The story so far:
I awoke the next morning to the sound of cartoons on the television and smoked bacon frying in the kitchen. For a split second I was at peace with myself and with the whole world.
I remembered delicious mornings with hot chocolate and kisses; the cup in one hand and my other hand reaching around Susan's waist with maybe just a hint of my thumb brushing against her left breast, and my head trying to burrow through her brown hair to reach her soft neck. She'd swat me away saying, "You're insatiable" or "Don't make me burn this bacon!"
Later, I'd sit in the living room with Megan on one knee and Andrew on the other and spur on Dora the Explorer to reach the heights and recapture what was stolen by Swiper the Fox.
"Swiper no swiping!" "Swiper no swiping!" "Swiper no swiping!"
The sound of the children yelling was not in my head. This was real. I pinched myself and it hurt. I was awake and suddenly so scared I was frozen to the bed, not able to will my legs over the edge. I heard Swiper say, "Ohhh, maaan!"
It can't be them. They laughed and I listened with all my might to discern if it was their laughter, but a spatula spanked the frying pan and water was running in the kitchen sink just loud enough to muffle the sounds of the children. Who was in the kitchen? Who was laughing? Come on, damn you! Get up!
I threw back the covers so hard the remote control for the bedroom television flew into the air and splattered onto the hardwood floor cracking the plastic and sending the batteries into a rolling free-for-all. I couldn't care less. Tears were forming in my eyes and I was angry. God damn! God damn! Who's idea of a sick joke is this?
I left my room and glanced in the bathroom, the kid's room and my office - nothing. I swung on the bannister and took the stairs two at a time. The dining room was empty and the only thing I could see in the living room was Dora hugging Boots. I passed the pantry and stopped for a second to compose myself and then entered the kitchen.
"Uh." Like a punch to the heart, the sound escaped me. She stood there with her back to me; shoulder-length brown hair, five-foot-two, olive skinned complexion. The water was running and she was filling the frying pan with soap to soak it. Four plates were ready on the counter with eggs, bacon, and toast. I fell back into the frame of the doorway as she called.
"Kids, breakfast is ready!"
"What about daddy?" they replied.
"Go wake him,"
"Okay!" they both yelled and then said, "Nevermind, he's up."
I looked behind me to see if they had cut through the dining room and had seen me, but there was no one there.
"Good morning, sleepy head."
I turned back expecting to see her smiling my way, but she was facing the living room.
"Good morning," came a man's voice deep and resonant, with a slight weariness of having just awakened.
I slid down the wall to the floor and sat there with my head spinning and my heart racing. I gagged and cupped my mouth as the preacher entered the kitchen slowly dragging Megan holding one leg and Andrew on the other. He took a cup of hot chocolate from Susan and kissed her slowly, licking her upper lip as he pulled away. He turned his head slightly and winked at me. I didn't know whether to run back upstairs, throw the covers over my head and hope to wake up again or stand up and punch him in the face and throw him out the window.
I got to my feet but before I could do anything he said, "Children, say good morning to Mr. Knox."
Susan turned and I finally saw her face. She wasn't Susan. I blinked and looked at the kids. Megan wasn't Megan and Andrew wasn't Andrew.
"Good morning, sir," they chimed in unison.
"Good morning, Mr. Knox," the woman said. "I hope you're hungry?"