Shawn clings tightly to his mother’s waist, refusing to let her go. Maddy runs her hand through his hair and bends down to kiss his head. “Goose, I have to get going. I’m going to miss my plane.”
Shawn shakes his head and wraps his arms more tightly around his mother. “Don’t go.” He turns his face and presses his right cheek against her stomach. “You don’t need to.”
Maddy looks up and smiles softly at Henry, who leans against the door frame. He spreads his hands and shrugs. “But don’t you want to spend time with Daddy?”
Shawn pouts. “Yes, but I want you, too.” He looks up at her, his chin touching her belly button. “What am I s’pposed to do for dinner?”
Maddy laughs softly and keeps running her hand through Shawn’s hair. His baby curls have fallen, and his hair is now wavy. Soon enough, it’ll be straight like hers and Henry’s. “Goose, he knows how to cook. You’ll be fine.” She takes his arms from around her waist and kneels in front of Shawn. “Besides, I’m not going to be gone for long,” she whispers. “I’ll be back before the end of the week.”
Shawn sticks out his bottom lip. “Then why do you have to go?”
Maddy sighs softly and kisses Shawn’s forehead. “Because Aunt Jenny had a baby and she needs my help.”
Shawn crosses his arms. “But I’m your baby.”
Maddy nods. “Yes, you are, Goose, but Aunt Jenny hasn’t done this before and needs someone to help her until Uncle Jason gets back in town.”
Shawn ducks his head. “It’s not fair!” He stomps his foot. “Why does Aunt Jenny get you and I don’t? Don’t you love me?”
Maddy nods again and pulls Shawn to her. “Of course I do, Goose. I love you very much. Aunt Jenny just had her baby a little earlier than expected.” She kisses his forehead again and stands up. “I’ve gotta get going, Shawn, but I love you. Okay?”
Shawn nods, still pouty. “Okay.” He hugs her one last time. “Love you, too.”
Henry pushes himself off of the door frame. “Have a safe flight,” he says softly, squeezing her elbow.
Maddy’s face softens, and she kisses Henry once, despite Shawn’s groans of complaint. “I love you, Henry.”
He nods and kisses her once more before stepping away and resting his hands on Shawn’s shoulders. “I love you, too, honey.”
Maddy grabs her suitcase handle, waves at the two of them, and gets in the cab. Henry’s and Shawn’s shoulders sag.
Shawn scuffs his foot against the floor. “I want Mommy.”
Henry kneels next to his son. “I know, son, but you and I can have fun together.”
Shawn eyes him warily. “How?”
Henry sighs and sits on his heels. Outside, the heat swelters, and the mere thought of being outside in that weather causes his shirt to stick to his back and his hair to become damp.
God, he hates it whenever Maddy has to go out of town.
It’s not that he doesn’t love his son. He would die for Shawn without a second thought. If, for some reason, he had to save either Maddy or Shawn, he wouldn’t even have to think about that decision: it’s always going to be Shawn. But he doesn’t have the same connection with Shawn as Maddy does. Maddy is Shawn’s mother; she’s the one who puts a colored band-aid on Shawn’s scraped-up knees and presses a kiss to the boo-boo. She’s the one who wraps the scratchiest, blandest blanket around her head and pretends to be part of a camel caravan that is without water while Shawn pretends to be their saving grace. She’s the one who takes the day off whenever Shawn gets sick, and she sits on Shawn’s bed and gently brushes his sweaty hair away from his face as she tells him that he’s going to be okay.
What does Henry do? Teach Shawn how to throw a ball? Teach him life? Protect him? I mean, sure, sometimes Shawn comes to Henry and tugs on his hand, telling him how there are miniature people in the living room, and Henry needs to arrest one of them who said a bad word. Occasionally, Shawn sneaks into Henry’s bedroom, steals his police hat, and runs around the house, always bumping into stuff.
Henry twists his lips and stares out the kitchen window. “What do you say to milkshakes?”
Shawn immediately perks up and rests his arm on his dad’s shoulder. “Milkshakes?”
Henry nods slowly and stares into Shawn’s eyes. He looks so much like Bambi, it sometimes scares him. Freckles dot his nose, and today, Shawn’s eyes are dark brown. “Whaddya say, Bambi? You wanna go to a diner and get some?”
Shawn nods eagerly and sticks his arms out. “Yes, yes!”
Henry laughs softly and swoops Shawn up into his arms. “This isn’t your dinner, just so you know.”
Shawn pouts and wraps his arms around his dad’s neck. “What is for dinner, then?”
Henry smiles and bounces Shawn on his hip. “What do you say to hot dogs and potato chips?”
Shawn wrinkles his nose. “I really like hot dogs.”
Henry shakes his head fondly, grabs his keys, and locks the front door behind him. “Maybe we can go on an adventure.”
Shawn pulls on his fingers. “What about…what if we went to the beach?”
Henry’s mouth falls open, and his eyes dart between the sidewalk and his truck. “You know you can’t go swimming for at least thirty minutes after eating.” He tickles Shawn with his left hand, and Shawn squeals in laughter and curls into his father’s chest.
“Daddy, stop!” Shawn pants, pushing away his father’s hand. He rests his head on his dad’s shoulder and points to the ocean. “Why don’t we go now?”
“Without a swimsuit? Your mom will kill me if the ocean gets into your clothes.” Henry jumps from stone to stone, Shawn giggling in his arms, until he reaches the white picket gate. “And, besides, I thought you wanted milkshakes.”
He hums. “Well, then, we’re going to have to go to Gloria’s right now.” He steps out onto the sidewalk, waving to Mr. Nussbaum, who stands in the front yard and waters his plants. Idiot, he thinks. There’s a drought this year, and it’s pretty severe. Watering those plants is not going to fix dying plants.
Shawn pulls one hand from his father’s neck and bites his fingernails. “I think I’m gonna get a strawberry milkshake.”
Henry purses his lips and nods slowly. “Strawberry is good,” he agrees. It’s a summer flavor, one that refreshes him just by thinking about it. The thought of strawberry ice cream has gotten him through more than a few long days at work before he and Maddy were married. “But I’ve gotta say, I like vanilla better. Nothing can beat vanilla.”
Shawn gasps, clearly offended that his dad would dare insult strawberry milkshakes so casually. “How could you say that?”
Henry shrugs with one shoulder. “I’m an old man, Shawn.” He squeezes past a couple taking up the entire sidewalk. The boyfriend glares at him, but Henry smiles tightly at him, and the boyfriend shrinks. Serves the puny punk right. “I have lived many years on this planet, and I like to think I have gained some wisdom in that time. Some of that wisdom is the best possible milkshake flavors and combinations.”
Shawn lolls his head back and stares at the sky. Henry tugs the hem of Shawn’s shirt down to get his attention, but Shawn’s eyes just study the blueness of the sky. “Why is it so hot?”
Henry chuckles. “Well, it’s summer, Shawn. The sun is closer to us now than it is any other time in the year.” He tugs on Shawn’s shirt again. “Don’t look into the sun, it’ll hurt your eyes.”
Naturally, Shawn turns his face to stare directly into the sun. Before Henry can decide what, exactly, to do about getting his son to stop staring into the blazing white light, Shawn’s mouth falls open, and he turns his face to the ground. “Ow,” he says, blinking harshly a few times.
Henry nods. “Told you.” Sweat trails down the nape of his neck, and he grimaces, tensing up his shoulders. He hates sweating, not just because it’s gross, but because 90% of the time, he gets a bead of sweat following that same trail and eliciting the same reaction. “It can make your eyesight worse, too.”
Shawn tugs at his shirt. “Swimming would cool us down.”
“That it would.” Henry licks his lips and hoists Shawn further up on his hip. “But you need sunscreen and floaties.” He moves one hand and runs it through Shawn’s hair. “You know what else would cool us down?”
Shawn narrows his eyes. “What?” he says hesitantly.
Henry grins wickedly and pulls open the door to Gloria’s. “Milkshakes.”
Gloria’s is a small, old school diner that reminds Henry of his days in high school. Though, to be fair, his high school days were only about a decade ago, and Gloria’s is much, much older than that. Red and white checkered tablecloths cover every table, and the booths are a purple-grey vinyl. A few teenagers crowd around the outdated jukebox.
“Do you want a booth or the bar, Shawn?”
Shawn purses his lips and glances back and forth. “Depends on if I have to do the hat game.”
Henry smiles softly and kisses Shawn’s head. “No. No hat game today. Just you and me getting milkshakes before dinner.”
Shawn points to the booth. As Henry starts walking in the direction of the table, Shawn shakes his head. “No. The vinyl is cracked really bad. It won’t be comfy. Am I tall enough for a barstool?”
Henry shrugs. “We’ll find out.” He pulls out one stool, promptly sits in it, and plops Shawn into his lap.
Gloria is miraculously still alive some forty-five years after she opened the diner with her husband. Gray wisps of hair have escaped from her bun, and she glares at them with icy blue eyes. She’s a big woman, not that Henry would dare tell her that.
Gloria wipes off the counter in front of them and leans one elbow against the countertop. “What can I get for y’all?”
Henry smiles innocently and bounces Shawn on his knee. “I’ll take a vanilla milkshake, please.” He tickles Shawn’s sides, and Shawn squeals. “Shawn? Do you want anything?”
“St-strawberry mil-milkshake, please.” Shawn pushes away Henry’s hands and laughs louder. “Daddy, stop!”
Gloria’s red lips turn from a disappointed frown to a small smile. “Coming right up for you both.”
While they wait for their milkshakes, Henry grabs two straws, takes off the wrapper, and starts folding his into a straw paper snake. “Okay, so Shawn, I’m going to teach you a very ancient art today.”
Shawn’s eyes laser on the straw wrapper, and he tries to snatch it from his father’s fingers. “What kinda ancient art?”
Henry bounces his left leg once. “It’s called origami. The ancient Chinese used it to confuse their enemies with their complete awesomeness.”
Shawn’s mouth falls open and he twists to stare up at his father. “Cool!” He rubs his little hands together. “Show me, show me.”
Henry smirks. Gloria slides them their milkshakes. “Tell me when you’re leaving,” she says in a rough, gravelly voice, “and I’ll give you your tab.”
He lifts his hand in thanks. “Okay, so what you do here is you straighten this wrapper as much as possible. Wait, Shawn, drink it more slowly, you’re going to give yourself a brain –”
Shawn winces and pushes his milkshake glass away. “Ow.”
Henry sighs. “– freeze.”
Maddy groans and massages her temples. Her mother rubs her back and smooths her hair. “Are you feeling any better, honey?”
She sniffles and sits up straighter. The vomit still swirls in the toilet water, but her stomach has decided that today, it is auditioning for the Olympic gymnastics team. “A little,” she says, and it isn’t a lie.
Debra Baker purses her lips. “Could it be something you ate?”
Maddy shakes her head. “No. I haven’t had anything yet this morning, and my stomach was just fine last night.” She runs a hand through her hair. “I don’t drink alcohol anymore.”
Debra furrows her brow. “Why is that?”
Maddy waves a hand in the air. “A whole host of reasons, but…I mean, Henry has been getting more stressful cases as of late. I’m talking things like kidnapping and child homicide and –” she takes a deep breath. “It’s getting to him, and I don’t want him drinking because I’m worried that he…might not stop.”
Debra nods and sits behind her daughter. “You said there were many reasons. You gave me one.” She parts Maddy’s hair into three parts and begins braiding. “What are a few others?”
Maddy squeezes the toilet seat. I won’t throw up, I won’t throw up, I won’t throw up. “For no alcohol? Since Henry and I started trying to have kids before I even turned 21, I really never was able to drink until Shawn was three, and I still think alcohol is gross. I mean, I guess it’s only two and a half reasons, but they’re reasons nonetheless.”
“Hm.” Debra bites her bottom lip. “Do you want a crown braid or just regular?”
Maddy throws up.
Debra sighs heavily. “I’ll just do a regular braid.”
Maddy gives her a thumbs up.
Debra shakes her head. “Are you sure it isn’t just a really bad case of jet lag? It’s possible.”
Maddy reaches behind her and squeezes her hand. “Water,” she gasps out before retching into the toilet again. Debra stands, grabs a glass of water, and passes it to Maddy. Maddy gulps once, and the water immediately comes back up.
Debra sighs again. “Have you and Henry been trying again for kids?”
Maddy shakes her head and sits on her heels. The wave has passed, but she knows that she’ll be puking again if she takes another drink of water. “No.” She sniffles and wipes her nose. Her hands are shaking. “We– when I was pregnant with Shawn, it was just scare after scare. That, plus the two miscarriages we had before him…” She smiles weakly. “We decided not to try anymore.”
Debra pats her back. “I know this question is awkward, since I’m your mother, but have you and Henry been having unprotected sex lately?”
Maddy’s mouth falls open. “Oh my God.”
There isn’t much you can do for your very tired little sister who just had a baby when you yourself are constantly throwing up or peeing. Since their mother is in town and their father gets the entire next week off of work, they all make the executive decision that Maddy should go back home and tell Henry. This is not exactly the best conversation to be had over the telephone. Before she gets on a flight prematurely, Debra runs to the drugstore and buys a few pregnancy tests. All of them say the same thing. Tears are had. Debra babbles about being a grandmother for the third time.
Maddy calls Winnie Guster when she flies into Santa Barbara. She knows that Henry and Shawn are off roaming Santa Barbara, eating the most unhealthy foods they can find (mostly sugar and calling it dinner), getting dirty from playing outside for too long, and learning how to swim without floaties. She calls Winnie for two reasons: the first being not to interrupt their father-son bonding time, especially since they’ll have less of that when the baby is born; the second being that, if she catches them in any of these acts, she will be miffed. Unless she catches Henry teaching Shawn to swim without floaties. Then miffed will become angry.
Winnie doesn’t ask questions when she picks Maddy up at the airport. Her son, Burton (or Gus, according to Shawn), hangs onto her leg.
They briefly stand at the back of her car, debating who is the one to put her suitcase in the trunk. Maddy thinks Winnie has already done more than enough. Winnie knows that Maddy’s pregnant – call it a mother’s intuition – and, knowing the Spencers’ history of difficult pregnancies, refuses to let Maddy strain herself beyond the jet lag.
Winnie is the one who wins the standoff.
She has to pull over to the side of the road twice in the drive to the Spencer household so Maddy can throw up. Maddy’s hands shake as she clings to the door, and the vomit that sprays from her mouth is a pale yellow.
Winnie has to let Gus out of the car to throw up as well.
When she pulls up to the Spencer house, Maddy can already tell that the boys are out and about. She thanks Winnie and gets out of the car, promising to be careful in unloading her suitcase. She presses her left shoulder to the wood, unlocks the front door, and slips inside.
She wants chicken soup.
Not just any chicken soup. Chicken soup itself is not remotely enough. Her chicken soup isn’t even the one she needs. She needs Henry to come the fuck back and make her his chicken soup in the middle of June, even though the sun melts through her shirt and she wants to stand under a stream of cold water until the heat is a relief to her.
She. Needs. That. Chicken. Soup.
It’s not entirely her fault, see. First, the baby is the one who wants certain foods, and only certain foods will stay down. Second, Henry, being the bastard he is, never gave her the full recipe for his chicken soup. Said something about how it was a Spencer tradition that the Spencer men made the better chicken soup in the family, and he’ll teach Shawn when Shawn’s old enough. A small part of her wonders if cocaine is part of the recipe and that’s why he hasn’t told her (hey, that’s what Coca-Cola did for years), but she knows that it’s not that.
If it was, he would never have let her have his chicken soup while she was pregnant with Shawn.
Maddy sighs and wanders into the living room. If she knows Henry at all, he’ll be back here with Shawn closer to 5:30, meaning that she has an hour and a half to herself before they come in the door. She bites her top lip and stops in front of the books on the shelves in the living room. Tracing her finger down each spine, she searches for the exact book she needs at this exact moment. Narnia doesn’t feel right, nor do any Agatha Christie novels.
If Agatha Christie isn’t right, then none of her horror novels are okay for this occasion. She’s concerned about potentially raising a serial killer if she so reads that out loud. She doesn’t know enough of child psychology to be able to make an accurate judgment of whether or not that could happen, but still. She wants sunshine and rainbows, or something that won’t make her heart race.
Her finger stops between her copy of The Iliad & The Odyssey and To Kill a Mockingbird. She loves both equally, but for different reasons. She licks her lips, glancing at the well-worn cover of To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s read it enough times to have it memorized. The only other person who might have read it more than her is Henry. That book has been cracked, flipped over, folded, dropped in the bathtub. It has suffered tears, accidentally torn pages, dog ears (Henry, the heathen).
But there’s something breathtaking about Greek literature.
She grabs The Iliad & The Odyssey from the bookshelf and makes herself comfortable on the couch. As she flips the book open, her right hand slides down to her stomach, and she smiles to herself. “I know you can’t really hear me yet, baby,” she says into the empty living room, “but I can’t wait to meet you. And your daddy and I are going to read to you every night.”
When Henry and Shawn get home, Maddy has already stood from the couch to grab a drink of lemonade. The front door blows open, and Shawn tracks in sand from the beach. Henry, confused as to why the door was open when he knows he locked it, holds out a hand to block Shawn from running inside. “Hello?” he calls.
Maddy pokes her head into the entryway. “Hi, boys.”
Shawn’s face lights up, and he runs for her. “Mommy!”
She laughs and scoops him up into her arms. He wraps his arms tightly around her neck, and she runs a hand through his hair. “Did you miss me?”
Henry smiles softly. “Of course.”
Shawn nods. “Don’t leave me again.”
Maddy’s face softens, and she sighs quietly. “Oh, Goose,” she says, pressing a kiss to his head, “I’m not going to leave you again.”
Henry gently squeezes her elbow and kisses her. “Back so soon?”
She shrugs. “I missed you two.” She kisses her husband again. “And, besides, my mom was there to help Jenny. Considering that Mom did it with three children and little to no help, I’m pretty sure she’s more qualified to help Jenny than me.”
Shawn, though he missed his mother, squirms in her arms. “Daddy took me to the beach today!”
Maddy raises her brow. “Oh, he did?” She bounces him on her hip. “Did you two build a sandcastle?” she narrows her eyes at her husband. “Or did he let you go swimming without your floaties?”
Henry lifts Shawn out of her arms and points him in the direction of the stairs. “No, I did not let him go swimming without his floaties. We built sandcastles, looked for seashells, surfed a little…”
Her glare intensifies. “I hope to God you were careful.”
He grins at her and ushers Shawn upstairs. “Hon, you know me. I won a dozen amateur surfing competitions. Shawn was safe.”
Shawn runs upstairs. Maddy drapes her arms around Henry’s neck. “I know you were great at surfing. That’s how Shawn was conceived.”
Henry smirks. “Hell yeah, he was.”
Maddy rolls her eyes and smacks his back half-heartedly. “I know that you were a very enthusiastic participant.” She kisses the tip of his nose and slides past him. “I’m going to go check on Shawn. He needs a bath after being at the beach all day.”
Henry nods. “I’ll go look for the aloe vera.”
She jogs up the stairs and hooks a right into Shawn’s room. He’s already taken off his swimsuit – not bothering to put anything else on – and is currently fishing through his box of toys.
She purses her lips and leans against the door frame. “Shawn, don’t you think you should get some clothes on?”
He looks up and blinks at her with his big hazel eyes. “You’re gonna make me get in the bath anyway.”
Maddy blinks once. “I mean…true, but not quite yet.” She walks over to Shawn’s dresser, pulls out a pair of underwear, and beckons Shawn closer. “At least put some underwear on.”
Shawn purses his lips. “Okay.”
She hands him his favorite shirt. “And this.”
As Shawn tugs the shirt over his head, Maddy kneels in front of him and pulls the hem of his shirt down. “Hey, Shawn,” she says. His head is still caught in the hole of his shirt. “I have a secret.”
Shawn’s head flies out of the hole, his wet hair sticking up wildly. “What’s the secret?”
Maddy grins. “You’re going to be a big brother.”
Shawn looks at her stomach. “Really?” He smiles. “Do I get to boss her around?”
She rolls her eyes and smooths down his hair. “No…wait, how– why do you think it’s a girl?”
He shrugs simply. “I dunno. Just do. Can I go tell Daddy?”
She nods slightly. “Yeah, go ahead. I’ll be right down.” As Shawn runs downstairs to tell his father the big secret, she picks his swim trunks off the floor.
Downstairs, she hears a yelp. “Maddy, are you fucking serious?!” Footsteps thunder on the stairs, and he bursts into the hallway, a smile growing impossibly bigger on his face. “We’re going to have a baby?”
Maddy smiles and nods. She thought she could get through telling him without the tears, especially if she got Shawn to tell him, but she was wrong. Tears spring into her eyes, and she reaches for her husband.
He pulls her into his arms and kisses her. The kiss is more tears and smiling teeth than actual kissing. “We’re going to be parents!”
She laughs softly and kisses him again. “We’re already parents, Henry.”
He nods and presses a kiss to her forehead, her nose, her cheeks. “I know, it’s just…we made a person! Without even trying!”
She rolls her eyes. “Maybe don’t mention that when you have a five year old behind you.”
He cups her face in both hands and kisses her for the third time. “God, I love you so much.”
She nods. “I love you so much, too.”
Shawn tugs on her shirt. “Mommy? My shoulders hurt.”
Maddy steps away from Henry and tucks her hair behind her ear. “Well, you need a bath first, Goose. Otherwise the aloe vera will wash off.”
As she follows her son into the bathroom, she turns around and walks backward. Henry pushes a hand through his hair and mouths, “We’re going to have a baby!” at her.
“Shawn, no, don’t jump around on the bathtub.”