George scuttled along the floor with Yoli, tickling his ribs as he went. The gurgles of laughter seemed to pour right out of the little boy, coming from his tummy and making their way out through his big loopy curls. It had been a long day at work, and all George wanted to do was see a genuine smile. Yoli always made him feel like the sacrifices he was making-the endless nights and days where he walked into morning meetings in a haze of exhaustion- were all worth it.
He nor Liza ever talk about what happened three years ago, when they lost their little girl. Jonas was six when they decided to have another baby. Eliza was worried about all the time he spent alone since they had just recently moved from Orlando to Port St. Lucie, and all his neighborhood buddies were left behind. George wasn’t sure he wanted another baby, but not going along with Eliza’s wishes seemed cruel to him. She was an excellent wife and mother. He wanted to make her happy, even if it meant adding more financial strain to their lives. When Eliza got pregnant with their daughter, she was overjoyed. All she ever talked about was combing her hair and making little dresses for her. The baby was a dream come true, someone else for her gentle heart to love.
George got the call one night while he was out at happy hour. By the time he got there, the doctors had formed an imposing circle around Eliza, and were already explaining what little chance of survival Grace (that was the name they gave her) had. Eliza went through the pains of labor to deliver a baby she ultimately knew wouldn’t make it. While she was going through the physical agony, George was fighting his own fight. Seeing her writhe and cry in pain was enough for him to want to disappear. His mouth was dry, and his belly was brimming with sadness. He watched the light disappear from his wife’s eyes as the tiny baby took her last labored breaths. The room became a dark hole. It was as if the baby left and took everyone with her. Eliza’s long hair covered her like a dark cloak as she turned around in the fragile hospital bed, shielding her eyes from the sight of the tiny husk.. She refused to let the nurses clean her up until the next day. In those moments, George felt terrible for not being overly excited about his baby, and even blamed himself for what happened.
That’s what made Yoli so special.
“I have to leave tonight. Jim left, and Katie is falling apart. You and the boys will have to do without me for a few days. She needs me. I can’t be worried about who hasn’t taken their vitamins while my sister is trying to figure out how to be a single mother.” George rubbed Eliza’s back, trying to calm her down. “Go ahead, honey. Just leave me the sitter’s number because I have a meeting tomorrow night.” Eliza gave George a perfunctory kiss on the lips and went to pack her things. He wasn’t terrified about taking care of his sons, but it was something he had never done alone. Jonas was easy. He enjoyed spending time alone, coloring or playing with his blocks.
Yoli was the one who commanded all the attention. He wore flame at the crown of his head, drawing people in from all over. He was magnetic, spellbinding even.
George dropped Eliza off at the airport later that evening. The sitter stayed with the kids while he was away. Before hunkering down on the couch and contemplating his plans for the next few days, he went into each room and looked at his boys.
George didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke up, the sun’s rays were beaming into the den. He jumped up and took a shower, thinking it best he get ready for the day before waking Jonas and Yoli for school. He made a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and raisin toast for them while his hair dripped all over the kitchen. He couldn’t bother with a styling routine today. He was in unfamiliar territory and wanted to do things right, so he wouldn’t face any criticism from Eliza once she returned. Sad or not, she knew how to find his shortcomings and shine floodlights on them.
After watching the children eat, he decided to just take the day off and stay home with Yoli. He hadn’t been off in months. George and Yoli walked Jonas to school. Once the dishes were clean, George thought they might head to the park for a little playground fun. He sat the boy down with a puzzle so he could pack the dishwasher. Thinking some tunes might speed things along, he put on a little music. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice came booming from the speakers. He swayed his body to the music as he swished the plates in the sudsy water. What happened next made filaments of heat flow through his fingers. Yoli came up next to him and put his hand on his father’s leg. He said, “I love when you play this song.” Not only was it a pretty hefty sentence for little Yoli who barely ever put more than two words together, but it wasn’t in his voice. It was the voice of a little girl.