That Time I

Met Marlow

 A bubbly little kid stood at Victor's feet, though I didn’t recognize him. He rocked from heels to toes as he glanced around. His hair was sticking up almost like he’d tried to spike it and it had been patted down. He’d locked onto me and stared me down.

 

My dad offered Victor to sit at the table while Beau hovered a short ways away. He was tense. Marlow stepped on one of the broken boards and it let out a low creek. He stopped, lifted his foot, and stepped on it more firmly. Victor glanced over at him but the kid was tuned into the board. He stepped off and Victor looked away just as the kid leaped into the air and slammed down on the board. The house shook.

Victor cleared his throat causing the kid to look up in great alarm.

Two days after my tenth birthday I met my husband to be. At the time neither of us had that on our minds. Dad let me know that we have very important guests coming over, and I did know they were important because Beau had been very stressed out all week, but I’d immediately wished I’d taken more time to clean myself up.

It didn't really matter. I watched from the crack in the door.

Victor, in a crisp white button-down, held a suit jacket and had his sleeves rolled up. He looked significantly less casual on the news or anytime he was projected on the wall, but Dad’s less ripped jeans and recently cleaned long sleeve seemed pitiful when I looked between them.

“Quincy." Dad called, "Would you show Marlow around town?”

Victor nodded as he received a glance from my dad. I crept out of the room as the door creaked. 

Marlow stepped very eagerly forward. I took a step back and stepped on Beau’s shoe by mistake.

“I was told there was a large body of free-range water that existed here,” Marlow said.

I glanced to my dad and then to the kid.  “Y-you mean the sea?”

“Yes, I’d like to see.”

I shifted around again to see if any of my family would save me. None of them seemed very aware of what I was doing so I just nodded a couple times.

Marlow smiled and held out his hand. “Let’s go.”

I felt odd, being led outside of my own house and into the street. The summer winds picked up a cloud of dirt and made a tornado out of the corn husks. He has this smile that was as bright as his white shirt. The sun seemed to reflect off his pale skin. I led him away from the main street because people were looking at us.

“Where are all the flowers?” He said as we squeezed between two houses. “Moreover where are the shade trees?”

A layer of sweat built on his brow.

“We’ll cool off when we swim.” I watched the ground for glass as we got closer to the shore.

I had to take him further north so we wouldn’t be recognized by Hersy who’d definitely ask me to fish for him.

Marlow let out a low hiss and I looked back to see he’d gotten a splinter from the house we’d passed.

My feet got tangled up in the peeled paint that had fallen to the ground in the heat as I pinched it out. He thanked me but I just kept walking. To have two really powerful people around was just wild. I kept glancing at Marlow as his bewilderment formed dimples on his cheeks.

“What are they talking about?” I said but my voice was quiet.

“Who?”

“The adults?”

He looked at me as if the question had never entered his mind.

I licked my lips. “I mean they sent us away for a reason, right?”

He nodded but his eyes had wandered over to some people in the street who were herding sheep. I led him away with my gentle hand.

“Let’s go see the free-range water,” I said and he beamed.

We stood with our toes being lapped by the shore and the sun dancing on the water tops. Marlow’s stiff hair was stuck straight up. I hadn't seen him stand so still yet.

“It’s the biggest tub.” He said.

“You can go swimming,” I said.

“But I don’t have a swimsuit.”

I took off my shirt and held it out to him. It was wild to me that they would have a whole suit tailored just to swim in- it would constrict my movement for sure- but Marlow seemed just as stupefied at my shirt.

“Just swim in this. No one cares if a little kid is swimming naked.” I put the shirt in his hands.

He didn’t look down at the shirt though. He stared right at my chest. I’d started to put on muscle this year when I took on the fishing job because I’d been eating more protein. 

“Your skin-” He said.

“My skin is darker because back on Earth my family was Latino,” I said, looking away and feeling the sun baking my cheeks.

“No I just mean- it looks soft.” His fingers trailed along my collarbone. “You have hard-working hands. They’re all scratchy. But the skin over your heart is the same as my skin there.”

I let out a breath and gently padded his hair back down.

“Everyone’s the same, Marlow. Sometimes it’s just hard to see it.”

He ruffled around inside my shirt as he slipped it on, leaving his shirt in the dirt.

“Not everyone.” He said. “Axel’s a butt.”

Then he dropped trow and his naked little butt ran off into the water. I laughed and I laughed as I watched him play from the shore and I laughed when he got me all wet and I laughed when he hugged me because he was scared of the fish who nibbled his toes.

And I loved him.

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