“Remember the game against the Chicago Beavers? Boy, the team was sure you’d bitten the dust, but you rallied and went on to score.” Tommy rubbed his hands together. “Sure had us some good times, didn’t we, Rodg?”
Rodger waved them on into the living room.
“Mother, Aunt Carrie, I’d like you to meet my old friend, Tommy Radkins.” Rodger stepped aside. “This is his wife, Cindy.”
Madeline lowered Jonelle from her shoulder, turning to display her sleeping face. “Nice to meet you, Cindy. Of course, I remember Tommy.”
Tommy bowed to Madeline, and then lightly shook Aunt Carrie’s proffered hand. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
Cindy nudged Tommy. “Isn’t she precious?”
Rodger noticed Madeline’s pinched smile, as if she’d bitten into a lemon. He wished for once, just this once, she’d look happy. “Do you two have any children?”
Tommy’s head bobbed in delight. “Yes ma’am. We have three.”
Cindy clasped her hands and held them demurely in front of her, lifting her head so that she could look directly into Rodger’s eyes. “I’d like you to tell Adele that I’d be more than happy to pass on the baby’s things. The little ones grow so fast; they never wear their clothes out.”
Rodger nodded. “Thanks.”
Carrie slapped her knees. “Rodger! Your manners! Why, I bet these good folks would like to sit a spell and talk over a glass of lemonade.”
Jonelle let out a lusty cry. Rodger looked at Madeline, wondering what she could have possibly done to his child. He stepped towards her. The cries grew in intensity, the sound swelling within the small room.
“She’s hungry,” Cindy said quietly.
“Give her to me,” Rodger demanded. “Excuse me while I take her to Adele.” From the corner of his eye, he noticed Tommy and Cindy exchange indulgent smiles.
Adele lay sleeping on her back, her face relaxed, but her right hand held tightly to the bunched bedspread. Rodger hesitated to disturb her. Jonelle screeched and hiccupped. Adele’s eyes flew open. She rolled over.
Rodger laid Jonelle on the bed, close to Adele’s breasts. “She must be hungry.”
“I meant for you bring her when she just started to fuss.” Adele undid the flap on her maternity bra, exposing the nipple, touching Jonelle’s cheek with it.
The baby wailed. Adele made soothing noises to her. Finally, the baby fumbled for the nipple, then latched onto it.
Rodger gawked, fascinated. Desire tickled in his groin. Voices from the other room shook him from his reverie.
“An old friend dropped by. Tommy Radkin.” He continued staring at Adele and the nursing baby. “His wife, Cindy, said to tell you she’d pass on some baby things.”
Adele looked up as if she just remembered he was there.
“Go on back to your friends. I’ll feed her and put her down, then be right out.”
“All right,” Rodger paused before he got to the bedroom door. “I’d never have recognized Tommy walking down the street. He was always such a scrawny kid. Now he’s husky and has a farmer’s tan.”
Adele wiped away some milk dribbling down the baby’s cheek. “Farmer’s tan?”
“Red hands and white forehead.” He leaned close to her, mocking her quizzical expression by wrinkling his nose. “Wearing a hat and long sleeves all day long in the sun. Working his old man’s wheat farm.”
Adele shooed him away. “You’re being rude. Go on.”
“I’d rather be with you.” But he turned and hurried back into the living room.
Aunt Carrie brought out the lemonade in a pitcher on a tray and passed a glass to each of them. Rodger checked his watch and sighed, anxious to push off and go to the gym for his daily workout.
“Boy, this heat’s a killer, huh?” Tommy leaned back and rested his arm across the back of the sofa. His wife nodded.
“Does it affect your crops?” Rodger tipped his glass, letting the cool, sour lemonade slide down his throat, thankful that it was Tommy and not he who had been left behind.
“Only them dust storms. Got most of the hard work out of the way until harvest time. Gonna be around for a while, Rodg?”
“Not very long,” Rodger looked down in his glass. “Got my orders to instruct at Fort Kelly.”
Tommy leaned forward, his hands splayed out on his knees.
“Gonna teach flyin’?”
Rodger pinched the lemon slice, dredging it up to the rim of the glass. “Yeah. New group of Army Flying Tigers.”
“Boy, oh, boy, ya can’t get it out of your system, can ya?” Tommy kneaded his hands. “We’d go sneakin’ down to Bombner Field, and Rodg would take a spin in that old plane of Sam’s. Man as mean as the day were long.”
Rodger eyed Tommy as he bit into the lemon slice.
“Sam was a great flyer.”
“Yeah, I know. Remember that smoker in thirty‑five at Jake’s corner when ya took on Gruesome George? Thought ya were a goner for sure. Never seen anyone so fast at dodgin’ as you Rodger. Should a called yourself ‘Dodgin’ Rodg.’” Tommy guffawed at his little joke.
Rodger chuckled. Madeline shivered, averting her face from Rodger.
“What do you do for fun nowadays, Tommy?” Rodger felt the afternoon speed by, like the slip stream of Sam’s airplane, Lucy.
“Me and Cindy don’t have much time with the farm and three little uns, Rodg. I guess you could say we settle for home entertainment.”
Madeline delicately cleared her throat. “What are the ages of your children, Tommy?”
He shot a quick glance to his wife. “Uh…,”
“Two, four, and six, Mrs. Brown,” Cindy swirled her ice cubes. “Two boys and the baby, Jenny Lyn.”
Tommy scratched his head. “Sorry to hear about your dad, Rodg. Must of been quite a blow to ya.”
Madeline stiffened. Carrie stood up, collecting glasses.
“It was to us all, young man.”
Tommy flushed bright red, stretched his shoulders, before blurting, “Say, Rodg, got a Wednesday night poker game going with the guys. Wanna join us tomorrow night?”
Rodger compressed his smile. “Might. See how the day goes.”
“Well, me and the missus gotta go. Glad we got to see the baby.” Tommy pushed his hand at Rodger.
“Wait for a bit more and meet Adele,” Rodger countered. He heard the door to the bedroom open. “She’s putting the baby down.”
Adele whispered into the room, dressed in a crisp white sundress. She glided over to Rodger and entwined her hand along his arm.
“You must be Rodger’s friends,” Adele spoke evenly, squeezing Rodger’s arm. “I’m ‘The Kid’s’ wife, Adele.”
“Excuse me, honey!” Rodger extended his right hand, palm out. “Meet Tommy and Cindy Radkin.”
They both tipped their heads and sang out jointly, “Pleased to meet ya.”
As Carrie came out from the kitchen, Madeline stood, smoothing her skirt. Rodger recognized an old habit.
“We must be going ourselves, Carrie.” She picked up her purse, and the keys jangled in her hand.
“Rodger, your Uncle Kyle will be leaving tomorrow. He received a telephone call this morning from Washington. He has to go there for a meeting.”
“Tell him I’ll drive him to the station.” Rodger led the group out to the porch. “Tommy, it was great seeing you again.” He stared into the solid green eyes of Cindy. “It’s been a pleasure.”
Adele folded her long legs crosswise as she sat on the porch swing. Rodger waved until his arm ached, as Madeline and Carrie left, then Tommy and Cindy pulled away in their noisy Ford truck. He sat down on the porch step.
“I wonder if Ada will go with me and Kyle to the train station. I’m sure there’s more than just a friendship between them.”
He studied Adele’s face for a reaction, but she just smiled and gave a little shrug of her shoulders.
“I think they would make a good couple.” She tipped the swing to begin rocking gently as she rested her head on her arm and stared back at Rodger.
Rodger leaned over and stopped the swing so that her face tilted close enough so he could kiss her. He set the swing rocking again.
“I’d like to sneak off for an hour or so.”
“I wouldn’t mind. I’ve started a new book. Think I’ll just soak up some sunshine and read for a while.”
“I’ll get your book for you.” He went quickly to the bedroom and found it on the bedside table. He hastily grabbed the duffle bag with his boxing gear and walked on the balls of his feet down the hall so that his shoes wouldn’t squeak.
“Here.” He handed Adele the book and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “See you later.”
He turned and waved as he walked away. He picked up his pace as he drew closer to downtown, pushing against an inward ticking of precious minutes. He flexed his neck muscles and those along his shoulder and back. Beads of sweat dotted his upper lip and tickled down his sides.
He relished the pull of his muscles as he climbed the stairs two at a time up to the door and let himself in, going directly to the locker room to dress. Today he would spar a little with Reb.
Reb danced around him, throwing a practiced punch. Rodger surprised him with a powerful jab to his jaw, throwing him momentarily off balance. Reb quickened his pace and concentration, making Rodger stay on his toes and dance, dance, dance.
After forty-five minutes, they were exhausted. Rodger smacked his glove against Reb’s. “Nice workout. Thanks.”
“Hey, Pop, you’re good, real good. See you around.” Reb waved to him as he left the ring.
Rodger showered, changed back into his street clothes, and massaging his neck, took the steps slowly as he left the gym. The late afternoon shadows of the sycamore trees that lined the avenue made it seem cooler as Rodger plodded home. His body ached from the strenuous workout. But it was good hurt, a clean hurt. One that he understood.
Silence greeted him as he entered his house. He carefully put down his gear and sat on the arm of the chair to remove his shoes and socks. His feet sucked at the polished wooden floor as he came to the bedroom. Adele lay with the baby on the bed.
“Hey, you two, I’m home.” Rodger plopped on the bed. The baby jerked, and then her head bobbed awkwardly, almost as if searching for his voice. Rodger touched her tiny hand with his index finger. “Do you think she knows who I am?”
Adele chuckled. “Yes, I do. Really.” She reached over and twisted Rodger’s left arm so that she could see his watch. “Let’s eat. She’s been fed and will be good until your turn.” She sat up, adjusted her clothing, and then checked the baby’s diaper.
“Wait a minute before you put her down to sleep.” Rodger went to the dresser and rummaged through his underwear drawer. “I want to give this to Jonelle when she’s twelve years old. Remember I told you about Mary Elizabeth and her birthday dinner?”
He laid the jeweler’s box in Adele’s palm. She flipped the top open.
“What is it?”
“The ivory bead that Mary Elizabeth gave me.” He looked at his daughter. “I got a chain for it.”
Adele teased the chained bead with a finger.
“It’s really quite lovely, isn’t it?” She tilted the box. “Look what Daddy is going to give you, Jonelle. See the pretty necklace?”
Rodger went back to the dresser, extracting his father’s railroad watch from a sock turned inside out.
“Mother said Dad wanted his grandson to have this. I think he’d have changed his mind if he’d seen Jonelle.”
Adele tilted her face upwards, her watchful eyes ferreting for inner truth. “Perhaps you should save it until there’s a son. Carry it with you.”
Rodger snorted. “Like a talisman?”
Adele shook her head, putting the necklace back into the box.
“No.” She paused thoughtfully. “Well, yes, kind of like a talisman.” She swaddled Jonelle in the baby blanket and lay her down to sleep in the middle of the bed.
Rodger flicked his wrist so that the watch on the gold chain began to sway back and forth.
Adele swayed with it. “I’m yours, master. Command me and I shall do your bidding.”
“Dinner, wife. Get me food.”
“Yes, master.” She stood woodenly, working her stiffened arms like an animated toy soldier, and marched toward the kitchen.
Rodger swept up his baby and followed Adele to the kitchen. She heated the tuna casserole as he watched Jonelle’s face, trying to read her expressions.
“What do you suppose she thinks about?”
He moved to one side as Adele put plates, flatware and glasses on the table. She brought the casserole to the table and ladled portions onto each plate.
“Airplanes. She undoubtedly dreams of flying.” Adele motioned for him to give her the baby and sit. “I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”
Rodger shoveled the casserole into his mouth.
“Uncle Kyle is leaving tomorrow, sooner than expected. I’m going to take him to the train station.”
Adele’s forehead wrinkled. “I didn’t get to see very much of him. Can’t he send Carrie instead?”
“Why, woman! What do mean to imply about my favorite aunt?” Rodger gasped and put his hand over his heart. Then he wiped his mouth, tucking the napkin beside his plate.
“Here, let me have her while you eat.” Rodger nestled Jonelle in the crook of his arm as she slept. “Babies don’t do much, do they?”
Adele ignored him, hurrying to finish her meal. Still chewing her last bite, she rose to do up the dishes. It seemed as if they had been into this routine for many years, right down to night time rituals. Rodger put Jonelle in her bassinet as Adele fixed a bottle of formula, filling the pan half‑full of water to boil.
Rodger eyed the bottle in Adele’s hand. “How do I know if it’s too hot?”
Adele turned her wrist and shook drops from the bottle onto it.
“Inside, remember? It’s the most sensitive.” She clicked her tongue. “Don’t forget to burp her after a minute or so. If you get frustrated, bring her into me.”
“It’ll be duck soup, honey, don’t you worry.” Rodger pushed away from the door frame and peeled off his undershirt. “Bedtime for us.”
Adele ringed his waist with her arms and followed him duck-walking down the hall to their bedroom. They slept in a naked embrace until Jonelle’s squalls woke them.
“I’ll see to her.” Rodger stretched awake.
“Rodger, it’s much easier for me.” Adele rested a hand on his thigh.
“You just wait here.” He got up out of bed.
“Good luck, good knight,” Adele mumbled as Rodger threw on his robe and padded into the baby’s room.
Rodger grew tense as Jonelle’s crying intensified. The water was slow to boil. He tapped the pan. He plunked the bottle into the warming water, swirling it with his right hand as he cradled Jonelle securely to him, like a football. She strained against him, her wailing interrupted by little hiccups.
“Hush, little baby,” he muttered, trying to convince them both to be calm. “Damn, I should have changed your diaper and then let this thing warm.” He turned away from the stove and pried his finger into the side of her wet diaper. He took her back to the nursery, changed her while she continued to bawl, poked his finger with a diaper pin, and sucking on it, he scooted back to the kitchen with Jonelle. She kicked and stiffened her whole body when he tried to place her again in the crook of his arm.
Holding her tight against his shoulder, he paced and patted her back. “Shhh, shhh, little girl. Daddy’ll feed you and rock you and everything will be right with you and the world.”
Exasperated, he looked from the bobbing bottle in the boiling water in the pan around the kitchen trying to figure out what to do with Jonelle. Finally, he decided to return her to the bed and he would just have to let her cry until he could get the bottle ready.
He tested the bottle against the inside of his wrist.
“Ouch!” He closed his eyes and sighed, putting the bottle on the sink board. He could hear Jonelle sobbing in the other room. Adele couldn’t have possibly planned this.
He hurried back to the nursery and swept Jonelle up in her blanket.
“Okay, little girl, let’s go see Mommy.”
“Here, she’s all yours,” Rodger slid the mottle‑faced baby over to Adele. “Do you need lights on?”
“No, I do it by feel.”
Rodger heard the baby greedily gurgling milk; without seeing Adele’s face, he knew she was smiling.
“You don’t impress me as the kind of man who takes the easy way out,” she chuckled.
Rodger nested into his pillow.
“It occurred to me that I was making undue hardships for myself.” He exaggerated a yawn.
“Could you at least stay awake long enough to take her back to her room? It won’t be long. I’ll have to sit up to burp her. Would you give me a hand?”
Adele’s words fell on deaf ears. Rodger had already fallen asleep.