For the rest of the day Chris stayed in his bed while Melanie kept the girls out of the room. He went through every stage of emotion over the hours he spent under his covers. He went from confused, to scared, to worried, to amused, to sad he didn't know how he was supposed to feel, or if this was even real. For a while he was convinced he was still dreaming, somehow he was stuck in an incredibly vivid dream.
But as the sun set, the "dream" came to rouse him for dinner. "Daddy?" Jenny asked from the doorway. "Are you asleep?"
"No, I'm awake." Chris said, assuming that he was still the "daddy".
"Mommy said to tell you dinner's ready. We're just having basketti and bread." She sighed as she swung on the door. "Are you hungry?"
Chris' stomach growled at the thought of warm garlic bread and pasta. "Yeah, I'll come down." He threw the covers off and stood up to stretch.
"Are you sick daddy?" The little girl whispered as Chris walked by.
"Because you stayed in bed all day."
"I know, I just I needed to be by myself for a little bit." Chris waited at the top of the stairs for Jenny to follow.
"And you didn't even have lunch."
"I must have forgotten." He shrugged.
"I'd be too hungry if I didn't eat my lunch daddy."
"I bet you would be. I'm pretty hungry right now."
"Good because mommy made a lot of food." Jenny bounced down the stairs and trotted to the kitchen with Chris right behind her.
"Are you feeling any better?" Melanie asked as she dished up a plate at the stove. "Here you go Jenny girl." She handed the plastic plate to Jenny and watched as she carefully took it to the table.
"Yeah, a little." Chris said. Knowing how emotional she got that afternoon, he didn't want to say anything to set her off again.
"Yeah?" She smiled, but looked him over carefully.
"Yeah." He thought about what he would do as a husband right then, then he leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I'm okay."
"Good." Melanie smiled and gave a tiny sigh of relief.
Chris smiled and took a plate to dish himself up. Everything smelled delicious and for a moment he didn't care that he didn't know who or where he was, he was just hungry for a home cooked meal. He took his steaming plate to the table and looked down at the three empty seats, not sure which one he should sit in.
"You're blocking traffic hun." Melanie said as she slid by him and sat in the chair closest to the window. Chris moved to the side and sat directly across from her with Jenny to his left.
"This smells great." Chris' mouth watered as he took a bite of the garlic bread.
"Thank you." She nodded and tore a piece of the bread in half for Lauren who was siting in her high chair beside Melanie's seat.
"Daddy you know what?" Jenny asked as she took a bite of her plain spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese.
"Hmm?" Chris chewed his bread and looked at the little girl beside him.
"Mommy got my beach toys down today and we played in the sand box." She spoke so fast that Chris had to smile. She reminded him so much of his sister Taylor.
"Yeah, and we played like the sand box was a beach only without the water and birds." Jenny explained as she took another bite of her noodles.
"Sounds great, did you build a sand castle too?"
"Uh huh." Jenny nodded. "But then Lauren woke up and broke it all down." She sighed and set her fork down. "But she's a baby and babies do that sometimes."
"That's uh that's right. She's still a baby." Chris nodded and took a bite of the spaghetti. As soon as it hit his lips he closed his eyes and inhaled the heavy garlic scent. "Oh my God, this is so good."
"You act like you've never had spaghetti before." Melanie gave him a look as she blew on some pasta for Lauren.
"This is just really good." Chris smiled and took another bite. "Seriously."
"Well thank you."
"You're welcome." He mumbled as he slowed down to enjoy the meal.
When they were done eating Melanie herded the little girls up the stairs for their bath while Chris stayed downstairs by himself. He looked around to make sure they were upstairs, then he heard them in the bathroom directly above the kitchen. While he had the time by himself he nosed around in the living room looking for photo albums or any other kind of proof that he had been there before that morning. A small part of him couldn't accept the fact that somehow this was his life now.
On an end table in the living room Chris found two framed pictures that made his breath catch in his throat and his future seem even more questionable. The first was a portrait of himself, Melanie and what he could only guess was a baby Jenny. The second was a candid picture of himself, his mom and Melanie celebrating his moms 45th birthday, which had been the year before.
"Chris?" Melanie's voice shattered his trance from upstairs.
"Y-yeah." He looked toward the staircase.
"Can you check in the garage to see if Lauren's green sleeper is down there?"
"Sure." Chris jumped up and walked quickly to the garage. He fumbled around for a minute looking for the light switch, then went to the washing machine to look for this green sleeper.
The only piece of clothing he found that was green was a thin cotton one piece deal with a snap missing by the neck. He shrugged and ran it upstairs, "Is this it?"
Melanie turned to look over her shoulder and nodded, "Yeah. Thanks. Can you make sure Jenny's getting her pajamas on? It sounds like she's just goofing off in there."
"Yeah." Chris nodded and left them alone in the bathroom to finish Lauren's bath. The light was on in Jenny's room and he heard her singing to kid's songs on the radio. "Maybe it's still in my genes." He thought to himself. "Hey there Jenny, are you getting your pajamas on?"
"No." She twirled around naked as he peeked in her door.
"You need to get them on." Chris blushed quickly and turned his head. "Come on kiddo, get some underwear on or something."
"I don't know where any is."
"Yeah you do." He averted his eyes and walked to her dressed in the corner where he pulled open two drawers before finding the Little Mermaid undies. "Here."
"I'm not tired."
"Well I am."
"Then you should go to bed daddy."
"I'm going to." Chris nodded and held her undies out to her. "Here, put these on then put your pajamas on."
"I don't want to." She started to whine.
"Fine. Don't. But your mom told me to come down here and make sure you have them on. I'm not gonna be the one that gets in trouble if you don't." He shrugged. He didn't have the energy to attempt to argue with a child when he didn't even know the ground rules there.
"Can I wear my Sea World jamas?" Jenny asked as she pulled her undies on over her skinny little legs.
"Do they fit?"
"Do you know where they are?"
"Then go for it." Chris smiled.
Jenny got the oversized t-shirt out of another of her drawers and pulled it on over her damp hair then smiled. "Okay I'm in my jamas now. Can I dance some more?"
"You bet." Chris nodded, then leaned on the doorjamb to watch her. After a few minutes he sighed and shook his head then went across the hall to the master bedroom.
Chris shed his clothes then climbed under the blankets in his boxer shorts and fluffed his pillow. He wasn't exactly tired, but he just needed the security that the bed had offered him throughout the day. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness, hoping to fall asleep and wake up back in the life he knew.
Melanie came into the dark room a short while later and shuffled to the bathroom where she turned on the little night light under the medicine cabinet. Chris pretended to be asleep as he watched her through his half-closed eyes. She tied her hair back in a ponytail then removed her make up and brushed her teeth before walking into the closet. When she stepped out a minute later she was wearing a giant t-shirt and underwear.
She didn't say anything as she pulled the covers back on her side and climbed into the large bed, scooting as close to Chris as she could with her back to him. Chris hesitantly put his arm around her expanding waist and let his hand rest on the curve of her stomach; a feeling he'd never experienced before. It weirded him out for a minute, but Melanie sighed with content as his hand warmed on her stomach and he couldn't even think of moving it.
Chris stretched his legs out under the covers and for a moment he didn't know where he was. It was completely possible that everything from the day before had been an alcohol induced hallucination; but when he cracked his eye open he saw Melanie sleeping in front of him and the now familiar room beyond her. He tried not to move so that he'd have a few minutes of solitude to straighten out his head and try to acclimate himself to the situation that he was still in.
He was enjoying the silence, when the alarm on Melanie's side of the bed began to chirp lightly. "Man, there's no way that would wake me up." Chris thought to himself. Within a couple seconds Melanie sighed and rolled over to turn the alarm off.
"Chris, time to get up." She grumbled as she pulled herself to a sitting position.
"I'm on vacation." Chris said with his eyes closed.
"Dream on, honey." Melanie stood up and stretched her arms over her head as she headed for the bathroom. "The girls will be up in a few minutes, can you run downstairs and make up some apple juice? I think we used the last of it yesterday."
"Right now?" He whined and fluffed the pillow under his head.
"Chris " She sighed with exasperation as she removed the scrunchie from her hair. "Come on, I'm serious."
"Okay, okay." Chris swung his feet out from under the covers and took a few minutes to get himself ready to stand up. Melanie started the shower and was already under the water when Chris stood up and reached for his jeans from the previous day. He pulled them on over his bare legs, then looked through his dresser to find a clean t-shirt. Deciding on the big white 'Cass Street Grill' shirt, he pulled it over his head and made his way down the stairs.
There was no logical set up for the kitchen, so Chris opened and closed the cupboards until he came across what was most likely a juice pitcher. He took another couple of minutes to look for the juice, then finally found it in the freezer. "They still make this stuff?" He whispered to himself as he pulled the seal off and popped the top. The glob of concentrated apple juice fell to the bottom of the pitcher, leaving a syrupy trail down the side. Chris added the water, then went on a search to find a large mixing spoon to stir it up with.
"Daddy?" Jenny asked as she stumbled into the kitchen. "Why are you doing that?"
"I'm making apple juice." Chris said as he opened and closed another drawer.
"I don't like apple juice." She rubbed her eyes then balanced herself with the wall.
"Maybe uh " His mind blanked on the other little girl's name. "Maybe your sister does."
"Yeah Lauren likes it but I don't." She made a face as Chris held up a long wooden spoon.
Lauren. Chris needed to commit that to memory before he buried himself any deeper than he already was. "Then Lauren can drink this and you can have something else."
"Can I have a Pepsi?"
"For breakfast?" Chris gave her a look as he stirred.
"Yeah." She smiled and hung on the handle to the refrigerator.
"I don't think so."
"I did before." Jenny tried to argue.
"Well not today."
"You can't have a soda for breakfast. You'll rot your teeth." He tried to make himself sound like a father who had done this hundreds of times before, and he hoped his high school acting classes were paying off.
"Then can I have cereal?"
"Cereal I can do." Chris stopped stirring and left the spoon in the pitcher. "What do we have?" He asked as he opened up the cupboard at his eye level.
"It's over there daddy." Jenny pointed to the cupboard beside the sink.
"Of course." Chris smiled then lifted her up onto the counter. "Okay, let's see." He opened the right door and scanned the dry cereals. "Well this stuff sucks." Chris said under his breath. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Corn Chex and Life. "You like this stuff?"
"That's mommy's cereal." Jenny made a face and shook her head. "Mine is there." She pointed to a tupperware container with multi-colored rings.
"That's more like it." Chris smiled and took it down. He lowered Jenny to the floor then set about pouring two bowls of cereal. They sat at the table and ate their store brand fruit loops and laughed as their milk turned purple.
"I didn't know you liked cereal daddy."
"I love cereal." Chris said between bites.
Jenny watched him for a minute. "What's your favorite?"
Chris thought for a minute then said, "I like Trix. But sometimes I like peanut butter Captain Crunch."
"I like peanut butter."
"Yeah? Well I bet you'd like that cereal then, have you ever had it?"
"No." She shook her head. "Maybe next time we can get that."
"Yeah, we'll have to see about that." Chris nodded and chased the last three loops around in his milk. "Where's Lauren?"
"She's sleeping still. Mommy will get her up."
"Your mom is in the shower."
"I heard her." Jenny nodded. "But then after that she'll get Lauren and have breakfast. But Lauren doesn't like this cereal daddy, she only likes toast."
"Okay." He nodded and smiled. She was just like him when he was younger; he wanted to keep all of the 'good' cereal to himself.
"Good morning Jenny girl." Melanie said as she swooped into the kitchen with Lauren on her hip. She paused for a moment to run her hand over Jenny's tangled hair then said, "If you're done I need you to go upstairs and get dressed for school. Your clothes are on your bed."
"Can I wear my yellow dress?"
"It's too chilly for a sundress." Melanie shook her head and strapped Lauren into the high chair in the corner. "I put out your purple pants and your pink sweater thing."
"With beauty on it?"
"Yeah, your Beauty and the Beast sweater."
"Okay." Jenny slid off the chair and ran upstairs to get dressed.
"Toast?" Melanie readjusted the towel on her head then tightened the belt on her robe.
"What?" Chris stood up with his bowl in his hand.
"Did you make Lauren's toast?"
"No, I'll do that now." He said quickly as Lauren began to fuss in the chair.
"No peanut butter this time." Melanie said as she dashed back out of the kitchen, leaving Chris to fend for himself.
"Toast no peanut butter." Chris tugged at his lip and looked around the kitchen. "Okay." He nodded and began his search for the toaster. After a few minutes he found it and toasted two pieces of wheat bread for Lauren. When it was done he spread butter on one piece and jelly on the other. "Works for me."
Chris tore both pieces in half, then set them on the tray in front of Lauren who took much interest in the meal set before her. She babbled at the toast then looked up at Chris, "Dadada?"
"Hi." Chris smiled and messed her soft baby hair. She picked up a buttered piece and began to gnaw on it as Chris remembered the juice. "Ah ha, you like apple juice." He went back to the kitchen and found a baby cup to pour her juice in. "Here, try this."
When he set the cup on her tray he expected her to look at it, but he didn't expect her to drop her food and drain almost half of it in three long swallows. "Wow, Jenny wasn't kidding." Chris said with his hands on his hips.
"Daddy!" Jenny shouted as she bounded down the stairs. "Daddy! I need you to put my shoes on!" She spun down the hall in a blur of pink and purple then stopped and panted as she crawled back up onto her seat. "Can you put these on?" She dropped her sneakers to the floor.
"Sure, yeah I can do that." Chris nodded. Jenny's energy seemed never-ending and for a spilt second he knew what he must look like to the guys. Just thinking about JC rolling his eyes at him when he'd burst into a room like a ball of energy made Chris' palms begin to sweat. Was he ever going to see them again?
He frowned slightly as he tied Jenny's shoes then double knotted them, "There you go, now they won't come untied." He patted her foot.
"Do you know how to tie your shoes?"
"No." Jenny shook her head making her ponytail sway from side to side. She'd obviously visited Melanie before she came down stairs.
"Maybe I can teach you then. It's really easy."
"Okay." Jenny shrugged and jumped off her chair. "Where's my papers?" She asked as she went right over to the end of the kitchen counter and picked them up, "Here they are, I found them daddy." She carried them back to the table and began to sort through them as if she was looking for something.
"Right on." Chris nodded and looked from Jenny to Lauren.
Melanie walked into the kitchen fully dressed and ready to take on the day. She jingled her keys in her hand and leaned over to kiss Lauren's head, "Bye bye sweetie." She side stepped to where Jenny was sitting and kissed her cheek, "Have a good day at school."
"I will." Jenny giggled as Melanie's hair brushed her cheek.
"I'll be home around four thirty, do you want me to pick something up for dinner?" Melanie asked over her shoulder as she headed down the hall to the garage.
Chris jumped up from his seat at the table and followed her. "You you're leaving?" He asked with a hint of panic in his voice.
"I'm going to work Chris. Since you're here I'm going to actually spend the day in the office. Telecommuting is nice, but I won't be able to work at all if you're here." Melanie sighed.
"What about them?" He looked down the hall at the two little girls eating breakfast. "Where do they go?"
"Jenny goes to school and you've got Lauren all day."
"Doesnt she have daycare or something?"
"It's thirty two dollars a day." Melanie raised her eyebrow at him and placed her hand on her hip, "You'll be home so you can take care of her. You'll be saving us something like a hundred and fifty bucks."
"I'll pay it." Chris reached for his wallet out of habit.
"I have a better idea. Take care of your daughters." Melanie sighed and opened the door to the garage where the cars were parked side by side. "Don't forget that Jenny has to be at school before the first bell at 8:05."
"Wait, where - "
"I don't have time for this Chris." Melanie disarmed her car and climbed in the driver's seat as the garage door lifted open behind her.
"Daddy!" Jenny shouted from the kitchen.
Chris watched with a feeling of apprehension as Melanie backed out of the garage and down the driveway. He waited until the garage door lowered into place before he went back to the kitchen. "Okay guys, I have no idea what we're doing today."
"I'm going to school." Jenny jumped up and carried her pink plastic bowl to the sink. "We're going to make a rainbow today with markers and that stuff mommy puts on food."
"What stuff?" Chris asked as he absentmindedly rinsed her bowl out.
"The stuff she puts over the bowls. It's clear."
"Cool." Chris nodded and looked down at Jenny. "Are you ready for school?"
"Do you have a lunch box or something?"
"No, I get lunch at school."
"Okay." Chris put his hands on his hips. "Where where's your school?"
"By the park." Jenny shrugged.
"I don't know how to get there." Chris said softly.
"I know how to go there, I go every day daddy." Jenny laughed and shook her head as she slid off the chair and straightened her sweater. "I need my pack and then we can go." Jenny ran toward the stairs as her ponytail flew out behind her.
"Wait, Jenny hang on. Do we drive to school or walk?"
"We walk because mommy says we need air."
"Okay, sounds good to me." Chris looked down at Lauren and frowned, "She's a mess."
"Yeah." Jenny giggled and started up the stairs.
"Beautiful." Chris sighed and put his hands on his hips. "Okay kid, you're gonna have to bear with me today. I'm not too sure what I'm doing here." He reached between her stomach and the tray and unclasped the little seat belt that held her in. He carefully lifted her out and tried not to catch her legs on the tray. "That thing has to come off somehow "
"Mamama baba eeeee." She babbled in her toddler talk.
"Oh yeah?" Chris answered back with a smile. Lauren kicked her feet and giggled to show off her front teeth.
"Daddy! Come on!" Jenny shouted from the garage door.
"I thought we were going to walk?"
Jenny heaved an annoyed sigh like only a five year old can, and put her hand on her skinny little hip. "We are, but Lauren's stroller is right here." She pointed into the garage.
"Ahh, okay." He carried Lauren out to the garage and put her in the jogger stroller that was by the door. "Do I have to strap her in?" He felt foolish asking a five-year-old questions that he should know the answer to, but he had no other options.
"I don't know." Jenny shrugged. "She just sits there and we go." She flung her backpack over her shoulders, "Daddy come on. I'm going to be late."
"Okay." Chris mumbled as he quickly strapped the belt around Lauren's waist resulting in her immediately grabbing the clasp and crying. "Okay let's go." Chris pushed the stroller down the driveway then turned and closed the garage door behind them. He stared at the house for a moment and memorized the address stenciled on the little wooden sign hanging by the garage door.
"This way daddy." Jenny skipped down the driveway and headed up the sidewalk. Chris followed close behind her as he tried to take in the houses around him and the names of the streets. He'd have to find his own way home and then back to the school that afternoon and he didn't want to get lost.
Chris followed Jenny right up to her classroom door so he'd know where to find her when school ended. "Hey Jenny, what time does school get done?" He asked softly.
"After lunch." Jenny shrugged.
"What, like at one?"
"I don't know daddy." Jenny giggled and took her backpack off to hang it on a peg on the wall. Her name was taped above it along with a butterfly sticker.
"Good morning Jenny." Her teacher smiled and walked over to where they were standing. Lauren continued with her baby talk in the stroller as Chris rocked it gently back and forth.
"Hi, I'm kinda new at this." Chris stampered and immediately gave the teacher a flirtatious smile. That kind of look had won him many points when he was in Nsync, he could woo just about any girl with the lost and innocent smile he'd perfected. But it didn't seem to have the same effect on Jenny's teacher. "I uh what time does school get out around here?"
"Two ten." She looked pointedly at the class schedule on the wall that spelled out what they did and at what time, including when they went home.
"Ahh, thank you." Chris maneuvered the stroller to head out of the class then waved at Jenny, "See ya later kiddo. I'll be right here to get you after school, okay?"
"Mommy waits by the gate." Jenny pointed to the end of the play yard by the parking lot.
"Bye daddy!" Jenny laughed and ran into her classroom, not giving a second thought to how her daddy was going to get home.
Chris wheeled Lauren out of the schoolyard to the sidewalk and prayed he'd remember his way home. It shouldn't be hard, four short blocks was all it was, two turns and one stop sign. He kept his eyes open and took everything in as they made their way back to the house, he'd have to walk back that afternoon to pick Jenny up and he did not want to get lost or be late.
They made it home with no problem and Chris began to feel a little more confident. He gloated to himself until they got into the house and Lauren plunked herself down in the hallway. "Dude, what is that?" Chris crinkled his nose and made a face. "Oh gross, that's - " He stopped and looked down at the baby at his feet. "Oh no. Oh come on man, are you serious? You've got a messy diaper don't you? Damn, you'd put Joey to shame." He bent down to pick her up and his suspicions were confirmed. "What on earth did you eat? Good God."
Lauren just giggled in his arms as they headed upstairs to where he guessed her room would be. Chris peeked into the first room and saw that the floor was covered with toys and books, but no bed or crib could be seen. "That's not it. That looks like a playroom."
"Baw." She wiggled to be put down as Chris continued toward the master bedroom where there were two more doors, one on either side of the double doors leading to the bedroom her knew.
The room on the left had a little bed in the corner and a dresser against the wall that was painted to look like the sky with butterflies and dragonflies painted in different pastel colors. "Ah ha, this is Jenny's room. You probably sleep in a crib, huh?" Chris sighed and went to the last door as he set Lauren on the floor. "You reek kid. I can't believe I've got to set that monster free." He shook his head and stepped into the room. The walls were painted a beige color with navy blue moons and golden yellow stars painted all around. There was a big star carpet in the middle of the floor and everything else seemed to carry the same theme.
Lauren immediately toddled over to the changing table and reached up, she knew what was coming. "Alright kiddo, lets get this over with." He lifted her onto the padded table and carefully unsnapped her pants. "Is this how it goes? Or do you no these are all the snaps we've got." Chris mumbled to himself.
"Bye buh." Lauren giggled and reached for a little cardboard book that was on the little table beside her.
"Yeah, see you know what you're doing. I'm the one who's lost here." Chris left one hand on her leg as he opened all of the little drawers under the table looking for diapers. "Okay, I give up. Where are the diapers?" He asked Lauren, as if she might answer. "Okay don't move." He instructed her as he peeked around the corner to where the stackable plastic cubes were stowed. "Bingo, check it out." He pulled a diaper out and set it on the little table with the wipes. "What I wouldn't give to have a nanny right about now." He grumbled as he looked at the heavy diaper still attached to Lauren.
Chris took a deep breath then peeled the sticky tabs back and raised her feet. "Holy shit." He turned his head and did his best to wipe what he could on the diaper. "Fuckin' A, this is nasty." He coughed then blindly shoved the diaper in the garbage pail at the head of the table and began to wipe furiously with the scented wipes.
Six wipes later Chris was able to face Lauren and secure the fresh diaper over her bottom. "Man, this is gonna be a long day if every diaper is gonna take us a half hour." Chris shook his head as he fastened the tape tabs on the front of the diaper and snapped her pants up. "For real that's impossible."
He lifted her off the table and set her on the floor to watch her happily wobble back down the hall to the stairs. She turned around and laid down on her stomach, then slowly inched her way to the bottom of the carpeted stairs. Chris followed her going one step at a time, not caring that it was taking him five minutes to manage a flight of stairs.
As they reached the bottom Chris picked her up again and looked at her closely. She looked a lot like Melanie, but he could see traces of himself as well. He'd never really thought about having kids before, and hadn't given it any serious thought. But looking into her happy brown eyes he couldn't help but think how amazing it would be to have kids of his own.
With that thought his heart skipped a beat. He had kids of his own. He had two and a half kids of his own. His stomach did a cartwheel as he carried her over to the TV in the living room and opened the cupboard beside it. A bright blue toy caught Lauren's eye as the door opened and she leaned as far as she could go grab it and put it in her mouth. "Baba." She smiled around the toy and squished her nose up at Chris.
"You're too cute." He smiled and skimmed the movie collection with Lauren on his hip. She drooled down the front of her shirt as he ran his fingers over the titles. "Oh here we go." He pulled out the one labeled, "Chris and Melanie Kirkpatrick, June 12th 1995."
"Dadada?" Lauren asked with a worried look on her tiny face.
"Yep, I'm on this video. Let's check it out." He smiled and slid it into the VCR, then sat on the toy littered couch and hit the 'play' button.
"Love shack! Baby love shack!" Music blared from the speaker in front of the TV as the picture came into focus. A group of young people danced in the middle of a makeshift wood paneled dance floor to the B-52's song that everyone knew the words to.
Chris spotted Melanie first thing; she was wearing a long white gown with a short veil attached to a headband in the middle of the crowd. She looked so young, exactly how he remembered her. Her hair was longer then, and more of a red color. She must have colored it back then to make it appear more coppery, that was how he'd pictured her since then.
It took a minute for him to realize and recognize the man in the black and red tux dancing like a madman beside her, "Jesus " Chris' hand came to his lips as he watched himself move around the dance floor with his new bride. The blood rushed from his face and he suddenly felt intrusive; this wasn't his life and he had no right to be watching this home video of some other man.
"But that's me." Chris whispered as Lauren scooted off the couch and walked haphazardly across the family room floor to where the toy chest was nestled into the corner. Chris stopped the video and rewound it to the beginning; he didn't want to miss any of it.
Chris watched the entire ceremony then all of the reception and part of the honeymoon in Hawaii that was on the tape. It went on for hours and held his attention the whole time, he was only torn away when he heard Lauren crying in the kitchen, "Mamamama."
"Oh shit." He jumped up and over the back of the couch and ran into the kitchen, "Shit are you okay?" His heart leapt into his throat as he rounded the corner expecting the worst. Chris heaved a great sigh of relief when he saw Lauren sitting in the middle of the floor with a package of cookies in her lap, unopened. "Oh man, I'll bet you're hungry. What time is it?"
The clock on the microwave showed that it was almost twelve thirty while his stomach growled in agreement. "So what do you want for lunch?" He picked her up off the floor and took the cookies away. "You can't have cookies, let's see what we have."
"Buh baw dadada?"
"You bet." Chris nodded and opened the door. He'd found that responding to her baby babbling made her laugh and that was simply the cutest thing he'd ever seen.
Lauren giggled for him as he pulled the fridge open and looked at it's contents. "Okay kiddo, we've got left over noodle something or other or I can make you a sandwich. What do you want?"
She made another baby-like sound then reached for the Tupperware container that contained the noodles. "Right on, heating up I can do. I'm a master microwaver." He pulled the container out and popped it in the microwave. They watched it spin around for a minute, then he took it out and stirred it before nuking it some more.
When it was done he strapped Lauren into her high chair and fought with the tray to get it into position. As a grown man he never thought he'd actually argue with plastic, but he found himself bribing the tray to go into place. "I'll clean you up real nice after, come on dammit." He shoved and held the little buttons in, then it slid back and clicked. "Hot damn." Chris laughed and put his hands on his hips.
Lauren applauded in agreement then dove into the pasta concoction they'd just heated up. Chris took a few bites, but discovered he wasn't as hungry as he thought. He took an apple from the fridge then dragged Lauren's high chair to the edge of the carpet before going back into the family room to finish watching the video. From there he could see Lauren and make sure she wasn't getting into trouble in her chair.
Chris watched the rest of the video as Lauren ate her lunch and tossed a good portion of it to the floor. "You are a mess." Chris shook his head as the tape rewound. "I swear, you'd fit in on tour." His stomach tumbled as he spoke of his previous life, one he wasn't sure he'd ever get back to. He pulled the tray off the high chair and set her on the carpet where she giggled and made a beeline for her toys. "Yeah, go play. Don't worry about this mess over here." Chris rolled his eyes and smiled as he bent to pick up the little bits of noodles on the floor. He tossed them in the trash then grabbed a sponge from the sink and did his best to clean up the cheese covered tray. Every couple seconds he glanced over his shoulder to keep an eye on Lauren as she dug around in the little toy basket. Chris moved the high chair back to where he found it that morning then slam-dunked the sponge into the sink. "Swish!" He cheered for himself.
Lauren toddled over to the back door and pressed her forehead against the glass, "Igaseedoma?" She mumbled in her baby talk. "Dadadada."
"You want to go outside?" Chris asked with a confused look. "Man, I don't know how people know what kids want when they can't talk." He shook is head and slid the backdoor open. Lauren reached up and grabbed tightly to two of Chris' fingers, then carefully stepped out onto the small patio. Chris followed, surprised by the parental feelings that came with a baby grabbing his hand.
Her tiny feet stomped as she let go of his hand and walked precariously toward the grass. After a few steps she stopped suddenly and laughed as she looked at her feet, "Dadada." She squatted, sticking her little diapered behind out as she reached for the ground.
"What do you have there?" Chris knelt beside her and looked as she carefully lowered herself to her hands and knees to look at a single rolly polly bug crawling across the concrete. "Hey check it out."
"Dooga." Lauren drooled as she smiled up at Chris then looked back at the bug.
"Right on." He nodded and watched as she slowly crawled after the bug. Chris shrugged and lay flat beside her to follow the bug on its inch by inch journey. Lauren laughed like a maniac each time the little bug would stop and then start again as they scooted along beside it. The bug finally left the patio and went down to the dirt and around the side of a rock.
"Uh oh." Lauren looked up at Chris with a surprised expression.
"Hey! I understood that!" Chris laughed. "You do speak English, right on." He smiled and rested on his elbows. "Very cool. Let's check this out." He moved the rock to the side to see a little family of rolly polly bugs running around on the damp dirt. They watched the little bug family cruise around for a while longer, then Lauren stood up and began an exploration of the potted plants near the door.
At two o'clock Chris put Lauren back in the stroller and prayed he'd remember the way back to Jenny's school. He sighed and looked up the street to the left, knowing that was the way they had gone in the morning. "Well you know how to get there, right Lauren?" Chris asked the baby in the stroller. She babbled back at him and laughed as he pushed forward and headed back to the school to get Jenny. During the day he found himself talking to Lauren, just to have someone to talk to. She didn't answer back, so he made up conversations as they went and he wondered how mothers didn't go crazy talking to themselves.
They walked right up to her door and waited for another ten minutes for school to be over. As they waited a bunch of mothers showed up with their other children in tow. Out of habit Chris scooted closer to the wall and dropped his head, he wasn't used to not being recognized in public so he still half expected someone to screech his name.
"Chris!" A voice shouted. He looked up quickly as blood rushed to his face, he couldn't possibly have heard right. "Hey, what are you doing here?" A young lady asked as she walked over with an infant in a car seat carried at her side. "Hi Lauren!" She leaned down to tickle Lauren's cheek.
"I uh "
"Well you're obviously picking Jenny up, but how come you're not at work?" She smiled and swung the baby seat back and forth as the baby slept.
"I'm uh I'm on vacation this week." Chris squinted and tried to figure out who this woman was. "What about you?"
"I'm here everyday." She laughed. "Mel didn't say anything about a vacation, she must be at the office then, huh? Do you guys have anything planned?" She talked so fast Chris wasn't sure he kept up.
"No." Chris shook his head. "I just I needed a break."
"Yeah I know how that goes." She smiled then looked over her shoulder. "Well I should get back over there, Trent gets worried if I'm not right there when class gets out. Tell Mel I said hi and have her call me."
"Okay." Chris nodded numbly.
"Have a fun vacation." She laughed and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
"Thanks." Chris smiled and gave her a little half wave as she moved the baby carrier to her other hand and rounded the corner.
"Daddy!" Jenny ran over with her backpack slapping against her ankles. "You're s'posed to wait down there." She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the far gate. "Not in my class."
"I wasn't in your class I was waiting outside." Chris said as steered Lauren's stroller with one hand. "What's the big deal?"
"I'm a big kid and big kids daddies wait at the gate." She sighed and stomped her feet for a few steps.
"Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't know the drill. Tomorrow I'll wait at the gate, okay?"
"You're going to stay tomorrow?"
"What do you mean?" Chris wove his way through the sea of other parents and followed Jenny to the sidewalk where she immediately turned and headed home
"You don't have to work?" Jenny looked over her shoulder at him.
"Oh, nope. I'm going to be home for a couple weeks. I'm taking a vacation."
"Oh." Jenny swung her head around and tossed her ponytail.
Chris took a few quick steps so that he was walking beside her and smiled, "So how was your day at school?"
"Good." Jenny nodded.
"What'd you have for lunch?"
"A hot dog and Jell-O."
"Was it good?"
"Yeah, but I like the nuggets better."
"Hot dog nuggets?"
"No." Jenny laughed and skipped beside Chris. "The chicken ones."
"Ooooh, okay." Chris smiled down at her as she reached for his hand. At first the little hand grabbing his felt odd, but after a few steps he gave it a squeeze and smiled down at Jenny. "Did you learn a lot today?"
"Uh huh." Jenny jumped over a crack in the sidewalk. "Can I have gum?"
"I don't have any." Chris shook his head. "Sorry."
"Maybe we can get some at the store."
"Yeah, next time we go shopping we'll have to pick some up."
"The bubble kind?" She let go of his hand and spun around as she walked.
"Yay!" She jumped up and down, then put her backpack on over her shoulders. They walked back to the house with Jenny leading the way, though Chris was pretty sure he could find it on his own.
When they got back, Chris opened the garage and parked the stroller where he had found it that morning then got Lauren out and set her on the floor just inside the door. "So now what?" Chris put his hands on his hips and looked down at Jenny who looked right back at him with eyes that matched his own.
"Can I have a snack?"
"Can I have crackers and peanut butter?"
"Do we have that?"
"Yes." Jenny nodded and trotted into the kitchen, dropping her backpack in the hallway. "Daddy, Lauren is asleep." She looked toward the family room where Lauren had landed in the middle of the floor on her big stuffed bear blanket.
"Yeah, I think she needs a nap right now." Chris nodded and followed Jenny into the kitchen where she had the crackers in one hand and peanut butter in the other.
"You need a knife to put the peanut butter on." Jenny sighed and set her snack on the table. Chris took a knife from the drawer and sat beside her to help make her snack.
"Hey Jenny? Do you know what I do for work?" He spread the peanut butter on the crackers and placed them on the side of the table.
"You make people better." Jenny shrugged.
"I'm a doctor?" Chris blushed quickly and thought of the consequences of being stuck here as a doctor when he knew nothing.
"No, you make people feel better." Jenny explained. "You and Eddie work together."
"What kind of people do I make feel better?"
"I don't know daddy. All of them." She shrugged and smiled. "And you go to school sometimes too."
"I go to school?"
"Yeah but you teach it, you don't go and sit." She shook her head and sighed as she reached for the stack of crackers by Chris' elbow.
"Okay." Chris said softly. "Are you gonna share those crackers?"
"Uh huh." Jenny slid two over to Chris and smiled up at him with peanut butter on her chin.
"You're a mess, little girl." Chris reached over and wiped the peanut butter off with his thumb then stuck it in his mouth. "You know what me and Lauren did today?"
"We chased a rolly polly bug across the patio out back and then guess what?" He took a bite of the cracker and licked the peanut butter from his lips.
"We found a whole family of them over by the rocks."
"That's cool daddy."
"Yeah it is." Chris smiled. "What'd you do?"
"I learned how to plus two and two."
"How to add?"
"Okay, what is it?"
"Four." Jenny giggled and held up two fingers on each hand. "See? Two over here, plus two over here is four all together."
"You're pretty smart for a kindergartner."
"I know. I'm five."
"When is your birthday, do you know?"
"It's on mommy's birthday." Jenny shrugged. "She said I was her present when I was in her tummy."
"Oh yeah." Chris smiled as if he knew. He wracked his brain to try to remember when Melanie's birthday was but all he knew was that it was during the summer and hot.
"Can we go outside after snack?"
"And will you sit in the sand box?"
"Well Jenny, the sandbox isn't really big enough for me but I'll sit on the side and play, how's that?" Chris smiled and took another bite of the cracker.
"Okay. Maybe Lauren can stay inside."
"She's taking a nap, so I think that'd be a good idea." He nodded and immediately looked for the portable baby monitor he'd grown accustomed to wearing.
"Do you have the thing from your room?"
"So you can hear if Lauren wakes up?"
"Well she'll be right here, I think we can hear her." Chris looked over at the floor where the toddler was sleeping.
"I don't know " Jenny shook her head and gave him a disapproving look.
"Do you know where it is?" Chris asked.
"Yeah. Can I go get it?"
"Sure, then we can go outside." He nodded and smiled as she jumped off her chair and ran for the stairs. What he wouldn't give to have that kind of energy.
Jenny returned a minute later with the pale blue baby monitor in her hand. "Here you go daddy, now you keep this with you so you can hear her."
"Isn't there another part to this? One that has to go by her?"
"No, this is all mommy has." Jenny shook her head and went to the backdoor to wait for Chris to unlock it.
"Okay." Chris shrugged and clipped the monitor to his pocket as they stepped out into the backyard. He propped the door open with a terracotta pot filled with soil and a sick looking plant. "How long does she usually sleep for?"
"I don't know." Jenny shrugged. "Maybe until dinner? And then sometimes she sleeps all night. Mommy has to wake her up sometimes."
"Cool." Chris nodded, then looked back inside. "Do you take a nap?"
"No." Jenny laughed and shook her head. "I'm five, only babies have to take naps."
"That's not true. I'd like to take a nap and I'm not a baby." Chris smiled as she climbed into the sandbox and reached for her assortment of pink and blue pails.
"Sometimes grown ups like to take naps too, like grandma. But not five year olds. And I'm five. I don't like to take naps." She dug into the sand with her shovel and packet it into the biggest pail she had.
"Okay." Chris said softly a he stifled a yawn. "Then I'm going to take a nap right here on the grass and you can wake me up if Lauren cries." He pretended to try to scoot to the lawn.
"No daddy, you need to help me play." Jenny laughed and shook her shovel at him.
"Okay, okay " Chris sighed, then smiled. "What do I need to do?"
"Ummmm." Jenny thought for a minute. "You need to fill up this bucket with sand and then put it over there." She pointed to the center of the sandbox.
"Okay, I think I can do that." Chris nodded as he began to fill the yellow pail with sand by hand. He flicked some dry sand at Jenny's leg and they both laughed, he could easily get down on her five-year-old level without worrying about looking like an idiot and for a split second he forgot about the other man he was in his other life.
Copyright © 2002, Amy Lynn