Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mommy! Mommy!

             Telephone calls like this are never easy.  "Hi," I said. "Mr. Clarke? Roger Clarke?"
"Yes," came a deep masculine voice.
"I'm Rebecca Kent." I leaned back in my car seat, cell phone at my ear. "So sorry to bother you," I said, trying to sound friendly but professional.
"I'm the court-appointed guardian for your daughter, Callie and—"
Before I could finish, the man said, "I've been expecting a call."
"I'd like to meet with you and Callie—I'm parked in front of your house.
But if this isn't a convenient time..."
"Come in," he said, no hint of alarm in his voice.
Roger Clarke and his wife had been separated for over a year. She had died four weeks ago, suddenly and tragically of a brain tumor. Eighteen-month-old Callie had lived with her dad during the separation, but now her wealthy maternal grandparents, who evidently had never cared for Roger, a high school science teacher, were requesting custody of the child. As a court-appointed representative for Callie, it was my job to evaluate the situation and make sure the little girl ended up with whoever could provide her with the best and most loving environment.
Stepping inside the doorway of Mr. Clarke's modest ranch-style home at four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, I said, "Sorry," again. "But I like my visits to be somewhat of a surprise—catch people as they really are."
His cool blue eyes crisscrossed me, and I felt a bit of heat rising in my cheeks. Blond-haired and tall, square-jawed, Roger Clarke was amazingly handsome. Surprising me, my heart gave a little Thump! "I understand," he said. "Look around—do what you do. Callie's waking up from her nap."
"Daddy! Daddy!" Callie shrieked when we entered her bedroom. When Mr. Clarke hoisted the beautiful blond-haired toddler out of her bed, she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him. Then she honored me with a brilliant smile and said, "Mommy! Mommy!"
I blushed. Looking a bit embarrassed, Mr. Clarke said, "Sorry. Callie's mom hasn't lived with us for a while. Courtney...didn't enjoy motherhood, but Callie still misses her."
The baby cradled in his arms, Mr. Clark gave me a tour. The house looked comfortable and cozy and lived in—toys in the living room, shoes by the back door, a few dishes in the sink. Everything pleased me, especially the tender, affectionate bond between Mr. Clark and his daughter.
I spent nearly an hour with them. By the time I was ready to leave, we were on a first-name basis. Finally he asked, "Do I seem to be a responsible father? Or do you think Callie would be better off with her grandparents?" His blue eyes nearly took my breath away.
"I've talked to your in-laws," I said. "They fear strangers will be raising Callie—she's in daycare eight hours a day. She could be in their home and receive family love around the clock. They have plenty of money for the best of schools."
His chin lifted. "That doesn’t make me unfit."
"Of course not," I said. "The court hardly ever removes a child from parental custody when she's thriving."
"Truthfully, how do you think this will turn out?"
"I can't say. The final decision isn't mine. I'll be in touch."
I checked with the day care center and found that Callie arrived every morning smiling and well groomed, clothes clean. No sign of neglect. I checked with Roger's in-laws again. When they sensed things might not go their way, they asked that I make sure they had visiting rights. I said I didn't think that would be a problem.
I wrote my report. A week later on Sunday afternoon again, finished with the case, I made another unannounced visit to the Roger Clarke's household. Dad and daughter sat on the front porch on an old-fashioned glider, Callie clutching a red-haired doll.
"The report's been filed," I said. "My work is finished. You'll be getting a letter. But I thought I'd tell you myself: You have custody. Your in-laws will have visiting rights, the details to be arranged."
Wrapping his arms around his daughter, Roger kissed her on the forehead. "Thank you, thank you," he said to me, and smiled a warm, blue-eyed smile that melted my heart. Then he looked at me curiously and asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
The directness of his gaze forced me to pause a moment.
"I'm sorry," he said, clearing his throat. "You probably have a boyfriend or husband and having coffee wouldn’t be appropriate."
"No husband, no boyfriend," I said. "And I'd love a cup of coffee."
Smiling once more, Roger stood up from the glider, Callie in his arms. "Great!" he said. "That's simply great."
Now it was my turn to smile.
Callie, also smiling, flapping her arms in the air, said, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
The End
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Prince Charming

         "Single ladies!" Rita called from the stage, microphone in hand. "Up front. The bride is about to toss her bouquet."
"That means you, Debbie!" by best friend Kathy said, elbowing me in the ribs as we stood on the dance floor among other smiling and laughing guests at Marie and Shawn's wedding reception.
"No ring on your finger," she added with another poke in the ribs.
"No Prince Charming in my life, either," I said.
"Catch the bouquet!" This time Kathy gave me a firm shove out of the crowd to where maybe ten or fifteen ladies—in their teens and early twenties probably—certainly not my age—forty—gathered in front of the stage, eagerly awaiting Marie's flower toss.
I edged up behind the group of short-skirted ladies. I never expected Marie's throw to sail over the group and nearly over my outstretched hands. I snared the bundle of red roses, and at the same time I felt my heels slip on the polished hardwood floor. My arms flailing—I held on to the roses—I crashed back into the arms of an unknown rescuer, which was good news. But the bad news is we both tumbled backward into an inglorious heap on the Starlight Ballroom's dance floor.
People crowded around, concern written on their faces. "You guys all right?" they asked. "Anything broken?"
"I'm fine," I said.
I rolled off the person beneath me, knelt beside the form, and peered straight into the blue eyes of a man—probably my age—who had tried to save me. Smiling a killer smile, white teeth flashing, he said, "Nice catch."
"You, too," I said, my heart thumping—he was soo handsome. "You okay?"
"Never been better," he said, sitting up.
I looked at the flowers still clutched in my left hand, then back at the man. Laughter rippled forth from the people hovering over us. Phone cameras clicked. My face heated up with embarrassment. Then the man and I helped each other to our feet.
In a corner where we sat catching out breath at a table, he said, "Tyler Greene. Friend of the groom. You're—?"
"Debbie Harris. Friend of the bride. How did you know I was going to fall?"
"I didn't. I was walking by and saw the bouquet sailing toward you. I stopped to watch. You jumped—"
"I jumped? I don't remember that."
"You jumped—"
"No wonder I fell."
"—caught the flowers, and tumbled into my arms. Lucky me," he added with another killer smile.
Was it my imagination or did a strange excitement hum in the air between us? We sat and talked and talked. He owned Ty's Auto Body Shop; I was a dental technician. He was a widower. I gathered from our conversation he had never thought of looking for anyone else. I'd never married, but I didn't tell him I thought romance had long ago passed me by. I was a hopeless case.
Music started. People drifted onto the dance floor. As my heart started speeding up, Ty asked, "Would you like to dance?"
Panic nearly choked me. Part of me wanted to dance with him, my arms flung around him. Part of me wanted to run. I decided to run. "Um...I should pay the restroom a visit."
"I'll wait," he said.
Before I could reach the rest room, Kathy intercepted me and backed me outside into the warm night air, stars and moon overhead. "Oh wow!" she said. "Do you know who you flattened on the dance floor?"
"Tyler Greene. He's very nice, but..."
"He's the most handsome, eligible bachelor in town. He's your Prince Charming. Don't you just love his blue eyes? Don't let him get away."
"Nonsense. It's way too late in my life for a Prince Charming."
"It' never too late for anything. You go, girl!"
After my rest room visit, I found Ty sitting dutifully at the table, waiting for me. His blue eyes seemed to say, Glad you came back. He stood up. "Thought I'd wait—if only to protect your roses."
I peered at the roses. Still fresh and lovely. I peered at Tyler. Still handsome and smiling. I could tell him it was way past my bedtime. I should go home. But home to what? I asked myself?
My empty house?
"I'd loved to dance," I said, my heart approaching panic speed.
As Ty folded me into his arms and we drifted into a slow dance, my step seemed to match his perfectly. I gulped as he pressed me closer, as if we were one.I didn't know if possibly Prince Charming had found me or if I'd found him. But the way my heart continued to beat, I knew Kathy had been right: It wasn't too late for anything. Not even for Prince Charming.

The End
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