Charlie stood in the sunset's orange wash - a heavenly-lit incongruous mix of well-sculpted manhood, cheap costuming and convenience food.
He wore his black Zorro mask, no shirt and black tights. In one hand, he held a large portable stereo. In the other, he balanced an over-sized box containing one of Mike's "Mother-of-All" Mega Pizzas - it looked to have the circumference of an open golf umbrella. His stomach muscles rolled and reset themselves as he took an uneasy breath. A frown grew on his face.
"I can't do this," he said. He put down the pizza, pulled a $50 bill from his tights and held it out to Quentin. But Quentin was already moving away, saying over his shoulder, "It'll be fine. It'll be fine. Go ahead. I forgot something in the car." By this time, Ferguson and Carmen had noticed Charlie. They rushed up to welcome him. He smiled at them. And then looked for the first time in the eyes of Amy.
She felt like an army of Argentine ants were moving en masse under her skin. She had been the object of no one's desire for so long. Now she just wanted to hide. No, check that. First kill Quentin, then hide.
Ferguson broke the silence by pushing play on the boom box. A sizzling run on a marimba gave way to a sultry meringue beat. Ferguson pulled on Charlie's arm and pleaded. At first Charlie resisted, but then he swept up Ferguson in his arms and performed an impromptu dance while holding the 3-year-old. There were lots of dips and spins and swings, and before long Ferguson was giggling uncontrollably. Carmen jumped forward to dance alongside Charlie, who kept his tights on. Even baby Bartlette jiggled to the music.
Amy found herself smiling, which led to big beaming smiles from Charlie. When the song ended, Charlie put Ferguson down. "Again, again, again!" said Ferguson.
But three bars into the next song, the music stopped. Eustazia took her finger from the pause button. "Time to go get some frozen yoghurt with Aunty U."
Quentin was just behind her. He bowed his head to Amy. "I'm sorry. There's an emergency at the factory. Problem with the waterproofing on the laces of a big export shipment. It's urgent." He looked down at his feet and frowned. He looked up and forced a smile.
"Fortunately, Eustazia has volunteered to look after the kids."
"You told me you were busy," said Amy.
"Yeah, I was. Doing this."
Eustazia bent down to whisper to Amy. "He told me you were desperate. So, of course, I dropped everything."
U scooped up Bartlette, and the other kids gathered around her. It was all pretty weird, but the frozen yoghurt came with jelly beans on top and that beat pizza any day.
Quentin turned to Charlie, but spoke to his feet. "Can you give Amy a ride home?"
Charlie said sure, and the kids and U trooped back across the sand to the parking area. Quentin took charge of the rear guard, being at the moment, more of a trudger than a trooper.
It was all a setup, of course. Amy could see that. An elaborate setup. But why would Quentin go to all the trouble? Especially when Charlie was engaged. She found her eyes getting wet. The ants under her skin began another march.
Between Amy and Charlie there wasn't a word. They sat in the twilight and watched the children and the adults get into two cars and drive off.
"Pizza's getting cold." Charlie spoke first.
She nodded. There was silence.
"It's half Mongolian Beef Barbecue and half Thai Tofu."
He held out a gloppy piece., She shook her head. He took a bite.
"What I want to know is why you are marrying Danielle?"
The Thai Tofu almost came out his nose. When he recovered, he denied he was marrying anyone. He explained that Danielle had bought the ring for herself because she said guys kept hitting on her at the pizza place. In fact, Danielle didn't even tell Charlie that Amy had come looking for him.
"So there's nothing between you and Danielle?"
"Not any more," he said. "She was a wrong turn. And you know how one wrong turn can lead to another before you stop being lost."
The ants disappeared. Champagne bubbles took their place.
"So Danielle is full of shit."
"And what am I then?"
"Yourself," he said. It was his complete answer. She waited for elaboration, but Charlie calmly said nothing more. He just put down his pizza and moved closer. The sky was turning to purple, Venus sparked into view above the horizon. Charlie lit one of the long white candles Quentin had brought to the beach. He stuck it in the sand in front of them. Then he moved closer again.
He whispered to her. "I told you before. You're good. And you're for real."
They kissed. Not a single skyrocket screamed into the air. Not a fire-cracker popped. No fountains of color erupted and fell against the sky. But the feeling in her heart and all through her body was July the 4th.
After a while, when the night had grown chilly and they had grown hot and bothered, she broke away, remembering he had to get back to work. He explained that his shift was over. In fact, his job was over. He had quit.
He sat up, full of excitement.
"I got into a choreography degree program at the University of Utah. I was on the waiting list, but they just called. I have to be there in a week."
"Oh," she said.
They watched the candle flutter in the breeze for a while. She fully understood that on the brink of realizing her romantic fantasy, she now confronted a speeding headlight accelerating toward her in the tunnel of love.
Nonetheless, she tried to be rational. "Utah for exotic dance?"
"Don't you see? It's about learning choreography. All kinds of choreography. I can always get exotic with it later."
She nodded, but inside she was shaking her head and stomping her feet.
He kept talking. "I'm sweet, really. I mean except for not having money for tuition. Or a place to stay. But maybe I can moonlight doing X-rays. Anyway, I figure I just have to believe in my PR like you said and things will work out, right?"
"What about my PR?"
"You can come, too," he said - like he was inviting her to the movies. "Bring the kids." He smiled. A genuine smile for a genuine invitation.
She smiled back, but hers was a cover. Internally, she carried on the conversation. She wasn't stupid. She would never risk uprooting the kids to go on what was likely to be a romantic kamikaze mission. No money, no foundation to the relationship, no commitment. Hell, it would even involve moving house, one of the top ten stressors of modern life. She tried to imagine making a home with a guy who changed his jobs more often than he changed his socks.
He was yummy, though. A bronze god. With a good heart. And abs that could crack walnuts. He was a good guy.
He just didn't understand. Not yet, anyway. And he was leaving in a week.
Maybe not time enough for love. But what if they had the honeymoon and forgot about the marriage?
She didn't say anything for a long while, looking at the sea and listening to the tide. She closed her eyes and felt the sea breeze against her eyelids. He just held her hand and waited.
Finally, she took his other hand in hers. "Congratulations," she said and kissed him on the cheek.
Then she opened the pizza box. "Which side is Mongolian Beef?"
(more to come)
For those who are new here, A is for Amy & Adonis is a serial internet novella which tells the story of the romantic redemption of Amy Franklin. The aim is to provide a fun and fast read with characters you can connect to emotionally. And, as you probably noticed, it's all free.
The chapters are short. So it's easy to catch up.
READ EARLIER POSTS (just click on the one you want)--
Chapters E & F
Chapters I & J
Chapters L & M
Chapters U and V
Nota Bene -- All the chapters will be archived on Huffpost so people will be able to catch up with the story no matter how late they come to the novella.
I have decided to post two chapters a week. So, if you like what you read here, stay tuned with Huffpost email alerts or follow me on Twitter. --Steven
Follow Steven Crandell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stevencrandell