Chubby and crew cut, with big glasses, Andy looked more like the Michelin man than the athlete I had pictured as Ivor’s companion. But the calm, gentle way he took my hand, made me like him right away.
The pair lived in a stucco house from the 1920s, half way up the Oakland hills, with hardwood floors, moldings, baseboards, a built-in china cabinet. The smell of pizza hit us the moment we stepped inside. Andy had baked a homemade crust and stewed a sauce with fresh tomatoes.
The kids, I suppose, couldn’t tell the difference between that and Round Table, but after Penny and Matt’s starvation diet, I was happy to help myself to a fourth slice. Andy smiled shyly at me. “Glad you like it,” he said. “No, that’s okay, there’s plenty. Have some more salad?”
The kids soon took off for Gabriel’s and Megan’s rooms. In a moment paper airplanes were twisting down the stairwell to where the three of us sat swapping stories of parenthood. “You should see Megan when she’s angry.” Andy smiled and shook his head. “She turns purple, opens her mouth and nothing comes out for a good count of ten. You’re standing there, waiting and she’s just frozen in that pose, mouth gaping, as if trying to remember how to do it, and then all of a sudden comes the most piercing yowl you ever heard.”
“Oh, well!” A memory came back to me. “I know where she gets that.
It’s exactly the word we used. ‘Ivor’s yowl.’” I turned to Ivor. “Remember that?”
“No,” said Ivor.
“Oh, come on. I bet you still do it once in a while.”
I was helping myself to a little more Cabernet when a sound like a lion with a megaphone blasted me so suddenly I knocked my glass over with the bottle.
“Oh, Ivor!” Andy leapt up for a sponge.
There was a rustle of footsteps on the stairs and in a moment all four kids had appeared. “Dad!” Gabriel said. “Why did you do your yowl?”
“Aunt Adrienne asked me to.”
“Do it again,” said Dante.
“I don’t want to scare Chloe.”
Chloe grabbed my leg. “I like noises,” she said.
“Ivor, no,” said Andy.
But once again Ivor unleashed the monster. Dishes seemed to tremble on the table. Chloe hid her face in my lap.
“Sorry,” Ivor said. He leaned over to smile at her. “See, just me. Don’t be scared.”
Chloe’s voice came muffled. “I’m not.”
“Again,” said Gabriel.
“Enough!” said Andy. “Or I’m going to call the Animal Control Department.” He collected up the plates and headed for the kitchen.
“Go on upstairs,” Ivor said to the kids. “Start putting your toys away if you want time for a book.”
Megan, Dante and Gabriel hurried back upstairs. Chloe climbed on to me, finger in her mouth.
“Sorry about that,” Ivor said.
“Oh, she’s fine,” I said. “You’re good at this.”
Ivor said nothing, stuffing a napkin into its ring.
Andy reappeared with a dishtowel in his hand. “Can we use you as a witness?”
“Why? Is there a hearing?”
“Not yet,” Andy said. “But we’re heading there.”
Andy leaned on the back of a chair. “You know, Julia lives only a couple of miles away from here. She’s single. She complains constantly about juggling her job and her kids. She has them in daycare half the time, which she – we – can’t really afford. But she won’t think of letting them live here.”
I turned to Ivor. “You’re trying to get custody?”
“You remember I said Goal Number One was finding Andy? Goal Number Two is getting to see my children every day. Or at least every week. I would love to have them live with me at least part time, say in the summer. But Julia won’t go along with that. She’s still very wounded. And I don’t want to fight with her. Right now, I’m just getting to the point where she can trust me enough to let go sometimes.”
“Tell Adrienne about your commune idea,” Andy said.
Ivor swiveled to frown at him.
“What?” Andy spread his hands innocently.
I turned to Ivor. “Commune?”