Our. He thought about that word for a moment, laying it out in his mind before folding it paper crane-style into various formations: our son. Our life. Our future. He allowed himself a smile.
The car rolled up to the curb. The driver’s side door opened the second the sedan was in park, and Sara met him on the sidewalk, walking directly into his arms. She held herself there for a long moment, hands clasped around his back, face buried into his neck. For the first time in at least a day, Michael allowed himself to fully exhale. This was the way it was with them: nothing held back, never skipping a beat, no hesitation. Michael figured after so many missteps in the first year of their relationship, neither he nor Sara was willing to waste time doubting what was certain.
But Mike? He could see his son’s face through the glass of the backseat window, watching Michael as he held his mother, watching with those eyes that were all Sara, that mouth tucked into concentration that was all Sara. But Mike was not Sara. No matter how valiantly she had kept Mike’s father alive for him in effigy, Michael knew that after the trauma Mike had been through and the damage Jacob had inflicted, he’d be starting from scratch. He smiled at him over the crown of Sara’s head, and watched his son try to fight it, try to remain impartial. All. Sara. Then Mike’s lip twitched, and his mouth curved upward, and he was his mother yet again, in the sunlit infirmary, trying not to be charmed. Determined not to get attached. I’m not a jealous woman, Michael, but I am a careful one. Was Mike, at so tender an age, a careful person, too? The thought brought pain, but also insight. Michael could do this. He could be a father: a true father, in practice instead of just in theory. He just needed time.
“Lincoln is at the hotel, but Mike wouldn’t be separated from me,” Sara whispered to Michael, nodding her head toward the back of the car. Around a locked jaw, she added, “Jacob told him I was dead.”
The oncoming headlights along the interstate swam in Michael’s vision, a horrible blur of silver and crimson. Was this what ‘seeing red’ meant? T-Bag was wrong. Michael did have the killing gene. It surfaced the day he’d found out he would be a father. “He what?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Sara told him, and novice though he was, Michael recognized this as some sort of parent-speak. He thrilled to it even as a new fear took hold. The last time he spent any time around a seven-year-old, the child in question had been Linc, and really, all Michael remembered were lots of noogies and the occasional piggy-back ride.
He turned in his seat to half-face Mike. He sat elevated in some kind of basic car seat contraption. Michael didn’t remember needing a car seat when he was that age. Maybe there was a parenting book he could buy. He reached back with one arm to lay his hand on top of Mike’s. He let it rest there, very gently, until he felt Mike’s fingers curl hesitantly around his. Then he gave a light squeeze. “It will be okay,” he said. “You’re okay.”
Mike studied him under his long lashes. Michael’s lashes? “That’s what Mom says,” he answered, his voice small behind the engine noise. Michael leaned closer to hear him.
“When I’m hurt, she says ‘you’re going to be okay,’ and then, like a superpower, I am okay, because she said so. You know?” Michael smiled around the lump in his throat. “I know exactly, Mike.”
Lincoln had booked two hotel rooms out by the airport, a sort of staging area for the plan’s execution, and when Michael asked Sara if she’d rather go home, put Mike to sleep in his own bed, she shook her head swiftly. “Jacob is everywhere in that house.”
He frowned. Touched her arm. “You did nothing wrong.”
Sara released one of her best self-deprecating sighs. “I know that, in theory.”
She ran a hand through her hair, a gesture so automatic for her, Michael was sure it was unconscious. It flooded him with memory, longing, and a sense of comfort. It was a cliche for a reason: wherever this woman was, Michael was home. They lay Mike down in the queen bed next to Lincoln’s, where the oversized pillows and comforter immediately dwarfed him. He’d fallen asleep in the car, but now he whimpered as he woke, reaching for Sara.
“Shhh. I’m here.” Sara sat down on the bed, stroking Mike’s head. He tried to clutch at her arm. “Shhh.”
“And Uncle Lincoln?”
Michael swallowed the pain of the omission. Sara saw it anyway. Or felt it. “And your father. We’re all here.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to you, kiddo,” Linc added. “I won’t let it.”
Michael bit back a sarcastic response. Brute force and muscle weren’t going to fix what was broken in his son, but he recognized his brother’s go-to response for what it was: raw love. And his words did seem to comfort Mike, who closed his eyes again.
Michael directed the shower spray on his upturned face, letting the needles of heat prick under the skin and soothe him. He pivoted and did his back next, feeling the tension leave the wound muscles stretched taut across his shoulder blades. When he finally turned off the water and stepped into the room with a towel wrapped around his waist, the steam from the bathroom followed him. The first, and really, only, thing he saw was Sara, waiting for him on the bed.
“Nice to know I can take a shower and you won’t disappear on me.”
She smiled. “I suppose I don’t scare quite as easily as I once did.”
He sat down beside her. “He’s okay?”
“He’s asleep,” she answered. When Michael looked toward the door, she added, “It’s fine. They’re right across the hall.”
He took her face in his hands, framing her cheeks with his fingers. He could measure the seconds by her pulse beating behind her jaw. “And you? Are you okay?”
She turned her face to kiss the inside of his right palm. He had time to wonder if she minded the new tats before feeling her hand drop to his towel. She ran one finger under the hem, skimming the skin above his hip before deftly untucking the cloth. “You can help me be okay.” She looked up at him, a smile toying with her lips. “I mean, if that’s…what you’re feeling.”
He pulled her down on top of him as his mouth met hers.
They picked up Sheeba and headed to Mike’s favorite park. Sara thought the familiarity would be good for him, and they could all stand some tranquility. The plan was to use the time to make a new plan, where to live, where to stay for the time being, but instead, Sara fell into easy conversation with Sheeba, and Mike remained glued to her side, no matter how many times Linc tried to coax him into a game of soccer. It didn’t matter: Michael felt content to simply sit and observe his family. Above him, the wind blew lightly, whooshing through the trees like sand across the metal roofs of Ogygia, but he kept his eyes trained on Mike and Sara. He studied the way his son rolled the soccer ball back and forth across his lap, angling it precisely with each pass to reveal a new pattern of pentagons and hexagons. He listened to the lilt of Sara’s voice, allowing himself to believe her laugh sounded freer than he’d heard it before. He watched her hands gesticulate as she talked, the wing of the crane tattoo (he’d only discovered last night) ducking and bending upon itself as she moved, as though floating upon an unseen current. And he decided that if this was ‘normal’, he’d take it.