"Auntie, do you have someone you love?", Tracy's six year old niece casually asked her on their outing. Tracy knew what Emma was really wanting to know, but chose to answer her in an auntie sort of way. "I love Grams and Papa, your mommy and daddy, Uncle Drew and Uncle Jake,", she responded. "And of course, you little munchkin, I love you the best!." Tracy tickled her as she said that. Through peels of laughter, Emma declared, "and ice cream. You love ice cream!" Love really is a funny word, particularly when discussed with a six year old. Of course Emma wanted to know if she had a someone to love like her mom and dad loved each other, or as the child's grandparents, Tracy's parents loved each other. Even her brothers, Drew at twenty four, and Jake at 20 had significant others. Yet Tracy, not wholeheartedly content with her life in the relationship department, the eldest in the family, approaching 30, had nobody to love in that way.
Really, there never has been a significant other. The longest dating streak with anyone she had was a little over a year, and that went back to college. Moving several times for her career, and now, what she hoped was a longer term move to Chicago, it seemed like a good time to think again about settling down. Having her niece visit for the weekend was stirring all kinds of nesting instincts she had been suppressing.
Tracy's sister Melanie and her husband Jason were celebrating their 5th anniversary this month. High School and college sweethearts, they learned they were expecting Emma right before college graduation. It took a couple years before they officially married, though seem to have been a married couple since they were both 17. For the official anniversary, the couple thought it would be a good weekend to make the six hour drive to Chicago to see Tracy's new condo, and perhaps snatch some free babysitting while they took a couple days and nights exploring the city. They wanted to come the weekend after Valentine's Day, assuming everything would be overpriced or overbooked the weekend before. Tracy was over the moon with the prospect of one on one time with her niece, and planned a Chicago weekend of their own.
Having never been on a train of any kind in her short six years, Emma was fascinated by the "L". They had a great time exploring the Chicago Children's Museum, visited the Navy pier, and ate Chicago deep dish pizza. Though Emma liked the sauce cheese on top, she said very definitively that pizza is supposed to be flat. "Chicago is famous for this kind of pizza, and I love it", Tracy responded, with a poor word choice. Over pizza and lemonade, the word "love" reminded the child she still wanted answers. She didn't let up on the love question. It didn't help that the remnants from Valentines's Day were still sprinkled throughout the city.
"Yeah, you can love pizza, but why don't you have someone like daddy or papa?" The child thought a bit more, remembering something. "You don't have to have a boy to love. Libby has two mom's instead of a mom and dad." This was followed by, "Daddy thinks you should get a cat. I heard him telling mommy that." Great, Tracy thought, not yet 30 and already labeled the spinster aunt. Not wanting to get defensive to a child, but also wanting to impart a few gems of wisdom, she thought how she should respond.
"Em, there's a lot of people that I could find to love like that. I just haven't yet. Until then, I am so lucky that I have all kinds of other people that I love and make me happy." She paused, seeing the wheels spinning behind her niece's eyes. "I have friends that I love and spend time with. I love having adventures in my new home, like we are having today. I love that you came to visit me." For the moment, this seemed to satisfy the child.
It had been a full day, so they called it done at about 6:00 and headed home to make mac and cheese, popcorn, and watch a movie. Emma was out within 15 minutes of the DVD beginning. They slept in a bit before heading out for Sunday brunch and a trip to the science museum, before meeting Emma's parents back at her place. They decided through text messages on a meal together of Chinese take out before the family got back on the road for home. The subject of love stayed at bay for a long while until Emma saw her parents again. Tracy had left them the code and keys to her place, and they were already there when the wanderers got back, take out food in hand.
Emma gave both parents a hug, and started telling them very quickly all about her weekend with Auntie. Her parents were amazed at the detail she recalled, and smiled at Tracy, her sister mouthing "Thank you," at least a couple times. Then, out of the mouths of babe, love made its way back in the conversation. "And daddy,", Emma went on, "Tracy may not want a cat. She has to save room for someone else to love. That guy will need to love pizza and she hasn't found him yet." Love is a simple and complex, funny word.
This short story is part of the Write and Link project at In the Writer's Closet. We take the cue of the month, and the lovely Natalia opens up a portal for us budding writers to share our hopeful gems of creativity. Please join in as a reader or a contributor. It's great fun!