Keeping It Lively
by Deborah O’Neille Schubbe
Shayla fluffed up the layers of yellow netting on the last little dancer’s tu-tu, then watched the giddy sunflower skip to the stage. One benefit to being the company seamstress was the stage-side view of the recital. Shayla enjoyed the lively show more every year—the children dancing, the music, the energy.
Swaying like flowers in a breeze to a fluttering rhythm, arms waving above them, twelve little girls stole Shayla’s heart. She clasped her chest and inhaled to capture their joy.
Sometimes, she’d pick out whichever little girl most resembled her—today a red-haired girl with dimples when she giggled—and imagined having a daughter with similar features some day, dancing on this very stage. An unlikely event. Despite forcing her shy self to keep playing the dating game, Mr. Right was obviously better at hide-and-seek. Well hidden.
After the final set, eighty-six girls dressed as Orphan Annie’s, pumpkins, ladybugs, black kittens, bunny rabbits, peapods, and sunflowers, graced the stage and took their bows. The auditorium filled with applause, giggles, and laughter, followed by a lot of hand shaking. In the lobby, Shayla’s eyes followed the red-haired girl, who saw her looking and ran up to her. “I like my costume. I can keep it?”
Shayla squatted to eye level with her. “Of course you can. It’s yours.”
“How’s my little star?” a tenor voice asked.
Shayla stood. A tall man with dimples to match the little girl’s stepped forward, his arms out, and winked as the sunflower leaped into his hug.
“You must be the instructor, or an assistant?” he asked Shayla.
Could he get any better looking? Speak, Shayla, say something.
“Costume designer.” Did a spark pass between them when their eyes met, or was she still feeling the effects of the recital?
His face brightened. Lexi squirmed and he set her down. “You made Lexi’s costume?” he asked.
Hiding her disappointment at his obvious fatherhood, which usually meant married, Shayla smiled. “I did.”
“And I get to keep it forever and ever,” Lexi said, twirling with the man’s hand.
Shayla glanced around, expecting a gorgeous wife to glide forward with the rest of the family. Like maybe a brother or two. A twin perhaps? That could work, she thought, admiring the flirty green eyes on this hot, friendly father.
“You can really sew.” He reached a large hand over to shake hers, slipping his left into his pocket before she managed to check for a ring. “I’m Garrett.”
Weak-kneed, she reluctantly dropped his warm fingers. “Shayla.” An awkward silence no longer than two heartbeats, but which seemed to stretch into an hour, stood between them. “You must be really proud of your daughter.”
“Niece,” he corrected, and Shayla could’ve slapped herself for smiling so wide. “I’m her uncle,” he added, and stooped to tickle Lexi’s sides. “Her favorite uncle, right?”
“And I’m your favorite, too,” Lexi said.
Garrett chuckled. “Yes-you-are.” He looked back at Shayla. “My brother’s kid.”
“So you do have a twin—”
“Ah, nothing, confused you with someone else. So, is your brother, um, her mom and dad, are they here? With Grandma, aunts …”
“Just me today. Josh, my brother, and his wife are at the hospital. He’s having hernia surgery as we speak.” His gaze darted to Lexi. “But he’s doing just fine and he’ll be home later today, right?”
“Right.” Lexi giggled.
“I’m the fill-in,” Garrett said, the gleam in his eyes making Shayla melt. “Either way, I wouldn’t miss my star dancer’s performance for anything. I came last year, too, her first year. She was a—”
“Mermaid,” Shayla finished for him.
“How could I forget? You made those, too?” he asked.
She nodded. “I sew for all the dance companies in the tri-state area.”
His smile didn’t falter, but another awkward silence lurked between them. How could she break it?
“I want a fairy godmother-princess dress. And red shoes. And one of those”—Lexi circled the top of her head with her finger—“princess things.”
“A crown?” Garrett asked Lexi.
She scrunched her nose, as though unsure.
“A tiara,” Shayla offered.
“That’s it,” Garrett said, flashing an arm-tingling grin.
A woman and a chubby little girl approached them. “Excuse me,” she said to Shayla. “I don’t know if you remember us from last year, but I wanted to thank you for the wonderful job getting Bri’s costume just right. They’re all so adorable.”
“Mrs. Wiley, of course I remember you,” Shayla said, hoping Garrett wouldn’t snatch the opportunity to leave. “I’m so glad to see you again.”
When mother and child turned away, Shayla stared into Garrett’s green eyes. How could she keep a conversation going, at least long enough to learn if he was single, interested, and available?
“We’re getting pizza at Busy Bees,” Lexi said. “Want to come?”
Garrett chuckled in a shy sort of way. “Busy Bees Playground. You’re probably busy”—he laughed at the pun—“but if not, they have great games and the best pizza around.”
Leave it to a child to keep things lively, Shayla thought. “I love pizza.”
He dipped his chin and grinned. “It’s definitely a noisy place, but if you’re willing to join us, I promise to make it up to you with a better, and quieter, date later.
Fireworks shot off in her heart. Noise, quiet, she didn’t care. “I’ll take you up on that,” Shayla said, and the three of them left together, smiling and laughing, having just witnessed the best recital of the year.
Book review on THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski at