Butterflies and Kittens
My Give and Take was Butterflies and Kittens.
Thanks Annie for the beta, naturally all mistakes are still mine.
Jack yawned, and stretching, looked through the kitchen window at the pair of canoodling birds on his outdoor table, and smiled his encouragement. "O-ookay, campers, looks like it's going to be a beautiful day!"
Spring was his favorite time of the year and a lazy brunch his favourite meal. Taking a mouthful of coffee, he called Sara to say hello, reminding her to expect the O'Neill's within the hour.
"Hey, so you're awake?" Jack resisted the urge to bang the receiver on his forehead.
"Darn it all! You guessed! Tell me, what was the give away? Me actually answering the phone?" Sara's throaty chuckle flew down the phone.
"Yeah, so, I'll pick you up soon as the kids get ready. Oh, Jack Benny? Piece of advise, wear nothing that doesn't wash real well." Grinning, he reminded her of the chocolate shake and cream silk blouse incident
The previous brunch they'd enjoyed at Starbucks, Dan and Cam had smuggled in banned tiny rubber balls. Burning holes in their jean pockets, the naughty little boys had waited for Jack to leave and pay the bill before bouncing them with gusto onto the hard-board floor. The two red balls went *ka-ping*, and flew into the air while Sara watched them descend, landing neatly into the middle of her mostly untouched chocolate thick shake. Disaster had ensued.
"Oh no!" squawked Daniel.
"Shazaam!" squeaked Cameron.
"Oh, for Pete's sake!" hissed Sara.
"What in God's name is going on here?" demanded Jack.
Wincing at the memory of finger pointing, blame-sharing children, snippy waitresses, and disapproving patrons, Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, best I remember to frisk `em first."
The brunch with Sara had been the first outdoor activity without being rugged up in winter gear for months, and everyone was excited to be free of the heavy clothes. The boys had endured the long Colorado winters with good grace, but tiring of inside games, were itching to get out and about again. Bike riding after a lazy brunch with Sara seemed like the perfect treat for them all, and when she readily agreed, a date had been made.
Over hearing the conversation, Danny and Cam had been ecstatic. Dancing around their bedroom, they took a brotherly vow to be extra good and not risk losing any green stars. Finally, after crossing one day at a time off the fridge calendar, Saturday arrived, and Jack found himself as eager as the boys.
Standing at the foot of the stairs, Jack called out for Daniel and Cameron to get their toushies out of bed and dressed. With a sigh, he resigned himself for the inevitability of squabbles while claiming tooth brushes, cleanish jeans and hopefully, even cleaner shirts. Thinking about climbing the stairs and brokering a peace, he opted for calling out once more. "Boys? If we are going to see Sara for pancakes this millennium, best you get those completely dressed butts of yours down here!"
Jack shook his head at the sound of bare feet thundering across their bedroom floors, and called out the age old paternal warning. "No running down the-"
He bit off the rest of his sentence as he heard the galumphing down the stairs and groaned at the sight of his ragamuffin kids grinning in the doorway. Danny bounced into the room first, shirt buttoned crookedly, while Cammie wore his jersey back to front. Crooking a finger and motioning for Cam to come closer, Jack pulled the excited boy onto his knee and breathed in the smell of the bubblegum shampoo they'd used the night before. The whiff unexpectedly triggered a long forgotten memory, and only half listening to the boys chatter, Jack let his mind wander back to another small boy whose bed-hair always smelt of bubblegum shampoo.
Glancing outside into the new morning, Jack lifted a hand to shade his eyes. A monarch butterfly landed briefly before flying away, and he murmured to himself, Butterflies and kittens. With a sigh, he closed his eyes for a minute and was transported back to another spring day a decade before.
Sarah sang along with the morning radio before moving the curtains back to check on Jack and Charlie working in the yard. Mother Nature had outdone herself and revealed another stunning spring day, and after enduring a particularly brutal Colorado winter, they had all been keen to get out and about once more. That meant flower beds to dig, grass to cut, and fresh lemonade on tap for thirsty workers.
Sitting down earlier to feast on blueberry pancakes and chocolate milk shakes, Jack, Sara, and Charlie discussed what the new day would bring. Yard work, followed by a bike ride in the park, followed by an early barbecued supper was agreed upon, and shooing the workers outside, Sarah had rung her dad to invite him over for supper.
"Pop? Come over for an early supper? Say five? Great, love you!" Sara turned up the radio and embracing the day, sung while preparing food for the impromptu family get together.
Working outside, cutting the grass and weeding the garden as ordered, Jack and Charlie chatted. Eventually the conversation came around to the local little league, and Charlie's hints to have his daddy stick around and coach. Jack smiled sadly and deftly changed the subject, knowing he could promise nothing. He was lucky to get the leave he got, and so looked around for something to take the little boy's mind away from his staying.
"Charlie! Come here, but you have to be real quiet, okay?" A monarch butterfly had settled on the azalea shrub near Jack's hand, and shaking its colorful wings showed how beautiful nature had made it. "Don't touch, but butterflies means spring is really here!"
"Oh! It's so pretty! Can I touch it?" Charlie reached out a hand only to have it gently captured by his daddy's larger one.
"Monarchs are springs special gift to us, Charlie. It means new life, so, don't touch it."
Charlie nodded, wise beyond his years. "Spring time means butterflies and kittens, doesn't it?" The next door neighbor's cat had had kittens the previous day, and sneaking a look at the tiny creatures, Charlie was told he could look, but wasn't to touch.
Jack raised an eyebrow, and was once again surprised by the wise little soul he'd helped make. "Butterflies and kittens, huh?" Looking over at his five-year-old son's freckled face, Jack's heart constricted with love and pride he knew would last forever. "I guess that's exactly what springtime means."
Fate will never be denied though, and one spectacular spring day five years later, Jack and Sara's life changed for ever. An insatiable curiosity meant Charlie forgot his father's warnings, and his childish foolishness caused the magic of spring to die along with him. Lazy family barbeques, bike rides in the park, blueberry pancakes with chocolate milk shakes now belonged to another time, and heart-broken, Sara found herself adrift.
Jack struggled on alone, and slurring over an empty glass of whiskey one day, winced at the sound of birdsong outside his window. Getting to his feet and crashing drunkenly to the ground, he sobbed, remembering when the sounds of spring had meant nothing more than monarch butterflies and newborn kittens.
Years passed so quickly, and a born survivor, Jack put away his self pity and forced himself to make a new life. Life became very different for the soldier, and a new family appeared one day, and despite his reluctance, chipped away at his frozen heart. They needed him more than ever, and unable to stop himself from caring, Jack found a reason to live once more.
One day, sitting in a plush office in Washington, fate stepped up to the plate again, and at the age of fifty, General O'Neill found himself a daddy once more. Two freckled faced children bounded into his life, and embracing them, a family was re-born.
Jack's life changed for the better, and reconnecting with Sara, springtime became his favorite season once more. He never forgot Charlie, and once a year, he was always reminded of kittens and butterflies, and a time for forgiveness.