A Mother's Secret
out carefully. “Spark-el-s.”
    Daniel crouched again to look closely. “This one is quartz. The shiny bits look like stars, don’t they?”
    “Yeah!” Malcolm admired his find. He was soaked now to the knees.
    Rebecca looked down at their heads, close together, and felt another wrench in the chest. Their hair was exactly the same color, exactly the same texture. Even after four years, she knew what running her fingers through Daniel’s hair felt like, because of their son. Malcolm was so small next to his father, who was solidly build with those big shoulders. Right now, his jeans were stretched taut over the long muscles of his thighs. When he held something out to show Mal, all she saw was his hand, strong and competent. She remembered his touch, calloused but gentle.
    “I’m hungry,” Malcolm said.
    “Then what say we eat lunch?” Her voice sounded only the slightest bit ragged.
    They started up the beach, the four-year-old trudging rather than running ahead. His energy was winding down. Most days he did still take a nap.
    “You want a ride?” Rebecca asked.
    He stopped. “Yeah. I don’t like squishing.”
    She was about to bend to hoist him to her back when she saw Daniel standing silent and watching them. It cost her, but she found it in herself to be generous. “Maybe Daniel would give you a lift. He’s bigger and stronger than I am.”
    Malcolm turned and studied Daniel. “I guess that would be okay,” he finally agreed.
    Daniel squatted again, grabbed his son and swooped him up to ride on his shoulders. When he stood, Mal grabbed his dad’s hair. “You’re real tall!” he exclaimed in alarm.
    “And right now, you’re even taller.”
    “I am tall.” He still sounded shaky, but possibly interested in enjoying this experience, too.
    Daniel strode ahead, Rebecca trailing.
    “Lots taller than Mom,” she heard her son say with pleasure.
    Gee, how many ways could he find her wanting? And it was silly to get her feelings hurt, but she was feeling a little…vulnerable right now. She’d been so sure Mal would be terrified if a stranger swept him away for an overnight stay, but he was certainly adapting to Daniel at lightning speed. She couldn’t blame Daniel if he concluded after today that they could drop the pretense.
    Once they reached their picnic basket, she spread the blanket and Daniel gently lowered Malcolm. She took off his soaking-wet shoes and socks and wrapped his feet in the old towel she’d brought just in case. Daniel laid out the food.
    Fortunately, he’d brought sandwich makings rather than sandwiches already put together. “I wasn’t sure what he’d like.”
    “Cheese,” she said, examining the various choices. “And you’ll like this French roll, won’t you, Mal?”
    “Cheese is my favorite,” he agreed. “You won’t put that green stuff on my roll, will you, Mom?”
    The “green stuff” was a pesto aioli, she decided with a sniff test. “Nope. Although I bet it’s yummy.”
    He didn’t actually want anything but the cheese on his sandwich, although he assured Daniel that he did eat lettuce and tomatoes and sometimes onion. He just didn’t want them today .
    Rebecca rolled her eyes. Daniel hid a smile.
    Daniel had also brought him a couple of boxes of apple juice and a selection of bottled water and various sodas for them. There were chips and luscious, fat, ginger cookies from a bakery. Rebecca heaped her own sandwich with vegetables, as well as turkey and cheese, the pesto aioli and a balsamic cream she drizzled on top.
    “Yum,” she said, showing it to Mal, who forced a smile.
    “That looks real good, Mom.”
    Daniel gave another rusty laugh. “Was that code for ‘yuck’?”
    Letting him see her amusement, she said gravely, “I’m afraid so. But I’ve convinced him it’s much nicer to pretend you can see the appeal of things other people like than to tell them what they’re eating or wearing is yucky.”
    “Aunt Nomi wears these real ugly

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