“You don’t love me,” Dylan says.
“Of course I do,” Heather says and sets down the stack of white dinner plates on the kitchen island.
Dylan shakes his head, soft light brown hair falls into his eyes. He needs a trim, she thinks. Tomorrow she’ll make time to take him to Yellow Balloon. It’s always been his favorite place. I’ll take all three kids, she decides while placing baby carrots, grilled asparagus and chicken onto their dishes.
“If you really loved me, you’d get me a dog,” Dylan says, crossing his arms and leaning against the kitchen counter.
He’s tired and hungry, she thinks. It’s been a long day. Heather cuts the chicken into bite-sized pieces and calls for Kaitlin, Ava and Michael. Getting everyone to the dinner table is like herding cats. Even Michael. This summer his work is endless. Still, he’s grateful to have a good job so, she shouldn’t complain.
“Love is not about getting you a dog,” Heather says and then wonders if that’s true. She glances at the clock. It’s close to seven. She must be tired also.
“I’ll love that dog,” Dylan says and begins to list the responsibilities that he’ll accept. Things she knows are impossible for a nine year old to manage.
“It’s not that easy,” she says, imagining life with a dog again. She’d have to fix the dog dinner too. The kitchen would be filled with that strong sour odor which used to make her nauseous. Especially, when she was pregnant for the third time with Ava.
“You wouldn’t have to do anything,” Dylan says. “I’d do everything.”
“You’re too busy,” Heather says, quickly setting the table. This week, Dylan and Kaitlin have sports camp. Ava has swimming lessons. Dinners together have become a rare exception. Summer fun comes at a cost. Playdates are managed and scheduled. Nothing is free. Not even time.
“I’ll make time everyday,” Dylan says. Sometimes she thinks that he can read her mind.
How could there be any more time? she wonders. Days of opening backdoors and setting kids free until sundown seems like a myth told by a generation of know-it-all Baby Boomers. Did she ever have that freedom as a child? There are memories of hide and seek in a garden, riding a ten speed along an unknown road and catching frogs in a pond with her best friend, Angie. But someone had to be watching over me, didn’t they? she wonders. The thought of playing in a stranger’s garden seems frightening and almost illicit. Who lived in that house? A bike ride on an unknown street could’ve lead to a dangerous encounter. And a pond, where she or Angie might have drowned.
“I don’t know how we could manage a dog,” she says truthfully.
Footsteps down the stairs and her family is coming for dinner. She quickly microwaves last night’s macaroni and cheese.
“You hate me,” Dylan says.
Hate him; I would give my very life for him. Since she was first pregnant the things that she’d be willing to do to protect her children have come as a surprise. Jump in front of a moving vehicle. Fight a stranger. Pick up a car. Yes, mothers have been known to do that. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, perhaps too quickly. Tears run down his face. She’s very close to saying yes to that dog. But that would be insane. His childish behavior shouldn’t be rewarded. And that’s a funny thought, she realizes. After all that’s exactly what he is.
She sets down the macaroni and cheese and pulls Dylan close to her. He rests his head against her chest and takes a deep breath. “I love you,” she says.
The family sits at the table. Michael compliments her dinner. She won’t tell him what it cost her at Whole Foods. It would ruin it.
“Can I have more chicken, please?” Kaitlin asks with a toothless smile, elbows off the table, napkin on her lap.
“Sure,” Heather says eager to feed the normally picky eater.
“I’ll get it for her,” Michael says and stands. “Can I get you anything else, hon?”
“No thanks,” she says, sitting back in her chair with a full stomach and thinking how right now, she has everything she needs.
Ava is in her highchair, giggling and feeding herself macaroni and cheese with her fingers.
“I’ve been thinking about this dog thing,” Heather says, before she can stop herself. Michael sets down the chicken and smiles. Sunlight streams across the kitchen. She knows that she should appreciate what’s left of the summer. In a few weeks, it will be gone.