"Mom, what do you do?" Ten-year-old Lauren looked up at Jaime with curious, trusting eyes.
"I used to play tennis, Honey; you know that."
"No, I mean now," the child persisted.
Jaime returned her daughter's serious gaze. "I'm not sure what you're asking me," she hedged, although she was fairly certain she did know. "I take care of you, your brother and your sisters -"
"No - I mean when Uncle Oscar comes to see you. He always takes you or Dad with him. Where do you go? Is he your boss or something?"
"Why would you think that?"
"You don't seem happy to see him anymore, like you used to, and I can tell you don't want to go, but he takes you with him anyway..."
Yep - she always was the smartest, Jaime thought, trying to come up with an answer. "Tell you what, Lauren. When your Dad gets home tonight, we'll sit down and talk, ok?"
Hopefully, by then I'll figure out what to say!
Jaime grabbed her husband the instant he walked in the door, before the kids - who were playing out back - realized he was home. She quickly pulled him down the hall and into their bedroom, to tell him about what Lauren had said.
A wicked grin crossed Steve's face. "You usually wanna wait 'til the kids are asleep, but hey, I'm up for a quickie."
"Steve! You're incorrigible."
"And you love it."
Jaime smiled. "I love you. But we have a problem."
"Sweetheart, this is the one place where we've never had a problem..."
"It's our daughter..."
"Oh. Which one?"
"The one who'd like to know where we go and what we do when we leave here with Oscar," Jaime said quietly.
"What'd you tell her?" Steve asked.
"Nothing yet. I told her the three of us would talk when you got home. I was hoping you might have an idea how to handle it, because I sure don't. If we lie, and a few years down the road she learns the real truth...She's probably got it halfway figured out already. I know we can't lie, but they're so young -"
"We knew this would pop up some day," Steve reminded her. "And we might as well talk to James at the same time, because you know where Lauren goes -"
"Her brother will follow. They've probably been speculating for a while. Seeing the wires in my arm might have gotten it started."
"That was almost three years ago, Jaime -"
"Three years to turn the tiny molehill into an unclimbable mountain. Maybe she just couldn't bring herself to ask 'til now."
"We'll deal with it," he tried to assure her. He just wished he was sure himself...
"Are we in trouble?" Lauren asked solemnly.
"No, Honey, of course not," Jaime said, gently rubbing her daughter's shoulder. She and Steve had waited until the three younger children were in bed, and were now sitting on the big sofa together, with James and Lauren between them. Both parents noticed that the twins were holding each other's hand.
Lauren's eyes were wide. "In the movies, they always say I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," she whispered.
"What movies?" Steve asked.
Steve nodded. "Would those be the late night movies we don't allow you to stay up and watch?"
"Yeah," James answered for both of them. "Lauren thinks you're spies."
"And what do you think?" Jaime asked softly.
James shrugged. "Moms and Dads can't be spies."
Steve tousled the boy's hair. "First of all, Buddy, Moms and Dads can be spies like anyone else."
Jaime picked up the thread. "But 'spy' sounds like a 'bad guy' kind of word, doesn't it?" The twins nodded silently. "You're old enough now that your Dad and I feel we can trust you with the truth. That doesn't mean you can share it with your sisters."
"We won't," the twins answered in perfect unison.
"When Uncle Oscar visits us in jeans and a shirt, then he's just here to visit. We've known him for many years - long before you were born, even - and he's like part of our family." Jaime looked at her husband, as if to say help me out here.
Steve continued for her. "Sometimes, though, he comes here wearing a suit and tie, and then - yes - he's our boss, too."
"That's when we all have to go and play outside," Lauren noted.
"Is he a good guy or a bad guy?" James asked.
"He's a very good guy. He works for the government, and sometimes, when he needs us, your Mom and I do, too."
"You...are...spies!" Lauren was awed.
"That's not exactly it," Steve explained. "We sometimes work undercover; do you know what that means?"
"Like James Bond!"
Steve looked at Jaime: Tag - you're it!
Sort of, but nothing that fancy," she told them. "We help Uncle Oscar find and catch the criminals that the police can't -"
"Secret agents," Lauren concluded.
"Well, Honey, I guess that's better than 'spies'. And since we do most of our work undercover -"
"We aren't allowed to tell anyone about it," Lauren said.
"That's right. But you can talk to us about it, when you need to."
"Do Grandma and Grandpa know?" James asked.
"Yes, but other than the two of them, you're the only ones."
"And it has to stay that way, ok?" Steve reminded them. Both children nodded solemnly. "If you have questions, your Mom and I will answer them if we can. Once in awhile there might be things we just can't talk about, but we won't lie to you. Alright?"
They understood, and they were satisfied - temporarily, anyway.