Lois stared defiantly at the face before her, narrowing her eyes when he stared peacefully back. The atmosphere had gotten heavier as the hours had passed, eventually settling to this final duel of great minds. Giving him a cocky smile, trying not to notice how adorable it was when he swung his feet, she bated him. “Okay, kid – hit me with your best shot.”
He stared back at her hand, looking very thoughtful before bouncing in his chair again. “Got any threes?”
The defiant stare was gone in an instant. Blinking at him, then at her hand, Lois sighed loudly and slapped the card on the table, glaring affectionately as Jason took the card and added it to the pile on the table before him. “I win again. You’re bad at this, mommy.”
“Oh, thank you. Just because you beat me in two hands of “Go Fish” means that I’m bad at it, huh? I’ll have you know I was a “Go Fish”-playing champion back in the day. How about best two out of three?”
“What does that mean?”
Lois shook her head with a small grin. “Forget it. How about one for all the marbles – one more game that determines the winner for the night?”
“And the lucky winner gets their bedtime first,” Lucy walked into Jason’s room with a small plate of crackers and a glass of water for Lois. “The loser has to let me give them a bath.”
“That’s not fair,” Lois said, shuffling the deck and tossing the cards between her and Jason. “I have to let you bathe me regardless.”
“That’s your fault,” Lucy pulled up another chair and sat next to Jason at his small table, popping a cracker into her mouth. “If you hadn’t been so stubborn the first time and tried to get into the tub yourself, you wouldn’t need me to help bathe you, now would you?” Lucy leaned closer to Jason. “Your mom’s a stubborn woman.”
“And you’re a pain in the neck. Jason, you go first.”
Later that night, rolling herself from the bathroom to her bedroom with a towel over her shoulders, Lois cursed all the rotten luck and misfortune that lead her to a hairline fracture under the leg cast and the broken arm that prevented her from maintaining a sense of decency and forced her to allow her younger sister to bathe her. “Fate just loves laughing at me,” she muttered, grabbing the master bedroom’s door handle and pushing it. “Helicopters, earthquakes, elevators, airplanes… first it was the sky, now the ground is trying to kill me.”
Turning on the lights, she tried to ignore the sick feeling in her stomach every time she saw the empty bed. Little reminders were a constant distraction in her everyday life, and since she hadn’t been “sibling cleared” – a term she developed when Lucy downright refused to let her go back to work – it would be a while before she could be able to absorb herself in something other than Richard’s disappearance.
For once, though, she allowed herself to indulge in the fantasy that he was simply downstairs getting ready to retire for the evening. In the past, he would turn off all the lights and lock every door, then double-check everything he had just done. Once in a while he would sneak into Jason’s room and open his window, allowing the cool night air to soothe the boy into sleep. Every now and then, she caught Richard standing in the doorframe and staring at Jason. For a moment the thought almost upset her – Richard believed he was staring at his own flesh and blood, convinced that he and Lois had created this wonderful person in their lives. Then, as quickly as the guilt came, it was gone, lost in the hope that, regardless of what happened, Richard would always accept Jason as his little boy. In Lois’ eyes, Richard, in some way, would always be the boy’s father.
The image of Richard in Jason’s doorway also caused a familiar rush to course through her. Whenever she saw him standing there, she knew she only had precious moments before he would walk into their bedroom and expect to see her sleeping. Of course, there were nights when he came into the room with something completely different to greet him. Lois grinned and wheeled herself over to her side of the bed, adjusting herself a bit so she could reach out and not put pressure on her still-tender ribs. If I’m spending the next week in this cast, I might as well make myself feel as sexy as possible. God knows it’s nearly impossible in plaster.
All thoughts about feeling anything remotely attractive dissolved once Lois reached under her pillow. The expected satin texture never met her fingers, nor did she find the straps that she intentionally made accessible for quick snatching. She flipped the pillow over. There was no nightgown underneath, just the comforter.
She immediately became irritated. Lucy was a caretaker, yes, but that didn’t mean she had to go through her personal and rather private things when she was doing something simple as changing the sheets. The least she could’ve done was put it back where she found it.
“Lucy! Hey, Lucy!” she hissed, craning her neck back to the hallway. The door to Jason’s bedroom had just clicked shut when Lois called; Lucy made her way into the room moments later.
“Yes, your majesty?” she drawled, batting her eyelashes and leaning against the doorframe.
“The next time you wanna wash the sheets, can you please put things back the way you found ‘em?”
Lucy furrowed her brow, walking into the room and pulling the blinds shut. “What are you talking about? You and Richard share that bed. I ain’t touchin’ those sheets with a ten-foot pole.”
“Then where’s my nightgown?”
“What? The one you wore the other night?”
If Lucy hadn’t been helping her stand from her wheelchair, Lois would’ve hit her. “No. There was a nightgown under my pillow that I wanted to use tonight.”
Lucy stopped adjusting Lois’ leg and stared at her for a moment. Raising her hands so they no longer touched the sheets, she slightly grimaced. “Okay, I’m definitely not touching these sheets anymore…”
“Oh, grow up, Lucy. Like you haven’t changed worse.”
“It’s different when it’s family.”
“Whaddya mean it’s different when it’s family? It’s all the same!”
“That’s true, but even a doctor can admit that it’s different when it’s family.”
Lois threw an arm over her eyes and sighed loudly, adjusting herself slightly so that Lucy could help her change. “Fine, you pamperer. The next time you touch anything, just put it back where it was, okay?”
Lucy stood and stared challengingly back at Lois. From the look in her eye and the way she kept pursing her lips, it was obvious that her baby sister wanted to retaliate. She never did, though, only helped Lois into the bed sheets and made sure she was comfortable. After a brief kiss on the cheek, Lucy sighed. “Look, I’m not going to say anything because I know how much it must suck being in your shoes right now. As much as I’d love to hit you for being moody, you’ve got a pretty good reason why.” Her slightly stern looked melted away into a small smile. “I’ll check the sheets or the laundry room tomorrow. If I see anything, I’ll let you know.”
Lois spoke her thanks and watched her sister make her way to the door. As Lois shut her eyes and felt herself drift immediately, Lucy stopped. “Oh, I wanted to ask you – is speed boating allowed on this river out here?”
“Yeah. Only until nine or ten, I think. Why?”
“While I was opening Jason’s window, I saw this speed boat cruise by on the river and wondered if some college students were trying to break the law on a weekend or something. But, since they’re within the time boundary, I guess it’s not that big of a deal. ‘Night, Lois.”
Lois murmured a goodnight then shifted to her side. She tried to picture Richard’s face, smiling gently at her as he buried himself in the sheets, tossing her a wink before finally closing his eyes. “Goodnight, Richard,” she whispered, leaning her face closer to his pillow, comforted by the last bit of his scent still left behind.