It wasn't until the buckboard had disappeared that Ike realized he was in for it. All at once, a million questions came tumbling out between his parted lips. Too bad there were no words for anyone to hear. He reached out and closed a sickly pale hand around the doorknob. **I could run.** Chills rolled off his body, taking every single bit of courage he had not to listen . **running is good**
What was left of Ike's self-respect hit the floor and puddled at his feet. He swiveled around and looked at his two charges. It had been Thomas that spoke to him, but it was Grace's pointed look that nailed him to the floor. Grace stood with her feet planted a shoulder's width apart and her arms crossed across her chest. "Where are you going?"
Ike held his hands up, showing they were empty, and shook his head.
"You weren't going to leave us, were you?" Without waiting for an answer, Grace continued on, "No, of course not. That would be... a-"
"No-no," Thomas piped in.
Grace nodded, "That's right, a 'no-no'." She looked at him to make sure he was paying attention, "and you wouldn't want to do a 'no-no'. Would you, Uncle Ike?"
Ike felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Regarding her with an expression of grudging respect he shook his head. **No.**
Thomas and Grace took each other's hands. "Good." They wheeled around to the door and Grace called out behind them, "Come along, Uncle Ike. We need a story."
As the little princess marched off down the hall, the same sickening dread filled his belly. **A story, heaven help me.**
**MOVE** he commanded his feet. They stayed, anchored to the carpet. He tried again to move them, nothing happened. For a fleeting moment Ike wondered, **If I stay out here long enough, they might go to sleep.** He turned his eyes toward the ceiling, **please** When there was no answer he tried again, **pretty please**
Ike gave Thomas a pained look.
Grace popped her head back around the corner, "That's alright, Uncle Ike... we'll just sit out here, with you.... on the sofa!"
The two barreled past him, dragging blankets and pillows behind them.
In mere seconds, the sofa was transformed into a veritable sultan's tent of wonders! Grace was bundled in on one side and little Thomas on the other, their eyes turned up to his face as they waited eagerly for him to move. Grace patted the empty space between them, "You sit here, Uncle Ike."
He felt like a total cad. How does one tell two hopeful children that you physically can't tell them the story they want? Ike's gaze wandered over to the lamp beside the couch. The heavy covered shade was beckoning to him. He could throw that over his head and hide... no. That would never do. Fringe was not his style, even if he did wear feather boas once in awhile.
Grace bounced up and down on the sofa, shaking the furniture and the lamp standing against it. Ike saw the quiver of shadow on the wall and felt his smile return to his lips. Holding up his pointer finger he signaled for the two Cain children to sit tight and wait.
Knowing that little bodies can sit still for only so long, Ike moved quickly. He slid off the sofa and reached up his hand to turn the shade into a blind. Cutting off the light in the direction of the sofa, he pointed it toward the wall.
"What are you-"
Ike held a finger up to his lips and Thomas giggled. Turning to his sister he held up a chubby little finger, "Shhhh, Gracie... shhhhh!" The end of his command turned into a spit bath for Grace as Thomas's little mouth couldn't seem to hold the shape for more than a second.
Ike rapped his knuckles on the floor to get their attention. Bright smiles were stretched across their lips. Ike couldn't help the sinking feeling that this would not be as easy as he thought, but there weren't any other choices. **Whose idea was it to leave a mute with two small children?~** He fumed. **Wait, I volunteered.**
Sitting back on his knees Ike held up a hand. Turning to the wall he watched as his fingers raised up into the circle of light. Two fingers slightly apart, bent in subtle curves, followed by the rest of his fingers pinched into a teardrop shape with a see-through middle.
Thomas leaned back and watched the slow ascent of the hand, his little eyes glued to the wall.
Grace scrunched her eyes together until they were little slits, "What is it?"
Ike peered over his hand and looked at the shadow on the wall. **rabbit** he signed.
**raaa-bbiiii-tttt** he signed again. Obviously speed was not issue in their mis-communication.
"Looks like it's got teeth," commented Grace.
Thomas nodded, "Teeth."
Ike pulled his upper lip back and showed his front teeth and held up his arms up and over his head like two long ears. Leaving them there for a minute he brought his hands down and signed again, **rabbit**
Grace and Thomas looked at him for a minute and then huddled together. Their hushed voices and curious glances made him worry. He heard them giggle and had to smile, **they got it.**
The two Cain children sat apart and looked straight into his face. Thomas clutched his blanket to his chest and grinned. "Llama."
Grace beamed. "That's good, Uncle Ike. We've never seen such a great llama before."
Ike looked down at his hands, 'Llama' he thought, 'I don't even know how to sign llama.' He waved his hands in front of his face, 'Let's try something different.'
Pinching his whole hand together he pulled his sleeve half way over his fingers. Holding it up to the wall he opened and closed his fingers repeatedly. To Ike it looked like the perfect goose, without the sound of course.
He turned to look at his two charges and his heart hit the floor somewhere around his shoes. They seemed.. horrified!
Ike dropped his hands and Thomas seemed to rouse from stupor, "Snake! Snake!"
Grace began to cry...her eyes welling up with tears, "I don't like snakes, Uncle Ike."
Ike's head hung from his shoulders. The terrible weight of failure settling on his shoulders was nearly too much to bear. He wanted to run and hide.. he was making such a big mess of the whole thing. His hand touched the floor and his fingers brushed against a little doll.
He held it up and saw Grace's face light up with joy, "Little Red Riding Hood!"
Red Riding Hood? Ike felt relief flood through his body. He held out the doll and waved Grace forward. She slid off the sofa with a giggle and bounced over toward her uncle. She took the doll from his hand and smoothed her little blue calico dress while she fixed the red cape to lay around her little shoulders.
Grace turned to look at Ike. Holding up the doll she smiled and spoke in a high pitched little voice. "Hello, Uncle Ike, I'm Red Riding Hood!"
Ike reached out and shook the doll's hand. Grace giggled helplessly.
Thomas slipped off the sofa and tiptoed across the floor, his hand above his head. Tiny fingers curled like claws. "Wolf! Wolf! Awwwooooooooo!!"
Ike shrank back in mock fear. Grace jumped in front of him and held up her doll. "Don't you hurt Uncle Ike you mean mean wolf. I'm gonna protect him!"
Thomas shook his head, "No.. you're a girl! I'm a wolf!"
Grace nodded, "But I can still protect him... girls can do that."
Ike hid his laugh, she certainly was Emma's daughter.
It was Thomas who took control a moment later, "You sit, Unka Ike. Sit!"
Holding up his hands in surrender he headed for the sofa to sit amongst the piles of blankets and pillows. Like having his own home theater, Ike sat back and enjoyed the strange fairy tales that the two concocted. He soon lost track of the number of stories that had blended and merged with each other. Soon, he lost track of the time and nodded off to sleep.
Emma and Sam returned nearly an hour later, their hushed voices full of joy and sweet memories. They entered the house and heard the blissful sound of silence. "I hope the kids didn't give Ike too much trouble."
Emma laughed, "I'm sure they were fine."
Sam grimaced, "Are we talking about the same children?"
Elbowing her husband in the stomach, Emma grumped with a smile, "We only have two!"
He brushed a kiss along her cheek, the days growth of stubble scratchy against her softness. "For now."
Emma rolled her eyes. "Stop!"
"Mama?" Grace's voice interrupted them.
Both parents looked up in surprise and saw Grace peeking over the back of the sofa. "Are you still up?"
Grace shook her head and the ringlets of her hair bounced around her shoulders. "You woke me, Daddy! You're too loud!"
The Cains circled the sofa and sighed in relief. Ike was sound asleep, bound in blankets like a mummy. Thomas was draped over his chest like a sleeping puppy, his mouth half open and drool seeping out to mark a wet patch on the blankets beneath his head. Grace extricated herself from the blankets and fell happily into her father's arms.
Emma gathered Thomas into her arms, settling his lolling head against her shoulder. "Looks like Ike kept you up pretty late."
Grace lifted her sleepy eyes. "Oh no, Mommy. We kept him up! He's really nice," her voice dropped to a tiny whisper, "he's really bad at stories... we had to tell them for him."
Emma brushed a kiss on Grace's forehead. "That's sweet of you, darlin'. I'm sure Ike appreciated it."
"Sure he did. Me too, I don't really like snakes.. and 'sides, you don't see llamas around here much." Grace's eyes drifted closed in the blissful sleep of innocents. It took a minute for Sam and Emma to digest the information.
"Snakes?" questioned Emma.
"Llamas?" answered Sam.
Thomas stirred against his mother's shoulder, holding up two fingers beside his mouth. "And teeth...like this."