A/N: This ficlet has been sitting on my computer for a while. I wrote it as a pre-Redux backflash but never found occasion to use it.
"I hope you'll never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship." Waldo Lydecker, Laura.
The meatloaf is burning, I think to myself. I can't smell it. I can't see it. But I know that it is. And somehow Daisy must know it and wants it to happen as she kicks her legs in the air, not letting me put her diaper on – not letting me rescue dinner. Maybe if I told Rowan to hold onto her so she won't roll off while I dash out…that's a horrible idea. He can't even reach the top of the changing stand. He'd probably watch her tumble off and wait to see if she'd bounce.
I wonder when my life devolved into pulling my daughter's feet into cotton bloomers and my goals to save meatloaf?
Just as I gain a victory with Daisy's left leg, the front door slams open and closed again with a small crash, echoing through the kitchen and down the hall. The sound startles all three of us.
"Gale? Is that you?" I call from Daisy's room. There's no answer but I can hear the heavy tread of Gale's boots over the wooden floor. He's coming down the hallway.
Rowan's curly, black head perks up from where he's playing with a toy on the rug. "Dad? Dad? Dad?" he chirps with his high toddler voice. He hikes his round diaper butt into the air and pulls himself into an upright, if wobbly, position. Then he toddles out the door with his wooden tank engine in hand. Good, now he'll have a playmate.
I quickly finish dressing Daisy, getting her head stuck in the neck of the dress, then trying to pat down her hair. It's straight and black like Gale's and radiates around her head at insane angles. Somehow, none of our children were born with manageable hair. With her large, gray eyes, Daisy looks a bit like an infantine mad scientist who just received a shock.
Gale disappears into our bedroom just as I step into the hallway. I follow him in, leaning against the doorframe to watch as he pulls his shirt off, revealing a nice set of back muscles. He tosses the grimy shirt into the basket by the closet. Rowan leans over the wicker side, reaching for the shirt and nearly falling in. He loses his train.
"Train! Train! Train!"
Gale twists around, noticing his son for the first time. "What, Rowan?"
Rowan's voice reaches a hysterical pitch now that he has dad's attention. "Train! Train! Train!"
"Oh." Gale pulls out the toy and hands it back to Rowan, but doesn't offer to play with him like he usually does. Rowan accepts the toy and starts making choo-choo sounds as he rolls the train along the lip of the basket. I glance back at Gale and have to tear my eyes away from his musculature to observe his face. His eyelids droop and his mouth is set in a firm, thin line. Looks like stress.
I step inside the bedroom, floorboards creaking under my feet. Gale nods at me. "Hi."
"Hi yourself," I reply. "Tired?"
"Yeah," he grunts, dropping onto the mattress. He grinds the heels of his palms into his eyes. "Spent most of the day on the back of a four wheeler on the bumpiest road this side of he—" He spots Daisy on my hip and stammers. "Er –heck. And then Drew rode his too roughly and killed the motor. We weren't halfway to the site yet. Tried to fix it and couldn't. By the time we got to Blue Ridge the crew wasn't even ready to start clearing. Stupid mess, the whole day."
"How much will that set you back?" I ask over Rowan's choo-chooing. The longer it takes to clear the woods east of the town, the longer it will be before our fledgling settlement receives some badly needed revenue from the houses that will go up.
Gale groans. "I don't want to think about it."
I walk over and kiss his head. "Well, dinner's almost ready." That's usually good news, right?
"What is it?" he asks hopefully.
He catches himself halfway through a grimace and manages a weak smile. "Mmm."
I roll my eyes. "Whatever. Take Daisy for me, so I can finish up."
Gale throws on a clean shirt, then takes the baby. Daisy promptly pukes on him. A martyred expression crosses his face, as if to ask, Why did you hand me a loaded baby?
I raise my hands in the air. "Now you know what my day's been like," I joke. Gale's nose wrinkles.
"The meatloaf's burning. Smelled it on the way in," he grumbles when he realizes he won't get any sympathy from me on that score. He sets Daisy in the laundry basket where she can't roll away and changes for a second time. His method leaves something to be desired but I sneak off down the hallway without any children on my hips while I still can.
Fifteen minutes later, dinner's on the table. Only slightly overdone. Gale hustles the kids in, juggling a squirmy Daisy in one arm and Rowan hanging around his neck. The children sit in their highchairs, while Gale and I sit across from one another. He's on Rowan duty and I've got Daisy. So far we've managed to synchronize eating and feeding remarkably well. I have no idea what we'll do if more kids come along. Ask Posy to move in?
I sit down for the fifth time after chasing for the salt, then napkins, then grabbing a fresh gallon of milk from the fridge, amongst other things. Just as I place my napkin across my lap again, Rowan accidentally sets his freshly-filled sippy cup down halfway on his plate. It topples over and the lid pops off, spilling milk all over Gale's dinner and cascading over the side of the table.
Gale jumps up, shouting, "Hell's teeth!"
I cringe at the familiar curse, then run around the table, pulling a dish rag off of the oven door handle and start dabbing up the mess. Gale swipes at his pants with his napkin, but he's wet through and milk's dripping all over the floor.
"Hell!" Rowan repeats, banging on his dinner plate with a spoon while milk runs off the table onto his papa's shoes. "Hell! Hell!"
"That's enough, Rowan," Gale reprimands harshly, turning the force of his ominous eyebrows on our son.
Rowan's eyes grow large under the death stare and then the tell-tale tremor begins in his lips. Oh no.
Rowan melts into a fit of tears and hiccups. And when Rowan cries…Daisy cries.
"Gale!" I hiss under my breath. "He's only repeating what he heard you say."
Gale throws his soiled napkin on the table. It squelches when it lands. "Is it too much to ask that I come home from work and enjoy a quiet meal?" he grouses. "Without my clothes getting destroyed and kids having hysterics?"
I quickly squeeze Gale's hand to quiet any other outbursts that might be coming. He pulls away from me and leaves the table. Leaves me with two crying babies and a mess to clean up.
I slump into his chair and the puddle of milk that formed within the dip in the seat.
To be continued