The Costa Rican sun peeked through the clouds in the azure sky and a strong breeze rustled the palm trees and long grasses bordering the park. Sara lay back on the picnic rug and smiled as two small arms wrapped themselves more tightly around her waist.
“Te amo Mommy,” Mike said happily.
“I love you too, tiger. I thought you were asleep,” she replied as he nuzzled into her neck.
“There are too many animals in the sky for that,” Mike replied, matter-of-factly. “Besides, I’m too big for naps.”
Sara gazed up at the gathering clouds, realising that the late afternoon storm of the rainy season would soon spoil their fun. “What animals can you see?” she asked, always intrigued by her son’s amazing spatial awareness and imagination.
“Hmmm,” Mike pondered, wondering where to start. He pointed to the right. “That cloud – see on the far right, Mommy? That one has a tail and there are its arms.” He sat up and reached for her arm, using her index finger as a pointer. “That’s its head and there is its belly. So, that’s the first monkey,” he announced triumphantly.
“How many monkeys are there?” Sara asked and giggled at his raised eyebrows and exasperated sigh as he informed her that there were five.
“That one there is like the spider monkey we saw at the National Park near where Daddy is sleeping,” Mike told her, “See it has a shorter tail and look it’s trying to eat a snake.” He pulled a face imagining what it would be like to eat snake guts.
“Your Daddy could climb like a monkey,” Sara told him, remembering Michael’s strong arms protecting her through so many troubles.
“Well, not exactly like a monkey,” Mike broke into her reverie, “because he didn’t have a tail to use for balance.”
“No,” Sara smiled, looking adoringly into two inquisitive eyes that reminded her very much of her late husband’s steel-blue ones.
Mike wriggled and twisted around to watch for approaching cars. Sara noticed him rubbing his face, “You okay, sport?” she asked at once, grabbing a handkerchief and checking to see if his nose was bleeding.
“Don’t worry, Mommy, my nose just had an itch,” Mike replied and then darted to his feet and raced down the slope.
“Uncle Linc! Uncle Linc”, Mike shouted running across the bright green grass.
Lincoln was barely out of his pick-up truck. He passed the box to LJ, winked at Sofia and then bent down to scoop up his delighted nephew.
“Whoa! You’re getting big!” Lincoln exclaimed, swinging Mike through the air.
“And I’m getting old,” his nephew reminded him excitedly. “Guess how old I am today?”
Lincoln carried him towards the picnic rug where Sara was embracing Sofia and LJ. He held up four fingers. Mike frowned in a very familiar way and shook his head as if offended. It reminded Lincoln of all the times that Michael had tried to help him to pass Math tests.
“Plus one,” Mike told him.
“You’re one?” Lincoln teased him.
Mike giggled and pushed up his uncle’s thumb. “I’m five!” he exclaimed, counting his uncle’s large fingers aloud.
Lincoln made a game of pretending to drop Mike into the cake box and they ended up rolling on the grass.
“Save me, LJ!” Mike called out and soon his cousin was wrestling with them as well.
“How are you really?” Sofia asked, watching Sara fighting back tears.
“I just miss Michael more on special occasions,” Sara replied, taking a few deep breaths.
“It must be so hard,” Sofia mumbled sympathetically and then tried doubly hard to distract Sara while they prepared lunch. They discussed all the storms that had blown across their shared coast line, how Linc and LJ’s Panamanian scuba shop was doing and how special Mike was.
Sara sighed and brought up the topic that was always fraught with so many perplexing questions. “He... he’s had more nose bleeds and... without my medical license... without any recognition of my professional accomplishments... I can’t seem to get the local doctors to listen to my concerns... I... I travelled over to Puerto Viejo... and took him to a facility with an MRI... but I couldn’t make it past the front counter... I must admit that I made... that I got a little desperate...”
Sofia tilted her head to one side and Sara was relieved that Lincoln’s girlfriend was always so willing to listen, rather than to judge.
“I... I paced up and down that waiting room a lot... thinking it over, from every angle... wondering what Michael would have done... I even found myself... willing Mike to show symptoms.... as awful as that sounds...”
Sofia placed a steadying hand on Sara’s arm, “A mother knows when her child is ill. All of my friends always have to push to get their little ones seen to.”
“Yes,” Sara nodded. “I... I put in a call to the Congressional District Committee... to District 7... to tell Paul Kellerman that I had information... and needed his help...Mike needs to be repatriated...”
“Oh, Sara,” Sofia placed her arms around her troubled friend. “You... you must realise that...”
“He can’t keep you out of Miami Dade Correctional Facility!”
Sara looked up to see Lincoln seething with anger.
“Don’t say something that you will regret, Linc,” Sofia calmly replied, a worried, yet stern look flashing from her deep brown eyes.
“I... Mike is ill, Linc... you know my concerns...” Sara murmured.
Lincoln bristled, “And you know what Michael did to give you this freedom!”
“And I haven’t compromised that freedom, Lincoln!” Sara exclaimed indignantly. “I bought a non-traceable cell and
I’m trying to make a deal with them!”
Mike began a fairly uncharacteristic high-pitched tantrum and Sara rushed over to comfort him. He had covered his ears with his hands. “No yelling! No! No!”
Sara hugged him close and rocked him back and forth. “It’s over,” she repeated. “Uncle Linc and I just misunderstood each other is all...”
LJ squatted down beside them and tapped Mike on the shoulder. “Guess what kind of cake Sofia made you?” he asked, smiling, knowing what it was like for the kid to watch his family fighting.
“Chocolate?” Mike mumbled, drying his eyes.
“Yes, but what shape is it?” LJ asked. “What’s your favourite animal?”
“A monkey?” It was then that Mike sat right up and they all saw the tell-tale cascade of blood from his nostril running onto Sara’s shoulder.
She set about wiping at his nose, while LJ tried to distract Mike with his best impersonation of a primate. She glanced up to see the same panic that was clutching at her chest mirrored in Lincoln’s eyes.
“My favourite animal is not just any monkey,” Mike proclaimed, darting after LJ and Sofia towards the cake box on the picnic rug.
Sara stood trying to clean off her son’s blood. “I... I have nightmares about this.” She looked down at her hands soiled by blood.
“Me, too,” Lincoln muttered. “I’m sorry, Sara... I just worry that you contacting the Feds will... will lead to... this...” he indicated the blood.
“I know, Linc,” she accepted the handkerchief he passed her and tried to sponge more of the blood from her pale yellow shirt. “You yell because you care.”
“Yep...” Lincoln agreed. “So... I could take Mike to the States... I could... say that you feared recapture but you wanted me to seek medical care for him... I mean, I’ve got a full pardon, plus compensation from Illinois and the Feds... so it’s not like...he would want for anything...”
Sara reached for his hand, “I could never ask you to do all that, Lincoln... What if you became a target to ex-Company operatives? What about LJ and Sofia?”
“What about you and Mike?” Lincoln said, squeezing her hand.
“The truth is,” Sara swallowed over the lump in her throat, “I could not bear to lose him... to not be there if... if this is a congenital anomaly and he got worse...”
“The very person who drove you and Mike apart in his last months... carried this genetic time-bomb...” Lincoln fumed, angry at Christina, frustrated with how powerless he felt.
“We’ll talk more after the Birthday Boy is asleep,” Sara said, putting on a brave smile and yanking her brother-in-law towards the picnic.
“Mommy! Uncle Linc! It’s a Costa Rican Spider Monkey!”
Sara and Linc sank into the soft grass beside LJ and watched Mike’s face glowing above the small ring of candles.
After a very loud rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, Mike blew out the candles.
“What did you wish for, buddy?” Linc asked him curiously.
“Never tell,” Sofia whispered, “or it won’t come true.”
“I already wished for something that can never come true,” Mike replied a little sadly, running a finger along his father’s wedding ring.
Sara tucked the chain back into his shirt and tried to find the right words to say.
“Can I eat the monkey’s eyeballs?” Lincoln asked, earning him a grateful smile from Sara and the others.
“Yuck! You’re gross, Uncle Linc!” Mike giggled.
“Los monos son divertidos,” Sofia said, smiling affectionately at him.
“Yes, monkeys are funny,” Mike agreed, “and they can swing up really high in trees! Even higher than you can, Uncle Linc!”
“We’ll see about that after lunch, Mike,” Lincoln winked at him.
The group was so engrossed in eating their picnic lunch and nibbling on the cake that they did not see the man approaching their quiet green haven. The stranger reached into a knapsack and pulled out his camera. He snapped several photographs and then quietly retreated.
Chapter End Notes: