The shower was running, as it had for nearly forty minutes.
From my bedroom came the sound of a hair dryer. The girls had each packed one, just as they had each packed individual assortments of identical toiletries, just as they had each packed two changes of clothes for each of the three days they were to be in the city.
Their oversized suitcases sat side by side under the window in my bedroom.
I took my coffee to my desk, answering email as the girls went through their morning routines.
As they drank their coffee in bed before showering, we had gone over their plans for the day. They had many things they wanted to do in the city, and so little time. I helped them to organize an itinerary, taking into account the proximate location of each destination.
They needed a little guidance to realize they could only get to so many things. We had to prioritize.
I also dropped an enticing tidbit.
I had set aside the day to be their tour guide. Of course, I was happy to do it, and really enjoyed the time with my daughter and her best friend.
But, I suggested, if they wanted to do a few things on their own . . .
I laid out a plan that would fill their morning with selected activities, all accessible without public transportation.
“We are with your siblings this evening,” I reminded Rachel. “And tomorrow is your last day. I can take you around to do the remaining things tomorrow, of course.”
I could hear them discussing options in the next room as they dressed.
Rachel came out and dropped into a chair near mine. She looked out then window, then down at the floor. “Okay, so, Dad, we think we are cool with being on our own today.”
“Are you sure? I’m happy to join you if you prefer.” I knew they were itching to strike out on their own, but I had to offer.
“No, we’re cool. I mean, it will just be boring for you, girls shopping and all.”
“Well, if you are sure . . .”
“Yeah, it’s cool. We’ll be fine.”
“I know you will. Let me give you a few directions, okay? And call me if you get turned around.”
I directed Rachel to the “glass mall.” I planned to meet them there after lunch, walk them to Wollman Rink in Central Park, and leave them to skate as I picked up the kids. We’d meet back at my place around four, just before dark.
Rachel took in this plan, clearly happy with this turn of events. She conveyed the plan back to Stevie with calm reserve, as if it was no big deal for her to stroll around New York City on her own.
I watched from the window as the girls walked arm and arm up the street, wearing gloves, hats and scarves on an unseasonably warm morning.
My baby girl! We didn’t make a big deal about it, but this was her first solo venture into the city.
Jason is six years her junior and already able to get to and from school, the store and a few friends’ homes. I don’t bite my nails about that anymore; no use, as they were stubs anyway.
But Rachel is the country mouse among my litter.
I remember her as a little girl visiting us in the city. She would gleefully push all the buttons in elevators, just to see if the numbers would really light up.
I remember calling her name as she ran to the curb, knowing she had no experience with traffic signals.
I remember the way she covered her ears as the subway trains approached the station.
“You so country, sugar,” I would say.
Now here she was, smart, independent and days from turning eighteen. She was walking a few blocks along the safest streets in the world.
Still—my baby girl!
I watched until they were out of view.
I sat back with my coffee and worked, killing time until I could meet the girls after lunch.
“You having fun?” I asked when we met. I kissed them each on the cheek.
“We sure are,” Stevie beamed. “I could only afford one thing at that mall, though. Check it out—a CNN coffee mug!”
“That’s pretty cool,” I admired, guiding our way across Columbus Circle. “And so now you are off to skate.”
“I am so going to bust ass,” Stevie fretted, returning her mug to its bag. “I’ve never ice skated.”
“Yeah, you’ll bust ass,” I said. “And you’ll get up and bust ass again. Just don’t blow Rachel’s cool. She hates it when I do that.”
“Not a problem, Dad,” Rachel said. “I mean, yes, a problem with you, but, well . . . you know . . .” She let her zinger sink in.
“Are you insinuating that I am uncool, young lady?”
“No, I mean . . . “ She shrugged. “Well, you said it, I didn’t.”
“Well, I never! I’ll have you know I am very ‘with it,’ as the kids say, very ‘hep’ to what you are ‘putting down.’ I can readily ‘get jiggy with it,’ because I know when it is ‘hammer time’ . . .”
Rachel stopped in her tracks. “Are you done yet?”
“No, I can go on and on, just ‘keeping it real,’ you know, just ‘laying down a back beat,’ you know, just ‘hands up’ on our ‘rap session’ . . .”
“We get it, Dad.” Rachel kept a straight face as Stevie laughed.
I shrugged. “All reet. Don’t blow a gasket, gidget.”
“Fine, fine. You are cool. All right?”
“If you say so, sweet peach.”
We bantered our way into the park. We faced down the line at the ice skating rink.
Winter trees and the city skyline were etched against a clear blue sky.
The girls got their tickets and skates.
I took their parcels so they would not worry about them in rented lockers.
I kissed cheeks and left them to be best friends.
I walked north though the park.
Lillie ran up to me in the school yard.
“Daddy, Daddy!” I crouched as if to catch her in my arms. When she was steps from me, I turned and ran away, hell hounds on my trail.
“Dad!” Lillie ran after.
“No, no, make it stop!” I shouted back. I lifted my knees high, running like a Keystone Kop.
“What?” I stopped and turned, standing stock still, not a care in the world.
Lillie jumped in my arms.
“Pick me up, old man!” she laughed.
“I picked you up, stinky girl.”
Lillie looked over my shoulder. “Where’s Rachel?”
“Rachel is meeting us at home. She is ice skating with her friend.”
Lillie pulled back in my arms. “I don’t want to go ice skating.”
“We won’t, it’s just Rachel and her friend. Where’s Collie?”
“I don’t know where he is,” she replied, looking around. I put her down and took her hand.
“Let’s find him,” I said.
She led me to her brother. He was playing ball, as he always was after school.
“Hey Collie!” I waved.
“Hey Dad.” He ran over. “Mom said she would be over later for dinner.”
“Oh, is your mom coming for dinner?”
“Yeah, she wants to see Rachel.”
I knew Lucy would want to see her. Rachel had mentioned that Lucy was planning to take her out for dinner. This was the most I had heard about a plan.
Naturally, these days Lucy makes plans with the children without consulting me.
Now I had two conflicting reports. Was Lucy talking Rachel and Stevie to dinner, or was she joining us for dinner at my place?
Common courtesy suggests I should be in the loop on this decision.
Barring courtesy, I needed to know if I was preparing dinner for four or seven.
I contacted Lucy.
“Hey Lucy. Rachel is looking forward to seeing you. So what’s the deal? Are you taking her and her friend out, or are you coming over for dinner?”
“Can I just come over? I’m too tired to do a whole night out with them. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine, no big deal. I have wine. If you want beer, can you bring it?”
“I can bring beer, sure. Is seven good?”
“Seven is fine. See you then.”
We waited for Jason to join us, then headed to the bus.
We had to make a stop at Fairway.
The sun was setting as the girls called. They were late, but blocks away. They arrived with the happy news that neither had fallen, not even once.
“You didn’t bust ass your first time on ice?” I asked Stevie.
“Call the Ice Follies, sister, because you have a God given talent.”
The kids had finished their homework. They were eager to soak up Rachel’s attention.
I poured a glass of cabernet and washed basil.
The pesto was ready when Lucy arrived.
She said hello and handed me a bag of beer. I took the bag to the kitchen and opened a beer, bringing it to her as she settled in with Rachel and Stevie.
“You girls want some wine?” I asked as Lucy took her bottle.
“Sure, that sounds nice,” Stevie began.
“Jefferson, no, no!” Lucy admonished. “They can’t have wine! They are underage—Jefferson!”
“Oh, right. Sorry about that girls. Water?”
“No, we’re cool,” Rachel motioned.
I boiled pasta and grated cheese. I prepared a salad. I softened butter for a baquette, which I cut at an angle to present larger slices.
We were too large a group to eat at the table, so we camped around the coffee table in the living room.
“I’ve never had this,” Stevie said, twirling another fork full. “I’ve just had pesto in mayonnaise. It’s so good.”
“Thanks,” I smiled.
We spoke softly under the noise surrounding us.
The kids were excited to see Rachel, and happy with the novelty of having Mom at Dad’s apartment.
Lucy was trying to draw out Rachel over bites full of food. She was curious about school and life at home, never mind the recent controversy that drove her from her first apartment.
Lucy and I were both hungry for the details on that, but this was neither the time nor place.
Lillie slathered butter on bread slice after bread slice, devouring them in hungry bites. For once, the grown ups were too preoccupied to chaperone her infatuation with butter.
Lucy’s conversation with Rachel was punctuated with interruptions. Eventually, she gave in, frustrated that she could not have a private conversation at so public a table.
It was, after all, a family reunion.
After dinner, I collected the dishes.
Stevie nibbled the remains of the salad with her fingers.
“This is the best salad I’ve ever had,” she said, eying the bowl.
“Take another plate, if you want,” I said.
“No, I’m cool,” she said, stuffing another leaf in her mouth. “What is this dressing?”
“It’s store bought—Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar.”
“Cool,” she chewed, reaching for a tomato. “Newsmansome rocks.”
“Oh, it’s ‘Newman’s Own,’ you know, like Paul Newman.”
“Whatever, he rocks.”
I left the salad bowl to Stevie and stacked the dishes in the kitchen.
After dinner, the kids treated everyone to the floor show.
Jason pulled up ”Lazy Sunday,” which his mother hadn’t seen. He rapped along, laughing.
I was in the kitchen, so I skipped playing Chris Parnell to my shaggy son’s Andy Samberg.
Collie followed up with his presentation of the Hustle.
I was surprised Lucy had not seen this.
For two years, our middle child has done a spot on choreography of the Hustle. He performs this in sunglasses and a velour purple paisley jacket I bought as a joke to wear on New Year’s Eve, nineteen-eighty-nevermind.
Jason was the DJ to his brother’s disco fever.
Lillie laughed and danced along, flubbing every clap and kick.
This played through twice before Lucy was ready to call it a night. It was late, already nine thirty on a school night.
“Okay kids, I need to go. Come say good night.”
Lucy made the rounds. Rachel was kissed and wished good luck. Stevie was told it was nice to meet her. The kids were kissed in turn.
Collie cried as his mom waved from the door.
The kids looked at me as the door closed.
Mom was gone.
“Dad, can I check the score?” Jason knows his mom doesn’t allow media on a school night. But it was playoffs.
“Yes, fifteen minutes.”
“And can we . . . ?” Stevie asked.
“Bottle’s in the kitchen.”
“Will you carry me?” Lillie asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said, picking her up.
Half an hour later, the kids were in bed. I had a bourbon in hand, watching “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Stevie had brought her favorite movie. The three of us were in pajamas.
“So, is that about typical with Lucy?” Rachel asked.
“No, that was very nice,” I said.
Rachel watched Jim Carrey erase Kate Winslett from his memory.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind