Finding Shelter
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2010 by Jay Cantrell

I didn't want to assume that Carrie wanted me to join her in bed again so I bided my time by watching something inane on television – yes, I realize that is repetitive.

Carrie was winding down but she had snuggled up next to me so I didn't mind.

"Are you planning to carry me to bed?" she asked between yawns.

"Maybe I was just planning to cuddle with you here on the couch," I replied.

"Tomorrow night," she said. "Tonight you can cuddle with me in a nice soft bed."

It was all the invitation I needed. The television and lights were shut off in record fashion. I started to turn off the lights on the Christmas tree but Carrie stopped me.

"This is nice," she said dreamily. "You know, the last two years I didn't even put a Christmas tree. I didn't see the point since there was no one there to enjoy it but me."

I nodded because I knew if it hadn't been for the kids I would have dispensed with it years ago – or at least moved to an artificial one I could stash in the attic, fully adorned, for next year. But the kids enjoyed the annual Christmas tree hunt and even Kasey still enjoyed decorating it. So I had a 6-foot-tall fir tree leaking needles all over my house. I would be vacuuming up those damned things until the Fourth of July.

But looking at Carrie's face as she watched the flickering lights made it even more worth it.

"Does Mark sleep soundly?" Carrie wondered when we got into the bedroom.

"Usually," I answered. "He gets an occasional nightmare and thunderstorms scare the crap out of him but other than that once he's down he's out."

"So he's not likely to come in here during the night?" she asked as she took off what was left of her clothing.

I shook my head because I was still mesmerized by the sight of her nude body.

"If he wakes up I'll hear him," I said. "I don't sleep very soundly when the kids are here. If there is a problem, I go in and lay on his floor beside him until he falls back asleep."

Carrie didn't put on a night shirt, she just crawled into our bed in all her naked glory.

"I put a shirt by the bed just in case," she said. "But I truly enjoyed waking up nude in your arms this morning."

I had nothing to argue with so I set out a pair of shorts and crawled into bed beside her. In an instant she molded herself around me and put her head on my shoulder.

"One night, when we're alone, I want to sleep on top of you with you still inside me," she whispered in my ear as her hand traced circles on my chest. "But tonight, Christmas Eve eve, I want to sleep beside you and dream of where we are going to go next."

She kissed me softly on the lips, then on the cheek and then the shoulder.

"I love you," she whispered.

I kissed her softly on top of the head.

"I love you, too, Carrie Walton," I answered.

We slept that way until morning.

When I awoke in the morning I had one hand on Carrie's knee, which was draped over my waist. My other arm was beneath her shoulder with my arm circling her waist – or at least I think it was.

I'd lost feeling in the appendage at some point in the night and I didn't have ability – or the urge, really – to move it. I was pleasantly trapped.

I kissed the top of Carrie's head to rouse her from her slumber.

"Happy Christmas Eve, love," I told her when she looked up at me.

Carrie planted a small kiss on my chin.

"Toothbrushes first, then kisses," she mumbled. I watched her cute bottom as she wandered to the bathroom. I followed her in carrying my shorts and her shirt.

"Running water is the signal for Mark that it's OK to get up," I said. "You might consider panties, too. But believe me, that's only for his benefit. When we're alone you certainly don't need to wear them."

We finished scraping our teeth and Carrie gave me a good-morning kiss and semi-grope.

"I'm going to the hall bath," I said. "Take your time."

"Don't wanna watch me pee yet?" she asked with a giggle.

"Not something that fascinates me," I answered. "Maybe later."

"Yeah, much later," Carrie replied. "Like when we're 80 years old and have to help each other in here. I think I can wait until then."

She was lifting her nightshirt and eyeing the toilet nervously so I exited and closed the door behind me.

Mark was standing at his door waiting for me to come out of my room.

"It's Christmas, Daddy!" he said excitedly. "And it's snowing."

I scooped him into my arms – as I do every morning he's with me – for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Of course I usually have emptied my bladder first so it wasn't the best idea I've ever had.

"Go in to the living room for a minute, Champ," I said. "Carrie is in my bathroom so I have to use yours."

"I have to go, too," Mark informed me. Well, that took precedence, let me tell you. I was in little danger of wetting myself – at least for two minutes – and I was tall enough to piss in the kitchen sink if it came right down to it. If Mark had been holding it for any length of time neither could be said for him.

Mark shuttled into the bathroom, just in time from the sounds of things, and I stood in the hallway hopping from foot to foot.

"Oh, poor man," Carrie said from behind me. "Last in line. Well, yours is free."

"I have to wait until he's done," I said. "Sometimes he needs a little help getting things situated."

Carrie laughed sweetly.

"I can wait here and let him know you'll be right back," she said.

I decided to risk it.

When I returned to the hallway Carrie was helping Mark adjust his underwear and straighten his jeans. Mark seemed as unconcerned about having a stranger doing things below his waist that I decided that he and I were going to have a refresher course on "good touch, bad touch" before he returned to kindergarten, just in case.

Carrie looked up smiled shyly.

"He was a mess," she said. "His pajama bottoms were twisted and his underwear was up in front and down in the back. He couldn't have been comfortable."

Mark just nodded his confirmation. He was OK with shorts but long pants were a problem for him. Of course his mother had introduced him to dropping his pants to around his ankles every time he went to the facilities – without regard to whether he was sitting or standing – so he essentially had to redress himself each time.

Maybe it was time to introduce him to the slob's way of peeing, too.

Mark was his usual cheerful self at breakfast. He filled Carrie in on his friends at kindergarten and his favorite stories and books. Carrie asked him leading questions to keep him talking and she moved the conversation from one subject to another seamlessly.

Or maybe it was Mark who deftly handled the segues and Carrie simply followed his lead. I sipped my coffee and nibbled on toast and Carrie nursed a glass of orange juice because she was waiting for Kasey's appearance for their morning run.

My daughter came bounding into the room dressed like an Eskimo on top and a ballerina on the bottom, minus the tutu, of course. She somehow had found – or purchased, more likely – a pair of running tights similar to Carrie's.

I shot my girlfriend a withering glance. Carrie at least had the grace to blush. And I noticed she was wearing a pair of running shorts over her tights when she came out a few minutes later.

"Your bottom will freeze if you don't layer up, Kase," Carrie said. I think Kasey had caught my glare – and I didn't care if she did – so she headed back to her room and came back a few seconds later with shorts over her tights, too.

"Be careful," I said as they prepared to head out. "Most of these old folks won't shovel their walks until Spring. It might look like snow but there is probably ice underneath the snow."

Carrie looked outside at my snow-covered walk before she spoke.

"How about the roads?" she asked.

"One lane if they've been plowed at all," I answered. Kasey nodded.

"It looks like they plowed the main roads but barely," she added. "The side streets are still covered."

"We'll keep it short then," Carrie announced.

"Just don't break an ankle or a hip," I said. "That goes double for you, Kasey. You run enough around here that you know where's safe. All I ask is that you stick to where you know and think safety first."

"Of course, Daddy," she said.

What I really worried about was Kasey trying to impress Carrie with a daring dash up a trail or some other stupid thing like that and that we'd all spend Christmas Eve in the emergency room. I thought Carrie would have enough sense to keep things calm but when adrenaline starts pumping common sense goes by the wayside.

Mark plopped himself down for a few minutes of destroying his brain in front of the TV set. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why I even own one of those damned things.

Despite his protests, Nickelodeon went off and a Dora the Explorer DVD went in. At least I could hope Mark might gain a few words of Spanish while I showered. He was still watching Dora – paying no heed to the fact that he had seen the thing so often he should be able to quote it – and I remembered exactly why a TV still existed in my household: instant babysitter.

Alas, all good things must end and Dora found her friends or the gold or whatever it is Dora looks for and Mark was ready to hit the great outdoors for fun and frolicking in the snow.

I believe I might have mentioned that winter is not my favorite season. In fact, if the temperature never dropped below 70 degrees again I would be pleased. I am not a "Global Warming Denier" as the media paints anyone who dares to question why it is 10 degrees cooler this year than last. I am a "Global Warming Anticipator."

I knew Mark was headed back to his Mom's soon so I'd have to get him dressed in 33 layers of clothing anyway. I figured I might as well get a head start.

It is times such as these I pity my children. When I was a child I was permitted outside when the temperature was less than 50 with only my jeans, my sweater, my jacket and my gloves. If it was super cold, like negative numbers, I added long johns to my arsenal.

Not my kids. The first flake of snow and Mark is forced to put on so many clothes that he wobbles. He resembles Humpty Dumpy but there is no way he would break if he fell. He might bounce but he won't break. I'm not even certain it is possible for him to fall.

The worst hell I ever caught from Kelly during our marriage was the day I wrapped a blanket around Kasey, who was about 3 at the time, and drove to the store instead of bundling her up from head to foot in Thinsulate.

By the time Mark makes it from Kelly's car to my door he is sweating. Hell, he is sweating by the time he manages to peel off the first dozen or so layers. And yet my poor son was ready to face life on the Arctic tundra before he and I left the house that morning.

I fail to see how a child can possibly have fun in the snow if, first, he can still feel his extremities, and second, it is impossible for him to even bend over to reach the snow let alone find a good handful to make a snowball.

I, on the other hand, had several snowballs at my disposal for when Carrie and Kasey made their grand re-appearance. In the meantime, I shoveled my walk and the driveway.

I didn't get the chance to bombard the females upon their return. They came from the opposite direction from where I expected them and they were upon me before I knew it. They also spotted my stash of snowballs and threatened me with dire consequences if I even considered it.

Since it was obvious that I had already considered it, I decided their threats were idle.

Kasey came out of the house a few minutes later and I drove her and Mark back to their mother's.

"Tell Carrie I'll see her about 11," Kasey said.

"See ya, Daddy," Mark said as he gave me as good a high-five as he could muster considered he was anchored in a 52-point safety seat and had on so many clothes he couldn't lift his arm past his waist.

I was still shaking my head when I returned to the house. It was eerily quiet when I went inside. It reminded me of my life before Carrie had arrived. I stood there looking around before I heard Carrie coming down the hallway.

She was carrying a towel – but she was wearing nothing.

"Wanna get dirty before we get clean?" she asked with a naughty smile.

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