In The Hidden Life of Dogs, the writer, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, says the meeting of the dogs Misha and Maria demonstrates the evolutionary power of love. In a room crowded with dogs, Misha spots Maria and from that moment forward, she becomes the one animal more important to him than any other. The two become inseparable.
I witnessed something like that tonight—I’m sure of it, even if I’m the only one who noticed.
Just because things aren’t crazy enough around here, I invited Dr. Cohen and Jenna and her boys over tonight for dinner. Levi missed the meal and didn’t get here until everyone was leaving because he had a Mayor event, but Mason, Eve, Lark, and Chloe were all here.
I thought it would be good to mix things up—a welcome distraction for Eve and Mason. Plus, I hoped that maybe Jenna’s boys, who are around the same ages of Lark and Chloe, might end up being allies for the girls. They go to the same school—or would, if Lark and Chloe agree to leave the house. (The girls refused again today; Eve said they had large sheets of paper up in their room and spent the whole day drawing something they wouldn’t show her.)
The evening went beautifully. Eve, Mason, and Jenna have the parenting thing in common and got along great; Mason even mustered up the strength to do some modest flirting with Jenna, the safe type of flirting married couples do with other married couples. I’m pretty sure Mason assumed Dr. Cohen and Jenna are a couple, despite their age difference. The two walked in together, and the boys treat Dr. Cohen as a dad-like figure.
(I haven’t told Eve and Mason that Dr. Cohen is mine. I’m determined to beat out Jenna in our competition, even if right now we’re tacitly sharing.)
But that’s not the momentous thing I want to tell you. As a celibate monk, you may find it difficult to hear about the earthly drives of other boys. Yet tonight was so lovely.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but in spite of their tomboyish toughness, both Lark and Chloe have inherited Eve’s love of fashion. They’re constantly changing their clothes throughout the day, and no look is off limits. Sometimes they’re in floaty peasant skirts, and sometimes American skinny jeans and shiny flats; sometimes they look like punk boys from the eighties in black Doc Martens and concert t-shirts.
Tonight, Chloe was dynamite in a green dress that brought out the olive in her hazel eyes—but she’s so little that when describing Chloe, it’s easy to apply the word “adorable” and leave it at that. Lark, though, is growing into a different category. She’s at an age where a whole range of complimentary adjectives starts to become available. She was wearing a fitted camisole with feathers all over it, and beneath that a skirt, and on her feet, a pair of expensive-looking cowboy boots. Even with her ratty fleece jacket thrown on top for warmth, Lark had the air of someone impossible not to notice.
Jenna’s eldest son, Theo, entered the house with a distracted “I’d kind of rather be home” shyness. He and his two brothers were carrying books as if they were worried that our adult conversation would eventually grow wearying and they’d need some way to pass the evening.
Eve brought the boys over to the seating area where Lark and Chloe were sitting on one couch playing backgammon. Chloe had just lost.
“Here boys,” Eve said. “One of you gets to challenge the champ.”
I don’t know why I turned my attention to this tableau. I was the hostess—I was supposed to be fetching the new arrivals their drinks, and be throwing out bon mots to the adults to ignite conversation—but over in that other part of the great room, there was golden light pooling from the floor lamps, lighting the faces of the two girls. And there was my best friend, Eve, standing by them with a rare smile that was fantastic to see—and there was tallish, soon-to-be-handsome Theo, with his darkish blond hair kind of long and raggedy; he’d shrugged off his winter coat and was standing there in a dark gray t-shirt, while his two eager younger brothers were taking turns pushing one another onto the other couch and laughing. Something about the scene made me stop for a minute.
As Theo sat down on the couch, he was facing me. Because Theo had taken the place of Chloe who’d been sitting sisterly close, he was seated almost knee-to-knee with Lark. I was able to watch his eyes the moment they connected with Lark’s for the first time.
I can guess what Theo was registering: Lark’s all-American young girlhood mixed with her not-quite-here Brazilian quality. Perhaps she had that competitive gleam she gets from playing backgammon. She’s on the cusp of so very much; and he is, too. Perhaps he knew this. At the very least, I’m positive I was witnessing the first time Theo ever saw a girl that way: the way that has in it poetry, possibility, and eroticism.
Do you know how in the Bible they use the word “terrible” to describe God? It’s the King James word of choice for something awesome or transformative. Well, when Theo gazed at Lark, his eyes looked positively Old Testament. He was beholding something terrible.
In the years that follow this one evening, it’s possible Theo will see a succession of girls that way. He may experience that same level of intensity many times; after all, that’s the way it is for most of us.
But it’s possible it won’t play out so generically for Theo. What I saw tonight may have been it: the Big Moment, the one he replays and cherishes till he reaches eighty-five. This was the moment when he first got what love is, and that Lark exists in this world that he’s in. And surely, from this moment forward, he won’t be able to rest without knowing where Lark is and whether she might love him, too.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.