We head north on the freeway, exiting and turning west, meandering through a series of small towns, a wooded state park, and then hilly pastureland. We stop in Point Reyes Station to retrieve the mail. It's impossible to be in town without running into a dozen friends, all of whom are pleased to see Nic, bombarding him with questions about school and his summer plans. Finally we drive off and follow the road along Papermill Creek to our left turn, where I head up the hill and pull into our driveway.
"We have a surprise, too, Nicky," says Daisy.
Jasper looks sternly at her. "Don't you tell him!"
"It's signs. We made them."
Lugging his bags, Nic follows the kids into the house. The dogs charge him, barking and howling. At the top of the stairs, Nic is greeted by the kids' banners and drawings, including a hedgehog, captioned, "I miss Nic, boo hoo," drawn by Jasper. Nic praises their artistry and then trudges into his bedroom to unpack. Since he left for college, his room, a Pompeian red chamber at the far end of the house, has become an adjunct playroom with a display of Jasper's Lego creations, including a maharaja's castle and motorized R2-D2. Preparing for his return, Karen cleared off Daisy's menagerie of stuffed animals and made up the bed with a comforter and fresh pillows.
When Nic emerges, his arms are loaded with gifts. For Daisy, there are Josefina and Kirsten, American Girl dolls, hand-me-downs from his girlfriend. They are prettily dressed in, respectively, an embroidered peasant blouse and serape and a green velvet jumper. Jasper gets a pair of cannon-sized Super Soakers.
"After dinner," Nic warns Jasper, "you will be so wet that you will have to swim back into the house."
"You'll be so wet you'll need a boat."
"You'll be wetter than a wet noodle."
"You'll be so wet that you won't need a shower for a year."
Nic laughs. "That's fine with me," he says. "It'll save me a lot of time."