Do you remember Charlie Brown, and how he always dreamed about the little red-haired girl? Well, after a week, that’s kind of where I am with the tall red-haired man. He was nice-looking, and nice, and went out of his way to mention his “ex”.
And I fumbled the ball. I stood there with my daughter, knowing I needed to somehow mention I was single, yet oddly incapable of doing so.
For a week, I kick myself. I try to look him up on Facebook, since I know his first name and can assume he lives in either Redmond, Kirkland, or Woodinville, and that red hair will be hard to miss in a profile picture.
I search match.com, too, but he’s not there either – although that’s probably for the best.
I mention to my friend at work that I’m an idiot – how could I not mention MY EX?! How could I not give him an opening when he was so clearly looking for one?
This is why I marry jerks, I tell her. I meet nice guys and don’t give them an opening, like, at my age, let them know I’m not married, which is … kind of key, especially when you have a child standing next to you.
She says, no, that’s not the problem. You’re just out of practice. Go bike more. Get back into practice, biking and dating. Just do better next time.
And stay off Facebook, she says. That’s kind of stalkerish.
I feel better. I am getting this advice from someone who just ran into her ex with his two new babies at the supermarket. She’s planning her own second wedding. It must get better.
Go bike that trail again, she says. Bike that trail a lot.
So the next Sunday afternoon, at right about the same time, it is blissfully not raining and I say to the Child, come on, we need to go ride again.
I’m tired, she says.
I don’t care, I tell her. We need exercise.
Okay, she doesn’t really need exercise but I do. I need it right now, on the Sammamish River Trail, just in case.
I get her going and we head north. We don’t see much today – it’s completely empty on the trail. The Child is tired. We discover very quickly that we’ve forgotten the water bottles.
The Child is thirsty and tired and wants to head back.
No, I say. We biked 8 miles last Sunday and we need to do the same or better today.
Fine, she says. But I don’t have to have fun.
Okay, I say. Hey – maybe we can find that red-haired man and see if he’s seen anything else that’s cool. He seemed to like finding cool things.
He didn’t have red hair, she informs me. It was brown.
It was red, I tell her, and anyway, he knew where the otter lived.
The otter lives at the four and a half mile marker, she tells me. I’ll show you.
We trudge along, as much as one can trudge on a bike. I’ve had my bike serviced so it’s running a lot more smoothly now – in fact it runs like a new bike. The Child’s knees are nearly hitting the handlebars and I can hear it squeak, squeak as she pedals and crunch as she shifts gears.
I cannot afford a new bike, child, I think. Please don’t grow. Please do your best.
We hit the four and a half mile marker and don’t see the otter, but that’s surely where we had seen him last week – I see the barn across the road, same as before. A big red barn.
We head north. We made it to the six-mile marker last week, I say. So we have to go at least that far this week.
She cycles forth unhappily.
And then on an underpass, we pass him from behind. Tall, red-haired, carrying the same grey backpack I remember he had his camera in the week before. There was no way to stop, to accidentally see him and greet him, and we’ve just gone downhill so we’ve picked up some speed and are whizzing further away.
And The Child spots a rest stop with a water fountain. I’m getting a drink, she says, hurling her bike to the side of the path. I stand and look at the river and peek out the corner of my eye for the red-haired man, who appears and gradually comes closer. I catch his eye – he does notice everything – and he recognizes me.
I make inquiries about the otter. He saw it again today, he says, and got some photos. But the albino otter wasn’t there.
He does not cross the path. We chat for a moment, and then The Child returns, despondent that the water fountains are nonfunctional. I turn my attention to her and he disappears. She and I talk for a moment, and I notice him again – still across the path, getting a drink of water out of his backpack. He’s kept his eye on me.
I have a very unhappy, thirsty child. He’s got a bottle of water but I don’t know him, so although I want to say, hey, can my kid have a drink? I don’t.
He smiles at me as he gets ready to head off. I wave goodbye.
The Child and I head home. She doesn’t want to see the otter again, she doesn’t want a drink, she just wants to go home. I’m okay with that. I’ve gotten my exercise, and I’ve gotten my second chance. It doesn’t bother me that nothing came of it. I can stop kicking myself, at least.
In the car, I glance at my watch and realize: he came out at exactly the same time on exactly the same day of the week. Same as me.
Either he’s got a routine, or …
I wonder if I’ll find out the answer.