Suzie had a great time on the luggage dolly. The rest of the group sat and chatted; but mostly watched her as she pointed out different items of interest. With both suitcases safely on board, the group continued on with the dolly to the expansive parking lot of LaGuardia Airport.
Daniel was especially taken back by the vastness of the place. He wasn’t used to anything about the City; and it was such a large and commercial airport. He had flown out of Oklahoma City Airport, which was huge also. He didn’t say anything, but he was a bit overwhelmed.
He had began his journey in the wee hours; having to get the baby around and then off to the airport. Oklahoma City was an hour and a half away from his rural home. He drove his dad’s Cadillac to the airport for comfort. He mostly kept it parked in the garage. His dad had bought it for him and his mom’s ‘golden years’ as he had put it. It was in pristine condition, with all the bells and whistles and all leather. The sleek black car looked more like a limousine than a passenger car. Daniel could just imagine his folks as they had toured the country in style. The memories were bitter-sweet.
He had arrived at OKC early for check-in. Since 9/11/02 security was tight. The first leg of the journey was uneventful. He boarded the plane at about 5:30 am. It took off, on time, at 5:58 am. On his flight from Oklahoma to their layover in Chicago, Illinois was where the cute little stewardess had been a little flirty. Daniel was a traveling pro by the time that he boarded the next plane out of O’Hare Airport in Chicago. He had an hour lay-over and that worked out well as he was able to get Brittany changed and he gave her a snack. He got on the second plane at 9:00 am. It was now a little after Noon, New York time, and he was beat.
He didn’t want to be ungracious though, and so he said nothing. He would be a polite and amiable guest. Penelopy and Suzie had no idea of the time changes or of the ordeal that Daniel and little Brittany had been through, but Ray was a bit more seasoned and mature. While the girls were both suggesting nice places in the City to go and eat, Ray knew that a chance to rest was all that Daniel really wanted.
They all loaded into Ray’s Lexus SUV. He had driven a sport’s car, but had quietly given it up when the girls had first come to live with him. Penelopy had only slightly noticed, as she had weightier things on her mind; and Suzie hadn’t said a word. She most likely hadn’t noticed at all. The car was sleek and efficient. It met their needs and had plenty of room for Daniel and the baby, plus all of their gear.
They headed South, down the Grand Central Parkway; heading back into the City. They were in Queensboro. They had about a thirty minute ride ahead of them, if the traffic stayed light. Daniel just took it all in. He was riding ‘shotgun’ with Ray at the wheel. Penelopy and Suzie had the baby between them on the bench seat in the back.
When they got onto the 59th Street Bridge that would take them on into Manhattan, Daniel was in awe. The bridge was so expansive and had several lanes going in each direction. The sheer magnitude of all of the steel that he was surrounded by amazed him. And the traffic moved slowly as it was bumper to bumper.
“This might take a bit.” Ray offered.
“I don’t mind.” Daniel said, and he meant it. He was fascinated by all of the sights and the sounds that he was experiencing. When they actually crossed over into Manhattan Daniel couldn’t believe the skyline. The buildings towered over him everywhere. By the time that they got closer to the penthouse in the financial district Daniel was mesmerized by all of the people. The foot traffic alone was unbelievable. And the traffic! Horns were honking everywhere.
“Is it always like this?” Daniel asked, certain that there had to be a parade ahead of them somewhere or something.
“Survival for the fittest,” Ray let out a chuckle. He enjoyed the excitement of the City. The Big Apple was his home, and he loved it.
“Hey, girls. How about if we just grab a pizza and get Daniel and Brittany settled in at the apartment. We can go on a Sunday drive tomorrow and explore. Maybe even go Upstate for the afternoon if you’d like.”
Daniel looked at Ray. He was relieved. Penelopy and Suzie were fine with the pizza idea. Both wanted to show off the ‘home away from home’ that they had set up for Daniel and his little princess.
“They’re here.” Penelopy spoke quietly on the phone. The baby was sleeping; and little did she know it, so was Daniel.
“When’d they get in?” Jessica wanted filled in on everything.
“Around noon. We came straight back here. Uncle Ray wanted them to get settled in. She’s so cute! Can you come for dinner? I know that Daniel wants to see you; and you have to meet Brittany! I swear, she’s an angel! She’s adorable!”
“Sure. I could come. Want me to bring anything?”
“No. Just yourself. Uncle Ray is ordering Chinese. He bought pizza for lunch so that we could get home. Now he’s having Chinese delivered so that we can stay home.” Penelopy sounded a bit disappointed to Jessica.
“I imagine that Daniel’s tired. You know what a long flight it was. And then that lay-over in Chicago. That had to be fun with an infant.”
“You should have seen him coming off of that plane. It was kind of funny. Here is this tall cowboy looking all strong and buff, toting this baby in a car seat! And he had the diaper bag too. It was quite a sight.” Penelopy was teasing Daniel, but Jessica didn’t mind. The word picture was amusing.
“How is he with the baby?” Jessica asked.
“He’s really good with her, Jesse. So tender. You should see the way that he looks at her, you know, when he doesn’t think that anyone’s looking. But you know, I see a sadness too. It must be so hard.”
“He loved her, Pen. You know that. She’s always going to be there; you know; in the back of his mind somewhere. Can you handle that?”
Penelopy considered what her friend had said. “Sure. I don’t mind. I hope that’s the case. I know that if I were Mitzi that’s how I would want it. I wouldn’t want him to be in a constant state of mourning, by no means, but I also would hope that he would never forget the time that we had together. I know that I’ll always encourage him to share memories about her with me; you know; like my uncle shares with me about my parents. It somehow makes it not so hard that I’ll never see them again.”
“I guess you’ve got a point. I hadn’t ever given anything like that any thought.” Jessica admitted.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been through it. It’s not easy; in fact; it’s terribly hard.”
“He’s lucky to have you.” Jessica loved Daniel, and she loved Penelopy.
“We’ll see who has who. It’s all so strange.”
“You’ll be okay. He won’t be anything less than a gentleman.”
“I know that Jesse. But as I look at him, I see such pain. Maybe I’m in way over my head.”
“Just don’t rush things. I know that he won’t force any issues. Just enjoy him, and the baby. It’ll be all right, I’m certain of it.”
“I hope so.”
“I’m sure of it. So, when should I come?” Jessica asked.
“Anytime is fine. We won’t eat for a couple of more hours; but you are welcome to come on over. We can all get a chance to just hang out and talk.”
“Speaking of hanging out and talking; I need for you to leave your calendar open for next Saturday night. I’d like for you and Daniel to come to my place. I’m going to have a bit of a bar-b-que social.”
“Yeah? What brought that on?” Penelopy was curious, as Jessica hadn’t done anything like that before.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you more about it when you get here. I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Drive safe. It was a bear coming into the City this afternoon.”
“When isn’t it?” Jessica countered. She didn’t mind the drive; not at all. She loved New York.
Jessica had arrived with little fan-fare. She was after-all a common house guest. Daniel had resurfaced rested and fresh, and secretly grateful for the opportunity allowed him to rest and catch his breath.
Suzie sat on the couch with Brittany on her lap and balanced on the arm of the couch for support. She was only seven, and Brittany was a big girl, weighing in at about sixteen pounds. She was far too heavy for Suzie to actually hold, but the little girl got by just fine. Penelopy was seated on the couch next to Suzie and the baby, and Daniel was sitting on the couch also; nearer to Penelopy than he had ever had the opportunity to be before.
The girl’s Uncle Ray completed the gathering as he sat on his easy chair and took it all in. His family was certainly growing! Jessica was already one of his own, and he watched Daniel and Penelopy, and he knew that they would find a way to one day be together. There was no mistaking the way that they looked at one another.
“The food will be here any time. I think we need to shift to the dining room.” Ray suggested.
“I’ll get the high-chair,” Suzie offered, as she allowed Penelopy to remove Brittany from her arms. Penelopy stood, with the infant in her arms. Daniel immediately came to her rescue.
“Here. Let me take her. I know she’s getting heavy.” Daniel stood close to Penelopy as he gently took his little girl into his arms, not missing Penelopy’s closeness as he did so.
Penelopy surrendered her charge, and smiled. He was such a gentleman.
Jessica watched the exchange and had to smile herself. He was such a good daddy. She looked at Penelopy standing there beside Daniel, with the baby in his arms, and realized that she was soon to be losing a friend. There would be no turning back for the two of them; they already had a family…
“So,” Jessica stated, once she managed to get her bite of food swallowed. The rest kept eating.
“I’m having a bar-b-q next Saturday. I would like to have Daniel and Penelopy there, if that’s okay with you.” She addressed the statement to Ray; after-all, someone would have to watch the baby.
Daniel picked up on the implication right away. “No. I really shouldn’t –”
“Nonsense,” Ray asserted. “Of course you should go. You kids need a chance to stretch your legs a little bit. I’ll be fine with the little ones.”
Suzie thought to protest, but then she looked at Brittany as she sat in the high-chair, playing with her spoon and some finger food that was in a bowl. She couldn’t spoon feed herself yet, but she had a big plastic spoon, just the same. Suzie just smiled. She didn’t want to go anywhere away from the baby anyway.
“Are you sure that you wouldn’t mind, Uncle?” Penelopy didn’t want for her uncle to feel used or left out either one.
“Are you kidding? I’m getting pretty good at this, ‘Daddy’ stuff; don’t you think?”
“The best!” Penelopy stated. She was so grateful to have her Uncle Ray in her life. She knew that everything would have fallen apart after her parents died had it not been for him, and she was grateful.
“What kind of a get together do you have in mind?” Daniel asked, with a very slightly detectable sternness. He had heard about Jessica’s misbehavior, but chose not to bring it up; at least not in so many words. Penelopy raised up her eyebrows. She hadn’t told Daniel about Jessica’s party antics, but it seemed like Jessica might have. Inwardly Penelopy smiled. She needed to be accountable and Penelopy was glad to know that Jessica hadn’t chosen to keep her conduct at Ernie’s party a ‘dirty little secret’.
The unsaid undertones were not unnoticed by Ray. “I’m missing something here?” He asked.
Jessica stepped up to the plate, and avoided mentioning what she was ashamed of. “Just an inside joke.” Then she addressed Daniel’s question.
“Going to have steak and burgers. Just the usual picnic kind of stuff. I’ve invited a few people that I know in my fashion business. No alcohol.” She added, and tried to sound casual.
Ray’s eyebrows went up. Since when do young adults all get together and not at least have a beer or two? He didn’t ask. Surely he had picked up on something, but he didn’t need to say so. It was a good thing for them not to be drinking anyway. He had learned those kinds of lessons the hard way; but that was a lifetime past. He hadn’t had a single drink since taking on the responsibility of a family. It just didn’t fit his new lifestyle.
“We’ll be eating and shooting some friendly competition billiards. There’s a pool table in our recreation room.” Jessica filled in these details, to avoid having to address any others. “It’ll be some good, clean, fun.”
“I shoot a pretty mean stick.” Daniel offered, letting Jessica off of the hook. She wouldn’t be put on the spot to have to explain herself.
Relief spread like a smile across Jessica’s face. Now all that she had to do was find a couple of women to invite… She had learned her lesson well about having the attention of three men on one evening. She wouldn’t be making that mistake again. As far as her and her party went; she planned on going solo.