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.”