The Surprise Holiday Dad(5)

By: Jacqueline Diamond

Stepping softly to avoid disturbing his father, Wade headed into the bedroom. The smell of unwashed sheets gave him pause. He hoped this was a weekend spree rather than an indication that his father’s condition was deteriorating.

Daryl had left his career as an Orange County deputy sheriff years ago, supposedly because he hated the shift schedule, although later Wade had wondered if alcohol had been a factor. Then he’d worked for a while at Grandpa Bruce’s detective agency, Fact Hunter Investigations, but Daryl and Grandpa had butted heads. Not surprising considering Bruce’s rigid nature, which was one reason Wade wouldn’t consider applying there now.

After depositing his cases on the carpet, he went out to his car and brought in his large bag and bedroll. In the living room, Daryl had shifted position and was now snoring full force.

Wade unrolled the sleeping bag on top of the bed and took off his shoes. As he lay waiting for sleep, he conceded that two things had become obvious.

He should forget about trying to find a job through his father’s contacts; if Daryl was drinking heavily, a recommendation from him was more likely to work against Wade than for him. Also, the sooner he found a job and his own apartment, the better.

* * *

BY NOON THE rackety-rackety sound of skate wheels outside put an end to Wade’s sleep. Irritated, he prowled out of the bedroom and said a quick hello to his father, who nodded from the small kitchen table. Daryl had poured himself a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice.

“Sorry, no welcome party.” His father gave him a shaky smile. “Extra key’s on the hook there. Bottom left.” He indicated a Peg-Board.

“Thanks.” Wade took it and went to shower, using the towels he’d brought. Then he stripped the bed, collected dirty towels and a box of detergent and went next door to the complex’s laundry room to start a load. Since he’d taken over this chore at thirteen following his parents’ divorce, the process felt familiar.

Back at the unit, Daryl had gone out, leaving a note that he was showing an apartment to a potential renter. Wade poured some cereal and checked his email while he ate. The attorney had confirmed a meeting at his office tomorrow with Dr. Cavill. The messages said she was willing to grant a supervised visit with Reggie on Tuesday, the boy’s birthday.

A supervised visit? The hell with that. Wade didn’t appreciate having this lady boss him around, and he didn’t plan to wait two days to see his son, either. Nervous energy surged through him. My boy. Although he didn’t yet have a sense of Reggie’s personality—how could he?—he felt a connection deep in his gut, a longing that he’d strained for years to deny. He was angry, too, at the woman who’d put him in this position and at himself for yielding.

How would the little boy react to meeting his dad after all these years? While it might be awkward, he hoped Vicki’s sister had had the decency to prepare her nephew for this major life change.

He recalled meeting Adrienne only once. She was blond like Vicki and had barely acknowledged the introduction, muttering an excuse about her busy schedule before brushing past him and out of the house. She’d been in her last year of medical school, as he recalled.

The lawyer had claimed that Adrienne was unaware that her sister had tried to wreck his career and that he’d made regular child-support payments. Maybe, maybe not.

By two-thirty the laundry was done. Daryl had returned and gone out again to repair a tenant’s sink, so Wade locked the door and went to his car. From the trunk, he withdrew the toy police-station set he’d bought for his son’s birthday. Although it was a few days early, a gift might help to smooth their meeting.

Relying on memory, he navigated across town toward the Cavill home. Passing his old hangouts—Krazy Kids Pizza, where he’d celebrated childhood birthdays, the Corner Tavern, where he and his fellow officers used to play pool, even the Bull’s Eye Shooting Range—reminded him that he’d accepted his exile too easily. He’d missed this place.

As Wade left the commercial area and rolled through quiet residential streets, it hit him once again that he was about to meet the most important person in his life. Vicki had, grudgingly, sent a few photographs after Wade threatened to withhold payments. The last one, which he carried in his wallet, showed a boy of about four, blond, with a couple teeth missing. Cute little guy.

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