Chapter 289: Smile
Tim’s sitting on the floor, Kelly on his legs, looking up at him, one hand wrapped around each of his index fingers. She’s cooing and gurgling, and he’s doing it back to her, or she’s doing it back to him, either way, it’s happening.
He’s rubbing the tip of his nose against hers and then pulls back, “Gooo.”
Her eyes are bright, and she smiles at him. Wide open, happy, smiling.
And he feels so wrapped in love with that, so awash in adoration for this tiny person and how much she’s his whole world and…
And he snags his phone and gets a quick shot of it.
And before he puts the phone down he hit the call button.
“Oh My God! Tim! Honey, are you okay!” his mom answers on the first ring, sounding breathless.
“Hi, Mom, Kelly just smiled at me for the first time.”
“Oh, baby.” He can hear the smile in her voice, and some confusion, and excitement, and fear. “Is she still doing it?”
“No. Not anymore, staring at me, looking confused.”
“Is that her I’m hearing?” ‘Staring at me’ also involved blowing bubbles and cooing at him.
“Yeah, that’s her. I just… She smiled at me, and I wanted to tell you about it.”
“I’m glad you did. Did you get a picture?”
“Yeah. I can send you—“
“No!” he can feel the way she’s biting her lip on that, not wanting to demand anything, but terrified she’ll scare him off. “Just, please, don’t hang up, please… keep talking to me, okay?”
“Okay.” But he’s not sure what to say. And she’s just listening, listening hard. He can imagine the look on her face, can hear the fact that she’s excited by the way she’s breathing. Can feel how nervous she is right now, terrified of saying the wrong thing and scaring him off. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too, Tim. Miss you so much.”
“And I’m really angry,” he hears the edge in his voice as he says that, and feels her flinch at the heat in his voice.
“I know. I’m sorry. I… just… I’m sorry.”
“And I’m going to be angry for a long time.”
“But I miss you, and she smiled at me, and I wanted to tell you about it.”
“I want to hear about it, about all of it.”
Kelly makes a little fussy noise, one he’s got characterized as the naptime five minute warning.
“I’ve got to go put her down before she gets overtired.”
“Can I call you?”
“Sure. Might not answer, but yeah, you can call.”
“Okay. That’s good enough for now.”
“Okay. Bye, Mom.”
His hands are shaking as he hangs up the phone, and he didn’t know what to call the emotion flooding through him.
But he does know he’s a dad, and it’s his job to make sure his little girl gets down to sleep before she gets overtired.
So he picks her up, gently, cradling her against his chest, and carries her up to her room.
And he spends too long sitting with her in the rocking chair, lips against the crown of her head, his hands wrapped around her, feeling her heart beating against his, because she’s dead asleep before he felt like he could let her go.
But she didn’t mind.
“Tim?” Abby asks him curiously as he heads out of Kelly’s room. She knows something’s up; it doesn’t take half an hour to put Kelly down.
He nods toward their room, not wanting to have this conversation right outside Kelly’s door. Sure, she’ll sleep through whatever comes her way, but it still feels odd to chat right next to where she’s sleeping.
He sits on their bed, in the middle, back against the headboard and pillows, and she follows, settling in next to him.
He fishes his phone out of his pocket and shows her the picture of Kelly smiling.
“Ohhh…” she half-says it, half-breathes it, eyes soft, smile wide. “She’s smiling.”
“Yeah,” he says it softly, rubbing his hand up and down her back.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“You were sleeping.”
She nods a little at that. As of this point, she has not yet lifted the wake me up and die rule. She snuggles in close to him, head against his shoulder, legs draped over his, holding his phone, gazing at Kelly’s first smile. Then she looks back up at him and raises an eyebrow, that’s not all clear on her face.
He rests his head against the headboard, staring up at the ceiling and sighed long and deep. “I called my mom.”
“Oh.” She squeezes him a little tighter and kisses his shoulder. “How’d that go?”
“Okay. I guess. She said she was sorry. I said I was mad and that I was going to be mad for a long time, but that I wanted to tell her that Kelly smiled.”
She nods. “Are you all right?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. She was sorry and nervous I’d run away and scared and misses me and… And I don’t know.”
“Maybe.” He closes his eyes, and his posture slumps a bit. “Hurting again. I hold Kelly and…” He opens them and looks at Abby. “And she’s my world. Just, so much love and joy and hope and… And I just want to protect her from everything. And how could either of them, but especially her… She’s my mom. I grew in her body. How could she have thought that what they did was all right?”
“I don’t know.”
He shakes his head again. And Abby snuggled with him, holding him, not saying anything, letting him process as well as he can.
Eventually, Kelly wakes up again, asking for yet more food. Abby starts to get up, but Tim shakes his head, kisses her, and gets up.
“Hey, baby girl.”
She looks up at him from her crib, eyes tracking him as he leans over to pick her up.
“Let’s get you clean and ready for second dinner.”
She seems to appreciate that idea. She’s quietly sitting in his arms, waiting to get changed.
He lays her down, takes care of business, tickling her feet a little, which gets a startled look and an indignant squawk out of Kelly. He chirps back at her, mimicking the sound. “You know, when you can laugh, you might get tickled a lot.” He lifts her to his shoulder. “I can’t imagine your Pop’ll ever turn up a chance to tickle his favorite girl. And your Uncle Jimmy, he’s a tickle maniac. Your cousin Molly’ll tell you all about it.” He kisses the top of her head. “But if you don’t like getting tickled, I won’t do it. And I won’t let them do it, either.
“You don’t have to be any tougher than you are. Or softer. Or girlier. Or more butch. Or anything else. You just figure out who you are, and that’ll be good enough for me,” he whispers to her as he takes her to Abby.
He thinks she might have caught what he said, because she smiles, takes Kelly from him, and says as she gets Kelly set to nurse, “Goes for me, too.” Then she kisses Tim. “And it goes to you, too. You never have to be anyone else for me, or for Kelly. No matter who you are, we’re here for you.”
It’s a pretty sad smile on his face, so she kisses him again. “I know we can’t fix it, or make it better, but we can stop it. We can break the pattern and fill it up with love.”
He nods. “That sounds really good.”