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Snack

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Sam is being as quiet as possible. The house is dark and cold, but there's light peeking from the open door of Mom's bedroom. He tiptoes towards it and peers inside.

Mom is sitting up in bed, knees bent, twirling her rings around her finger. She looks up and smiles at him, straightening her legs.

“Hey, Toucan Sam,” she says. “Can't sleep?”

He's eight – too old to crawl into bed, seeking refuge from shadows and whispers of night time. But he clambers up beside her anyway and sinks his head onto Dad's pillow. Mom ruffles his hair gently and the wind beats up against the windows. Sam watches the curtains move, even though the windows are shut. He presses his face into the pillow, feeling tired, feeling scared and sad.

“It's windy out, huh,” Mom says, stroking her fingers against Sam's ear.

“Yeah,” he says. His breath is hot against the pillow and it's hard to breathe, so he turns over again and looks up at her. He can almost see her skull through her skin, like she's wearing a Halloween mask. But it doesn't scare him. Just makes him sad, and makes him wonder how much later he'd have to stay up until he got tired enough to look like that.

“Is Charlie asleep?” Mom asks.

“Yeah.”

She strokes his ear again and it tickles. He smiles at her, but there's still an ache in his throat. When she smiles back at him, he thinks she's aching too.

“Saturday tomorrow,” Mom whispers.

Sam nods. Dad was supposed to take him to Brenner Field last weekend, to show him how to throw a football so it spins in the air. And he's spent all week hoping Dad will come home in time to take him this weekend...

He presses his face into Dad's pillow again. Mom's fingers pull slowly through his hair, and the wind slams up against the house again, rattling the shutters and making everything creak and groan.

“What do you want to do tomorrow?” Mom asks.

Sam can feel tears welling. “I want to go to Brenner Field with Dad,” he says.

Mom slides down on the bed and wraps her arms tight around him, kissing the top of his head. Sam lets himself cry for a moment, because it's too hard not to, and Charlie's not there to see him.

“I can take you to Brenner Field, honey,” Mom says.

“But...” Sam sobs and doesn't bother explaining why he doesn't want her to. Charlie has already told him – more than once – that they all have to be extra nice to Mom, and Sam doesn't want to hurt her feelings. But she can't teach him how to throw a football so it spins.

Rain starts to lash against the windows, and Sam's heart sinks even further. Even if Dad does come home, he won't want to go to Brenner Field in the rain.

Mom kisses Sam's forehead. He doesn't even try to wriggle away; just lets her.

“I'm hungry,” Mom says. “Are you hungry?”

“Yeah,” Sam says in a small voice, though he's not really. Not much. Only a little bit.

“Want a midnight snack?”

A thrill races up Sam's spine. He pulls back far enough to see her face, to see if she's just trying to trick him. “Really?”

“Sure,” Mom says. She pushes Sam's hair back with her palm and smiles at him. “What do you want? We could make some sandwiches. Or popcorn. Or open a bag of chips and share a soda.”

Sam's stomach flutters at the thought. “Do we have any cookies?” he whispers hopefully, looking up at her.

Mom thinks for a moment. “I'm not sure. But I think we could make some.”

Sam thinks about this carefully. “Just you and me?”

“If you're quiet,” Mom whispers, and she tickles him so he has to squirm away, pulling the blankets up so she can't get at him, giggling as quietly as he can.

She pulls the blankets back down so she can see his face. “Chocolate chip?”

“Yeah,” Sam breathes, and his mouth is already watering.

“Come on,” Mom says, and she pulls him by the hand. “Let's go.”

Sam follows her downstairs. He keeps hold of her hand until she flicks the lights on in the kitchen, and then he sits at the counter and watches her as she pulls tubs of flour and sugar out of the cupboard. She sits the bag of chocolate chips in front of him, and doesn't say anything when he sneaks one out of the packet and puts it into his mouth.

She lets him stir the ingredients together, and they both taste test carefully as they mound balls of dough on a baking tray.

Sam presses chocolate chips into the top of each one. He puts a smiley face on one of them for Mom, and a C and a K on two others so Charlie and Kristy won't feel too bad about missing out. David Michael, he figures, is too little to really mind.

Mom pours two glasses of milk. Through the glass door of the oven, lit by a warm yellow glow, Sam can see the cookies slowly spreading out. He only takes his eyes off them for a moment, when a car passes slowly down the street outside. Both he and Mom watch it pass from the kitchen window, and his heart beats loudly in his chest as it disappears into the rain.

“Hey,” Mom says softly, turning from the window, “I think I might call Nannie tomorrow. I bet she'd bring some cookies if she came over.”

“But tell her not to bring chocolate chip,” Sam says seriously. “We've already got some.”

“No chocolate chip,” Mom agrees.

When she pulls the first tray from the oven, the whole kitchen fills with the smell of warm cookies. Sam's stomach growls, even though he's only just the tiniest bit hungry.

“They're hot,” Mom warns, so she puts them on the cooling rack and they scrape the rest of the dough into a second batch as they wait for the warm cookies to cool down.

“This is the best midnight snack ever,” Sam decides, just as Mom is closing the oven door again.

Mom smiles at him. “I think so, too.” She hands him a cookie that's still warm and soft from the oven. Sam breaks it in half and bites into it cautiously, but it's not so hot he can burn himself on it now.

“Can we have popcorn next time?” he asks. He cups his hands around his glass of milk and takes a large gulp, spluttering a little as it washes cookie crumbs down his throat.

“I'll think about it,” Mom says, which Dad always says is her way of saying no. But she smiles at Sam, so he thinks she really will think about it, and maybe her answer will be yes.

“But,” she says, “a midnight snack is only special if it doesn't happen every night.”

“Just every now and then,” Sam says, consciously trying to dampen his current excitement. “Just as a special treat.”

“That's right,” Mom says softly. She smiles at him and holds her glass of milk out. Sam clunks his own against it.