On most days, Case works from home.
But sometimes, like this particular day, when he’s supervising the installation of dew collectors at a tree nursery across the bay, he has to go on site.
“It’ll be fine,” he tells Kiki in the early morning while she sleeps. “Ira will be here with you all day, and when I get back, you’ll be well fed and well rested and happy. Learn a lot, and I’ll see you soon!”
But all day is a long time to be without Case.
“Where he? Come home?” Kiki asks Ira.
“He’s at work,” Ira says. “I know. It’s different. He usually works at home. But it’s OK. He’ll be back at supper time.”
Kiki and Ira spend the day playing with stacking blocks, talking, eating yummy snacks that Case left for them in the fridge, and playing tag. Before Case makes it home, Kiki is too tired.
“The little dragon went to sleep happy,” Ira read, “because soon, the big dragon would be home, with jewels and treasures, and when the little dragon would wake up, the cave would shine in splendor!”
When Case gets home, he finds that the dew collectors on their own lot have sprung leaks, so before changing from his work clothes and checking on Kiki, he fixes them.
“It’s like being your own handyman!” Ira says.
“How was the day, Ira?” Case asks, when he finishes and puts away the tools. “How was Kiki?”
“She was a delight!” Ira says. “Like always. She did the funniest thing. She went up to each plant and talked to it, just like you do. She held out her hand, like it was a pad of paper, and used her finger like a pen. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked her. ‘Research,’ she said!”
“It makes sense,” Case replies. “She’s imprinted us. You know, bonded. Like baby ducks. So we show her what grown up versions of our species do.”
Ira hadn’t thought of that. She wonders, but doesn’t say aloud, what Kiki would have learned about the actions and behaviors of people if her birth parents had lived, or if she’d been taken in by others.
“It’s Kiki’s good fortune, then,” she says. “It’s also a really big responsibility.”
Ira has some inclinations of her own that she wouldn’t want Kiki to pick up. She’d better learn to be a good role model.
Being a good role model isn’t something that Case needs to worry about. It just comes naturally to him, Ira figures.
She watches them together and wonders, again, what it would feel like to have someone like Case taking care of you. But then, she realizes, that’s exactly what she has now. Living here, being part of this family, Case watches over all of them.
The bees need tending, so in the cool of the evening, Ira dons the beekeeping suit and checks on the hive, harvesting the extra honey. The bees hum with good health.
When Aadhya drops by, Ira’s sitting at the chess table. She’s hoping to earn a chess scholarship, next time she applies to college, but it seems an unrealistic goal. She’s just not that good at the game.
“Where’s Case?” Aadhya asks. “Usually I see both of you out here playing chess.”
“He’s gone to sleep. Big day.”
“You know,” Aadhya confesses, “I used to feel so jealous whenever I came over.”
“I wanted to be in this family. I wanted your role.”
“But I don’t really have a ‘role,'” Ira says, “not like that.”
“Yes,” says Aadhya, “you do. You’re part of this family.”
Ira reviews this conversation after Aadhya leaves.
Are they a family? She figures they are.
Does she have a role? She can’t imagine, now that she thinks about it, how the family would balance, if she weren’t here. There were plenty of times when she would pick up the slack, just naturally fill in when something needed doing, like caring for Kiki today and for the beehive tonight.
She guesses she does have a role, even if it doesn’t have a proper name.
Room-mate. Lodger. Best friend. Auntie. None of those names fit.
A foster child. Two friends, who adore each other, living together.
A whole world, wrapped inside this tiny house, with three people, intertwined.
It wasn’t how she imagined her life would turn out.
But then, she couldn’t imagine it being any better, at this moment.