Of course, it was only a matter of days until Barney knew she was back in town. One morning, Sarah brought the mail in, including this week’s “US” magazine. On the cover were two side by side photos, one of Daniel getting off the plane in England and one of Jenny and the kids, getting off the plane at O’Hare. The caption read, “Trouble in Paradise?” and, within, a long article with photos of Daniel with his split lip and Jenny crying. Barney was on his way out the door to go to work and took a minute to glance at it. “I’ll drive by and see if she’s okay.” And he dashed out the door.
The kids were on the lawn and Jenny was sitting in the side yard writing on her computer. When the huge red truck pulled up and the huge guy got out, she hit ‘save’ and started across the lawn. As he ran toward her he thought, “If the house was on fire, she would remember to hit ‘save.’”
The kids were terrified, especially little Maisie who began to cry and run to her mommy just as Jenny literally jumped into Barney’s arms. “Oh my God. You look so wonderful. The glasses. You’ve put on weight. You look wonderful. Oh my God. I’m so glad to see you!”
“Jenny. What did you do to your hair? Are you alright? You weigh nothing. What’s going on with you?”
“Just a sec,” she said, as she stepped away to pick up sobbing little Maisie. She turned away from Barney and put her cheek against the baby’s and whispered to her, Maisie’s tears wetting Jenny’s face and their copper curls comingling. The baby’s crying ceased the moment she felt the safety of her mother’s embrace. The sight of them–each end of the spectrum of all that was true in his life, Maisie, the perfect replica of the nemesis of the kindergarten Barney, and Jenny, the only image he carried in his soul–stabbed into him, love spiraling into itself, redoubling and ripping a hole in his chest where his heart had been.
He felt full of some ancient knowledge, but as though his life was renewed. “Not my kid. Not my kid. . .” his brain kept trying to remind him. But he knew that this icon before him was his only truth. He knew he was seeing Jenny’s reality, if only for a second, her truest person, and he knew he would never be anything more to her than her soldier, her bastion, her anchor. But he realized that was all he was meant to be and she needed that. And her need for him, born when she took her first steps and reached for his hand, drawing her to him in the troubled nights of her adolescence, and now her child reflecting the intensity of her love, brought him a sense of purpose he had never known. He knew that he was the part of her that finally let her be unafraid to give her love. And he knew he would be rooted to this spot in time, in his life, in his soul, forever. He chuckled slightly, “And was this one cloned in a Petri dish?”