Read an Excerpt
Cool! Can we keep it?"
Oliver Garvey, a full minute older than his identical eight-year-old twin, Owen, peeked into the basket and fell in love. The baby was a girl. He knew, because her blanket was pink. So were her pajamas, but the note that was safety-pinned to them was written on yellow paper. It read: Please take care of me. Since Oliver was oldest, and therefore smartest, he said, "Duh. Of course we're gonna keep it. What kind of dummy are you?"
"Don't call me a dummy," Owen said, almost falling off the neighborhood park's merry-go-round while making a fist. "You're a dummy."
"Can I name her?" their seven-year-old neighbor and friend, Dillon Tate, asked. "I always wanted a baby, but Dad says they're loud and smelly."
"She doesn't seem loud or smelly to me," Owen said.
"Just wait till she poops." Oliver sniffed the part of her blanket where the stinky stuff would be. "I saw in a movie one time where babies poop a lot. We're going to have to find some diapers."
"I bet Mom has some," Owen suggested. "We'll tell her to bring 'em home from the clinic." Their mother was a kid doctor, so she always had kid gear around in case of an emergency. Lots of times they'd seen her do medicine stuff, so Owen was pretty much a doctor himself.
"No!" Dillon crossed his arms and stomped his right foot.
"I don't wanna tell your mom."
"What's wrong with you?" Oliver asked him.
"You guys, that's what. You can't go calling your mom at a time like this."
"Why come?" Owen wanted to know.
"'Cause this is a boys only club. Why do you want to make your mom a member?"
"We don't," Oliver said, "but she knows all about babies. She's a doctor."
"My dad knows about babies, too. He's afireman. Plus, he's a guy, which makes him a lot better to be with than your mom."
"I love Mom," Owen said. "She's a good cook."
"I didn't say she wasn't." Dillon rolled his eyes. "All I meant was that this is a guy club and we need to keep the baby a guy secret."
"What do you think?" Owen asked, turning to his older brother.
Oliver took a moment to consider the facts. He guessed his mom probably knew more about babies, but she was a girl. Dillon's dad knew lots about fires and stuff, though, so if the baby caught on fire, he'd know what to do. Of course, they could just ask the baby who she wanted to go to, but that would be kind of stupid since she didn't even know how to talk. In case the other guys laughed at him, Oliver kept that last idea to himself.
"Well?" Owen and Dillon asked.
"I agree with Dillon. We need to keep this a guy secret."
"Shouldn't we vote?" Owen asked.
Oliver sighed. "Raise your hand if you think we should take it to Dillon's dad."
Oliver and Dillon raised their hands.
"Okay," Oliver said, "now raise your hand if you want to take it to our mom."
Owen and Dillon raised their hands. "You can't vote twice, Dillon." Honestly, at the moment, Oliver was kind of mad with his best friend. "Which do you want?"
"I want my dad, but I didn't want Owen to feel bad. Plus, your mom is a good cook."
Oliver sighed. Geez Louise, it was hard work being around such lamebrains. "Okay, let's vote again. Who wants Dillon's dad?"
Oliver and Dillon raised their hands.
Owen and the baby raised their hands. "Oh, come on," Oliver said. "Owen, get away from the baby. You're gonna break its arm."
"That's it," Oliver said. "I'm the boss of both of you, and I say we're takin' it to Dillon's dad."
Owen stuck out his tongue.
IT WAS DONE.
Her baby would be all right. From watching all three boys at one time or another at the neighborhood day care, she knew they came from wonderful, loving homes. The kind of home she'd never be able to provide for her precious baby girl.
Giving her up had been the hardest thing she'd ever done. Harder than running away for seven months, then living in that group home for pregnant teens so that her grandma and father would never feel the shame.
Giving away her baby had been even harder than taking her from the group home's nursery, then hitching her way back to her miniscule hometown of Brown, Kansasrenamed during the 1930s when there'd been a drought. Before that, the town had been called Garden Glade. Her Sunday-school teacher had said that every so often some outraged garden-club member circulated a petition to change the name back to the original, but so far, Brown had stuck.
Hearing her baby cry, and not being able to go to her, she figured the name suited this place just fine.
Not really black, but its depressing neighbor.
JACKSON TATE had had a bad day, and judging by the squalling coming from inside his house, it was about to get worse.
Feet leaden as he crossed the wood-planked front porch, he yanked open the screen door, growling when it fell off the top hinge. Great. Just one more thing needing to be fixed.
Back before his ex had left, he'd taken pride in keeping up the old place. Julie had been the one who'd wanted to sink their meager savings into the nineteenth-century money pit. She'd said the Victorian home and the neighborhood that was as old as the State would not only be a good investment, but with its proximity to schools and the oak-lined park it would be the perfect place to raise a family.
Right. Only, what family, seeing as how she'd deemed her law career more interesting than either her husband or son.
After kicking off his regulation shoes, he unbuttoned his blue uniform shirt.
Dammit. Why couldn't he get through a single, freakin'day without letting her leaving get to him? He didn't still have a thing for her. Best as he could tell, he just missed the way things used to be. The way the house had felt more like a home.
"Dad, Dad!" His son, Dillon, raced into the room. "Come quick and look what we found."
"Not now, little man," Jackson said, trying to use a soft tone. One of his biggest regrets since Julie had taken off was not being a better dad. He tried. Lord knew he tried, but lately, it seemed as if he and the boy spoke a different language. One Jackson was incapable of translating. "I had a rough shift. Where's your grandmother?"
"She had a lady meeting. She said to tell you supper's in the fridge. All you have to do is heat it up."
"Thanks, little man." With a deep sigh, Jackson collapsed onto the couch. "Now, turn down the TV and let me grab some shut-eye. We'll nuke dinner, then play catch when I get up."
"But, Dad, the TV's not on."
"Then turn down whatever it is that's making that noise." Jackson shut his eyes, putting a throw pillow over his head. It smelled like maple syrup. He had to stop letting Dillon eat breakfast in the living room.
"But, Dad, that's what I've been trying to tell you."
"Son, please. Give me an hour and then we'll eat. Play catch. Whatever you want."
Chin tucked against his chest, Dillon tried hard not to cry on his way to the kitchen.
He'd give anything to get his mom back home, because if she came back, his dad would be back, too. It hurt knowing his dad didn't love him anymore. Sometimes, late at night, when he heard his dad watching TV, he wondered if his father thought it was Dillon's fault Mom now lived in Kansas City? Was that why Dad was always grumpy? Because he blamed Dillon for all the bad stuff that'd been happening in their lives?
"Well?" Oliver asked out on the back porch. "Is your dad coming?"
Dillon shook his head. Tears were real close to squeezing out, so he didn't want to talk.
"What's wrong?" Owen asked. "You crying?"
Dillon shook his head.
"Then what's the matter?" Oliver put his hands on his hips. "Where's your dad?"
"He's sleeping, okay?" Snatching up the baby's basket, Dillon walked to the screened porch's door, bumping it open with his butt. "Let's just take the baby to your mom."
PEDIATRICIAN Ella Garvey climbed out of her minivan, marched up onto the frumpy Queen Anne house's front porch, threw open the screen door and walked directly to the freezer without passing Go. It'd been a chocolate-chip-fudge-mocha-swirl kind of day. Meaning, instead of using a teaspoon, she'd gone straight to the serving-spoon drawer after opening the ice cream tub's lid.
The first bite went down silky smooth.
Closing her eyes, she savored the cool, sweet goodness, letting the calories and fat seep into her weary bones. She'd get a fresh start on her diet tomorrow. Tonight would be about taking care of herself in a far more important way than the mere physical upkeep of her body.
After the day she'd had, actually having to be civil to her ex-husband's new bridethe same bride who'd once been her trusted best friend and office managerwell, she deserved not only ice cream, but pizza and bologna and chips and dip and Skittles andslammed shut.
As if that wasn't enough noise, the twins must've already turned on the TV, because along with boyish stomping came infant wailing.
Damn. "I'm in here, guys!" She took another fortifying bite, scolding herself for wishing her darlings back at summer camp. She loved her twins dearly, but good grief, they could be a handful.
"Slow down," she said, not wanting their haste to make a mess, which would in turn interfere with her medicinal feasting. "And for heaven's sake, turn down the"
"Yeah, but look!" Oliver presented her with a sight that threat-to bring her ice cream gurgling up. "Can we keep it?"
"Oliver William Garvey, where in the world did you find her?" Tossing her spoon in the sink, setting the ice cream on the counter, Ella fell into professional mode. She plucked the red-faced, screaming, two-or three-week-old infant from a wicker laundry basket, instinctively clutching her to her chest.
"Shh " she crooned, while jiggling and rocking the baby. Though she had a few hundred questions for her little darlings, first things first. "Oliver, get my medical bag from my office. Owen, fill a pan with hot water and put it on the stove."
"But you told me to never touch the stove."
"Do it!" she shouted above the din. "Dillon, honey, run Owen and Oliver's closet and get me the smallest T-shirt can find."
"Like one of those dumb Barney ones Owen used to wear in first grade that he hides way in the back?"
"Perfect," she said.
"They're not dumb," Owen complained.
"Here you go, Mom." Breathing heavily, Oliver handed over her bag.
"Thanks, honey." Placing the baby back in the basket, Ella found formula and a disposable bottle. She opened a can of Enfamil, slipped a plastic liner in the bottle's body, then popped a rubber nipple into the lid. After filling the bag with formula, she screwed on the lid.
Seeing that the water was close to boiling, she turned off the gas flame, set the pan on a cool burner, then dropped the bottle in.
Dillon dashed back into the kitchen. "Here's the shirt."
"Great. Oliver, fish me a diaper and some wipes from my bag."
The bottom of the baby's pink pj's was soaked. Ella laid her on a towel on the kitchen table and removed the diaper, wiped the infant clean, then pulled Owen's purple shirt over her little head. As she'd figured, it was huge, but at least dry.
Next, she held the still-squalling baby on her hip while she tested the formula's temp. Perfect.
Ella cradled the baby, holding the bottle to her pursed lips. Rather than latching on, she seemed confused. It took the tiny creature a few minutes to figure out what to do. Probably a sign that she was used to being breastfed. Putting her pinkie to the infant's lips, Ella found that she'd suckle that. Placing the nipple alongside her finger, she tried tricking the infant into thinking she was back with her mom. Luckily, the poor thing must've been hungry enough that the ruse worked. The wailing stoppedand was replaced by near-desperate suckling.
"Whew," Oliver said, wiping his brow. "I didn't think she'd ever shut up."
"She must've been starving." Ella stroked the girl's blond tufts of downy hair. "Now, how about you gentlemen tell me how you got this angel?"
JACKSON WOKE SLOWLY, disoriented as to where he was. Splitting his time between the firehouse and home, rarely getting a full night's rest, he was used to catnapping. But lately, his sleep seemed to come on faster and harder. Deep and dreamless.
He rolled off the sofa, struggling to his feet.
Though he wasn't the least bit hungry, for Dillon's sake, he needed to make good on nuking his mom's meal.
His mother had been a godsend throughout the divorce. When he was on shift at the firehouse, she kept Dillon with her. His mom also saw to it that they ate pretty much three squares a day. There were times Jackson felt ashamed by how dependant upon her he'd become.
When the boy didn't answer, Jackson assumed he was outside, playing with his friends.
Peering out the front window, he found the moon rising on twilight. A few fireflies hovered above the half-dead lawn, and across the street, Joe Parker's legs stuck out from under his '63 Chevy. There were not, however, three boys playing catch or Frisbee or capture the flag.
Frowning, Jackson checked the kitchen, Dillon's room, the den where they kept the computer, the backyard where the boys staged naval battles in the six-inch-deep plastic pool. His son occupied none of his usual haunts.
Jackson was just picking up the phone to see if Dillon had gone to his folks'place when the doorbell rang. He hightailed it that way to see the shadowy figure of a woman behind the screen.
Upon closer inspection, he recognized Ella Garvey. "Hey," he said, having to lift the broken-hinged door to get it to swing properly. "Come on in. I don't suppose you've seen Dillon?"
"Funny " She laughed, only the sound came out more panicked than happy. "I was hoping you'd seen Owen and Oliver.