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Tillamook – Chapter 7

The chirping of the alarm slowly roused Mike from his sleep.  Peeling his head from the down pillow, his sleepy eyes struggled to focus on the time.  It was five o’clock, but his body insisted groggily that it must be earlier.  He wasn’t ready to get up; the mental fog produced by months of poor sleep was growing thicker.  Groaning, he propped himself up on his elbows and shut off the alarm.  By getting up now, he knew he would enjoy the next hour of hot coffee and quiet reflection before having to wake the girls for school.  What had become a personal habit years earlier had taken on a new, vital role in his life since moving the girls back to Oregon.

He hadn’t initially recognized the importance of this morning meditation, focusing instead on simply trying to make it through the exhausting pace of trying to balance his newfound parental responsibilities with work obligations.  But Tanya’s comments about his downward spiral increased.  She had indeed borne part of the brunt of his quickly diminishing energy level and moods.  At first she had been content to allow him his space, but after a particularly tense evening, she had taken matters into her own hands, suggesting that Mike needed to make time for himself.  It was a diagnosis he had begrudgingly admitted was right on the mark.  He had promised to give it a shot.

The past two weeks had been much better, he sensed.  No, he knew things had changed for the better.  His patience level, although still not great, was improving.  His panicked reactions to parenting were subsiding, replaced or at least gradually overshadowed by a prevailing sense of calming acceptance in his new role with the girls.

His feet flopped to the icy floor and he shuffled toward the window seat.  The sky was a dark grey, no longer the pitch black of night.  Squinting toward the heavens, he spotted the fading twinkles of stars through fuzzily distinct clouds.  As predicted, the storm had broken and there was a chance the new day would bring sunshine for the first time since they had moved in.  He smiled.  It would be the girls’ first time waking to good weather in the new house.

Maybe that would help Sam’s attitude, he thought.  He hoped so, anyway, as he open the leather journal and clicked open his pen.  He began writing.

 

By the time he heard the soft pattering of feet behind him, Mike had written six pages in the worn notebook.  His thoughts had flowed as easily as the rivers of water through the reappearing carved channels in the pre-dawn light in front of the house.

“Good morning,” he said, without turning to see who was approaching.

“Hey, Dad.”

Turning around, Mike smiled at his twelve year-old daughter.  Her hair was tangled and knotted, and her eyes hung only half open.  She yawned widely as she crossed the living room.

“How are you this morning?” he asked.

“I’m good.”

“Sleep well?”

“Yeah, once I fell asleep I did,” she answered.  It was exactly the way he expected the conversation to go.  Every morning was the same thing, he had learned.

Climbing onto the window seat next to him, Sam cuddled up next to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head against the warmth of his t-shirt.  He hugged her back, relishing the childish intimacy that emerged most mornings, only to be drowned out by pubescent hormones by midday.  He missed the closeness the two of them once had, the giggling snuggles each weekend morning and her eager willingness to ask whatever popped into her head.  Middle school had changed her as the way it does most people, the developing need for independence and the struggle to fit into a social scene that welcomes few.  Not to mention the divorce.  He knew that even the difficulties of this phase would pass, but his little girl was growing up and the past dynamics of their relationship would also evolve.  For now, he was content with their morning cuddles, he thought as he kissed her forehead.

“Why did you get up early?  You could have slept another ten minutes,” he told her.

“I know.  I just woke up.”

“Cool,” he said, gesturing toward the window, “Well, you get to see your first actual sunrise in this house.”

“Um, Dad, actually we’re looking west.  The sun comes up in the east,” she commented, looking at him inquisitively.  Her eyes sparkled, and he knew she understood what he had meant.  She could definitely sense someone’s buttons and even in play, she enjoyed pushing them.  Like father, like daughter, he thought, chuckling.  He would not take the bait.

“Ready for your last week of summer?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess.  I wish summer would never end.“

“Well, school here will be okay.  You make friends easily, and we know what a great student you are,” he assured her.  “It’ll all work out.  I promise.”

Transitioning to a new school was never easy, though.  He knew better, but really knew nothing else to say at the moment.  Sam did make friends easily.  But in middle school, easy is a relative term.  This was why they had moved into the house before it was finished.  The alternative was to start the school year in Portland, only to move again to Tillamook partway through the fall.  That made no sense at all.  Tanya had agreed.  Besides, she had pointed out, this way the girls could help to make choices about their rooms and other details that still needed to be decided.  It could be a bonding experience, and definitely something young girls would enjoy. Her assurances had helped.

“Seriously,” he continued, squeezing Sam’s shoulder, “it could be great, right?”

Sam shrugged.  “We’ll see, Dad.”  With that, she turned and shuffled back down the hallway.

Watching her retreating figure, Mike’s smile slowly transformed as he sucked his lower lip between his teeth.  It wasn’t middle school that made him apprehensive at the moment.  After all, that was still a week off.  No, it was a much closer milestone that caused his face to slightly contort in a combination of bottled-up excitement and nervous energy.

In slightly more than two hours, Tanya would be there.  The daily phone calls over the past month had brought them closer, he felt, but that had been their only contact.  By her own insistence, they hadn’t even seen each other since Mike and the girls returned to Portland.  He needed to focus entirely on the girls, she had told him.  And while he agreed on an intellectual level, the comment had perplexed and worried him.  What if she had cooled on the idea of a relationship?  After all, he could no longer afford to be the carefree, easy-going bachelor that she had met in Tahoe.  As a “package,” he could no longer be separated from the girls.  What attractive, intelligent woman would be interested in taking on that commitment?  The thought gnawed at him.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

In an instant, a feigned smile erased the frown that had crept across his face with a quick rub of his hand across his day-old stubble.  Meg came crashing into his legs, hugging him tightly.

“Oh nothing, sweetie…I was just thinking about the things I have to get done today.” His smile softened into a more natural expression.  “Did you sleep well?”

“No, I had nightmares again.  These ones were about an ugly old man who sold us a boat that kept sinking every time we tried to go sailing.  Only I couldn’t swim, and you wouldn’t help me.”

“Oh my…that’s not good,” he said.  “Well, it’s not real, is it?  See, everything is better in the morning, huh?”  Lacking anything else to say, he merely stroked her long hair as she clung to his legs.

“Daddy, why do you have to work today?  Why can’t you just take the next week off and spend it just with us?”

“Oh, I’ll be here most of the day.  Remember, from now on, I get to work from home.  But I do have some things to get done today.  That’s why my friend, Tanya, is coming over.  She really wants to meet you guys.”

“Okay, if you say so,” she replied.

“Trust me, you’re gonna love her,” he said, hoping his voice was more convincing than it seemed to him.  The fluttering in his stomach was intensifying.  What if they didn’t like her?  It was a bridge of uncertainty he would cross only if necessary.  “Now, go get dressed.”

 

The crunching gravel under the approaching tires of a vehicle caused Mike’s pulse to flutter even faster than before.  A glance out the kitchen window confirmed the slow approach of a white Honda.  Okay, buddy.  This is it…God, let this go alright! 

“Girls,” he called down the hallway, “Tanya’s here.”  He cringed at the giddiness in his voice, and he instantly wished he could take it back.  He wanted their introduction to be as informal as possible.  After all, maybe then they wouldn’t realize that Tanya wasn’t just his friend.  “They don’t need to know anything else, right?” he whispered, trying to convince himself.

Stepping out the back door onto the unfinished pine stoop, he gave a quick wave and a brave smile toward the white car.  The rain from the passing storm had beaded nicely along the light colored pine boards of the porch, and looking at the rainbow glistening, Mike realized that not only would this be Tanya’s introduction to the girls.  She had also never been to the house.  Oh, she had seen photos on his laptop, but pictures could never do justice to the rugged backdrop of the Oregonian coast beyond the house.  And the house itself was impressive, even in its developing state.  He could see Tanya perched forward in the Accord’s driver’s seat as she took it all in, and an adolescent flutter surged over him.  She’s going to love it….right?  I mean, who wouldn’t?  He bit down on his lip both to quell the self-doubt and because he felt suddenly self-conscious of the excited grin that had ambushed his face.

Tanya pushed open the car door with her knee and smiled at Mike.  Wow! She mouthed in his direction, her smile expanding as their eyes met.

“Be careful of the mud,” he called out.  “I’d hate to have to hose you off!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” she called back, grinning devilishly.  “I think you’d thoroughly enjoy that!”

“Who me?” he exclaimed, his hands clutching his chest in mock innocence.  They both laughed, as she carefully made her way between the muddy puddles to the half-sunken two by fours that made an unsteady walkway to the porch.  Mike stepped down onto the last board and held out his hand for her.  When their fingers touched, he felt an electric excitement shoot through his body and his heart pounded against his ribcage.  Wow, it’s been a long time, he thought, as he gently pulled her onto the porch beside him.

When she was safely on the porch, Tanya turned toward him and gave him a warm hug.  He pulled her into his chest, and breathe in the faint smell of perfume that lingered behind her ear, the slightly sweet odor of lilacs.  Only when he felt her body tense a smidgen did his arms relax, freeing her from his grasp.

“It’s great to see you,” he whispered, afraid that if he spoke any louder the emotions that were welling up inside him would overflow completely.  It was silly, he knew, how much he had longed for such an embrace over the past month.  Although he certainly received his fair shares of hugs from the girls, the embrace of another adult, a woman, was much needed.

The door cracked open and a button nose and one beady eye peaked out.  From inside a whispered voice hissed, “Megan, close the door.”

Mike’s eyes met Tanya’s and they both stifled a laugh.  “It’s okay, girls,” Mike said, turning toward the door just in time to see it snap shut again.  He waved to the pair of small faces peering from the lowest glass panes of the windowed door.  “Come on out.”

The door opened slowly, and one by one, with Megan leading the way in her typically brazen and courageous manner, the girls stepped onto the porch.  Tanya smiled warmly toward them.

“Hi,” said Megan, returning the smile with a toothless grin.  Her missing front two upper teeth and her bottom left bicuspid created a jack-o-lantern appearance that, if not for the soft features and fly-away blonde hair, might have frightened some.  Instead, it usually served to melt even the most hardened stranger’s heart.  “I’m Megan.”

Tanya bent forward slightly and reached out her right hand.  “Nice to meet you, Megan.  I’m Tanya…a friend of your dad’s,” she quickly added with a sideways glance toward Mike.

Megan’s fingers curled and with her tightly clenched fist, she lightly tapped Tanya’s knuckles.  “That’s pounds,” she explained.

“Megan,” Mike began, a pinkish hue creeping up his neck and over his jawline.  “Can you shake her hand?”

“Oh, it’s cool,” Tanya interrupted, laughing loudly.  She too balled her hand and returned the gesture.  “That’s pretty awesome!”

Megan beamed, obviously pleased with the positive impression she had made.  Her mission clearly accomplished, she bounded down the porch steps and leapt from plank to plank across the mud in front of the house, like a little clothed monkey freed from its captive laboratory for the first time in ages.

With her departure, Tanya turned toward Samantha, who, although having exited the house remained within a short arm’s length of the open door.

“And you must be Sam,” Tanya stated matter-of-factly.

“It’s Samantha.” The tweener’s voice oozed with attitude, a sharp contrast to the giddy exuberance of her younger sister.

Again Mike felt himself flush, and he fought to keep the annoyance from rising in his voice. “Sam…”

And again Tanya interrupted with a wave of her hand, “It’s nice to meet you, Samantha.  I have a younger sister about your age.  How old are you?”

“My dad didn’t tell you how old I am?” The disgust in Sam’s voice hung thick as the coastal Oregonian morning humidity.  The corners of her lips curled ever so slightly into a sneer.

Tanya smiled politely.  “Of course he did,” she replied, “but that was several months ago and I can’t remember if he said that you were almost twelve or almost thirteen.”  Her own painful memories of those early middle school years, with the awkwardness spawned from puberty, bodily changes and hormonal onslaught, coupled with her own parents’ divorce and the dissolution of her nuclear family, made Tanya understand all too well Sam’s sassiness.  She was hurting, and in deference to her mother, it was uncomfortable to be meeting her father’s new female friend.  That Tanya was posed simply as a friend made little difference, and the therapist in her understood that.  Too often in her psychological residency program had she sat across the room from just such a tormented teen soul.  We’ll get past this, she thought, nodding to herself more than to anyone else.

With a shrug, all three of them disappeared into the house, the screen door easing shut behind them.

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Torrential rains continued to pummel the picturesque seaside village for the third straight day.  Flash flood warnings monopolized the airwaves on the battery-fed, short-wave radio, balanced precariously atop a make-shift shelf of two-by-fours suspended between two cinderblocks.  Until the house was ready for permanent furnishings, this would have to do.

Monsoons felt like this, the young girl imagined, twisting and flipping her braids absent-mindedly.  She watched nature’s wrath through the double-paned picture window of the second floor living room, the pelting of rainwater intensifying and then dying away with each blown torrent of wind.  It surprised her to witness such a vicious storm.  The Midwestern tornados and hailstorms she had barely grown accustomed to in the past year had done little to minimize her awed reaction.

In reality, the sheets of blown rain that blanketed the town and pounded the seaside homes along this rocky coast paled in comparison to true monsoons. The ferocity of the early summer storm was impressive, though.  The howling wind ratcheted up and clawed at the roof and walls of the small house, imploring the pine siding and clay shingles to join it in the playground of the grayish-green clouds swirling overhead.  But despite the fury, this was a well-constructed structure, a two-year product of homegrown planning and ingenuity.

A talented up and coming architect and real estate developer from Seattle, Anthony Porter had spent nearly a year designing a home for the girl’s father and had painstakingly located a prime building site near Tillamook, two hours west of Portland.  It was a house that could withstand even the most brutal of Poseidon’s coastal storms, he had assured them.  The subsequent construction had been equally solid, as the concrete foundation, exterior, electrical and plumbing had been accomplished with few delays.  The interior of the house remained largely unfinished, but the structure was finally livable.  And for the past three days, the rustic elegance of the house had been violently buffeted by Mother Nature.  It had passed its first real test.  The initial results were pleasing.

Lightning crackled the air as the wide bay in front of the house lit up momentarily.  In the distance the red and green lights of a passing freighter flashed and receded hypnotically.  The girl imagined sailors battling the seas, navigating precariously beyond the rocks that jutted out into the darkness from hidden coves.  The bravery of such imagined mariners fed hours of fantastical observation for her.

For Megan, the storm was a thrill a minute.  Saltwater waves, spawned miles out at sea, eventually crashed on the breakwater structures and shoreline in front of her.  The house itself was in no real danger, pitched high above the jagged rocks and churning waters.  A manicured lawn, edged with native grasses and salt marsh reeds would eventually occupy the area in front of the westward facing windows, leading to the rock cliffs.  Her father had promised to build a stone pathway from the grassy lawn, a series of switchbacks leading carefully down the steep incline to the beach below.  But that was likely to be at least a year or two away.  For now, the rain cut narrow rivers into the brown dirt, snaking around rocks, flowing over the retaining wall, ultimately joining the churning surf below. 

Megan enjoyed watching the watery rivulets carving their way down the steep slope to the ocean.  She imagined a great chasm being cut into solid rock, the Grand Canyon continuously gouged out by the mighty Colorado River.  Sitting on the window seat, observing the natural world never seemed to grow old for Meg.

The same could not be said for Samantha, who lay facing the studded plywood wall at the far end of the room.  Groaning, she slowly rolled over onto her back and rocked up onto her elbows.

“Is it ever going to stop raining?” she whined, flopping back to the floor.  Her hands smacked the plywood in frustration.  “I’m sick of this weather. It sucks!”

 “And I’m getting really tired of hearing you complain,” her father sighed.  He stretched his graying head from shoulder to shoulder, easing the tension with a distinct pop in either direction.  “Get up and do something if you’re so miserable.  Either do something or just sit there in silence.  No one else needs to be miserable just because you are.”  

Michael snapped shut the laptop with a loud click.  If one thing drove him crazy, it was watching someone wallow in self-pity.  And recently, Sam’s insistence on announcing her boredom and dissatisfaction harkened Mike back to an earlier time in his life.  Despite the fact that she was striding full-force into puberty, Mike attributed Sam’s newfound negative attitude not to hormones, but rather directly to her mother.  Fair or not, it was one of the many attributes of his former wife that had driven him crazy during their twelve–year marriage.  Like nails on chalkboard, Samantha’s inherited flair for the dramatic never failed to ignite a smoldering anger in his gut.  The negativity needed to be nipped in the bud immediately, as far as Mike was concerned.  He silently cursed her mother, as well as his own impulsive passivity that had allowed Samantha to even experiment with this attitude. 

Across the room, Samantha sighed, with dramatic emphasis and volume clearly intended for one purpose, to evoke a response from he father.  Looking for a reaction, she was disappointed to spot nothing.  Just like Dad, she thought, clenching her fists.

 This was how most interactions between father and eldest daughter played out these days, it seemed.  Frustratingly, Mike sensed the impending social cesspool of puberty and too often dwelled on the gnawing feeling of male helplessness to do anything to bridge the growing gap in their relationship.  A single, divorced dad of up-and-coming teenage girls was not the life picture of anyone’s dreams.  And it certainly hadn’t fit into Mike’s grand plans. 

When had things gone so wrong, Mike silently wondered, as he stared at the shadows against the far living room wall?  And how much more would be ahead before this ship was righted and back on course?

This was the same internal dialogue that had been repeated for almost two years.  Of course, Mike knew the answer.  Or more to the point, he knew that he couldn’t know.  He no longer questioned where he had erred any more than where others had played definitive roles in leading to this path.  Ultimately, he was grateful for the opportunity to be in his daughters’ lives at all, despite the challenges and hurdles he had faced.  If anything, in much the same way that he had glibly judged paperbacks abandoned in airplane seatbacks during flights to Omaha or Tampa or Roanoke, the divorce and subsequent custody turmoil had buffeted Mike unexpectedly.  The romanticized book covers with sappy titles and ripped bodice had always been dismissed by him as emotional drivel.  Their single purpose, he instinctively felt, was to tap the withering conscience of a society starved for celebrity drama and all too eager for another unrealistic feel-good story.  Such tales spelled big bucks for so-called authors lacking true talent but full of entrepreneurial vigor.  They smelled the dollars such novels might produce and cranked them out five to six times a year, a formulaic, yet emotionally bereft endeavor at the expense of the intellect of the readers and the conscience of society as a whole.

Glancing at Samantha’s curled backside, silhouetted faintly against the light green mattress and the reddish brown, construction stained plywood, Mike marveled at the irony of life’s journey.  Without question, he remained skeptical of the validity of convenience store dramatic literature.  And yet the past year and a half had proved to him that even the most disciplined long-term life planning was subject to twists and turns that could render even the hardiest stomach queasy and tempt the most devout sailor to renounce his faith in an Everlasting Father if simply to quell the nauseous feelings from the perils of everyday life.

Mike closed his eyes and drew a silent breath.  Was it possible that only eighteen months had passed since the divorce?  He felt ten years older than when it all began.  Grey hair had slowly replaced the dark brown curls that sprouted along the nape of his neck.  Mike wondered if all his hair would be silver before long.  It was not the idea of grey hair that bothered him so much as the attribution for it that he gave to his ex-wife’s ill-conceived actions and decisions.

“Whoa! That one was awesome!” the high-pitched, prepubescent voice vaulted across the empty room from the darkened window, interrupting Mike’s spiraling thoughts.  Moments later, the sound of the rumbling thunder followed the flash that had spawned Megan’s exclamation.

Mike smiled.  In spite of all the challenging times they had all been through, he wouldn’t trade this moment for anything.  Here they were in a house he had dreamed would be everything he had ever wanted.  With Tony’s help, that reality was nearing completion.  And the girls were with him, another piece of life’s puzzle that he couldn’t have predicted a year ago.

Situated on a half-acre spit of forested land jutting slightly into the cold Pacific surf, Mike almost felt at home here already.  In the coming months, the interior rooms would be completed, and nearly all of the furniture and decor needed to outfit the place were ordered or already in storage at the Eastside Storage units in Portland.  Tanya’s skills at interior decorating had given the 3000 square-foot home just the right balance of rugged elegance and feminine detail, perfect for two soon-to-be socially-conscious teenaged girls. 

As a home office, it would be state-of-the-art, allowing him the connectivity and convenience to work exclusively from the first floor study overlooking the bay.  Business travel that had once occupied nearly three or four days a week would be limited to one 3-day trip to San Francisco and San Diego every month, one-on-one coaching meetings with the top executives of four major corporations, clients he had painstakingly nurtured and developed over the past decade.  The rest of his time would be spent managing and mentoring junior consultants who would shoulder the burden of long-term gigs with up-and-coming corporate clients in ten western states.  That he could virtually manage a team of clients and consultants from home was a luxury that Mike knew reflected strongly on his firm’s confidence in his abilities and work ethic.  He had expressed his profound gratitude and humbled loyalty to the firm’s partners at an in-person meeting last week.  They were taking a considerable risk, and he understood that.  He had assured them they wouldn’t be let down.

More valued than the exquisite home and the near-perfect professional arrangement, however, was the fact that the custody turmoil and adjustment issues with Megan and Samantha were nearly behind him.  The process had been tumultuous for all of them.  All had been emotionally scarred, but they were surviving and more fully than had been hoped.  Mike knew the trauma would require extensive recovery long into the future, but the infrastructure to a renewed healthy life for the girls had been carefully laid.  And his own personal journey was also taking shape, something implicitly tied to the girls’ futures, and yet, independent and vitally important individually as well.

The buzz of his vibrating smartphone snapped Mike back from his thoughts.  Leaning to his right to pick up the device from the floor, the flashing “34” next to his “Inbox” icon on the touch screen caught his attention.  He had successfully emptied the inbox early that afternoon.  Silently groaning at the growing number of messages that seemed to provide a never-ending influx of professional issues to be addressed, Mike clicked open the first message. 

A senior vice president of marketing at a California-based software development company, reacting to the company’s stock downturn, had threatened to withhold his sales staff’s vacation if numbers didn’t turn around by the following month.  The company’s CEO, one of Mike’s executive coaching clients, was asking for permission to reprimand the vice president who had clearly overstepped his bounds. 

In comparison to their normal interactions, this one would be easy.  And it could wait until later, Mike decided, shutting the phone shut and turning back toward his youngest daughter.

“Alright, Meg, it’s just about bedtime,” he announced, “If you want to read before lights out, jammies have to be on and teeth brushed in five minutes, no more.”

Without responding, Megan oozed off the window seat, her knees making a dull thud as they collided with the unfinished plywood floor.  Her eyes remained glued on the crashing waves outside and the flashes of lightening that illuminated the night sky.  Slowly she peeled her torso from the hard bench where someday a comfortable cushion would provide a more relaxing vista.  Between the loud peals of thunder that echoed throughout the bare house, Mike could hear each knee and palm hit the floor as Megan began slowly crawling toward the doorway leading to the hallway.  Beyond that, thirty paces separated the living room from a separate hallway with three large bedrooms.  Megan’s room was the furthest.

“At that rate, someone’s going to miss out on reading tonight,” Mike prodded.  His patience was being tested.  “Let’s move it, Meg.”

“Alriiiighty then,” Megan drawled, “I’m going.  I’m going.”  She craned her neck toward the still unmoving figure of her sister against the back wall.  “You’d better move it, too, Sam, or no reading for you.”

“Whatever, Meg,” responded the sedentary lump across the room.

Meg giggled, leapt to her feet and bounded out of the room, smacking the doorframe with her hands as she passed it. 

Mike didn’t respond to the provocation from either girl.  In the past he would have snapped and lectured both of them on respect, tone of voice, and responsibility for oneself, not others.  But time had tempered his responses to such exchanges.  Besides, he thought, Sam knows her bedtime and if she misses out on reading, she’s the only one disappointed.

As if reading his mind, Samantha rolled off the mattress and stood up, reached her arms straight out, interlaced her fingers and stretched.  A staccato of cracking knuckles punctuated the most activity she had undertaken all evening. 

Mike cringed at the sound of popping knuckles, but again, said nothing.  A habitual ‘joint cracker’ himself, Tanya never failed to point on his hypocrisy when he chided the girls for the same thing.  Her admonitions were having the desired effect, he realized.  He smiled at this revelation.

“Thank you, pumpkin.” Mike’s voice followed Samantha down the hall, as she disappeared from view. Several seconds later, he heard the bathroom door shut at the far end of the hallway.  It was one of only three installed doors in the house, the others being the front door and sliding door leading to the wrap-around wooden deck.  It seemed appropriate to him that the bathroom door was a priority over all others at this point.  Besides, the remaining doors would all be delivered and mounted within the coming week.  Until then, all three of them would get by without.

Mike pushed himself out of the chaise lounge that represented the most extravagant piece of furniture in the house and shuffled to the sliding glass door.  Satisfied that it was locked, he turned to his left and walked to the plate-glass window. 

From the outside of the house, it surely seemed a lonesome sight.  With minimal light and obviously no interior furnishings, a man stood in the window and stared out into the driving rain and gusting wind at a mud covered lawn.  Yet the dreariness of the scene belied the sense of beginning that Mike felt, a relational fog evaporating to reveal hidden vistas.

Hearing the light pattering of children’s’ feet behind him, Mike said softly, “I looks like the storm’s almost over.” 

Turning to the two pre-teens in flannel pajamas, Samantha’s with skulls and cross-bones covering it and Megan’s teaming with cartoon pandas munching on bamboo, Mike scooped them up in one motion.  Both were small for their ages, but even so, Mike was keenly aware that it wouldn’t be long before he would no longer be able to carry both at once.  Nor would they likely permit themselves to be carried much longer, particularly Sam.  These days were coming to an end.  But until the day that the girls no longer put up with his playfulness, Mike would continue this tradition.

With both girls wriggling and giggling in response to his tickling fingers, Mike roared in monstrous fashion and tromped down the hallway toward the bedrooms.  One by one, he laid them down on the mattresses in Megan’s future bedroom.  The girls had chosen to room together until the house was finished, or at least until school started again in the fall.

“Okay, you can each read for ten minutes, but then the lights have to go out.”

“How about letting us read for fifteen minutes tonight, Dad?” A voracious reader and constant schemer, Sam was always trying to extend their bedtime routine.

“How about just going to sleep now?” he replied. 

“Ten minutes is good,” both girls exclaimed, in unison.  Most nights ended precisely this way for them.

Kissing each girl and hugging them tightly, Mike turned to leave, pausing at the doorway.  “Sam, I expect you to make sure that the lights go out in ten minutes.  I’ll be peeking in at some point to make sure they are turned off.  Dealio?”

“Dealio,” Sam replied, only half-heartedly, as her real attention had already turned to her latest book, an adventure about vampires and other ghoulish creatures that he could never quite remember.

His own attention had drifted, too, as he pivoted and made his way back into the living room.  The mattress on which Sam had sulked earlier was his bed for the night.  The living room was closer to the girls than his bedroom, and until the furniture arrived, the mattress provided more comfort than the unfinished living room floor during the day. 

Mike rubbed his exhausted eyes, burning from exhaustion and strain.  The desire to collapse onto the mattress was growing with each passing second, and yet he shook his head.  The emails from work wouldn’t go away by themselves.  So, picking up the laptop, he headed for the window seat, promising himself to work for thirty minutes before packing it in for the night. 

As the laptop hummed to life, Mike glanced out the window.  The beam from a lone ship was visible now, most likely a Coast Guard cutter as it continued is patrol through the dark, stormy waters.  Indeed, he thought, the weather was definitely easing to the west. Only occasional flashes of lightning could be seen over the water.  Tomorrow just might end up being a nicer day.  Mike hoped so.  The storm had lasted longer than forecast, and they were all ready for sunnier weather.

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