Sometimes you just know when it is not going to be a good day, James Cantrell thought. He stood in front of the full-length mirror mounted on the back of his bedroom closet door and aligned his necktie with his starched, white shirt collar.
As wonderful as the idea of crawling back into bed sounded, it couldn’t be done. Downstairs he heard his wife. Plates clanked. She half-whistled, half-hummed some made-up song. It was always the same song. One she’d either made up or one her mother had half-whistled, half-hummed when Linda was young.
He smelled bread toasting and bacon frying. He took his phone out of his suit pants pocket. There wasn’t time for breakfast. He was running far behind schedule. Avoiding stress means getting on the road before the inevitable morning rush. It was chaotic if he left for work on time. Ideally, he preferred hitting 390 before 7:30. Rarely was he that lucky. By 7:31 traffic became a wall of bumper to bumper, moved at a painstaking crawl, and God help you if you weren’t immediately in the lane you wanted. Merging and switching lanes were the stuff driving nightmares were made of. The stop-and-go lasted two miles at a cringeable three to five miles an hour. Despite the wonderful breakfast aromas from the kitchen, there wouldn’t be time to eat. If he waited much longer his hopes of getting to the office before anyone noticed he was late became increasingly less likely.
“Jimmy?” Linda called from downstairs.
“Be right down,” he answered, tightening the knot against his throat.
“Your eggs are getting cold.”
No time for breakfast, he thought. He snagged his suit coat off the foot of the bed, ran the back of his hand across the material as if a lint brush, and raced down the stairs and into the kitchen.
Matthew, their four-year-old son, sat in a booster at the table. He held a plastic fork in one hand and a fistful of scrambled eggs in the other. “Hi, daddy.”
James brushed the hair away from Matthew’s forehead and gave him a kiss. “How’s my little man?”
“I am eating eggs and bacon!” Matthew banged the end of the fork on the table. When he talked he oftentimes over-enunciated his prepositions. Eggs and bacon.
“Yes, you are,” James said. “Here, buddy. Use the fork to pick up the eggs. It’s better than eating the food right out of your hand.”
Matthew showed his father the strip of bacon in a fist. “Daddy?”
“Yeah,” James said, “that is actually okay.”
Matthew ignored the fork. James couldn’t blame his son.
“Is it, though?” Linda teased. Unbrushed auburn hair, tucked behind ears, flowed just past her shoulder and onto her back.
“Is what though?”
“Using a fork is better than picking up food with your hands?”
“He’s going to be in school next fall. We have one year to teach our son he is not a caveman,” James said. He winked at Matthew. It was an adult conversation. He doubted Matthew followed along. Just in case, he didn’t want his boy remembering a time when he compared him to a caveman. Although he doubted permanent damage would be inflicted, who could say for certain?
“Here,” Linda said. She brushed past him with a plate of food. At five-four, she was a good five inches shorter than he was. “Sit and eat.”
“Love to, babe. No time. I have to prep Mrs. Rollins today.”
Linda grinned. She had the most vibrant honey-brown eyes. “Whoa boy.”
“Yeah. No kidding. And I overslept.”
Matthew dropped eggs onto the floor.
“Snooze buttons are the evilest invention.” Linda took James’ breakfast plate back to the counter. She scooped eggs and bacon between two slices of toast. After she tore off a small square of aluminum foil she wrapped the lower half of the sandwich. “We really need a dog. Here, this way you can eat it when you drive.”
“No dog.” James kissed his wife. “You’re the best. My briefcase?”
“Dog?” Matthew said. “I want a dog. I want a dog. I want a dog.”
“By the front door, with your shoes.” Linda handed off the sandwich.
“No dog,” James said, giving Matthew another forehead kiss.
“I want a doggie.”
“We’ll talk about it,” James said.
“You shouldn’t tell him that,” Linda said.
“Why? We’ll talk about it.” James started toward the front door.
“You know how fast Matt will come to realize that ‘we’ll talk about it’ means ‘no’?”
“It won’t always mean ‘no’.” James kicked his toes into his shoes. He switched the egg and bacon sandwich from hand to hand as he jammed thumbs into the heels of his shoes to fit them on over his feet.
“So, we might get a dog this weekend?”
James shook his head. “We’ll talk about it.”
“In other words …”
James opened the front door.
Linda said, “Your briefcase.”
James spun around and picked it up. “What are you guys going to do today?”
“Visit pet stores,” Linda said.
“Doggie!” Matthew called from the table. “Woof, woof, woof!”
“Linda,” James said.
She rushed towards him and gave him one more kiss goodbye. “Have fun with Mrs. Rollins.”
“We will talk about that thing tonight.”
“You mean it?”
Linda had been raised with dogs. James had never had a pet larger than a goldfish. Matthew constantly asked about getting a dog. He wasn’t sold on the idea, but with two against one, the last thing he wanted was a dictatorship. “We’ll talk about it,” he said.
“And that doesn’t just mean ‘no’?”
He kissed Linda on the forehead. “No. It doesn’t. Now, I’ve got to run,” he said. “If Mrs. Rollins gets to the office before I do, I’ll never hear the end of it. Enjoy your day off.”