My hands cover Emma's eyes and she giggles with delight at the mystery and suspense of where I am taking her. I have to gently guide her out of the way of a couple on the sidewalk, and they both smile at her as I lead her on toward the store up ahead.
"Just a little bit further," I tell her and she shakes with excitement.
The sky is absolutely beautiful even though the weather is fairly cold. The sun sets below the horizon and causes the sky to glow pink. Emma's scarf flaps in the wind as a cool breeze comes through. Her wavy, pumpkin colored hair blows in the gust and gets tangled around my hands.
We finally come to a halt right in front of the store's sign and I say, "Alright, honey, you can open your eyes now."
Emma opens her eyes and it takes her a few seconds to adjust and focus on the sign above her head.
"MMMMM! EEEEEEE!" she squeals. "Candy."
The sign up above us is for Clyde Carroway's Candy Shop-the only candy shop in town.
She sprints ahead of me and opens the door. It chimes when she opens it, and I follow her in.
"Hello, Harvey," Clyde says from behind the counter. "How are ya?"
"Just swell. Tomorrow could be another story though."
Emma presses her face against the glass display with all the different types of fudge, and Clyde shifts his attention toward her.
"What have we got our eye on today, Emma?" he asks.
Emma pulls back from the fudge display and slides over to look at all the lollipops and suckers.
Clyde is one of the few people that Emma isn't scared of and will usually talk to.
"What do you think of that big, blue lollipop? It will certainly match your pretty eyes," Clyde says.
I start to think about tomorrow and the next few months while Emma picks out her candy. Most of me can't wait to get back out to sea. It's my duty. It's what I love.
But part of me hates having to leave who I love. This will be the eighth time I go out to sea and it never gets easier to leave my wife and Emma.
"The peanut brittle?" Clyde reaches into the display and grabs the piece Emma points out.
"No, no, no. Honey, remember, you're allergic to nuts. You can't eat them. That would make you sick." I motion to Clyde to put the peanut brittle away, and he places it back inside the glass case.
"It's not . . . for me," Emma takes a few deep breaths. "Mom . . . wanted it."
"Oh did she?" I say smiling and thinking about Clara. "Well we'll get the peanut brittle for her, but what do you want, sweetheart?"
I smile and nod at Clyde who chuckles while he takes the peanut brittle back out again and sets it on the counter.
"A lollipop," Emma shouts.
"Alright. A lollipop it is." I motion to Clyde to get one for Emma.
He reaches in and gets a lollipop and Emma shouts, "Bigger."
He puts the lollipop down and moves his hand over to another one. He leaves his hand hovering above a lollipop, showcasing it for Emma.
"Bigger," she says again.
Clyde moves his hand above the largest lollipop the store has.
"Yeah." Emma smiles.
"Emma, that's an awfully big lollipop. Are you going to be able to finish it all?"
"Yes," she takes a few seconds to catch her breath. "By the time . . . I finish it . . . you'll be . . . back home again." Deep breaths. "Right?"
Her words sting me. I don't answer because I don't want to lie to her. So I pull her in close to me and just hug her.
Clyde wraps up the peanut brittle for us and hands Emma the lollipop.
"Thanks again, Clyde." I pay him for the candy.
"You're welcome. And hey, Harvey. Good luck and get back safe. We'll all be keeping you guys in our thoughts."
"Thanks." And Emma and I leave Clyde's.
We get back home and the smell of what Clara is cooking is wonderfully appetizing. Emma heads for her room as she licks away at her humongous lollipop.
I head for the kitchen and Clara's back is turned toward me as she checks on a pot on top of the stove. I know she heard me and Emma come inside, but I stay quiet and sneak up behind her.
Her soft and pretty cream colored arms stir the pot, unaware of my presence. I start to move my hands to cover her eyes and she whips around, catching me in the act.
"Oh-" I start. She moves into me, taking my hands and pulling them down by her waist.
"Think you can sneak up on me, do you?" she smiles.
"No. I was just- uh- bringing Clara the peanut brittle she wanted so bad."
"Ooooh. Well, where is it?" I go to break away from Clara to get the peanut brittle from the table, but she holds on to me. "Hmm, I think I should have something a little sweet before I eat my peanut brittle. Otherwise it might hurt my teeth."
Clara's cat-like eyes look into mine. "How about a kiss, Harvey?"
Without hesitation, I kiss her lips gently and she kisses back. I smile at her, and this time she lets me turn and get the peanut brittle for her.
"Mmm. Sweet," she says, "But I still think the peanut brittle will be sweeter."
I laugh and hand her the package from Clyde's.
"Thanks, honey. Dinner is almost ready. Ten minutes or so."
"Okay. I'll just go get a few more things ready for tomorrow then." And I walk out of the kitchen.
"Hey, can you get Emma and tell her to come to dinner?" Clara calls.
I walk into Emma's room, and she is doing all she can to finish the lollipop as fast as possible.
"Emma, Mom says it's time to come to the kitchen for dinner."
"But I got to . . . finish . . . this lollipop," she catches her breath. "So you will . . . get home faster."
"But Emma, I haven't even left yet. You can have more of your lollipop later. You don't want to spoil what Mommy is making. Let's go get some dinner, alright?"
"Okay," she says. Emma sets her lollipop onto the wrapper on the table next to her bed.
"Tell Mom I'll be there in a few minutes." Emma nods and heads to the kitchen.
I pack some more things in the bedroom and think how it's funny that when you have a kid, you start calling each other Mom and Dad too. I guess it's because that's who we are now. We're still Clara and Harvey, but more importantly, we are Mom and Dad.
Having a kid is no doubt a blessing and an amazing miracle. But it is a duty too. One we chose because we were ready to put somebody else ahead of ourselves. Like the soldier does for his country.
Emma is our duty. She is what Clara and I will defend and protect at all costs, even at the risk of our own lives. And I couldn't imagine a more noble way to die than for my own daughter.
A lot of people were actually very surprised we did keep Emma. We were told before she was born that she was going to have a few mental and physical problems. Clara and I did have many long and emotional discussions about what we should do. But we both know now that we made the right decision.
People seem to think if you have a mentally handicapped child, you will love them less. Those people are wrong, in fact, I think I love Emma even more because of her challenges.
Is it hard and draining at times? Yes. Is it worth it though? Without a doubt.
I go to the kitchen and Clara is just beginning to serve dinner.
"Oh, meat loaf and mashed potatoes. What do you think of that Emma?"
Emma is already spooning large scoops of mashed potatoes into her mouth.
"Dig in then," I say. "The dinner looks great Clara," I tell her, taking her hand as she sits down at the table.
I stare into her eyes and she looks across the table back at me. A prolonged gaze. I look at her long enough so that if I don't ever get to see her again, I'll be able to remember every facet and feature of her gorgeous face.
Her petite nose. Her thin, arched eyebrows. Her fuchsia cheeks, always so bright with color. Her jaw line, delicate. Her brown hair which glows with such vibrancy that it seems tinged with blue.
"I love you so much, Clara."
"I love you too, Harvey."
There wasn't much more said during dinner. Instead, we let the quiet presence of one another make us feel together one last time. Being with the two people I love more than anything fills me more than the dinner does.
It is late when we finish dinner and it is time to put Emma to bed. I let Clara clean up around the kitchen while I take Emma to her room and try and get her to fall sleep.
While she lies in bed, I softly sing to her some of her favorite lullabies. She smiles at me, and I think maybe the songs help her forget that I have to leave tomorrow.
"Daddy?" she starts. I already know what she is going to say. She asks me the same questions every time before I go out to sea.
"Daddy where . . . do you go?"
"I get on a boat, and I go out on the ocean. Then, I find some little fishes and some big fishes and I-"
"Big fishes?" deep breaths, "Like . . . whales?"
"Yeah, honey. Whales too. And I bring all the fishes back so people in the town can have some and then the town sells the rest to other towns and people."
"But you . . . go out so far . . . it's farther than I can see."
"Oh, sweetie," I say, "I'm safe out there. Just because you can't see me anymore doesn't mean I'm gone. Even when you don't see me, I'll always be here with you."
She nods and smiles, fighting back tears. I sing to her some more and her eyelids start to flutter down over her ocean blue eyes. My daughter's eyes are like two tiny seas. And their water rises and runs down her cheeks.
I wipe the cool tears from her face and after a few more minutes of singing, she falls asleep.
When I walk into the bedroom Clara is already there waiting for me. She is stunning. I get into bed next to her and run my fingers through her hair and down her shoulder and neck.
She closes her eyes and her breaths sound full of pleasure. My fingers continue to run the length of her collarbone and then wrap their way around to her back and her shoulder blades. I massage her neck and shoulders and her head falls back in bliss.
"You're not going to fall in love with some, mermaid out there, are you?" she breathes out.
"She would stand no chance."
Clara turns to me after a few more minutes and brings her hand to my face. Her fingers glide around my cheeks and I move in closer to her. We are face to face, inches away from one another, and I can feel her warm breath each time she exhales. Deep heavy breaths.
We let our lips linger in that liminal space between separated and kiss for as long as we can, only increasing the intensity. When it's no longer possible to keep apart, we kiss. Each kiss gets more passionate. More deep. With our lips together, we share one single breath between the two of us.
As much as I love the open sea, it can't love me like this.
Clara tugs gently on my bottom lip with her teeth and giggles playfully. We start to get more intimate when there's a sound at the bedroom door. It's Emma.
She opens the door and comes into our room.
"Can I . . . sleep with," heavy breathing, "you?"
Clara and I look at each other. There is a little disappointment in both of our eyes.
"Of course, sweetie," I say. "Come on in here between your Mother and me."
Emma snuggles in between me and Clara and falls asleep almost immediately.
I look across the bed at Clara. She smiles back.
"Good night, Clara," I whisper.
"Good night, Harvey," she whispers back.
In the few minutes before I fall asleep, I am disappointed that mine and Clara's last night together didn't turn out how we wanted. To love each other one last time, just in case something would happen to either one of us. But Emma needed us tonight more than we needed each other. So we put her first, before ourselves. A sacrifice. Our duty.