As I drive away from the airport, Nic describes his flight. "It was the worst," he says. "I was stuck next to a lady who wouldn't stop talking. She had platinum hair with peaks like on lemon meringue pie. Cruella De Vil horn-rimmed eyeglasses and prune lips and thick pink face powder."
"Cruella De Vil?" Jasper asks. He is wide-eyed.
Nic nods. "Just like her. Her eyelashes were long and false—purple, and she wore this perfume: Eau de Stinky." He holds his nose. "Yech." The kids are rapt.
We drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. A river of thick fog pours below us and wraps around the Marin Headlands. Jasper asks, "Nic, are you coming to Step-Up?" referring to his and Daisy's upcoming graduation celebration. The kids are stepping up from second grade to third and kindergarten to first grade.
"Wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China," Nic responds.
Daisy asks, "Nic, do you remember that girl Daniela? She fell off the climbing structure and broke her toe."
"She has a cast," Jasper adds.
"A cast on her toe?" Nic asks. "It must be teeny."
Jasper gravely reports, "They will cut it off with a hacksaw."
They all giggle.
After a while, Nic tells them, "I have something for you kiddos. In my suitcase."
"When we get home," he responds.
They beg him to tell them what, but he shakes his head. "No way, José. It's a surprise."
I can see the three of them in the rearview mirror. Jasper and Daisy have smooth olive complexions. Nic's was, too, but now it's gaunt and rice-papery. Their eyes are brown and clear, whereas his are dark globes. Their hair is dark brown, but Nic's, long and blond when he was a child, is faded like a field in late summer with smashed-down sienna patches and sticking-up yellowed clumps—a result of his unfortunate attempt to bleach it with Clorox.
"Nic, will you tell us a P.J. story?" Jasper begs. For years Nic has entertained the kids with The Adventures of P.J. Fumblebumble, a British detective of his invention.
"Later, mister, I promise."