Born just as spring was preparing to become summer, Miriam Reed had always considered herself a child of the sun. Its warming rays had greeted her as she entered into the world, and graced her first months with its presence. Summer had, of course, eventually slipped into fall, and later winter, but it seemed symbolic somehow, that Miriam should have been born late in May, as if she had been determined to greet the arrival of her most beloved time of year. Naturally, she and summer had their spats, as lovers often do; days when being caught in a too-tight embrace seemed stifling, and days when she longed for cooling breezes to wipe beads of sweat from her forehead, but whenever they were parted, Miriam knew that they were meant for each other, summer and she.
The winter months, unyielding in their insistence to arrive once more, now had her in their grasp again, though she was fighting it with everything she had. A black woolen coat covered her from neck to mid-thigh, buttoned up tight and belted tighter. She had a scarf on too, a bright red one that her mother had knitted for her, though if anyone asked, her mother didn't engage in such pedestrian activities. No, the scarf was bought and paid for, though let us not discuss the price, because only plebeians talk of money. The matching hat came from the same store, the brightness of the knitted material emphasizing the darkness of her hair; her bangs were swept aside, seemingly effortlessly though they had been carefully arranged to appear careless, peeking out from beneath the red cap. The mittens as well, were purchased at the same location, paid for with hugs (shhh), and never once had Miri regretted this decision, because they were exquisitely warm, without making her hands clammy.
The next weapon in her arsenal was a pair of dark blue jeans, fortified by a pair of dark brown leather boots that ended just below her knee. She loved those boots, as one of the few items in her closet that was actually designer. They'd been on sale, but don't tell anyone that, because she obviously doesn't buy things on sale. Only poor people do that.
However, (relatively) cheap or not, the boots still made foot shaped prints in the snow as she walked along the path, scouting for her little cousins. They had set out from her uncle and aunt's house hours ago, promising by all things sacred, that they would be back in time for their father's birthday dinner, which had been set to start at five o'clock, sharp. That time had come and gone, amidst many angry glances out the window from Aunt Kathy. Some mothers would have been worried about their brood not showing up at the prearranged time, but not Katherine Porter. She was Miri's father's sister, and every bit as stoic as her brother, not to mention used to the misbehavior of Patrick and Caitlin. It certainly wasn't the first time the two had missed a curfew, so the family had simply sat down to eat, the absence of the two children noticeable only through the stern looks thrown in the direction of the grandfather clock in the dining room, and a pair of empty chairs.
After dinner, they had eaten dessert, also without the appearance of the Porter children, and finally, Katherine had admitted defeat and mentioned going out to discover where her children had been hiding out all day. Miriam, feeling the need for a little space, had volunteered to go, thinking that she could grab a bus back to the farm, rather than going in the car with her parents and sister. Her uncle had suggested the park as the most likely hiding place for the little rascals, and so here she was, making her way deeper into this refuge from urbanity.
She didn't know how long she had walked for when she at last spotted a familiar face, but her knees and thighs were wishing for more warmth than what her jeans were providing them with.
Her shout caught the attention of one of the boys playing nearby, stopping him dead in his tracks. It was almost comical to watch as he slowly spun around to face her, his eyes searching the path for someone he had surely expected to be his mother. When the vision that met him was instead Miriam, his shoulders relaxed visibly, though he was still quick to make his way towards her. The other boys also ceased their game, standing around awkwardly in the snow now that their playmate had been called away.
"Do you have any idea what time it is, young man?" Miriam asked, placing her hands on her hips and conjuring up her sternest face. The boy shook his head, clearly a little perturbed by the confrontation. Miriam couldn't help but smile at his expression, shaking her head and laughing. "It's time for you to go home and face the music, that's what time it is! Where's your sister?" She looked over his head to see if she could spot Caitlin, but the girl was nowhere to be seen.
"I don't know," said Patrick weakly, after he, too, had taken a quick survey of their location, starting at the abandoned merry-go-round a stone's throw away from where they were standing.
"You don't know?" Miriam asked, frowning. "Oh well, you run along home, and I'll see if I can find her." She patted her cousin's hat-clad head, finishing the caress by pushing him in the right direction.
"Is mum very angry?" His voice was small, the prospect of facing his mother apparently very clear in his mind now, and more formidable than it had been when he had been caught up in games with his friends.
"Livid," Miriam said, winking at him. "You hurry home before she bursts a blood vessel. I'll send Caitlin home too when I find her."
They went their separate ways, Patrick heading home, and Miriam heading further into the park, her ears perked for any sounds that might indicate the location of her youngest cousin. After a few minutes, girlish squeals finally tipped her off, and she veered in the direction of the sound, her eyes searching the terrain ahead of her. A mismatched couple came into view, one of them her sugar-and-spice-faced cousin, the other a grown man. Miriam's eyebrows drew together at the sight, forming a slack V shape as she approached them. Then she realized that her cousin's was not the only familiar face in the landscape. The man looked familiar as well, now that a few steps had brought her closer to them. A few more, and she was close enough to recognize him. She'd know him anywhere. How many nights hadn't she studied his face on her television screen, and awed girlishly at imaginary love stories with like-minded girlfriends? Yes, she'd definitely know him anywhere, though she wouldn't have expected to actually see him anywhere. Yet, there he was, sitting astride a large duck with her cousin by his side, perched atop an equally large turtle. The scene that unfolded in front of her seemed nothing short of absurd. So absurd, in fact, that she could stop the laughter from bubbling over.
That was, however, not her smartest move, because it alerted Cohen - it was Cohen, wasn't it? - to her presence, and her being there was obviously unexpected, because their eyes connected for a rapid moment, before he tumbled backwards off his steed... err, duck, and into the snow.
"Miri! Caitlin exclaimed, she too having seen the newcomer now. Miriam gave a half-hearted little wave to the younger girl, her eyes going from her to the man in the snow, and back again.
"Your mother is not impressed," she said dryly, deciding to focus entirely on the girl instead of the man. Caitlin's face fell in the exact same fashion that Patrick's had fallen.
"Is she angry?"
Miriam raised an eyebrow in response, and the girl screwed her eyes shut. "You better run along. I already sent Patrick home, so if you run, maybe you can catch up with him."
The younger girl did as she said immediately, quickly bidding her unlikely companion farewell, before setting off. Miriam watched her go, a soft smile teasing her features, before she turned to the man. She regarding him silently, taking a few steps towards him, so that she was standing next to the turtle that her cousin had been sitting on just a few moments ago. Gingerly, she sat down on it - though with both legs safely on the same side, rather than astride. She crossed her arms, hiding her mittened fingers under them.
The voice was right too, she decided, though it was difficult to judge from the one word that he had uttered. In the pause that followed, she kept her eyes on him, trying her best to study him without appearing to stare, though she was, in fact staring at him while mentally conjuring up the hero of her beloved romantic comedies and comparing him the face in front of her. It was a little strange how hard it was to be certain; you'd think that the features of a man she had entertained a silly celebrity crush on for years would have been stamped into her memory, vivid like a fresh tattoo. But no. She couldn't be sure that the boy in front of her wasn't just some fortunate looking Brightonian instead of a movie star.
He spoke a few more words - accusatory this time - and his voice still seemed to tickle her eardrums the right way. Was it possible to both look and sound like Cohen Scott without actually being Cohen Scott? Either way, it was important for her not to make a fool of herself, so she simply smiled - a tiny twitch of the lips - and raised an eyebrow without saying a word. It was safer to be silent, until she knew for sure, one way or the other. It didn't have quite the desired effect though, she realized, when the man looked down at his shoes instead of at her, giving her nothing but odd angles to study.
She was about to speak when he started to explain. There was a touch of desperation in his voice, she thought as she listened to his promise that he wasn't a pedophile. That had not crossed her mind for even a moment, she realized. He certainly didn't look like a child molester, but then again, what do child molesters look like? It would be naive to think that they had 'uncle creepy' stamped across their foreheads, along with greasy thin hair and evil eyes.
She couldn't help but laugh, though it was a muted chuckle of amusement rather than one that echoed through the park. "I believe you," she said as the laughter trailed off. "Don't worry. That cousin of mine is just the type to forget all lessons about stranger danger as soon as a stranger appears. She's too adventurous for her own good." She paused for a second, biting the inside of her lip, before adding: "Her and her brother both."
Glancing over her shoulder, she could still see her cousin scrambling along the path in her attempt to catch up with her brother. She was still running, though from this far away, her movements seemed slow. Miri smiled at the sight, shaking her head softly, before turning her attention back to Cohen. Or the person she hoped was Cohen, at least.
She smiled, hesitating a little, then held out a mittened hand for him to shake.
"Cohen," he said as he took her hand and shook it. A shiver ran down her spine at the realization that she had been right. This wasn't just some fortunate Joe Schmoe who just happened to be blessed with movie star good looks. This was a real life, honest to goodness movie star. And not just any movie star either. THis was Cohen Scott, hero of so many of her silly girlhood dreams, and, if she were to be completely honest with herself, quite a few of her current fancies as well.
She hardly knew what to do with herself, standing there face to face with - and touching - this fantasy made flesh. A few years ago, maybe she would have screamed. At the very least she would have blushed an unattractive shade of burgundy, but a lady never lets her emotion rule her, and Miri wanted more than anything to be a proper lady, so she smiled and let go of his hand at the appropriate moment.
"Nice to meet you," she said, taking her mittened hands and sticking them into her pockets. From far away, she could hear a bird screeching, and she glanced up the path as if to look for it. It was, of course, nowhere to be seen, but it gave the illusion of something to do while waiting - hoping - for him to take the lead and continue the conversation. As much as she longed for it to go on, she didn't trust herself with the power of speech just yet, at least not when it came to deciding where, exactly, the conversation would go.
"Yeah, I'm from Brighton," she replied when he asked. "Born and raised." On a pig farm just outside of town, she added silently to herself.
She looked down on the ground, kicking at the snow.
"There's always horseback riding," she said when she lifted her eyes to his. She grinned and her left eyebrow was quirked just a fraction as she pronounced the words. "If you don't want the changes to be too sudden, I mean. I'm sure it won't quite compare with..."
She paused, glancing at the giant plastic duck behind him. "... Mr. Quacks there, but it could be worth a shot."
Another pause, before she added wryly: "If not, the pubs and nightclubs do have liquor licences."