Author's Notes: Okay, okay. I couldn't resist another short. This story takes place after "As Sweet as This", but it's not necessary to read that one to enjoy this one. Although, if you haven't read it, I did my disclaimer in transliterated hieroglyphic (or tried to), so you should really go check it out. :) And chapter 9 of Never Spellbound is in the works, don't despair. (Really, don't, it's just a story. ;)) Comments, questions, virtual chocolates, etc., to orsongirl at hotmail dot com. E-mails cheerfully replied to. Flames used to make s'mores. Oh, and none of these characters are mine, I'm just playing and I'll put them all back when I'm through. All right then, let's begin.
I'm not a guy who scares easily. But, even after almost ten years of experience hearing them, there are three words that give me a chill from head to toe:
"Dad, help, quick!"
The last time I heard that, I looked out my bedroom window to find Alex hanging from the eavestrough. (Just in case I needed conclusive proof that he's my kid.) Figuring there's no time to lose, I jump out of my chair and hit the floor at a sprint. The cry came from the front hall. I dash from my study to the front door, then skid to a stop--the door's wide open. Alex is standing in the doorway, unharmed. And filthy. There's a snail-like trail of sludge all the way up the path. It's on his clothes, in his hair, and his boots are filled with it. And it smells foul.
"I slipped," he explains.
Slipped, my ass. I've been at this for long enough to know when he's yanking my chain. He probably just wandered into a mud puddle and sat right down, had himself a nice long wallow. Figuring Dad would get him out of trouble, as usual.
A little mud never hurt anyone, in my opinion. It's healthy. I think that a messy kid is a happy kid. And my kid must be the happiest kid on the planet right about now. My wife, however, feels differently about the whole thing. She worries that people will think she's a bad mother if she lets her child walk around looking like something the dog dug up in the backyard. And I guess she's got a point. We've been called in to Alex's school more than once to discuss his "trouble with discipline". The implication being that there wouldn't be any trouble if we exercised some once in a while.
But I can't bring myself to spank the little guy. Not over small-time stunts like this, anyhow. I got enough of that kind of action growing up to know that it doesn't stop a little hellraiser from growing up to be a big hellraiser. It took some doing to find him a progressive school that doesn't use the strap or the cane on kids who get out of line, but nobody--and I mean nobody--is going to lay a finger on my son if I have anything to say about it.
Alex just has more than his fair share of personality, that's all. I count myself lucky. I could've got stuck with one of those boring little knobheads in his class--or an uber-brain like Evie that I'd have no idea how to relate to. Not that I have any problems relating to Evie, in any sense of the word. Things are definitely okay in that department. But her encyclopedia-type mind, on a kid? Hoo boy. Scary stuff.
"Big trouble when Mom sees you," I tell my son.
Alex heaves a sigh with his whole body, spattering even more mud on the doorstep. "Brilliant, Dad! Tell me something I don't know, already!" he growls through clenched teeth.
"Can the backtalk, wiseass."
I can hear Evelyn calling my name from the library, where she spends most of her day working.
"Yeah?" I yell back.
"Rick, could you come here a moment, please?"
It's amazing: I can almost hear the irritated look she's giving me. I think it's a survival reflex. "I'm not going to shout!" she shouts.
I turn to Alex, who is gazing up at me pleadingly. "Stay there," I tell him. "I'll be right back. Don't come in."
He nods solemnly.
I jog most of the way to the library, then slow my steps as I reach the door. I poke my head in.
Evie is seated in her favourite chair by the fireplace, legs crossed, a book balanced neatly on her lap. Whatever it is she's reading, it's got her full attention; she doesn't even look up when I come in. She's wearing a short grey wool skirt and a sleek black sweater. It's funny, you know, but she just gets more and more gorgeous with every day that passes. It's hard to believe sometimes that this is the same prim, shy librarian I called 'not a total loss' the first time I saw her.
She licks her finger and turns a page. It's surprisingly erotic. I could watch this all day--except, of course, that my kid is leaking stinky mud all over the doormat.
"Oh, there you are. Come in and sit down."
I take the chair closest to hers. "You, uh, you look nice today." I'm so bad at compliments. I mean, talk about your gross understatements. She looks fantastic. The only place that outfit would look better is on our bedroom floor.
"Thank you." She flashes her crooked, coy little smile, the one that still makes my skin feel a bit too tight.
I touch her sleeve. "Is that a new sweater?"
"Rick, I've had this for two years. You bought it for me. For my birthday."
"Oh." Go figure. Damn, I have good taste.
"Silly man." She shakes her head, but she's still smiling, so I know she's not really annoyed. "Who was that at the door?"
"Uh, no one."
"I thought I heard you talking to someone."
"It was, you know, a wrong number."
She gives me a puzzled look. "At the door?"
"Wrong house number."
"Oh..." she considers this for a moment, then shakes her head. "Well, never mind that. Darling, I have some wonderful news." It must be absolutely earth-shattering news, for her to have bought that explanation. She looks at me expectantly, like I'm supposed to guess. Great. I'm drawing a total blank.
"I give up," I say finally. "What?"
She purses her lips, but it isn't long before she's smiling again. "It's something we talked about," she prompts gently. "Something we both agreed would be a good idea."
"Uhh... we're getting the roof fixed?"
"No! I mean, yes, we are, but that's not the wonderful news... honestly, Rick!" A knowing look comes into her eyes. "You're teasing me, aren't you?" she asks.
"You got me," I lie. "I knew all along."
"Oh, Rick, isn't it marvelous?" She leaps up out of her chair and lands in my lap. "I'm so happy!"
"Oh, yeah, me too," I tell her. Dammit, what could it be? I can't think, I keep getting distracted trying to figure out how to get Alex into the house and upstairs to the bathroom without Evie seeing him. Sometimes, being a dad is just--
That's it. That's what she's talking about. I'm going to be a dad. Again.
"Evie, that's great!" I suddenly realize that I'm practically yelling in my wife's ear. Oops.
"Well, now, that's more like it," she replies mildly, then kisses me on the cheek and stands up. "Perhaps you'd better go find Alex."
"Alex?" Was it my imagination, or did my voice just crack?
"Yes, darling. You know, the bundle of joy we've already got? I'd like to tell him the good news, too."
"Yeah. Right. Okay."
"I think he's mucking about in the yard somewhere."
If only she knew.
"Gotcha. Be right back." I make a break for it. My head is spinning. Another kid! Good lord. I haven't even figured out how to keep the first one out of trouble, and now there are going to be two of them running around here.
When I throw open the front door, Alex is seated in a mud puddle on the step. Well, we'll worry about how to get that cleaned up later. "All clear. C'mere," I tell him. "I'm gonna carry you upstairs so you don't drip all over the floor."
"I'll drip all over you," he points out.
"I can get changed while I'm up there, and throw all our dirty stuff in the laundry chute."
"The perfect crime," says my son admiringly. A little too admiringly.
"You think I'm covering for you again, you're nuts. Next time you come to the door looking like that, the best offer you get from me is a bucket of cold water dumped on you from the bathroom window."
"Right-o, my good man."
I think he's been spending too much time with Jonathan.
I swing the kid up over my shoulder, run past the library, and take the stairs two at a time. I plop him down on the tile of the bathroom floor. "Okay, strip and give me your clothes." He shimmies out of the muddy shorts, shirt and boots. Even his underwear is muddy. "What'd you do, take a bath in it?"
"You're a riot, Dad." Minus the clothes and the several inches of mud, he's a skinny little runt; I can count all his ribs. He's still small enough for me to pick up with one hand. I look down at my hands, and find it hard to imagine ever being that tiny.
"Is that you, Alex?" calls Evie from downstairs. Shit.
"Shit!" whispers Alex.
"Say again?" I prompt.
"Oh, dear me!"
"That's what I thought."
"I thought you were outside!" Evie continues.
"I was, but I came back in!" Alex calls back. "It's too muddy out there!"
"Come downstairs!" Evie tells him. "I'm not going to shout!"
"Just a sec, Mum!"
"Is your father up there with you?" she asks. Considering that she doesn't like to shout around the house, she sure does it a lot.
"I'm in the loo, Mum! Can you gimme five minutes?!"
We wait, eyeing each other expectantly. Nothing. She's gone. I run the hot and cold taps, then quickly whip off my shirt while the tub is filling up. I dump everything into the laundry chute, making it back to the bathroom in record time. "Hop in," I tell Alex, turning off the water.
He dips his elbow in. Alex is what Evie likes to call a connoisseur of bath water. It has to be exactly right, or he messes with you until it's freezing and you have to run him another one. "Ooooooh," he moans, wrapping both arms around his skinny torso. "It's cold." Sometimes he's so much like his mother that it's frightening.
"I bet that mud was, too, and that didn't stop you from diving in head-first."
He shoots me a murderous glare.
He whimpers, mostly for effect, as he eases himself into the tub.
Suddenly, there's a knock at the door.
"Alex?" Of course it's Evelyn. Who else would it be? "Sweetheart, why were you running the water?"
"Just, er, having a wash," he replies. Alexander C. O'Connell, master of understatement.
"Are you?" A long pause. I consider climbing out the window, but in the end I decide against it. Knowing my luck, I'd probably slip and fall in the mud.
"I fell down on the path outside," he adds, voice wavering pathetically. "I'm cold, and sore, and I thought a hot bath might help..." Okay, now I know he's been spending too much time with Jonathan. That reedy whine is a dead-on match. There is no way she's going to fall for that.
"My poor baby... d'you need any help?"
"Bit old for that, don't you think?" he shoots back.
"Yes... yes, you're right. I'll just go find your father. Come straight down to tea when you've finished--and don't forget to scrub behind your ears!"
Footsteps, receding down the hall.
Boy, she's way off. That's just about the only place on his body that Alex doesn't have to worry about washing. A half-moon of pink skin is clearly visible behind each mud-encrusted ear.
Grinning up at me, he says, "Think how boring your life would be without me, Dad."
I splash him with the bath water and walk out...
...only to bump right into Evie.
"There you are." She has her arms crossed over her chest. She does not look happy. She must have faked going back down the stairs. Which means she's onto us. Which means I'm in big trouble.
"Yep, here I am," I reply.
"Where's your shirt?"
I try to shrug casually, which is hard to do when you're on display. "Spilled something on it."
"What were you two up to in there?"
"Oh, you know, guy stuff."
"I see. This wouldn't have anything to do with the lake of mud on the doorstep, would it?"
"Or the 'wrong house number' earlier?"
Her face is stern, but her eyes are smiling. There's still a chance I can avoid the blasting of a lifetime if I play my cards right.
"Don't 'honey' me. You're very lucky I'm in such a good mood."
"Very lucky." I hit her with my most charming smile. "And very, very lucky to have such a beautiful, brilliant, understanding wife."
"Mmm, that is lucky, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I'm a lucky guy." I put both arms around her and pull her in for a kiss.
"That's pushing your luck."
I kiss her anyhow. If I'm on my way to the doghouse, I'm not going down without a fight. And my arguments can be very convincing.
After a minute, I notice agitated splashing on the other side of the bathroom door. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing out there!" squeals the kid. Sometimes, he's just too smart for his own damn good.
Evie and I exchange sheepish smiles. I move my hands to a slightly more respectable area.
"You really want another one of those things?" I whisper.
"Well, it's a bit late to reconsider now..." she whispers back, fingers playing on the nape of my neck. I love that. And she knows I love that. And she knows that I know that she ain't gonna let it go any further than this. Little tease. It's that, combined with the look she's giving me, that makes me a little slow to notice that my feet are wet. Water is seeping out from under the bathroom door.
"Alex!" we yell in unison. I bust into the bathroom with Evie hard on my heels--when I stop, she crashes into me, then promptly slips on the wet tile and falls on her ass. I do my best not to laugh, even though she looks pretty funny down there. She makes a squeaky noise, tries to get up, can't find a foothold, and goes down for the second time. I reach down to help her up, and the next thing I know, we're both on the floor. Well, damn. Good thing Imhotep never attacked us in the bathroom. It would have all been over in seconds.
And there, in the middle of a rising cloud of steam, is our pride and joy, struggling frantically with the tap.
"I tried to add some more hot, but the bloody damn thing's broke off!" he exclaims.
"Alex, mind your lang--oof!" Evie is abruptly cut off mid-scold as she loses her footing again.
After struggling to my feet, I lift the kid out of the scalding hot water and set him down on the toilet.
"You okay, buddy?"
He's a funny, mottled pink all over, but apart from that he seems all right. He nods.
"What about me?" demands Evie, who still hasn't mastered the slippery tile. Yep, there she goes, with a splash. "You know, your loving wife?"
"Ah, you're fine, honey." I take the tap from Alex and try to wrench it back on to the--you know, the bolt thing it goes onto. (I'm not a plumber, dammit. Husband, father, brother-in-law and archaeologist already make for more full-time occupations than I'm equipped to handle.) All that does is make even more water come out. The tub becomes a waterfall. Great. "Just, uh, grab onto something." To my son, I add, "Go get dressed, I'll take care of this. Don't trip over your mom."
Evelyn, meanwhile, is climbing to her feet by way of the towel rack. "Your concern touches me deeply, darling," she murmurs sweetly--as sweetly as you can through clenched teeth, anyhow.
I grit my own teeth and strain against the tap, gripping it with both hands. "I said, love, honour, and obey. Don't remember anything about--" Metal grates sharply against metal as the tap flies out of my hand and drops into the clouded water. (What kind of nine-year-old boy takes a bubble bath, anyhow?) "Son of a bitch!" I yell, kneeling to grope around on the bottom of the tub. Boiling hot water is now gushing out of the tap and onto my arm.
"Let's calm down, shall we?" My wife places her hands on my shoulders.
"We're gonna have to call a repairman, I can't fix this damn thing..." In frustration, I give the bolt one final crank with my bare hands.
It's times like this that I think I must have been born with the proverbial horseshoe up my ass.
Evelyn reaches past me, into the water, and yanks out the plug. She's drenched. I can't help but hope she hasn't ruined that fantastic sweater. Then she playfully bites my ear. Yow. I suddenly flash back to the first few months of her pregnancy with Alex, when suddenly all she ever wanted to do was fool around. Emphasis on all. And ever.
"I love watching you fix things," she whispers, wrapping both arms around me and snuggling against my back. "Quite thrilling, really."
I can't help grinning. "Well, I am good with my hands."
"Mmm, you certainly are," she purrs into my ear.
Then her legs fly out from under her, and it's all I can do to wheel around and catch her in time. Of course, by the time I do catch her, my balance is completely off, and both of us fall. This time, into the half-full bathtub.
Which is where Alex finds us, both soaking wet and laughing like crazy.
"Whatever it is," he pronounces solemnly, "I hope it's not hereditary."
Half an hour later, once everyone's had a chance to change clothes and dry off (which, I admit, wouldn't have taken as much time as it did if Evie and I had the sense to get dressed in separate rooms) the three of us are having our afternoon tea. I'm not a big tea-drinker myself; it looks like dishwater, and it tastes pretty close to how it looks. But I'm all for another meal in the day. Just as long as it's not cucumber sandwiches. I don't know how anyone can eat that garbage.
Rolling around in the mud, combined with a little light tap-wrangling, has given Alex quite an appetite. The good news is, he eats all the cucumber sandwiches before we even have a chance to get downstairs. After swallowing those practically whole, he starts on the tea-cakes. He jams two into his mouth, one after another, and then guzzles from his teacup. Normally, this would never fly, but Evie is too thrilled with the idea of a new baby to even mention table manners.
"Alex, darling, we've got some exciting news for you," Evie announces.
"Uhmm?" He tries to swallow the whole mess at once, cheeks bulging.
Evelyn reaches out with her napkin and wipes the crumbs from his chin, all full of motherly affection. "How would you like a little brother or a little sister?"
Alex squeaks and shakes his head rapidly, looking more than ever like a rabid chipmunk.
"What's wrong, buddy?"
Through a mouthful of half-chewed food, he blurts, "A brother! No girls. Girls are nasty."
"Now, really, Alex--" So much for motherly affection.
"We'll see," I interrupt, before a debate can break out. "You have to share your room if it's a boy."
The kid obviously sees this as an acceptable compromise. He swallows, then reaches for another cake before inquiring, "So we're getting a baby? Like, a new baby?"
If I look at my wife right now, I'm going to crack up. I know it.
"Yes, dear," says Evie mildly.
"When are we going, then?"
"Going where?" I ask.
"To the hospital. My friend Dickie says that's where you buy them. He said that the mum and the dad go to the hospital, and the dad buys cigars, and the mum goes off into another room to pick the baby she wants. And when they bring the baby out to show you, it's all red in the face and looks like Winston Churchill." He stuffs the last cake into his mouth. "That goes away, though."
I laugh. I can't help it. Evelyn punches me in the shoulder.
"Well, dear... your friend was partly right."
"Yeah, they do kinda look like Winston Churchill," I volunteer.
Evelyn glares at me before continuing, "The baby actually grows in Mum's tummy. We don't buy it."
"In your tum?" He examines her critically before deciding, "Must be one small baby."
Evie preens and smoothes her blouse down over her flat stomach. In a few short months, she'll be wandering around the house like a rogue watermelon on stilts, wailing that she's too fat to sit in her favourite chair and screaming at me for "doing this" to her. When she's not trying to devour me whole, that is. Or sending me out at four in the morning to get ice cream and kippers or something equally disgusting. Oh, yeah, it's all coming back to me now.
"So were you at first," I explain. "Your mom's gonna be as big as a house by the time the baby's ready to come out."
Evie punches me again, harder. She's got sharp little knuckles. Jeez.
Alex is now pinching and prodding his own stomach with interest. "Neat. Can I grow a baby, too?" he asks. "Then I can have two brothers."
I can only shake my head. I'm not even going to touch that one.
"No, darling," Evie tells him. "It's something only ladies can do. Grownup, married ladies."
"Mostly," I mutter. Evie gives me a be quiet nudge. "You wouldn't have room in there anyway, the way you stuff yourself," I tease, poking him in the gut with my index finger.
Alex just shrugs. The kid actually seems disappointed at the news that he won't be able to be a mother. I never thought about it before, but I guess it is kind of an impressive skill to have.
"You can be a dad, though, when you grow up. And get married," I add, in deference to my wife. "You get to help make the baby."
He's interested again now. "How do I do that?"
Shit. I should have seen that one coming. "Uh..." I look at Evie, pleading with my eyes for her to help me out. She shakes her head, ducking to hide her grin. "It's kind of... complicated." Lame, O'Connell. Really, really lame.
Alex's eyes narrow to suspicious slits. "You don't know, do you?"
Now it's Evie's turn to laugh. It's not fair, though: I can't hit her.
"Sure I know. It's just... kinda hard to explain, that's all... maybe when you're older..."
Evie steps in. Thank God. "Alex, Dad will explain everything to you at bedtime. How's that?"
"Okay, sure." Now that the cakes are gone and the educational discussion is over, there's nothing more to keep him at the table, so he asks to be excused to play outside. Evie tells him he can go, but adds that if he returns covered in mud, he can sleep outside with all the other little piggies. Alex grudgingly agrees. His loving mother has the decency to wait until he's out of the room before dissolving into a fit of giggles.
"Yeah, yeah, real funny," I snap irritably, slouching into my chair.
"Oh, Rick... I've seen you face desert warriors, and mummies, and mythical creatures--and I have never seen you look as terrified as you did just this minute." I notice she leaves out the scariest part of what happened at Ahm Shere. We don't talk about that much.
"Would it have been too much to ask for you to help me out a little?"
"You're the father." She looks pleased with herself when she says it, like she's just given me some big piece of advice that'll solve my problem. "You're the one who's supposed to explain these things."
"What am I supposed to say?!"
"Well... how was it explained to you?"
"Uh..." There's no way of getting around this one. "It wasn't."
"Then how did you learn?" she persists. She can't let anything go. Why were you in prison? Where did you get that scar? What's this about a belly-dancer girl? Sometimes it's a marriage, sometimes it's an inquisition. Flip a coin to decide which one.
I give her a look, waiting for it to sink in.
"I was fourteen, there was this, uh, this older girl..." Well, if I wasn't embarrassed before, I sure as hell am now. I clear my throat loudly. "You don't wanna hear about that. Trust me. Anyhow, I never had a dad to tell me this stuff."
She strokes my arm reassuringly. "You'll find a way."
"How'd you find out?"
"Oh, well, my father was very keen on biology. He gave Jonathan a very technical, very boring lecture about this frog and that frog, and mammals and birds, and so on and so forth, that Jon eventually repeated to me. I decided the whole thing was rather disgusting and didn't bear thinking about, since I was never, ever going to do it."
"Never, ever, huh?"
She grins wickedly, then leans in close and whispers, "Aren't you glad I changed my mind?"
Something tells me that in a few minutes, I'm going to be very, very glad indeed.
Being with Evelyn is like nothing I can describe. The closest thing I can think of is being in the eye of the wildest storm of my life. There's electricity in her touch, fire in her kiss. Her eyes are the skies, shifting from clear to rain-dark in seconds. She's beautiful and exhilarating and overwhelming, and definitely not the innocent she pretends to be when the window-shades are up. She knows things, and does things, that no good girl could ever have thought of.
But there's familiarity, too--something I've never had with anyone else. I've touched every inch of her skin from head to toe. I know every little noise she makes, and how to produce each one. As for Evelyn, she loves my imperfections the most. Anywhere the skin is pocked or scarred, any place a bone was once broken, she lavishes attention. Not all the injuries are ones I got defending her, but for now we can both pretend they are. Like every other part of me, they're hers as much as they're my own.
Afterwards, we get dressed right away--little things that become habit once your kids start growing up. Or if you have a brother-in-law who could stand to learn how to knock. The bedroom floor is a disaster area: her clothes, my clothes, shoes, barrettes, a few stray buttons, blankets, and pillows. While I'm picking up the bedclothes, Evelyn stretches out on the bare bed in her slip. I tell her she's spoiled, and she agrees and drifts off to sleep, lying on her stomach with her arms tucked under her head. Enjoying it while she can, I guess. She hates sleeping on her back.
I'm not tired, so I just lie on my side and watch her, pulling the comforter over us both. I keep one hand cupped over her tiny shoulder, feeling skin and muscle and bone move with every breath. Reminding myself, I guess, that she's here. And that she's fragile.
It's been a while since we had this much time alone together, but Alex has been doing better lately--he plays outside more, and he doesn't keep poking his head into the room every five minutes to make sure Evie's still there. We can lock the bedroom door for a couple of hours now without worrying that he's going to have a fit when he tries it and it won't open. For a while, after Ahm Shere, he was pretty paranoid. Okay. Maybe we both were. I know the idea of living without her scares the hell out of me. It was a possibility I never even considered until I had to face it.
When we first got back, I was like Alex--terrified to let her out of my sight for a second. I couldn't sleep at night unless I was holding her. Sometimes not even then. I felt like we'd gotten away with something, like any minute now heaven was going to notice they had an angel missing and just snatch her back up while I slept. But that's no way to live. I've decided that I can't let what almost happened wreck my life. I'm not going to turn morbid and wonder if each day might be our last. Instead, I'm going to be the best husband and father I can, while I can.
She asked me once if I wanted to know what heaven looked like. All I know is, I'm looking at it right now.
Compared to afternoon tea, supper is downright boring. No one asks me to explain the facts of life, and no one asks me for a demonstration. And, for once, Jonathan doesn't show up. My wife and my kid sit there, chatting pleasantly, like it's just any other day. She's teaching him Latin now, so over dessert she has him conjugate some verbs. Reminds me of a talkie we went to once, about Martians. When the Martians spoke, what came out didn't even sound like a real language. Same deal here.
Bedtime comes too soon. I still have no idea how I'm supposed to do this, but I square my shoulders and march straight into my son's room. He's sitting up in bed, leafing through one of Evie's big, boring books about pyramids. At first, that used to scare me--like I said, one brain in the family is enough--but then I realized that he doesn't really read them, just looks at the pictures. He likes to draw them. And the kid has talent. I'm not just saying that because he's my kid, either. His sketches and sculptures are really something else.
"Lights out, pal," I tell him. He nods, then carefully closes his book and heaves it onto the bedside table. He settles back and pulls the covers over himself. For a minute, I think he's forgotten the whole thing.
I'm trying to decide whether to just say good night when he prompts, "Hey, Dad, you were going to tell me about making babies."
"Oh, right." I sit down on the edge of the bed. "Well. Uh... the mom and dad... and the baby--you see, Alex... hmm. You sure you wanna hear about this?"
"Yeah. Go on, Dad, I'm listening." His trusting face peeks up at me from a nest of covers. My son. I'm so proud of him. And the moment I look at him, I just open my mouth and start talking, knowing that whatever comes out will be the right thing to say.
"A baby... is a way for a man and a woman--a mom and dad--to show how much they love each other. They want to make something together, something that has part of both of them in it. Something really special. Kind of a miracle."
Okay. Here's where we get technical. "Well, when the man and woman love each other very much, they, um, they take off their clothes, and... and they... uhh..." I stammer to a stop. So much for knowing what I was going to say. Damn it.
Alex's face suddenly lights up in understanding. He sits up. "D'you mean like--like sex, Dad?"
Wow. It's true. God is merciful.
I do a double-take. "You--I--what?!"
"You know, sex." Patiently, he continues, "There's a man, and a lady, and they--" He takes his teddy bear and his toy soldier, and pushes them together in a way that makes it clear he knows exactly what he's talking about. Well, I'll be damned. I hope he at least bought her dinner first.
"No, I know, I know. But... how do you know?"
He shrugs. "Uncle Jon told me."
"What?! When?!" For a moment, the relief I'm feeling is eclipsed by outrage. I can't believe Jonathan would talk about something like that with my kid without even mentioning it to me.
"Dad, you're shouting."
"I'm not shouting!!" Well, okay, maybe a little. "All right... all right. Sorry."
"You're not mad, are you?"
"No. No, just... surprised." I'm gonna kill Jonathan. Maybe twice. "When--when did Uncle Jon tell you about this?"
"When we were at the zoo. Last year, in the spring. I got upset because I thought the monkeys were hurting each other. So Uncle Jon bought me a chocolate ice, and then he told me all about how they were just doing sex."
Deep breath. There. No yelling. Just breathing. "And what... did he say... exactly?"
"Well, I don't remember the exact words or anything, but the bit about the... you know, the sex part... was pretty dull. Lots of stuff about frogs and birds. And salmon, I think. Swimming upstream. Did you know they only do it once and then they die?"
"Wow. Huh. But--you understood everything okay?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. And he said everybody does it, people too, although I'm not to do it until I get older, and he said people get embarrassed if you talk about it." He cants his head and looks at up me curiously. "Dad, are you embarrassed?"
"Of course not!"
"Your face is all red."
I'm just... surprised that your Uncle Jon told you all this, and you never said anything." I guess it could have been a lot worse. Maybe I'll just kill him the one time.
"I didn't know it was important." He snuggles back down into bed. "Is that how the baby gets made, then?" he inquires sleepily. "From sex?"
"Oh." He yawns. "That's boring, isn't it? I thought it was going to be something really neat." I suppose, to a kid who's seen mummies--and Mum--risen from the dead, the plain old ordinary birds-and-bees would be kind of a letdown.
"Sorry to disappoint you, pal."
"That's okay, Dad... g'night..."
Well... how about that?
I switch off the bedside lamp and tiptoe out of the room. Evie is waiting for me in the hall.
"Well?" she asks.
"Nothing to it. Piece of cake." She watches me, arms folded. Finally I crack. "Jonathan already told him."
"What?" she squeaks. "I don't believe it!"
"From the sounds of it, he gave Alex your dad's lecture. He thinks the whole thing's a big snooze."
Evelyn chuckles, then slips her arm around my waist and walks me away from Alex's bedroom door. "Well, I suppose it's all for the best. Although I'm sure you would have handled it brilliantly."
I shrug, dropping an arm over her shoulder. "I guess. We'll never know now, will we?"
"I'm sure we'll find out when the next one gets to that inquisitive age."
"Uh-uh. You're doing the next one."
"Ohh, I don't think so. You see," here she assumes her lecturing tone, "I am the one who is going to spend the next eight months waddling to the loo fifty times a day. I am also the one who has to wake up in the middle of the night because certain portions of my anatomy happen to produce a beverage. Therefore, it follows that--"
"I love you, Evelyn," I blurt. Her eyes widen. Hell, that one even surprised me. I think I could use my fingers to count the number of times I've actually said the words. I probably wouldn't even need to use the thumbs. Evelyn, on the other hand, says it every chance she gets. Now, though, she says nothing, just watches me. She can sense that I'm not done talking yet.
"I know I don't say it often," I continue. "Or... ever, really."
The tiniest of smiles appears on her face. "You said it on our wedding night," she murmurs, reaching up to trace the line of my jaw with one finger.
"Yeah, but you kinda have to then..." Okay, I can tell by her expression that that's getting off track and taking me nowhere I want to go. "Anyway. Look. You know that I--I'm not good at this stuff--"
She slips her other arm around me and gives me a rib-cracking hug, holding on as tight as she can. "They're just words, Rick," she tells me. She relaxes her grip and looks up at me, resting her chin on my chest. "You say it every day in all the ways that matter. To me, and to Alex." Now there are tears shining in her eyes. The really scary thing is, if she starts crying, I may just go to pieces myself. And no one wants to see that.
"I just wanted to say it," I insist. "So you know for sure. In case... in case anything happens. Evie, I love you." Well, I had to say it again, since the first time I kind of sprang it on her with no warning. She deserves a chance to enjoy it. "Hey, look at that. Twice in one night. Man, are you ever spoiled."
"I deserve to be spoiled," she replies austerely. Queen Evelyn of the Nile.
"Yeah, you do."
"Besides, you enjoy spoiling me."
"Yeah, I do."
She grins up at me. "Thank you," she whispers, and buries her face in my shirt.
I close my eyes, savouring the simple pleasure of holding my wife in my arms. She's stubborn, and demanding; she refuses to admit when she's wrong; she leaves her clothes all over the house and then gets irritated with me when she can't find them; she gets on my case for swearing in front of the kid when she's done it herself; she reads books she shouldn't read, and opens chests that should definitely stay closed; she gets into impossible situations and expects me to get her out. She's a walking contradiction. A one-woman national emergency.
Even if I could, I wouldn't change any of it.
"Darling," she murmurs, "I have a question for you."
She looks up at me with those big, beautiful dark eyes. I would do anything for this woman. And I have, just about. And I'd do it all over again.
Sweetly, she inquires, "Exactly what did you mean by, 'you kinda have to'?"
It's going to be a long night.