Saturday, May 1, 2010

Part 19.2

"Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable."

~ The Wizard of Oz

“I don’t think you could have picked a windier day to build your seven magic towers, Kiddo,” said Jonathan.

He was tucking Cailyn in bed while Eleanor hung the girl’s clothes in the closet. Harvest lay on his stomach in the hallway. Eleanor could see him propped up on his elbows to listen. Cailyn sat back against pillows, her legs under the embroidered quilt. Jonathan sat on the edge of the bed.

“It’s always windy here, Uncle Jon,” answered Cailyn. “Will you tell me a story?”

“Hmmm,” said Jonathan. “What kind of story would you like?”

“A made-up one.”

“A made-up one? Why don’t you start it for me?”

Cailyn put her head to one side. “Okay, I’ll start it from a dream that I had.”

“Okay,” Jonathan told her. “That sounds good.” He stretched himself across the foot of her bed.

“Once upon a time,” started Cailyn. “There was a girl. She had brown hair and blue eyes and she wore leotards every single day.”

“Remind you of anyone?” asked Harvest.

“Shh!” Eleanor tried to silence him. Jonathan and Cailyn looked at her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Go on, Sweetie.”

“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “This is going to be a good one, I can tell.”

“Okay,” said Cailyn. “So this girl, she decided to go for a walk in the forest one day.”

“What color was her leotard?” asked Jonathan.

“It was purple,” said Cailyn. “And she had a long flowey skirt on over it. The kind that you can see her legs through, but almost you can’t because it’s kind of see-through, but not totally see-through.”

“Right,” said Jonathan. “Long flowey skirt.”

“Yes,” said Cailyn. “And it was summer in the forest, so even though it was very shady because of the branches that made a canopy over the trail, she was warm. There were lots of flowers everywhere, like daisies, violets,” she paused.

“Fennel, columbines, rosemary,” suggested Harvest.

Eleanor stepped across the room and abruptly shut the door. She heard Harvest’s voice muffled on the other side.

“Don’t forget the rue,” he said.

Eleanor returned to sit on the floor at the foot of the bed. Jonathan looked at her quizzically. “I’m all right now,” she said. “Go on, Cailyn.”

“So as she was walking in the forest, she came to a clearing.”

“Oh,” said Jonathan. “Good things happen in clearings.”

“Or bad ones,” added Eleanor.

“You guys!” laughed Cailyn. “Let me tell it!”

Both adults nodded obediently. Jonathan drew his fingers across his lips, as if to zip them closed.

Cailyn accepted their silence and continued. “So the girl was walking in her flowey dress through the shade of the summer forest when she came to a clearing. In the clearing she saw a huge beast!”

Both Jonathan and Eleanor raised their eyebrows.

“Yes,” said Cailyn. “She had almost walked into the clearing without noticing because she was so happy and warm and the flowers smelled so good. But luckily she noticed in time. She peeked out through a brambly bush to see if she could figure out what kind of beast it was.”

“What kind of beast was it?” asked Jonathan.

“Uncle Jo-o-o-n!” complained Cailyn. “You said you wouldn’t talk anymore.”

“Well,” defended Jonathan. “Technically I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk.”

Cailyn squinted at her uncle.

“Okay,” said Jonathan, “You’re right. I’m just so intrigued. Aren’t you intrigued, Sis?”

“Oh yes,” said Eleanor. “Very intrigued.”

“Okay,” Cailyn was placated. “Just listen.”

They nodded at her again.

“She peeked out through a brambly bush,” said Cailyn. “Then she saw that the beast was covered all over in ropes, like a giant net. The beast was the color of sunflowers and she could smell it all the way from where she was hiding. It smelled like a really warm cat, because it was lying in the sun. The girl watched it for a long time and she finally decided that it was asleep. She stepped out into the clearing and walked around the beast to the front where she thought the head would be. When she came around to the other side of the beast, she saw that it was a giant mountain lion.” Cailyn paused for dramatic effect. “Its paws were all tangled in the ropes and it had its eyes closed. The girl got closer and closer. She felt like it couldn’t be too dangerous since the mountain lion was completely trapped by the ropes. Then the mountain lion opened it’s mouth and said, ‘Human Child, come closer.’ Its breath smelled like peppermint. The girl came closer. Its eyes were the color of green apples. She could see the claws like giant silver fish hooks between the mountain lion’s toes. When the girl was close enough to touch the mountain lion, it said, ‘I am trapped here, Human Child. If I do not get free, I will die, for the hunter will come and skin me and make cheeseburgers out of my flesh.'”

Jonathan laughed. Cailyn gave him a reproachful look.

“Sorry,” said Jonathan.

“The girl liked cats. Actually,” said Cailyn, “they were her favorite animal. She liked the ones with long white hair and the ones with stripes and the ones with brown spots. But she had never seen such a big one before. Its mouth looked big enough to gobble her up in one bite. ‘Why should I help you?’ she asked the mountain lion. ‘How do I know you won’t gobble me up in one bite?’ The mountain lion purred so deep that the girl could feel the purr rumbling in her tummy. ‘I will tell you my name,’ said the mountain lion. Now, the girl knew that finding out someone’s real name would give you power over them. She said, ‘Okay, if you tell me your name, I will find a way to free you. So the mountain lion said, ‘My name is Pancake.’”

“Wait,” Jonathan interrupted. “The lion’s name was Pancake?”

“Uncle Jon,” said Cailyn seriously. “It's a mountain lion. And yes, his name was Pancake. Why?”

Jonathan looked over at Eleanor, who stifled a laugh.

“Um,” he said. “No reason.”

“Okay,” said Cailyn. “So the girl said to the mountain lion, ‘Now Pancake, lay still,’ and she sat down on the ground near Pancake’s paws and started to pick at the knots with her little fingers. She worked and worked at it for a long, long time, until she had taken apart all the knots from around Pancake’s feet. Then she did the ones around his face. She was so close to Pancake’s mouth that she knew he could bite her head off, but he had said that he wouldn’t, so she kept undoing the knots. It was very hot with the sun beating down and the girl was very sweaty and thirsty and Pancake’s fur was like a huge rug that just came out of the dryer. Finally all the ropes were untangled. The girl’s fingers were sore and red, but when the giant mountain lion stood up and the ropes fell to the ground, she was happy that she had decided to help him. The sun was starting to set and the girl realized that she had spent the whole day untangling the ropes. Pancake bent down his head, because he was really tall, and put down his face to the girl’s face. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I am forever in your debt.’”

“So Pancake didn’t gobble her up in one bite?” asked Jonathan.

“No,” said Cailyn. “In fact, he told her to get up on his back. ‘I will give you a ride home,’ he said to her. ‘But Pancake,’ said the girl. ‘I live on the other side of the valley. How will we get there before dark?’ But Pancake just crouched down, like a cat when it is going to jump on top of the TV stand and after the girl climbed on, he said, ‘Hold on tight,’ and he leaped into the air, so high that the birds flying home to their nests were startled, so high that he soared straight across the valley. The girl grabbed onto his fur. She held on very tight with her sore fingers. The wind blew in her hair and her skirt flowed out behind her. Pancake landed very close to where her the girl’s cottage was. She jumped down from his back and she patted him on the leg, ‘cause that’s only as high as she could reach when he was standing up. She said, ‘Will I see you again Pancake?’ and he said, ‘If you want, I will visit you on the last day of the month and take you for a ride.’ The girl thought she would like that a lot and she told him so. He promised that she would see him in a month, and then he disappeared into the dark forest.”

Jonathan sat up. “That was a good story. Did the mountain lion ever come back like he promised?”

Cailyn slid down on her pillows. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders. “Yeah,” she said. “He came back. He thought the girl would be waiting for him where he had left her outside the cottage, but she wasn’t. He looked in all the windows and a woman came out of the cottage with her broom and said, ‘Get out of here you monstrous beast!’ She waved the broom like she wanted to hit him with it. Pancake said, ‘I came to visit the human child who lives here.’ The woman yelled, ‘I don’t believe you. My daughter disappeared in the forest three weeks ago. You probably gobbled her up and came here to eat the rest of us!’ Pancake tried to tell her the truth, but she wouldn’t believe him and she kept waving her broom. So he leaped away into the forest. He decided that he would look for the girl. He looked for the rest of his life, asking everyone he met if they had seen a human child like the girl who had saved his life.”

“Did Pancake ever find her?” asked Jonathan.

Cailyn yawned. “No,” she said.

Eleanor stood, wiping her eyes. She leaned over the bed to smooth Cailyn’s hair. “It’s time to go to sleep.”

“Okay, Mama,” answered Cailyn. She rolled to one side, already drifting off.

Jonathan kissed his niece’s forehead. “Thanks for the story, Kiddo.”

“You’re welcome, Uncle Jon,” said Cailyn faintly.

Eleanor pulled the door open, Jonathan following her into the hall. Harvest was sitting at the top of the stairs with Baz and Pitchtongue.

“I liked that story,” said Baz.

“You would,” mocked Pitchtongue. “Flying pumas and contemporary dance costumes.” He snorted. “Why don’t you get a hobby?”

“Can you believe that imagination?” Jonathan whispered. “I forgot to ask her the name of the girl in the story.”

Harvest chuckled as he stood to make room for Eleanor and her brother to pass. “How does he not know?” he said to Eleanor.

“Madelyn,” Eleanor told her brother. “The story was about Madelyn.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Part 19

Eleanor spread peanut butter on two slices of bread, along with seedless raspberry jam. Once the crusts were cut from the sandwiches, she placed them on paper towels.

“Why are you doing that?” Harvest wanted to know.

Eleanor poured two glasses of milk, briskly stirred in chocolate syrup and added crazy straws.

“It’s almost lunchtime,” she answered.

Harvest sounded distracted, watching out the back window where Jonathan played with the children. “They’re not going to want to come in,” he said. “They’re having too much fun.”

Eleanor put the food on the table. She had already built sandwiches for herself and Jonathan – turkey and swiss on rye, green leaf lettuce, hothouse tomatoes. She mixed up a pitcher of limeade. She could hear them calling to each other outside.

“I’m glad they’re having fun,” she said to Harvest.

“More fun than they ever have with you,” he remarked.

She watched them out of the back door window. Using the empty boxes left over from the move and generous amounts of duct tape, Jonathan had helped his niece and nephew to build a fortress. Seven multi-level turrets were connected by a network of tunnels. Stuffed animals bearing cardboard weapons guarded the entrances. Windows were cut at regular intervals and the whole thing bounced as they crawled through it. Eleanor could see Jonathan where he crouched outside one of the openings. Moments later, Jack stuck his head out to look around and Jonathan dragged him, kicking, from the safety of the castle. Jack laughed and screamed for release. Cailyn ran headlong from the other side of the structure and leaped onto Jonathan’s back to swipe at his neck with a styrofoam sword. Collapsing on top of Jack among the dandelions, Jonathan was immovable. Finally, as Cailyn pulled on his arms and Jack wriggled with all his might, they were able to extricate the boy from under their uncle. They ran toward the house.

Eleanor stepped back as they burst through the door.

“Mama!” yelled Cailyn, pushing back her plastic helmet. “We killed the ogre!”

“Yes,” Jack pulled on Eleanor’s hand. He wore a pirate’s patch over one eye. “Come and see!”

She followed them out onto the patio, Harvest trailing behind her. Between her toes, the grass was cool. The swings swayed in the wind, the chains clinking against the playset support beams. Eleanor could see Baz and Pitchtongue crouched on the roof of the fort. The twins sat in the sandbox. Jack and Cailyn ran to Jonathan’s inert body.

“Behold,” announced Cailyn loudly. “We have slain the ogre!” She placed one foot on Jonathan’s back and raised her sword in the air. “Raise your weapons to our victory!”

Jack raised his wooden saber. “Huzzah!” they cried together. “Huzzah!”

Eleanor laughed. Cailyn turned with a smile. “Mama, you’re supposed to say, huzzah.”

“What does huzzah mean?” she heard Baz query.

Pitchtongue’s voice wafted to her on the breeze. “It means ‘Break out the corndogs!’”

Eleanor moved forward to examine the body. Jonathan lay chest down, his head cradled in his elbow, face hidden. “I don’t think this ogre’s quite dead.”

Cailyn frowned. “Yes, he is Mama. I cut his head off.”

As she spoke, Eleanor stuck out her foot. “Well, see right here...,” she poked Jonathan in the top of the ribs with her big toe. “I think you missed a spot.”

Jonathan convulsed with laughter. He drew his arms down to protect his stomach.

“It’s alive!” shrieked Jack.

Jonathan held out his arms in surrender. “I give up,” he said. “I concede defeat to the mighty Cailyn and the noble Jack.”

Cailyn lowered the visor on her helmet. She nodded graciously. “You may surrender as long as you never again attack our walls.”

Jonathan rolled to his knees. Almost at eye level with Cailyn now, he bowed at the waist. “You have been a worthy opponent.” Then he reached out and threw her over his shoulder. Her helmet and sword tumbled to the ground. She pounded on his back, giggling uncontrollably.

He carried her toward the house. “What say we raid the kitchen? I’m sure there is a feast laid out and waiting for us!”

Jack slipped his hand into Eleanor’s as they followed Jonathan.

“I like having Uncle Jon here,” he told her. A piece of red fabric was knotted around his neck. The wind pulled it out from his shoulders so that it flared behind him like a pair of crimson wings.

“I like it too,” Eleanor said.

Jack looked up at her. “I miss Daddy.” He blinked in the breeze. Blades of grass were caught in his hair. “Do you miss, Daddy?”

Eleanor squeezed his hand.

“Answer the boy,” prompted Harvest. “Lie to your children, Eleanor. You are so good at it.”

“Yes,” said Eleanor to Jack. “I miss Daddy.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Part 18

With her knees pulled up to her chin, Abigail looked up at the movie screen. It was a movie she’d seen a million times before. Well, she thought, maybe not a million. But it was the movie that played most often in the movie room, and the one she loved best. She pushed herself deeper into the cushions of the large armchair and watched the flickering figures move across the screen. The sound sometimes faded in and out, but Abigail knew all the words by heart.

“You are beaten,” she quoted along with the dark robed figured. “It is useless to resist. Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did.”

Echo entered the room as Abigail was speaking. She climbed up into a chair next to Abigail’s and trained her eyes on the movie screen. Her notebook was on her knees, her hand tracing an ever-widening spiral on the top sheet.

Abigail didn’t look at her. “Hi Echo,” she said. Echo reached over and tapped Abigail’s arm. They both watched the struggling figures, the flashing points of light that had the ability to sever flesh and bone. “I wish I had a lightsaber,” said Abigail.

Echo tapped Abigail’s arm again. Abigail pushed Echo’s hand away. “Wait a second, my favorite part is coming.” They listened to the masked man as he tried to convince the young hero to join him.

“I’ll never join you!” said Abigail.

Echo rolled her eyes. On top of the spiral in the center of her paper, she began to draw two figures with swords.

Abigail continued, “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”

Echo drew spiky lines around each blade. She filled in one of the figures completely and added a long cloak.

“He told me enough,” said Abigail. “He told me you killed him.”

On the face of the other shape, a large O for a mouth signified surprise. She drew two eyes squeezed shut and tears drops falling from them.

“No,” Abigail quoted seriously. “I am your father.”

Echo began to color in the other figure, starting from the feet, as Abigail continued with the scene. Deliberate dark lines gradually covered it with black, until it was as dark as the caped figure facing it.

Finally Abigail turned to the younger girl. She leaned over the arm rest of her chair to look at Echo’s drawing. “Imagine if your father was the Man in Black,” she said.

Echo shook her head. She drew an ellipse under the two figures and lengthened it into the shape of a whirlwind. Black lines leading from the figures’ feet sucked them into the tornado.

“I know,” said Abigail. She sat back in her chair again. The movie continued, but she didn't notice. "Sometimes I think he is. Sometimes I think really bad things and then I think that it's because the Man in Black must be my father."

Echo looked up from her drawing. She put a hand on Abigail's arm.

"Well, then where do those things come from?" Abigail demanded. "Sophie always tells me how I'm so sweet and I would never hurt anyone." She leaned closer. "Want to know what I would do with a lightsaber?"

Echo nodded minutely.

"I would take it into my room and I would push it up to my chest, right here." She pointed to the spot. "Then I would press the button and it would turn on, right through my heart." She fell back into her chair and rested her chin in her palm. "Do you think that hurting yourself counts as not hurting anyone?"

After adding seven hearts to the sheet, Echo drew a thick jagged line through each one. She tore the sheet from her notebook and handed it to Abigail.

Abigail studied the drawing. She folded it carefully. "Thanks Echo," she said. "If I have to be trapped in this place, I'm glad it's with you." Then she smiled sadly and left the room.

Echo watched as lightspeed gathered around the Millenium Falcon and catapulted it into space.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Part 17

Friday came quickly. Jonathan slung his guitar over his shoulder and they all walked to the Baylor house. Cailyn pulled Jack in the wagon, where he sat with his blanket, commenting on the little dogs barking in yards they passed, or calling to friends who were out riding bikes or playing football in the quiet street. Wren waved from a neighbor’s driveway, where she was playing basketball with two boys from school. Cailyn chatted companionably with Jonathan about her plans for the weekend, “…And then we’re going to build seven magic castles in the backyard. Mother said we could use the boxes from when we moved. You can help us. We’re going to cast spells and you can be the evil troll….” So Eleanor was left to her own thoughts. She considered what it would be like to see Weston Baylor again, to talk to him. She wondered what his family would be like… his children. Could it be that she had imagined those things about him? She didn’t know what to think, and so let her mind wander freely as they walked.

Harvest and the others had declined to accompany them to the new neighbors’, once again taking Eleanor by surprise. It was perplexing, this change of habit. They usually followed her everywhere, unless she took steps to ‘send them away’ and it always delighted them to no end to make remarks on any new people she encountered. It was strange not having them around. Without the constant undercurrent of dark commentary that the gamin, as Weston had called them, added to her every moment, she almost didn’t know what to do with herself.

At last they came to the house, one of the humbler ones on the block. A large tree overhung their front yard. Cailyn laughed in pleasure upon seeing it, and scurried up into its branches directly. Eleanor had to call her down before they rang the doorbell, asking her to replace her shoes. The door was fitted with a large pane of glass, through which they could see into the living room and beyond that, the dining area on the left, and a straight staircase that led up to the second floor on the right. Weston came into view from beyond the living room, a welcoming smile on his face. He opened the door and gestured the children inside. Cailyn and Jack immediately made themselves at home, kicking off their shoes and running back through the living room to the kitchen and the back patio door.

“Hey!” called Eleanor, stepping over the threshold.

Weston waved away her apologies. “We’ll just let them go play,” he told her as he stuck out his hand to shake with Jonathan and beckon them into the living room.

“Thanks for having us,” said Jonathan as he loooked around. There were various photos framed on the wall. A family portrait hung above the fireplace and wooden blocks with letters spelling Together Forever decorated the mantelpiece.

“Yes, thank you,” agreed Eleanor.

“No problem,” Weston told them. “Come on to the back yard. We’re eating outside. The kids are already playing.”

They followed him past the staircase through a short hallway and into a small kitchen. He gestured them through a back patio door and they found themselves in a fenced yard, a grill standing to one side on the patio, sizzling with hamburger patties and hotdogs. Cailyn and Jack were climbing, swinging and sliding on a small playset with two other children. A tire swing hung from the branch of an ancient oak.

“Wes!” called someone. “It’s going to burn!”

Weston stepped between them to attend to the grill. “This is my wife, Amy,” he said. Eleanor saw a tall, sturdy woman with very pretty features, chin-length blonde hair and sparkling brown eyes standing on the other side of the grill, a tow-headed baby on her hip. She flipped the hair out of her eyes and exhaled tiredly.

“Hi,” she smiled. “I’m Amy. Weston told me about you. Thanks for coming on such short notice.”

Eleanor said gratefully, glancing over at Weston, who was tending the grill. “I’m Eleanor. And this is my brother, Jonathan. It’s so nice of you to have us. Thank you so much.”

“Nah,” replied Amy. “It’s just hotdogs. Do you wanna meet the kids?”

Eleanor nodded as Amy called her children over. “It looks like they already know your kids. This is Emma.” A blonde-headed girl stepped forward, wide brown eyes like her mother’s. She had the look of a thoughtful child, with ivory skin and a pink perfect mouth. Her hair was held back from her forehead by a bow matching her outfit.

“Hello, Emma,” said Eleanor.

“Say hi to Miss Eleanor,” Amy told the girl.

“Hi,” said Emma. “You have long hair.”

Eleanor smiled and the girl ran back to play, summoned by a call from Cailyn. Jonathan had wandered over to the play set and was now pushing the girls on the swings. “And this is Alexander.” A red-headed boy came forward, his hair sticking out from his head in every direction. He had hazel eyes with a distinctly mischievous tint to them.

“I ate a bug today,” he told Eleanor. His voice was uneven and a little rough, as if he had been screaming all day. “Did you ever eat a bug Miss Eleanor?” He had the same childhood lisp as Jack, so that it sounded like Mith Eleanor.

She shook her head. “I can’t say that I have. What kind of bug was it Alexander?” But he was already gone, bouncing back to the play set along some unseen path that drew him between the dandelions.

Amy smiled after him. “We call him Lex. And this,” she said, tickling the baby on her hip and eliciting a laugh, “is Lucius.” The baby was fat, with a smiling, astonished mouth and his father’s ice-blue eyes. “But we call him Luke.”

Weston had gone into the house to get a plate to put the meat on and called from the kitchen window, “Ames, what did you want to do with this corn?”

“Oh, my gosh!” exclaimed Amy, “My corn.” She held out Luke to Eleanor. “Could you hold him for a minute?”

“Of course,” replied Eleanor, smiling a bit at the sudden harried look that Amy wore as she ran into the kitchen. Luke sat quietly in her arms, looking into her face. She looked back, and noticed that he wore the same glow as his father. It fell off of him like starlight, very faint. She gazed across the lawn and saw that the other two children sported the light as well. She thought it quite a wonder, and knew now that she hadn’t imagined it.

“He likes you,” said Weston, meeting her eyes as he came back through the back door.

“I can’t imagine why,” laughed Eleanor. She watched Weston flip the burgers onto the plate and bounced Luke on her hip.

“So tell me about your work,” he said to her. “You said you do paint on canvas, various subjects. What does that mean?” He retrieved the hotdogs from the grill with a pair of tongs.

“Oh,” she replied. “Well, I’m self-taught. I had a next-door neighbor back in Arizona who would come by while I was painting in the back yard. She fell in love with a couple of pieces and bought them from me. She had connections at a gallery in Scottsdale and I was able to hang my work in a few venues.” She shrugged. “It was very unexpected that people would like the work so much.”

“Well they must have,” said Weston. “If you are making a living off of it.”

Luke babbled on her hip and Eleanor laughed. “Yeah, I wouldn’t say that I’m making a living off of it. I sell very few pieces a year to clients mostly on the East Coast, but there are a couple of galleries in the Southwest that have shown some interest. I spend most of my time doing stuff that most moms do I suppose, cooking, cleaning...” Her voice trailed off.

Weston tore a sheet from a box of aluminum foil and covered the plate of meat. “If you don’t make a living off of it, how are you able to stay here? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.” He blinked at her.

Eleanor sighed inwardly. “You mean since my husband’s dead?”

Weston shook his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say--” He smiled ruefully and rubbed the back of his neck. “Isn’t it strange how an attempt at conversation can backfire so thoroughly?” He set the plate on a picnic table covered with a checkered table cloth.

“It’s alright,” she replied. Eleanor watched Jonathan reach out to tickle his niece's feet when she swung toward him. Cailyn and Emma shrieked with laughter. “Actually, we had very good life insurance policies taken out on every member of the family. Also, the accident was caused by a malfunction in the vehicle, so the car company gave me a large settlement to avoid a lawsuit.” She shrugged. “But I don’t really like to talk about it, so....”

Luke grabbed a handful of her hair and stuffed it in his mouth. “Oh,” said Weston. “Here, let me take him.”

“No, it’s alright,” Eleanor started to say, but Weston leaned toward her. As the baby exchanged hands, his arm brushed hers and she felt the familiar surge of energy.

Weston called across the yard, “Hey kids, we’re gonna eat in two minutes!” Luke waved his arms and gurgled. Weston wiggled an index finger under the baby’s chin, “Can you say Dada? Say Dada, Lucius!” Luke pulled Weston’s finger into his mouth, gnawing on it. Weston smiled. “He’s teething,” he told Eleanor. He leaned close again. “Look,” he said. “I’m really sorry I brought up that subject. I’d like us to be friends, so I hope you can forgive me.”

Weston Baylor smelled like laundry detergent and grass clippings. Eleanor stepped back. “It’s fine,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Hey!” Amy stepped toward them from the patio door with a bowl full of corn on the cob. “What are you guys talking about?”

Weston turned toward his wife, spinning in a circle so that Luke laughed. “Eleanor was just telling me about her work as an artist.”

Amy set the bowl on the table. “So you’re an artist too, huh? What a coincidence. Kids, time to eat!” She took Luke from Weston’s arms. “Can you dish up, Wes?”

Eleanor sat on the end of one bench. Jonathan herded the children toward the picnic table. They came screaming.

“Uncle Jon’s gonna get us!” yelled Jack. He slid into the spot on the bench next to Eleanor.

“Yeah!” agreed Lex. He and Emma climbed up to sit on either side of Amy. All of the children reached for buns.

“I want a hot dog,” Emma told her mother.

“Your dad is dishing up,” said Amy. “Tell him what you want.”

Weston picked up a hand towel and draped it over his forearm, flourishing the platter of food. He addressed the children in a thick French accent. “I present to you a delightful feast, prepared by Chef Papa Baylor and his lovely assistant Mama Baylor.”

Cailyn laughed.

“One hot dog for Madamoiselle Emma.” He slid a hot dog onto her plate. “And one for Monsieur Alexander.”

“Hey!” said Lex. “What if I don’t want a hot dog?”

Weston paused, one eyebrow raised. “Do you NOT want a hot dog, Monsieur?”

Lex laughed. “No, I do.”

“Very well, Monsieur.” A hot dog bounced onto Lex’s plate.

Weston continued, rolling an imaginary mustache under his nose, “And our delightful new acquaintance, Monsieur Jack, would he prefer a hot dog or a hamburger?”

Jack shook his head as he nibbled on a hamburger bun. “I’ll just have corn and fruit salad.”

“Oui, oui!” exclaimed Weston. “I see we have a vegetarian in our midst! For you, Monsieur, only the finest produce, prepared to order.” Jack giggled.

“I’ll take a hamburger,” said Cailyn.

“Ah yes, Madamoiselle,” replied Weston. “Sans fromage? Or do you like cheese?”

“A cheeseburger!” Cailyn laughed. Weston put the appropriate patty on her bun and all the children clapped. “Do Mother now!” requested Cailyn.

Weston bowed to Eleanor and proffered the plate. “And you, Madame? What is your wish?” He winked at her.

Jonathan spoke up. “Give her a double cheeseburger! My sister needs to put on a few pounds.” He reached across to pat her shoulder. Eleanor rolled her eyes at him.

Weston nodded. “The gentleman chooses wisely. Nothing will add up the calories like a Baylor Burger!”

Amy laughed. “Oh, that must be my problem, letting Weston cook too much!” She gestured to her husband. “Come on, Honey, I’m hungry.”

Weston raised his eyebrows and looked around at the children with wide eyes. “Oh, I better sit down! It’s time for business.”

He sat across from Eleanor, looked at her once and then clasped his hands and lowered his eyes. The children all followed suit. Amy folded her arms around Luke as he squirmed on her lap, hands out for the fruit bowl.

Weston began to speak. “Dear Lord,” he said. “We are truly grateful for this bounty, for new friends and for loving family. Please bless us this evening with safety and health and guide us in our efforts to be better in every way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Amen,” the group repeated.


After dinner, the children played hide-and-go-seek in the falling twilight while Amy did the dishes. Eleanor offered to help, but she was shooed from the kitchen. “You’re a guest,” said Amy. “Go sit on the porch and drink lemonade.”

So she returned to the porch to join Jonathan and Weston. They lounged in adirondack chairs. Jonathan lazily strummed his guitar. As she sank into a third seat, her glass clinked in her hand. The icy condensation dripped water onto her fingers. She wiped her hand on her knee.

Luke dozed in the crook of Weston’s arm. “I really should put him to bed,” said Weston when he saw Eleanor looking. “But he’s comfortable. And so am I.” A powdery shimmer covered both of them. She wondered if anyone else could see it.

“How old is he?” asked Eleanor.

“Nine months,” answered Weston. “It’s amazing how fast they grow, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Eleanor. She looked across to where Cailyn tiptoed along the shadowy back fence that enclosed the yard. Cailyn would always try to get to home base before anyone could find her, whereas Jack would always stay exactly where he was, still and silent, until the seeker gave up. Eleanor scanned the lawn. She wished she could see where Jack was hiding. Where is he? She set her glass on the arm of her chair.

“I see you!” shrieked Emma as she spotted Cailyn. Both girls ran giggling for the play set slide.

Lex crawled out from under the picnic table. “Ha ha!” he yelled. “You didn’t find me!” Emma turned toward him.

“Run Lex!” cried Cailyn. “Come to home base!”

Lex tried to dodge around his older sister, but she reached out and pulled him into the grass where they fell in a pile.

Eleanor stood. “I can’t see him,” she muttered.

Cailyn jumped into the riot of arms and legs that were Lex and his sister.

Eleanor moved to the edge of the porch. “Jack!” she called.

“He’s hiding,” said Jonathan.

“No,” said Eleanor absently. “I can’t see him. Jack? Jack!” Her voice became insistent.

The other children sat up, looking in her direction.

Eleanor felt panic rising in her throat. Where is he? Where is he? She stumbled out onto the lawn. A hand at her elbow turned her toward Jonathan.

“Eleanor,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

Eleanor pulled her arm away and ran to the hedges, parting the branches to peer between the leaves. “He’s gone!” she cried. “I can’t find him!” I shouldn’t have let him go. I shouldn’t have let him out of my sight. “Jack! Jack!” she screamed.

“Eleanor!” Jonathan’s voice was loud as he caught her arm again. “Ellie!” He turned her toward the oak tree. As she watched Weston reach his arms up into the branches to help Jack down from his hiding spot, Eleanor realized she had tears on her face.

“What’s wrong with Miss Eleanor?” she heard Emma ask her mother, who had run from the kitchen at the sound of Eleanor’s voice.

“C’mon, Sweetie,” said Amy as she took Emma and Lex back into the house.

Weston carried Jack to Eleanor. When Jack’s skinny arms curled around her neck she sank into the grass. She held him close. “I’m right here, Mommy,” he said into her ear. She could feel the flutter of his heartbeat.

Eleanor looked up at Jonathan. Cailyn stood next to her uncle, wide-eyed and watchful.

“I’m sorry,” Eleanor said to them. She squeezed Jack. “I’m sorry, Baby. I don’t know what came over me.” She set him on his feet.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Jack smiled. “It’s just that I’m such a good hider!”

She nodded faintly. “Yeah. I think you win the game.”

Jack looked triumphantly at Cailyn. “Hear that? I win the game!”

Cailyn rolled her eyes. “Jack, you always win the game. You’re the most patientest boy I know.”

Jonathan sent the children toward the house. “Go get your shoes on, kids,” he said. “We’re gonna go home.” He looked back for a moment at Eleanor. She didn’t move to get up as she watched the children disappear through the patio door. “Hey,” she heard him say to Weston. “I’m going to walk the kids home and get them into bed. Would you mind giving Eleanor a ride back when she feels better?”

Weston nodded. “Sure.”

Eleanor sat in the grass for a long time. On the other side of the yard, three fireflies danced in twinkling loops. A blackbird cawed loudly somewhere above. Through an open window, she heard water running into a bathtub and a woman singing. After a while, she took a deep breath and looked around, surprised to find Weston Baylor seated beside her. It was nearly dark.

“Here’s your lemonade,” he offered a glass.

She took it. Her hand shook when she lifted the glass to her mouth. “Thank you,” she said.

“Your brother asked me to give you a ride home, when you were ready,” he told her.

“Where are the kids?”

“He took them home and put them to bed. Amy is doing the same with ours. She wanted me to sit out here with you – just in case.” His eyes were kind in the porch light.

Eleanor was chagrined. “I’m so sorry.”

He swatted away a mosquito. “No, no,” he said. “Don’t apologize. You definitely made the game... more exciting.” He watched her shake her head. “How are you feeling?”

Eleanor sighed. “I’m alright. I should get home.”

Weston stood. She accepted his offered hand and he pulled Eleanor to her feet. He led the way back through the kitchen to the front door.

“Hey, Ames!” he called.

“Yeah?” her voice floated down the stairs. Eleanor could hear splashing.

“I’m gonna take Eleanor home!”

“Oh, okay. Bye Eleanor! Come again!”

“Bye,” said Eleanor.

“Be back in a minute!” called Weston as he gestured Eleanor through the front door. They stepped outside. Eleanor could see the moon, drifting through the branches of the trees across the street. Weston walked around the car to hold open the passenger door for her and waited until she was tucked in before closing it.

“I really hope you’re alright,” he said as he turned the ignition and put the car in gear. “Anyway, the kids had a good time.” He backed out of the driveway.

His face was blue in the lights from the dashboard. “I’m fine,” she told him.

“Do you want to talk about what happened?”

Not really. “Sometimes I get confused,” she said. Her fingers tapped the door handle. “I was really looking for Elijah.”
Weston turned a corner. His eyes on the road, he said, “Jack’s brother?”

“Yeah,” she whispered. Eleanor watched houses blend outside the passenger window as her eyes welled.

"Does that happen a lot? I mean, you were there, but you were kind of gone too. I was sitting by you for a while, but you didn't seem to know it."

She shook her head. "I don't know. I feel like I'm outside myself sometimes. I find myself -- " She stopped.

They pulled into her driveway. Weston put the car into park.

"Find yourself what?" he asked.

She gazed up her house. Most of the windows were dark. "Nothing," she said.

Weston waited. When she didn't speak again, he said her name. She glanced over at him. He smiled, and it looked like a real smile. “Everything is going to be alright. You have friends here, a brother who loves you and a couple of great kids to keep you on your toes.”

She wiped at her tears. “How do you know everything will be alright?”

He shrugged. “I just do. Trust me.”

She swallowed. “Thank you for dinner, Weston Baylor.”

He smiled and nodded once. “You are welcome, Eleanor Morrow.”

She unlatched the car door and slid from the seat.

“Hey,” he said. One hand on the door, she bent down to look at him. “If you need anything, let us know.”

Eleanor nodded in acknowledgement and shut the door. She waved once as he pulled into the street. In the front entryway, she stepped out of her shoes. Jonathan looked up from his book where he lay on the front room sofa. Yellow light pooled around him from the reading lamp. He took off his glasses.

“Hey Sister,” he said. “The kids are in bed. You okay?”

She waved him off. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I’m tired.”

He raised a hand. “Alright then, have a good night.”

“Night,” she replied.

In her room she was greeted by Harvest. He leaned across the doorway, making her jump.

“Dammit,” she told him. “Don’t do that.”

“How was your evening?” he asked. He followed her into the closet, where she changed for bed.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She shrugged into an oversized shirt.

“Really?” he sounded hopeful.

“Just leave me alone, Harvest. I’m tired.” Eleanor went to the bed and turned down the covers. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, she rolled her head. Her neck was tense.

“Leave you alone?” he pouted. “I’ve left you alone all evening!”

“Yes.” She pushed her feet underneath the comforter and pulled it up over her shoulder as she rolled away from him. “And it was wonderful.”

Harvest walked around the bed. He slumped into the chair next to the bay window, regarded the moon with a scowl.

“Harvest,” murmured Eleanor sleepily. She could see his dark form brooding near the window. “Am I a bad mother?”

Harvest’s smile reflected in the glass, a double cheshire grin.

“Some women were built to mother, my dear,” he said. “It’s not your fault you aren’t one of them.”