Chapter five – The child in the playground
It was quiet in the park. The playground and walking paths were abandoned and a soft breeze made the leaves on the trees rustle. The big buildings were further into the city, so there was not a lot of traffic as well. I was tempted by the empty swings and made my way towards them.
I was a bit worried for Ashley. What if she panicked and ran away from him, or some other kind of stupid action? What if her date wasn’t the sweet guy I took him to be? Maybe I should have followed the two instead of just waiting to see how it went.
I was so lost in thought that I didn’t hear the footsteps coming closer.
I freaked out and jumped. The chains of the swing clinked like mad when I pushed it aside and quickly turned around, in fighting stance, to see who was attacking me.
‘Yes, it’s me again. I had so much fun chasing after a horse with you that, when I saw you sitting here, I thought I’d come over and say hi. Did you think I was a werewolf trying to eat you?’ he joked.
‘Of-of course not,’ I said quickly. ‘Werewolves don’t exist.’
‘The werewolves don’t agree with you on that, though,’ he smiled. ‘What are you doing here all by yourself?’
‘I was… now that I think about it, I have no idea.’
‘Great! If you’re bored anyway, come spend some time with me!’ Julian said with a shimmer in his eyes. He pointed towards me and then towards himself. His happy-go-lucky attitude was amusing, and it made me smile.
‘That dinner you promised last time we met?’
‘Well, yes, only… I don’t think there are any restaurants that will be happy with us if we show up at ten minutes before midnight.’
‘What do you have in mind, then? You’ll have to entertain me, you know,’ I joked.
Julian gave me a conspiring look and started to cackle, his fingertips pressed together.
‘Oh, entertain you I shall… you don’t know what you just got yourself into.’
‘…and her screams abruptly ended as her profile disappeared into the night. The other sims knew that following her meant certain death. They looked for the exit, but…’
‘But what? What happened?’ I said with a high-pitched voice. The ground was cold, but I was so into the story that I didn’t notice.
‘But it already was too late! Its piercing red eyes appeared in the pitch-blackness and snuck up on them from behind!’
‘And the last thing they heard… was the rustling of leaves and a single twig snapping.’
Just as Julian turned off his flashlight, something moved in the bushes behind me. A branch broke off with a loud snap- the thing was here! It was coming to get me!
I jumped. My heart was pounding in my chest and I panickly looked around to see where the thing was. A single squirrel stared back at me.
Julian began to laugh. Correct that, he was almost rolling over the floor out of laughter.
‘Hé! Stop that!’ I said, offended.
‘Ahaha-admit it, you were scared out of your mind there,’ he chuckled, while pointing his finger at me. ‘You should have seen your face! It was hilarious!’
‘I was just pretending to be scared from your story to make you feel better!’ I said, trying to convince myself more of that fact than him.
‘Sure you were – that explains your complete calmness now.’
I was about to respond when my cellphone suddenly began to buzz in my pocket. I nearly screamed for the second time, and Julian burst into another fit of laughter.
‘Sorry, I have to…get that,’ I mumbled.
‘Cathy? Where… are you?’
It was Ashley’s voice. I tried to guess from her tone how the date went.
‘Out into town. Are you back already?’
‘Hold on, I’m on my way.’
I hung up and faced Julian, who was looking at me with puppy-dog eyes.
‘You’re leaving already? But we were just starting to have fun.’
‘Don’t flatter yourself too much,’ I grinned. ‘I’ve heard better ghost stories than that.’
‘Wait!’ He said, as I attempted to leave. ‘I’ve got better stories than that, too. Would you go out with me sometime?’
‘You mean like a date?’
‘Sort of,’ he said. His face turned a bit reddish. ‘Just to hang out. It’ll be fun, I promise.’
‘Well, all right then,’ I nodded. Those eyes were just too hard to resist. A big smile appeared on Julian’s face.
‘Great! Here, call me on this if you want to meet up.’
He took a pen out of nowhere and quickly wrote down his cell phone number on my hand.
‘Or if you just want to talk, that’s fine too.’
I clutched my fist, hiding the number from sight. ‘Goodbye, mister Marquet.’
‘Call me, you hear?’
Ashley was in the house by the time I got back, making happy faces to her parrot. Inside I let out a sigh of relief. At least she wasn’t curled up in a corner again, which had to mean her date was a success.
‘So? How did it go?’ I asked, after greeting what had slowly turned into my friend. Ashley was smiling nervously.
‘Don’t keep me in the dark! Come on, what happened?’
‘He… took me to the park. He was so sweet, Cathy.’
‘What did he say?’ I asked excitedly.
‘He gave me flowers. And then we went… for a walk. He said he didn’t go to the city with me because… he knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable there.’
‘We held hands…’
I smiled. For a shy, unsociable person like Ashley, this guy was perfect.
The next three days went by incredibly slowly. I tended to the garden every morning as usual, but my thoughts kept getting back to Julian and the number he gave me. I was itching to call back. A date might be a bit over the top, but he was a nice guy and I really wanted to get to know someone that wasn’t a member of the church or one of Ashley’s new plants. Only…
Could I really do that? Could I just start up another life when I didn’t even know what happened in the past one? When I didn’t even know my name?
I didn’t know the answers to that and because of the frustration, I couldn’t focus on my job anymore. Ashley’s prized vegetable risked being pulled out with the weeds, so I quit for the day. I needed to clear my head. How my past self had cleared her head I didn’t know, but up until now a visit to the park had worked every time.
So I locked the cabin, grabbed my bike and headed for the nearest playground. It was the same place as where Julian asked me out on a date… for the second time. Was giving him a chance really such a bad idea? What was the worst that could happen?
… I could have a husband, I thought right after that. I could get to know Julian and maybe even get to like him, and after that I might find out I’m married. That is something that could happen. I might even have kids. A husband and children. But maybe I don’t.
But what if I do? What if I have children and they’re out there somewhere, waiting for me? What kind of horrible mother forgets about her own children?
As if the almighty plumbob had overheard me, I walked in on a young woman. She looked very happy and was teaching her toddler daughter to walk. The girl giggled when her mother lifted her up by her arms and then let go, causing her to fall on the grass again.
‘Come on, Reality, stand up and come to mummy.’
And then it happened. When the little girl pushed herself up her feet and began stumbling in her mother’s direction, I felt a strange sense of déja vu. It was as if I recognised the scene from before. And at the same time, a painful bolt shot through my chest.
I recognised… that… that was…