Emily kept the twins busy in the backyard, for as long as she could. They used the chalk to make hopscotch, toy car roads, and show her they could write numbers and letters. Eventually, they grew bored and warm and trooped back in the house.
Kara beamed at Emily as she refilled her coffee cup from the carafe. “I got all the laundry put away! Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get to that?” She lowered her voice and muttered with a mix of real and mock embarrassment, “It’s been… days. Many of them.”
Emily smiled understandingly. If the twins kept their mother as busy as they’d just kept her–not to mention the sleeping baby upstairs–it was little wonder there hadn’t been time for the laundry yet.
Kara offered her coffee. “It’s decaf,” she shrugged and took a big swig of her own mug. “Little peanut gets cranky if I have caffeine in my system.”
Right on cue, the baby’s fussy voice floated over the small baby monitor reciever near Kara.
Emily declined coffee and instead asked if there were books she could read to the boys. Kara nodded and told the twins to go pick out a book each as she headed up the stairs to feed the baby.
Emily sat down in the living room and listened as the twins’ feet thundered around upstairs.
Apparently there’s a lot more to finding one’s favorite book than I thought.
The thundering increased in volume as they raced each other down the stairs, and Kara’s voice called after them, “No running on the stairs!”
Emily made a mental note of the family rule. She’d help remind the twins.
They each presented a book to her, and she was amused by the difference in their selections. One was a story about a dump truck, and the other was a non-fiction picture book about insects.
She started with the dump truck story and then gritted her teeth through the bug book. Insects were no stranger to her, but that didn’t mean she had to like them.
Just as she finished reading the book’s many small captions and closed the book on a final photo of some particularly squishy-looking larvae, her phone buzzed in her back pocket. She pulled it out and flipped it open to read a text from Izzy, one of the few people who had her new burner number.
New coded messages just released. Radio was talking about them. Multiple short ones this time.
Izzy had gotten her hooked on trying to decode the mysterious messages being put out anonymously. So far, they had never solved one, much less been the first to do so, but they still perked up each time a new one was released.
“Cool! Talk later!” she tapped out on the numberpad of the flip phone. Once she hit send, she became aware of the twins watching her intently.
“What is that?” they asked.
“A phone,” she said.
“It doesn’t look like a phone.”
“Why does it fold in half?”
“Why is the screen so little?”
“Why does it have so many buttons?”
“Where do you put it on your ear?”
Emily laughed and demonstrated for them, answering their rapid-fire questions.
Kara joined them in the living room, patting the baby on her shoulder. “Imagine what they’d think of a landline!” she said.
“Probably about the same as I thought of my grandma’s rotary phone.”
“Oh, that goes way back!” Kara exclaimed.
“Yeah, she liked to hang onto stuff like that.”
They chatted a little, with Kara seeming to enjoy conversation that didn’t revolve around dump trucks or bugs.
“I’d like to get dinner going before you go, if you have time for that,” she finally said. “It’s just a simple dump-it-in-the-pressure-cooker thing.”
Emily nodded. “Absolutely!”
Kara held out the baby and she took him with a smile. “Aren’t you just the cutest thing ever!” she exclaimed.
“We like him, don’t we, boys!” Kara said, heading into the kitchen.
The twins cheered their approval of their baby brother loudly enough Emily covered the little one’s ears. After a slight start, he seemed completely unfazed.
Kara clattered around the kitchen, moving fast with efficiency Emily guessed was born of necessity.
She kept the twins engaged in conversation so they wouldn’t interfere with their mother’s dinner prep. One of them was talking a stuttering blue streak about what she thought were “magic beans.”
“Do you mean jumping beans?” she queried, absently patting the baby’s back. He let out a sudden burp so loud it made both the twins jump and then scream with laughter.
“Mommy! Sam burped!”
“I heard!” Kara said from the kitchen. She then peeked her head around the corner and explained to Emily, “It’s notable because this baby hardly ever burps.”
“Oh, interesting!” Emily said. “I thought babies always burped after eating.”
“Not this baby!” Kara said with amusement, returning to the kitchen.
Emily thought the mysterious, garbled discussion of “magic beans” was over since the gaseous interruption from Sam, but the boys picked up right where they’d left off.
“No jumping beans!” they insisted.
“Okay,” Emily said, still unsure what they were talking about. “Can you show me instead of telling me?”
The boys nodded and scurried into the kitchen.
“Mommy, we need the baby momitor! We gotta show Miss Emmy!”
Before their mother could reply, they had snagged it and returned to Emily in the living room.
“See the b-b-b for ‘ball’?” they told her, holding the monitor so close to Emily’s face her eyes crossed. She moved it slightly back so she could focus on the switch on the side of the monitor receiver. It was labeled “A” and “B” –currently set to “A.”
“I see it,” she said.
“On a-a-a for ‘apple’ we can hear Baby Sam. On b-b-b for ‘ball’ we can hear the magic bea–“
“Let me do it!”
A tugging match broke out over who would slide the switch that allegedly lead to magic… beans? Emily quickly arbitrated and asked if she could be the one to slide the switch. The twins quickly agreed and she did so one-handed. Static emanated from the receiver, since the other half was still set to channel “A”.
“Is this the magic beans, boys?” Emily asked.
“Not beans!” they protested.
At that moment, somewhere through the static, a rapid beeping started up.
“Beeps!” the twins said, triumphantly, in unison.
“Ohhh,” Emily laughed. “Magic beeps!”
She furrowed her brows and listened more closely. “Do you have paper and a… crayon or something?” she asked them.
They scrabbled to be the first to find what she’d requested. By the time they returned with a scrap of paper and half of a lime-green crayon, the beeping had stopped.
“Does it come back?” she asked them.
They nodded. “It does it again and again,” said one.
“It repeats,” Emily murmured. “On a loop, most likely.” She hurried to sit down and settle the baby against her, crayon poised over the paper.
When the beeping began again, she began scribbling dots and dashes in barely-visible lime-green wax. It took a couple tries to catch it all, since it was so fast. Luckily, the baby had gotten sleepy and didn’t wiggle, and the twins were so mystified they didn’t interrupt.
When she’d taken it all down, Emily switched the receiver back to “A” and handed it to one of the twins. “Well, boys, you discovered Morse Code!”