The pet store’s window was sparkling on top of the street and Jeannie could see it clearly from where she was, several yards away. Holding hands with Mark, she was overwhelmed by the excitement.
Her tiny jumps were meant to make Mark walk faster, but also to release her from the anxiety she felt inside.
Mark’s right arm moved up and down, accompanying Jeannie’s movements. He felt silly but he didn’t want to spoil the moment. It was all too magical for him: her smile, her energy, her tiny little hands in his, and the look on her face. That look delighted him, and being part of her happiness was still something that he wasn’t used to. He could get used to it very quickly though, he reckoned.
‘Mark! Mark! We goin to pet shop are we?…we are, yes? Me want’ go there’
Her tiny green eyes looked at him in a subservient way, and he smiled.
‘Yes, we are.’
Hearing his answer was like a thousand stars passing through her, carrying warmth and light. Her eyes sparkled with joy and she held his hand tighter, continuing the jumping.
The walk to the shop seemed never ending, and Jeannie started to get impatient, even though Mark was doing his best to keep up with the long jumping movement Jeannie constantly inflicted on his arm.
It was a damp, sad day. The rain had stopped half an hour ago, allowing people to join them in their street walk, moving in a nervous hurry. A catwalk of grey coats and brollies surrounded them.
The cars were stopped in a red light further up, forming a queue that extended behind to where they were. The sidewalks were wet and slippery, and in the air there was a smell of freshly damped soil.
Mark took a deep breath.
‘I love this smell!’ Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realise that Jeannie was already peaking at the store’s window, sticking her face right against the big glass.
Her eyes were wide open, and her small body was entirely leaning against the window, in a vain attempt to pass to the other side without having to go through the door.
‘Hey, hey, you little devil! Don’t lean on the glass, you might break it’. Suddenly Mark was hit by a feeling he had never known before. He was invaded by a love that he had no clue where it came from, and embraced Jeannie sweetly but fast enough to keep her at a reasonable distance from the store’s window.
‘Mark, look…Ohhhhh… and… Mark, look there, ohhhh!’ she screamed, pointing her little finger to the rabbits that were in the biggest cage in sight, and right after, pointing to the little puppy that was resting in a big area at the centre of the shop.
‘Mark, lets get in! Yes? Pleaseeee, pleaseeeee…’ and she pulled his hand strongly, dragging him to the store’s door.
In front of that window, he saw the resemblances between him and her, and he couldn’t avoid smiling. There wasn’t space for any doubt, she was really his daughter.
He felt hopelessly gutted. And then, out of nowhere, he saw everything again: the day he met her mum; the day they got together; the day they had their first row; the day he left her…
‘Chris, I don’t love you anymore. Can’t you see that this is not going to work? We are different poles…’
‘No… I can’t believe this…’ she was sobbing ‘you can’t leave me. Not after all these years together… baby… please.’ Her eyes were red from crying so much. In a vain effort to make things right, she pleaded him once more ‘Baby, don’t leave me… I’m pre…’
‘Sorry Christina,’ he interrupted ‘my decision is irreversible. I am not going back on it. From now on we are no longer an item, a couple, or whatever we were supposed to be’ and as soon as he finished talking, he left, closing the door behind him and a whole past of memories together.
What made him do that, he wasn’t sure anymore, but he hadn’t been happy and he wanted things to change. Yes, that was it!
Ten minutes later he was knocking at Laura’s.
‘Have you done it?’ she was leaning at the entrance’s door frame, obstructing his entry.
‘Yes, it’s all over.’
She let him in and hugged him, allowing an almost silent ‘at last’ escape through her teeth. They remained in the hall in silence, hugged for a while still. Mark was thinking about Chris and he felt guilty for having left her so alone and uncared.
Anyway, and despite his regrets, his life took a path of peace and mild joy. Laura was a great woman, she loved him dearly and therefore she never allowed anything to lack in his life.
They were living together for two years when he saw Christina again, in a grocery shop. She seemed so evasive when he asked her how she was! Her cheeks turned red - he could still remember. She grabbed her shopping and ran off so quickly that she totally forgot to pay for them.
He ended up doing that for her, maybe to redeem himself of what had happened in the past. It was a way of buying his forgiveness… Cheap way, though. A couple of groceries wouldn’t do the trick Mark!
And deep inside, he knew that. After that day nothing was the same anymore.
He used to dream about Christina frequently. He used to see her face and her lips. He used to see her smile, and there was something he couldn’t actually explain, but he used to feel it in his soul, as a pea under the mattress.
One night he even dreamt of her carrying a baby, having a family, but every time he was getting near to see who her husband was, a blurry image appeared instead.
Until one day he bumped into her, not so long ago. She was carrying a little girl by her hand, red curly hair, pale white skin except for some freckles in her cheeks and nose. Her eyes were flashy green and she was staring at him with a naughty grin on her face.
He smiled at her.
‘Chris… hi…’ he said shyly ‘Good to see you are doing ok’
‘…yes… I am’ her eyes were looking at the floor; she wasn’t able to look at him. He noticed her cheeks were blushed too.
‘You got married?’ He said, looking at the little girl that was now playing with her coat strings.
‘Oh… Ok... sorry I asked…’
‘It’s fine’ she said ‘and how is Laura?’
‘She’s at home… Making the tea…’
‘So you’re still with her, huh?’ she was now looking at him, straight into his eyes.
‘Yes.’ He looked at her and then at the little girl. ‘Is she yours?’
‘Yes… I mean, NO!’ Mark could see fear in her face, something he didn’t understand then.
When Christina hurried away, he watched them go and he felt lonely. He thought about the life he was having with Laura and there was nothing exciting in it. He wanted peace, but he ended up trapped in a routine that had nothing to do with him. And then, as a thunder hits land, so it hit him as well how much he still cared for Christina.
It started raining hard, but he kept walking towards home. Somehow that story about that little girl seemed very false. The little girl has the same hair colour as him, she had the same freckles, and she even had the same green eyes!
‘Could it be that…? No…’ he thought. ’But… what if…?’ Doubt took him over.
He turned back and headed towards Christina’s house. He knocked once. He knocked twice. Nothing. He knocked harder and harder in a non stop frenzied movement until she opened the door.
Holding on to Christina's skirt was the little girl again.
‘Mummy, who is this?’ she asked in a very thin voice.
‘Jeannie, go inside, mummy will get back to you in a minute, OK?’ She obeyed her mother straight away and disappeared inside the house.
‘What are you doing here?’ she interrupted him abruptly.
‘I want to talk. I miss you…Please, let me get in, it’s pouring rain and I’m soaked wet’
Christina seemed completely shocked with what she was listening.
‘Why should I? You left, so why should I let you in again?’
‘Because of our daughter’ he risked.
Christina slammed the door into his face but he didn’t give up. He still knew her too well. He knew that he had hit the bullseye. His heart was racing fast, he couldn’t believe he was a father; he was shocked but at the same time, he was thrilled.
‘Christina’ he screamed, banging on the door with his clenched fists 'Open up this fucking door! I have the right to be with my child too!!!’
She opened the door quickly.
‘Are you insane? Do you want everyone in the neighbourhood to know about MY private life?’ She was fuming.
‘Your private life appears to have something of MY private life too!’ he replied back.
‘Ok, get in’ she said, opening the door completely to let him pass.
‘Mark, Mark, lets gooooo!!!’ – Jeannie was with her hands holding the pet store’s door when he was brought back to reality.
‘Ok, little devil, go on’ he said, giggling.
‘Ohhhhhh……. Ohhhhhhhhh….’ No matter where she turned to, she couldn’t stop staring, touching, admiring, bewildered with everything in that pet store.
Mark was dazzled by her curiosity and her surprise. In a way – he thought – it was like if she was entering in a totally new world for her own, and therefore, she just couldn’t stop looking intently, but in particular, at the kittens’ area.
‘Mark, look, I want that one, I want that one, pleeeeaassseeee’ she said, pointing at the little black kitten that was hiding behind the little basket in the stand.
‘Let’s see… a black cat, huh? You are such a little witch…’ he smiled, making a simultaneous sign to the vendor.
‘Thank you, thank you!!!’ She was jumping… again…
‘You don’t have to thank me’ and he kneeled down until both were the same height ‘you know you have to take good care of the kitten, right? The kitten is a baby, just like you. The same way you have your mum to take care of you, the kitten has you to take care of him… Deal?’
‘Yes’ she replied very seriously.
‘But… who is going to be the kitten’s dad? I am not married…!’ she stressed in a very intellectual way.
Mark couldn’t avoid laughing out loud.
‘Well, your mummy could be the kitten’s daddy, OK?’
‘Is mummy my daddy too?’
Suddenly his heart fell. He looked at her and stroked her hair.
‘Your daddy is always near you, even though you can’t see him or be with him’
The little kitten was already in his container when Mark gave it to Jeannie. Although she couldn’t grab it, she was struggling and playing strong.
‘You are just like me, you never give up!’ he thought.
When they popped outside the shop and went walking down the street, they were giggling together.