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.”
“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.”