He comes through the door brown as a berry, with hats made out of balloons, for his sisters, and a shark-tooth necklace. I grab him up and breathe in the boy smell of his hair until he pulls away, announcing: "Mom! I have something for you, too!" and digs around in his backpack before presenting me, proudly, with a bag of Dr.-Pepper jelly beans.
He doesn't know his homecoming is enough gift.
Without complaint, he plays Candy Land with his sister (who introduced herself, a few days ago, as: "Clementine. Oh my darlin' Clementine").
We haven't a fattened calf, but we eat fish sticks, popcorn shrimp, and smiley-face french fries, and, for dessert, we twist up and salt thick pretzels that we eat hot out the oven. He helps me tuck in the Wild Orange, who settles without complaint and offers him both cheeks for the kissing, and he and I play Guitar Hero.
Someday I will feel as confident and easy in his departing as in his arriving, but, for now, "hello" feels particularly sweet. I breathe properly for the first time in over a week as he crowds me on the couch and laughs his infectious laugh.
I can scarcely rip my eyes away from him, and I thank God over and over for sending him home, and I pray: no matter how grand his adventures, please help me make this a place of many happy returns.