ten children, each of whom sounded not unlike a small army of his or her own.
Consequently, midway through the celebration, Kara found herself the less-than-proud owner of a really raw throat. This was more shouting than she was used to, even though the people she worked with had a tendency to yell across the room to communicate.
By the time she joined in singing “Happy Birthday” with the others, she felt as if she were literally gargling with sand. Once the off-key rendition of the traditional birthday song was mercifully put out of its misery, Ryan got to make the first cut on his cake. With an eye toward saving all ten of his digits—and the fingers of those close to him—his mother quickly took over. She deftly sliced the cake, which she’d baked in the shape of the aforementioned Kalico Kid.
“Lucky thing I could get my hands on the game,” Kara commented to Dave’s back. Since he’d somehow managed to get in front of her and stood between her and the cake, she was about to ask him to pass her a slice when he turned around and handed her the paper plate he’d picked up.
Stunned at his thoughtfulness, she discovered that she’d temporarily lost the ability to speak. Instead, she stared. At the cake, at him.
Amused, he bent over and whispered into her ear, “Took your thunder away, didn’t I?”
She wished either that he’d stop doing that, or, at the very least, that the sensation of his warm breath gliding along her skin would stop affecting her this way. “Something like that,” she finally murmured.
He hadn’t moved back yet. His face remained just inches away, and looking into his eyes was doing some very unexpected things to her. Things she was having a great deal of difficulty reconciling with the all-but-glaring fact that this was Davy, someone she’d once found irritating and annoying. Someone she’d enjoyed torturing whenever the opportunity arose—which had been often.
Unable to hear her because of the noise level, he cocked his head, pretended to cup his ear for her benefit and said, “What?”
Kara began to repeat her answer, but then, not trusting her voice to remain intact if she allowed herself to utter more than a single word, she finally gave up and merely said, “Yes.”
Just then, Ryan drew all attention in his direction when, untouched cake plate in hand, he looked up plaintively toward his parents, specifically toward his mother, who, Kara had already assessed, was clearly the reigning disciplinarian of the duo.
Ryan’s appeal confirmed it the next moment. “Please, Mom?”
It was obvious that Melissa had wanted to establish a little order within the chaos, or at least generate a small eye within the hurricane that was her son’s birthday party. But it was equally obvious that Ryan had been drooling over his pile of gifts and wanted only to tear into the wrapping paper to unearth the treasures hidden beneath.
Melissa sighed. Her ultimate decision was never in doubt. “Okay, you can open your presents. But remember to go easy.”
Kara laughed, shaking her head. “He probably didn’t hear a single word she said after ‘okay.’”
Kara had half expected Dave not to hear, but the look he gave her as he glanced over his shoulder was almost conspiratorial and showed her that he had and was in agreement.
Now, there’s a first, she couldn’t help thinking. She and Dave in agreement—and there’d been no choking involved. Would wonders never cease?
“I think he was off and running when she started to nod her head.” A great deal of fondness flooded his eyes as he glanced back at Ryan. “You’re only eight once.”
Something in his voice piqued her interest. Kara slanted a glance toward Dave even as she watched Ryan tearing into his gifts with the innocent gusto only an eight-year-old could display.
“You actually remember being eight?” she asked him, curious.
“Vaguely,” he admitted. Then he looked at her, his expression becoming more animated.