'd never felt so embarrassed. I just wanted to crawl into a shell and hide, but he didn't look offended. In fact, his smile had turned towards me.
"Oh, oh I'm sorry! I didn't mean…" I stammered and let my bangs hide my face. "It's just, I've never seen you at the playground before. I'm Linda."
He turned his gaze back to the kids, but scooted over on the bench and patted the seat next to him. "Well, I'm new to the area. I'm Andre. I've just been looking for some good places to take my daughter."
The first thing I noticed sitting next to him was how good he smelled. I could have been imagining it, of course, but something about him just drew me in. I looked back to my own daughter and waved with a bright smile, then watched as her golden locks bounced with each joyful but awkward toddler step she took. "So what does your wife do?" I asked.
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "Well, my ex-wife doesn't do much. She's not really in the picture. I'm just lucky that I can work at home at night." His gaze turned back to look over at me, even check me out. The way his eyes lingered made me feel so sexy, so wanted. It was strange feeling like that here with my kid, but I suppose the Fates never did care about such silly things as circumstances. "What about you? What does your husband do?"
"Oh, no, there's no husband. John died a few years ago." The moment I said those words, I felt I was opening too much to this stranger. He was just so easy to talk to that everything I'd been bottling up wanted to flood out. I had to bite my tongue to keep the tide at bay.
"I'm sorry to hear that." There was a moment of silence between us, a moment I wanted to fill, but I let the laughter of children do that for me. "So how old is yours?"
"Oh, she's about 4."
"Really? Mine's about that age, too! Maybe we should arrange a play date some time."
My heart jumped in my chest. "Um, sure! I'd like that. Which one is yours?"
"She's the blond one on the slide there." He pointed to a kid. My kid.
"Wh-which one? Climbing up the back?"
"No, she's just down it now. She has on the green shirt." Again, he was pointing to my child, my precious Sara.
"A-are you sure?"
"Oh yes, that's Mary all aright. Where's yours?" he asked.
"What is this? Are you trying to take my Sara?" I was mortified and sprang to my feet to get some distance on him.
"I don't know what you're talking about." He tried to play the fool, the innocent one, but all the pieces were fitting together.
I put myself between him and the kids. "Single dad, new to the area, hanging out around playgrounds? Who are you really? Stay away from our kids!" I raised my voice, creating a scene that made all the other mothers raise their faces from their phones and look our way.
"Hey, I don't know what you're getting at. I came here with my daughter. I'm not after anyone's kids." He glanced around nervously, obviously feeling the eyes of all the other mothers bearing down on him.
"If you don't leave now, I'm going to call the cops!" At this point, even the kids had stopped playing. I backed up, moving towards Sara. I couldn't believe I had been attracted to such a predator.
"Mary! Come here. I think it's time we leave." He stood up and started towards the playground, but I made sure to stay in his way.
"Don't you dare!" I called out.
"Andre? What's wrong?" one of the other mothers asked and stepped towards him. I didn't recognize her either.
"This woman thinks I'm stalking our kids," he said.
"That's ridiculous." She turned to me, her heavily made-up face contorting in accusation. "Who do you think you are? I invited Andre here because his kid hasn't had a chance to make any friends yet."
I looked around at the other parents. "I don't believe you. Did anyone else here see this man come with a girl?" My heart froze when several mothers stepped forward to join him.
He squatted. "Mary, come here." In moments Sara ran to him and threw her arms around his neck so he could lift her. "See, Linda? This is not your daughter."
I stepped back and stumbled on part of the playground, falling to my rear on the rubber surface. "S-Sara?"
Sara looked at me like she didn't know me. It was the same look she had on her face when John died. It was a look that had been burned into my heart. After the flash of lights, the crunch of metal and bone, the screaming, the impact, after the world fell on its head, that was the last look I had seen in her face before I lost consciousness. Before I lost everything.
"Ma'am?" It was a woman's voice that roused me. She knelt next to me in the playground. "Are you OK? You were screaming."
I stared at her and then Andre in disbelief.
"Sara… is gone, isn't she?" she asked.
All I could do was throw myself into her arms, sobbing.