When Lucas woke on Saturday morning, the house was quiet. The kids were still asleep. Hercules yawned and rolled over when he got out of bed. The chihuahua wasn’t ready to get up yet. Lucas padded into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. This was going to be an easy day. By the time the kids watched cartoons and ate Pop Tarts, it would be time for him to drop them at his mom’s.
He sat at the island in the kitchen to look out the windows at the back yard. The leaves were still hanging on the maple tree, vibrant yellow against a gray sky. Today was the first day of November. The weather would bounce all over the place. Up and down. Windy. Rain and snow. The leaves would fall, and he’d have to deal with them. Indiana weather could change every other day.
A friend had called and invited him to play cards at his place tonight. Fun. On his way to Rick’s, he’d pick up a case of beer and a bunch of wings. He’d finished his first cup of coffee and started his second when Beth wandered downstairs. She came straight to him at the island and lifted her arms. He hauled her up on his lap, and she cuddled in.
“Mommy will be home for Thanksgiving, won’t she?”
Lucas wondered if that’s how kids gauged time—by holidays. When you were four years old, a month lasted forever, because you’d only experienced forty-eight of them. When you were thirty-two, a month felt like the blink of an eye. At ninety? It must feel like a nano-second.
He hugged her close to his chest. “I sure hope your mom gets home soon. The sooner poor Earl gets to go to heaven, the less he has to suffer. Your mom loves holidays.”
When Dulcey first left, she called the kids every night to hear about their days and wish them happy dreams, but it had only made them miss her more, so she’d quit.
“Is she calling today?” Beth asked.
“No, tomorrow, on Sunday, remember? Every Sunday.” His day. Then if they were upset, he’d rent a movie and make popcorn, and try to smooth it over.
Beth pressed closer. “I wish Daddy was home.”
“We all do.” Lucas rested his chin on the top of her head. “Keep praying to keep him safe.”
Jordy came to climb on the stool next to his. He rested his elbows on the granite countertop. “Do we have to go to Grandma’s today?”
Lucas stared. “I thought you liked going to her place.”
“Depends on her mood,” Jordy said. “Sometimes she’s fun, sometimes she’s not.”
Yeah, his mom could be moody.
“You’ll be back here tomorrow,” he told them.
Both kids smiled. Good. At least he must be doing some things right.
“Are you ready for cartoons?” he asked.
They brightened and headed to the living room. He got them settled and said, “What kind of Pop Tarts?”
He’d bought those, strawberry, and ones with chocolate chips. With a nod, he went into the kitchen and returned with Pop Tarts and hot chocolate with marshmallows. While the kids watched cartoons, with Hercules lying on their feet, he got busy doing chores. He used a dust mop on his wooden floors, a Swiffer to dust, and scrubbed all the sinks and tubs and toilets. By eleven, the house was in decent shape and the kids were getting restless.
He didn’t trust his mother, so decided to feed them before he took them to her house. He made cheese toasties and tomato soup. They could always be tempted with those. And he ate with them. He didn’t think he’d ever outgrow a good melted cheese sandwich.
The kids dragged their feet when it was time to leave, but Lucas was sure Mom had something fun planned for them. She liked being out and about. When they reached her house, though, she wasn’t home.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed her number.
“I didn’t expect them until later this afternoon,” his mom complained.
If it wasn’t illegal to throttle mothers, he’d be tempted. “It is later this afternoon, and you were supposed to get them before lunch. I tried to make it easier for you.”
She back pedaled. She and Lucas had bumped heads enough, she avoided it if she could. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
“Where are you?”
“Out north, having brunch with a friend.”
“Like hell you’ll be here in half an hour. You have one hour, or the next time you need something done, don’t call me.”
He snapped his cell phone shut and counted to ten. His mom sucked as a mom and she wasn’t going to win any prizes as a grandmother. He looked at the kids. “We have an hour to kill. We might as well go to the store and stock up on things for next week. What do you want for supper tomorrow night?”
“Can I have root beer?” Jordy asked.
Lucas didn’t want them to develop too many bad habits while they were with him. “Only on Sunday nights.”
“Score!” Jordy pumped his arm up and down.
Lucas raised an eyebrow, and he stopped. “In the car. Now.”
They hustled ahead of him. He knew he sounded grumpy, but he couldn’t help it. On the drive to the store, Jordy smirked. “You’re mad at grandma, aren’t you?”
Why pretend? The kids would see through it anyway. “She’s hard to depend on. It gets under my skin sometimes.”
Jordy grew serious. “You can count on us. If you need something, we’ll help you.”
Lucas cussed at himself. These kids had already gotten the lecture from their dad to be there for their mom while he was overseas. They didn’t need to worry about him. He smiled to ease the mood. “Hey, I appreciate that. And my brothers would be there for me, too. It’s just my mom that drives me nuts.”
When they reached the store, the parking lot was full, but then this store was always busy. “Hold hands to cross the parking lot,” Lucas told them. They formed a chain to enter the store. “And don’t wander off. We all stay together.”
Shopping was a group endeavor. They negotiated items in every aisle. Lucas didn’t care. He didn’t have anything he had to buy except beer. He and the kids bickered about different flavored yogurts in the dairy aisle. The Pop Tart aisle took an eternity as the kids agonized over which kinds they wanted and if they wanted granola bars instead. By the time they reached the frozen food section, Lucas understood why Dulcey went shopping while the kids were in school.
They were arguing about chicken nuggets or chicken tenders when Jordy froze. Lucas followed his gaze and saw Miss Doore turning the corner to come toward them. Her lips curled in a big smile when she saw his nephew. When she reached their cart, she stopped and glanced into it.
“Uncle food,” she said.
“Hey, it’s not that bad,” Lucas protested. She had her copper hair pulled up in a fancy knot. Eye liner rimmed her blue eyes, and she wore some kind of shiny, blue shirt that plunged enough to show great cleavage. If she were a blonde, he’d be in trouble.
Her eyes went to the Pop Tarts. He looked in her cart and raised his eyebrows at the number of bottles of wine in it.
She blushed. “I help my grandma make a family Halloween supper every year. It’s always the night after Halloween.”
He read the wine labels. “Top shelf. What’s on the menu?”
She smirked, sure of herself now. She was a little more prickly and private than Mariah, but she was happy to share this. “Salmon chowder, pepper-coated beef tenderloin with roasted vegetables, an antipasto salad, and Gram’s peach cobbler.”
“Peach cobbler?” He’d rather have a ribeye than a beef tenderloin, but he’d think he’d died and gone to heaven if he had the meal she was making. He looked at the kids. “All of that’s beyond me. Think burgers, hot dogs, chicken, or spaghetti.”
Miss Doore laughed. “I’m sure kids are happier with those.”
Jordy blurted, “My Uncle Lucas is super nice, but he’s sworn off women. I have two other uncles, though. You might like them.”
She blinked, surprised, not sure what to make of that. “I’m glad you have three uncles. You’re a lucky boy.”
Lucas rolled his eyes and raised an eyebrow at his nephew. “Well, we’re supposed to meet my mom soon. It was nice seeing you again.”
She grinned at Jordy. “You get to see your grandma, too? Have a wonderful weekend.” And then pushed her cart to the end of the frozen food section to buy ice cream.
Jordy shuffled his feet. “Do you think Dylan or Toby would like her?”
“Don’t know, buddy, but you need to learn a little more finesse.”
“I’m just a kid. I don’t even know what that word means.”
Lucas shook his head. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. Mom might be home by now.”
But she wasn’t. Of course. She pulled in next to him ten minutes later.
He was sitting on her top step, watching the kids play tag in the yard. She came to make some other excuse, but he waved it away. “Don’t bring them to my place until ten tomorrow. I’m going to a buddy’s house tonight and might stay late. And make them breakfast.”
She huffed, offended. “I’m not that bad, that I’ll want to get rid of them as soon as possible.”
“Yes, you are, but don’t go there. No kids before ten.” And he got up, waved goodbye to the kids, and left.
On his drive home, he decided to have as much fun as possible tonight, and then he was determined to enjoy the kids tomorrow. Kids grow up fast. There’d come a day when they didn’t want to visit him. They’d rather hang out with their friends. He had a special opportunity to spend time with them, and he didn’t mean to take it for granted.