An infant’s wail shattered the morning.
My eyes dart up from the last bite of chicken biscuit and settle on a couple frozen in place 15 feet away. The crying persists.
An old, familiar tingle rises in my chest at the unexpected sound of a baby’s cry, forcing me to wrap my arms around myself. It’s been over a year now. I alternate sips of coffee and Chic Fil A peach milkshake. Some days call for more sugar than others.
“I miss those sweet, wonderful days!” I say to my mother who is sitting to my left. She doesn’t catch my comment.
“When do you pick up Maggie and Jack?” she says instead.
“Camp gets out at 12:30 pm.”
My father sits across from me eating a bagel. Caleb and Juli are playing inside the playground. I glance back at the couple with the baby.
A tired 20something woman with dark hair in a messy bun stares back at me as she stands beside their booth smoothing out her wrinkled clothing. I shift in my seat, adjusting my own blouse and teal stone necklace. Her chest heaves as a deep breath escapes, and her right hand shifts to her forehead pushing escaped frizzy hairs away. They fall back down aghast at her attempts to tame them. Angling her back to the booth, her countenance clouds. Brows knot up. Dark circles hint of sleepless nights. Her face, bare and natural. Lips, pale. A few light stains dot the shoulder of the maroon t-shirt covering her postpartum body. The skinny man sitting across the table turns wordlessly to the covered carrier and fiddles inside. The carrier begins to rock under his hand. Uneaten food lay spread on their table, crowded by an overflowing diaper bag.
“Mommy, I’m ready to go to the store now!” five year old Caleb says, interrupting my thoughts as he and Juli climb up beside me.
“Do you still have your three dollars? I will give you two more if you help clean!” my mother tells him.
“Yes! Hurray!!” He begins clearing the table with her, gathering trash for the tray and wiping up crumbs. I catch him and kiss his cute forehead, leaving a small lipstick mark just above his eyebrow where his blond surfer bangs fall. His wiggles and giggles.
“I lub you, mommy!”
“I love you too, Caleb.”
My parents and Caleb leave together hand in hand once the table is cleared.
“Back? Back?” Juli questions me, standing in the booth seat. Holding a milkshake, coffee, and the kids’ sweet tea, my hands are already full. I shrug and sit back down. Barefoot Juli brushes her hand over my freshly flat ironed hair, hops on my back and giggles her sweet two year old giggle. My dangly owl earrings catch her attention and she begins flicking one gently with a finger. Her little legs wrap tightly around my waist. Her shoes lay somewhere back at home, forgotten in the morning rush of herding four children out the door.
“I have a secret! Who does mommy love?!” I ask her as we pass the tired couple with the lone infant. The mom is still standing on the far side of their booth, her back to him. I notice a green pacifier bobbing on his now quiet lips. His eyes are big with curiosity.
“JUUUUUDY!” she squeals.
“Yes! Now hang on tight and mommy will be a horse!” I tell her. Then she laughs, wide and deep, as tiny hands grasp my neck, leaving me to feel as if she will always be this small.