“Dave,” he said, “I’m going to ask a favor.”

Right then—I’m talking two years ago—right then on the telephone, I knew I was in for it; my kid brother had never asked me for anything easy. The time before, I’d ended up driving two Indians from Logan Airport to Atikesh, Maine, through a blizzard. That’s why I said “More Indians?”

“Native Americans,” Eddie replied. “They couldn’t put up with your cigar.”

“It was my car and my gas. Shit, they invented tobacco, didn’t they?”

“I don’t think so. Not those two,” said Eddie. You have to understand—Eddie’s a professionalwise-ass; he works for the ACLU. Not that I’m not proud of him. Hey, I helped put him through law school. I just can’t pin his ears back the way I used to.

“So what is it this time?” I asked.

“I’d like you and Kathy to visit a fourteen-year- old girl,” he said.

“Another Indian?”

“No. An orphan.”

I think that’s when I flopped down on the couch. I mean I had these visions of Kathy falling in lovewith this kid and a fifth college tuition down the line. The novelty business isn’t that generous. If it were, Ralph Lauren would be selling glow charms and mini-bears.

“Dave? Did you drop your moustache?” asked Eddie.

“Sorry. No orphans. They’re not worth their feed.”

“Don’t hand me Dad’s bullshit. Anyway, he was talking about your dogs, not about kids.”

“Want to bet your – bippy?” I’d almost said “your tuition,” but I don’t like rubbing anyone’s nose in my sacrifice. If there was anything good about Dad’s stinginess, it was that it taught me about paying for choices, be they my stray dogs or Eddie’s higher education. Eddie’s options had always been a little freer because he could always count on me to chip in. Not that he wasn’t appreciative. He was just born a lawyer. He always knew how to get the cookie jar in my hands and the cookie in his.

“Her name is Dawn,” Eddie said. “She’s at Chelton.”

“She’s down here?”

“Yup. She’s not a state kid. I’d appreciate you and Kathy visiting her.”

“No. I gave up on strays a long time ago.” “Holly?” he asked.

“Forget Holly! No orphans. Let some bleeding heart liberal from your ACLU do it.”

“It’s just as much your ACLU, you know.”

“The hell it is! I never once voted for a Democrat.”

“That’s why we have more orphans.”

“Bullshit!” I can’t talk politics with Eddie; he doesn’t appreciate security and stability. Believe me, if he was in the junk novelty business, he’d value them a lot more. “Go get married,” I told him. “Then you’ll have — someone useful to fight with.”

But already he was telling me about Dawn and how her father died of a heart attack when she was four and her mother dropped dead of a stroke in the supermarket two — no, now it’s three – years ago, with the kid right there trying to pull her up off the floor. I hate that kind of story; it’s so damn depressing. Believe me, I’d rather be out tossing the football with Rob or hacking away at my Magic Music Machine – or even driving Indians to Maine – than listening to some ACLU guy talk about orphans. If he wasn’t my brother, I’d have hung up on him right then.

*                *               *
The first time Kathy and I went to pick Dawn up at Chelton Academy, she was waiting in the dorm lobby. She was dressed in this plaid jumper — Kathy said it brought out both the green of Dawn’s eyes and her chestnut hair — I wasn’t that technical about it; I just saw how scared the kid was behind her freckles.

“I’m Dawn,” she said, popping up from a chair right near the door. She wore her hair in bangs and a ponytail and was maybe five feet one or two – a cutie, but slow on her hormones, if you know what I mean. “Are you Mr. and Mrs. Hilliard?” she asked.

“That’s us,” I said.

“You can call us Kathy and Dave,” said Kathy. “It’ll be easier.”

Dawn had a way of smiling that melted my rough spots. Not that her teeth were toothpaste perfect or anything. It was the way her whole face, in one second, broke sunny side up through its worried shell. “I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said, offering me her hand.

I looked at her wrist as we shook hands. There weren’t any scars. I thought maybe Eddie’d made up the suicide bit to sell me on visiting the kid. But Dawn caught me looking and went eggshell-tight again.

“I only cut the left one. I’m right-handed.”

“Oh,” I said, trying not to glance down again. “So am I.”

“Poor baby,” said Kathy, moving in to hug her. Kathy is very big on hugging, and even though she’s about the size of Audrey Hepburn, you come away feeling like it’s been Catherine Zeta-Jones, if you know what I mean. Always very generous with everything – one of those give ‘til it hurts types. I mean look at me. It’s because she cooks like there’s no tomorrow.

Anyway, Dawn was all revved up to show us her dorm room, so we had to troop up three flights so Kathy could “ooh” and “ahh” the way mothers do about folded clothes and junk off the floor. I mean the kid had obviously cleaned it up – she’d even put a yellow ribbon on the raggedy pooch on her pillow – but the paint was peeling and there wasn’t enough space for the three of us to stand or enough air for us to breathe. What seemed a little weird was that there were no pictures—I mean photographs. She had taped up animal posters and some of her drawings of castles and guys in armor. I looked on her desk, on her bureau—not one picture of her family. I couldn’t ask her about it then, it wouldn’t have been right. Dawn was so excited, trying so hard to make a good impression. She would have showed us the whole thirty acres if Kathy didn’t have a prime rib in the oven.

“Do you like going to school here?” I asked on the way to the car.

“Not really.”

I wasn’t surprised. Eddie had told us she didn’t have a choice after she flunked out of the foster homes. The money from her parents’ house had been split into a trust fund for Dawn and her older brother, who was away at college. The only other relative was a coked-out uncle whose brain had gone soft.

Kathy was walking on the other side of the kid. “Why don’t you like it?” she asked.

Dawn quick-stepped forward and kicked a pebble from the path, then dropped back into stride with us. She glanced at Kathy. “A lot of the girls here are stuck up.”

“Oh…Do you have any friends?” Kathy said.

“Sure! Well, one or two. It’s not like in Maine.” Dawn flicked her hand at the ivy-covered buildings. “Some of them here think they’re so great. If they were, their parents wouldn’t’ve sent them.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “Who knows why – ”

But Kathy didn’t let me finish. “It must be hard for you to be here,” she told Dawn.

I suddenly felt goose-bumps rush down my spine, heading for my wallet. “There must be something good here,” I said. “It can’t all be bad.”

Dawn’s hands fluttered like a butterfly in front of her. “No, no! I don’t mean it’s bad. It’s okay, really it is. I just miss – Maine. I’m okay, really. A lot of kids are worse off.” I saw she was trying not to cry. A real winner, Eddie! I thought.

“We live only five minutes away,” I said. “Kathy’s a great cook.” Well, I didn’t know what else to say. Nobody ever taught me how to talk to an orphan. Or Indians.

Only our two youngest were home for that first Sunday dinner. Kathleen and her husband live in Pittsburgh and Carol was away at Antioch majoring in Feminist Film or something equally useful.

Cindy — she was a senior in high school then — she was friendly to Dawn and tried to make her feel comfortable. As for Rob, I don’t know, maybe he felt pissed we asked him to wear a real pair of pants that day. Or maybe he was embarrassed with a pretty girl nearly his age sitting next to him at the dinner table. Not that his sisters aren’t pretty, but family isn’t romance, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I asked Rob to clear some dishes with me to get him alone in the kitchen.

“What’s with you?” I asked him.

“What?” he asked back. You know that voice that slides off the chips on kids’ shoulders? Rob is an ace.

“Can’t you be nice to her?” I asked. “She’s an orphan.”

“So? It’s not my fault.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “My death is going to be your fault.”

“Will you teach me to drive before you die?” Rob asked. When the little beanpole wised off like that, it was hard to look at him and not see Eddie. But people won’t let you punch your kid the way they let you punch your kid brother. So I just gave him what he calls “the wicked eye.”

“You better stop hiding behind the broccoli and talk to that girl,” I told him.

So he did. About a minute after we sat down again at the table. “I hear you got a disease,” he said.

“Rob!” Kathy’s hand flew to her forehead. As for Cindy, she just rolled her eyes upward. I first remember her doing that when she was four and I told her she now had a baby brother.

“I do,” said Dawn, her face reddening. “It’s a bone disease.”

She said the name, but I don’t remember it now. Eddie had told me it wasn’t cancer, just some weird inherited thing that made lumps grow on her bones; when they grew big or in a bad place…well, she’d already had three operations, but the doctors thought the disease would slow down once she stopped growing.

“It’s not catching, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she told Rob. Then she looked down at her plate; her hands played with her steak knife. I thought, Jesus Christ, why did we give her that?

“I wasn’t worried,” said Rob. “You don’t look deformed at all.”

Well that did it…I smacked the tabletop and said something I’m not proud of and Kathy yelled at him and Cindy’s eyes did a couple of loop-de-loops before she opened her mouth.

“Rob’s always been an asshole,” she told Dawn. “Don’t take it personally.”

“I’m sorry,” said Rob. “It came out different than I meant it.”

It sure did.
*                        *                         *

It was Kathy who invited Dawn to sleep over the next weekend. I wasn’t keen on it because Cindy worked at The Pizza Pavilion on Saturdays, and Rob and I had planned to go golfing.

“Well go ahead,” said Kathy. “Dawn can hang out with me. No matter who’s home, she’ll feel better here than in that school.”

“What happens if she really gets to like it here?” I asked.

Kathy smiled. “We can always leave her alone with you for a day.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said.

I think God doesn’t recognize sarcasm. Not only did it rain that Saturday, but Kathy woke up with one of her “Let me die” migraines. I was smart enough to know that lying in the dark with a splitting headache and a case of the heaves was no picnic; but next time I’ll share the migraine rather than breakfast with three teen-agers suddenly deprived of their mom, loud rock and golf. Not that I didn’t try to make the best of it. I even beat my own grumpiness into something good for breakfast.

“G’morning,” mumbled Cindy, joining us in the kitchen in her bathrobe as oil began sizzling on the griddle. “Ohhh, Dad!” she moaned. Her eyes were bleary; her hair looked like matted straw.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, thinking maybe her boyfriend had dumped her or something. Dawn had half turned around in her chair at Cindy’s “Ohhh, Dad!” Even Rob had looked up from his Sports Illustrated.

“I can’t have pancakes,” said Cindy. “I have to eat pasta or pizza at work.” She touched her teeny gut and made a face like I’d suggested pig’s knuckles.

“You just don’t like Dad’s pancakes,” said Rob. He had a smirk I wanted to cram through the leg of his sweat suit.

Cindy glared at him. “That’s not true!”

“Don’t they have a salad bar at work?” I asked, ladling batter onto the griddle. “Eat salad there.”

“That’s just for the customers,” said Cindy. “Pasta is cheaper.”

“I like pancakes,” said Dawn, filling her glass with O.J. I noticed she was the only one who’d bothered to get dressed. Nothing fancy, just jeans and a Charlie Brown sweat shirt.

“You won’t like them after this,” said Rob. “Pass the juice.”

“How about saying please,” said Dawn.

“What?” Rob’s head came up from his magazine. Cindy pulled her chair out from the table.

“Say please, you dork. Dawn is our guest.”

“She’s not my guest,” said Rob.

“No?” said Dawn. Her face was red. “Good!” She started to get up.

“Damn it, Rob! That’s enough!” I slammed my ladle onto the counter. Batter flew off in all directions, but I did get Rob’s undivided attention.

“Excuse me, Mr. Hilliard,” Dawn said politely. “Would you please drive me back to school?” Then she emptied her glass of juice on Rob’s head.

*                  *                 *

Did you ever spend a rainy Saturday with a kid who’s starving for family? How about an orphan who’s trying to undo a major screw-up? I mean Dawn was so warm and sweet, by late afternoon I felt like I was covered with industrial-strength syrup. Not that I would’ve let the kid leave after she risked so much to stand up for herself. But Kathy was still zonked in bed, Cindy was at work, and Rob and his buddies had gone to the movies. After what Dawn had done to him, I couldn’t exactly ask Rob to invite her, could I? Turned out that Dawn wouldn’t have gone anyway, because she hated horror movies and Rob was hot to see Bloodshriek II. So I was left playing backgammon and Nintendo with the kid until The Disney Golf Classic came on the tube and I could retreat to my recliner to watch the luckiest people in the world — those who make big bucks playing golf. Last I was aware, Dawn was puttering around the bookcase, looking for something to read.

“Who are they?” she said, suddenly at my side.

“Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen,” I replied. “Thirteenth hole.”

“No, I mean them,” she said, practically sticking the old family album to my nose. Her finger led me to an old black and white photo.

“That’s my parents before they got married.”

She withdrew the album. “My parents have a beach picture like that.”

“Do they? I mean – do you have it, now?”

“Uh-huh. I have a family album, too.” She rested the weight of my album on the arm of my recliner.

“That’s good. Maybe sometime we can look at it.”

Her face got egg-tight. “Maybe. I don’t like to look at it much. It – my brother says we have to get on with our lives.”

“Yeah, then you don’t have to show it to me. I mean, if you want to, that’s okay, but you don’t have to – unless you want to.”

“I bet you’d like my brother.” She picked up my album and went to the couch.

I didn’t say anything. How could I tell her I didn’t want any part of her brother? I mean kids are okay, but they’re a big responsibility. How many can a family take on before everyone gets shortchanged? Besides, if I met her brother, I might like his spunk, too, and how long would it be before their cocaine-craving uncle came looking for a handout?

So Dawn settled in to look at more pictures and I went back to watching the Classic, where Goosen was lining up a seven-footer. Wouldn’t you know it? Just before he putts, Dawn pipes up again. “Our school play is the second weekend in December. We’re doing ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.’ We’re doing it Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Would you and Kathy like to go?”

“You’ll have to ask Kathy.” Right away, I knew I shouldn’t have said that. Kathy would have had us in the front row at every performance. “I think we could make one night,” I said. Then Goosen bogied. Frankly, I’m not too sad when the big guys bogey, too.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said. “I don’t have a part. I’m just in the stage crew.”

“Well, it’s good you’re doing something,” I said, watching Goosen tap it in. Then it was Mickelson’s turn. But Dawn wouldn’t let up.

“My psychologist says I’ve still got a lot of grief to do.”

“What?” I thought the tube made me hear her wrong.

“Grief. Like feeling sad and crying.”

“I know what grief is.” I guess my tone was a little sharp. She brought the ponytail around in front of her mouth, looked down at the album and didn’t say anything. So finally I said “I do want to go to Charlie Brown.”

“How?” she asked through the ponytail.

“What do you mean, ‘how’?”

Dawn let go of her hair and looked up. “How do you know what grief is?”

“Everybody knows what it is.” That didn’t even sound right to me. I knew she wanted more than I was giving. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been lucky. The people I love haven’t died. Even my parents are living. I had a dog die when I was a kid—but that’s not the same.”

“What was it like?”

“A black female – mostly Cocker Spaniel.”

Her hand brushed aside my mistake. “No. What was it like when she died?”

“Awful,” I said. My gut began to redigest old shit. “I mean I was only twelve, so it seemed awful. But it was nothing compared to…people.”

The album slid off Dawn’s lap and onto the couch. “How did she die?”

“She was hit by a car. She ran across the street in the dark. The guy never saw her.”

“Did you see her—after?”

“I was out walking her. We didn’t have a leash law back then.”

Dawn leaned forward. Her voice was low; her eyes glistened. “Did you feel awful you couldn’t save her?”

“Awful.” I suddenly felt real sad. For Dawn, not for the dog. “I called her when I saw the car coming up the street, but she didn’t cross over right away. I always thought if I hadn’t called to her, or if I hadn’t brought her home in the first place, maybe she would’ve lived longer.” I swallowed my doubts and hoped I wouldn’t screw up. “Did you have weird thoughts like that about your mother?”

Dawn nodded. And then she cried. Really bawled her heart out. And stupid me, I went over to the couch and held her. I had to bite my lip. So? I never said I was an Indian.

Anyway, after the waterworks, Dawn asked “Do you have a picture of your dog?”

“In there.” I pointed to the album. “I had a few dogs, but Holly’s the only black one.”

“Did you get another dog after she died?”

“Yes,” I said. I still think that lie was a white one.

*                     *                      *

As a kid fascinated by war movies and the real war-gore on TV, I used to wonder whether it would be better to hear the whistle of falling bombs or incoming rockets before one of them blasted me out of my world. Maybe in war there’s a simple answer; in my marriage, it hasn’t been so easy. God bless Kathy, she’s been a terrific mother and a wonderful wife, but sometimes I’ve felt I married a bombardier.

One night—Dawn had visited us three, maybe four times by then—I was in bed, just about to fall asleep, when Kathy snuggled over to my back, touched my shoulder and said “Dave, I think we should do it.”

Wearily, I opened one eye. “We just did it last night.”

“No, no,” she said. “I mean we should take Dawn in as a foster child.”

“What?” I grabbed my pillow with one hand, the blanket with the other. Not much help in an air-raid. “She’s a lovely girl. She needs a good family,”said Kathy.

“Do we have to talk about it now? I was sleeping.”

“No, you weren’t. You weren’t making those little whistling noises, yet.”

“I don’t always make them,” I said. “Sometimes I just hear them. Kathy, I have to get up early tomorrow…”

The mattress bounced and the blanket was pulled from my grasp. “I don’t understand it,” said Kathy. Even without looking, I could see her frowning down at me. “You seem to like Dawn when she’s around. Why are you against it?”

I wiggled my index finger. “Give me back the damn blanket!”

“Sorry.” She pulled it up over my body. “Why are you against her as a foster child?”

“Money, responsibility, sleepless nights, lousy luck with strays – take your pick.”

I felt a nudge in the back. “You never had a sleepless night in your life,” she said.

“What about this one?” I reached behind me, touched my way down to her hand, gave it a little squeeze and held on. “Look, don’t worry about Dawn. Eddie’ll find her a family.”

“Not as good as ours.”

“Probably not. But ours is good because we’ve had luck and stability.”

“And love.”

“That goes without saying. And I don’t want this family to change.”

“You can’t stop it. The kids are almost all grown. Cindy will be going off to college next fall. Remember that song you used to sing with them? We’ll be down to ‘one little Indian boy.’”

“I’m too old for strange Indians,” I said.

She squeezed my hand. “No, you’re not. You love them.”

“The Hell I do. I like Dawn—that doesn’t mean I love her. Or that we really know her.” I rolled over to face Kathy so that, even in the dark, she could see I was serious. “Look, there’s bound to be a lot of angry stuff in that kid. What happens when she no longer feels like she has to be on her best behavior? Maybe becomes boy-crazy or gets into drugs.”

“We’d deal with it. Just as we would if we found Rob or Cindy used drugs.”

“Yeah, but with our kids, we love them and have a responsibility. It’s not the same for Dawn. And why take her on now, just when we have our own ducks in a row?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“You sound like my brother. It’s a good thing you’re better looking.” I gave her a quick kiss, then rolled over onto my back. “No more talk, please. I’m going to sleep.”

“Good night,” she said. I heard her disappointment loud and clear.

“Good night,” I murmured. Then we just lay there.

*                     *                      *

The bomb dropped eight weeks to the day after that first Sunday dinner. Dawn had spent her fourth weekend with us and I’d driven her back to school and come home again, only to find Kathy, Cindy and Rob at the kitchen table. Kathy was sitting there in her apron, with a dishtowel over her shoulder and a smile the size of a straight-A report card on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Mom says you’ve talked about adopting Dawn,” said Cindy.

“A what? No! Definitely not adopting! Foster child—we’ve talked about the possibility of making her—I mean taking her in as a foster child.” I flashed my “wicked eye” at Kathy for involving the kids. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s not going to happen.”

“Who’s worried?” asked Cindy. “I’m not worried. You worried, Rob?”

“I don’t do worry,” said Rob.

“You don’t have to,” I said. “I do it for you.”

“About all the wrong things,” Rob said.

“Then stop hiding the right things from me. Adoption! Maybe you should try on a few worries, Rob. She poured orange juice on your head, remember?”

Rob shrugged. “So? I hid her bras on the roof.”

“You what?”

“She didn’t need them. They were just for show, anyway.”

“Oh, Rob, that’s awful,” said Kathy.

“Well, she short-sheeted my bed.”

“They love to play tricks on each other,” said Cindy. “It’s very juvenile.”

“It’s worse than juvenile,” I said. “And it’s gonna stop here and now.” I glared at Rob. “When the hell did you get to like her?”

“About a week after you did,” said Rob. “It’s like having Kathleen and Carol back home again. With only Cindy Two-Shoes here, this house is boring.”

“Piss off!” said Cindy.

“That’s how I like it,” I said. “Respectful and boring.”

“The children need to have a say in this, too,” said Kathy. “It’s their family as well as ours.”

“Well, they’ve had it. No adoption, no foster care! That kid will be lucky to come back at all.”

“What if you and Mom died and Rob and I were left?” asked Cindy. “Wouldn’t you want a good family to adopt me?”

“What about me?” Rob demanded. “You going to leave me to the body-snatchers? Whooahg!” His body shriveled with the sound in his throat.

“Don’t be stupid,” I said, opening the refrigerator for a can of Bud Lite. “You have your sisters, you have uncles and aunts – they’d take you both in a minute.”

“Well, Dawn doesn’t have anyone.” Cindy pointed an accusing finger. “What if I were her?”

“But you’re not her.” I popped the top, took a swig; it was cold going down.

“C’mon Dad, why are you being so dense?” asked Rob.

“You’re mouth is a danger zone,” I told him.

Kathy pulled the dishtowel from her shoulder onto the table; she clenched both hands on the cloth. “No, it’s true, Dave. You’re avoiding the real issues. Even the children can see that. Why don’t you sit down and talk with us about it.”

To tell the truth, I couldn’t take the way they were all staring at me. So I sat down at the table feeling like the last American negotiator in Viet Nam. “A discussion is one thing. A vote is another,” I said. Then I had my say, starting from me being too old for more kids and the noise and the arguments, to how much time Dawn spent in the bathroom and who would pay for everything she needed, especially if her bone disease got worse and she had to have more operations to get rid of the tumors. But the more I talked, the more Kathy frowned and Cindy rolled her eyes, the less I believed my own words. So I quickly added the kicker – why didn’t anybody else want the kid?

“Her parents wanted her.” Kathy’s face was grim. “She wasn’t lucky—they died. After that, she was in two bad foster homes.”

“C’mon,” I said. “These things don’t ever work out well. Then we end up blaming her, blaming ourselves and each other, and nothing ever feels right again.”

Kathy thumped the table. “Well is it better to feel bad about ourselves for not trying it?”

“It ‘ll be a lot worse for all of us, especially Dawn, if we make her a foster kid and then let her go. And I don’t think we need to feel bad about what we’re doing. We’re helping her by just having her over and showing we like her.” With victory at hand, I chugged a mouthful of beer.

“Kathleen and Carol think it would be cool to adopt her,” said Cindy.

“Kth glag?” I came up spluttering. “For Christ’s sake, Kathleen is married! Why the hell is she butting in?”

“She’s still our sister,” said Rob.

“Too damn bad! This isn’t her house anymore.” “Dave!” Kathy had a “wicked eye,” too, but it was reserved for me.

“I’m just saying she’s – well, she’s never even met Dawn. Where does she come off having an opinion?”

Rob clapped a hand to his head. “C’mon, Dad! You keep telling us to think for ourselves.”

“That’s with your friends. This is a different issue.”

Cindy’s eyes rolled upward. “Believe it!”

“Look, you don’t have to agree with me. But you do have to live here. End of discussion!” Then I did what I imagine the last American negotiator did in Viet Nam. I walked out with as much dignity as possible.

You think that stopped it? Kathleen called from Pittsburgh and told me—as if I hadn’t paid the college bills or gone through the heartaches – that she had majored in psychology and understood my needs for control but, as she put it, “Dawn isn’t a novelty item to be thrown out with the trash.”

Of course Carol was not to be outdone. I suppose Antioch’s reputation was on the line or something. I’d told her not to go to Antioch but she had, and she loved it. I could accept that; I had to. But she kept insisting I got my way all the time. I told her to take a course in logic. She said she had. Anyway, Carol’s theory, which she e-mailed to me as fact, was that I was raised a male chauvinist by a misguided mother and therefore treated Kathy as an unequal partner. The least I could do was to allow Kathy to continue what she did best: mothering!

I replied that she should call Grandma and Kathy to verify her theory and, if proven correct, she should petition OSHA to have me recalled as a defective person; meanwhile, did the chauvinist’s daughter consider herself “born again” pure? Maybe her mother’s greatest skill wasn’t mothering—maybe her mother had more talent as a bombardier. You know what Carol wrote back? One line! “I’m not interested in your sex life.” I’m still afraid to ask what she meant.

*                   *                         *

So what did we do? We abandoned Dawn. Not right away. Kathy tried to win me over. She dragged me to Dawn’s school play and parent picnic. Shit, we even went to the kid’s shrink. Meanwhile, Dawn came over two weekends a month and we all put on smiley faces that didn’t fool her for a minute. We were a divided family. As hard as that was for me, it was worse for Kathy.

At the end of the school year, Dawn went back to Maine. I told Eddie that if she needed a little financial help now and then, I’d kick in a few bucks. He said money wasn’t the issue, he was looking for a good family—then he apologized and said we had provided her with a lot of help and comfort through a bad time. It didn’t make me feel any better and didn’t clear the air at home. Nobody talked about it, but I knew they were disappointed in me. What they didn’t know was how disappointed I was with myself. In the fall, Dawn didn’t come back to Chelton.

Two days before Christmas, I was jawing with one of my salesmen about how we’d dumped foldaway flowers in favor of Kinko-Beans at the right time, when my girl buzzed and said Eddie was on the phone. “Excuse me, Jack,” I said. “I’m going to have to do another fucking favor for my brother.”

“So what?” he said, getting up and making for the door. “It’s Christmas. It’s time to give.”

He was talking bonus. To bug him, I said “I only give to colleges.”

“Dumb fuckers never learn,” he said before shutting the door.

My “wicked eye” went to the phone. I picked it up.

“Eddie,” I said, “this is Scrooge. Don’t ask for any favors.”

“And a Merry Christmas to you, Brother Scrooge. I’m calling to give, not ask.”

“You mean the red Ferrari I’ve always wanted?”

“Sorry, brother, some things are even beyond my reach. However, I do have some very good news. I found this family in Bar Harbor that really clicked with Dawn. They’ve filed adoption papers. How’s that for a Christmas present?”

It was like my best buddy had suddenly punched me in the gut. I had no air, no ability to speak. I guess I was silent too long. Eddie said “I mean for the kid.”

“Yeah,” I managed. “I’m really glad for the kid.”

“It is good news, isn’t it?”

I reached for enthusiasm, came up a mile short.

“Yeah. I can’t wait to tell Kathy. Fill in the details.” I knew she’d kill me if I didn’t have a happy story behind the headline. So Eddie told me and I tried to take in as much as I could. I thanked him and he thanked me and my family. But I had no stomach for chitchat.

“Listen,” I said. “I’m in the middle of something here. I have to go. Merry Christmas, Eddie.”

“Merry Christmas, good brother.”

When I put down the phone, I was crying.

 

                                                             THE END