Just Once - Page 37

“Oh . . .” Caleb said in soft realization. “Man, I am zero for two in the 'not being stupid' rankings today!” he swore.

“Hi, Mommy!” Art and Annika's daughter chirped before asking, “Is Daddy finally going to come live with us now?” Since only awkward silence followed her question, she trained eyes wide and innocent upon Art. “You are, aren't you Daddy?”

Art, his expression pleading, looked at his brother.

“Um . . .” Caleb stammered. “I don't think I can help you much with this one, big brother.”

“Sure you can, Caleb,” Art said, sounding pained. “Take Gwen . . . right now . . . please.”

As Caleb silently took his niece in his arms, Annika favored Art with an understanding smile. “The temptation is that strong, is it?” she asked.

“Only if the answer is no,” Art answered with a brave, if lopsided, grin.

“Arthur . . .” Annika began.

“Hush,” Art interjected, his voice thickening. “I know,” he assured her. “I . . . know.”

Annika bit her lip and nodded, her 'public' face still in place, but threatening to slip at any moment. “Is . . . there anything I can do . . . to . . . ?” She couldn't find the words to continue, but fortunately, Art understood.

“Just . . . take my hand,” he said when it was safe for him to speak again. “And let's see about fixing up that arm of yours in the minute we have left.”

As Annika took Art's hand in hers, Gwen considered Caleb with a tilted look. “You and Daddy aren't gonna come live with us, are you?” she asked gravely.

“Doesn't look that way,” Caleb said with a shake of his head.

“Oh, there's a way,” Gwen assured him. “But Daddy said it wouldn't be right.”

“He's probably right about that, kiddo,” Caleb sighed. “He usually is about that sort of thing.” Caleb glanced over at Art and Annika, noting that Annika's arm was already healed, but that the pair were still standing hand-in-hand, eyes closed, and Caleb suddenly felt uncomfortably like an unwelcome voyeur. “Let's give them some privacy, huh?” he whispered to Gwen.

“Okay,” she agreed in a conspiratorial whisper of her own.

Page 37

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