FICTION

The Splendid Prodigal

How one mother met a grave crisis in the lives of herself and her young son

MARGARET NYREN HOFFMAN May 15 1938
FICTION

The Splendid Prodigal

How one mother met a grave crisis in the lives of herself and her young son

MARGARET NYREN HOFFMAN May 15 1938

The Splendid Prodigal

How one mother met a grave crisis in the lives of herself and her young son

MARGARET NYREN HOFFMAN

JUDY opened her eyes and was at once fully awake, so that she knew without thinking about it that this day was going to be different from all the other days in her life.

Usually she got out of bed. half asleep, and built a fire in the stove and filled the kettle with fresh water. Then she crept back under the warm covers beside seven-yearold Michael, and the two of them came slowly awake while they stared up into the dim spaces of their rough beach cabin and speculated upon what exciting nocturnal adventures the fat old spider in the farthest corner had embarked upon during the night. Turning their heads, they marvelled at the way in which the locust tree, growing out of the steep hillside outside the east window, arched its branches over the cabin so that its leaves made a lacy pattern against the west window’. They listened to the rasping sound of Mr. McKee’s saw, wondered lazily if they would find any starfish and baby crabs on the beach, made wondrous plans for the day. Then the minute the tea kettle whistled they were up in a flash and into their clothes, and in no time at all their breakfast of hot cereal and coffee and buttery toast was ready.

But this morning —Judy trembled all over as she turned her head and looked at Michael who was still fast asleep, one small browm fist pushed into his cheekthis morning was different. Yesterday, while laboring to build a pirate cave out of driftwood, she had dropped the log she was dragging across the beach and her hands had flown to her side as she sank to the ground, gasping. Fortunately, Michael had been so engrossed that he had not noticed that anything was amiss. But some day, if these funny spells kept on happening, he would lx sure to notice. So then and there she had decided to do the thing she had foolishly put off doing. Consult a doctor.

“Good morning. Michael!” She shook the small boy gently. “The sun has come back.”

Michael stirred, mumbled “Hi’ya!” The word was a recent acquisition and the feel of it on his tongue seemed to delight him. His lashes lifted heavily, fluttered shut again. After a little they o{xned wide and his blue eyes regarded her gravely.

“Back from China? Are all the little Chinese boys asleep now?”

‘Fast asleep. And little Canadian boys are just waking up. We’re having breakfast with the McKees this morning. Mr. McKee is going into towm and mother is going along to do an errand.”

“Me too?”

“Wouldn’t you rather stay here and play?”

Michael considered. “Okay. When are you coming back?”

“About noon. And we’ll have to dress fast. There's no fire this morning.”

HTWENTY minutes later she closed the door of the cabin behind them. It was one of four standing back half a block from the beach against the lush green bluff, but so far the other cabins had been occupied only during weekends. Michael, in overalls and white sweater, his wavy fair hair glistening in the sun, scampered ahead of her. " The tide was far out this morning. Perfect for clam digging, she thought regretfully, drawing in long deep breaths of the salt air. The waters of the Sound, grey-blue and wrinkled, looked as if some giant had unrolled a bolt of silk between this and the far wooded shore of the island. The mountains on the mainland were invisible.

Passing the workshed, which was a fascinating place to spend a rainy day, she saw Michael motioning to her to stand still. Leisurely a mother hen and her family of chicks crossed the dusty road.

“They’re taking their morning con—constushional, mother,” he called to her. smiling all over his small face.

He ran around the corner of the weatherbeaten old farmhouse. and presently she heard his shrill “Hi’ya!” and an answering deep rumble.

“Good morning, Mr. McKee!” Judy came to a halt beside an ancient car. “Are you waiting for me?”

“No, plenty of time. I was just trvin’ to clean up the old bus a bit. Found a couple of eggs in the back seat this momin’.”

Mr. McKee, a big ruddv-faced man, grinned from ear to ear. Judy smiled as Michael, bent on exploring the back seat, stopped in his tracks. Mr. McKee had four beautiful gold teeth in front that glittered like coronation jewels, and they never ceased to fascinate the child.

She mounted the back steps slowly, her eyes fixed longingly on the orchard which climbed the gentle slope back of the house. She and Michael had planned to spend the morning there

They ate their breakfast in the warm sunny kitchen, steeped in tantalizing odors. Mrs. McKee, a plump motherly jxrson, hovered about them anxiously urging them to eat.

“You look kind o’ peaked. Here have another helpin’ of pancakes and bacon.”

Judy’s red-gold head came up with a jerk. “You mean Michael looks peaked?”

"No, no. That young one runs around so much he can’t

keep any flesh on his bones. It’s you I'm talkin’ about. Aren’t you feelin’ all right?”

“I’m feeling fine, thanks.” Judy, smiling at her, swallowed painfully. Did she really look so unwell that people noticed it? Suddenly she felt a terrible need to hurry. To find out how’ things stood with her. She gulped down her coffee, pushed back her chair.

“You don’t have to hurry, Michael. And be sure and drink every drop of your milk.” She kissed the top of his fair head. “Be a good boy, darling, and mind Mrs.McKee.” The plump motherly person followed her to the door. “Please keep an eye on him,” implored Judy.

“Don’t you worry about him. I’ve raised one or two myself in my day. Will you be needin’ any bread, Mrs. Leeds? It’s in the oven now. Pies, too.”

“Yes, save me a loaf of whole w’heat bread. And a pie. Michael and I will have a special treat.”

Mrs. McKee beamed at her through the screen door. Ten cents for homemade bread, twenty-five cents for a fruit pie, five dollars a week for the cabin. It w’as the perfect vacation spot for a family with a scanty income, thought Judy gratefully, as she climbed into the car beside Mr. McKee. This w’as her and Michael’s third summer here, and it gave them enough enchantment to last all through the long winter when they lived in town.

It established something in Michael’s life, too, that had nothing w’hatever to do either with money or magic. If she had had plenty of money, no doubt she w’ould have been tempted to try one new and exciting place after another. And that wasn’t so good. It left a kaleidoscopic jumble of impressions in a child’s mind that contributed nothing of permanence or value. In this way Michael’s childhood was one unbroken sequence of happy, homely pictures that he could think back to, and derive comfort and a sense of stability from, w’hen his adult life became '•too turbulent.

The car turned its back on the Sound and began climbing the bluff road. Judy leaned out of the window and waved her hand frantically, overcome by a sudden, unaccountable sense of fear. Four hours hence she would be back. Would anything be changed, different?

THE specialist, having finished his examination, leaned back in his chair and tapped his glasses on a fingernail.

Judy sat on the edge of her chair, her white hands clutching the arms.

“Tell me the truth, doctor. I can take it.”

His eyes grew gentle, pitying. “If you take very good care of yourself you may live one year, two years. If you squander yourself—one summer. Your husband—”

“He’s dead,” said Judy steadily. “Airplane crash—just before my baby was born.”

“Girl or boy?”

“Boy.” Her eyes glowed. “Seven.

Alive to his fingertips. We race up and down the beach, we throw a ball, we build pirate caves, we row boats.” She stopped and bit her lip as the doctor shook his head.

“No more of that sort of thing, Mrs.

Leeds. It’s the small penalty you have to pay for—life.”

“I see.” She got up, steadied herself for a minute ágainst the desk. Her knees had turned to water.

There was a prescription to be filled in the downstairs pharmacy, then she was released into the sunshine again. She could feel it on her shoulders, on her back.

Never had it felt so warm, so good, before.

She went into a five-and-ten-cent store and bought a gaudy sandmill for Michael.

Outside again, she found herself hurrying.

Take it easy, Judy, take—it—easy, she admonished herself sternly.

She had agreed to meet Mr. McKee in the public market, and when she found him they shopped recklessly, loading the car with the oversize jewels that were tomatoes, carrots, beans, squash, melons.

She bought a piece of fresh salmon.

Boiled, with egg sauce, it would be delicious for dinner along with green peas and new potatoes. Funny, how one had to keep on planning for things like that even when . . .

“Mr. McKee, would you mind very much taking the shore road?” she asked when they were riding along again. “It’s only a little out of our way. I want to stop at The Highlands and see Michael’s aunt.”

“The Highlands! My, my, that’s a swell place,” said Mr. McKee reverently.

And Cornelia Lorimer, Michael’s only relative, was a swell person, thought Judy. She was Mike’s only sister, older by ten years, and the two of them had adored each other. Now that Mike was dead, and she had no children of her own,

Cornelia had transferred her adoration to Mike’s small son.

Judy could understand that, of course.

No one could help loving Michael. He was his father all over again. But the trouble was that Cornelia had married the wealthy Henry Lorimer, and ever since Michael’s birth they had urged her again and again to come and live with them. They had been unable to understand why she should choose to stay on with her son in the small home that Mike had established for them.

It hadn’t been easy to hold her own in the face of their loving persuasion, but some inviolate self had refused to surrender. After all, Michael was her son and Mike’s. They had loved him into being, they had made plans for him, and just because fate had decreed that Mike should be taken away was no reason why she should shirk her responsibility by shifting it to other shoulders. It wasn’t as if Mike had left her destitute. There was his insurance and a small pension. And she had always been buoyed up by a queer secret feeling that Mike was watching her and approved of her stand, and that somehow it kept intact his integrity as a man and a father.

Besides, she had always been afraid of the insidious power of the Lorimer money. It could buy such exciting things with which to beglamor a small impressionable boy. And Michael was all she had in the world.

Just ahead were the ornate grilled gates. The gatekeeper fixed the car with a glassy, appraising eye. Laughter trembled in Judy’s throat.

“It’s all right, Mr. Parker. I’m Mrs. Leeds. Mrs. Lorimer’s sister-in-law.”

rT"'HE MAN’S face thawed into a brief smile as he recognized her and allowed the car to pass. The wooded road curved around one great estate after another, an opening in the trees here and there, or a driveway vista, affording glimpses of splendid houses and landscaped gardens.

“My, my. Here’s the finest of them all," said Mr. McKee, as a great stone house on a terraced knoll came into view. “And will you look at them roses?”

“They’ve won prizes. Tum in here,” directed Judy.

They creaked to a stop before the imposing entrance. Instantly a servant in plum-colored livery appeared in the doorway. He looked down his nose at the ancient vehicle with its gaudy cargo of garden produce.

Judy smiled faintly. “Good morning, Banks. Is Mrs. Lorimer up yet?”

“Yes, Mrs. Leeds. I’ll tell her you’re here. Will you wait inside?”

“Thank you. 1 believe I’ll wait here.” The man withdrew and Judy got out of the car. After a moment of uncertainty Mr. McKee clambered out too. When a tall handsome woman in a blue knitted suit appeared, he began surreptitiously to straighten his stringy old tie.

‘Judy, my dear, is anything wrong with Michael? You’ve been at the beach less than a fortnight and you never leave the place if you can help it.”

“Hello, Cornelia. Michael is fine.” Judy felt warm all over at the genuine concern in her sister-in-law’s eyes. “Mr. McKee had to come into town this morning and I went along to do an errand. Cornelia, this is Mr. McKee. He’s been admiring your roses.”

Mr. McKee's golden smile was very much in evidence as he vigorously pumped Cornelia Lorimer’s hand.

“Perhaps you’d like a few to take home?” she suggested. “You’ll find the greenhouses at the back. Tell the gardener I sent you and that you’re to choose the ones you like.”

When he had departed she led the way through the cool, spacious rooms of the great house to the terrace facing the Sound. Bright parasols were tipj>ed over iron tables, tubs of pink hydrangeas stood self-consciously about. Judy sat down in a stri]>ed garden chair, feeling very close to Michael. Thirty miles north of here the small boy was playing beside this same inland sea.

“Now tell me what it’s all about,” commanded Cornelia, sitting deep in another chair.

Judy smiled wanly. She had come here on an impulse thinking to tell Cornelia everything, but now she knew that she could not put into words the thing that was going to happen to her.

“There’s nothing to tell, really there isn’t.” Judy was slightly breathless. “It’s just that I wanted Mr. McKee to know you and where to find you in case anything should happen to Michael—-or I should drown—or something,” she finished lamely.

Cornelia’s fine eyes flashed blue. “It's ridiculous for you and Michael to spend the summer in that miserable little cabin when you could be here with Henry and me. You know how much we think of you both. Besides Michael is my own brother’s child. The only child in all our families. And so long as all of this is going to be his some day anyway, I don’t see why ...”

Judy looked about her carefully, seeing everything with different eyes. So all of this would belong to small Michael some day. The acres of park, the greenhouses, the stables, the cars, the money in the bank. Only he wouldn’t be small when he should come into possession of these things. He would be a man with a man’s dignity and capabilities. In the meantime, he would grow up. He would come to this home from school, from college. On some bright distant day he would bring his bride to visit here. And his children would make this big house echo with the sound of their running feet, their laughter. Judy almost stopped breathing when she thought of her grandchildren, and Mike’s.

“Is it pride—or what—that makes you stay away from us?”

“A sort of pride. I think. I want to carry on and do for Michael—so long as I am—able. I know it’s w'hat Mike would want me to do.”

Something pressed stingingly hot against her eyelids, but she wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t. She lay back in her chair feeling spent and weak.

Deftly Cornelia changed the subject.

Continued on page 45

The Splendid Prodigal

Continued from page 17

“You’re looking terribly thin, Judy. Can I ring for something? Sherry, tea, milk, chicken sandwiches?”

Judy shook her head.

“Y’ou know, you’re a very pretty girl,” went on Cornelia. “It’s a crime to waste that glorious red hair, those grey eyes, that white skin, the way you’re doing. With a few extra pounds, the right clothes, you’d be a sensation in any world. Judy, have you ever thought of marrying again?”

“No. No.” Judy thought she had screamed the words until she saw the waiting look on Cornelia’s face.

The minister had said, “Until death do you part.” But the words had really meant, “Until death brings you together again.” Slowly she got to her feet. “I am married, Cornelia,” she explained gently. “To Mike.”

“Forgive me, Judy.”

“It’s all right.” Impulsively she stretched out her hands. “You’re sweet, Cornelia. Thank you for wanting Michael and me. I think I’ve changed my mind. We’ll come—tomorrow—if you like.”

“I’ll rest,” thought Judy. “I’ll do everything the doctor tells me. And maybe I’ll live until Michael is eight or nine.”

“Splendid. Tell Michael I’ll buy him a pony.”

r"PHE RIDE back to the beach seemed a million miles long. But finally Mr. McKee turned the car west off the main highway and then into the narrow, rutted road that meandered through the cool woods where the berries would grow so thickly later in the summer. Slowly they drove between the gnarled old trees of the upper orchard, then the nose of the car dipped into the bluff road. Looking down, through the green screen of leaves, Judy could see the roof of their cabin. There was the outdoor stove, the little grassy space under the maple trees they called the park, the shimmering expanse of blue water, levelling out as the car came down the hill.

Everything looked different. Clearer, more sharply defined, somehow, searing her consciousness like a pain. She was acutely aware of little things. The neat way in which a sea gull, swooping through the azure sky, tucked his feet beneath him, the old-pewter gleam of the driftwood, the arrogant stance of a robin. And then the car stopped in front of the cabin and she saw him come running toward her, his arm flung high.

“Hi’ya, mother!”

Judy sat very still, scarcely breathing, her eyes aching with the effort to imprison completely the image of her child. His lean height, his swift grace, his blue-eyed smile. The same flashing, engaging grin that Mike had worn and that had won her heart the first time she saw him.

She must remember to tell Mike about Michael’s smile. And about his upper front teeth. How he had carefully placed them under his pillow, the day they were pulled, so that the fairies might find them and leave a coin in their place. And how, sure enough, he had found two shining nickels under his pillow in the morning. How half a tooth had grown out now, and how Michael had prayed, when he first came to the beach, that the other tooth would grow out pure gold like Mr. McKee’s.

Judy bit her lip hard to stop its trembling. She wanted terribly to fling her arms around that small beloved figure and sob her heart out. Instead she gave him a dazzling smile.

“Hi’ya. darling!”

Mr. McKee had carried in the fruit and vegetables, and, entering the cabin, Judy found the loaf of fresh wheat bread and a cherry pie on the table. Quickly she built a fire in the stove and set things to cooking. Then changing her grey suit and frilled blouse for a thin sleeveless dress the color of new leaves, and tying a narrow green

ribbon about her burnished hair, she went out on the stoop and helped Michael shell the peas.

The back of the adjoining cabin was only fifteen feet away, so that it made the intervening space, with the bluff at their back, like an outdoor room. The little stream that trickled down had been dammed up, and in the tiny pool it made they kept their milk and melons. There was a table and chairs, and leafy branches made a green canopy. It was a small heaven.

They had barely finished eating when Michael shouted:

“Hi’ya, pirates! Here we come!”

Panic gripped Judy as she looked at her small son. It was only yesterday at the pirate cave that . . .

“Michael, the cave is around the point. It’s too hot to walk that far right now. Let's be peaceful this afternoon. Let’s take a blanket and pillows and go up to the park. Later we’ll go in the water if you like.”

“Okay.” Cheerfully he helped her to clear the table.

CURLED UP on the blanket, Judy fell asleep in the cool shade of the maples, and when she awakened she could have wept. She hadn’t slept very long—she could tell by the sun—but minutes spent in sleep were precious time wasted. She never wanted to sleep again.

A big bee was humming in her ear. Turning her head, she saw the small tight bunch of wildflowers lying beside her, quite wilted as if they had been held too long in a hot little hand. Judy’s eyes grew brilliant with tears. Last summer she and Michael had picked wildflowers every day to put on their table, but this year, barely settled, they hadn’t quite got around to the decorative touches as yet.

But the big thing was—he had remembered. She had often wondered how much of the things they did Michael would remember.

Propping herself up on one elbow, she looked about her fearfully. Oh, there he was! The small boy had changed into blue swimming trunks, and now he sat in a patch of sand just beyond the grassy area, his sandmill securely anchored in the spread V made by his brown legs. His body was still too white, but before summer was over it would be a deep healthy brown.

How busy he was, how absorbed ! She tried to picture that intent scowl bent over a school desk, a business desk. What would he choose to be when he grew up? It was odd to think that she would never know.

A faint droning hum suddenly swelled to a roar above the trees. Both of their heads tipped back at the same moment.

“There goes the mail plane, mother.” “Yes, darling.”

Judy squeezed her eyes shut, she covered her ears with her hands. The roar had died to a faint hum before she opened her eyes again. She saw Michael looking at her queerly.

“I don’t want to be an avi-tor, mother. I don’t have to be, do I, mother?”

Judy drew in her breath sharply. Somehow her horror of airplanes had communicated itself to him. She had not even allowed him to own a toy airplane. She couldn’t go away and leave him crippled by such a fear.

“Not unless you want to, darling,” she said steadily. “But your daddy—liked -airplanes.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one thing, he said they made him feel free. Like a bird. And then it was his work. He enjoyed it, was proud of it. Airplanes are all right, Michael. When we get back to town we’ll go to the airport some day and look at one. Daddy always said they were as safe as motor cars or trains. Only sometimes the weather gets

bad. Sometimes there’s a terrible fog and you can’t see what’s in front of you. Sometimes”—her voice faltered a little—“a mountain gets in the way. Just as another car might get in your way if you were driving a car in the fog. Do you remember how it was on the path the other night when our flashlight burned out?”

“I ran into a tree. It hurt.”

Judy thoughtI’ve never talked with Michael about this before. And now I’m giving it to him all in one lump. It’ll sink into his mind and he'll think about it, and some day soon he’ll ask me questions and then maybe it’ll be easier for me.

She hurried on, a little breathlessly: “And your daddy said there were so many beautiful things to see up there. Clouds that looked like castles with a thousand turrets—”

“What’s a turret?”

“A tower. Something like your sandmill. And clouds that looked like boats.”

“Rowboats?” He deserted his sandmill and came to sit beside her, pressing his small body against hers. “Let’s hunt for one now.” His fair head thrown back, his blue eyes roamed the sky intently.

“No, not a rowboat.” Judy’s eyes roamed the sky too, but there wasn’t a cloud in sight. “All the boats in the sky are special ones. Silver caravels—or galleons with colored sails—or— ”

“What does a care—a cara—vel—look like?”

“Come, I’ll show you.” Jumping to her feet, she tapped his bony shoulderblade. “I’ll race you to the beach,” she challenged breathlessly.

Screaming with laughter, they raced the scant distance. Picking up a piece of driftwood, she traced her idea of a caravel in the wet sand, Michael boldly adding fantastic embellishments of his own conception.

“And now let’s launch it,” he cried when they had finished.

Instantly Judy flopped down and stripped off her shoes and stockings. Solemnly they launched the imaginary boat into the water and, shading their eyes with their hands, watched it go sailing into strange far distances.

They waded gleefully, they played hopscotch, they teetered on a board balanced across a log. Then, exhausted, they trudged back to the hot little cabin gilded into beauty by the slanting rays of the sun.

JUDY spread honey on thick slices of the wheat bread, she poured milk into tall glasses. They ate their meal in the outdoor room, slowly, without talking. Far out a boat was going by, trailing a black veil of smoke, a huge freighter bound for some foreign port. Yokohama, perhaps, or Shanghai. The tall firs on the point at the right were green gold. They would turn black when the sun went down.

Jumping fish flashed silver, forming widening circles upon the opalescent water. It kept their eyes busily darting hither and thither. McKees’ dog was barking. There was a strange car in the road, the sound of voices near by. Evidently Mr. McKee was showing one of the cabins. Soon now they would be filled during the week days too, and Michael would have little boys and girls to play with.

When every last crumb was finished and the glasses drained, Michael proudly replenished the wood box from the pile back of the cabin while Judy made the bed which had been airing all day. Then, wrapped up in warm sweaters, they went back to the beach and, building a fire, watched its leaping, crackling flames grow brighter and brighter as darkness sifted down and the stars came out.

Sometimes the McKees joined them, or there were other guests. Children’s rapt faces, dogs with thumping tails. And marshmallows browning puffily on long sticks. But tonight only shadow people, sitting about other fires flaring scarlet on the black point and on the distant black island, shared the beach with them.

Back in the cabin again, the unshaded lamp throwing fantastic shadows about the

rough walls, Judy scrubbed Michael’s face and hands. They could hardly keep their eyes open.

“Mother, may we go to the pirate cave tomorrow?” asked Michael sleepily.

Tomorrow! Judy, wide awake now, looked at him in consternation. She had forgotten all about tomorrow, about all tomorrows.

“Michael, I have something to tell you. I stopped in to see your Aunt Cornelia this morning. She wants us to come and live with her and Uncle Henry. I decided—it would be a -good idea. So she’s sending the car for us—tomorrow.”

Suddenly she knew that it hadn’t been a good idea at all. Because after this day, things would never be the same again. How could they be the same in that big house, with its conventional routine, its servants, its formal, complicated way of living?

When they left here Michael would never be hers in this special, intimate way again. There would be a nurse or a governess to supervise his meals, his clothes, his study, his play hours, while she would have to be content to remain on the fringes of his life, a proud lonely spectator.

And when Cornelia should find out how things were with her—nothing ever escaped Cornelia’s sharp eyes for very long—• then her life would be regimented too. She would be made to rest. She would be coddled and fussed over. Michael would be told again and again, “Run away and play, your mother isn’t feeling well, you must be very quiet, you mustn’t excite her. ”

True, it might mean another year or two of life for her, but what good would it do, living them out like that? Oh, she couldn’t bear to have all the happy memories in Michael’s mind dimmed, and finally obliterated, by the picture of an invalid mother.

“Aunt Cornelia said she’d buy you a pony, Michael.”

Judy clapped her hand over her mouth. She hadn’t meant to tell him that, she hadn’t. It was a bribe, inexorably settling the balance in Aunt Cornelia’s favor.

Fearfully Judy saw him turn this information over and over in his mind. His eyes met hers gravely.

“But mother, I haven’t had the ponv. so I won’t miss him. Let’s stay here. Please, mother, let’s stay here.”

T5UTTONING his pyjama coat, with its gaudy pattern of circus clowns, her fingers suddenly stopped trembling. Everything was all right now. She and Michael would have this one last summer together. Somehow the other summers didn’t count. He had been just a baby then. This summer they seemed almost like contemporaries.

She would crowd all of living into this one brief space of time so that in some summer, far or near, in some moment of sun or starshine or salt wind, some quiet place of trees and wildfiowers, in a smile, or drift of laughter, Michael would break through the wall of reality separating them and find her there.

Maybe he would understand then, too, that she had tried to teach him that there was an enduring richness to be got out of life that had nothing whatever to do with material things.

She smiled reassuringly at the anxious small boy.

“We’ll stay, darling. As soon as you’re tucked in, mother’ll go over to McKees’ and telephone to Aunt Cornelia. I’ll tell her that we’ll come when summer is over.”

“Okay.”

He crept into bed and folded his hands in prayer. Then she pulled the covers up under his chin.

“Sleep tight, my darling. Pleasant dreams.” She bent to kiss him.

In a flash the covers were thrown back and his thin arms crept up around her neck, almost strangling her.

“I love you, mommie.”

“I love you too.”

She squeezed back, hard. It was what she had wanted to do all day.