The kids are fighting and Buddy nearly breaks a window.
It's too early in the day to snap. Only 9:30.
She impatiently taps her feet, listening for Marnie's little hey-mommy-I'm-awake ditty. As soon as the baby's up and dressed, they're outta there. Bundle into snow clothes and troop over to the Pikes', that's the game plan. "Any time is fine," Dee had said breezily. "Whenever's convenient for you."
Convenient is too strong a word, really. Doesn't matter what time it is: there'll always be three kids to round up and only one pair of hands to do it.
A light flurry hits the Pikes' as soon as they arrive. The timing is beautiful: eight Pikes and three Barretts immediately stomp out footprints, claiming sections of the yard for the sorts of games that (hopefully) leave kids drained of energy, setting them up for a good night's sleep.
She sits inside with Dee, strong cup of coffee in hand. They sit on a battered sofa which, she knows, has Adam rulez scrawled somewhere in marker. Hidden by the folds of upholstery.
She loves the Pike house and its air of barely-contained chaos. It's oddly calming. Reassuring.
(She had coffee at the Prezziosos once. Never again.)
"So how's Franklin?" Dee asks with a wry smile.
She takes a carefully nonchalant sip of coffee. "Good, so far. But, well... I'm not overthinking it. It's only been a few weeks."
"Six," she agrees. Sighs. "I guess that's more than a few weeks."
"Some would say it's over a month."
She groans. "I don't want to overthink it." Pause. "But I don't want to underthink it either."
"Underthinking it isn't going to be your problem, Nat."
She smiles. "Yeah. I know."
Shouts and thuds echo from the yard. Nothing that sounds too dire, but her eyes do a quick sweep of the yard to make sure Marnie's still safe with Mallory.
"I like him. I'm going to keep seeing him." She shrugs.
Dee curls up in the corner of the sofa. "So... where do you see yourself in six months time?"
"I see myself in shorts," is her rapid-fire response. "With a broken air-conditioner."
Dee accepts the non-answer with a wistful grin. "Mmm, sun."
"I can't wait for the weather to warm up."
"These morning chills are a bit much," agrees Dee. "Feels like they've been going forever."
"Any plans for the summer?"
"Not really. I mean, other than heading to the Jersey shore for two weeks. It's our little family tradition." She rolls her eyes. "Nicky asked me yesterday how many sleeps til we leave for Sea City."
"Buddy's been bugging me about vacations too," she frowns. "It's been years since we last took a family trip." When are we going on vacation, Mom? has been a catch-cry of his since long before the divorce. During the dying gasps of their marriage, neither she nor Hamilton could stomach the idea of a family vacation.
Now, the idea of single-parenting on vacation seems almost worse.
"You could hit Sea City with us," suggests Dee.
"We could what?"
"Come to Sea City. There are plenty of cheap rentals, and it's a great place for kids."
She fiddles with a strand of hair. It's... not a terrible idea. Or maybe it is.
"But it's your family tradition, Dee. It's a Pike thing. I wouldn't want to impose."
"Oh, please," laughs Dee. "My gang would love it. Besides, we've brought Stacey and Mary Anne along the past few years, so it's already grown beyond our family."
It almost sounds manageable: built-in playmates for the kids; John and Dee's reassuring presence; the possibility of an extra pair of hands. (Teenage hands. But still. Hands are hands.)
"You've got months to think it through, Nat. If you decide to join us, you're more than welcome."
She breathes out, slowly.
"Yeah. I'll think about it."
Overnight, Suzi develops a cold. She coughs loudly enough to wake herself up. Three times.
Summer can't come fast enough.