[Author's Note: This is a revisit to my “Cherries” universe, a follow up to this Flash piece.]
Lisa tiptoed toward the door. Philippe looked up and smiled. “Don’t forget the milk, chérie! Be careful driving.”
She waved her hands, and, too late, Philippe winced. “Sorry,” he mouthed.
“Maman!” Her shoulders drooped. Gaston came toddling around the corner at as full a speed as a eighteen-month-old could manage, and latched himself onto her legs.
“Non, mon p’tit,” said a repentant Philippe as he scooped his son high in the air. “Maman allez.”
“Non, papa. Maman rester.”
“Don’t you love Papa?”
The little boy studied him solemnly for a moment and turned back to Lisa, arms outstretched. “Gaston allez!”
“Non, chéri.” She brushed his cheek, kissed his nose. “Have fun with Papa.” She exited as quickly as she could manage.
Gaston’s face puckered into a pout and he proceeded quickly toward tears. Philippe rapidly began the process of distracting his son.
Half an hour and nearly a whole box of toys later, Gaston was standing silently at the window, watching for Lisa’s car. Philippe was stretched out on the floor trying not to fall asleep. He propped himself on his elbows and watched the little boy compassionately.
He crawled over to the window and cuddled Gaston. “I miss Maman, too, when she goes.” His well-meant sympathy brought tears to the little one’s eyes, which ramped back up to full-fledged crying again.
“Hé, p’tit. Maybe a song?” He thought for a minute and began. “C’est la poulette grise qui pond dans l’église…” Gaston only got louder and Philippe stopped. “Ok, not a song.” He tilted his head to one side. “Although I must say I don’t think my voice is that bad.”
He rocked the little boy and thought. A book, of course! Forty-five minutes later, he had gone through Bonsoir Lune, half a dozen Golden Books and a toy catalog that had come in the mail that day. The little boy subsided into noisy sobs and Philippe felt like joining him.
“How about something to eat?” Gaston refused all offers, looking wistfully at the door where Lisa had disappeared.
Philippe walked the floor with his son, back and forth, and tried with no success to come up with a story of his own. Finally, he sat down on the couch and turned on the Habs, playing a rare afternoon game against Vancouver. “Regardez, Gaston! Hockey!” At that moment, Max Pacioretty finessed a shot past Schneider, who was spelling Luongo between the pipes, and the goal horn set Gaston off again.
Philippe slumped back in the sofa. “Je me rends. I am a horrible father.” He gave Gaston a long, sad look, and the little boy quieted to hiccups.
Lisa sighed as she unlocked the door. She loved her husband and adored her son, but sometimes she just had to get away for a bit.
As she closed the door behind her, Lisa froze in shock. The room was a shambles, with toys and books scattered across the floor, the orange juice out on the counter, along with a banana, half a sandwich and a small pile of cookies. The hockey game had given way to L’antichambre, and the sound was off.
“Philippe?” Lisa called quietly.
A small head popped up over the back of the couch. Gaston raised a finger to his lips and said, “Chut, Maman.” His little voice dropped to a whisper. “Papa dort.”
She came around the couch cautiously. Philippe was indeed asleep, Gaston’s favorite blanket partially covering his chest and the boy’s small pillow gently placed over his father’s face.
“Gaston aime Papa.” The little boy patted his father’s hand, crawled between Philippe and the back of the couch and carefully laid down next to him. Philippe stirred in his sleep and laid a gentle hand on his son’s head.