The house felt different right away when Timmy woke up.
Colder, darker, and it smelled funny.
The boy rubbed his eyes and clutched his teddy bear as he shuffled down the long hallway toward the kitchen. Shadows played on the walls, and soft rustling filled the air, accompanied by the occasional faint clank of a dish.
“Momma?” Timmy stepped into the dim light.
“Hey, sport.” Daddy turned from the stove and smiled at his son standing in the doorway. “This is the day Mom is going to visit Aunt Peggy, remember? It’s just you and me.”
Timmy vaguely recalled his mother telling him about her trip, but he had been too busy playing or watching TV to really take it in. How was he going to survive a day without her? Daddy was always at work, so what did he know about taking care of a little boy?
“Why don’t you pull up a chair to the table, Tim? Breakfast is almost ready,” Daddy said.
Timmy looked at his father for a beat. No one had ever called him “Tim.” It made him feel special, somehow. Like a grownup. He set his bear on one chair, then took his seat at the table.
“What are we having?” Timmy looked around the room. The table was bare, there were no pancakes or sausages or bacon on the counter, no milk jug, no orange juice. Just Daddy standing in front of a sauce pan at the stove.
“Macaroni and cheese!” Daddy beamed. “It’s my secret recipe. Guaranteed to be the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever eaten.”
Timmy wasn’t sure what to make of it all — macaroni and cheese was macaroni and cheese, as far as he knew, and you sure didn’t eat it for breakfast! What sort of secret thing could Daddy be doing to it that made it better than everyone else’s?
It was the worst macaroni and cheese Timmy had ever eaten — dry … crunchy in some places, mushy in others … not enough cheese … the wrong kind of cheese … smothered with spices he had never tasted before … and the color was strange, like mashed potatoes mixed with orange Kool-Aid.
And to wash it down? Coca-Cola. Timmy was sure Momma wouldn’t approve. But Momma wasn’t there.
So the two Franklin men sat there and talked over a macaroni and cheese breakfast that Timmy though might kill their dog if he got hold of it. They talked about school and baseball, and even Daddy’s job, a little.
“It’s a good job, Timmy. It’s honest work, lets me pay the bills and take care of you and Mom.”
Timmy nodded, not sure he understood, but feeling safe in Daddy’s confidence.
The rest of that Saturday was a blur of nothing at all that added up to the best day of Timmy’s young life.
He and daddy went for a walk, they played catch, they washed Freddie the dog, they ate bologna for lunch and fish sticks for supper.
And, when it was dark, Daddy told Timmy a story. His deep, soothing voice cradled the boy all the way to sleep.
Sometime in the night, Timmy heard Momma come home, and heard his parents talking. He could just make out Daddy saying something about “breakfast” and “stomachache” and “can’t eat that again.”
Momma giggled, and Timmy drifted off again.
The house felt different right away as Tim walked up the front steps.
Darker, colder … silent.
Tim rang the doorbell. Waited. Rang again. He shifted the small box he was carrying from one hand to the other.
After a minute or so, feet shuffled inside. The door creaked open, and Dad’s tired, grieving eyes met Tim’s.
“Hi, Dad,” Tim said. “I brought breakfast.”
He held up the macaroni and cheese box and shook it gently.
“I thought, maybe, you could teach me that secret recipe of yours.”