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Chapter 9: Good-Bye, Twins
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Friday, January 3, 5:10 A.M.
The alarm clock was set for 6:30 but no veteran morning man can ever really sleep in. The internal clock always overrides the alarm setting.
Dan came awake lying on his left side with Karen sleeping soundly in the curve of his body. Up on one elbow, he stared at the clock, confirming that the glowing numerals did indeed say five-ten. He knew he was awake for the day so he slipped out of bed and padded into the bathroom. Twenty minutes later the screech of Dan's underwear drawer caused Karen to stir, yawn, and murmur something incoherent. Dan moved back to the bed.
"Hey, pretty baby," he whispered in her ear, "this is the ghost of Christmas past, come to repay you for your wickedness of yesterday morning."
"Will you act your age?" Karen muttered and then her green eyes flew open very close to his and she smiled sleepily. "I take that back, you crazy nut. Don't you dare ever act your age! Right now, though, I want to brush my teeth. But don't go away."
Ten minutes later, Karen was back at the bedside and Dan had never seen her look more beautiful. Her glossy black hair had been brushed and was curling softly around her face. She had touched her lips lightly with a hint of rose. Her only attire was a fine silver chain around her neck. Forty-five years old, mother of three, career woman--and Dan couldn't conceive of anyone looking lovelier. Years ago he had taken a night-school course in ancient literature. Now the beautiful words from the Bible's Song of Solomon came floating back . . .
thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes;
Thy neck is a tower of ivory;
Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor;
Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies;
The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman."
Without turning out the light, Karen glided to her husband's side of the bed and joined him under the covers. And then, the years melted away and they were young lovers once again, gilding each second of the next hour with a patina of bliss. A bliss which had been burnished rather than eroded by the frictions of 29 years of conjugal living.
Dan had never been happier. He had no way of knowing he never would be this happy again.
At breakfast that morning, the twins were mildly reproachful with Dan.
"Boy, Daddy, you didn't come home at all yesterday," complained Kevin around a man-sized chunk of egg-dipped toast.
"Yeah, and you promised you'd play school with me, too," added Kellie. "That dumb old Mrs. Johnson just sat in the rocker and knitted all night. Me and Kevin didn't have nothing to do."
"Kevin and I didn't have anything to do," Karen corrected from the stove. The twins nodded vigorously, mistaking the correction for an endorsement.
Dan felt bad. "Hey, kids, you're right and I'm sorry. I really wanted to get home in time to see you two before you went to bed. But then something came up and my plans got changed. Tell you what, though. After supper tonight, we'll all get bundled up, you two, Mommy, and me, and we'll go sled riding. How does that sound?"
"Yeaaaaaaa!" they chorused in approval. Then they hopped down from their chairs to join hands and dance around the kitchen, chanting, "We're goin' sled ridin', we're goin' sled ridin'!"
Karen smiled indulgently and gave then a unison smack on the buns. "Okay, you dancing clowns. Dance right into the bathroom and brush your teeth. It's quarter to eight and we have to get going."
After Kevin and Kellie had disappeared in the direction of the powder room under the stairs, Dan smiled warmly at Karen. "Kind of nice, going to work at ten instead of six. Think I'll just give up the morning-man shift and let Tim take the board six till ten every morning. That way, I can see the twins at breakfast."
"I'm sure the twins and I will vote for that."
"You know, Karen, time goes by so fast and the kids grow up so quickly, it actually scares me sometimes. Look at Mark. Seems like yesterday he was spilling milk in this very kitchen, hoping he'd miss the bus so he could ride in with you. And now, well, now he has a man's job and a man's responsibilities. I guess it sounds crazy to someone else but I just wish there was some way we could slow life down just a little, so we could enjoy it more. Or don't you ever feel that way?"
"I certainly do, and I think it may be even worse for a woman since we tend to be a little more conscious of our age. Hey! Speaking of time flying, I better get moving or the principal and her two star pupils will be marked down tardy."
They shared a laugh and then the twins were back in the kitchen, scrambling for boots, coats, and mittens. Karen got her own coat from the hall closet but left it unbuttoned as she stopped beside Dan's chair. He sipped the last of his coffee, wiped his mouth, and rose to face his wife. His arms circled her waist beneath her coat, pressing her soft body close to his. The good-bye kiss was much more fervent than usual.
"Cut out the mushing around," scolded Kevin as he headed for the breezeway door. "You're gonna make us late for school!"
"Huh! Look who's worried about being late for school, all of a sudden. Ready Kellie?"
"Just about. Can you help me zip this boot, Mommy?"
Karen took care of the stubborn boot and the three school-bound members of the Marlow household hurried out through the breezeway toward the garage. Dan followed in their noisy wake, intending to get the Bug started and let it warm up while he rinsed egg off the breakfast dishes.
Dan hugged and kissed each twin in turn and then the Buick was backing out of the garage. Karen gave him a little wave as she swung around in the driveway before pulling out on Front Street. The kids were both buckled in the right-hand bucket.
Just as the Buick was leaving the driveway, Dan reacted to a sudden impulse. "Wait, Karen! Wait!"
Karen braked sharply and Dan ran down the drive to open the right front door. He grabbed Kellie and lifted her up in his arms. "Just wanted one more hug and kiss." The little girl responded willingly.
Kevin was a little more reluctant. "Daddy, what if Ernie sees me out here in broad daylight getting hugged and kissed?"
"Then Ernie will know you're a much-loved little boy." Kevin accepted the hug and kiss but quickly squirmed down and hopped in the car.
When both kids were situated again, Dan leaned down and blew Karen a kiss across the car. He returned her quizzical look with a wink and then he closed the door.
Then they were gone.
And Dan Marlow would remember those quick hugs and tooth-pasty kisses for as long as he remembered anything.
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