Mike got up, his swollen legs screaming in protest, and moved to the sofa to sit beside his son. Lady dutifully followed and plopped down at his feet. He wrapped his arm around the boy and they watched TV. It wasn’t long before his wife appeared in the doorway and told D that it was bedtime. Mike looked at his watch. It was 9 already. He reminded himself that that’s what happens when you sit in a bar, dreading coming home. He told his wife that he would take care of bedtime. She gave him a sarcastic “thanks” and went back to the kitchen. He forced himself off of the sofa and motioned for D to follow him, told him to brush his teeth and put his pajamas on. He didn’t put up a fuss, he was a great kid.
He went upstairs with the boy, poking his head in his oldest daughter’s room. She was lost in a book. He went into her room, leaned in and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“I didn’t hear you come home” she said.
“Next time I’ll make more noise” he joked. He kissed her again. She gave him one of her famous smiles, the gap between her front teeth front and center. He loved that gap, it was cute and reminded him of her as a toddler, mugging for the camera. She was such a happy child. He also observed that she would need braces soon.
“Good job on your report card” he offered. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mom went ape on the boys.”
Mike could only imagine. Yet she took them out to dinner? It must have been her friend Lisa’s idea. Lisa’s kids probably got shitty report cards as well but she didn’t believe in disciplining her kids. She wanted to be their friends. Mark hated that she and his wife were so close. He thought Lisa was a terrible influence, but his wife fucking loved her. Almost to the point that he wondered if she switched teams. He chased all of that out of his head and returned his attention to his daughter.
“Jeez” he said. You couldn’t have saved the old man a chicken finger?”
She laughed. He kissed her again on the forehead and walked down the hall to the boy’s room where he found R at his desk, furiously scribbling on a notebook. He looked miserable.
“Hey bud” he said. “That’s enough for today, nothing will change overnight.”
“Mom is pretty mad.”
“I know. I already bumped into her. See the burn marks?” he said as he showed his bare forearm. It was a bad joke but Ry laughed. He wasn’t trying to denigrate his wife. He just wanted to cheer the kid up. It seemed to work. He sat with the boys as they went through their nightly routine of procrastination. Fearful of his wife getting angry at the time, he went to the banister and listened for signs of life. She was talking to Lisa, the toxic friend. No doubt talking about what an asshole she married.
He went back into the boy’s room and said goodnight. He made a couple of silly faces, drew a laugh and turned the light off. He went downstairs looking for his youngest daughter. He poked his head in her room, she was fast asleep. Shit, he thought. I didn’t see her at all today. He sat on the edge of her bed and just watched her breathe for a while. She looked so peaceful. She was the unplanned one but immediately shot up to I can’t imagine my life without her status. She was cuter than a duck wearing a hat. His heart welled. He got up and closed the door behind him and headed for his comfortable chair. He had to walk through the kitchen in order to get there and he ignored the glare of contempt his wife shot at him as she babbled into the phone.
As he sat down. Britt appeared in the doorway.
“My asthma is acting up. Can I do a treatment?”
Mike got up, went to the closet for the Nebulizer and a capsule of albuterol. He set it up, placed the mask on his daughter’s face and sat down beside her. The hum of the machine soothed him as he watched her, glued to the TV as the mist gently wafted from her breathing treatment. He had changed the channel to Nickelodeon and had found Spongebob. Perfect.
He let her stay with him for about 15 minutes after the treatment was done. He didn’t want the moment to end. He knew, whether she knew he did or not, that she wasn’t really having an asthma attack. It was her sneaky way of getting an extra half hour with her dad.
This, Mike Valentine thought to himself, this is the good stuff. The rest of it doesn’t matter. He squeezed his daughter tight and waited for her to fall asleep.