Fatherhood (excerpt)

Jen arrived at LAX with Shauna in a stroller. She wore a loose knee length sun dress with a paint splatter print. Her hair was longer, pulled back into a braid. Our eyes met at about twenty feet away. Jen abandoned the stroller at the sight of me, running towards me, leaping into my arms.
Wearing only a tank top and board shorts, in the triple digit heat, I had been feeling sick and my legs were in incredible pain, but in that moment I felt immortal. I lifted her off the ground. I held her close kissing her. This was the kiss I had dreamed of since the day she left. I caressed her face; her cheeks were fuller, her sweet brown eyes sparkled with her tears of pure joy. Jen touched my face, suddenly noticing the scarring on my blind eye.
Her smile faded. “Something horrible happened to you?”
I nodded. “Now’s not the time to talk about it.” As we held each other my legs were becoming unsteady.
We gradually moved to a bench where she straddled my lap. Through the thin fabric of her dress she could feel the scarring on my legs. Her hands moved to my thigh.
I was waiting for a comment, but instead Jen cupped my face, looking into my eyes. “I love you, Sean, and I never meant to leave you.”
Sara and Johnny were staring at the abandoned stroller. “I think we should go get the kid,” Johnny suggested.
They walked to the stroller containing a little girl as perfect as they imagined. “Hi,” Sara said to Shauna. “I’m your Auntie Sara.”
“Hi!” Shauna was going on two-years old so she knew quite a few words. “I want up!” she loudly demanded.
Jen, she has your personality.
Sara unbuckled the seat belt. “This is Johnny.”
The baby giggled. “Johnny has pretty hair.”
Johnny laughed. “Wait until you see your daddy’s hair.”
Sara held Shauna while Johnny carried the folded stroller.
“My Dada,” Shauna squealed upon seeing my face.
I was already crying at the sight of Jen, but as Sara put my daughter in my arms I felt truly blessed. Shauna had my light eyes, Jen’s dark hair (but wavy like mine,) and skin that was just tan enough to look like she came from the beach. Her little mouth looked like a heart.
There was a lump in my throat.
Jen stood up, sobbing. “I showed her your picture every day. I wanted her to know your face. I always knew you would find your way back to me, to us.”
I touched the baby’s soft cheek. She giggled.
“You are my perfect little angel.” When I heard mother’s stories of how she felt when she first held me, never knew what she meant until that moment. The little girl in my arms was the most precious person in the entire world. I wanted to devote my life to making all of her dreams come true.
Then she coughed.
Sara patted the baby’s back. “Aw, does the little cutie have a cold?”
I frantically handed the baby to Jen. “Is she sick?”
The sudden shift caused Shauna to cry.
Johnny placed his hand on my shoulder. “Relax Sean; it was just a little cough.”
My focus was on Jen. “Please tell me- is she sick like me?”
“Sean, think about that question. Cystic Fibrosis patients cannot be in the same room without wearing surgical masks. Do you think I would actually put your life and the life of our child in danger?”
“Sorry, in the moment that kind of slipped my mind.”
“Majorly,” Johnny laughed.
I glared at him. “Shut up, vocational school nurse.”
“I was just playing,” Johnny said in a baby voice as he squeezed Shauna’s cheek. “You have your special little girl, and one day I will have my degree.”
Jen returned the baby to my arms.
I held my daughter close, rocking her against my shoulder. “I’m so sorry Shauna. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
She turned her little face, looking into my eyes. “You’re my Dada.”
“And you’re my baby, you’re my daughter. I want your life to be filled with nothing but happiness and joy. I want to be your hero.”
Shauna smiled, she had Jen’s smile. “Dada is my hero.”
My heart was filled with happiness, then suddenly with fear.
What if she got sick? What if she hurt herself? Or God forbid someone was hurting her. And what about when my illness gets worse- Will I live to see her graduate high school? I defiantly would not live to walk her down the aisle.
I held my baby close as tears streamed down my cheeks. I made sure to fake a smile so the rest of the group could assume they were tears of joy. But my mind went to one final horrific place. I might not make it to her wedding, but the innocent child I held in my arms would be at my funeral.
Shauna clapped her hands as she sang a little song, “Hero! My Dada is my hero!”
Johnny kissed the baby’s cheek. “Your daddy is a hero to all of us.”
Jen turned to Johnny. “I’m sorry, how rude of me- I’m Jen, you must be Johnny.”
He shook her hand. “Hello, Miss Jen, nice to finally meet you.”
“Are you from California?” she asked.
Sara stepped in-between them “Johnny’s from Haven, just outside of Indigo.” Haven had a population of twenty-three residents. “He’s my boyfriend.” Sara felt Johnny’s arms around her.
Jen held her hand up for a high-five. “Way to go Sara.” Looking at the couple they were the very definition of opposites attract; Sara was book smart, neat and organized, while Johnny looked like a sexy Jesus. “How did you meet?”
“We met at the hospital; I was a paramedic,” Johnny explained. He looked to me for approval to continue.
I shook my head- it was not a story for Johnny to tell. “You know what? Let’s get out of here. I’m crying the least so I’m driving.”selkie_edit_by_dourdan-dbf0lzv

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