Quinten Parker rolled over in bed, feeling the cool, empty
space beside him. Each day for the past three years he'd
hoped that he'd awake and the longing, the emptiness would
be overâ€”Nikita would be beside him, curled along the
length of his body.
He released a sigh, adjusted his eyes to the light of
a new day. Nothing had changed. The heaviness still hung
in his heart and in his loinsâ€”a sensation that hadn't been
quenched or filled by anything or anyone.
In the distance he heard his landlady, Mrs. Finch,
moving around downstairs. A faint smile touched his lips.
Some of the familiar things were still good. Yet, his
friends Nick and Parris had repeatedly tried to convince
him to move away from the place that he and Nikita had
shared as man and wife. "You need to move on, start over,"
they'd insisted. "Too many memories." But the memories
were all he had left. The things that kept him company
when the loneliness became too much to handle.
"Daddy ... I'm hungry," came a tiny sleep-filled
Quinn's chest filled with an almost unspeakable joy as
he was momentarily taken aback at seeing the tiny version
of himself staring boldly back at him. He sat up in the
bed, the white sheet slipping to his waist, unveiling his
"What would you like today, buddy?"
"Pancakes!" Jamel said with a wide grin, revealing a
missing front tooth.
Quinn chuckled and threw his long legs over the side
of the bed.The past four weeks had been pure magicâ€”the
first big block of time he'd spent with his son. He'd
tried to squeeze six years into those four weeks. Sure,
he'd been to San Francisco to visit several times during
the year, but he'd never had this much time, all at once,
one-on-one. It was an experience he wouldn't soon forget.
He'd learned things about himself during their time
together. He learned that he was a good teacher as he
helped his son figure out how to connect all the game
wires to the television. He learned that he was capable of
being a nurturer when he held his son at night and read to
him, or bandaged a wounded knee. He learned that he still
had the capacity to feel, to want to care, to want to do
something for someone else, to give something of himself
to another human being. He hadn't thought Maxine would
agree to his request to have Jamel spend part of the
summer with him. She'd surprised him when she agreed and
told him "it was time." For that, he would always be
Quinn stood and came around the foot of the bed,
swooping Jamel up from the floor and tucking him beneath
his arm to delighted giggles and squirming.
"Pancakes, huh?" He pushed a finger into Jamel's side
and wiggled it, eliciting more laughter. It was music to
his ears, lyrical and perfect like the chords he'd once
played on the piano. But it was about to end and his life
would return to what he'd grown accustomed toâ€”trying to
make it one day at a time.
Quinn spoke in quiet, but decisive tones to the
stewardess who'd promised to look after Jamel during the
six-hour flight back to the coast.
"Please don't worry, Mr. Parker," she insisted,
placing a comforting hand on Quinn's hard bicep. "He'll be
Quinn looked down at his son, who held his hand in a
viselike grip, but otherwise appeared excited about his
journey. "This nice lady ..." He glanced at the name tag
on her navy blue lapel. "... Ms. Traynor is going to take
care of you on the plane, J. If you need anything, you ask
Jamel nodded, his dark eyes taking in the sights
around him. He stuck a lollipop in his mouth and talked
around it. "I'm a big boy, Daddy," he said with all the
assurance of his six years.
Daddy. His heart fluttered for a moment as the corner
of his rich mouth quirked upward into a half smile. "That
you are, little man." He rustled his tight curls.
"I'd better get him settled on board," the stewardess
Quinn stooped down to Jamel's eye level, bracing his
thin shoulders. "I had a great time, little man."
"Mommy will be there to meet you when you get off the
Jamel nodded and sucked a bit harder on his lollipop.
"I'll call you tonight." Quinn tugged in a breath and
drew Jamel's small frame close to his body. He hugged him
tight, wanting to hold on to those last moments foreverâ€”
needing Jamel to know just how much he was loved, how much
he mattered, the difference that his presence had made in
his lifeâ€”if only momentarily. "I love you, son," he
whispered, hearing the hitch in his voice.
"I love you too, Daddy."
Quinn gave Jamel one last squeeze and quickly stood
before he broke down; that was something Jamel didn't need
The stewardess extended her hand to Jamel and led him
down the boarding entrance. She looked over her shoulder
and mouthed, "He'll be fine."
Quinn pressed his lips together, swallowing over the
knot in his throat as he stood framed in the wide window
watching the plane take off and disappear into the
cloudless summer morning. He tugged in a breath. As sad as
he felt after separating from his son once again, this
time it was with a sense of hope, of possibility. A
feeling he'd forgotten how to experience. Hope, that there
was a possibility for a life, a real life, though
different from the one he'd once imagined.
"Your son needs you, Quinten," Mrs. Finch had
counseled, during Jamel's four-week stay. "But the boy
needs more than the shell of the man you've become. Let
her go, son," she'd whispered, clasping his large hand in
her thin, frail ones.
Quinn's insides contracted and his chest became full
as they did any time the thought of Nikita was evoked, her
name was mentioned or even alluded to. He heaved in a
breath. When would it ever end? When?
He turned away from the window, head bowed, and
started off toward the exit. The truth was, he mused as he
caught glimpses of happy, hand-holding couples and
laughing families, he didn't like who he'd become these
last three years. Didn't like how he moved through his day
like a shadow, there but untouchable. He hadn't written a
piece of music since Nikita's death, hadn't played in the
band, hadn't written a word for his long overdue second
novel. All he'd done was try to find a way to open his
eyes each morning and hope that he could get through the
pain of the day until he could close them again.
He turned on the engine in his Navigator and eased out
into the airport traffic. He wanted his life backâ€”a life
back, filled with that joy he'd once known. But he was
terrified. Terrified of how that pain would feel if he
ever dared to love and lose again.