Through the open window, he could hear the announcer giving a detailed play by play of the Orioles game. The words drifted through the screen, the excitement in the man's voice floated across the yard. It was early in the game and someone had just hit a grand slam.
Down the street, a neighbor practiced the cello. At least, he assumed it was the cello. It could have been a viola. It didn't matter, the music was still pretty.
The evening sky was a clear, deep blue. The heat wave that had washed over the area had eased back a bit and people were taking advantage of the lull. A raucous game of dodge ball acted as a roadblock at one end of the street. The younger children in the neighborhood, still too little for the dodge ball game, were engaged in an equally loud game of some form of tag. As far as he could tell, the game received and lost players at a fluid rate depending on the availability of lightening bugs.
The sky was growing darker and soon the children would be called to bed. Fans and air-conditioners would click back on, filling the night sky with a steady hum, making sleeping more comfortable.
"I was listening to that," he shouted through the window, not indignant enough to leave the porch. The screens had been her idea, the ceiling fan his, making this section of their wrap around porch the most comfortable room in the house. They often joked that the porch had become a vortex, draining lazy afternoons and nights of time and energy.
Drowsy big band music replaced the play by plays. Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls," he thought to himself. There were few guarantees in life. Death and taxes were the standards. That Sarah Mackenzie-Rabb would play a big band or blues CD on nights like this was one was another.
The door leading to the house opened. "If you were enjoying it so much," she replied as stepped onto the patio, "turn it back on yourself." Her outfit was incongruous. Her feet were bare and her khaki shorts and white tee shirt were dwarfed by the sweat jacket she had thrown over them. Ellie rested on her mother's hip. Also bundled in a sweatshirt because of the cooling air. Mac smiled at him, knowing that she had won. He wouldn't turn it off because there was no way he would leave the porch.
"It's not that bad," he grumbled to himself. He watched his wife and daughter cross the room. The screen door banged shut behind them. "What are you doing?"
She carefully put the baby on the ground. "We're going to practice walking. The grass had gotten so long-"
He interrupted her. "Hey, I'm going to cut it. I've been busy in case you hadn't noticed." He stood up and moved to the door. "Anyway, you're thirty-five, shouldn't you have this walking thing down pat by now?"
"Isn't your daddy funny?" She rubbed her nose against Ellie's. "You're funny. Really." She shot him an exasperated glance. "And that wasn't meant to be a crack at your landscaping skills. I thought the longer grass would cushion El better."
He lowered himself to the stoop and watched them. Mac rose and waited as Ellie struggled to stand. The little girl had started standing on her own a few weeks ago. Standing was usually followed by a quick fall, or 'sit-down' as Harm and Mac termed it. When she wobbled to her feet, Mac bent over her and let the little girl grasp her fingers in her chubby hands.
Harm looked on as Ellie picked her feet up carefully over the grass blades and firmly set them down again. "Well," he nodded to their slow progress across the lawn, "she can't walk, but she can march."
"It's in the genes."
A lightening bug blinked in front of Ellie, causing the little girl to giggle and attempt to follow it. From the house, Glenn Miller sang about a girl in Kalamazoo. "Why do you like this CD?" He rested his elbows against his knees.
"What?" Mac looked over at him. Her brown hair swung gently over her cheek and she smiled at him while shaking it back. Ellie realized she no longer had her mother's full attention and turned her head to see what the distraction was. When she saw her daddy, she let go of Mac's fingers to clap. The motion knocked her off balance and her bottom thumped heavily to the ground. He stood up and walked over to scoop her up.
"I think it's bedtime." He tickled her stomach.
"Bath first." Mac held up a grubby little foot.
When the bathing was done, the good-nights said, the kisses placed on soft little cheeks, and the monitors flicked on, they made their way back to the porch. "Aren't you cold?" She brushed a hand over his bare arm.
"I'll never understand this. Why is it you get cold the second the temperature dips below seventy-five?"
"I grew up in Arizona!" she cried defensively.
"And went to school up north." He sat down on the glider and pulled her back against his chest. "And then you were stationed all over the world."
"Some things stick with you. My inability to stay warm is one of them." She laced the fingers of her right hand with his left hand and leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Speaking of things - you never answered my question." He dropped a kiss on the crown of her head.
"What question?" Her eyes drifted shut.
"Why do you like this music?"
"Oh." Her thumb rubbed over his knuckles. "My grandmother. She used to listen to it and tell me about the dances she went to with my grandfather. When I was a kid, she used to make me dance with her in the kitchen. It was nice."
"Sounds like it." He shifted in the chair until he found his feet. With a gentle tug, he pulled her to hers.
"I was comfortable," she protested laughingly.
"Dance with me?"
The lights from the living room made a grid of rectangular patches on the floor of the porch. The games of tag and dodge ball had long since ended, leaving only the sounds of the tree frogs, cicadas, and Glen Miller's orchestra. Over the baby monitor, Ellie's even puff of breath provided a tempo for the couple gliding quietly across the patio.