And now, for chapater 11:
Lucas was dressed and reading the morning paper when his doorbell rang at nine-thirty. He put down his coffee mug and stared at the clock. Damn his mom. He hadn’t gotten home until two last night. Another half hour of quiet would be nice.
He went to the door and felt his scowl deepen when the kids rushed into the house with bags of fast food for breakfast. He glared at his mother. “Really? The Golden Arches?”
She didn’t meet his gaze. “A friend called, and we’re going to Indy for the day. We need an early start since everything closes early on Sunday.”
“It’s always about you.” He’d heard it all before, over and over again. But then, Dad was no better.
She blew kisses at the kids. “Have to go. Love ya!”
Yeah, he’d heard that, too. He followed the kids into the kitchen and made himself a couple pieces of toast while they ate. “Well, how was it? Did you and Grandma have fun?”
Jordy nodded. “We had the best babysitter! She played Chutes and Ladders with us and read us stories.”
He almost choked on the bite he’d taken. “Grandma wasn’t home last night?”
“No, she went out with a friend. Wasn’t that great?”
His hands curled into fists. One night. That’s all she’d signed up for. Just one night. He took a deep breath. Better not to dwell on it. “I was thinking of taking Hercules to Salamonie Park today and letting him walk the nature trails. Are you up for that?”
If the kids had lots of exercise, he was betting they’d be ready for a quiet night.
“Can we wear our Halloween costumes?” Beth asked.
The dress was made of flimsy, shiny material. It would snag on every overhanging branch. “A princess dress might get torn on paths through a wood.”
Beth considered that. “Then next year, I’ll have to buy a new one.”
Lucas chuckled. A simple solution. “Then the ladies in waiting had better circle that on their calendars for next October. But why not? There’s a small lake there. Perfect for pirates.”
Jordy jumped off his stool at the kitchen island to throw his trash away. “Is there a plank? I’ll take my sword, and if anyone bothers us, I’ll make him walk the plank.”
Lucas wasn’t overly worried about that. “Okay, let’s get ready. I’ll pack some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in case we get hungry.”
The kids zipped off, and he filled his cooler with juices and snacks. He fastened Hercules on his leash, and they set off. The drive there took close to an hour. The chihuahua settled between Jordy and Beth for the ride. Familiar with the question, “Are we there yet?”, Lucas let the kids bring their tablets, so they wouldn’t get bored. The temperature hung at fifty-six, so all they needed were hoodies. It was a perfect day for hiking, and when they reached his favorite spot, they set off.
Fallen leaves blanketed the ground and crunched underfoot. Lucas walked Hercules while the kids searched through the leaves for the perfect colors and shapes to save.
“Mom presses the leaves between waxed paper and then cuts around their shapes so we can hang them across the tops of our bedroom windows,” Jordy told him.
Lucas frowned. “Presses them? How?”
“With an iron.” Beth handed him a deep orange maple leaf to save with the others she and Jordy had found. He rarely ironed. He could, if he had to, but he avoided it as much as possible. His shirts were all wrinkle-free. He rarely wore a suit, let alone a tie. He frowned at the stack of leaves in his hands. How long would it take to press them?
“Can we just save these until your mom comes home?” he asked.
Jordy gave him a look. “They’ll dry and curl. They won’t be any good.”
Yeah, well . . . Then he saw the look on Beth’s face. This must be a big deal for her. Doggone. He’d never thought about leaves when he brought them here. But if they wanted leaves to string across their windows, it wasn’t the end of the world. He’d pull out the ironing board and the iron. “If I get it wrong, just remember, I’ve never ironed leaves before.”
Beth smiled at him. “We’ll help you. We help Mom, too. You can iron them, and we’ll cut them into shapes.”
Once he thought it through, that would fill the rest of the afternoon until it was time to settle in with popcorn and a movie. “What do you string them on?”
“Yarn.” Jordy said it like everyone should know the obvious.
Lucas rolled his eyes. “It just so happens that I don’t stock yarn at my house. What else will work?”
“String?” Beth didn’t sound sure.
Did he have string? He had gardening twine. That would work. “Okay, I should be able to come up with something.”
By the time they walked the path that circled back to the parking lot, they had several leaves from almost every type of tree in the park—red, orange, and yellow maple leaves; tulip tree leaves; birch; sassafras; and oak, among more Lucas couldn’t identify. They stowed the leaves in his truck, then carried the cooler to a picnic table by the lake to eat. Hercules wasn’t a fan of peanut butter, so Lucas brought him a dog bone to chew on. The kids found stones to skip across the water and a deer came to drink at the other side of the lake. Lucas pointed it out to them.
Before they left, he drove to the other side of the dam where the spill water flowed into a stream. Fishermen usually congregated there. Not today. The kids clamored over the rocks and explored the stream’s banks until it was time to head home.
Hercules fell asleep on the way back. Too much fun for a tired dog. The kids played on their tablets, and when they pulled into the garage, everyone was ready to be home. The kids immediately shifted gears, ready to iron leaves and hang them. Did kids ever crash? Lucas went to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer before he headed to the laundry room, wax paper in hand, and got serious about preserving Fall leaves.
They found a flow that worked for them. Beth put the leaves between the wax paper, Lucas ironed them, and Jordy cut around the shape of the leaf. It took them a while, but when they finished, Lucas tore off Scotch tape and handed it to Beth. She put a strip on each side at the top of the paper, and Jordy used a paper punch to make a hole to hang them. Finding the garden twine took longer. Lucas couldn’t remember where he’d put it, but finally, they strung the leaves and hung them across the top of the two windows in the kids’ bedroom.
Did his sister do this every year? Holy crap! It was a lot of work. As soon as they finished, the kids started making noises about being hungry. Lucas trudged to the kitchen. Did parents get any down time? Did kids ever leave them alone? Lucas made hamburgers and green beans. His sister would ask him if they’d had any vegetables.
He put the food in front of them, and they devoured everything. Fresh air and exercise will do that to you.
They were finishing their meal when Dulcey called. She talked to him first, checking up on things, and then talked to the kids. They chattered about their day and pressing their leaves, and then their voices changed. They missed their mom. By the time they hung up, their good times had been replaced with thoughts of their mom.
Lucas had expected that and was ready. He stood and started down the stairs to the basement.
“Where are you going?” Jordy asked.
“I bought a new game I want to play.”
Jordy sat up straighter. “What kind of game?”
“A friend had an old game system with Frogger. I used to love playing that. So I thought I’d try it again.”
The kids jumped off their stools to follow him.
“Can I play it?” Beth asked.
“If you have the skills.”
Jordy snorted. “We’re probably better at games than you are.”
Lucas raised an eyebrow. “You think so? Put your money where your mouth is. Prove it.”
And they spent the next hour and a half trying not to kill a frog in a video game. When the kids started yawning, Lucas turned it off and climbed the steps with the kids trailing him. “I’m ready for a movie. A buddy told me his kids loved the movie BRAVE. I’m getting a little hungry again, too. I’m ready for popcorn and root beer.”
“Root beer?” Jordy’s whole face glowed.
“I’m making mine into a float with vanilla ice cream,” he told them. “But first, kids need to take baths and change into PJs.”
They raced to get ready while he set things up. He was scooping ice cream into tall glasses when he realized how much he’d enjoyed today. Who knew? Having kids take up every minute of your time was pretty freaking fun. He’d have never believed it.
The kids and the dog settled on his sectional sofa, and he sat in the recliner. He almost regretted the movie he’d bought. The girl in BRAVE had long, wild copper hair and reminded him of Miss Doore. Jordy couldn’t take his eyes off her. The boy had it bad. Lucas bet that every six-year-old male in her class had a crush on her. He could understand why. She wasn’t his type, but she seemed pretty darned wonderful.