Ed turned off the lights and let himself into his bedroom, keeping quiet in case Sophie had fallen asleep.
But no, she was sitting on her padded bentwood rocker; the one where she used to nurse Izzie, and where she had nursed Clark years before. She rocked quietly, and looked up at him with an expression he could not read.
"Hey, baby, I think we managed to avoid waking Isabel, am I right?"
Sophie nodded. "Yeah. Your voices were carrying into her room, but not too loudly. She slept through it."
"How often did you go in to check on her? I didn't hear you at all."
"I didn't go in."
"Then how do you know our voices went in there?" He started undressing as he asked.
"How do you think?" She nodded over toward her nightstand.
Ed glanced over and froze. "The baby monitor."
"You heard every word we said."
"No, but most of it. I certainly got the gist."
He stared at the monitor for a few more seconds before he remembered that he was changing into his pajamas. He proceeded automatically, his mind urgently replaying his words of the evening, wondering if he'd said anything he wished she hadn't heard. By the time he got his pajamas completely on, he'd resigned himself to uncertainty.
"Did I say anything that we need to talk about?"
"Yes, you did, but it's up to you if you'd rather have that talk now, or later."
He stopped and scrutinized her expression as best he could. "I guess that depends on whether you're mad about anything."
She smiled, got up, and walked across the room, into his arms. "No, I'm not angry about anything."
"Then let's talk about it tomorrow."
Izzie held out yet another toy for her father to 'play' with. He didn't really know what to do with it, but he bopped it around a bit and tried not to mind doing so.
It's not what you're doing, it who you're doing it with. Words from last night's conversation kept running through his head, reminding him to enjoy these moments. So he studied his daughter, appreciated her, humored her, took her to the potty...
...and was ready for a break. "Okay, sweetie, you play with your toys. Daddy has some things to do now." Then he stuck his head in the kitchen to tell Sophie that he was going to chill in the den for a while.
Okay, I'm not the best at playing with three-year-old girls. But at least she knows I love her.
He settled into his favorite den chair with a feeling of relief, and picked up the newspaper. Then he thought better of it, took out his phone, and fired off a text to Marty. "How's it going, buddy?"
He'd finished about half of an article on the sports page when he got his reply. "It's good, thanks."
"Glad to hear it," he replied, and left it at that.
He'd finished scanning the sports and was about to move on to the local news section when he heard Sophie putting Isabel down for her nap.
He set the paper down. Time for that talk.
And then he winced. I don't want to see the article about that accident, anyway. He shuddered.
Sophie walked in just a few moments later, and helped herself to a cup of hot chocolate from the single-cup brewer. When she sat down with her drink, she gave him a look that seemed half playful, half irritated. "Is this a good time for you to join me in my trivial, clueless, fairyland world?"
Ed looked down, and he could feel his lips pursing in that amused, "you caught me" expression that he naturally assumed at such moments. "Hey," he replied as he looked back up at her, "I said that was how I used to feel. And as soon as I realized it, I straightened it out." Now it was his turn to throw an annoyed-playful look at her. "I thought you said you weren't mad..."
"I wasn't, last night. But for some reason today it started to play back in my head, and I wanted to smack you one." She blew on her cocoa, but never took her eyes off of him. "I still might..."
He smiled widely now, then spread his hands wide in an SRU-worthy gesture of placation. "I'm at your mercy."
She threw a pillow at him, and he laughed as he deflected it. But then his laughter faded when he saw her expression change.
He stood and walked closer, squatting down beside her chair and taking her hand in his. "Honey, you're really upset, aren't you?"
She looked away. "I don't understand why, but yes, I am getting more upset."
"Then we need to talk about it."
"Yeah." She let her gaze meet his again, and she smiled a little.
She doesn't want to be upset.
That's good news.
"How can I help?" he asked.
"I just...I keep thinking back to those years...I mean...I knew you felt superior. I would have to have been blind not to see it. But I still felt like you loved me."
Ed's jaw dropped, and his eyes widened hugely. "I did! Baby, I did!" He stood and pulled her up into his arms. "Please don't ever, ever think there was a day in my life when I didn't love you. Please!"
She returned the hug, but only half-heartedly, and she sat back down quickly. "Eddie, how can love and disrespect...even contempt...coexist toward the same person?"
Ed felt something close to panic rising up in his chest. He sat down and took her hand again, mind racing. "I...don't know. I mean, I can't explain it, but I know it's true! The love was totally conscious, baby. The other was subconscious. I rejected it as soon as it came to my attention, as soon as I really thought about it. That's got to tell you something!"
Ed cast around in his mind for something from his training that could help him out, could help him frame the truth in such a way that she'd hear it.
Find common ground...
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "After all, didn't you ever feel frustrated and irritated with me when I didn't 'get' your world? Didn't you think I was clueless?"
She snorted and rolled her eyes. "You were! Totally!" And then she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, slyly, as if wondering if he'd noticed that she'd just stuck her foot in her mouth.
He grinned, more widely with each moment as she unsuccessfully fought a smile of her own.
Finally she shook her head, fixing him with a look of loving exasperation. "Have I ever told you lucky you are that I love you?"
"All the time!" He straightened up just far enough to plant a kiss on her forehead, and then squatted back down again. "And you're right."
She put a hand on his cheek and looked quietly into his eyes. "I guess I can't put you in the doghouse without crawling in there with you."
"That could be fun."
They both jumped, startled, as a voice hollered, "Hey, anybody home?"
Ed and Sophie both dove for the door. Ed yanked it open, and they both said "Shhhh!" as loudly as they could.
"Sorry." Their son Clark cringed a bit and glanced at Izzie's door, but no protests emerged from behind it.
Sophie looked at her watch. "It's a little late for lunch, but I can make you something if you haven't eaten," she whispered as she escorted Clark out toward the common areas of the house.
Ed followed behind, smiling contentedly at having his son home. It's got to be over a week since I've seen him!
"I was hoping you'd say that," Clark replied, with a wink back at his dad. "Starving college kid and all..."
Ed grinned and returned the wink, then reached forward to tousle Clark's hair. "You just know that nobody cooks like your mom does!"
"That too," he nodded.
"All right, you two, you don't have to bribe me with flattery. I'll cook, I'll cook." She hugged her son and kissed his cheek. "Not that I don't like the flattery!"
She set to work making Clark's favorite sandwich without even asking what he wanted. She knew.
Both men sat down at the table. Clark stared at his mother as if it would make the food cook faster.
"Hey," Ed got his son's attention with a thump on the shoulder. "Still doing your rehab?"
Clark shrugged. "Sometimes. Not much. I'm pretty much better now, Dad." His face took on a mischievous set that told Ed he was about to get zinged. "Broken bones heal, Dad, at least for people who are young, like me." He patted his father's arm a few times to drive his point home.
Ed pointed a finger at his face, with a "you'd better watch it, because I'm trying to be mad" expression.
Sophie looked over at the two of them and smiled. "How's school going, baby?"
Clark sat down beside Ed and started relating his life's details. Some obviously loomed huge in his eyes, and others seemed less so.
Ed just sat back and watched the drama of Ordinary World.
Sophie and I still haven't talked about the trauma of seeing that accident. We'll need to do that, but not now.
Now it's time for Ordinary World.
I'm so lucky to live in this world, too.