Pirates, Parrots, and Pumpkins
October sunlight streamed through the grove of tall trees, its golden fingers reaching in to touch the quiet clearing in the woods. Already the leaves had put on their most brilliant scarlet and orange hues. Now, the glorious autumn colors shimmered in the warmth of the early afternoon. Although the day had dawned crisp and cool, the weather had turned perfect -- perfect for pumpkin-carving, face-painting, hayrides, and the rest of the child-oriented activities the community center had planned for the annual Halloween festival.
Natasha gripped the knife in her hand and forced a cheerful smile to her face. “How do I look?” She nudged her best friend, Pamela. The motion jarred her witch’s hat, nearly knocking it from her head.
“Ridiculous.” Pamela -- serene and lovely in a princess costume complete with magic wand -- grinned. “I’m joking. You look great. For a witch.”
“Thanks.” Natasha sighed. “I feel ridiculous.” She gripped the knife tighter. “Guess I’d better get started on the pumpkins.”
“They aren’t going to carve themselves.” Princess Pamela waved her wand toward a bale of hay surrounded by fat, round, jack-o-lanterns-to-be. “Have fun.”
Natasha took a step, stopped, and whirled around. “Wait a minute. Isn’t Ashley supposed to help me? Is she here yet?”
Working at the festival was a volunteer project for the bank where Natasha, Pamela, and Ashley worked. A way of strengthening ties with the community, the bank manager explained. A chance to meet people in the town and establish friendly relationships. Taking part in the service project also meant a day off with pay, which, in Natasha’s opinion, would have made it worth every minute -- had she known anything about carving pumpkins.
Unfortuntely, she didn’t.
“Ashley?” Pamela looked down at the toes of her satin slippers. “Uh, well, she called early this morning. Didn’t she call you, too?”
“Don’t tell me she bailed! She can’t do that.” Ashley had a reputation for being slightly irresponsible. No, not true. She was totally irresponsible outside of work.
“Don't worry, Tasha. She’ll be here...later.”
“How much later?”
“Just go ahead and get started,” Pamela urged. “She’ll be here as soon as she can.” She pointed her wand toward the pumpkins again. “Looks like you’ve got your first customer...and he sure is a cutie.”
She’d do her best, Natasha, decided. That’s all she could do, really. How hard could carving pumpkins be?
Turning around, she expected to see a young boy standing beside the bale of hay, probably dressed in a Star Wars costume complete with light saber. She’d noticed several of those as she’d walked through the tree-filled park. She did not expect to see a swashbuckling pirate, complete with a parrot on his shoulder. A very grown-up -- and very handsome -- pirate, at that.
“Oh, my! That parrot--”
“Stuffed.” His voice was deep and mellow -- and enticingly familiar. He patted the bird’s fake green plumage.
Natasha looked closer. At the bird. And at the pirate.
“Quinn? Is that you?” The smudges on his cheek, the bandana tied around his head, and the silver hoop dangling from his earlobe made it hard to be sure. “You work in Bank Operations, right?”
A blush heated Natasha’s cheeks. She barely knew Quinn Marston. He’d only come to work at the bank a few weeks earlier. Plus, he worked in a different department. On a different floor. Now, he’d probably think she’d been stalking him. She hoped he hadn’t noticed the way she started drooling every time she’d seen him.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
Natasha licked her lips. “Natasha Turnbull. Human Resources. Our offices are in the same building.” She stuck out her hand, knife and all, then jerked it back. “Sorry, I’m not trying to draw blood.”
Quinn laughed. “You’re a witch, not a vampire.”
“Yeah, right.” She glanced down at his outstretched hand, carefully tucked the knife into her belt, and reached out. His touch felt as warm and comforting as the sunlight pouring down around them. “I didn’t know you’d signed up for the project.” She’d checked the list yesterday before leaving work. Surely Quinn Marston’s name would have jumped out at her.
“I didn’t sign up. I just got hired at the first of the month. The sheet for volunteers had already been passed around. I just happened to hear about it a couple of days ago. Thought I’d stop by and see if I could help out.”
“Do you know anything about carving pumpkins? Anything at all?” Natasha held her breath.
Quinn’s face lit up like a smiling jack o’lantern. “I’ve carved a few. Actually, more than a few. I grew up on a farm. We raised pumpkins.” His grin broadened. “Would you like a little help?”
She pulled the knife from her belt and held it out to him, but he shook his head.
“I brought a few of my own.” He tapped his own belt where a collection of knives glistened in the sunlight. “Tools of the pumpkin-carving trade.” Quinn nodded toward the hay. “Why don’t you have a seat, give the kids a bit of a fright, then send them my way?”
A fright. She probably looked a fright, all right.
Instinctively she patted her hair, knocking the witch’s hat askew again. Quinn laughed, straightened the hat, then placed a hand at her waist and guided her to her seat on the hay.
Children were already heading down the path to the clearing, their excited voices ringing through the air. Despite Natasha’s earlier misgivings, the children’s laughter proved contagious. She loved making scary sounds and wicked faces...and she loved watching Quinn work.
The hours passed pleasantly. Natasha felt as though she sat in an enchanted forest. She could almost feel magic in the air. Maybe even a little more than magic, she thought, as Quinn glanced at her and smiled from time to time. It had turned out to be a perfect day, all in all.
Even without the irresponsible Ashley’s help.
No sooner had the thought crossed Natasha’s mind than she heard the squealing, high-pitched voice coming at her. She jerked her head around to see Ashley prancing through the grove of trees, her long, blonde hair blowing in the breeze.
“I’m sorry I’m so late, Tasha. I tried to get here on time but--”
“Where’s your costume?”
“Something came up. Sorry. This is the best I can do.” She was speaking to Natasha, but she wasn’t looking at her. Her pretty green eyes were fixed on Quinn. “I’m here now.” She turned her full attention to the knife-wielding pirate. “I’m ready.”
“Hmm? For what?” He cast a quick glance over his shoulder then turned back to the snaggle-toothed mouth he was carving.
“Ready to help. What do you want me to do?”
“You know how to carve jack o-lanterns?”
Ashley shrugged. “Well, yeah, sure. I guess so.”
A broad grin spread across Quinn’s face. He got to his feet and turned toward Natasha. “Let me see that knife of yours.”
Suddenly the air seemed uncomfortably chill. The enchantment faded, and Natasha wasn’t having quite so much fun now. She should have known that once Ashley showed up, any chance of getting to know Quinn better would disappear like a coin in a magician’s palm. His eager expression said it all. He couldn’t wait to get Ashley carving pumpkins at his side. Oh, what a great time the two of them would have. Meanwhile, Witch Natasha could sit on her bale of hay making frightful faces at the youngsters in town.
“Boo!” she said, waggling her long fingers. Nice that she’d taken so much time to add the long, pointed, blood-red nails. She wished she could run them down Ashley’s fair-skinned cheeks.
No, not really. She wasn’t vicious. Just a little jealous. A little disappointed.
But, why? It’s not like she had any claim on Quinn. They hardly knew each other.
She glanced over at the pair, surprised that Ashley was actually showing a little skill as a pumpkin-carver. Well, of course. She had a good instructor. No doubt, Ashley wanted to please.
Quinn happened to look up. His storm-gray eyes met Natasha's gaze, and he smiled. Embarrassed that he’d caught her staring, Natasha turned away.
“I think you’ve got the hang of it, Ashley,” Quinn said, approval reeking in his deep voice. “You’re doing an excellent job.”
Natasha could easily envision the beaming smiles passing between the pair. She sighed, waggled her fingers again, and wondered if she might be witchy enough -- or bitchy enough -- to cast an evil spell. Should she curse Ashley? Or Quinn?
Neither, of course. She wasn’t the vindictive sort.
But she felt very out-of-place now sitting on her stump of hay, sort of like an unwanted bump on a log, or a wart on a witch’s nose. Maybe the best thing would be to gracefully bow out, hobble around the festival a bit, see if anyone else needed help.
Stiff from sitting, she groaned just a bit as she got to her feet.
“Natasha?” Quinn held up a finger. “Hold on, all right?”
She nodded. At least he had the courtesy to bid her a fond farewell. She waited, tapping the toe of her heavy, pointed boots. She tried not to watch as Quinn bent down and said something to Ashley, his voice low.
“You’re doing what?” Ashley’s screech would have made a banshee proud.
“We’ll be back in about an hour, right?” He looked at Natasha. “Maybe two hours. Depends on how long it takes us to get through the lunch lines.” He slipped beside Natasha and placed his hand at her waist again. Tingles coursed through her just as before. “She was about two hours late, wasn’t she?” he whispered.
Natasha hesitated. It seemed a tiny bit wrong to leave poor Ashley on her own.
The hesitation passed quickly.
“Want us to bring you a sandwich back?” she asked.
Ashley didn’t reply.
“I’m really glad she showed up,” Quinn said as they strolled together through the clearing. “I was hoping we might have a chance to get better acquainted. I’ve seen you around the bank, you know.”
His face reddened slightly. Probably from the wind, Natasha guessed, although she knew better. She smiled.
“I look a little different when I’m at work.” Natasha laughed. “A little less frightful, I hope.”
“Even with your somber black dress, your pointy boots, and that crazy witch’s hat, you can’t disguise those beautiful blue eyes.”
“Quinn Marston! Are you flirting with me?”
“You’re teasing now.”
“Do you like it?”
“Very much,” Natasha admitted. “I like the parrot, too.” With a smile she brushed her fingers over the stuffed creature’s bright feathers. Quinn’s hands came up to catch hold of hers.
“Shiver me timbers, but it’s an enchanting witch ye be, casting a spell on this sea-faring fellow.”
Natasha leaned her head on his shoulder. “Let’s have lunch. You can tell me all about a pirate’s life.” She closed her eyes, dreaming of the treasures they might find together.
- The End -
I hope you've enjoyed this short story about Pirates, Parrots, and Pumpkins.