This was my second attempt at romantic short fiction and was sparked when I saw a clown driving down Alluvial Avenue one day.
JAX AND JIVE
Jackie pulled the prop case out of her car trunk as a pick-up parked behind her in the driveway of the ranch style home. A young boy burst from the front door, hurtled down the front steps and into the arms of the man.
“Hey, Hep Cat! Happy Birthday, Jonathan!” The man set the youngster on his shoulders and hurried into the house, glancing at the clown following. Once inside, Jackie looked for the hostess. As usual at these parties, the woman with the distracted air was the one she sought.
While Jackie waited, she applied another layer of red paint around her mouth and squeezed her nose. It felt secure. Ever since a three year old pulled it off, she used adhesive. She checked her image in the mirror and felt to be sure she had several coins up her sleeve.
It was hard work, being a birthday party clown. But she loved it. Five year olds were the best; they had a long enough attention span to allow several tricks. And they totally believed in magic. Which was getting rare. Nowadays, even seven year olds were yelling out explanations as she pulled scarves out of her pants.
The knock at the door told her she was on. Five minutes later, Jackie was pulling quarters from behind guests’ ears and looking for her “lost” rabbit. At first she didn’t notice the tall man in the back of the room. He stood with his legs planted firmly, his arms folded and a grin on his face. He watched Jackie and also kept his eye on Jonathan, the birthday boy. Every so often, the youngster would turn around to be sure his Daddy-o was close by.
As Jackie stuffed feathers into her “magic” hat, she wondered about this family. The mom had booked several months ago, saying her husband traveled a lot and she wanted the party confirmed for a date he was scheduled home.
Jackie asked her audience for a dollar bill. The man handed her one. She stuffed it into her cupped fist, and then opened her hand to show four quarters. She stuffed those in, then displayed ten dimes. Kids loved this trick. Even though they didn’t quite understand the concept of money, they knew she was making something different out of what she started with.
The man was very attentive to the boy, but he was also watching Jackie. A lot. He smiled as the children roared with laughter when she ripped up the dollar bill.
Oh, what the heck. She was in costume and would never see this man after today. And even if she did, he’d never recognize her. Jackie decided her alter ego, Jax the clown, had a crush on him. She pulled the whole bill from her hat but instead of returning it to him, she curtseyed and put her hand into his as if expecting him to kiss it. She looked up and batted her eyelashes. He played along as if he was going to kiss her hand, but instead blew a raspberry on it. The children howled and she felt a bit giddy herself. Pretending disgust, she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her hand. Then she wiped off her arm also. She offered the hanky to the man, but instead of letting him take it, she dropped it. The rubber ball sewn into the center returned it to her perfectly. She caught it as the children laughed, and then tucked it into her pocket.
Jackie returned to the front of the room and continued the show. He was still watching her. She tried to ignore him as she pulled silk scarves out of her pants. The kids howled when they saw the red boxers on the end. Jackie clutched her head, and then peeked inside her waistband. With mock horror on her face, she turned her back to the kids and stuffed the boxers into her pants. They loved it.
It was her custom to ask for help from the audience for the next and final trick. Of course it would be the birthday boy. When she motioned for the child to join her, he blushed, folded his arms and refused to move. Oops. His mom had forgotten to tell him he was part of the act. Now what?
Jackie hurriedly took an egg from her pocket. She would have to finish with pulling eggs from ears instead of the usual rabbit trick. Then the man came to her rescue, scooping Jonathan off the floor and bringing him to the front of the room.
“Is it ok if I do this with you?” The question was directed at the boy in his arms, but his eyes were looking into Jackie’s.
“Yes,” was the whispered reply. Jackie gave an exaggerated sigh of relief and wiped imaginary sweat from her brow. The kids laughed and the man shifted Jonathan onto his hip.
Jackie stuffed the costume into her suitcase and checked in the mirror to make sure she had removed all the white makeup. She would collect her check and be on her way. Away from the man with the unsettling green eyes. Really, she had to stop thinking like this about parents of her audiences. Now that she was in street clothes, it would be easier. He had no idea what she really looked like. If he saw her, he’d probably think she was a guest’s mom and not give her a second glance.
Jackie stepped into the kitchen and looked for the hostess. There she was, arranging candles on a cake. And there was that man. He looked up as Jackie stepped into the kitchen. He immediately moved towards her and offered his hand.
“Great show. You really have a way with kids.”
“Oh. Thanks…. How did you know I was Jax? Most people don’t recognize me out of costume.”
“Well, your eyes, I guess. I knew it was you.”
Jackie felt a flush creep over her face as she reminded herself this man was a husband and a father and a client.
“Well, you probably want your check. I’ll tell my sister you’re waiting.”
“Yes, Jonathan’s mom is my sister. I’m his uncle.”
“But… I heard him call you ‘Daddy’ when you arrived.”
“He called me ‘Daddy-o,’ that’s one of our nicknames for each other. Daddy-o and Hep-Cat. I try to teach him ancient history, like ‘60’s and ‘70’s slang. Kids nowadays have no knowledge of pop culture going back farther than Harry Potter and Yu-Gi-Oh.”
Jackie smiled. “That’s for sure. I once made a comment about Papa Smurf to some teenagers and they had no clue.”
“I’m here to help my sister with the party. Her husband got held up in Buffalo by a storm. He should be here soon. My name is Stan, by the way.”
“Jackie,” she managed to reply as she shook his hand. “Of ‘Jax Trix and Laffs, Magic for Every Occasion.’” Now she was really embarrassed as she remembered how she flirted with him during the show.
“Jackie, I love how you interact with the kids. The way you were able to get Jonathan out of his shell and participate in the show was wonderful. He’s pretty shy and I wasn’t sure he’d go along with it.”
“I wasn’t sure either. Thank you for helping out.”
“My pleasure. Really. I wanted a closer look at your eyes so I would recognize you out of costume.”
“Now my face is red instead of white.”
“Your face is lovely. The party is winding down; can I buy you a cup of coffee? Or a new rabbit?”
“I’d love some coffee.”
“Great. I’ll go say good-bye.” Stan stepped over and whispered in his sister’s ear. She took a check from her pocket and brought it to Jackie.
“Thank you so much, you were a big hit.”
“You’re very welcome. Please think of me for your next event, I also do parties for teens and adults with different tricks.”
Jonathan ran up and leaped into his uncle’s arms.
“Are you leaving, Daddy-o?”
“Yes, dude, I am. This is Jackie. We’re going to get some java.”
“Is she going to be your old lady?”
“Jonathan!” Now Stan flushed.
Jackie smiled. “Jonathan, you are definitely hip, but I’ll have to get to know your Uncle Stan better.”
“Out of sight.” Jonathan wriggled out of Stan’s arms and slipped his hand into his mother’s.
Stan grinned at Jackie. “Groovy!”