It only took thirty minutes for the toddler to succumb to the motion and low hum of the car engine. He cried a bit, as he always does whenever he was put in the car seat, but eventually calmed down when they got moving. Raylan of course was used to long drives alone, but in between the time Ricky fell asleep and the hour they had left before they arrived at Winona's place in Louisville he had to admit to himself that he missed his sons incoherent babbling.
He is running a little late so he isn't surprised that she's waiting outside when they pull up to her house that evening. She had moved out of Gayle's four months earlier and seems to have settled comfortably into the neighborhood. She walks to the passenger side back seat and opens the door.
"Looks like somebody's worn out." she says grinning as she carefully unbuckles and picks him up from his seat. "I may get a decent nights' sleep for the first time in fifteen months."
"You're welcome." Raylan says to her as he gets out of the car. "I think we may have worn each other out though. I got to the bathroom just in time to stop'em from flushin' my keys down the toilet."
"Yeah, He'll keep you on your toes. Sometimes I swear he can teleport to different rooms of the house he gets around so fast." She holds her boy close, his head now covered in wispy blonde hair, and steals a few kisses from him as they walk to the door.
It's the first time Raylan kept him for the whole day. The first time she's been more than a fifteen minute drive away from him. So it goes without saying she couldn't easily settle into this new found free time. And honestly she was more happy than pissed when Raylan had to cancel his day with Ricky twice before now, because she just wasn't ready.
They make their way upstairs to the nursery. It's a good size room painted blue with dark grey accents and a few owls splattered here and there. Even the parade of stuffed animals he'd had before he was born are festooned around the room. His name spelled ou in wooden letters over his crib. Winona sets him down on the changing table and starts removing his jacket. Raylan watches her. He can tell she's exhausted and he can also see the pure adoration she has for their son, even in doing a simple thing as getting him ready for bed. She notices him staring at her.
"What?" she asked smiling.
He pauses for a moment, "You ever regret not doin' this earlier?"
"I don't know Raylan. Maybe I do…sometimes when I'm givin' him his bath and he's just smiling and soaking half the floor, or watching him try to run around to keep up with his cousins, and when he sees somethin' new for the first time I guess I do wonder why I waited so long."
He senses a but coming along.
"But then I think of all the bullshit we would have had to put him through and I know that would have made me feel guiltier than us living an hour and a half away from each other and you seein' him whenever your job lets you."
Raylan bites the corner of his lower lip and fidgets with the brim of his hat, "I know I could do better about seein' him….but I"
She's shaking her head now, the baby's all changed and still sleeping as she lays him in his crib, "I'm honestly not worried about you tryin' to do better Raylan, I'm not." She looks up and lets out a small sigh and looks at Ricky, her hand on the crib railing, "I'd rather him get used to you being you, than waiting by the door hoping you'll actually show up on time or at all."
He knows she's right, and he has nothing to answer for it at the moment so he decides to try to change the subject. He speaks softly.
"I took him to the park today and they have this little trail, so I decided I'd take him for a short walk cause he'd lost all interest in the playground at that point. And as I was walkin' with him I saw this tiny frog near this shallow creek that runs along the trail a ways. I go over and I pick up the frog and I show Ricky and I could see that he was a little apprehensive so I put him down and got down on my knee to show'em and I think he must've studied that frog for a twenty, thirty seconds. Then he worked up the courage to put up that tiny finger and goes to touch the frog and when he did he let out the happiest shriek of laughter that I had ever heard. And he did it a couple more times and I swear Winona it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."
He looks at her straight in the eye with that very familiar grin on his face and it takes a great deal of willpower to ignore the flutter she feels in the pit of her stomach. It's been a long time for her, but she knows anything more than whatever it is they have going on right now would just muddle things up even more. Plus, they have this whole other person to think about now.
"Well, he does have a way of putting things in perspective for you." She says as they walk through the hall and down the stairs into her kitchen. "And I don't ever stop forgetting how much you love him Raylan. I want you to have a relationship with him. But at the same time, I just don't want him to get hurt."
"And you think I want to hurt him?"
"No. Not like that Raylan. It's just that, you're still livin' above that bar and…"
"I told you I was takin' him in through the back entrance."
"That's not the point. He's almost a year and half, you really shouldn't have a need to take him through the back entrance of your home, his home, at all."
She goes to the fridge and takes out two bottles of beer and hands him one before rinsing out Ricky's sippy cups and putting them in the dishwasher.
"Look. I understand that it was a big deal for you lettin' me take him for the day alone even though I'm still livin' at the bar." He says taking a swig from the bottle. "And I promise I'll start lookin' for a new place for him soon."
"That's just vague enough to almost sound reassuring Raylan." She says rolling her as and chuckling.
"Nothing." She sighs "I just get the feeling we're going to be having this same conversation for the next 17 years is all."
Raylan starts to speak when suddenly there's a loud cry from the nursery.
"Well that didn't last very long."
"Actually it's about right on time for him since you said he's been sleep since you started driving here, he still gets up about every two hours." She says as she makes her way up the steps. "The move didn't help and now most of the time he just ends up in bed with me, which helps even less."
Ricky's standing in the crib at the corner closest to the door and the wailing subdues almost immediately as Winona turns on the light and walks to him, and he instinctively raises his arms to be picked up.
"Oh it's alright Punkin'" she sways with him back and forth while patting his back. His head is lying on her shoulder and he sniffles while giving her a few pats on her arm in turn. She can't help but smile whenever he does it. "It's ok baby."
She turns around slowly towards the door to find Raylan standing just inside the room. His love for her swells when he sees her mothering their child. It reminds him of the few peaceful times he had spent with his own mama when Arlo was gone doing whatever bullshit his father was want to do. He can't help but wonder sometimes if his boy is better off with him not around as much too. He lightly shakes his head as if to purge the doubt from his mind.
"I'm gonna get goin. Let you get settled for the night." He says as he bridges the small space between them. He gives her a light kiss on the lips.
Winona feels those flutters again, but she hands the baby over to him and Ricky promptly assumes the same position in Raylan's arms, "I'll walk you down to the door."
They make their way down the hall and stairs and finally to the front door. Raylan hugs his boy one more time and kisses him on his head, and hands him back to his mama, and this time the baby is tired and agitated enough to fuss a little.
"You know I love you right?" he says.
"Yeah, I do Raylan. And I still love you back."
He hugs them and doesn't let go, "let me know when I can get him again."
"You can have him whenever you want." She says softly.
"Maybe even over night?"
She breaks their embrace and looks at him "Nice try, but I told you I want him to be a little older for that." She shrugs "Maybe when he's old enough to count the bullet holes in your living room floor."
"Fair enough." He takes a step out of the door onto the porch to make his way to the car, as Winona and the baby follow stopping at the top of the small stairway. "You know I'm not gonna drive off with you two standing out here right?"
"I know. Goodnight and be safe Raylan." She says as she turns to the door.
"And make sure you lock the door behind you."
Raylan watches as they walk into the house and waits long enough for Winona to give her assurance that they were safe through her bedroom window. He starts his car and begins the drive back to Lexington, not for the last time missing the incoherent babbling of his son.