Raphael was bouncing in the middle of his bed, giving me a hopeful look.
"Snuggle?" he asked. The boy loves him some mama-snuggles. Also anything that delays bedtime. Most nights I decline the snuggle offer, on the grounds that it took seventeen eons to get him into jammies, teeth brushed, and into bed. And I'm tired after anything more than fourteen eons of bedtime wrangling.
But after so many nights of snuggle rejection, I feel guilty enough to crawl in next to him, fold him in my arms, and feel his breath tickle my hair as he tells me and tells me and tells me things. Lordy. The words.
"G'night, Dad!" he sang out to Clay, grinning and wrapping his arms tight around me. My mom may have been the subtext there. It was subtle, can't be sure. Clay said his goodnights and exited, stage left.
Raphael wanted to tell me how good he is at kickball, and then to give me the play-by-play analysis of an imaginary kickball game.
"First up is Rebecca," he explained, holding up two fingers to represent her legs. Raphael thinks Rebecca is beautiful. That's exactly what he told me, "Rebecca, well, she's kind of...really...beautiful." This represents a huge shift for him, because for two years he's insisted he's marrying Iona. As much as I love Iona I think at six that it's reasonable that they see other people.
While he talked I closed my eyes and let the words just wash over me. All that is required on my part is appreciative noises. Raphael told me all about Rebecca's turn, then his friend Josh's. He was all set to send David to the plate when I cut him off.
"Tell me about it tomorrow," I urged him, crawling out of the bed. He protested, but I pulled the covers up to his chin, rained kisses on his face, and said a firm "goodnight."
"Mem!" he called after me. It wasn't a question, it was just an exclamation of love, and I winked back.
I picked my way through lego rubble, to Max's room. He was sitting on his bed, studying the directions for building a battery. On the floor next to him was a piece of loose-leaf paper, covered with words and drawings. I was aching to pick it up and read it, but one tries to respect privacy...
"Do you need that?" I gestured at the paper. He squinted at it.
"Oh, no." He snatched it up and crumpled it into a ball and shoved it in his trash can. "My leprechaun story. I messed it up." He shook his head ruefully. "I keep messing up my leprechaun stories."
Who knew he was writing leprechaun stories? I kissed the top of his head, damp from the shower, and breathed in the shampoo-and-boy perfume. What a mystery my Max is. He turned and threw his arms around me, to hug me thoroughly, then turned back to his battery instructions.
"Good night," I said.
"Right. Do we have any copper wire?"
"I don't know. Ask your dad."
He nodded and went on reading. I watched him for a moment, then turned to go.
From behind the bathroom door I heard the hiss of the shower, and I said a silent goodnight to Tre. He had some homework to do, but I knew he'd come upstairs before bed to say his goodnights and linger a few minutes longer. He's so in charge of his schedule, as he wrests more and more of his days out of my hands. This is good, I remind myself. This is right.
I stood at the bottom of the stairs, at the intersection of three boys' lives, and just stayed there for a moment.
And then I walked on.