The alarm went off way too early Sunday morning and Anna had to literally wipe the crust from her eyes so she could pry them open. She noticed the empty other side of the bed. Leena had already gotten up, dressed for church, and watched tv in the livingroom. When she heard Anna's alarm sound she walked back into Anna's bedroom.
“Can we make pancakes?” she asked. Anna nodded, eyes still closed, agreeing that pancakes were a great idea if the she and Chris were willing to make it themselves.
Anna swung her feet out of bed and groped her way, stumbling into the bathroom. The heat of the shower woke her up a little more, but not until she stood in front of her closet deciding what to put on that she actually opened her eyes completely.
She managed to get dressed, only having to rebutton her blouse once. She grabbed a pair of shoes off the bottom shelf of her closet and walked still barefoot to the living room. The smell of breakfast came wafting toward her when she walked out of her room. The kids were in the kitchen setting the table and pulling condiments out of the cupboard and fridge.
Anna sat down and wondered how Chris and Leena could be so awake. She was sure they had stayed up late too, just not as late as she did. Some food and water helped pull her the rest of the way into consciousness. The pancakes were delicious and she was grateful for children who are old enough not only to fend for themselves, but take care of her too.
They finished off the stack of pancakes and most of the orange juice. It was nearly time to go. Chris went in to put his shoes on and finish combing his hair. The drive to Sunday morning services passed quickly and they walked inside with five minutes to spare.
Anna focused on each of the speakers and the time passed enjoyably. After the main services, Anna walked to the Sunday School class. She struggled to stay awake near the end of the class. This wouldn't have been a problem except she taught the class. She continued yawning and then, apologizing. Eventually, classes ended and Anna, Leena, and Chris headed home.
“Gabe and Sean are coming over to our house today,” she reminded them. “We're going to picnic on the beach this afternoon since the weather is so beautiful.”
Gabe's car waited for them as they pulled into the driveway. Sean jumped out of the car, already in his swim suit. Gabe arrived at the car door before Anna had climbed out. She seemed to be moving through mud today, everything took longer than usual. She swung her feet out the door and Gabe began to laugh. “Did you really go to church that way,” he asked, suppressing a chuckle?
“Yes, what's wrong?” Anna started examining her clothes and face in the reflection of the car to see the issue.
“Look at your feet,” he paused, “Which color shoes were you trying to wear?”
Anna focused enough to notice that one foot was dark blue and the other brown. She owned two of the same pair of shoes and did not pay attention to the color when she put them on.
She flushed with embarrassment, “I stood there in front of the whole class with mismatched shoes.” Then a little upset, “In three hours of church, no one mentioned it.”
“I guess footwear is not the reason they are there.” To soothe her feelings he added, “Maybe that's a compliment that they were paying attention to what you were saying and not your feet.”
She smiled slightly and explained her exhaustion and the shoe confusion. Gabe laughed at her, but then concerned he asked if she was too tired to go to the beach. “I'm willing to take the kids myself if you're not up to it,” he offered.
She shook her head No, “I think I can manage sitting on the sand and watching the water. Maybe a few waves will wake me up.”
“Well, other than the shoe thing, you look very nice. Do you always dress up this way for church?” he inquired. She really is beautiful.
“Every week,” she thought it strange that he had never seen her dressed up before. In all these months, we've always changed first and then gone to his house.
The beach was not too crowded since visitors rarely came after Labor Day. Only local families were there to take advantage of the October heat and the waves. The kids ran down to the water with their boogie boards flying behind them, held by the leashes like a kite. Anna had applied sun screen before they left the house so the boys left a trail of stripped shirts and flip flops from the sand to the water line. Leena piled her clothes on top of her sandals so they wouldn't get too sandy and placed her towel on top of the clothes. She followed the boys into the surf.
Gabe and Anna carried the bag of snacks, chairs, and the umbrella as well as their own towels and boards. After arranging their stuff, they collecting the items the boys had dropped too near the water risking losing them to the sea. It would serve them right for the tide to take their shoes, but I don't want to have to buy another pair.
Gabe grabbed both boogie boards and tagged Anna on the shoulder. “You're it,” he yelled and took off running toward the water. Always competitive, she took off after him. She didn't reach him until he had already arrived knee deep in water and she shrieked as the cold water hit her legs.
“Well, you're awake now,” he splashed her from a wave and took off deeper into the water, ignoring how cold he felt himself.
She took her time after that, waiting to adjust before venturing in deeper. Eventually she caught up with him and he handed her the board. He scanned the waves to count children; one, two, and after a glance toward the shore, three.
They took a few waves and Gabe walked back out when he asked her joking, “So, why are you so tired? Hot date?”
She didn't answer right away and looked away from him. He stared at her not sure why she didn't go along with the joke. Really? So, she did have a date?
“I...I did have a date last night and was up way too late,” she confessed. Should I have told him about Matt before we went out? Will it matter to him? “I went out with Matt.” There, now he knows.
Matt? “My friend Matt?” he asked astounded. If she had dumped cold water over his head he would have been less surprised. “When did he ask you out?” He asked me about her that day at my house. Had he already asked her out?
“He called last week, but I was busy and so we planned it for last night,” she explained. “Are you upset that I didn't tell you before? He is your friend and all, I wouldn't want to get in between friends.”
“No, I'm just surprised. Matt asked me about you, but I didn't think he had moved on it,” Gabe replied. “He made it sound like he didn't have your number.” He refused to allow himself to wonder how it went.
“Well, he took my number from your phone. I think he thought it would impress me that he had gone to extraordinary measures to get a hold of me, but I feel he was a little dishonest not asking you for it.” She waited for him to ask how the date went before offering any details.
Anger flashed across his face. “I'm sorry, I would have asked you first before giving him your number. He's a little conniving, but I never imagined he would do something like that.” He didn't pay attention to a wave crashing into him, knocking his feet out from underneath him.
He spit out the salt water and wiped it from his eyes looking around to see if she had been caught off guard too. She had noticed the rising swell just before it hit and had been able to jump over it. She shouted to him to look out but the wave got to him before he heard her. Gabe surfaced as Anna glanced around at the children to count heads before turning back to him. She looked at him and the questions hung there unasked and unanswered. How did it go? Will she see him again? We keep having these uncomfortable moments.
Will I see him again? I'm really not interested in Matt, he's too much fun for me. I prefer a little calmer and less party. I don't want it to interfere with Gabe and Matt's friendship. I'm beginning to notice a pattern. Any time things get a little close the moment becomes strained.
“Maybe we should go drown some children; I think we've left them unbothered for far too long,” she smiled and moved her head in their direction. They swam over and pretended to attack each of the kids. Gabe tried to lift each one and throw them in the waves, finally admitting he was not the young man his mind imagined he was, and the kids are not the small children they once were. Lifting 100lbs over his head several times wore him out.
Anna stifled an enormous yawn, turning away from the others in order to hide it. Finally, she announced it was time for her to take a break and she trudged through the water and sand up to their chairs. She opened the large umbrella, leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She assured herself that Gabe wouldn't let anyone drown. I guess I do trust him that much. He'll make sure everyone is ok. She drifted off.
A small tickle ran down Anna's cheek and she brushed it away. When it returned she turned her face toward the nuisance and saw a tall shadow blocking the sun glowing through her closed eye lids. Without even opening her eyes to see who stood there, she threatened to hog tie with sea weed anyone who interrupted her nap.
“I think I might like to see you try,” came the deep voice and she smiled eyes still closed.
“You're right, I couldn't get you, but I could get your son, hog tie him and hold him for ransom until you let me sleep.” She teased, understanding the irony that losing a small amount of rest barely compared to exerting herself to fulfill her threat.
“Good thing I let them all drown so you can't hold him over me,” Gabe teased back. “You'll have to break the news to your sister.”
She finally pried her eyes open to see him standing over her blocking the sun's reflection where the umbrella didn't cover. Sitting up she watched the kids climbing up the sand hill, dragging their boards behind them.
“We’re hungry, mom.” Chris stated. Leena and Sean nodded their agreement. Anna reached for her bag filled with carrots, cookies, and water bottles. She divided them out and offered a cookie to Gabe.
“Thanks, I’m sure my figure won’t be damaged too much by eating a few dozen of these,” he extended his stomach to appear fatter and then patted it in appreciation.
Out of the corner of her eye a flash of sunlight caught Anna’s attention. A man down the beach had his cell phone and filmed them. She told Gabe and motioned her eyes toward the man.
“Just ignore him, it will be easier if you do,” Gabe told her quietly.
“How do you handle it so well?” she asked, “Doesn’t it bother you when people take pictures and film you with the kids?”
“Unfortunately, that’s the price I pay. I come into their homes on tv and movies, they feel like they know me and most of them don’t even consider what they do an intrusion,” he answered her, still whispering so the kids didn’t overhear.
“I guess I’ve never understood the attraction of fame or the famous. You aren’t any different than any other guy out there. You’re a dad, a son, a friend; you’re just like anyone else,” she felt evidently frustrated. “And what makes them think it’s ok to film me and the kids?” she asked shaking her head.
“You’re right, but that won’t change anything. We can leave if you want, if it makes you too uncomfortable,” he offered.
“I don’t want to spoil the day for the kids. Let’s see if they are ready to go or if they want to stay,” she smiled at the boys trying to shake sand from their towels and Leena with the towel already wrapped around her.
“Are you guys tired out or do you just want a little rest before heading back out there?” Gabe kept his voice cheerful.
He met with silence, no one wanted to be the first to answer. “Ok then, I think we should spend at least 2 or 3 more hours here,” he jumped ready to run back down to the water.
“Dad, I’m tired,” Sean confessed. Leena and Chris agreed. They were all ready to go, but wanted to collect a few shells before they left.
Since Anna was already dry, she offered to carry the chairs and umbrella to the car. When she returned they could walk down the beach and look for shells. She picked up as much as she could carry and started the trudge across the sand. The sand burned hot on her feet and she moved as quickly as possible. The idea of film of her in her bathing suit made her very uncomfortable. How many women would want a picture like that saved for all time on the internet? She piled the armful of paraphernalia in the cargo area of her car and shut the trunk. She locked it and climbed over the small wall dividing the parking lot from the sand when a man approached her and asked if she had spent the day there with Gabe Josephs. He had a phone in his hand pointed at her face.
“I’m sorry,” she tried to wave him off, “we’re here with the kids and would appreciate if you didn’t film them.”
“I’m not doing any harm,” the man responded, “Doesn’t Gabe want pictures of him being a good dad? It’s good for his image and good for his career. I moderate his largest fan site and I will be sure to post these for the rest of his fans to see.”
Her stomach dropped, she looked toward the children and sighed. “Just please be discrete. I don’t want the kids to be bothered. They are enjoying their day.”
“I would think they would want to be in the video and famous too, if enough people see it,” he began to be insulted that she wasn’t thrilled by his dedication to Gabe’s fan page.
“Thank you for your understanding,” she cut him off and walked back to the group.
As she approached them, she grabbed Chris’ hand and said, “Come on, let’s go find those shells.” Gabe noticed the man speaking to her and gave her a sideways glance. She smiled back at him to assure him she was fine. Chris let go of her hand and ran off to search the sand for treasures to add to his collection. Leena found the first beauty and showed it off. The boys each found one quickly and soon the bag Anna had brought for just such a purpose was tied in three parts and filling up quickly.
Gabe caught up to Anna and held her hand so that she had to slow down and talk to him about her conversation with the man with the phone. “Are you alright?” he asked and Anna nodded. “What did he say to you?”
“He just asked me if I was here with you. I asked him to please not film the kids and he got offended that I didn’t want them in the video. He said they should be excited to be part of the fan page. I finally just told him, ‘thank you for your understanding’ and walked back to you guys.”
A while later everyone was ready to head back to the car. Gabe noticed the man and close up recognized him. “I’m going to go talk to him, just to make sure he’s ok and not upset.”
Anna raised an eyebrow to question why he worried about that. “He keeps my largest fan page. I don’t need any negative posts right now. The network would not be happy with the lead of one of their star shows labeled as stuck up or not fan friendly. Like it or not, I need that guy’s good graces.”
“There is so much more to being an actor than I thought. I don’t know how you do it. I’m glad to just be a regular person,” she spouted her opinion before thinking how he might take it.
“I think it’s a small price to pay for not having to be in an office all day. I could never be an executive or accountant or something. I would go stark raving mad,” his tone came out more forceful than he intended.
“I didn’t mean to insult you or demean what you do. It’s just so foreign to me, and most of the time you seem so normal that I forget about your ‘day job’,” she countered. “I never considered all the effort it takes to create popularity and fame.”
“It’s part of my life. My friends and family have to understand and I need them to be supportive of it, not just tolerate it. I need you to accept that there will hopefully always be those who ask for my time. If it ever gets to the point where they don’t, my career is over,” his voice soft, but assertive. “Will you come with me and apologize?” he extended his hand to her.
Apologize? Apologize to him for interfering in our day? For filming us without our permission and when we didn’t want it? Apologize??
About to answer him furiously, she noticed the look in his eyes pleading. She stopped herself to actually process what he said. He asked her to make this one concession as his friend. How could she refuse? She handed the car keys to Chris and told him they would be at the car in a minute. “You’re not the only one that can act, pretty boy,” she teased; as she smiled and took his hand, they walked over to the man. 'Pretty boy actor' was becoming her pet name for him.
An hour later, they were at her home. Sean finished up in the shower and Gabe waited his turn, hoping some hot water remained. While Chris and Leena debated a movie for after the meal, Anna dropped the spaghetti into the pan of boiling water. It was a quick and simple dinner. She tried to ignore the itch of sand she hadn’t been able to wash off yet.
When Sean walked out she gathered up the dirty towels and swim suits off the bathroom floor. She headed for the washer explaining over her shoulder to Gabe, “I’ll get yours too if you just leave them in there when you’re done.”
The timer sounded and she rushed back to the kitchen to take the garlic bread out of the oven and drain the water from the pasta. By the time she had the table set and the food dished Gabe finished and walked out to help her find the parmesan cheese. He called to Sean to grab the chair from her desk so they had enough places to sit. He called the kids in, they prayed over the food, and Anna left them to eat while she used up the last of the warm water.
The little bit of heat relaxed her and exhaustion crept over her again. Only once she exited the shower did it dawn on her that she hadn’t brought any clothes with her into the bathroom. Wrapping a towel tightly around her, she streaked into her room. Her mildly sunburned face turned dark red as she glanced toward the kitchen and locked eyes with Gabe. His eyes ran down her towel wrapped body and he quickly turned his view out the window instead. Gratefully, she slunk the rest of the way to the privacy of her room.
Out the window, a small bird flew from a tree out by the street to a larger tree in front of the neighbor’s house. It’s funny my heart started racing when I saw her. With a towel draped around her, she’s more covered up than she’s been all afternoon. But the image of her standing there, looking sheepishly, flashed in his mind again. He found himself humming a children’s bible verse song to keep his thoughts in line.
They were still eating when Anna walked in. Dressed now in her pajamas, a worn t-shirt and light cotton shorts, she sat down to eat. Chris, Sean, and Leena debated the movie they had chosen. Anna avoided Gabe’s fleeting glances, neither one willing to admit what the other was thinking. Anna felt so tired she only dished herself a small amount and finished quickly. The dishes were loaded in the dishwasher and the movie started. The kids piled on oversized pillows on the floor, Anna and Gabe sat on opposite ends of the couch. The intro had barely started when Gabe stood up suddenly and walked into the bathroom. He returned with a large bottle of green goo and a large glass of water.
Chills ran up her leg as Gabe grabbed it and began to spread the aloe vera mixture on her lightly pink skin. Even reapplying sunscreen hadn’t saved her from slight sunburn. She closed her eyes and relaxed as the cool gel calmed her warm skin. Gabe dumped a small amount in her hand and instructed her to rub it on her face and neck. She gladly complied.
He dumped more aloe vera in her hand to rub on each arm. Once finished, the only thing left was her back. She laid there hoping he wouldn't mention it, but he suggested she would feel better if he covered her back too. She sat up slowly and turned away from him, facing the front door. She tried to ignore the goose bumps up her arms as she held down the front of her shirt while he lifted the back to apply the gel.
Now awake enough, she asked Chris, Sean, and Leena if they were sunburned at all. The boys had both worn shirts all day and Leena’s Hispanic blood from her dad’s side made her tan rather than burn. All three applied it to their faces and necks which had been exposed to the most sun and were lightly pink. Turning to Gabe she realized he had removed his shirt so she could spread it on his back. The smell of the green goo kept her mind on her task and she did not let it wander across the soft skin under her fingertips. Gabe assured himself that the rapid heart rate and shallow breathing were caused by the cool gel and not her touch across his shoulders.
With the aloe vera dutifully applied, Gabe replaced his shirt and leaned against the back on the couch. He focused on the television, but the exertion caught up with him and his eyes closed. A little over an hour later, he awoke to the streams of the closing credits. He slumped on the soft cushions. Anna must have drifted off as well, because she lay tucked under his arm, her right hand on his chest.
He didn’t want to wake her, it felt comfortable relaxing there. He noticed the time and decided he would have to disturb her in order to get Sean home at a decent hour. School came early the next morning. He slowly removed her hand and tried to lay her down on the couch as he vacated it, but she woke from the movement. He watched her wipe the corner of her mouth and he checked his shirt for drool. Groggily, she asked where the kids had gone to, but he had to confess he didn’t know.
Voices coming from Chris’ room confirmed where they should start the search. Disappointed groans greeted them as they opened the bedroom door. Leena needed to go home as well, so they were all headed out the front door a few minutes later. They said good bye and Gabe moved to place a quick kiss on Anna’s cheek. He stopped millimeters away remembering the green chemicals which had been liberally applied earlier.
“As tasty as aloe vera is, I’ll pass,” he joked, pulling away from her cheek. Instead he tilted down slightly and kissed her lips. It was so quick, she couldn’t react. She muttered good bye in return and moved sleepily toward her car to drive Leena home.