It was almost time.
Wren knew because Papa had put out the fire in the big oven and sent Laurel back to her house. Soon Papa would leave to get Poppy from big kid school, which meant Mommy was coming home. He kept his eyes trained on the front door while Papa cleaned up.
"You know, she might come in through the kitchen today," Papa mused. Now Wren had two doors to watch, and Papa laughed as his curls bounced back and forth with his head. "Slow down, little bird! You’ll make yourself dizzy!" When he stopped moving, Wren discovered that he was indeed a bit woozy, and he stumbled around in funny little loops until Papa scooped him up and placed him on the counter next to the sink. "Let’s play a game." Papa pulled the dish towel out of his waistband and draped it over his son’s head. Wren laughed uproariously and pulled it off. Papa took it from his chubby fingers with a grin. "Leave it on this time, and I want you to listen for Mommy. See if you can figure out which door she’s at."
A guessing game. Papa played these all the time with Wren’s big sister, and now—finally—Wren was big enough to play, too. They weren’t as hard as the ones Poppy played, but they were fun.
Papa tried to stay as quiet as possible so Wren could listen. His tiny ears strained to pick up the smallest sound. He heard the faucet drip-dripping and one of Haymitch’s geese honking outside. But no Mommy. Papa’s heavy feet shuffling across the kitchen floor, wind blowing the leaves of the big beech tree all around. He’d just about given up when he heard the knob turn.
"Front door! Front door!" he squealed, pulling the dish towel off his face. Mommy spun in a confused circle in the entryway.
"What?! What’s at the front door?"
"You are," Papa laughed, scooping up Wren and plopping his feet on the floor so he could scurry to hug her knees before Papa got there. "We were playing a game to see which door you’d come in."
"I won!" Wren squeaked again, shooting his arms up in the air.
"Good job! Hold on a minute, baby, I’m kinda loaded up here." Papa took her bow and quiver and stored them in the front closet. Then Mommy handed him her game bag and finally bent down to pick up her little boy. "Oof! You’re getting heavy, sir!" she groaned.
"I’m growing!" he exclaimed.
"Like a weed," Papa confirmed, planting a kiss on Mommy’s mouth. "I measured him today." He pointed to the closet door, to the slashes of paint across the frame. Red for Poppy because she liked red and yellow for Wren for similar reasons. "Another half an inch."
"You’re catching up to your sister." Mommy beeped his nose. Wren buried his face into her neck and smelled her. Mommy always smelled like outside the way Papa always smelled like inside. He stayed hidden away there for a little while as Papa rummaged through her game bag. He turned so one eye could see what was going on. Papa pulled out two fat rabbits first by their ears. Poppy wouldn’t like that. "Drop those at Delly’s on your way out," Mommy instructed. There was a rule: no dead bunnies in the house. Poppy loved bunnies and never ever wanted to eat one. Wren had tried one once at Aunty Delly’s and liked it a lot. Maybe Aunty Delly would save him some of those bunnies.
Papa dropped them to the side and pulled out a huge bird with a whistle. It was bigger than any of Haymitch’s geese and covered in fancy feathers like Effie Trinket.
"It’s an Effie bird!" Wren yelled. Mommy and Papa stared at him for a second, then burst into laughter. Had he said something wrong? He didn’t think so. The greens and blues and browns looked just like Effie Trinket when she came to visit last month in her weird clothes smelling like too many flowers all at once. Mommy cooed when she saw his furrowed brow.
"You’re absolutely right, baby. That bird looks just like Effie, doesn’t he?" Papa snorted another laugh. "Maybe we’ll send her some of the feathers and she’ll turn them into a silly hat!" This made Wren laugh, too.
"Delly’s going to want all of these," Papa said.
"She can have them," Mommy shrugged, using her grown-up voice. "Whatever I don’t use for fletching. You can tell her when you stop by. And see if she has any carrots and onions while you’re at it."
"You want roast pheasant."
"I want roast pheasant," she said over him.
"In that case, I better get trading and grab Poppy. And you, Mrs. Mellark," he kissed her again, "have a lot of plucking to do." Then Papa ruffled Wren’s hair, kissed him on the nose, and left with the bunnies. Mommy yawned.
"Well, baby," she sighed, putting him down and stripping off her jacket, "I have got a lot of work ahead of me."
"I wanna help!" He’d never plucked a bird before, not even a chicken. And this one was so much bigger!
"Okay, you can help." But instead of heading for the kitchen, Mommy put the bird back in her bag and nudged it to the side with her foot. "But Papa’s going to be a while." She hoisted him up into her arms once again. "Aunty Delly’s going to want to talk. And when Papa isn’t there to get Poppy right away, Poppy will go to Lavender’s." She sat down on the couch and swung her legs up, kicking off her boots. "And Lavender will want to talk even more." Wren giggled. "And then Papa will feel bad that he wasn’t there to meet Poppy, so they’ll stop by the sweet shop." He scowled at the thought of them getting sweets without him. "Don’t worry, baby, they’ll bring plenty home for us." Oh. Okay then. "So I’m thinking that you and I have plenty of time to sneak a little nap before we get to work."
Wren had already had a nap today. Papa made him. He was too big for one nap, he certainly didn’t need two! But Mommy looked sleepy and she started to rock him to and fro and hum the song about the valley that always knocked him out. And before Wren could stop himself, he had pulled a bit of Mommy’s shirt into his mouth and tucked himself close in her arms as together they drifted off.