Falling into Us Read online

Page 32

“Sounds good,” Nell said. “That gives us time to explore New Orleans a bit anyway. ”

  Saturday was only two days away, and I had a huge paper due for class that Friday. Mom and Dad were asleep on the couch when Jason and I got home a few hours later, Ben passed out across their laps, sprawled out as only a toddler can do. Jason carried Ben up to his crib while I shook my parents awake so they could go to bed in the guest suite.

  In bed, Jason turned to face me, his eyes heavy with sleepiness. “Does Nell know what Benny’s middle name is?”

  I sighed. “I don’t think so. It’s never come up, I guess. I just call him Ben, or Benny. ”

  As soon as we’d found out the gender of the baby growing inside me, I’d decided to name him Ben, and Jason had agreed. It seemed only natural, then, to give him Kyle’s name as well. I knew Nell was doing worlds better these days, but I also knew reminders were still hard. After all, it was still difficult for me to talk about my brother without getting choked up, so I imagined it must be similar for Nell.

  * * *


  Two days later

  Mom and Dad had gone back to Michigan and Jason was still at practice, so I was home alone with Benny, trying to cook dinner and get the house cleaned before Colt and Nell showed up. Jason’s salary even as a rookie was enough that we could have afforded help around the house, but I felt strange about paying someone else to take care of my child or clean my toilet, so I’d put my foot down. Today, however, I found myself halfway wishing I had someone else around to keep Benny out of trouble.

  He was a fearless one, my little boy. He had no qualms about climbing on to the back of a couch and throwing himself off, just to see what would happen. He also had a penchant for climbing onto the kitchen table and toppling backward off it. The first few times I heard the thump and the subsequent squeal, I felt like the worst mother in the world. Even though I’d only turned my back for five seconds to fill his sippy cup, I still felt as though I should’ve been watching him more closely. He never hurt himself, I came to realize. His cries after falling off the table were more from fear and embarrassment than actual pain, since he never seemed to learn. He would fall off, crack his head on the floor, scream and kick his feet until I kissed him and hugged him all better, but then he would be right back up on the table five minutes later, giggling and doing the booty-scoot across the table…. straight off the edge once more.

  Now, with my hands drenched in raw chicken juice as I trimmed the fat off a bag of boneless skinless br**sts, I heard the telltale impish giggling of Ben doing something he would regret in about ten seconds. I turned away from the counter with the carving knife held point up, effluvia-coated other hand held away from my body, scanning the open-plan kitchen and living room.

  “Benny! God, you little troublemaker!” I huffed.

  He was standing on top of the flat-topped, waist-high entertainment center, a red and yellow plastic hammer in one hand and his favorite stuffed giraffe in the other. He was bouncing up and down, the butt end of the hammer shoved into his mouth, muffling his giggles. He was daring me to come and get him, I knew. He’d pushed his miniature folding Mickey Mouse Clubhouse camp chair over to the entertainment center so he climb up onto it and was now doing a come-and-get-me-Mom-I-dare-you dance, waving Giraffey at me.

  I set the knife down and nudged the faucet on with my wrist, washing my hands swiftly while keeping one eye glued to Ben the entire time. I was a good fifteen feet away from him, across the kitchen, so if he started to fall, there wasn’t much I could do to stop him. I dried my hands cursorily on the hand towel hanging from the microwave handle and then approached Ben. It was kind of like a lion stalking prey; if I moved too quickly, Benny would bolt in an attempt to get away, so I had to move slowly and non-threateningly until I was close enough to lunge for him. As soon as I got within arm’s reach, Benny scrambled onto his belly, searching for the bottom of the chair with his little toes, giggling wildly and watching me over his shoulder. I scooped him up into my arms and rolled him so his tan little belly was exposed. He shrieked and kicked, but he couldn’t stop the raspberry. He didn’t really want me to stop anyway, but the fight was part of the fun for him.

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  “You can’t be up there, you little monkey,” I told him between raspberries. “You gotta stay off the TV stand, silly. No, Benny. No. ” I pointed at the entertainment center as I said “no,” serious now.

  Ben caught my stern tone and wiggled to get down. “I do. ” He scrambled up onto the chair and made to climb back onto the TV stand. He patted the top of the dark-stained wood with his little hand. “I do. ”

  I scooped him up again and crossed the living room, tossing him onto the couch. “You don’t. No, Benny. No. No climbing. ”

  He made an angry face at me and smacked my arm. “I do. ”

  I caught his hand before he could smack me again and gave him a stern glare. “No, sir. No hitting. You don’t hit Mommy. ”

  He rubbed his eyes then, toys still firmly gripped in each hand. “Mama. ” He leaned forward and bumped me with his forehead, pretending to cry now.

  I gathered him up and sat him on my lap. “That’s right. Be nice to Mommy. ” I turned his face up to mine. “Kisses?”

  He pressed his cheek to my lips so I could kiss him and then scrambled off my lap, running at full-tilt toddler speed, cackling, “I do, I do!”

  Right on to the table. I sighed, waited until he was solidly on the tabletop, and then scooped him up and plopped him back on the couch. “How about a show so Mommy can finish dinner before Auntie Nell and Uncle Colt get here?”

  He waved his hammer and giraffe at the TV. “House, house, house!” he chanted, meaning he wanted Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

  I turned on a DVR’d episode of his favorite show and ruffled his curly dark hair. “Now stay out of trouble for five consecutive minutes, please. ”

  I managed to get dinner made by the time Jason came home, slamming the door to the garage with his foot.

  “Where’s my little man?” he called, dropping his gear bag on the floor of the laundry room and peeling his sweat-stained tank top off. Jason hated showering at the team gym for some reason, so he always came home sweating and smelly. It may have been because he knew it turned me on, though. I hadn’t changed yet, so had no problem with letting him wrap his sweat-slick arms around me and kiss me breathless.

  Benny came running around the corner at that moment, show forgotten. He slammed into Jason’s legs and clawed at his shorts, trying to get up. Jason scooped him up, tossed him into the air, and caught him, nibbling at his belly until Benny squealed and wiggled free.

  “Give Daddy a kiss,” Jason said, kneeling down to Benny’s level.

  Benny threw himself at Jason and gave him a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss on his chin.

  I huffed in exasperation. “Ugh. He’ll give you a kiss, but he won’t give me one. He’ll let me kiss him, but he won’t kiss me. No fair. ”

  Jason laughed. “He must just love me best. ” He clutched Ben against him in mock-possessiveness.

  I made a sad face and turned away, pretending to cry. “I want a kiss,” I wailed.

  I watched out of the corner of my eye as Benny glanced at Jason in consternation, then to me.

  “Better give her a kiss,” Jason advised. “Mommy gets very sad when she doesn’t get kisses. ”

  Benny wiggled out of Jason’s grip and toddled over to me, wrapping his arms around one of my legs and peering up at me in concern. “Mama?”

  I kneeled down and held him by his shoulders. “Can I have a kiss, just like Daddy?”

  Benny smiled at me and gave me a sloppy kiss on my cheek. “I do,” he said, which was his phrase for just about every situation.

  “I’m gonna shower and change real quick, then I’ll finish dinner so you can get ready,” Jason said. “What time are they coming?”