Jared started to count slowly in his head as he rang the doorbell. As he counted he looked around to make sure that his four-year-old son was still standing at his side and hadn’t gone running off to smell some flowers. As he counted past fifty Mississippi, Jared thought that if he got all the way up to two hundred Mississippi with no response, he was going to let himself into the house just to make sure that Olivia was still breathing.
Around eighty-seven Mississippi, he heard the locks turning and a pajama-clad, puffy-eyed Olivia smiled weakly up at him. “Dimitri called you.” It wasn’t a question.
“He’s just worried—and how can you say no to this little face?” He ruffled Ben’s hair. As Ben squirmed to get out of his father’s reach, Olivia did smile a little more earnestly.
“Hi, Miss Liv,” Ben greeted her with enthusiasm as soon as he was free of his father’s hand.
“Hello, Mister Ben.” She considered them for a second, but then pushed the screen door open and invited them into the house.
“Have you eaten today?” Jared asked helping Ben take off his shoes just inside the door.
“I’m not hungry,” She replied.
“That’s not what I asked,” Jared countered, “Ben—Why don’t you take Miss Liv to watch TV while I cook us some lunch.” Ben led the way gleefully into the living room and set to work picking out one of his favorite DVDs from Olivia’s extensive collection. It showed the kind of technological house he grew up in as he loaded the DVD himself before wiggling up under Olivia’s arm curled into her side on the couch, his favorite spot to watch from. She leaned over and kissed him softly on the crown on the head.
Jared went to the kitchen and set about making the tomato soup and grilled cheese that he’d brought with him. He worked on one of the smaller counters because the inconvenience of small space was balanced out by the ability to look up and into the living room to make sure that Ben wasn’t about to make matters worse in the innocent way only children could accidentally find.
Jared froze, knife in the air when he heard Ben say, “Miss Liv, can I ask a question?
“Of course, sweetie,” Olivia answered absentmindedly, her eyes on the TV screen.
“Daddy said we are here to make you happy ‘cause you’re sad. Why are you sad?”
“Ben, I think—“ Jared had put down the knife and taken the first steps back into the living room when Olivia turned to look at him.
“No-it’s okay.” Olivia turned her attention to the little boy. “I’m sad because my mommy got very sick, and we don’t think she’s going to get better, but I’m not allowed to be with her anymore. I had to say goodbye.”
“Oh.” Ben was very still for a moment, and Jared offered up a silent prayer to whoever was listening that his son would hold his tongue. “Miss Liv, I don’t think you’re sad. I think you’re heartsick.”
“Well—I am sad, but you’re right. I’m heartsick too.”
Ben nodded, in the slow knowing way that he picked up from his mother. Then he smacked Olivia on the knee. “Up, up, Miss Liv.” Jared came the rest of the way into the living room as Olivia uncurled herself from the couch. He watched Ben work carefully, rearranging the throw pillows on the couch, stumbling a little when one of the pillows was a bit too big for him. He pulled the blanket down from the back of the couch and grabbed an extra blanket out of the basket she kept in the corner of the room. He’d made a messy, makeshift bed. “Lay down, Miss Liv.”
Olivia glanced back to give Jared a curious look, but he just gave her a shrug. He didn’t have a clue what his son was doing. Olivia crawled under the top blanket and laid down. Jared watched as his son, in an exact imitation of Jared himself, walked forward, tucked the blanket in as best he could around Olivia’s legs, before brushing her bangs to the side and giving her a sloppy toddler kiss on the forehead. “It’s okay to be Heartsick. We’ll be here to help you feel better.” Ben smiled up at his father, “Right Daddy?”
Jared was on the verge of tears himself, but he smiled and nodded. “Right. Because that’s what friends are for.”
Ben ran over to his dad and gestured for him to come close so he could whisper, but when he spoke it was still at a normal volume, even though he clearly thought otherwise. “Daddy, I kissed Miss Liv’s forehead so that she wouldn’t have nightmares like you and Mommy do. Can you kiss her forehead too so no big nightmares get through?”
“I don’t know, buddy. I don’t think Mommy would like it if I went around kissing strange women,” Jared countered in a stage whisper and was rewarded with a laugh from the couch.
“She’s not a strange woman, She’s Miss Liv!” Ben protested, and then with his best ‘stern face’ he gave a little stomp. “Miss Liv’s heartsick! Protect her from nightmares.” He pointed at the couch.
Still laughing a little, Jared crossed to the couch, Kissed Olivia on the forehead and said, “I’ll wake you up when Lunch is ready.”
“Thanks, Jare. Thank you, Mister Ben.” Olivia closed her eyes and curled into the cushions.
“Shh,” Ben hushed them annoyed, already sucked back into the movie, sitting on the floor in front of the couch.