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It was beautiful land down there. So lush and green. Trees as far as the eye could see. It had a certain peaceful quality to it he liked. Peaceful hopeful something he needed in his life.
Dr Adrian McCallan stared down over the treetops in the jungle below, excited by the prospect of what lay ahead of him, yet dreading the two weeks it would take to accomplish his promise. He wanted to be here. Had wanted it for a very long time now. Yet he didn't, and that little bit of dread in him was using up all the peacefulness he had in reserve. Until now, he'd truly never known what it felt like to be ripped in half.
Now he did.
Physically he was here, ready to do the work. Intellectually he was intact and up to the chore. But emotionally he was far away. He shut his eyes, conjuring up an image of what he was leaving behind and, as always, the face that he envisioned brought a sure smile to his face. It always did.
In a sense, it was amazing that he was going through all these conflicting feelings. That he could go through all these feelings. It hadn't been that long ago that feeling anything had been foreign to him. It wasn't that he hadn't been able to, but more that he hadn't wanted to. It had made life easier that way, without encumbrances. But now he had a personal testimony to what they saidabsence did make the heart grow fonder. Absolutely! Or, in his case, tore it into shreds. For him, the pain of absence was almost a physical one, and he was glad to feel it. Glad for the reason to feel it.
Yet what he was about to doworking with all those childrenhe'd wanted to do this, wanted to get involved in something so worthy for a long time now. That part ofthe absence he didn't regret in the least. But the other part
Sighing, he opened his eyes and stared out the window again, listening to the low drone of the airplane engines. The rumble of the monotone these last two hours should have dulled his senses, but all it had done had been to give him empty time in which to doubt his choice to come here. He'd known it was going to be tough being away from Sean, but he hadn't counted on it being this tough, and so early on. For God's sake, he was only into it a day and already it felt like a week a month a year. Which was ridiculous. But damn it! He already missed his son. Separated from the person he loved most in this world by only twenty-four hours and already he missed him like hell.
What in the world was he going to be like being away from him for a full two weeks?
That he didn't even want to think about. One day at a time. That's what he was promising himself. He'd get through it one day at a time and each day spent would mean one day closer to Sean.
Still, with all the internal reassurances that he could do this, and with his son's own stamp of approval that his daddy was going away to do a very good thing, he couldn't fight his mixed emotions. Operation Smiling Faces was such a worthy cause. Dr Caprice Bonaventura and her group provided valuable medical services to children who might not otherwise receive the help they needed. He'd read about her in a journal a while ago, then listened to her speak at a medical seminar well over a year ago. After that he'd finally made the decision to add his name to her volunteer roster, but only as an anesthesiologist on an emergency basis, as he did have Sean to consider. Two weeks at a time was what Dr Bonaventura asked of her volunteers, and that's what he'd agree to doonce, maybe twice a year. It wasn't much in terms of what other volunteers gave but, at this point in his life, it was all he had. In Sean's life, two weeks was for ever, although he did understand why his father was leaving for a little while. To help other children. Sean had been good with that, and very mature for a six-year-old.
More mature than he himself actually, as right now he wasn't sure he had two weeks in him to give. Not with the way he was missing his son.
"Can I get you anything?" the flight attendant asked him. "Water? Maybe a cola or a packet of peanuts? Something to settle your stomach?"
"It shows?" Adrian asked.
She laughed. "I recognize that expression on your face. See it all the time. A little airsickness."
Not airsickness. This wasn't anything that could be cured with a little bromo or Dramamine. "No, thank you," he said, recognizing the edge in his voice. "I'm fine for now," he continued, forcing himself to sound a little less wound up. "But you'll be the first one to know if I do need something." He forced a smile at her. Not a convincing one, but apparently she didn't notice that, because the smile she returned was genuine.
"You just do that," the attendant said, then bounced away to tend to a little old lady who was in a fit to have one of those tiny, overpriced bottles of booze. Scotch, she was demanding over the buzzing voices of the other passengers.
Scotch if he were a drinking man he might just have one himself. Except he didn't drink. And if he did, drowning his feelings in alcohol wouldn't blot them out. More like just make them sloppy, thinking how this was the first time in six years he'd been separated from Sean for more than a couple of days, thinking how he was feeling damned guilty over it. Not that his son really cared so much. Two weeks with his grandmother was an adventure any six-year-old loved. And Sean would exploit that in every way someone his age could with an over-indulgent granny. Trips to the park, the zoo, to the toy store, to buy ice cream Knowing that his own mother would take care of Sean did make him feel better. But not enough.
Adrian smiled, thinking about Sean's big plans. Big boy at age six. Bright. The single most abiding love of Adrian's life and the person who made him the happiest.
The one person who defined his life.
Adrian sighed again, closing his eyes to think about his redheaded, green-eyed ball of energy. Two weeks was an awfully long time to be separated from him, and while he still didn't regret his decision to volunteer with Operation Smiling Faces, he did wish there was a way to have the best of both worldshis son and this volunteer job. Caprice Bonaventura did allow children along. But the court had been specific in the child custody decree, thanks to his ex-wife Sylvie's selfish motives. She didn't care about Sean. All she cared about was herself, and the child support payments. Somewhere in her tiny little brain she'd fixed a notion that if Adrian took Sean traveling it could mean he wouldn't bring him back, which might also mean no more money for Sylvie. Of course, that wasn't the case. Miami was home and stability for Sean, and apparently Adrian was the only one concerned with that.
Nevertheless, the judge had ordered restricted travel for Sean as part of Adrian's joint custody with Sylvie, and any travel across the border came only with court approval, which couldn't happen in two days, as that was all the notice Adrian had received for this emergency trip to Costa Rica.
So Sylvie, who never saw Sean unless it benefitted her in some way, had won again and Adrian and Sean were separated now because of her. Not that she cared. But on the bright side, Sean was having the time of his life with his grandmother, safe and sound, and there was nothing Sylvie could do to ruin that.
Damn that Sylvie, anyway. Why did she always find a way to mess up their lives?
"The pilot has instructed the passengers to buckle up for the final approach," the flight attendant said, shaking Adrian out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes to find her bending over him, her big brown eyes fixed on his face, her smile at him so bright it nearly blinded him. She was so close he could smell the faint trace of her flowery perfume in his nostrils. She was a good-looking woman, not that it mattered. Once upon a time he might have shown some interest in the sexuality she was obviously putting on display for him. But not any more. Not for a very long time. Seven years, to be exact. Oh, he'd enjoyed occasional dates, but nothing more than once or twice as his spare time belonged to his son. "He says the landing could be a little rough." She deliberately picked up the seat belt that was dangling over the edge of his seat and dropped it into his lap. "Wouldn't want you getting hurt."
Rough landing, rough heart. Nothing a seat belt could take care of. "Thank you," he said. "I appreciate the warning," he added quickly, still forcing himself to sound nicer than he felt.
"We aim to please," she replied, with a genuinely kind smile and eyes that widened in a bit of hope. He recognized the look. He'd seen it before, not that it ever did any good when it was directed at him.
Encouraged by this, the flight attendant lingered over him a little longer than she should have, giving him ample opportunity to whisper something to her. An invitation to dinner, an invitation to bed But when he didn't, she straightened back up, blushing from the conspicuous rejection, and scurried away to hide in the service cubby where drinks and snacks were prepared.
* * *
You could have had her, the blue-haired, tattooed young man sitting across the aisle from Adrian said. Actually, he didn't say the words aloud, but the look on the kid's face spoke volumes. And the kid was right. He probably could have had her. Or any number of women he'd encountered over the past few years. But there wasn't extra time in his life, and given his choice between spending time with them and being with Sean well, there was no contest.
Hard choice sometimes. But a good one always. He didn't regret it.
On principle, he didn't regret his choice to come to Costa Rica either, and he wasn't about to bow out of his responsibility. He wanted to do this, actuallyto work with the children. Especially since he'd turned his anesthesiology practice into pediatric anesthesiology, but now that he was on his way, and missing his son like he was, he was having second thoughts.
Adrian smiled. It was crazy, worrying about Sean, who was having the time of his life. That's what Adrian had to remember. And it did comfort him some when he did, even though a little residual wistfulness for something more in his life did flash by. A relationship? A wife? He didn't rule them out for his future, but after his first time through with Sylvie, he didn't rule them in either. Too many complications, he thought as he turned to stare out the window while they started to descend.
If there was one thing he and Sean didn't need, it was any more complications. Over the years, that had become a mantra of sorts.
Below, as the plane swept ever closer to the ground, he saw a banana plantation and all he could think of was how much Sean loved bananas. Of course, Sean's granny would give him bananas. Knowing that, however, didn't make easier the anguish of missing his son, or the emptiness he was feeling.
* * *
"But I don't want to read another book!" Isabella Bonaventura was being stubborn just now. Caprice knew it, and indulged it, as her daughter jerked her hand away from her mother's and plopped down in a black fake leather chair, her back to the windows overlooking the runway. "And I don't want to draw pictures or write another story." She folded her arms irritably across her chest and pulled her face into an angry frown, huffing out a melodramatic sigh. "I'm bored. I want to go back to the hospital."
The hospital, meaning home. They were staying in one of the visitors'suites at the Golfo Dulce Hospital just outside Golfitoa strikingly beautiful area with modern amenities. Many children were coming in which apparently kept Isabella better occupied than she was doing today. Poor child was bored out of her mind, waiting, and Caprice couldn't blame her. So was she! "We'll go as soon as he gets here," Caprice replied for the tenth time in twenty minutes.
"How much longer will th-that be?" Isabella shifted in her seat to look out to the runway. "I don't see any planes landing."
Caprice glanced at her watch. The plane was already over thirty minutes late, which, loosely translated into kiddie hours, was about a lifetime. Or so it seemed, anyway, to both child and mother. "Should be any minute," she said, keeping her fingers crossed that would be the case.
Any number of the Operation Smiling Faces crew had volunteered to watch Isabella. So had Josefina, Isabella's Costa Rican caregiver. Caprice had refused the offers, though, and now she was beginning to think she should have taken somebody up on one of them. But she spent so much time away from her daughter as it was, she simply didn't want to be separated from her. Of course, Isabella had an opinion in the matter, too, and hers was not anything like Caprice's.
But in a sense Isabella's mood was to be expected. Yesterday, her eighth birthday, hadn't been a good day either. Caprice knew these few days were going to be rough. Birthday time and holidays were always when Isabella's father forgot her. Which he always did.
"Can I get something to d-drink?"
"You just finished a guava juice," Caprice said, her patience stretching out to a most tenuous thread.
Isabella regarded the empty bottle, made an annoyed face, then looked back at her mother. "I wanted fresco de maracuyá," she said, forming the words with deliberate care.
Passionfruit. A local favorite, and right about now that sounded good to Caprice, too. What sounded better, though, was hearing Isabella attempt the language. "But they don't have that here, sweetie," she said, knowing that wouldn't make any difference. Isabella was tired, bored, impatient and nothing short of a miracle was going to change her mood. Except, perhaps, a mother's best bribe. Caprice smiled. "The plane will be here in just a few minutes, then we'll be going. We'll stop for ice cream on the way back to meet Grant." Dr Etana "Grant" Makela, her resident GP and short-hop pilot.
"Ith cream?" Isabella said, suddenly forgetting her mood now that something had caught her interest.
"Say it properly," Caprice instructed.
"Ith ice cream." Getting the words out was an effort, but when she had, Isabella looked pleased with herself.
Sometimes it was still a struggle, but most of the time her daughter was able to work through her speech difficulties, thanks to a great speech therapist back home. And thanks to Isabella herself, who was determined to get it right and go beyond anything expected of her. She worked harder than any child should ever have to, and sometimes Caprice feared all the struggles and work would deprive Isabella of her childhood. It was a difficult balance, keeping everything in its proper perspective. But so far Isabella seemed fine with the rigors and the balance.
Her daughter still had a little trouble with some of her words, especially when she was tired or excited. Overall, though, the difference was nothing short of a miracle. From a little girl who had shied away from people and never spoken to the Isabella who existed right now. A miracle of grand proportions and Caprice's inspiration for these trips to Costa Rica.
She was grateful the therapist had released Isabella to come along to Costa Rica for a month. She'd traveled with her before, but only for short trips. Two weeks at the most. And Isabella didn't always come along on some of those shorter trips because of school commitments. But on this, the timing was perfect. School was out on holiday. One thing Caprice would never do was interrupt her daughter's regular routine, but this trip was interrupting nothing except several weeks of play, which she could do as well in Costa Rica as she could in California. And she seemed to have more friends here. So it couldn't have worked out better. Except for Isabella's birthday, that was. The residual mood from that was spilling over into this debacle of a trip to the airport, since Isabella was usually much more cheery than she was being now.
"Vanilla ice cream," Caprice said, knowing what came next.
"Chocolate. I want chocolate!"
"But I thought you liked vanilla best."
"You like vanilla best, silly," Isabella squealed, her dark mood finally lightening.
"But I thought I was the one who liked chocolate, silly."
"No, you don't. I do!"
"Are you sure?" Caprice asked, laughing.
"Are you sure?" Isabella retorted, laughing, too. They played word games, light banter back and forth as practice exercises. Caprice guided Isabella through the difficult words and as they were having fun and Isabella relaxed she always, without fail, got them right. A year ago, Isabella had barely spoken. Two years ago, she never did unless she'd had to. Now there was no stopping her.
Damn that Tony, Caprice thought, as the light-hearted mother-daughter banter continued for the next few minutes. He threw away the best child in the whole world because she embarrassed him. All because she'd been born with a cleft lip and palate.
She thought back to the day of Isabella's birth. The excitement, the expectation during all those months of pregnancyshe hadn't wanted to know if it was a boy or girl. She'd wanted to be surprised. Then all she'd seen after she'd heard the doctor say it was a girl had been a beautiful daughter. All Tony had seen had been a facial deformity.
His loss, the idiot. "We'll both have chocolate," Caprice said, pulling her daughter into her arms for a hug. Tony's loss, her gain. And such a wonderful one.
Startled, Caprice looked up from her embrace to the man towering over her. Then she blinked. He was not what she expected. For some strange reason she'd had elderly fixed in her mind. Along with that image went gray-haired, little wire-rimmed glasses slipping down to the end of his nose, wrinkles. If this was the Dr Adrian McCallan, who'd signed on for two weeks, she'd certainly been wrong.
Caprice straightened up, then stood to greet him. "Dr McCallan?" she asked, surprised by the tightness of her voice. Oh, she'd talked to him on the phone oncecellphone, bad connection, crackly voice. With their combined hectic schedules, they'd mostly e-mailed.