Sleepy green eyes turn up to me.
"I'm not tired, Warrrrnn."
"You may not feel it just yet, Andy. But I can see it."
His eyebrows raise a bit.
"You can? Where?"
"Right ... there," I said, forking my two forefingers and pointing at his eyes with them. He giggles a bit at that, and cuddles his head where my neck meets my shoulder. I slowly raise my hips from the windowledge, scooping Andy's legs up into my arms as I go. I hum softly under my breath as I wander down the hall to the boys' bedrooms. I glance in at Joey. He sits at his desk. At my passing he looks up at me. Pencil is gripped in his hand, grinding in odd patterns into the paper. Slices of graphite splinter and break off under the pressure of his fist. I dip my head in a nod at him, and smile. He relaxes a bit, and smiles back at me.
Andy's room is neat and quiet. I pull back his blankets and place him in the coolness of the sheets. He leaves the circle of my arms and reaches to hug his pillow. I smile at his bundled little form as I pull the sheets up around him. I walk to close the miniblinds and leave the door open a smidgen.
"Lauren?" Joey's voice calls to me as I pass his room again. I walk back to the doorway.
His eyes lower for a span of time that makes my stomach drop in the apphrension that I can see on his face.
"When're they comin' back?"
I look at my watch.
"Anytime now, Joey." I wonder if I sound sympathetic enough. We both know what is coming.
We didn't have long to wait. The grinding of the garage door sounded their return. Joey's eyes returned to his hard lines on the page. But the pencil dropped. I walked quickly out to the living room. Panic flooded my mind, which whirled in response. I pulled the curtain back from the window. I looked across the sweeping neat suburbanite lawn to the sleek green minivan rolling into the driveway.
I tore my eyes away. Hands twisted around and over each other. Just let them be quiet, let it be quiet, please please.
The basement garage door opened.
"We're home!" Joe's voice announced brightly.
My eyelids snapped shut. Shit. Shit. Joe, the only man I know who acts happier the angrier he gets. They shortly appeared at the top of the stairs. Joe's brow was covered in sweat. His shirt was heavy with sweat stains. His wife Ann followed behind him.
"So!" Joe began, panting, smiling, "how were they today?"
"Good, Mr. Shapiro, very good, but they're really tired I think, they probably need to "
"Alright then, Lauren, that's good enough. I need to get them ready for their bath!" He smiled. No, no. He grinned. The kind of grin that only appears on clowns or family portraits. Sharp, large, but it didn't hit the eyes; no, the eyes were terrifyingly black. I closed my eyes as Joe turned towards the bedrooms.
"But, Mr. Shapiro, Andy's already asleep, you told me to put him down, and Joey's in his pajamas, you said you gave them a bath before and they didn't need one." I knew that my tone of voice was rising frantically. I didn't care.
His laughter mocked my concern with its heartiness.
"No!" The laughter stopped suddenly. He turned to me. Even the grin was gone. "They need one."
He almost ran down the hallway in excitement, pausing in the bathroom to start the water. Ann turned to me.
"Here's your money, Lauren. Thanks." She walked to the living room and sat down. Soon, Jeopardy! echoed through to the hallway.
I heard Joe's laughter hiss through the doorway of Andy's room. The boom of his baritone was muted by the walls. I heard Andy crying. Joe emerged with him screaming in his arms.
"Time for the bath!" He left my sight again as he hauled Andy into the bathroom. The screaming continued for another several seconds, and then suddenly it was cut by the oddly off-pitched gurgling of water mingled with terror. I could still hear the screaming bubbling up through the water. It stopped for a minute, followed by a hacking cough, and the sounds of heaving. Tears were flowing freely from my eyes now. Thank goodness the hallway was empty. Andy started screaming again, this time able to form a clear stream of mangled, sobbing speech.
He emerged, leaving Andy sobbing in the tub. His demeanor was quiet. He offered a debonair smile.
"Thanks for watching the boys, Lauren."