"Momma, I have a question that I'm not gonna ask you 'til we get there." Jack cocks his head, "I can remember it for like a hundred days." He rests his elbow on the passenger window.
I wrestle little black pick-up into gear. "Ok. What is it?"
He raises both eyebrows, dips his head, "I'm not gonna ask you 'til we get to Star-a-bucks."
I tangle with clutch and second gear, wheel us down toward 16th. Sun warms our faces. He makes conversation. Value Village, puzzles, books, and grapes, "I'm gonna use my two five dollars to buy you and Daddy and Janie and Lucy grapes," he says.
I pull around an orange traffic cone. We slow, ease past parked cars, squeeze in next to an old snow bank. We scuffle doors shut. I click-clack in red shoes.
"Wanna hold my hand?" He cradles my fingers.
"You're already a good protector." I say
"Here," he grapples the bistro back door, props it with his shoe. Then he finds my hand again.
Before we sidle up to the pastry case, his cheek in my side, a whisper, "My question. Can we get something for Jane and Lulie?" He tussles through his green coat for wallet with green stripe.
After we pay, he asks for a plastic knife to chop the pumpkin scone in half.
"Do you like it?" I ask.
He smiles, all crumbs, "Yeah."
"What do you like?"
"Being here with you."
We make conversation, pick our favorite part of the parlor, the day, everything, and always he says, "You, Momma." You, Momma. Everything, you. And crumbs, crumbs everywhere.
He saws a last rectangle of scone into crumbled chunks, plops them in brown tissue bag. He folds the top over. "There."
He walks me through back bistro door, over black parking lot to black truck. We hold hands.
653. Little boy who holds my hand.
654. How he watches for cars, and struggles doors open and never watches for people to notice.
655. How he reminds me to forget myself and see instead of be seen.
656. Teal wool sweater and red shoes.
657. Orange backpack.
658. Sisterly advice from brother's wife and brother's wife's sister.
659. Jane's surprise when I say, "You're one of my favorite people to be with," and how she says it back again and again and I poke her in the ribs and she pokes me back.
660. Another bunk bed.
661. And how Craig muscles the whole big box home, just him and physics. And how he unpacks, repacks, and heaves bunk bed bones back to store when I declare, "It doesn't match."
662. How he buys a new one and assembles Lulie's dream come true.
663. A feast of beans and bacon and potatoes, carrots, brownies and caramel, and family. Family. And how before we know it, we stay way too late.
664. The wild raucous of cousins. "I like playing with my cousins so we can be better friends," Janie says.
665. A family date to a deli. Tuna and pickles, chips. And cookies. Cookies the size of a man's hand.
666. Dime-sized crumbles the children break off and pass me, "We're doubling you up, Momma. We're doubling you up with cookies," they say. Jack passes the most.
667. Coffee and a mostly clean house with sis-in-law. How she doesn't notice the crumbs and tells Lulu, "Rockie's lucky to have a cousin like you."
668. Body casts for babies. And how it means no surgery, we hope. And how Jesse and Libby just trust God, and trust God, and trust God.
669. Lulie's confident, "I'm bigger today," when Grandad takes her to breakfast.
670. Dinner on the farm. Soup, triple berry crisp, ice cream, leftovers sent home.
671. Peter for dinner and how he refuses tortilla chips but scoops clam dip with Ruffles, pops them in his mouth just like Dad, just exactly like Dad.
672. How he opens his eyes all wide, "Yeah." he says when I say, "Sure a lot to planning a wedding, huh?"
673. How he almost interrupts dinner to call Rose Emily 'cause he's crazy with love, the wedding way off in June and all.
672. Baked potato soup, full strength, in mason jar, irresistible like her friendship.
673. Jane in pink shirt and curls and her comment this morning, "Let's just pretend like it didn't happen," to fix the milk spilled on everyone.
674. How we rehabilitate Sunday clothes and traipse to church, mostly dry by the time we get there.
675. Rosie over diarrhea and on to coos and laughs and color books, pages dismantled.
676. Craig fresh shaven and smooth.