Crosby’s remark that he hadn’t remembered the last time when he’d come home while it was still light out echoed in Sonny’s mind as he counted the nine steps on the last turn of the dark staircase and five towards the apartment door and unlocked it into an apartment that was just as dark and quiet as the hallway. He didn’t turn the light on to sidestep a discarded pair of boots or to see where to hang his coat and put away his briefcase. Another two steps before a right turn and he didn’t even need the faint light illuminating the living room to make his way into the bedroom to change his clothes. The scattered toys from the morning posed no obstacles tonight yet, but even though it was dark, it wasn’t late and Jesse and Billie would have plenty of time to reclaim back the living room floor space when they came home from what Amanda called their outdoor Saturday afternoons.
He walked into the unpacked boxes in the bedroom but didn’t turn the light on anyway – the sweats and hoodie he was after were thrown on top of them. He had meant to finally get them unpacked earlier today, but Crosby called in a panic over his cooperating witness having been killed overnight in Rikers before Sonny even had the chance to feel, let alone enjoy, Amanda’s warmth in the bed next to him. So he crawled out of bed into the cold, dark November morning and the only daylight he got today was the little sliver of it as he was walking up to 1 Hogan Place in the morning and out in the afternoon.
His apartment hadn’t felt like home for months – sterile and cold even in the hottest days of summer – it lacked Billie’s toys all over the floor and Jesse’s pictures scattered on the kitchen island and coffee table and Frannie’s huffs and puffs around his ankles in the kitchen. And with every night he spent at Amanda’s, the evenings he’d spent alone became hollower and with every dinner and breakfast that he cooked for four, those cooked for one tasted blander and duller.
The muscle memory took over as he pulled out vegetables from the fridge and a baking sheet from the oven that he’d also turned on and he wasn’t alone for too long – he was chopping the last pieces when a key unlocked the front door and he heard Amanda instruct Billie and Jesse to take their backpacks to their room.
“I’m in the kitchen,” he called out letting them know he was here despite his shoes by the door already giving him away. “Crosby’s got it handled for now, so I ducked out early,” wiping his hands into the towel slung over his shoulder, he walked out to the hall. “I don’t get that guy – he remembers the most obscure case law, but one complication during a trial and he folds like a cheap suitcase. Hey,” he pulled her in by the waist and kissed her.
“Hi,” she greeted him back after they pulled apart and chuckled, “he’s a lawyer – of course he wants to have the case wrapped up with a bow on a silver platter.”
“Hey – I’m a lawyer,” he said but didn’t get to respond to her sneaky smile and a raised brow. Billie was tugging on his sweatpants as soon as her shoes were off, demanding her own hug hello and a kiss on the top of her hair he gladly delivered. He missed them for that short time he was here alone, but he’d gladly be the one waiting home for them if it meant welcomes like this, even with Jesse silently heaving and tears dried on her cheeks as she was going to her room.
He directed Billie towards the living room and Amanda understood the question in his raised eyebrow – the hints of teasing abandoned in her answer. “Her doll fell into a muddy puddle. She’s been crying the whole way back. I’ll clean it up, I just need to get changed first.”
The doll in question lay on the floor by the door in a dirty rainwater puddle that formed around it. Its hair was limp and clumped together, covered in a thin layer of mud left behind by the rainwater. Although the clothes needed a wash and the doll a bath, there didn’t seem to be long lasting damage, but this was Jesse’s favorite doll – the one he gave her for her fourth birthday – and she never let anyone else play with her. He understood why she was so upset about it.
“You know…let me –” Sonny said and slung the towel from his shoulder to Amanda’s, “let me talk to her. You just get dinner in the oven and I’ll deal with this.”
He answered Amanda’s question if he was sure with a kiss on her forehead and he made his way to pick up the doll and opened the door to the girl’s room. Jesse was sitting on her bed in the darkness, shoulders slumped, hands in her lap and the sight of her so sad knocked the breath out of him.
“Hey, Jess,” he whispered in the doorway, “you forgot Dot. She was sad all alone there.” He came in and crouched down by the bed when she didn’t respond. He put the doll down on the floor and stroked Jesse’s hair. “Hey, what happened?”
She took a breath, a sob lodged in her throat on the way out.
He ran a hand up and down her back, “Sh, it’s alright, Jesse.” He continued to soothe her as she calmed down enough to speak, kept reassuring her that he’s got her.
“I dropped Dot into a puddle,” she whispered, “she’s broken now.”
“She’s not broken – hey, look at me – she’s not. Do you remember when you learnt to ride a bike in the summer and you scraped your knee?” she nodded and he continued, “We cleaned it and it healed in a few days, remember that?”
“Uh-huh. It only hurt a little!”
“Yes, and Dot isn’t hurt – she just got rained on. How about we go give her a bath?”
“And then we snuggle her in a blanket?”
He agreed that they could do that, held Dot out so she could take it and hoisted Jesse up into his arms. He felt a wet stain on his shirt already, but he didn’t mind. They peaked into the kitchen to see Amanda and Billie going wild with massaging the chopped vegetables on the baking sheet with oil and herbs.
“Hey, ‘Manda, we’re taking over the bathroom for a rescue mission,” he called out to her on the way to the bathroom. “You okay over there?”
He and Jesse received a hum back from Amanda but Billie turned her head around from where she was sitting on the kitchen counter and she beamed as she was waving at them with her hands all covered in olive oil.
“Let’s put her clothes to the dirty pile,” he said once they got into the bathroom and put the plug in the sink, letting it get filled with warm water. “So what did you get up to with Momma today?” he asked her while Jesse poured a bit of her bubble bath soap and mixed it in. They soaked the doll in the water and he held it as Jesse rubbed to lather the shampoo between her hands and started to gently wash the doll’s hair.
“We were at the playground and on the slide. Billie went up the big monkey bars.”
“Oh, did she? Well, I’ll have to ask her at dinner. What did you do?”
“Maddie and Alice were there, too, we played tag.”
“Was it fun?”
“Yeah, until Dot fell. I didn’t mean to drop her, Uncle Sonny!” her voice got teary again and she splashed him in the face with sudsy water as she pulled out her hands to wipe her eyes. He caught her wrists just in time, dealing with irritated eyes from the shampoo was the last thing he wanted for her right now and reassured her that he wasn’t angry, that Dot was fine. He pulled it out from the water in the sink. It was wet but clean and he twirled it around to show Jesse.
“See? She’s as good as new now. Let’s wrap her up in that fluffy towel of yours.” Jesse nodded, grabbed the towel and they dried off Dot together. He told her to keep Dot wrapped that they’d tuck her in and hoisted Jesse up into his arms again.
She cuddled Dot close to her, tucked her head in the crook of his neck and whispered, “I’m really glad you live with us now, Uncle Sonny.”
“I’m glad I live with you, too, Jess,” he whispered in her ear and kissed her forehead. He kept his head bowed down as they made their way through the apartment. When he turned the corner to the kitchen, the sight in front of him stopped him dead in his tracks.
Billie was sitting on the kitchen counter, looking in surprise at the cloud of smoke coming from the oven and Amanda flailing a dishtowel around to disperse it and not get off the smoke alarm.
“Mommy, what happened?” Jesse asked.
“Well, I burnt dinner,” Amanda said, pointing to the baking sheet on the kitchen island and the burnt vegetables on it. She slumped her shoulders, leaned against the kitchen counter and resignedly laughed. “I turned the oven up so it’d be done quicker.”
“Rookie mistake, Rollins,” he laughed, too – no one was hurt after all. He put Jesse down and told her to go tuck Dot in and come back. “We got another rescue mission to execute here.”