John could have volunteered but instead he just waited. After Tamika handed her boys the pad and pencil she went back to entertaining her three-year-old daughter. He figured it wouldn’t take the boys very long to solicit his help and he’d barely read a page of Some Luck before Aziz psst at him.
“Psst. Psst! Hey! Mr. John?” he sibilantly hissed. “How do you spell Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge?”
“Uhm, B, O, N, S, E, C, U, R, E? You know how to spell wildlife refuge; don’t you?”
“Aziz!” Tamika said pointedly, “Do not bother Mr. John with your spelling questions. Just do your best and sound it out if you’re not sure. Besides,” she continued tilting her head and looking down her nose at John, “that’s not right anyway. Not that I blame you,” she continued with a lighter tone and a smile, “Bon Secour is French. I’d have spelled it S, E, C, U, R, E too, the way that boy butchered the word.”
“Is that someplace you all went?” John asked Tamika.
“Yeah, it was alright,” Arsu interjected. “Supposed to be a lot of migrating birds but we were there at the wrong time. Beach was good and there was some nice hiking paths.”
“The hiking paths were nice, weren’t they?” Tamika delicately corrected. “It was good spending time with your aunts and cousins, wasn’t it?” Tamika pronounced aunts with an ah rather than an a.
“Yeah, I just wish Daddy could have come,” Arsu replied.
“Well we all do, but he only gets so many days off of work.”
“How many people were there?” John asked.
“My three sisters, me, and let’s see,” she said, looking skyward for a moment and ticking off her fingers, “twelve children.”
“Twelve?” Aziz said. “We only have- Oh! Never mind!”
“What were you going to say?” Tamika asked.
“Just that we only had nine cousins there but then I realized that meant twelve children.”
“Good job. Now the next step is to keep from blurting out for just a second and let your brain get ahead of your mouth. You’re coming along though.
“Aziz is working on not blurting out in school; aren’t you Aziz?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered his mother with a smile. “I got 25 gold stars before we had Christmas break,” he directed to John.
“They have him on one of those behavior modification programs where he earns a star for everyday that he doesn’t blurt,” Tamika said with a forced smile. “Seems to be helping but I think his teacher’s a little too lenient with him some days.”
Rather than answer verbally John just nodded. “So what else did you guys do down in Gulf Port?”
“Lots of stuff,” Aziz said. “Mostly played in the ocean.”
“Were you close?”
“Yeah! It was right there!”
“We rented a house one block north of the shore. Water was too cold for me but the children got in it every day. Except Vashti. She tried it a few times but she always came out shivering. My sisters and I entertained her by making sand castles and walking along the beach. It was very pleasant.”
“Is Vashti the youngest?” John asked.
“Yes. I’m the baby and she’s the baby. Pretty sure my sisters and I won’t be delivering any more.”
“I helped too,” Arsu said.
“Yes, you did,” Tamika concurred, “All of you children helped. I hope we can do it again next year.”
“Maybe next year Daddy can come,” Aziz said.
“Maybe, if we plan far enough ahead. He’s got three weeks of vacation to use between now and next New Year.”
Aziz drew his head back and made a face. “Three weeks?! Then why- Oh.”
Tamika smiled. “That’s okay, little man. That one is a bit confusing. Daddy gets three weeks of vacation but he has to use them in the same calendar year. When we left he didn’t have any days left but now he’s back up to three weeks. You going to write him that story or what?”
“Yeah,” Aziz conceded. “Can Mr. John help?”
“I don’t think that’s exactly what Mr. John wants to do.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’ve got twelve more hours before I get to Chicago; might as well spend it having fun.”
Tamika looked doubtful. “You’re sure?”
“Absolutely. So how are we going to organize this?”
“What you mean?” Arsu asked.
“Well it’s a story, right? How do we present it?”
“Boys? I don’t mind if Mr. John helps you but it’s your story. You write it,” She said, giving John a friendly wink.
“Yes, Mama,” they intoned together.
“So, why don’t you tell me what you did and then we can organize it around a theme and you guys can write it?”
Tamika smiled, shook her head once and then nodded five times. She seemed very pleased with the interactions between John and her sons.