After a few minutes of searching, I finally came across a plain black Ralph Lauren Polo my dad had gotten me during my preppy phase. Cleaned and dressed, I splashed on a bit of Old Spice, which Lila had always loved and headed out to the car.
“Don’t Drag Me Down” blasted forth from the sound system as I started up. Doing a quick one-handed change, I switched over to some early Blink-182 just in case Lila was waiting for me. “Josie” was our song for several years.
I pulled into the parking lot fifteen minutes before the appointed date, making damn sure Lila wouldn’t have a reason to be aggressive from the beginning. I looked around the gate area of the zoo and didn’t see them. I was about to panic when I realized that of course they weren’t there, I was the one who was early.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the knocking on my window, almost getting whiplash as I turned. Quickly turning off the car, I got out.
“Was that Blink-182?” Lila asked, Billy held close to her with both arms.
“Yeah,” I said, not sure if she liked it or not.
“Blink-182,” Billy parroted, making both of us laugh.
“Looks like they might have a new fan,” Lila said.
“Might want to wait a while until we let him listen to them,” I said.
“‘Josie’ is pretty safe, I think,” she argued with a wink.
“Joth-sie!” Billy said, putting up his little arms.
Lila and I both laughed. He obviously didn’t know what we were talking about, but his enthusiasm was infectious.
“Nice to see you dressed up,” Lila said playfully, looking me up and down as I locked the door to my Porsche.
“I do my best,” I said, playing along.
My outfit was actually a lot dressier than I usually got but still not what one would expect a thirty-something dad to wear on an outing with his family. However, I refused to let society’s expectations defined me!
“We’re splitting, right?” my ex asked as we walked up to the cashier.
“Absolutely not. I wanted the date, I pay for the date, that’s the rules,” I argued, handing over my credit card.
“Since when did you follow the rules?” Lila teased.
“Logical rules always. Its the silly stuff just made up to give some people control over most that can go hang,” I said, realizing that the last bit might have been a bit too much. Though if Lila took offense, she didn’t say anything.
“Two,” I said, knowing full well that children under six were free.
“Awe, he’s cute,” the cashier said, looking at Billy. Lila and I both beamed with pride.
“Where to first?” Lila asked as we got in the gate.
“Your choice,” I answer, securing Billy into his stroller.
“Peng-ins!” Billy shouted with his usual enthusiasm.
“Well, that settles that,” Lila said with a giggle.
I could see what Billy was talking about. The penguin enclosure was fascinating. Not only because of how genuinely happy they appeared to be. Most of them were not standing still for a moment, taking turns jumping down, and zooming through the crystal blue water of the pool provided.
I had never thought much about animals in captivity. It didn’t seem very nice, but I could also see how it might be needed if the animals were orphaned or some such. It also seemed to depend on the species. The larger and faster the species, the crueler it was to keep them in an enclosure. Three-toed sloths, on the other hand, never seemed terribly bothered.
We did the rest of the zoo in a circuit, starting at the penguin tank and working our way around. We stopped a couple of times for food and the bathroom, spending a healthy amount of time at each of the enclosures. Except for the Reptile House, both Lila and Billy seemed to have the same phobia of snakes. They were actually pretty sweet, except for the occasional venomous ones, which were actually a minority of species. I thought about mentioning this but decided to let it lie.
By far, the most surprising part of the day was when Billy, after a solid ten minutes of walking without incident, wanted to be picked up, and Lila let me do it. Scooping him up into my arms, making him giggle. I could see Lila out of the corner of my eye and could have sworn that I saw her smiling. It was a brief moment, but it happened and gave me a small glimpse into what she might actually be thinking.
“Would you like a ride home?” I asked as we walked out of the gates to the parking lot.
“No, thanks. I mean, it would be great, but I’m guessing you don’t have a car seat,” Lila said.
“No,” I said, not having thought of that.
“It’s okay, Aria will be here soon.”
“Okay,” I said, ready to get back into my car.