I threw on my gold, slinky dress, slipped on my knee high leather boots and then topped it off with a long black wig which I’d braided earlier. Part of a group Peter Pan costume, I was Tiger Lily.
Earlier that day we’d taken Benjamin to a thrift store to hunt for Mr. Man’s costume. Normally any trip to a store results in a near melt down by myself and definitely at least one tantrum from Benjamin. But with Mr. Man there to help we were able to divide and conquer.
“You look in that aisle, I’ll look in this one,” I said.
Between distracting Benjamin with fun games or “find me this or find me that” and rows and rows of used clothes we finally found every single piece of Mr. Man’s Joker costume; a purple suit, a purple tie and a green shirt. It was a minor miracle and I didn’t even break a sweat.
Later that afternoon we took Benjamin trick or treating with Mia and Sydney.
“Look, Benjamin, look! There’s another house,” Mr. Man would say while guiding my little monkey down the sidewalk. Once Benjamin couldn’t peddle anymore Mr. Man popped him up onto his shoulders and grabbed his feet, playing with him and pulling on his legs – making him laugh continuously, for minutes and minutes on end.
He wasn’t just falling for me, I realized, he was falling for both of us. This is the stuff you just can’t fake – not that men in the past have faked loving Benjamin but Mr. Man, a father himself, absolutely loves being one.
Almost as soon as we got back to Mia’s house, she ushered us out, “Go! Go have fun, get out of here!”
“Yeah, Mommy,” chimed Benjamin, “Go away! Me sleeping at Sydney’s house, kay?”
“Alright, we’re going, we’re going,” I said.
It wasn’t until our quiet walk down the street to my place that it dawned on us – for the first time since we’d met – we were going to have a date. We’d spent the past two weekends at my mom’s house surrounded by family, friends or Benjamin; unable between them all to find more than an hour or two alone.
After Mr. Man had his purple suit on, he sat down across from me so I could transform him into the Joker. As I started dabbing on the white paint, he rested his hands on my knees, running his thumb delicately over my hose and along the edge of my dress.
Between focusing on the job at hand, I would look into his eyes only to find that they were looking intently into mine. He wasn’t telling me how to put it on, wasn’t concerned or worried about seeing his reflection in a mirror. In fact, I don’t think he cared what I was putting on his face only that he had a chance to see mine so closely while I was completely focused on something other than life, work or Benjamin.
“I love seeing your smile,” he said.
“Shhhh…don’t move your lips.”
“Okay, but can I have a kiss first before you paint them?”
One hour later we slipped away from the costumed masses on the street into a bar. I found a spot at an empty table and immediately started to think about everything, letting my mind run wild in fear.
“Why so serious?” he said in his deep Joker voice.
“I’m thinking about you,” I said while staring into my beer bottle, “and I’m scared.”
“You don’t have to be. I’m not going anywhere.” He paused, “I’m serious. I can see you and Benjamin in my future… as far as I can see actually.”
“Really? How? How do you know that?”
“It just feels so right to be with you. Look, I wasn’t expecting this either, wasn’t planning on it at all. I just know how I feel when I’m around you and I can’t see any reason why this can’t work.” And with that, covered in his Joker make up, now suddenly serious himself, Mr. Man convinced me to open my heart and my mind to the idea of a future with someone else in the picture.
“Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll give it everything I have. I can’t guarantee anything about where it will go, but I can guarantee you that I’ll try my very best.”
“This is just the beginning,” he said squeezing my hands, “and it’s only going to get better. I promise.”
And with that we headed into the night.
Maybe it was the way he guarded me from passing cars with his body, the way he held me when we danced or the way he asked about Benjamin when I looked at my phone – “How’s little Benjamin?” – I’m not quite sure what it was but I completely and absolutely let myself go, let myself drop a little further into that Rabbit Hole.
After hours of dancing, talking and dancing some more we hailed a cab for the ride home.
“What’s your name?” Mr. Man asked the cab driver.
“George, is this not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”
George looked at me in his rear view mirror, this slightly embarrassed and slightly intoxicated Tiger Lily with no story other than the mask covering her face and said, “Yes, she’s definitely pretty.”
“Well,” said Mr. Man, “I’m going to marry this girl!”
I can’t remember what I said, or if I said anything at all. I think I just smiled, the kind of smile Mr. Man loves to see, the kind I can’t control. And rather than opening up that cab door and jumping into the pavement possessed by fear, I scooted in closer to him, letting him wrap his arm around my shoulders.
“I am going to marry you,” he whispered into my ear.
“Whatever! You’re out of your mind, crazy man.”
My words were no good here, he just laughed and pulled me closer, “God, I love those lips and I sure do love that smile.”
We laughed the rest of the way home and by the time we pulled into my driveway George was laughing too.
To be continued…
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[Photo: my Halloween self-portrait, trying to get into character]