The next day and a half had passed by quickly for the trio. Jacob had become accustomed to the routine, but they couldn't stay inside all day. They needed to experience the great outdoors, and Simon thought a hike was the perfect outlet. He planned the outing, choosing a nicely paved, scenic trail and inviting a young couple who lived in a nearby home.
Along the drive, Jacob agreed to pretend to be an actual two-year-old for the sake of appearances. His feigning was bought all too easily by the promise of a bowl of ice cream when they got back home. Of course, his guardians wouldn't allow him to have uninhibited access to sugar, especially not after his unforgettable sugar high the other day. To appease him but keep their house in one piece, a carton of all-natural, low-sugar ice cream was waiting in the freezer for him.
The trio were the first to arrive at the park where the trail starts. Angelique unbuckled Jacob while Simon pulled the stroller out of the trunk and unfolded it. She quickly helped him get his backpack on and buckled it in the front for him.
"No running off, Jacob," Angelique reminded the boy, adjusting the straps for his backpack. "I want you to make sure you're staying close to us."
"Okay," Jacob agreed, his attention diverting to the car that pulled up next to them.
A young Mexican couple stepped out of the luxurious vehicle, and the therapists waved them over. The woman was short with long black hair, and the man next to her was of average height with a slim build. Both of their eyes were hidden behind their own pair of dark shades.
"Daniel," Simon began. "Maria. I'm so glad you two were able to join us today."
Once they all traded quick hugs, Daniel looked down at the tyke standing behind Angelique.
"You must be Jacob," Daniel said, crouching down to his height.
"Hi," Jacob said, reaching to enthusiastically shake his hand. "I'm two."
"Oh, you're two?" Daniel asked. "You're all grown up then."
"Yeah, look I have my own backpack," Jacob said, delighted to show off that he was carrying something like everyone else.
"You're big and strong!" Maria enthused. "You've been eating your vegetables, haven't you?"
"Oh, he always clears his plate," Angelique said, causing them all erupt in laughter.
The group started on their stroll along the trail. Jacob stayed a few feet ahead of the group, eager to see where the trail was taking them.
"How has it been having a little one in the house?" Maria asked. "Daniel and I are still undecided on it."
"It's tough but rewarding," Angelique answered honestly.
"You never know if you're going to have a devil toddler one day or an angel the next," Simon added.
"I recently interviewed a parenting coach for an article," Maria said. "They spoke about how important it is to have others supporting you."
"We just want you guys to know that we here for you if you ever need us," Daniel finished.
"Aw, thank you," Angelique said, wrapping her arms around her friend.
"That means a lot," Simon said.
Jacob was out of sight for a few moments while they were still walking uphill. When he came into view again, it was clear that he was stopped at the side of the path, investigating a plant.
"Jacob?" Simon asked. "What have you got there?"
"I found food!" Jacob exclaimed, holding something to his mouth.
"Wait!" Simon shouted, sprinting over and grabbing the tyke's hand. "Those are poisonous."
"Nuh uh," he argued. "They are blueberries."
"Jacob," Simon started with a very serious look on his face. "Those berries will make you very sick if you eat them. Promise me that you won't eat them or you're going in the stroller for the rest of the trip."
"Fine, I promise," the little boy muttered, letting the berries fall out of his hand.
"Aw, Simon the disciplinarian," Maria grinned. "He looks so good at it."
"He's a natural," Angelique chimed in.
Simon rejoined the group with Jacob at arm's length. He blushed once he noticed all the attention on him. "You ladies having fun?" he asked.
"Sure are," Angelique teased.
They continued along the path, and for a few minutes, Jacob entertained himself by kicking pebbles as they walked along, ignoring the group's conversation.
"How has it been getting him involved with other kids in the area?" Maria asked. "There aren't many couples with young ones around here."
"We've actually planned a playdate for Jacob with Noah," Angelique said. "We're scheduled for tomorrow."
"That's going to be so good for him," Maria assured. "He'll get to make a new friend."
"Yeah, I'm sure they will have a good time together," Simon said confidently. "Diane is very excited for Noah as well."
As the afternoon wore on, Jacob once again scampered further away from the group, his attention fixated on a larger rock he was kicking around.
"Jacob!" Simon shouted. "Wait for us to catch up."
"Okay!" Jacob shouted back.
As they approached closer to the little boy, Simon could see Jacob holding something in between his hands.
"Look, I caught a grasshopper," Jacob said, proudly holding up the bug for everyone to see.
"That's really cool, Jacob." Simon said. "But I'm sure the grasshopper's family is waiting for him."
"That's true," the little boy admitted. "Here Mr. Grasshopper. You can go back to your family."
He released the grasshopper onto a nearby leaf, and they all watched as it hopped away.
"That was very kind of you," Angelique complimented him.
Jacob beamed at her with a huge smile on his face, certainly proud of what he had done.
The group continued walking along the trail. The scenery was morphing from a forest to an expansive plain. The grass was cut low as though it was maintained by some agency.
"I've been thinking about remodeling the house back in the city," Simon told the group.
"Are you thinking about another bedroom?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, I figured since-" Simon stopped midsentence when he felt tugging on his shorts. "Jacob, what's wrong?" he asked.
"My stomach hurts," the toddler complained.
"I packed you some snacks," Angelique said. "Will you sit in the stroller while you eat?"
Jacob nodded, beginning to shrug off his backpack.
"I think it's a good time to start the trip back," Daniel suggested while Angelique buckled Jacob in.
"I agree," Simon said, pulling out a map of the trail. "It looks like we made it pretty far."
Jacob sat contentedly in the strolling, sipping on a box of apple juice and eating some animal crackers while kicking his legs in the air. To no surprise for his caregivers, he fell asleep around his usual nap time.
"He has the cutest little snore," Maria remarked when she noticed the little boy soundly asleep in the stroller Angelique was pushing along.
"He does," Angelique agreed.
"So, you never did say how you ended up fostering Jacob," Maria began. "Were you all just looking to be foster parents?"
"Not exactly," Simon admitted. "He was involved in a rather complicated situation, and we were asked if we would be willing to foster him."
"I see," Maria said, touching her chin. "Well, I think you both made the right choice for both you two and Jacob."
"Thank you for saying that," Angelique said. "We were unsure at first, but it definitely worked out well."
"Do you think Jacob will sleep for the entire trip back?" Daniel asked.
"Yes," Simon answered. "He likes to take long naps."
"That will be good for kindergarten," Maria said. "My brother used to wake up too early in pre-school and it always got him in trouble."
"I don't know," Daniel started. "If likes to sleep too much, that will get him in trouble too. Just imagine the tantrum he might have when he's woken up."
"I'm hoping he will grow out of the tantrums," Angelique confided. "Part of the goal with the playdate is to get him adjusted for daycare when we're both at work."
"Yeah," Simon said. "It's all skill-building."
"Sneaky!" Maria enthused. "I like it."
All four adults laughed.
"I think if we were to have a son, I would want to name him Matias for Daniel's father," Maria confided to the group.
There was evident shock across Daniel's facial features, and he rubbed at his eyes before he hugged his wife. "I'm sure he would have loved to know that you valued him so highly," he said, his voice teeming with emotion.
"I think we're passing the torch, Simon," Angelique said, in a mischievous tone. "Baby fever for Daniel and Maria!"
"Baby fever for Daniel and Maria!" Simon chanted jovially.
"You're the worst," Daniel said, playfully punching his friend's arm. "We still have to talk and think about it, but I'll admit that's going to happen more now."
When they got back to the parked cars, Jacob woke up while he was being unbuckled from the stroller. "Is the hike done?" he asked, yawning.
"It sure is, buddy," Simon told him.
"It was nice to meet you Jacob." Maria said. "Bye now."
"Bye!" Jacob said back, settling into his car seat for the trip back home.