Jonas kept one eye on the barista with the tattooed arms, the other on the boys, and tried vainly to focus on what the barista said. Harry was balancing on the stroller frame now while Jason scooched from side to side and tried to shake him off. Eventually the short barista, the one with medals all over the bill of her ball cap, was smiling and pushing him his Café Americano. The one with the tats was holding a fist over her laughter.
"Have a great day," the short one said.
She didn't make eye contact and kind of smirked. What did they say? Jason fell off the stroller before Jonas could focus again.
"That's enough, Harry," Jonas said too sharply. He cringed inside. He stooped to pick Jason up. The lips quivered a bit but his youngest wasn't going to cry. Not here, not now.
And then it was as if he'd shoved a Babel fish in his ear and he could make out the Barista's words clearly. One barista had been making his drink and the one with tats had said, "I almost want to ask if I can touch it you know." Is that what she said?
Self-conscious, he pushed the stroller away from the counter the boys in tow. He sipped the iced Americano through the straw and it made an almost physical PING inside him. Did he look pregnant? That's what they'd meant after all. Touch the baby. How far down had he fallen into middle age? He glanced down. At least he could sill see his feet.
Jason was back to normal. He was pointing to the plane overhead. "Mommy," he said. Harry was asking to go to CVS for toys, for candy. Jonas couldn't wait to hand both kids over to Ellen. She'd been gone two weeks and he hadn't just hit the wall, he'd totally demolished it.
The morning had started all right. Jonas had managed to get the boys out the door and en route to school without more than the usual fuss. Even made it to school on time. No tardies today. And yet, Jonas had made school lunches and left the salami out to rot all day. That was bad enough because Jordan loved salami though Harry was a near vegetarian and wouldn't touch the stuff. Then he'd gone to the grocery store to have some desserts on hand for Ellen's return tonight-tangerine popsicles were still a big hit. He bought five boxes and plunked them down on the dining-room table when the phone rang. It was Ellen.
"So how is my family?"
She sounded perky. The conference in Buenos Aries had been planned long ago and was always draining, he knew. She'd come through it all unscathed, maybe even proving her competency to management once more. You never knew with those types. "We're good," he said. "No disasters today."
After picking the boys up at school, and taking them to McDonalds (the one with the playroom), he told them about the popsicles. They were excited about their days and couldn't wait. It was only when he put the keys down by the door that he realized the bag was still sitting in the middle of the table. The popsicles. He'd left them out, too. They were an immense ever-expanding melted puddle. He picked up the bag and dripped orange goo all the way to the trash.
"Sorry boys," he said. "Daddy forgot and left them out all day."
"Ohhhh," Harry yelled.
And Jason started to cry.
"Daddy messed up. It's okay. C'mon, back in the car and we'll go get some more. How's that sound?"
"Yeah," Harry yelled.
Jason was still teary eyed though game. Whew. Quick recovery there dad, Jonas felt proud.
All he had to do was get the popsicles back home safely so each boy could have one. Of course, they were both after him to have one now. Both boys in typical Friday mode—tired out and whiney from the long week. Not to mention overly excited about seeing mom.
"No way," he said. "Not until we get home." And then he decided he needed a coffee and steered them down the sidewalk to Starbucks. Harry called it "cuppy."
Now here they were. Success. Jonas was carrying Jason crooked in one arm while pushing the stroller with the other hand. Jason was carrying the popsicles. Harry was carrying the coffee. Almost home. Situation under control. He marched them into the parking lot and looked for the van. Nada. Next to the bike shop? Nope. Where did he park? He looked right and turned completely around with the boys.
"Daddy," Harry said.
"Not now," Jonas said, "Daddy's looking for the van."
"Hush," Jonas said. "Be quiet a sec."
He scanned the lot to one side and then the other. Their burgundy Caravan normally stood out in the sea of silver and white Japanese cars and SUVs. Where was it? He set Jason in the stroller. He had to get them home and give them popsicles and then pack them into the car to drive to the airport to pick up their mom. He glanced at his cell phone. 4:42 now. Damn. Ellen's flight arrived at 5:55. He should be leaving for Dulles now what with rush hour.
He began to panic. The salami, the popsicles, the Barista. Today was beginning to spin out of control into total suckishness. He called 911.
"But Daddy," Harry tugged on his shirt.
Jonas brushed him away. "Not now guys. Daddy's got to make a phone call."
When the emergency operator picked up Jonas told her somebody had stolen his van. Aggravated, she gave him another number to call. He couldn't find a pen. Asked the boys to remember the number. Repeated it aloud. Wrong number. Tried again. Success. He explained everything to an unbelievably hoarse policeman.
"Where was the van?"
"We're in the tiny strip mall at Spout Run and Lee Hwy. I left the van parked in front of Starbucks and went in to get a coffee with my kids and it was gone when we came back out.
Harry was tugging mightily on Jonas. "But Daddy,"
"Not now Harry. Daddy's on the phone."
The policeman was asking for tag numbers and more info and Jonas couldn't concentrate. Jason was crying. He wanted a Popsicle. Jonas pushed the stroller back and forth trying to calm him. Nothing was working. Harry kept tugging on him. They'd miss Ellen's plane. What the hell was happening? He put one hand on his stomach. He sucked it in. Was it that bad? Did he really look pregnant? And then Harry took off across the parking lot.
"Harry," Jonas shouted.
But the kid was fast and Jonas had Jason. He dropped the coffee on the sidewalk, kept listening to the officer, and took off in a jog pushing the stroller.
"Officer, my boy is running across the parking lot. I have to chase him."
Harry was back on the sidewalk. Whew. That was good.
"Harry, stop. Stop right now."
The boy kept on, past the Italian store. Customers looking up from their pizza and smokes at the tables, past the colorful blue moped in front, past the bike shop, and on toward the grocery store.
Ellen could always take a cab home. He'd call her. He still had the cell phone to one ear.
"We're going to send a car out to you, sir..."
Jason dropped the bag of popsicles and screamed "Daddy." Jonas kept on running. Don't look back. More popsicles. More salami, Damn.
Harry raced around the corner out of sight. And when Jonas, winded, fighting the stroller with one hand and bouncing the cell phone off his ear with the other, finally turned the corner, there was Harry leaning on the hood of Ellen's white Camry. Not the burgundy van. Jonas couldn't even remember what he was driving.
"I tried to tell you daddy, I tried to tell you."
"I know, son. I know." Jonas hung his head and knelt to comfort Jason who was wailing and tired and understandably melted down.
"You still there sir?" It was the policeman.
"Yes," Jonas said. "Still here."