Playground Eyes

Chapter 1: Summer Vacation

Friday, July 26.


Hefting the final box into his arms, Gabe lets out a relieved breath. At least everything seems to have survived the trip; at any rate, he hasn’t heard the telltale sound of broken glass rattling around, or found any damaged cardboard. He won’t really know for sure that everything’s in one piece until they finish unpacking, and, well, that could take weeks. Months, even.

“Could you get the door for me, Georgie?” he calls, and his daughter dashes forward to swing the door open. He grins at her as he passes, sets the box down on the old wood floor, and then stretches his arms high over his head, arching his back. His spine pops, and he can’t help but groan at how wonderful that feels.

“Gross, daddy,” Georgie says, and he looks over to see her wrinkling her nose at him. She hates it when he pops his back. He laughs, dropping back into a more relaxed pose.

“Sorry, kiddo. I’m gettin' old.” He reaches over and ruffles her hair, sending the tight curls flopping this way and that. She slaps his hand away, but she’s grinning. “What do you think?” he asks. “Not a bad place to live, huh?”

He and Georgie both take a moment to look around their new house. They’re standing in the middle of the living room right now, which is smaller than the one in their old house had been, but still has more than enough room for their couch, TV, and a bookshelf or two.The kitchen is off to their left, open to the living room and much smaller than their old one had been, but that’s okay; Gabe’s got an entire diner to cook in now, just a few short steps away. He doesn’t exactly need a huge kitchen just for himself and Georgie.

Straight across from the door is a narrow hallway. Earlier inspection had revealed four rooms that way: a bathroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room. The bedrooms were both the same size and had the same amount of storage space, so Gabe had let Georgie choose which one she wanted, and she’d chosen the one overlooking the little flower garden someone had planted on the hill behind their house, rather than the one facing the street.

It really is a lot smaller than their house in Oregon, but then, there are only two of them now. They’ll settle in soon enough.

“I love it,” Georgie says, beaming at him, and Gabe grins back.

“Let’s get all your stuff to your bedroom,” he says, bending down to pick up a box helpfully labeled “GEORGIE’S STUFF.” “And you can tell me what color you want your room painted, and if you need anymore shelves or anything.”

“Yeah!” Georgie picks up a second box and follows him down the hallway, humming a little tune Gabe had heard playing on the radio several times today.

As long as Georgie’s happy, he’s pretty sure he will be, too.


Sunday, August 4.


Everything’s finally ready for the grand opening. Gabe hopes.

He wrings out his cloth and tosses it into the bucket, surveys his kitchen once more. It’s nothing terribly fancy--most of the kitchen appliances  were already here when he bought the place--but there’s more than enough space to work with, and everything’s spotlessly clean. The fridge is full of everything he’ll need, plates and bowls sit ready nearby, and his staff, small but more than up for the task, stands before him.

“Tomorrow’s the big day!” he says, and Bunny and Shaw, his waitstaff, both let out cheers, linking their arms together and throwing their free fists into the air. He laughs. “I don’t think you’re gonna be so cheerful when I’m running you ragged, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

Cole, a soft-spoken man with a blue streak in his bangs who doubles as Gabe’s co-chef and a third waiter, shrugs one shoulder with a little smile. “It’s a job,” he says, “and you pay better than most other places in town. We’ll see if it’s worth it once you’ve been open for a while.”

Gabe grins at him. “I hope it will,” he says. And it’s the truth. Gabe’s always loved cooking, and he’s dreamed of owning a restaurant since he was sixteen. He’s lucky; he has a good culinary education, some experience in the industry, and, most importantly, parents with pockets deep enough to lend their only child the money necessary to open a small diner in a small town, without having to worry too much about the first few months’ expenses.

Shaw, a shorter, overly-friendly person with dark hair and tan skin just a touch lighter than Gabe's own, with an ever-present smile, releases Bunny’s arm and slides forward on the skates that Gabe’s pretty sure aren’t technically kitchen-safe, but ae moves with such grace and speed that Gabe can’t bring himself to ask aer to remove them. “If we’re done for today,” ae says, “I’ve gotta head out.” Ae turns back to Bunny. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bunny darling! We’ll continue our little conversation then, hm?”

Bunny nods eagerly. She’s an excitable kid, fresh out of high school. Tiny, pale, and freckled with long brown hair. “See ya tomorrow, Shaw!” she says, bouncing on her toes.

“Yeah, you know what time to be here,” Gabe says, waving one hand. Shaw nods to him, and to Cole, and skates out the door. Gabe turns back to the other two. “You guys can go, too,” he says. “I’ll see you both tomorrow, bright and early.”

Cole gives him a lazy salute and says his goodbyes, heading out with Bunny close behind him. 

Gabe’s alone again, and he allows himself a little sigh. Tomorrow’s the big day. Tomorrow’s the big day! He laughs to himself, feeling elated and, honestly, a little breathless. 

“Daddy,” Georgie calls from the dining room, “can we go to the park before it gets dark?”

He feels his smile widen, and he steps out of the kitchen to look over at his daughter, sitting in one of the booths with what looks to be her entire comic book collection spread out in front of her. “Sure,” he says. “Lemme lock up, and we can go now, if you want.”

Georgie flings both her arms into the air and lets out a whoop! “I wonder if Sarah’s gonna be there!” she says, shuffling her comics into a pile to pick them up. “She said she’s startin’ fourth grade next month too. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we were in the same class? I wanna start out already havin’ at least one friend in class.”

Gabe nods. “It would be super awesome,” he says over his shoulder, heading back into the kitchen to shut off the light and make sure nothing’s on that doesn’t have to be. Georgie’s always been friendly, making friends easily; he’s glad to find that moving to a completely different state hasn’t changed that. “Even if Sarah’s not there, maybe you’ll make some more friends there today. Do you wanna bring your comics, or should we take ‘em back to the house before we go?”

She looks down at the stack of comics in her hands, eyes narrowing as she thinks. She hums for a moment, then carefully selects three of them, tucking them under her arm. “Most of ‘em can stay,” she says. “I’ll just bring these ones in case there’s no other kids there, or somethin’.”

“Good idea.” Gabe finishes up inside and takes Georgie outside, sending her to drop her comics off in the house while he locks up the doors. 

The park’s not far, just a little over a block away, and Gabe marvels over how easy it is to get around this town. Even Georgie’s new school is within walking distance, which is so different from the city they’d moved from that he can’t help but marvel over it.

Georgie runs off as soon as they get there, spotting her friend Sarah over on the swings, so he settles himself on the ground beneath a tree and pulls his phone out to read a book. 

Tomorrow’s the big day, but today’s still a good day. He’s looking forward to many more such days in the future.


Friday, August 30.


Stef reaches up to straighten the Reading Success poster for the third time today. They really need to add another tack to it, but last year the school board had gotten on their case about “too many holes in the walls,” so that’d probably be pushing their luck. Still, what do they expect? Stef’s a fourth-grade teacher, of course they’re gonna have a bunch of tack and staple-holes in the walls!

They wonder if they ever get on Korse’s case for that kind of thing, but actually, Stef thinks, Korse’s classroom walls are immaculate. How does the man do it? 

“Okay,” they call over their shoulder, “how’s it look? Ready for learnin’?”

Their brother looks up from his phone and surveys the room with an unimpressed glance. He nods. “Looks good. The kids should like it.” He ducks his head back down to focus on his phone again, leaning against the doorframe and texting away.

Stef rolls their eyes, but they can’t bring themself to be at all upset with Marco. The fact that he’d willingly come out to help them finish setting up their classroom (though he hadn’t really helped so much as just stood off to the side and made comments ) was a victory in and of itself, and Stef’s grateful for it.

This is their fourth year of working as a full-time, completely qualified teacher, and they like to think that means they’re more than prepared for everything these kids are gonna throw at them.

Their first year working here had been tough, full of rowdy kids and trying to learn their way around a new school, getting used to being in charge of kids and not just helping out in someone else’s class, or learning how to be in charge.

Luckily, there are plenty of friendly faces on staff here. Like Manami, one of the kindergarten teachers and the best woman to go to for help with rambunctious kids. Or Doc, the music teacher who might just be one of the most interesting guys Stef’s ever met. Or Simon, the second-grade teacher who had then been the most junior teacher, and who had taken them under his wing and helped them figure out what the heck they were doing.

But this year they more than know what the heck they’re doing. All summer they’ve been working on a perfect schedule for each subject, with more than enough wiggle room in case they need to spend a little extra time on one unit or another. They’ve got games and activities planned out, art projects and science experiments. They’ve got a stash of healthy and tasty snacks packed away in the cupboard. 

They’ve got this. Korse who? Stef’s class is gonna kick his class’s collective butts at every turn.

“Well,” they say, shaking themself out of their thoughts and leaning over to grab their bag from behind their desk, “I think I’m ready to head out. Wanna grab a bite to eat before I drop ya off?”

Marco shrugs, straightening up and tucking his phone away in the back pocket of his jeans. “Could go for a burger or somethin’,” he says. “Better’n goin’ to my appointment on an empty stomach. Did that last month an’ Marie chewed me out for not takin’ proper care of myself.”

Stef slips their bag over their shoulder and flicks the lightswitch off, reaching behind them to take Marco’s hand and listening intently as he talks. They’re still not used to hearing him voluntarily talk about stuff like this, aren’t sure if they’ll ever be. 

“Well, let’s make sure Marie doesn’t have anythin’ to yell at you for. Burgers sounds good! Prob’ly don’t have time to sit down an’ eat, so I hope ya don’t mind drive-through.”

“Have I ever minded drive-through?”

“Nope! First time for everythin’, though, yeah?” Stef lets go of their brother’s hand for just a moment to lock the school doors behind them, then leads him back over to their car, a gorgeous Trans Am they’d both saved up for months to get restored.

They slide into the driver’s seat and stare daggers at Marco until he’s seated beside them, seatbelt clicked solidly in place. Just before they start the engine, Stef leans up and over to press a kiss to Marco’s temple.

Marco gives them the faintest of smiles, but it’s there, it’s real, and Stef loves everything about it.

This is gonna be a great school year, Stef knows.