Read an Excerpt
The Ride of His Life
Say hello to my friend Jack," Katie said to the baby on her lap. The baby smiled, showing off her four teeth.
"Wow, you like Jack. You've got good taste in men!"
She looked at me, reached out her arms, and said "Dyah!"
"Sandi wants you to hold her."
I sat down in a rocking chair with Sandi on my lap, covering my face for a moment. When I took my hand away, she giggled.
"Do we have any books I can read her?" I asked.
"I'll get you some. Sandi loves them."
"You're a smart little one, Sandi. Yeah, I can see by the way you look at me. You meet my gaze and you don't turn away. I like babies with character. You're a winner, kid!" I said.
"Want to look out the window, Sandi? Come, let's see what's playing in Theatre of the World today."
Sandi looked out intently at the hospital grounds.
"That's an oak tree right there. And those green things on it are called leaves. See the birds flying into the tree? That's where they live. That's their house."
Katie rocked a tiny newborn named Paul, stroked his face, sang to him, her sweet voice filling the room. He calmed down, and lay in her arms, content.
"Look, Sandi," I said, opening up a book. "Here's a red ball." I took her finger and traced the ball. "Ball. Can you say that?"
"You said ball."
I kissed her on the forehead, and pointed to the ball again.
"Hey, Sandi, that's dandy!" I sang out, bouncing her gently on my knee. I read more books, changed her diaper, walked around the room with her, fed her, and sang her to sleep. But even though I wasenthralled with Sandi, I was watching Katie, too. A fountain of tenderness and caring poured out of her.
I rocked Sandi in my arms, watching as her eyes moved rapidly back and forth behind closed lids, wondering what baby dreams were playing in her mind.
"I want a child! I want to see her grow and learn. I want to watch her personality unfold and blossom. Am I any closer to being a father? How long, will it take, oh God?
"It's time for us to go," Katie said softly.
"Do we have to? I don't want her to be alone when she wakes up."
"She has a big circle of admirers. The next shift of volunteers is already here, and they'll be right beside her when she opens here eyes."
"I'll agree to leave if I can come back to see Sandi next week."
"Deal. I can see you do love babies. The look on your face has been priceless."
"I'd say the same about you. You have a queen-sized heart."
She blushed and looked down.
"If only men could see that."
"But I see it, Katie. And I sure ain't a woman!"
"Maybe only real men can see it."
I put Sandi down gently in her crib, covered her, and kissed her forehead.
"Goodbye for now, Sandi. Sleep well. Thank you for a wonderful afternoon."
"What's her story?" I asked when we were out in the corridor.
"The police found Sandi in her crib, her mother dead on the floor from a drug overdose. Child Welfare can't locate her father. When they brought Sandi here, she was suffering from malnourishment and psychological trauma. She's come a long way."
"What happens to her next?"
I felt like I'd been stabbed by a long, cold steel blade.
"Adoption isn't a bad thing," Katie said gently. "I know how easy it is to become attached to these babies. But even when we give it our all, we're not their parents. And that's what they need, two people who will be there for them all the time and always."
Katie took my hand. Overhead, in trees that rimmed the street, birds sang glorious harmonies. We were quiet.
"Shall we walk to Becky's Cafeteria?" I asked"
"Yes. I like strolling."
"What else do you do in your spare time, besides loving babies?" I asked.
"I like to work with tools, to fix things, to make things. Right now, I'm volunteering at the Midwest Trolley Museum. I love those old streetcars."
"Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Nothing at all. It's just that I've never met a woman who loved trolleys besides my Mom. When I was a kid, she took me on the last runs of New York's streetcars. It was one of the few things we did together. We had so much fun! How'd you learn to use tools?"
"My Dad taught me to fix things. I find it relaxing. At the museum, I'm restoring an old streetcar that used to run on the Como-Harriet line. We finished rebuilding the motors about a month ago. I drove it for the first time last week."
What kind of music do you like?"
"My Dad's a jazz musician in his spare time; he plays the horn. Sometimes I join his band on the piano or vocals."
"If you sing to me, I'll totally melt."
"You shouldn't have told me that. Now I have you in my power."
She started singing softly, a rich, bluesy tune that blended in with the birds.
"I think I died and went to heaven. A pretty lady who loves jazz and streetcars."
"Now tell me that you played varsity basketball as an undergrad, and I'll know I'm really dreaming," she said.
"Sorry, I'm not athletic and I'm not coordinated. Sports aren't my thing."
"Phew! I'm glad to hear we have a few differences."
She smiled, but then her expression changed.
"There's something bothering me. What's going on between you and Semaria Anders?"
A sandstorm filled my mouth and throat, roared down into my stomach and blew it inside out.
Ask her questions. Focus on her. Stop doubting yourself!
"Why do you ask?"
"I'm very interested in you. But I've seen you with Semaria more than once. She has a reputation for sleeping with a huge number of men. What do you see in her?"
I tried not to feel defensive. Katie had every right to ask that question, and I gave her credit for being forthright about it. I knew she wasn't criticizing me, but I felt uneasy.
"There's a lot more to Semaria than that."
Katie looked right at me. Her eyes turned dull.
"Oh. I see," she said quietly.