June 25, 1949
Los Angeles, California
Aaron Day drew the pink blanket aside from the tiny scrunched. His third daughter. As beautiful as her sisters, she tried to take in her entire surroundings through her large eyes. This little girl would be the curious one, he could tell already. Her stare drank in his features as if she memorized every wrinkle. All the while her tiny fist gripped his pinkie, conquering his heart. Funny how her hair was so much darker than Sunny’s and Stormy’s. She had a look all her own.
He strode to the window, staring out at the June gloom, the marine cloud layer that the westerly breezes brought about when they mixed with the moist air over the ocean. The winds pulled it in and then blew it out, the ocean’s breath playing through the sky.
Wind. Windy. That was it. “Cheryl, I’ve got her name.”
His wife lay with her eyes closed though he knew she was still awake. “I’m afraid to ask.”
Her lids opened wide, like her daughter’s. “Oh, Aaron, why must you do this to your daughters? If she’d been a boy, I could’ve named her something normal.”
“Hey, we agreed. Besides, they’re special California girls and need unique names.” He raised his pinkie. Windy continued to grab hold, never breaking eye contact.
“You’re a good father, but they’re going to resent you one of these days.” She put her forearm over her eyes. “I never should have agreed to let you name our daughters.”
“Cheryl, watch her. She’s in a staring contest with me, her tiny fist is tight on my finger.”
“I’m hurting here, Aaron. Can’t you find the nurse to give me something? This gets harder each time.” She rolled to her side.
“Sure, hon. Be right back. Here, hold the baby.” He set Windy in Cheryl’s arms. Maybe then she’d become excited about their newest family addition.
But his wife didn’t snuggle in like he expected. Perhaps she was in too much pain. He needed to find the nurse, get her some help. Then he’d enjoy this precious little bundle as long as they let him.
His mother had flown out to care for their other girls, two-year-old Sunny May and one-year-old Stormy April (who started running at nine months to keep up with her older sister). Three daughters, two years of age and younger. That’ll be a handful, no doubt about it. But what an amazing blessing.
After locating the charge nurse, Aaron returned to his wife’s room and gathered baby Windy, settling in a chair to continue the staring match.
He could only imagine what flashed through her little brain.
Saturday, October 31, 1970
Windy pulled her shawl closer. It was more for fashion than function anyway. The Hoosier evening on the balcony had chilled.
Kris stood close, his arm snaking around her.
That was kind of strange. They were just friends, or she thought they were until Heather was born. Then she began to notice stuff. Little things. Protective in nature. Still, he never pushed for more in their relationship. So maybe she read something he didn’t intend. The bottom line? Kris Norman was a nice guy.
Proved by his gentle side-embrace against the chill.
“Look, the first star of the evening. Make a wish.” He pointed while his breath tickled her ear.
Windy obediently closed her eyes, wishing the one thing she hadn’t confided to a soul. She didn’t risk a prayer about it. As if God couldn’t figure what went on in her brain. Even so, the idea was remote. She wasn’t about to share it with anyone.
She relaxed against Kris’s secure frame—well over six-feet tall. Sturdy and muscular. “Did you make your wish?”
He nodded. “Don’t ask.”
“I won’t. Some things aren’t meant for sharing.”
She heard a giggle behind her and glanced over her shoulder.
Her sisters were giving brother-in-law Rob what for. Stormy and Rob renewed their wedding vows this evening, so the ensuing party was in their honor. Still, Windy was only two weeks out from having given birth to baby Heather. She’d returned to her job as the creative partner at The Weather Girls Wedding Shoppe and Venue, without allowing herself much recovery time. Didn’t Pearl S. Buck say the Chinese women returned to the fields mere hours after delivery?
Windy was healthy. She could jump back in. Why not?
Ever since they’d opened their company, she’d lived with her sisters above their business in one bedroom. One cramped bedroom.
Tonight, though, Stormy’d go home with Rob to live across the street in their new Tudor-style, three-bedroom-two-bath.
Sunny was officially engaged to Pat. By next May they would be married and setting their household up in Ferguson House, the old mansion that housed their company.
That left her with a deadline to move elsewhere.
But where does a single mother go with her baby? Fortunately, she’d been planning with Gramma.
“I’d better get Heather. Feels like it’s time to feed her.” Windy was still becoming used to the nursing routine though it had improved from when she started. If only her tiny one would sleep longer than four hours at a stretch so she could rest too. That would be wonderful.
Kris escorted her inside to where Gramma cooed over her great grandchild.
“How’s she doing?” Windy leaned in, stroking the infant’s hair that was lightening from the nearly black it had been at birth. Dad said she’d started off with the same dark tufts only to have it turn auburn before falling out, leaving her basically bald until she was almost two. When it grew in, it was white blonde and stayed that way. He bet her Heather’s baby fuzz would do the same. She passed on that. Dad was too sure of himself.
“She’s a sweet little angel. Oh, she’s waking.” Gramma kissed Heather’s forehead.
“I had a notion.” Windy’s arm scrunched next to her breast noting she was full. “Time to feed her again. I’ll take her to our room. See you in a bit.”
“If you have to, I guess.” Gramma handed the bundle over. “Nothing like baby warmth to make you relax.”
“Maybe I need to check her diaper too?” Windy winked drawing Heather close.
“Oh, you.” Gramma swatted the air. “You know what I meant.”
“I do. We’ll be back.” Windy carried the baby from the third-floor ballroom, down the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. The room appeared like a tornado hit, but with everything happening to get ready for Stormy and Rob’s service and party, cleaning private quarters was a low priority.
Windy got comfortable on her bed, Sunny’s cat Frazier joining her at the foot to stand guard. She undid her blouse and nursing bra, and got Heather started. Curling up with her daughter while she fed her helped her relax, which allowed her milk to come down, which encouraged her baby to feed enough to grow. She’d already regained what she lost those first few days, surpassing her birth weight. Dr. Schwartz said they were both doing fine.
However, as she glanced about the room, it grew obvious. This season of the Weather Girls living together must end. Sunny would be stressed at this mess. Stormy had packed most of her belongings in the suitcases and boxes scattered about the floor. She’d return tomorrow after church to walk them to her new place.
Then it’d just be Windy and Sunny in here—and Heather. Who liked to make sure everyone woke when she did. Sunny and Stormy never complained, at least not to her face. Yet they all dealt with the strain of not sleeping straight through to morning.
“Sweet girl, do you think you might give your old mom a break tonight? Mommy and Aunt Sunny are pretty tired from getting Aunt Stormy’s shindig together. I’d really appreciate it, lovey.”
Heather pulled away, her mouth sheened a milky white, her eyes capturing her mother’s gaze. Then she closed her lids and latched back on.
Windy couldn’t tell if her daughter agreed to the request or merely asked, “Are you kidding?” with her stare.
Sleep was what she craved. She hadn’t had a restful night since she came home from the hospital. Maybe she should’ve held off a few days getting back to work, but her sisters needed her. Plus, she must prove she’s responsible enough to do this single parent thing.
Someone touched her shoulder. Her eyes flew open.
Sunny stood over her. “Didn’t mean to wake you, hon. Sorry.” She leaned across Windy to stroke Heather’s cheek.
“Hadn’t planned to doze. What time is it?” The baby lay snoozing against her, no longer attached. Windy fixed her clothes.
“It’s eight. You weren’t out long. About half an hour. Kris said you were down here.”
“If you lift her, I can get up. My arm’s fallen asleep.”
Sunny scooped the little one who slept right through. “She’s so warm and snuggly.”
“I know. She didn’t take the other breast. I’m going to feel lopsided. Think anyone will notice?” She shook her arm to gain sensation, not waiting for Sunny’s answer. “I almost want to wake her now, so she’ll sleep better tonight.”
“Nah, there’s plenty of people upstairs who’ll hold her and pass her around. She’ll wake on her own with all that.” She pulled Heather close. “Makes me want to get married immediately and start working on a family.”
“Not enough to change my wedding date, but the thought has crossed my mind.” Sunny grinned at her.
“Maybe I should let you take care of her tonight. Then I could catch some sleep.” Windy yawned. The nap only made her more aware of her exhaustion.
“I’d do it in a heartbeat if I had working equipment. This nursing only thing is convenient but means you’re the only one who can supply her diet. Want me to take her back up and give you a minute?” Sunny swayed side to side while she spoke.
No need supplying a reason to figure she couldn’t do this. “I’m ready. Let’s go.” She made one last glance in the mirror to make sure she’d buttoned correctly and hadn’t milk stains on her bodice. That’s when she glimpsed her face. Or what purported to be her face. A stranger with purple rings beneath her eyes and a sleep scar running the side of her jaw stared back. Lovely.
Another hour in and the party began to break up. Everyone followed Stormy and Rob as they descended the staircase to the first floor, exited through the front, and crossed the street to the sweet Tudor Rob bought for Stormy. The family filled the porch watching as he carried his wife over the threshold. Their cue to disperse for their homes.
All but Sunny, Pat, and Kris kissed Windy’s cheek and Heather’s forehead before climbing into cars. Kris hung back, waiting for the others to clear before giving Windy a quick hug and letting the now awake Heather grab his index finger.
“She gets stronger each day.” He gazed at the baby, a soft smile teasing his lips.
“Yeah. You’ll be at church tomorrow?” Kris started attending in the summer though he never spoke about God or his thoughts on religion. Windy didn’t even know if he was a believer. He was just a nice guy.
“Sure.” He slipped his finger from Heather’s grasp. “I’ll see you then.” With his hands shoved in his pockets, Kris headed around the side of the house to the rear parking lot where he always left his truck.
“I think he’s smitten.”
Windy turned to Sunny who’d stepped beside her. “Kris? I doubt it. We’re just good friends.”
“Perhaps. Hey, I’m going to sit out here with Pat for a while. I promise to be quiet when I come in.”
Windy nodded. Maybe Heather’d nurse her other side and fall back asleep. If she slipped her daughter into the cradle, she might catch enough sleep to chase away that stranger in the mirror.
Morning came early. Especially when she’d been wakened twice in the night by her hungry daughter. Now it was time for church. Windy used extra Max Factor concealer under her eyes to hide what seemed like bruises at this point. No need to attract attention.
Sunny drove, the car seat Gramma picked up at a yard sale attached in the back. Windy chose to sit with Heather in case she needed something.
Everyone else had filed into their pew. Gramma saved a seat next to her, so she had an easy time capturing the baby. Windy was on to her tricks. Fine. Let her cuddle with her first great grandchild.
After the service, Gramma held Windy aside to talk a moment. “I can see you’ve tried to cover with makeup, but I’m afraid you’re overdoing. I’ve an idea. Let’s go to K-Mart and buy a breast pump. That’ll not only allow someone else to feed Heather, it’ll help your milk stay strong. Then I’ll watch my sweet great-granddaughter while you work. I’m happy to come get her in the morning since you don’t have a car, hon. It’s getting chilly out and you shouldn’t be walking her over as it gets colder. Want to try that?”
Would they think she was passing off her responsibility by accepting Gramma’s offer? It’d help knowing Heather was safe so she could concentrate on her job. “Okay. I can’t have you to feel like I’m dumping on you, though.”
“I don’t feel that at all. We’ll go right after dinner.”
Sunday dinner. Not that she’d forgotten, but she’d forgotten. So much for a nap. “Sounds good. Thank you, Gramma.”
Pat stayed in Gramma’s spare bedroom, like he always did when he came up for the weekend. It was the normal state of affairs until he stopped working for his father in Indianapolis and opened his own law practice in Kokomo next summer. But Windy’s old room, once shared with her sisters, was still available. Maybe if she claimed the baby needed feeding, which was true, she could slip up there and catch a nap while Sunny and Stormy helped Gramma in the kitchen. Not her most responsible idea. Yet, it was that or fall asleep with her head in her mashed potatoes.
“I’ll be back. Time to feed you-know-who.” She tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, hoping they wouldn’t catch on to her cat-nap plan.
“No problem, sweetie. Someone will get you when dinner is ready.” Gramma threw her a wink as she peeled a spud.
Windy never could get anything past her.
Sunday, November 1, 1970
Kris parked in front of Hazel and Gramps’s.
When they’d married last spring, his grandfather moved into Hazel’s house and left his to Kris to live in rent free. Said it’d give him a chance to get his life moving in the right direction. It helped.
Also made it hard to say no to Gramps’s one request—attend church and join them for Sunday dinner each week. Considering the whole family attended the service and meal, he wasn’t stuck out on a limb with a solo jump. Everyone dove into that pool. He just didn’t get what all the splashing was about. However, if Gramps was happy, fine by him.
Guess everyone else had arrived. Might as well put in his appearance.
As he mounted the front steps, his brain flipped through all the personalities he’d find inside. Why was Windy the only person he could hold a conversation with? A couple weeks ago when he and Rob fixed that broken water heater, they worked together for several hours, even shopped for the new one, and he still didn’t feel like they were more than a couple guys doing the same job. Rob was okay, but real brainy. Guess if you’re a school principal, that’s what you have to be. Kris was sure brainiacs were the secret cause of hives.
He opened the front door. It was time to face the intellectuals.
“Hey, Kris is here. Come on in the den. We’ve got the pregame on. Vikings verses the Lions.” At least Gramps was glad to see him.
One seat was left, on the couch next to Pat. Great.
Not that Pat wasn’t cool. He was so brainy Kris wondered if they belonged to the same species. The dude was more than a lawyer, he was a high powered one in Indianapolis, working corporate law for his father’s multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, Whitcomb enterprises.
And he was walking away come May. For the woman he loved.
Money wasn’t everything. Still, perhaps he wasn’t so smart after all.
Aaron, Hazel’s son, slipped him a bowl of chips. “Don’t let Mom catch you with these before dinner. I’m too hungry to wait, but she’ll have a conniption.” He winked.
He might like Aaron. If the guy stuck around long enough. He seemed mellow, not professor smart but way talented. Kris respected talent. Maybe that’s why he and Windy hit it off. She probably got it from her musician dad. He shook his head. Mind blowing—to work with the likes of Brian Wilson and Sergio Mendez. Bet he had stories.
Bet he didn’t go to college to learn to do that either.
Hazel wandered in, giving Gramps a kiss on top of his crown before he pulled her onto his lap. They acted like newlyweds. Okay, so they were. It was just sorta funny at their age.
Oops. Kris tried setting the chip bowl on the floor to the side of the sofa, but she spotted him.
“I’ve got a lovely meal nearly done for you fellas and you’re sneaking snacks?”
Kris thought his head might blow like the top of a too hot thermometer. Even his cheeks wanted to throb. Had Aaron set him up?
“Mom, your meals are wonderful, but we could starve here waiting. Besides, chips go with the kick-off. Right, guys?” Aaron motioned for the rest of the males to join him.
His mother changed her tune. How did sons and mothers do that? True, he’d done it with his own. Guess it never stopped.
Unless you were hundreds of miles apart.
“Well, Kris, don’t let them corrupt you. I wonder about these fellas.” Hazel winked, kissed Gramps again, and left the testosterone-filled room.
The game didn’t officially start until one, and the pregame stuff was filler. Kris figured this was the male method for keeping out of trouble, and not getting roped into anything uncomfortable.
Pat turned from the TV commercial where Sammy Davis, Jr sang about plopping and fizzing with an orchestra background. “Hey, did you catch that new comic strip this week? I think it’s called Doomsbury, or something like that. It’s about these guys in college, they call it Walden, but I noticed a lot of similarities to Yale.”
“Yeah, I saw it too.” Rob sat up. “That one about the computerized roommate picker cracked me up. Everything at my campus is going the way of technology.” He held out his hand. “Hey, pass the chips down here.”
Kris glanced where he’d set the bowl. There weren’t many left, and he realized he’d been stuffing his face while his mind ran amok. He handed over the snacks but refused to meet Rob’s gaze.
Pat continued. “I went to college with that writer, Garry Trudeau. He started a strip back then in the student news. Sorta like this, only it was called Bull Tales. Don’t always agree with him, but he’s got a knack for pointing things out. Bet this strip’s gonna take off. Did you see it, Kris?”
He shook his head. “Been busy.” No need to expand on that.
Sunny, Windy’s sister, peeked around the door. “Dinner is served, gentlemen.” She grinned.
The men all stood, Aaron stretched, and then they filed to the dining room.
Here was the best part of the whole deal, Hazel’s cooking. And as long as he shoveled the food, he didn’t have to talk. Because that’s what happened at Hazel’s table. A lot of talking.
He took his seat and noticed no Windy. He glanced at Gramps. “Is she here?”
Gramps nodded. Soon she appeared yawning behind Stormy who brought a carry-chair-doohickey for the baby.
Hazel slipped Heather from Windy’s arms and set her in the contraption. The little thing never opened her eyes. Just kept snoozing. Wonder what she dreamed about?
Gramps said the prayer and then they started passing dishes and heaping plates. This was one place where his appetite wasn’t mentioned. The food was outstanding, everyone wanted some.
He glanced at Windy. She seemed more tired than she did this morning at church. Did she feel okay? Hope she’s not getting sick or something.
He jumped at the mention of his name. “Yes?”
“The corn please?” Hazel nodded toward the bowl that set on his left.
“Oh, sure.” He passed the dish to her as his neck sent heat waves racing to his brain. It was way too easy to get lost in one’s thoughts when one didn’t belong.
The chatter clamored around him. He continued to fork bite after bite to look busy. Another hour and he should be able to escape with no complaints.
That hour ticked by slower than slow. But once over, he made his proper goodbyes to Gramps and Hazel. Then found Windy stretched out on the living room sofa, Heather on her chest. They were having a staring contest.
Windy grinned without breaking eye contact. “I don’t know. I used to be the family champ, but I think this one might have me beat. Or maybe…”
He dropped in the nearby chair. “You could just be tired.”
Her grin turned lopsided. “Yeah, probably.” She broke off the competition. “Will you hold her while I sit back up?”
He reached over, lifting the tiny bundle, and snuggled her at his neck. Even if she’d grown the last two weeks, Heather still was an itty-bitty slip of weightlessness. He’d held sandwiches that weighed more.
“What are your plans?” Though she appeared sincere, he couldn’t imagine why she had an interest. But she often asked and listened when he answered.
“I’m building a frame for some beach artwork for Mr. Hingst. For his office. He likes my wood and wrought iron stuff.”
“What’s not to like? That’s wonderful. Maybe others will see it and ask about the artist.” How’d she always know the perfect words to say?
“Hope that happens. What are you doing?”
“Gramma and I are going shopping. She has an idea and at this point I’m willing to try it.” She rolled her lips over her teeth and he knew she wasn’t sold on the scheme.
“What’s the problem?”
“She wants me to leave Heather with her while I work. That’s why we’re going shopping, for stuff so I can. But would she be doing this if I were married and working? I don’t want special favors. I can do this.” She cracked a small smile. “If I could catch enough sleep.”
“If you were married and working, you’d have taken more time off. Can I help?” He hadn’t meant to ask. But he was willing. Windy touched his heart like no other. And Heather? If that baby ever learned that she had him wrapped around her pinkie, he was a goner.
“Thanks. Not sure how right now. But don’t be surprised if I ask.” She reached for Heather.
He laid the baby in her arms, at once missing her warmth. “Any time. I’m heading out. Later.”
In under ten minutes he was home, changed into grubbies, and in his garage working on the frame. The envelope that arrived yesterday still stared at him from the table where he’d left it.
He knew what his father’s letter would say without opening it. Still he couldn’t just toss it out. Maybe it wouldn’t say what he expected. He could always hope.
Kris slipped his Swiss Army knife from his pocket and slit open his father’s latest message.
Why did he torture himself this way?
He smoothed the single sheet out on his worktable and ran his fingers slowly under the words.
It was the same argument. College. Important. Disappoint.
You’d think his old man would’ve given up. He’d been gone from high school for six years. What college would take him now? Sure, Dad had contacts and could probably get him in somewhere. And if he started at Indiana University’s Kokomo campus, he could knock out that associate degree, making other universities more agreeable. In theory.
There were things he promised himself he’d never do again. Most could be avoided by not attending any institution of higher learning.
If only his dad would accept that with no explanation.
The phone rang.
“Son, just wanted to see if you received your dad’s letter. We hadn’t heard from you.” Mom. Dad called in the big guns.
“I got it, just haven’t had time to read it all.” Was there something he missed?
His mother grew quiet. “We need an answer as soon as possible.”
“You know I can’t go back to school, Mom. I’m actually making some bread with my art. And the handyman stuff keeps me busy and meets my needs. I’m not starving.” Please let that resolve all her questions.
“But what about Ralph?”
His palms began to sweat. “What about him?”
“Right, you said you hadn’t read the whole thing. Your cousin Ralph would like to stop by to see you. He’s moving to California and is asking for places to stay on his way. We told him we’d check with you.”
Cousin Bane-of-My-Childhood-Existence Ralph? Just what he needed. That cretin crashing in his guestroom. “I doubt he wants to visit with me. He didn’t enjoy hanging with me when we were kids. Why would he now?”
“I don’t think he plans to hang with you, sweetie, he’s just lining up places to stop and sleep before traveling on. He plans to leave New York City in the morning. He’ll stay with us overnight tomorrow so he could be to your place by Tuesday evening. Won’t you let him, for me? He is your father’s only sister’s only child.” Mom was super at the guilt stuff. No wonder Dad had her call.
“Sure, I guess. I can do one night.”
“Good. Now suppose you catch me up on what’s going on with my favorite son.”
“I’m your only son, Mom.”
“Are you limiting my choice from all the sons in the world? Seriously, Kris, you don’t have to narrow the competition. You win.” She giggled and he remembered why he loved his mother.
If she only understood what their secret was doing to him.