3 of X…

Today’s post is a continuation of this. It’s the third piece of I don’t know how many… My mom likes the first two parts, so that’s a plus!

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Still holding Annie, Hannah followed where Katie and her dad led, their hands joined. Hannah was struggling to remember his name. She was an avid soccer fan, but he had played so long ago that she couldn’t even remember what team, what position, anything. When she’d seen his analysis, she hadn’t paid attention to the graphics introducing him and his professional achievements. He was Irish. She could go for a stereotype and assume his name was Patrick, Sean, or Jimmy. She silently chuckled at herself. How terrible if she just addressed him as “Paddy?” Since he hadn’t introduced himself, she wondered if he thought it was a given that people knew who he was. He didn’t strike her as arrogant, but she’d only just met him. She felt silly asking, but she would feel even sillier not knowing.

“I know I’ve seen you on Sky Sports, but I can’t remember your name,” she said as they stepped onto the sidewalk and back into the city. She loved Hampstead Heath for that very reason. One step inside, you were whisked away from the rush of London, but you could get back to the city’s excitement in the blink of an eye.

“Jesus! Where are my manners today? I’m Liam,” he apologized.

“I knew it was something quintessentially Irish.”

“You were going to call me Patrick or Sean, right? Boy-o, maybe?” He joked, echoing her thoughts.

As they crossed the street, Hannah smirked. “I wasn’t going to go so far as boy-o, laddy,” she said in a perfect Dublin lilt.

Katie dropped her father’s hand once they were back on the sidewalk and turned to Hannah. Eyes wide, she asked, “How’d you do that? You sounded just like gran.”

“Truly well done. Have you had practice?” Liam asked, equally impressed. “Most Americans come off sounding like eejits at best; the worst I won’t say in front of the girls.”

“I told you I liked listening to accents, Katie. Didn’t you tell me that your dad has some of his own?”

“Do the American one, daddy! Make it sound just like Hannah.”

Liam cleared his throat and said, “I don’t know how well I’ll do, but this is my best shot.”

Hannah tried but she couldn’t hold back her laughter. He sounded like a surfer dude, the male equivalent of a valley girl. She didn’t know if he’d done it on purpose, but it was terrible.

“What, no good?” Liam asked in his own voice.

“No. No good at all. Maybe try Southern or Boston next time. Either one would make you sound more intelligent than that did.” Hannah shook her head.

“Daddy, it really didn’t sound like Hannah at all. She’s way better sounding like gran.”

“All right, all right. I guess my career in acting can only include Irish roles. Maybe I’ll stick to my day job,” Liam laughed at himself along with Hannah and Katie. “How’d you get to be so good, Hannah?”

“A combination of things, but mostly because I know the International Phonetic Alphabet and like a lot of Irish musicians.”

“Are there Irish musicians besides Bono?” Liam queried sarcastically.

“Who’s Bono? Never heard of him,” Hannah picked up quickly.

Liam laughed. Hannah’s anguished eyes didn’t hinder her wit and humor. He was glad she wasn’t so lost in her bleakness anymore. He wondered what caused it, if it was anything he could take away. Katie had said Hannah lost something, but aside from a loved one, he couldn’t think of what a person could lose that would make her so sad. And if it was a loved one, is that how Hannah would have explained it to Katie? That she’d lost something? Hannah seemed to place more value on people than a statement like that implied.

He held the door open for her as they entered the coffee shop. Katie grabbed a cupful of crayons and a stack of scrap paper from the stand by the door before looking around for a table for four. “Come on, Hannah. There’s four seats over there,” Katie said as she weaved through the closely packed tables and chairs.

“Patience, my love. We need a booster seat for Annie, and I have to find out what everyone wants.”

Her father’s words didn’t stop her from blazing a trail to the table, but when she got there, she reserved it by putting her crayons and papers down before returning to his side. Hannah bent down to grab a booster seat from a shelf on the same child-friendly stand and then struggled to be as graceful as Katie had been getting to the table. It was a challenge with Annie and the booster seat in tow, but she made it without knocking anyone’s drinks over. Only when she had settled Annie and herself did she realize she hadn’t given her order to Liam.

Luckily, Katie was on her way back through the maze, holding a box of milk and a box of apple juice. “Annie, do you want milk?” she presented the milk box first, a cow leaping over a fence on the label. “Or apple juice, like me?” The apple juice box was green with a big red apple on the front. Annie pointed to the apple juice box, indicating her choice without words. As Liam had said, she only spoke a handful. It seemed to Hannah that Annie understood a lot more.

“May I please have a double espresso, Katie?” Hannah ordered as she reached for her purse to give the girl money.

“I thought you wanted coffee.”

“It’s a kind of coffee. It has caffeine in it, which is the most important thing.” Hannah gave Katie a five pound note. She knew Katie wouldn’t forget the order. The girl was obviously smart.

“Double express, okay,” Katie repeated the order and walked away. Close enough, Hannah thought.

Hannah spread out the crayons and put a piece of paper in front of Annie. Annie immediately reached for the red crayon and began furiously scribbling in a circle. She filled it in almost completely before she took the green crayon and drew a bunch of lines coming out of the top of the circle. An apple. “Wow, Annie. That’s an apple. You ordered apple juice and then drew an apple,” Hannah praised the toddler.

Annie seemed to nod and definitely smiled. So, she did understand more words than she spoke. Liam had said Annie needed to get into a program before she was three. Hannah wondered how soon that would be. She noticed Annie wasn’t wearing a diaper. Old enough to be potty trained, Hannah thought, so she hadn’t just turned two. Maybe two and a half? And how old was Katie with all that spelling and great memory for details?

Katie made her way back to the table holding two boxes of apple juice followed by Liam who was carrying a small cup and saucer and a much larger cup and saucer. He was steady on his feet and navigated the tight space with ease. Hannah took the smaller cup and saucer from his hands when he reached the table so he could get himself and Katie situated. Hannah added two packets of sugar to her double espresso and stirred it before unwrapping the small piece of chocolate that accompanied it and letting it sink into the dark hot liquid.

“I’ve never seen coffee come with chocolate,” Katie observed as she stabbed the straw into the first juice box and handed it to Annie.

“That’s an espresso, my love. It’s a little different than the coffee I have. See how Hannah didn’t use any cream? Everyone takes their drink their own special way,” Liam explained, nodding his approval that Katie helped her sister before worrying about her own juice.

“But I don’t put anything in my juice,” Katie said as she took a sip.

Hannah took her first sip of the nectar she had stirred to perfection. Delicious. “Your juice already has a lot of ingredients mixed in, so it doesn’t need anything extra. It tastes just the way you want it to.”

Katie seemed to accept this explanation and turned her attention to Annie’s drawing. “Hey! You drew an apple.” Annie smiled as she took a drink.

“Where’s this spelling you were going to do, Katie?” Liam asked knowing it would be a few minutes before his older daughter’s muffin arrived cut, toasted, and buttered the way she’d requested it.

“Oh, yeah. Let’s spell, Hannah. Coffee first, right?” Katie picked up an orange crayon and got some paper.

“Yep, coffee first. Can you sound out what coffee starts with?”

Again Katie imitated Hannah’s thinking posture, a finger to her chin and brows furrowed. She added a little gnaw of her bottom lip, deep in contemplation. Hannah couldn’t believe how quickly Katie had picked up the quirk. It was like the girl was a mirror. Did all children mimic behavior so fast? Would her own child have been a mini version of herself? The notion bothered Hannah, not just because her own child didn’t exist. She didn’t think the world needed another version of herself and all her eccentricities. She frowned briefly and dismissed that line of thinking, turning her focus back to Katie who was mouthing something without making sound.

“Coffee sounds like Katie at the beginning, so it starts with K,” the child reasoned and wrote a K on the paper.

It was sound logic, so Hannah didn’t want to discourage Katie. She glanced at Liam for a moment to gauge if he would correct his daughter, but he was occupied with Annie. He was looking between her and the drawing of the apple, clearly dismayed by the idiosyncrasies of her speaking and comprehension abilities.

“It is the same sound. Good start. You might know some other words that sound the same at the beginning but don’t begin with a K though,” Hannah instructed. Hopefully it was a delicate way to get Katie to correct herself.

Katie looked at Hannah, confusion on her face before it cleared and she exclaimed, “like cat!”

“Exactly! Like cat. What does cat begin with?”

“C. C-a-t is cat. I like cats even more than I like puppies.” Katie crossed out the K and wrote in a C below it. She took on the next sound in coffee and decided it was an O. Hannah encouraged her to continue, and Katie got to the F on her own. Of course, she skipped the second F and landed on a Y as the last letter. C-O-F-Y blazed in orange underneath the crossed out K she’d begun with.

Liam had given up trying to understand Annie’s mind for the time being and looked at Katie’s work. “Well done, Katie. Not quite right, but a grand effort,” he praised.

“What’s wrong with it?” Katie looked crestfallen. Liam picked up a blue crayon and wrote out the correct spelling for her. “F-F and E-E? That’s funny.”

“Lots of words have double letters. You can’t always tell just by hearing the word,” Hannah explained. “My name has a double letter. Annie’s too. Do you know how to spell Annie?” Katie wrote out her sister’s name on her paper, spelling it correctly. “See? Double N for Annie. I have a double N too.”

“What other words have double letters?” Katie was curious.

“Apple. Give it a try,” Liam challenged.

Below her sister’s name on the paper, Katie began with the A. She got the P almost immediately but then stopped, stumped. “Are you sure it has a double letter, daddy?”

“It sure does. It also ends in an E, like Annie’s name,” Hannah hinted at the rest of the word. “It has the same number of letters too.”

Katie examined the letters in her sister’s name and filled in the E in the word she tried to spell below it. That left only two letters blank. She quietly repeated the word apple to herself, dedicating her full attention to the problem. Hannah and Liam watched her concentration; only Annie seemed not to care about the puzzle the adults had created for her sister.

“One of the letters has to be E or P because you said it was double. I don’t know,” Katie was ready to give up when her muffin arrived, the top and bottom separated, each half cut into four pieces, and little smears of butter on each piece of the muffin top but not the bottom. It was the perfect diversion. She abandoned the unsolved mystery and handed Annie one of the unbuttered bottom piece and took a bite of one of the top buttered pieces for herself.

Hannah smiled at the specificity of the muffin’s division and Katie’s efforts to spell a tough word like apple. She watched and sipped her espresso as both girls enjoyed their snack. Her morning had taken an unexpected turn, and she was feeling much better than when she’d set out of the home she shared with Jeremy. She might never be able to shake the sadness of losing a pregnancy, but Katie had helped her realize she could put it in the back of her mind for a while. It was a welcome relief. The compartmentalization warmed her from the inside. Warmed her enough that she felt herself flush and decided to take off her hoodie.

As Hannah took her arms out of the sweatshirt and let it fall around her waist, Liam laughed. Embarrassed, Hannah shot him an inquisitive look.

“Your shirt,” Liam answered her eyes and pointed to her chest, still grinning.

Hannah looked at her t-shirt. She hadn’t remembered she was wearing it. In large black letters, it listed BS, MS, and PhD. Over each abbreviation, in smaller white lettering, was “Bull Shit,” “More Shit,” and “Piled higher & Deeper.” It was a gift from her research partner when she got her doctorate.

She scrambled to replace her hoodie. “God, I forgot I was wearing it. It’s inappropriate for kids,” she apologized.

Liam looked at Katie and Annie eating their muffin and drawing. “I don’t think they noticed, and she wouldn’t be able to read the definitions anyway. It’s funny. Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. “You have all those degrees?”

“Yeah. I’m an accredited nerd,” Hannah shrugged. She was proud of her accomplishments, but she never liked to make a big deal of them. She never insisted on being addressed as doctor, though it was nice when someone used the title.

“Brilliant. Katie wants to be a veterinarian. Maybe you could talk to her about all the schooling it requires.”

Turning her attention to the girls who were coloring and eating, Hannah had no doubt Katie would be a great vet. “A veterinarian, huh? Is that why you followed that puppy today?”

Looking up from her doodles, Katie launched into a zealous monologue about all the different animals she liked and why – puppies for their soft fur, cats for their balance, dolphins for how clever they are, giraffes for their long necks, fish because of all the different colors they come in, monkeys because they look like people. In the middle of her litany of animal assets, she stopped abruptly and exclaimed, “I have to invite you to my birthday party. Daddy, give Hannah an invitation.”

“I don’t have the invitations with me, my love. Why don’t you tell Hannah a little bit about your party to see if it’s something she would like.”

“It’s at the zoo!”

Hannah hadn’t understood how animals could lead Katie to think of her birthday party, but now it made sense. Katie was jumping out of her skin with excitement about the party, so Hannah tried to match her enthusiasm. “The zoo, wow! And how old are you going to be?”

“FIVE!” Katie screeched, holding up her hand with her fingers spread wide. “And everyone’s coming and we’re going to have cake and the zookeepers are going to let us touch some of the animals! They’re shutting down the whole zoo for my party!”

That got Hannah’s eyes as wide as Katie’s were. “No! The whole zoo all for you and your friends? What a great fifth birthday.”

Liam didn’t know why, but he felt like the extravagance made Hannah uncomfortable. It certainly made some of the guests who were invited uncomfortable. But his eldest daughter would only turn five once, and he’d never let her have pets at home because of his allergies. Animals made her so happy that it made perfect sense to him to shut down the whole Regents Park Zoo for her birthday. He wouldn’t do it every birthday. He had the money to do anything for his girls. Why did he feel defensive about this?

“My wife says I’m too indulgent, but you only turn five once,” Liam said even though Hannah hadn’t expressed anything to support his feeling of being attacked.

“What’s indulgent, daddy?” Katie wanted to know everything about her party, so if indulgent was part of it, she needed answers.

“Indulgent means I give my girls anything and everything they want.”

“What’s your wife?” she moved on to the other word she didn’t know.

“My wife is mummy.”

Now Hannah reacted, though subtly and not to attack renting out a zoo. Hadn’t Katie said that her mom and dad lived in two different houses? Were they separated? Obviously the family had enough money to have two homes if they could rent a zoo in central London for a day. Hannah was confused about the living arrangement. She was also confused about why she cared at all. She didn’t know these people. Why would she know their life? She’d easily slipped into a familiarity with Katie that extended to Annie and Liam. She’d forgotten that she’d only just met all three of them. Hannah was a caring person, so she didn’t fault herself for being kind to them, but she did feel foolish for some reason she couldn’t understand.

“Are you mummy’s wife?” Katie tried to learn the word she didn’t know.

Liam chuckled, “No, my love. I’m mummy’s husband. Like brothers are boys and sisters are girls. Uncles are men and aunts are men. Husbands are men and wives are women.”

“Why is there a different word if it’s a boy or a girl?”

Hannah liked this child a lot. Here she was, not even five, picking up on gendered language. Liam was right to have called her a handful earlier. Her curiosity was going to be a constant challenge to him.

“I don’t know. Those are just the words,” Liam answered. He had a look in his eyes like he was thinking about it now too. “I suppose the better word for mummy is a partner. Mummy’s my partner. I’m mummy’s partner. That’s what a lot of people say here in England.”

“It’s the same thing?” Katie was trying to wrap her head around it “Wife, husband, partner?”

“Sort of. I can’t explain it. Ask me again when you’re older,” Liam put off a conversation that was way out of his depth. What did he know about the history of gendered language? He was still trying to figure out why societies for millennia thought women were weak.

Hannah had enough to say about the topic for a fifteen-page paper she wrote for one of her linguistics classes in undergrad, but she had no idea how to begin to make that explanation accessible to a four year old, no matter how precocious Katie was. Liam’s plan to discuss it later was a good one as far as Hannah was concerned. Hannah found herself hoping she could be a part of that conversation with Katie later in life.

Katie twisted her mouth at her dad’s response, weighing whether she would accept it or not. Finally, she let it go and got back on topic. “You’ll come to my birthday party at the zoo, Hannah!” She declared.

Liam looked at Hannah with a sheepish smile and a shrug of his shoulders. Katie was definitely a handful. “It’s next Saturday afternoon. I’ll have to check the RSVP list, but it seems like the birthday girl won’t take no for an answer.”

“You HAVE to come, Hannah. There’s going to be face painting and pizza and cake and all the animals and I want you to come!”

“Sounds like fun. I think my schedule should be clear,” Hannah accepted because she didn’t see any reason not to and she thought it would disappoint Katie if she said no.

Liam took out his phone and added Hannah’s name to his contacts. “What’s your number? I’ll check the list and send you the details later today.”

Hannah recited her number for him and put a reminder about the party in her own phone. Katie clapped at the success of her invitation. Annie mimicked her sister. Everyone was pleased with the plan.

The new friends enjoyed the rest of their snack amid casual conversation and drawing. Hannah was the worst artist among them, but Katie loved everything the woman drew anyway. The girls finished the muffin that had been so meticulously prepared while Liam and Hannah enjoyed their caffeine boost. Parting ways outside the coffee shop, Annie gave Hannah a soggy kiss on the cheek, Katie very nearly cut off the circulation in Hannah’s neck when she hugged her, and Liam shook her hand, thanking her again for finding Katie.

“I’ll see you at my birthday party! Daddy, don’t forget to send Hannah the details,” Katie said as Liam took her hand and pulled her in the direction they were going.

Hannah waved, still warm inside from the unexpected turn the day had taken. She dreaded talking to Jeremy, but at least she hadn’t had the time to construct a fight in her mind. Maybe if she went in without defenses to arguments he hadn’t yet made, the conversation would be better than she expected. She loved him, and he loved her, so that was as good a starting place as they could ask for under the circumstances. And after meeting Katie, Hannah felt a little better about some of the doubts she’d had about being a mother. In fact, she was feeling almost confident about her maternal instincts after having interacted with both Katie and Annie. As she made her way home on the tube, she felt physically lighter than she had earlier that day.

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