When Rick pulled into the driveway of his new home, he stared at the house across the street. Cate’s car sat in the driveway but he saw no signs of activity. He moved to where he could see the backyard and watched his daughter climb hand over had across the bar above the swings.
Clint pulled a bag of groceries from the back. “You planning to visit?”
“Not yet.” Rick left the SUV. He handed a second bag to the older man. “We need to get these things inside quickly.”
“Especially since you bought six kinds of ice cream.”
Rick laughed. “The sale price was great and I am an ice cream junkie. When do you plan for this afternoon?”
“A tour of the basement to mark my space. And you?”
“Unpacking. Checking the yard.”
“Are you avoiding our neighbor?”
“You could say that.”
“She needs time to recover from the shock of seeing me and what she did.”
“Excuse me. Son, you left. She didn’t.”
“She could have called.”
“And learned you had no intention of changing your plans. You didn’t handle the situation with her very well.” Clint’s voice held an edge of anger.
Rick grabbed the last two bags and strode to the house. His faster father had nailed his past actions. He was avoiding Cate. He’d also had a shock seeing a child who could only be his daughter.
Right now he could kick himself but his foot wouldn’t reach his ass. Regret filled his head with all those could have seen moments. He should have told Cate about his acceptance to medical school. He should have waited and spoken to her after the ceremony ended. He should have told her he wouldn’t change his dream. He hadn’t and he couldn’t imagine her accepting his reasons then and not even now.
Had Cate known she was pregnant that morning? He recalled what she had whispered as they lined for the march into the stadium. “We need to talk.” He hadn’t been ready for another argument about their future. So he had escaped.
“Rick, the groceries.” Clint shouted.
He hurried to the kitchen and unloaded the bags. He left out two steaks for dinner. Clint quickly mixed a marinade. This done they went to the basement. He and Clint designed a small apartment, one bedroom and sitting room, a bath and a dark room.
That evening over steaks, Clint’s observations made Rick squirm. “The little girl we saw at the restaurant is your daughter.”
Rick nodded. “She has to be.”
“What do you intend to do?” His voice took on that stern father quality Rick had heard the day they had met.
"I don’t know.”
Clint placed his fork on the plate. “I can’t advise you and you know why.”
During the years Rick had lived with the older man he’d learned many things about his foster father’s past. Clint’s inner sadness caused by the flight of his wife of less than a year and his wondering if there had been a child was one of the reasons.
What could he say? He finished his steak and rose. “I’m heading up to finish stowing my stuff.”
Clint nodded. “While you’re facing new challenges, I’ll find a contractor to make the changes in the basement.”
Upstairs Rick tackled hanging bags and boxes. What a change from his first arrival in
One duffel bag had been enough. Occasionally he halted and stood at the window
facing her home. Lights shone in the first floor windows but he caught no
glimpse of her or his daughter. Eastlake
Would their paths cross at the hospital? Could they ignore personal baggage from the past and work as professional colleagues? He had to try but he also needed to know why she had never reached out.
A daughter. He had a child. The little girl was his only relative. He didn’t even know her name.
He and Cate had to talk. Could he explain his abrupt departure? He had loved her but not enough to sacrifice his dreams. Another reason for his flight had been her mother. The older bitter woman had expected Cate to follow her ideas of where to live and work. He’d been certain Cate wouldn’t protest. She had always hated to make waves. Had she remained the same?
He hung the last of his suits in the closet and went downstairs. With a beer in hand he joined Clint to watch a ballgame. Tomorrow he would find time to speak to Cate.
A restless night of tossing and turning and constant emergence from dreams filled with guilty regret and frustration made him head for a cold shower. Cate must hate him. What else could she feel toward the man who had vanished with no thought of her? He had spoken of love so many times when their bodies had been entwined after making love. One of those times had produced a daughter.
He stepped from the shower. Clint rapped on the closed bathroom door. “Did you forget the golf game with your partners?”
Rick turned off the spray. “What time is it?”
“Seven. We’re to meet them at eight. I’ll load the clubs.”
Rick rubbed his body dry. “Be with you in a few.” He quickly finished his morning routine and strode downstairs.
In the kitchen, he filled a mug with coffee he hoped would jump start his head. The fogginess was his fault.
Clint handed him a plate of scrambled eggs and sausages. He ate and joined his friend at the gray SUV.
“Did you sleep last night?”
Rick shook his head. “Her.”
“You can’t spend your nights and days wallowing in guilt. Admit you made a mistake and move on. How badly did you err?”
Rick shrugged. “Very. Back then leaving seemed my only option. We’d been a couple for almost a year. We had talked about marriage and that’s where the trouble began. She knew how much I wanted medical school. She thought my yearning was foolish. The month before graduation we quarreled constantly and then had passionate makeup sessions.”
“What was her plan for your future?”
“To return to her mother’s home and work at the local hospital.” Rick released a groan. “That wasn’t for me. I’d already applied to several medical schools. When the acceptance came I kept quiet.”
“She didn’t know.”
“None of my friends knew. I didn’t want any more fights so I grabbed my diploma and left.”
Clint chuckled. “I’m amazed she hasn’t come over and knocked you on your kester.”
Rick shrugged. “Not Cate. She doesn’t like to make scenes. She’s angry but I have no fear of physical violence. Seems your life and mine are on parallel lines.”
“Except I was married and my wife disappeared leaving me in limbo.’
“Did you try to find her?”
“I did when I returned from that first assignment. I regret not knowing if she lied about there being no child.” He tossed Rick the keys. “Your town. You drive.”
At a few minutes before eight Rick parked the car in the country club lot. His partners waited at the entrance to the links. He introduced Clint to Bob Stack and Larry Greene. They loaded their clubs onto the back of a golf cart and the round began.
After the eighteenth they walked to the club house for lunch. Larry raised his glass. “Welcome to
“Glad to be here,” Rick said.
Bob leaned forward. “Tell us about this new system you forced the Board to order.”
“Robotics,” Rick said. “Oh, we’ll do the surgery, not the machine but what we’ll be able to do is design a cutting guide to show the least invasive way to go.”
Larry shook his head. “Does this really work?”
“I wouldn’t have persuaded the hospital to purchase the program if I didn’t believe how much time we’ll save and how much less pain for the patients.” He turned to Clint. “Part of the grant for this came from my foster dad.”
Clint smiled. “I let you finance yourself through college and medical school so this was my gift. It’s another form of photography.”
Their lunches arrived and after finishing Clint and Rick drove home. Rick turned to the older man. “A question.”
“What would you have done if you had found your wife and discovered there was a child?”
“Taken care of them financially and tried to form a bond with my child.”
“What about suing for custody?”
Clint shrugged. “Wouldn’t have happened unless there was a cause like neglect or worse I wouldn’t take a child from her mother.”
“Would you have tried to win her love again?”
“I don’t think that would have been possible, especially after the way she vanished from everyone she knew.”
“Makes sense.” Rick turned into the street. He didn’t want custody unless he and Cate married. That seemed as impossible as climbing a glass mountain. Cate refused to speak to him. He might have to force the issue.
At the house he opened the rear of the van. The sound of a ball bouncing caused him to turn.
The piping voice brought a smile. His daughter aimed a basketball at the hoop attached to the garage door. He’d played forward in high school and college. She tossed a second time. “Score.”
“Not bad,” Clint said.
Rick leaned against the car. Though they had never spoken pride settled in his chest. An urge to dash across the street and announce his paternity was batted aside. He had no idea what Cate had told the child about him.