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The boys were playing with the little girls on the swing set as I finally arrived home from work. It was my first full day back since surgery five weeks earlier. Immediately Luke came in and wanted to throw the baseball, while Thomas asked for a quick ride to the bookstore. I told the elder to grab my glove and hobbled to the backyard.
As I walked out, I assured Thomas we would make time for books later.
I noticed the girls clamoring for attention, but hardly spoke as I brushed past them. We threw for a few minutes in the duskiness of a softening sun. I went back to the house when my hip finally surrendered and the girls followed. Entering the house, I implored Thomas to come downstairs if he wanted to go. He complied. The little ones also asked if they could come along too. Thomas and I left for the store.
I meandered for a few minutes, while my youngest, biological child made a selection, and noticed something Lisa might enjoy reading. We left with both books. As we entered our home, my wife sat at the kitchen table helping the older of the two girls (earlier left behind) with homework. Proud of my unsolicited benevolence, I presented my gift to the mother of my children.
"What's the problem? There was no gentleness in my tone only impatience. She had no answer.
It took me a second, but suddenly I realized she cried because I had nothing to give her. My hands were empty, and as far as she could tell, my heart too-this child so acquainted with sorrow of many kinds, so unfamiliar with with the languages of love.
Almost begrudgingly, I sat down in the adjacent chair and dragged her onto my lap. She hid her face still and buried her head into my chest. The quiet sobs turned to a torrent of tears as I rubbed her hair and back. We sat together for a moment and I eventually promised to take her and the younger sister to the bookstore the next evening. All I asked is that she let me see her smile.
I wiped the moisture from her cheeks and tickled her sides. She laughed cautiously, lifting her head slightly. A crooked grin cut into her cheeks as I stood to go upstairs. She stayed behind.
"Problem solved," I thought.
Later I heard Lisa summon me to the bedroom of the little girls. This young, new daughter asked for me. I walked in.
"Jeff, I want to show you my pictures."
I sat on the bed as she began to leaf through the small album and explain the few images linked to her troubled past. I had seen them all before. But now, she desperately tried to traverse the chasm between these two worlds-old and new. Her wounded heart struggled to make sense of divided loyalties, while a palpable tension filled the space between us. Finally, she placed the pictures on the nightstand and reached up to tickle me under my arms as I had done earlier. We jostled about for a moment and then I tucked the sheets and kissed her forehead.
"Goodnight," I said, walking out of the door and to my own bedroom. She was silent.
A few minutes later, she appeared next to me as I sat on my own bed. She hugged me firmly.
"Good night, Jeff," she whispered.
"Good night, sweetie."
At once she began to walk away
"Hey," I said, stopping her abruptly.
"What," she asked?
I felt the urge to say "I love you." I think she wanted to hear it too, but my lips resisted.
"We've got a date at the bookstore tomorrow, right?"
"Yeah," and she was gone.
In the course of thirty minutes, the merry-go-round twirled completely about. Now, I could hear Lisa bathing and the distinct yet muted noise of a razor dragging atop her legs. The other kids who normally invade our bedroom in the late evening were occupied elsewhere. An eerie, mostly undisturbed quietness hung about the space around me. And suddenly, I thought I should tell the story of this exact moment in time, because perhaps by doing so I might clearly distill some lesson from it all.
So, I opened up the keyboard,
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