Danae was putting the finishing touches on her fourth painting in nearly six months and hoped it would be back from the framer before the exhibition in two weeks. In total, she had eleven paintings that would be on display at the art gallery, and she was nervous about having them out for all of Isla Paradiso to see. She would be expected to attend the grand opening, which would be a black-tie event. It was all very overwhelming for her.
In desperation, she called a local artisan to see about a custom frame for her newest completed work. Lena had given her the phone numbers of several craftsmen who did fast, quality work.
“This is Grant,” the man answered.
“Hello, my name is Danae Murphy, and I’m looking to have a canvas framed. I would need it in about a week. Can you help me?”
“Ms. Murphy was it? I can complete a frame for you. What size do you need?” Danae read off the dimensions of the painting, and the man on the other end of the phone paused. “The rush job would be extra for a painting of that size. I had no idea your painting was so large.”
“That isn’t a problem,” she replied. “I just finished it about an hour ago, so I can bring it to your studio tomorrow.”
“Oil or acrylic?”
“It’s oil. This painting will be on display in two weeks at the gallery, and I’ll need it ahead of the opening.”
“Gallery, eh?” Grant was impressed.
“Yes, sir. Is there a problem?” she asked.
“No no,” he replied. “You must be the young woman from Starlight Shores. The community has been atwitter about your upcoming exhibit.”
Danae blushed. “That’s right.”
“If you drop the painting by tomorrow, I’ll have it done well before the exhibit opens. I won’t be able to work on it directly for a few days, but I can cut the frame while it dries completely.”
“Thank you, that is fantastic,” Danae replied. “I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Grant,” he replied. “Grant Green. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow.”
“Likewise, Mr. Green.” Danae hung up the phone.
The school bus would be at the front gate in less than twenty minutes, and she wanted, no… she needed to be there to meet Elyse. Since the picnic almost six months ago, when all of this began, she had not spent as much time with her children as she wanted, and she felt like a failure as a mother.
The nanny, Naomi, had done a fantastic job with the children during her six-month painting binge. In fact, she was almost too good. Emmitt had begun to call Naomi “Mama”. Hearing her youngest child call another woman “Mama” tore at her soul, especially since Andy was unmistakably “Dada”.
Naomi was just getting Emmitt up from his nap when Danae walked downstairs. “I’ll get Lysie, Naomi,” she called.
“Thank you, Miss Danae,” she replied. “Eamon is waiting for her to come home.”
Danae smiled. Lysie and Eamon were close in age and relationship, despite their rocky start. “She will be excited. Andy is coming home from Sunlit Tides tonight, and she misses him when he’s gone.”
“Yes she does,” Naomi answered.
The bus pulled up outside, and when Elyse saw Danae waiting for her, she squealed loud enough to be heard in the yard. “Mama!” she cried, and immediately Danae felt guilty. Kneeling down, she opened her arms for her daughter.
“Ooh, Lysie, Mama missed you so much today!” she said as she hugged Elyse. “Guess who is coming home tonight?”
Elyse’s eyes got wide. “Daddy!”
Danae kissed her forehead. “That’s right! I know for a fact he misses you so much, and he can’t wait to come home.”
“Yay!” Elyse squealed again.
“Do you have homework, Lysie?”
“A little,” she pouted. “But I don’t wanna do it.”
“Why don’t you work on it until dinner, and then when Daddy gets home, you can spend some time with him?”
Elyse nodded excitedly. “I can’t wait!”
Me too, thought Danae. Andy had been gone nearly a week, and she missed him terribly.
When they got inside the front door, Elyse ran to Naomi’s arms, chattering about her day, and asked for help with her homework. And as her daughter covered the nanny in kisses and hugs, nothing was normal in Danae’s world anymore.
“Naomi, I’m going to be in my room, if you need me. I’m not feeling well,” she half-lied. Physically, she felt great, but emotionally, she was drained.
“Absolutely, Miss Danae.”
She curled up on the bed and sobbed, missing Andy, missing her children, and hoped the sacrifice would be worth it. She had essentially lost the last six months of her children’s lives, and she regretted it.
She took her phone from her pocket and read the last text message from Andy.
Baby, I’m so proud of you! I miss you so much, but I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you!
She had sent him a photo of the VIP invitation to her art gallery premiere. At the time, she was happy. But, she reminded herself, after the grand opening, life would return to normal. Hopefully, her children would remember what normal used to look like.
Danae fell asleep, waiting for Andy’s return. As much as she missed the children, she couldn’t lift herself out of her funk long enough to be with them. It was Andy she truly missed, and she wouldn’t feel like herself until his arms were wrapped around her again.
Andy’s flight had been delayed by hours. The children were asleep, Naomi had gone upstairs for the evening, and Danae was left alone in the living room watching a romantic comedy. It was late when she heard the gate open. Andy! Her heart leaped at the sound, at the very thought that in mere moments, she would be in his arms. She seriously considered running out the front door, but before she could get up, he was already inside. She heard the quiet thud of his luggage as it fell over, and his whispered curses as he bent over to pick it up. He saw the glow of the television in the living room and tiptoed toward the back of the house. When he peeked around the corner, he saw her waiting for him, and tears filled his eyes.
“Oh baby, you are a sight for sore eyes,” he cried as he saw her, and he went to her. Effortlessly, he lifted her out of her chair and into a hug.
“How I’ve missed you, honey,” he whispered into her ear. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t speak, overcome with emotion. She simply covered his face in soft kisses and wrapped her legs around his waist as he held her. “Hi Andy,” she finally squeaked out, raw emotion in her voice. He carried her into their bedroom and laid her down on the bed.
“Let me look at you, my sweet.” He sat down beside her, and she wrapped herself around him, crying softly. “Aww, honey, don’t cry. I’m here.” He gently wiped tears from her eyes and stroked her hair.
“I have missed you something awful,” she cried. “Longest week of my life.”
“Mine, too. It feels so good to be home, to have you wrapped around me like this. The kids are good?”
She hated to admit it, but she didn’t know for sure. “Yes, I guess so. I’ve been trying to meet the deadline for the framer on that last painting.” She choked up. “I want life to be normal again.”
“Did you finish it, honey?”
“Today, yes. We won’t need Naomi much longer. But…” her voice trailed off, pain marked her words.
“But what, baby?”
“Emmitt started calling Naomi ‘Mama’ this week.” Her heart broke into pieces. There was no denying it. She was devastated.
“Oh honey, you’re always going to be mama to those babies. They are your heart and soul.” He kissed her tenderly until her tears were gone. “Sweetie, don’t think anything of it. He knows you’re his mother.”
“Does he? Even Elyse gave Naomi hugs and kisses today when she came home from school, and I got nothing.”
“Once life gets back to normal, the kids will be back on track, too. You’ll see.” He caressed her cheek.
“Andy, I missed you. And I really need you tonight.”
“Baby, I thought you’d never say so.” He wrapped her in a hug and took her to bed, loving her into the early morning hours.
The next morning, Andy had off from work, so they slept in while Naomi took care of the children. But Danae had somewhere she needed to be, so she peeled herself away from Andy and jumped into the shower. When she turned the water off and opened the shower door, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching for her.
“Good morning, baby,” he purred at her. “Going somewhere?”
She nodded. “I have to bring my last painting to the framer this morning. Would you care to join me?”
“I’d love to go with you, honey. Let me get into the shower and clean up a bit.” They traded places. He ran the water and showered while she dried off. Danae was dressed when he stepped out from the shower, her hair almost braided. He walked to where she sat on the bed and wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head.
As he walked away, she had the edge of his towel in her hand, and it pulled from his body. He laughed, “Are you happier with your scenery now, my sweet?”
“Much better,” she smiled. He walked back to her and took the towel from her, and dried off. While it was still wet, he combed his jet black hair. “Here,” she beckoned to him, “let me.” He returned to where she sat, and she stood, pushing his hair behind his ear. “That’s better,” she said, biting her bottom lip.
“You do seem to love it that way,” he smiled. “Just like I love your hair braided like that.” He got dressed quickly, and hand in hand, they left the bedroom. Elyse was almost ready for her school bus to pick her up when she saw Andy.
“Daddy!” she squealed loudly. “I missed you!” she ran to him and wrapped her little body around his leg, her giggles filled the house.
“I missed you too, sweet pea!” he squatted down to hug her and covered her in kisses. “How would you like to stay home from school today?”
She stopped to think for a moment, and then nodded her head furiously. “Yes!” she shrieked in a high pitched voice.
“Mama and I have one errand to run, but when we come home, we’re going to spend all day together. How does that sound?”
“What about Naomi?” she asked.
“Naomi can have the rest of the day off once we get home. It will be just the five of us.”
Naomi nodded her head. “It will be good for you to spend the day as a family,” she agreed. “Just let me know and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“I have to bring that painting to the framer, but when we get back, you’re free to leave,” Danae said as she walked down the steps with the artwork. She turned it around to show it off, but Naomi only shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Miss Danae. I’m not much for art.”
Andy took the painting from her and slipped his hand into hers. “Ready, my sweet?”
“You bet,” she nodded. “We’ll be home soon.”
The short drive down to the town center was uneventful and quiet. Andy parked his car and walked to the passenger door to open it for Danae, held his hand for her and helped her out. An older lady passerby smiled at Andy. “I’m glad to see that chivalry isn’t completely dead, young man. Good for you!” And to Danae, she whispered, “Hang onto him! He’s a keeper!” and winked at her. Danae smiled and took his hand.
They walked into the woodshop, and Grant greeted them both. His face brightened as he recognized Andy. “How can I help you folks today?”
“I’m Danae —”
“Right!” he interrupted her. “I wasn’t expecting you to be with Andy Murphy. Pleased to meet you both, and congratulations on our football cup last season! I understand you’re to thank for that, Mr. Murphy.”
“Thank you,” Andy nodded. “We’re looking at another championship this coming season, too. I just finished negotiating for another player from the west coast. That announcement will be coming shortly, so no spoilers from me!”
“I guess I’ll just have to wait then!” Grant smiled. “Now, let me see this painting of yours, Mrs. Murphy.”
“Please, you can call me Danae.” Andy handed the painting to him, and Grant admired it.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “I can see why the town is fired up about this exhibition. This is magnificent!”
Danae blushed. “Thank you.”
He inspected the canvas carefully and saw where the paint looked a little shiny. “This is where it’s wet, I see?”
Danae nodded. “Yes, I had some touch-ups to do on it yesterday. But I know you can build the frame while that spot cures.”
“Yes, I can.” Grant placed the painting behind the counter and wrote a work order up for the frame. “I know I told you this would be extra for the rush on this frame, but seeing as your husband is Andy Murphy, I’ll cut you a deal on it.”
“Why, thank you,” she said. “I appreciate your generosity.”
“Thank you!” he countered. “Good luck next season, Mr. Murphy. The town is counting on you and Mr. Hall to bring us another cup.”
“If anyone can do it, it’s Aaron,” Andy remarked. “Thank you again.” They left the shop together, hand in hand.
When they got home, Andy dismissed Naomi for the day, and he made breakfast for Danae and the kids. Emmitt was crying in the bedroom, so Danae went to get him. But when he saw her, he screamed. “Mama! Mama! Mama!”
“Baby boy, I’m your Mama,” she said, swallowing her emotions. But he cried, trying to squirm away from her. Finally, she let him down on the floor, and he ran toward the kitchen, crying.
“What’s wrong, Emm?” Andy cooed as he picked up their youngest boy. He blew bubbles on his tummy and set him down, and turned to see Danae, with tears in her eyes.
“Dada! Mama!” he babbled, and ran to the door, looking for Naomi. “Mama! Mama!” he cried.
Andy’s heart broke for his wife. “Oh honey,” he hugged her. “Baby, he doesn’t mean it.”
“What if I messed up, Andy? What if he never recognizes me as his mother?” Hot tears ran down her face. “I’ll never get the past six months back.”
“Oh sweetie, of course, he knows you’re Mama. Just like Eamon and Lysie know it, too. Right Lysie?”
Elyse was watching television, and heard her name. She looked up at Andy. “What, Daddy?”
“Lysie, you know this is your Mama, right honey?”
She nodded her head. “When is Naomi coming back, Daddy?”
Danae blinked back tears. “She’ll be back tomorrow for a couple more weeks. And then, Mama is going to take care of you again, just like she used to. How’s that?”
Elyse didn’t look up from her show but simply shrugged her shoulders. Danae couldn’t handle it anymore. “I don’t feel well, babe. I’m going to lay down.”
“Honey, wait,” he called to her, but she closed the door behind her. “Okay, this is going to stop right now,” he said. “Lysie, can I talk to you a minute, sweetie pie?” He walked to the television, took the remote from her hands and turned it off.
“Daddy!” she whined. “I was watching that!”
“Yeah, well now you’re going to listen to me. Why are you mad at your mama, Elyse?”
“I’m not!” she said.
“Then why did you treat her so badly, young lady?”
“I didn’t!” she insisted.
“Lysie, what is going on? You’re hurting your mama’s feelings, and I don’t like it. She feels bad.”
“Why doesn’t she love me anymore, Daddy?” Elyse’s eyes filled with tears.
“Whoa!” Andy was taken aback. “Your mama loves you very much, honey.”
“I don’t see her anymore. She’s too busy for me.”
Andy felt terrible. “Lysie, your mama had something she needed to do, and she’s been working very hard at it. And she misses you so much, you and Eamon and Emm. But when you treat her like you don’t love her, it hurts her feelings a lot, because sweet pea, your mama loves you more than anyone else does.”
“I miss her, Daddy.”
“Why don’t you tell her that, Lysie? I bet she would love to hear it from you.” Andy took her hand and led her to the bedroom door. Before he opened it, he knelt down to her and wiped tears from her eyes.
“Lysie, I need you to tell Mama that you’re sorry you hurt her feelings, okay? And then tell her what you told me. That you miss and love her.”
Elyse sniffled. “Okay, Daddy.” Andy opened the bedroom door and walked with her to the bed. “Mama?” Elyse approached Danae and kneeled down on the floor next to her.
“Hi sweetheart,” Danae cried.
Elyse looked at Andy, and he nodded at her. “Mama, I’m sorry I hurted your feelings.” Tears ran down her face as she took Danae’s hand. “I love you Mama, and I miss you.”
Danae looked at Lysie, tears in her own violet eyes, and she cried harder. “Oh, my sweet little girl.” She sat up and wrapped her daughter in her warm embrace. “I love you more than you know. And I’m sorry I haven’t been here with you, honey. But I don’t have to paint anymore, so all my time and attention is for you and your brothers.”
“Really?” Elyse sniffled.
“Really really,” Danae said, and kissed her forehead. “Baby girl, I love you.”
“I love you, Mama,” she replied, and kissed Danae on the cheek.
“How much?” she asked.
Elyse held her arms open as far as she could get them apart. “This much!”
Danae smiled and picked her up, held her in her arms and tickled her. “Only that much, huh?” Elyse giggled and squealed, and Andy’s heart was overflowing with love for both of them. “Daddy is making breakfast. Why don’t we go get some pancakes!”
“Pancakes! Yay!” she laughed. Elyse jumped down off the bed, stopped and turned around to look at Danae. “Are you comin’, Mama?”
“Yes, sweet pea, I’m coming.” On her way out of the bedroom, Andy stopped her, wrapped her in a hug and kissed her. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear. “That meant everything to me.”
Tenderly, he wiped tears from her eyes, and then his own. “I know, baby. I know.”
“Danae, the limo will be here in thirty minutes. How are you on time, baby?” Andy called from the living room.
The gown she had intended to wear hung loosely off her body, and it looked awful on her. “I’ll make it,” she said, her voice on the verge of breaking. Everything in her closet felt too big for her, but she pulled out a dusty mauve evening gown she had worn before. She didn’t even have to unzip it before she put it on, but it somehow didn’t look as terrible as the others.
Andy walked into the bedroom, and saw her nearly in tears, the bed covered in dresses she had tried on. “Oh honey,” he said tenderly, “have you lost that much?”
She nodded her head, almost afraid to speak. For the past ten days, Danae had been sick with a stomach virus, and she hadn’t kept much solid food down. She had only been feeling better for a day or two, but in the week she was sick, she had lost twenty pounds, putting her well below her ideal weight.
“Well, that gown looks beautiful on you, honey. I’d stick with that one.” She smoothed the fabric over her body with her hands and sighed.
“I look hideous,” she cried.
“No, you don’t baby. You look stunning.” Andy meant it, too.
She forced a smile. “I don’t, but thank you, love.”
He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “This is your night to shine, and you’re gorgeous. You’re going to do great, and the public will love it.”
“I hope you’re right, or all my sacrifice will be for nothing.”
“Your hair is so pretty all braided up like that, Danae. Honey, you are radiant. Just touch up your lipstick, and we should be good, right?”
She sighed. “Yes, I’m ready. But I’m not really. This is a big deal. What if they hate it?”
“I guarantee, no one will hate your artwork.” He kissed her forehead. “Baby, relax. It’s going to be fine.”
This would be Naomi’s last night to be with the Murphy children. She would leave in the morning, once Danae’s commitment to the gallery had been fulfilled. She had Emmitt in her lap when Andy brought Danae from the bedroom on his arm.
“You look lovely, Miss Danae,” Naomi said softly. “Have fun tonight!”
“Thank you, Naomi,” she replied. “We shouldn’t be late.”
Andy led her to the limo and helped her in. He got in behind her, and they rode to the gallery in silence. When they arrived, Danae was truly overwhelmed. The museum was crawling with Paparazzi and press, spotlights shone around the building, and banners bearing her likeness and name were displayed outside. As the limousine door opened, cameras, mics and reporters were stuck in Andy’s face, and he pushed them aside to help her out. Taking his hand, she stood, and he sheltered her from the car to just inside the museum’s front door.
The curator greeted Danae once they were safe, away from the throng of people outside. Lena Sanchez was also on hand, and walked around the exhibit, smiling.
“Welcome, Mrs. Murphy,” Lena greeted her formally. “And congratulations on this fine exhibit of your work. I see quite a few masterpieces in here. The public is in for a real treat for the next six months.”
Danae blushed. “I’ve been so nervous about this, since the final piece was framed. That’s when it got very real.” She walked around from canvas to canvas, admiring the presentation. “This is so beautifully displayed.”
“Are you ready, Danae?” Lena asked her. “Let’s get a publicity shot or two with your paintings in the background before we open the doors, shall we?”
Andy and Danae posed with a few of her paintings, and the museum director opened the doors to the public. Waitstaff served champagne and hors d’oeuvres while a pianist played on a grand piano. Danae was formally introduced as the featured artist, and the Paparazzi and press gathered for photos of her. Afterward, she and Andy mingled among everyone, talking to guests and trying to read the crowd. It truly was a beautiful reception, and she was enjoying herself.
A town socialite, an elderly woman who everyone seemed to know, walked through the door, and the room hushed. All eyes were on her as she surveyed Danae’s work. Andy leaned in and whispered to her.
“Who is that, love?”
“I have no idea, but I’m suddenly nervous.” Danae walked from where Andy sat to where the woman stood when Danae caught her eye.
“Is this your work?” she asked Danae as she looked down her nose at her.
Danae nodded, her mouth instantly dry. “Yes,” she finally squeaked out.
“Mediocre at best. You shouldn’t be featured here with this… whatever you call it.” She pointed toward the abstract painting that Lena had been so fond of, and shuddered. “What an embarrassment.” The woman’s tone was condescending and demeaning. If she had intended to inflict pain, she had accomplished her mission.
Even though Danae had no idea who this person was or what were her qualifications, her words shattered any bit of confidence Danae had in the exhibit. She walked back to Andy as tears stung her eyes.
“What happened?” he asked, noticing her distraught expression. She sat on the bench next to him.
“She said this exhibit was an embarrassment, Andy. Mediocre. This was a huge mistake.” She buried her face in her hands, and Andy tried to comfort her.
“She’s only one person, baby. Unless she’s a critic, I wouldn’t take anything she says seriously. Art is subjective, and you know that.” He rubbed her back and kissed her cheek.
“I don’t know who she is, but she tore into me like Wyatt into a steak. I want to go home.”
“What is your obligation for tonight?”
“I think until close of business. We still have a couple of hours to go.” She sighed deeply. “It’s going to be a long six months.”
Together they stood and mingled, but he didn’t leave her side for the rest of the evening.
And when the museum closed for the evening, the curator found them and thanked them.
“Mrs. Murphy, the reviews will be in the newspaper in the morning. We anticipate good ratings from the grand opening.”
Danae wanted to laugh in his face. He hadn’t heard what she had heard, or felt the humiliation she had felt. Instead, she nodded politely. “Thank you. Now, if you please, I am tired. I’ve had a long day.”
“By all means, Mrs. Murphy,” he said cordially. “You’re welcome back to sign autographs and souvenirs at any time.” She nodded her head and thanked him again. As soon as he was behind them, she rolled her eyes.
They got into the waiting limousine, and Danae burst into tears. “This was a burning hot dumpster fire, Andy,” she sobbed. “I don’t see myself going back there for any more humiliation.”
He rubbed her back. “I don’t blame you, but at least wait to see what the reviews are in the morning, sweetie.” He hugged her close to him. “I’m still very proud of you.”
She said nothing more on the way home, Andy just held her in his arms. The limo dropped them off outside the gate, and Andy pushed past more Paparazzi than usual to get her inside. The house was quiet and dark when he turned the key in the front door, and she moped in ahead of him.
Inside, the children were sound asleep, and they heard the sounds of Naomi packing her few suitcases. She would be departing in the late morning.
“I’m tired, babe. I’m just going to sleep.”
“Wow, I can’t even interest you in—”
“—a glass of wine?” he finished his sentence.
“Babe, I can’t even think about it. I’m so depressed.”
Danae undressed, leaving her beautiful evening gown draped over a chair, climbed into bed and cried herself to sleep.
Andy woke up first the next morning and noticed that Danae was facing away from him. It was out of the ordinary, but it was nothing. She had a bad night, he reasoned. The hour was too early to expect the newspaper, but he knew she would want to see it.
Naomi carried the first of her bags down the steps, trying to be quiet. Andy was making coffee when she greeted him. “Good morning, Mr. Andy,” she said cheerfully.
“Good morning Naomi. Would you wake Lysie for me? She has school this morning.”
“Actually, it’s a holiday today, Mr. Andy. The schools are closed.”
He looked at her, puzzled. “What holiday?”
“It’s Festival Day, the first day of the El Sabor de la Isla. It’s a big deal here.” The festival was an annual celebration, but the first one to occur since Elyse had started school. Unfortunately, he still had to be at the stadium. Football knew no holidays except for Snowflake Day.
“Wow,” he exclaimed. It seemed like we just had that last week.” How the time was flying past.
“I will be out by eleven this morning, Mr. Andy. I have to report to my next job.”
He nodded. “Thank you for all your help. I wish the exhibition opening had gone better last night.”
“I meant to ask. How did Miss Danae do?”
“It was fine until some snooty woman came in and tore her confidence to shreds. She cried herself to sleep last night.”
“That sounds like Mrs. Manzano. She’s an elderly, second-rate artist who thinks her work is better than anyone else’s. She’s been known to show up at these things and cause a ruckus.”
“Really?” Andy was dumbfounded. “They just let her walk into grand openings like this and raise hell?”
“They can’t keep her out, it’s a public exhibit.”
“Well, hopefully, the reviews in the newspaper will be positive. She needs a boost right now. The kids, this exhibit. Something needs to go right for her, and soon.” Andy poured a cup of fresh coffee and prepared it. “I’m going to sit outside while the kids are asleep. If you need help with bags, just holler, Naomi.”
“Sure, Mr. Andy.”
About a half-hour later, Danae woke up and walked to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. She didn’t see Andy around, and the kids were still asleep, so she sat at the dining room table, feeling alone and dejected. A big part of her didn’t want to see the review of her gallery premiere, but she dragged herself to the mailbox to retrieve the newspaper anyway.
Halfway through the front section, she changed her mind and tucked the paper into the garbage. That was when Elyse walked from her room, rubbing her eyes. “Good morning, Mama,” she said sleepily.
“Lysie! What are you doing home?” Danae asked. “I thought you were at school.”
“Today’s a holiday, Mama. Can I have pancakes for breakfast?”
“Of course, sweet pea,” Danae replied. The back door opened, and Andy spotted her.
“Good morning, my beautiful princess,” he greeted her. “What’s the good word on your premiere?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, and I truly don’t care. I’ve given this too much of my time, and I’m done with it.” She measured the flour and sugar for the pancake batter.
“Did you get the paper yet? I’ll look.”
“It’s in the compactor, Andy. I chickened out.”
He laughed. “Chickened out, huh?” He walked to the compactor and picked it out. “You did a good job burying it in there, love.” He brushed a good amount of coffee grounds off and unfolded it. The Arts section was near the end of the newspaper, but he turned to it first. The headline of the article was in large lettering, right under the section heading:
Transplanted Local Artist Debuts At Gallery; Critics Impressed
He read the headline to her, and she turned her head to look at him. “Andy, stop joking with me. I can’t take any more.”
“Baby, I’m not joking. It really says this.” He handed the paper to her, and she took it from him.
She scanned the article, and every emotion she felt in the past twenty-four hours played out on her face. “Masterpiece?” She smiled brightly. “Brilliant?” Her face turned to disbelief, doubt. “Stunning?” She shook her head. “Andy, they’re using those words to describe my paintings.”
“See? I told you, though I hate to be one of those people who say ‘I told you so’.” He smiled and stuck his tongue out at her.
“B-But, I don’t understand! What about that woman?”
“Naomi was telling me a bit ago that she’s an artist who likes to attend these things and start problems. Baby, the people who matter loved your work! That has to make you feel good inside, right?”
“I can’t believe it. I was prepared for a long, tiresome six months.” Finally, he saw a smile creep across her face, and it made him happy.
“Aww, Danae, I’m so proud of you! All of your hard work paid off!”
“One problem solved. Now I just have to work on winning the kids’ affection and love back. I think Emmitt will be the hard sell. He’s so little, so impressionable.”
“Well, you tell me if Elyse is giving you a hard time, because I’d love to tickle her until she submits.” He eyed the little girl and walked towards her, fingers wiggling and laughing. She squealed and ran away, giggling like mad.
“That little girl loves you, Andy. She reminds me so much of me and my Daddy.” Danae put the first pancakes onto the griddle to cook, and took a sip of coffee. “Lysie, go wake Eamon for me, honey? And would you get Emm, babe? He probably needs to be changed, too.”
“Of course, my sweet,” he said.
After breakfast, Danae started on what would be a long road with her children, earning their love and trust again. She sat with Eamon and Emmitt, the baby in her lap, and Eamon curled up next to her on the floor, and read to them, played with them and poured everything she had into her two boys. Eamon was a quick study and was back to normal within the day. Emmitt, however, was proving to be more of a challenge.
Andy played with Elyse and Eamon in the pool after work while Danae spent much-needed bonding time with Emmitt.
“Emmitt, who am I?” she sang.
The boy looked at her, then around for Andy. “Dada!” he cried sharply.
“No, sweetheart, Daddy is outside. Say Mama.”
He shook his head. “No Mama!”
She picked him up and cradled him into her arms, and sang to him like she had done with Eamon and Elyse when they were his age:
Baby mine, don’t you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Lay your head close to my heart
Never a tear, Baby of mine.¹
The song soothed the baby, and he began to coo at her. “That’s my boy,” she sang happily. She blew bubbles on his belly, and Emmitt giggled, a really good, strong belly laugh. Danae’s heart sang, in love with the baby boy she held in her arms. It was so good to hear him laugh! But then something changed, and he squirmed from her. Emmitt cried, yelling for Naomi, calling her ‘Mama’. But she was already gone from the house, and Danae felt all of the progress they had made slip through her fingers.
Andy brought the kids inside after it was determined that Eamon was becoming a human prune, and Emmitt cooed when he saw his father. “Dada! Dada!” he cried, holding his arms up to be lifted.
“How did it go with him, my sweet?” Andy asked her as he picked Emmitt up from the floor.
“It was okay for a little while. But when he’d had enough of me, he cried for Naomi. I think it’s going to take a while for him, babe.” She sat, her shoulders slumped, and breathed deeply. “I just need to undo six months of neglect. It will take longer than one night, I suspect.”
“Honey, you know you didn’t neglect the kids. You’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Maybe so, maybe not. No amount of money or fame is worth losing my children. I’m sorry I did it, babe.”
“Give it time, Danae. Like you said, it took a while to get him to ‘Naomi is mama’. He will remember.”
“I wish I hadn’t weaned him. That would have helped him to remember for certain.”
“I wish you hadn’t too.” He gave her a sly smile, and she rolled her eyes. “What?”
“Oh, you,” she laughed. “You’re too much.”
“So I’ve gone from ‘more than enough’ to ‘too much’, eh?”
“I guess you have!” she snorted.
“Is that an upgrade?”
She kissed him and put her arms around his waist. “I’d say so.” He hugged her close and nuzzled her neck.
“Danae, I crazy love you right now.”
“I love you, Andy, forever and always.”
Up Next: Chapter Twenty Two, Generation Five
¹© 1941 Frank Churchill / Ned Washington