Three pages into Playdate, ten-year-old Belle walks in on father Lance and mother Darlene making love. OK, she’s freaked out. As he drives her to school that same morning, Lance tries to discuss what she may or may not have seen.
WHEN Lance and Belle climbed into the van, he slid his coffee mug into one cup-holder; she slotted her chocolate-milk box in the other. He fumbled for his Wayfarers; she pulled them off his head and handed them over. “Buffalo Springfield or Hannah Montana?” she asked, fingering the CD’s.
“How about a compromise: Judy Collins?”
“Too depressing,” Belle said.
Lance pulled out of the driveway, passing their neighbors, the Montoya Mediterranean Revival mini-mansion and the scarred earth of the building sites to the right, the new homes with their glowing white driveways, the industrial greenhouses that emitted a pasty sweet jonquil smell.
“So, if Mom wasn’t choking you, what exactly were you doing this morning?” Belle asked, although she had her theories.
“Some stuff kids don’t need to see,” Lance said, and paused, searching for the right phrase, “like their parents having sex.”
“So, that’s what making love is?”
“Yep,” Lance said.
“I still don’t get it,” said Belle. “I used to think parents made babies if they shared the same bed, but that’s not right. I’ve laid in bed with you and nothing happened.”
“Don’t go there,” Lance said. They passed Encinitas Park where a lone Mexican nanny rocked a carriage in stoic boredom. Further down the road in front of a sun-bleached and seemingly vacant Italian villa, a gardener pruned poinsettias.
“Also,” Belle continued, “a man and a woman don’t have to be married to have babies.”
“True,” Lance nodded.
“And I think I get the penis and vagina thing.”
“You do? Lance said with a strained chuckle. He wanted to be truthful about sex but he didn’t know the appropriate way to string the words together. “Maybe you can explain it to me.”
“Julia told me.”
“The girl with the tattoos?”
“And the pierced tongue,” Belle said, nodding.
“Charming,” Lance said.
“Julia lisped when she first got it done, but now she can talk normally. Discussing sex didn’t freak her out like you guys. She said it’s like a plug and an outlet. The man’s the plug and the woman’s the outlet.”
“When did Julia start working at Home Depot?”
“She said when you add mouths and butts, everyone has outlets.”
Their next-door neighbor, Coco Montoya, passed them in her gold Lexus with daughter Jade strapped in the backseat. Mrs. Montoya braked and flashed Lance a smile, teeth sharply white against fuchsia lipstick. She raised her fist to her ear and mouthed, “call me; cookies.” Lance rallied a noncommittal finger point and nodded.
“What else did Julia say?” Lance asked, parking in front of the school.
“It’s not just about babies.” Belle looked down and pulled up her green knee-highs. “Julia said sex is fun. And sometimes boys do it with boys, and girls do it with girls, but Sam and I agree that’s way gross.”
“If you knew all this, why did this morning freak you out?”
“I wasn’t freaked out, Dad.”
“You were too, Miss Blotchy Face sulking on the dryer.”
“Maybe a little.”
“Okay, I was, too.” Lance wanted to confess how useless he was explaining sex to her, but that wasn’t particularly parental. He was supposed to know how to do these things.
“Hey, Dad, if making love is so fun, why did Mommy look pissed off?”
“Don’t say pissed off, honey. You sound like a trucker.”
“And saying penis doesn’t?”
“A trucker would say something else.”
“Penis, penis, penis,” Belle chanted until the school bell rang. She opened her door and hopped out of the van. Her Girl Scout skirt wafted up, like a Fantasia blossom.
“That went well,” Lance said to himself as Belle crossed the lunch court and swished behind a pillar.