“What’s on your agenda today?” Denise asks me as I look out her kitchen window to the backyard.
Turning to face my sister, I see her holding out a cup of coffee toward me. I accept it gratefully with a smile. “Thought I’d take Sam over to the Audobon Zoo… spend the day there.”
“He’ll love it,” she says, leaning her hip against the counter and sipping at her own coffee. “I thought we’d go out for dinner tonight. I should be home around six.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I say with a smile, turning my head back toward the window to watch Sam running around the backyard with Denise’s golden retriever, Scout. Even though the window is closed, I can hear his excited, five-year-old giggle as Scout whines at him to throw the ball in his hand.
Denise comes up to stand beside me, gazing out the window. “That boy needs a dog.”
“Easy for you to say… living here in the ‘burbs of New Orleans,” I tell her with a wry grin. “They don’t work so well in an apartment in Brooklyn.”
“Maybe a little dog,” she muses. “One of those ones you can put in your backpack or something.”
“Don’t you even dare suggest that in front of Sam,” I warn, bumping her shoulder with my own. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Laughing, Denise pours the rest of her coffee down the drain and sets the cup in the sink. She leans over and gives me a kiss on my cheek. “I’ve got your back, little brother.”
My arm wraps around her waist and I pull her in close, giving her a kiss back on her temple. “It’s good to be here, Denise. Thanks for having us.”
“My pleasure, babe,” she says as she pulls away and grabs her purse from the kitchen table. “You and Sam are welcome to visit me anytime… you know that, right?”
“That I do,” I say as I turn away from the window and head toward her sliding glass door, which leads onto the back patio. Opening it up, I call out, “Sam… come on in and get some breakfast.”
As is typical of a boy in the midst of playing with a rambunctious dog, he promptly ignores me. I watch for a few moments as he throws the ball and Scout bounds after it. Sam bends over, slaps his hands on his thighs, and calls, “Come on, boy. Bring me the ball.”
Smiling to myself, I put on my sterner parent voice and call out again, “Sam… inside… now.”
His head swivels my way, and it never fails to amaze me how my child can look more beautiful—more angelic—with every passing moment. He inherited his mocha-colored skin from me but got his mom’s hazel green eyes, a combination that I bet will have all the girls chasing him when he gets older.
Sam throws the ball one more time and then starts trotting toward me. He gives me a grin as he steps onto the patio, showing the large gap where one of his baby teeth fell out just a week ago on the top. The one beside it is loose, and he takes great pleasure in showing me how he can wiggle it back and forth. As a firefighter for the New York Fire Department, I’ve seen some nasty shit in my work, but for some reason, loose teeth wig me out completely.
“Aunt Denise,” Sam says as he pushes past me and barrels into the kitchen. “Can we take Scout home with us after our vacation?”
Denise shoots me a look that says, I told you so, but then leans over to rub the top of Sam’s head. “Sorry, baby. But I’d be too lonely without Scout. He has to stay here with me.”
Sam’s mouth turns downward in extreme disappointment, only to turn right back up into a grin. His eyes light up brightly with an idea, and he turns to me. “Dad… we should get a dog like Scout when we go back home. Can we? Huh, can we get a dog?”
Denise starts laughing as she heads toward the front door. Calling over her shoulder, she says, “See you tonight at six. You two have fun today.”
I reach into the cabinet and pull out a bowl, which I place on the table. “Sit,” I tell Sam as I point to the chair.
“So, can we, Dad?” he asks again as he plops down. I busy myself with getting out the cereal and milk, using that as my excuse to ignore him.
Sam doesn’t seem to catch on that I’m trying to avoid this conversation, and he continues chattering as I pour him a bowl of Fruit Loops. “A dog would be so cool. I want one just like Scout, except we couldn’t name it Scout. Maybe I’d call him Ranger… or Pete… or maybe even Sweet Foxy Brown.”
I roll my eyes, because out of the mouths of babes and all that. “No dog, buddy. You know we don’t have room in my apartment, and besides… who would take care of it when you were staying with your mom?”
“I’d take the dog with me to Mom’s when it was my time to stay with her,” he says, completely nonplussed.
“Yeah… if you think I’m dead set against a dog, just wait until you try to ask your mom for one. I can tell you, without a doubt, that she’ll say no.”
“She’ll say yes,” he says confidently, and then shovels a huge scoop of cereal in his mouth.
While he’s chewing, I take the opportunity to lean in, kiss him on the head, and say, “Sorry, little man. It’s just not something we can do right now. Not with you splitting time between me and Mom’s, and I only have an apartment.”
Sam’s mouth chews fervently, trying to get the food swallowed so he can argue with me. I take the opportunity to escape. “Finish your cereal, and then get dressed. I’m going to go take a quick shower.”