By Elizabeth Smith
The baby screamed. Jade unplugged the curling iron and dropped it onto the bathroom counter before rushing down the hall to the children’s room. Her son sat on the carpet and sobbed, his face turned to the ceiling, his eyes shut, a small scratch on his nose bleeding slightly. Her stepdaughter hid in the corner behind the rocking chair. Jade sighed. She cradled the boy while she retrieved a bandage from the bathroom cupboard and dressed the wound with a kiss. Then they returned to the battleground.
“Annabel?” Jade addressed the lump underneath a floral comforter. “Care to tell me what happened?”
Her stepdaughter whimpered some muffled words.
Jade squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose. “What was that?”
Annabel pushed the blanket off of her face. “Leif broke it!”
“Broke what now?”
Annabel whined and pointed to a book on the edge of her bed. As Jade handled the pages, the book naturally opened to an elaborate pop-up of a whale swimming in rolling waves. The tail had been ripped in two, preventing the image from folding upward as it should.
“Can you fix it?”
“Umm.” Jade peered to the backside, trying to understand the layers of folds and glue. “I’ll give it a try. But I think we all need to get out of the house for a while.”
Jade sat at a picnic table with a roll of tape and a bottle of glue. As she held the papers together, waiting for the adhesives to dry, she glanced at the children on the playground. Leif was digging in the sand, and Annabel was twisting the chain on the swing.
Jade awkwardly typed into her phone with her nondominant hand. We have had quite the morning.
Three dots pulsed under the message.
What’s up? Brett sent.
Leif tore a page from that nature book you gave Annabel.
Her phone soon buzzed again. That would do it.
The woman chuckled. I can’t wait till summer break is over.
She slouched further into the table, her neck resting on her fist. Now Annabel embarked on a make-believe adventure to the willow tree, where she climbed onto the lowest branch, and Leif toddled up to a low slide. It was relieving what a little sunshine at the park could do to their mood. Their cheery, thankfully separate play gave no hint of the storms from earlier in the day—Leif’s refusal to nap, Annabel’s messy tantrum over the yogurt at breakfast, Jade’s dashed hopes of tackling the mountain of dirty laundry.
She closed her eyes and breathed the warm August air. Then her phone received another message.
Want to meet up for lunch?
Jade continued texting and occasionally squinted from the late morning sun to look at Leif and Annabel.
Eventually the glue and tape had done their work, and Jade removed her fingers from the page. She combed through her half-curled hair with her fingers and wrapped it up into a hasty bun before guiding Leif back into the stroller and checking the bandage on his nose. She slowly rolled her son down the path and stopped at the grass.
“Annabel!” She called from the pavement. “Let’s go have lunch.”
Annabel picked a string of dangling leaves and hopped around the tree before coming. Jade led the children up the street on the opposite side of the park, where they turned the corner.
“Where were you off to today?” She asked, blinking the tiredness from her eyes.
“Did you find any?”
Annabel held up the willow leaves. “We found a necklace.”
They stopped at a light, and Annabel pushed the signal.
“The fairies and me.”
“Oh, of course. How could I forget about the fairies?”
They crossed the street and came to the front of a small red building. Jade peered around for Brett’s car, but it wasn’t in sight. She led the children inside, and they ordered their lunch. As they took their seats in the crowded bakery, Brett came through the door and waved before placing his own order.
“I did my best to fix it.” Jade took the book out of her tote and handed it to Annabel.
The girl opened the book from the beginning, slowly reading the words she could recognize and gazing at the artwork on each page. She reached the final page of the whale in the water and gasped. The tail was crooked now, and the waves could not move as before.
“I know it’s not the same—”
“Thank you, thank you!” Annabel shut the book and held it to her chest.
Brett sat down in the empty chair at the table, and soon a waitress came with the food.
“You know,” Brett said to the children, “this is where we met.” He glanced quickly at Jade and cocked his head.
Leif giggled and stuffed more calzone into his mouth.
“For real?” Annabel responded.
“For real. It’s pretty special.”
“You didn’t tell me that.” The girl giggled as she bit her sandwich. Then her eyes widened. “This is our special place. For me, Leif, Dad, and Jade.”