“Vayas con Dios, mi amor,” Rob hummed a farewell song to the garbage, amused by his wife’s enthusiasm for the mundane.
Meanwhile, the kids were busy wolfing down the remains of that morning’s batch of pancakes.
“Let’s finish up so we can have a full day at the Renaissance Fair,” Rob urged them, keeping in mind the fact that no matter how late you got there, you still had to pay full price for the tickets.
“Stop staring at me!” Michelle snapped at her brother.
Allen was looking innocently past her at the T.V., which happened to feature an exciting episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants. “I’m not!” the falsely accused protested.
“Instead of picking on your brother, why don’t you go put on your costume?” Rob suggested.
“But Daddy, I can’t be a fairy anymore!” Michelle objected.
“Why not? We paid a hundred bucks for that costume last year.”
“Because. Last year I was still a little girl.”
“And what are you now? An old lady?”
“No, but I’m too old for that girly stuff. I can’t dress as a fairy anymore. It’s embarrassing.”
Great! Another hundred bucks thrown out the window, Rob concluded. Meanwhile, his wife was deciding which outfit in her wardrobe looked appropriately medieval for the festival. According to Michelle, everything her mother wore pretty much qualified. Nevertheless, Ana was faced with a tough decision. Should she wear ordinary clothes and act like she’s going to the fair just to please the kids? Or should she be a good sport and wear her Romanian folk costume with the golden brocade? Since she felt in pretty good spirits that morning, she opted for the Romanian costume.
“Why are you dressed like a clown?” Michelle politely inquired, watching her mother step down the stairs. Ana was wearing a white blouse puffed at the sleeves and covered with bright red and gold roses around the neck along with a black skirt filled, Michelle could swear, with the very same flowers she saw at her great-grandmother’s funeral last October.
“Hey! Show some respect for your cultural heritage. For your information, this is a Ro-ma-ni-an fol-klo-ric cos-tume,” Ana enunciated.
“No wonder you wanted to escape from that country,” Michelle commented.
“What are you going to wear?” Ana turned the focus away from herself.
“Daddy’s buying me something at the fair.”
“What happened to your fairy costume?”
“She says she outgrew it,” Rob replied.
Ana’s gaze shifted towards the brave little Robin Hood emerging from the bathroom, wooden sword in one hand, the other pulling up his zipper.
“Too old for it? Nonsense. Look at your brother. He’s worn the same costume for three years and still hasn’t outgrown it,” Ana offered her son as a role model.
“That’s because he’s lame and has no style,” Michelle offered two possible explanations.
“No I’m not. You are!” Allen returned the compliment.
As soon as they got into the car, another aesthetic debate ensued: this time on the controversial subject of music.
“Put on Hannah,” Michelle suggested a singer who was popular among the tween community.
“I hate that girly stuff,” Allen vetoed the proposal. “Put on AC/DC. I only like loud music.”
“When I listen to that awful noise, I’ll get a pounding headache,” Ana chimed in. “Why don’t you play some nice and soothing classical music?”
“I have a better idea. Let’s play the game of silence,” Rob suggested.
That game lasted almost thirty seconds. Ana’s eyes shifted anxiously out the window. The beautiful pastures, colorful trees garnished by fall foliage and sleepy cows couldn’t distract her from a pressing matter: “Rob, can we please stop at the next Rest Area?”
“Already? We just left the house. How come you didn’t go before we got in the car?”
“I did. It just so happens that I have to go again,” Ana replied in a whisper, embarrassed that her personal needs were becoming a subject of public debate.
“Then why did you have ten cups of coffee before we left?” Rob asked.
“I only had two.”
“Why did you need two when you know very well that you make ten pit stops for just one?”
“Because I took a few sleeping pills last night, thanks to our pleasant conversation,” Ana said, hoping that would put an end to the discussion.
“It’s not my fault you freak out over nothing,” Rob said, turning sharply into the nearest gas station.
Ana looked at her husband before getting out of the car. She couldn’t help but feel repelled by the furrowed lines on his brow. His bad disposition has distorted his features, she observed, slamming the door behind her.
Fortunately, the atmosphere lightened once they entered the fair. They were quickly surrounded by warm greetings from lasses and lads dressed up in authentic medieval and Renaissance costumes, most of which were New Age, imported from California.
“Do you want to see the jousting match first?” Rob asked the children. If his memory served him right, in previous years that had been the highlight of their visit.
“Not yet,” Michelle replied. “First I want to find a nice outfit.” To her parents’ chagrin, she proceeded to peruse every shop with overpriced costumes on the premises.
Michael and Karen had also made it to the Renaissance Festival that morning, half an hour earlier. Although the jousting was entertaining and the beer tasty, Michael’s main source of diversion was examining closely the outfits of the better-looking lasses. They’re fine on top, but leave much to be desired on the bottom, he observed. The costumes tended to have a satisfactory décolleté but obscenely long skirts that went all the way down to the ankles. Those skirts should be banned, he decided.
I wonder if he’d be more attracted to me if I had a big chest, Karen wondered, following her fiancé’s gaze. Maybe I should invest in some implants, she answered her own question.
As they were meandering about, Michael spotted a show called “Saucy Lasses.” A group of three women in temptingly low-cut outfits sang suggestive limericks that might have turned on an inebriated English professor specializing in Shakespeare. “Do you want to see the jousting match? It’s about to begin in fifteen minutes,” Karen tugged at his sleeve, to divert his attention away from the lasses.
“I want to listen these excellent singers first,” Michael expressed a preference for high culture.
“I can’t understand half the things they bellow,” Karen objected.
“Who the hell cares about what they sing?” Michael retorted with a laugh.
Apparently, he was the only one amused. “Let’s go see the jousting,” Karen repeated more firmly.
She means business, Michael realized with some regret, since dirty limericks were right up his alley, not to mention the saucy lasses. “Alright,” he relented.
At one of the four entrances to the jousting match, Michael’s attention was caught by a woman dressed in a colorful outfit that stood out, like a harlequin’s costume, even in the midst of the carnival. The young woman struck him as Eastern European, perhaps Polish or Russian. She wore her hair in two long braids on either side, which made her resemble a Matrushka doll. “Ana?” he said out loud, recognizing her.
“You know her?” Karen whispered into his ear. Every time Michael recognized a woman in public and greeted her warmly, she suspected the worst and was usually right.
“She’s an artist from Ann Arbor,” he informed Karen as they approached Ana and her family. “Small world, isn’t it?” he said to Ana.
“The kids used to like the Renaissance Fair,” she replied. “This is our third year coming here.”
“Used to?” Michael addressed the little girl standing next to Ana.
“I’m never coming back here again,” Michelle declared.
“Why not?” Michael asked her.
“Because a stupid maid outfit costs three hundred dollars!” the girl explained.
“But why do you have to wear a costume? Aren’t you happy with your regular clothes? They look nice to me,” Michael commented.
Michelle rolled her eyes at him. “Duh… Because that’s the whole point of the festival. If you don’t dress up, why bother coming here?”
“Please don’t say ‘duh’. It’s rude. It implies the person you’re talking to is an idiot,” her mother tactfully pointed out.
“She said it, not me,” Michelle retorted with a shrug addressing Michael, whom she instinctively disliked.
Who is this guy? And why is he so chummy with my wife? Rob wondered. Standing across from him, Karen was contemplating a similar set of questions. So this is what Michael wants so desperately? A little spoiled brat to mouth off at him? Maybe we could adopt, she relented, seeing Michael’s eyes light up with amusement at Michelle’s brashness. That way I won’t have to ruin my figure, she thought, looking Ana up and down. How do some women stay thin? They must starve themselves, Karen decided, not seeing any other logical explanation. Meanwhile, Michael had examined Rob enough to conclude that Ana’s husband couldn’t possibly be a threat to him. For one thing, he’s shorter and less muscular than me, he assessed his competition, as if they were rival knights engaged in a quest for the damsel in distress. Or the colorful matruska doll, Michael qualified, turning his gaze to Ana again. “Nice costume,” he observed.
“I warned her not to wear it,” Michelle conveniently mistook his compliment for sarcasm.
But Ana thanked him with a smile. With a belated sense of politeness, they introduced their significant others. After exchanging a few pleasantries, both Rob and Karen showed signs of impatience. Michael decided to seize the moment. If she gives me a sign, it was meant to be and if not, it wasn’t, he told himself. As the two couples were about to go their separate ways, Michael looked at Ana straight in the eyes. On impulse, he blew her a kiss, right then and there, in front of everyone. Ana looked around, embarrassed, trying to ascertain if anyone else had seen his impetuous gesture. Then she looked back at him and smiled, with awkwardness. Michael’s heart fluttered with delight when he saw her smile. This was the signal he had been awaiting.