Steve jerked awake to the relentless cries of his baby daughter. He was dozing face-down on his disheveled bed where he fell two hours ago. After prying open one eye he saw the clock displaying 4:10 a.m. He slowly moved into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, sighed and rubbed his aching temples. He stifled a yawn while dragging his sleep-deprived body to the nursery. As he approached the vocal infant demanding her father’s immediate attention, he stretched his lean muscular body before reaching down to retrieve her. Placing her gently on his broad shoulder did nothing to lower her tone. Sleepy-eyed, he transported her to the dimly lit kitchen trying to reason with her, “Jennifer we really need to have a talk…”
The sound of her father’s voice caused her to pause a few seconds before restating her demands loudly as Steve continued, “You know, sooner or later, we both need to start sleeping longer than two hours a night.” He began preparing her formula automatically with his free hand. “And I thought being on one of your Uncle Oscar’s assignments was tiring! How do women do this?” He muttered.
With the bottle warming he popped two aspirins into his mouth, washing them down with cold water. Settling himself in a kitchen chair he sat his child on his lap facing him, careful to support her wobbling head, her cries of frustration continued, “Hey, hey, hheeyy. Give me a break I’m new at this remember? Where in the world did you get such a temper?” She quieted a moment her glassy eyes stared at his blue ones as if to say ‘you gave it to me.’ He smiled, cooing at her to prevent another outburst but it was not to be. With her tiny lungs filled with air she wailed until her face was a bright shade of pink. He quickly checked the bottle but it was not ready.
Realizing a diaper change might improve the situation they trudged back to the nursery. Placing her confidently on the padded wooden changing table he silently thanked his mother for organizing all the needed items before flying back to California. Steve could have sworn his daughter had a volume control somewhere on her backside, the moment he laid her down her decibel level increase dramatically. With one hand securing her wiggling body he quickly grabbed a small stuffed teddy bear with his other hand and made it dance within her line of sight, quieting her. A crooked grin fell on his lips, feeling he won the battle. It was then he realized he was one arm short to complete his diapering task. ‘I’ll have to talk to Rudy about that.’ He humorously thought to himself.
Looking at the amused expression on his beautiful daughter’s face he was sure she was aware of his predicament when she let out a small squeal of laughter. “Oh so you think this is funny do you? I’m glad you are enjoying yourself little lady.” She squealed again as he dropped the bear, quickly completed his chore then lifted her off the table. “You see I’m getting better. You need to trust your daddy.” He assured her as he placed a delicate kiss on her cheek. He returned with her to the kitchen. With the temperature of the formula checked he place the nipple into her waiting mouth before depositing them both onto the living room rocker.
While she ate hungrily he tiredly thought about his wife, gone 3 months now. He remembered her lovingly, rocking back and forth. “Yes your mother was one special lady.” He looked down at his equally special daughter, their daughter, her eyes were closed but her chubby little cheeks were working hard to fill her empty stomach. “You look like her you know, the black hair, big round eyes and that little button nose. Yes, I think I’ll be chasing boys away from this house quite often.”
Resting his head against the chair back he closed his eyes willing his headache to cease. After about 15 minutes he gazed at her and saw the bottle was empty. He gently placed the sleepy infant on his shoulder and began tapping her back. After hearing a healthy belch he smiled knowing he might get an hour or two of sleep before it started again. He tucked her into her crib, quietly closed the door half-way and went to bed knowing his appointment with Rudy was only three hours away.
Rudy was anxious to see his friend. Aside from the occasional phone call he hadn’t really seen Steve for months. The doctor hoped the problem Steve was having with his bionic arm was one that could be fixed easily. Looking at his watch he noticed it was 30 minutes past Steve’s appointment time. ‘That’s unusual,’ thought Rudy as Steve was the most punctual person he knew. As if on queue Steve came hurriedly through the door, laden with an infant seat in his left hand and diaper bag over his right shoulder.
“Sorry I’m late Rudy. It’s been a really bad morning.”
“That’s okay Steve,” The doctor’s tone was low as he was concerned over Steve’s appearance. He had dark circles under his glassy eyes, his right eye bloodshot and a two-day growth of beard was covering his face. It had been a long time since Rudy had seen his friend in such poor condition.
Placing the occupied car seat and diaper bag on the doctor’s desk Steve apologized again, “The babysitter cancelled at the last minute, then Jenny threw up on me just before we left the house so I needed to change my shirt and a diaper change was required in the parking lot.”
“It’s okay Steve really,” Rudy chuckled as he peered at the adorable angelic face which stared back at him, “Do you mind?” he pointed at Jennifer.
“No, go right ahead.” He replied as he dropped his weary body onto the couch while a smiling Rudy held Jennifer in his arms.
Looking back at his friend he asked, “Is everything alright?”
“Well you look a little…under the weather and it’s pretty obvious you’ve lost some weight.”
Steve sat forward, his elbows on his thighs, rubbing his face with both hands unable to get beyond the sluggishness.
“Rudy you have no idea what the past three months have been like. I literally live on coffee.” He said with a tired smile. “You would think someone with my education, a person who walked on the moon for God’s sake; someone who spent years in the world of foreign intrigue could handle this little person but…”
“But this little one has a mind all her own!”
“Uh huh.” Rudy replied knowing exactly where she got that trait from. He chuckled and looked at Jenny’s innocent face, “She can’t be that much trouble.”
“Trouble huh. She’s definitely a night owl like her mother and stubborn, you wouldn’t believe how stubborn.” Steve just shook his head, “I don’t know where she got that from.”
Rudy laughed, “I do.”
“Very funny. Well are you ready to get to work?”
Before they could move to the next room Linda, Rudy’s longtime assistant entered and flew to the baby like a magnet. “Oh Steve, she’s adorable!!” Rudy handed her the infant and asked, “Linda would you keep an eye on her while I work on Steve?”
“Absolutely!” She excitedly sat at her desk with the charming baby.
Rudy headed to the chair where Steve had already settled. Adjusting the large fluorescent light Rudy prepared his tools while Steve unbuttoned his shirt and slid his right arm free of the fabric.
“So what exactly have you been experiencing?”
“Well every now and then it just loses power, no warning, just stops working. So far in the past 24 hours I’ve dropped a carton of milk, my car keys and a coffee pot.”
Rudy asked concerned, “Jenny?”
“No. Since the first incident I only carry her with my left arm.”
“Okay, anything else?”
“Yeah, today there was a power surge and I crushed the control knob in the shower.” The two friends locked eyes knowing the consequences if Steve had been picking up the baby at that moment. Steve read Rudy’s thoughts, “I know, I know.”
“Well there may be just a short somewhere. Let’s take a look.”
Steve tried desperately to keep his eyes open but sitting in the semi-reclined position in the quietness of the lab, his heavy lids descended quickly. He was vaguely aware of Rudy’s diagnosis, “There seems to be a short just above your elbow. It will take some time to fix but I think it needs to be done now.”
Steve just mumbled an ‘okay’ and the doctor grinned knowing Steve was half asleep.
Half an hour later Linda appeared and asked Steve if he wanted his daughter since she would be leaving soon. He asked her to place the baby in the car seat on the desk just outside the glass-enclosed room. Steve figured he could keep an eye on her there and Linda did as he requested.
Steve dozed as Rudy worked. The doctor occasionally glanced at Jenny who was looking at her toys suspended over her seat, playing with her feet and cooing to herself.
An hour into the procedure Jennifer decided she was lonely and her soft cooing turned into crying. Steve was immediately awake and almost out of the chair when Rudy stopped him with a hand on his chest, pointing to his open right arm secured to the table, wires exposed. “I’ll get her.”
She screamed red faced until Rudy placed her on Steve’s chest. She immediately quieted when she recognized her father’s sent, feeling the security of his presence, falling instantly asleep. Rudy’s smile grew into a grin before he settled back into his work.
Rudy finished the repairs to Steve’s arm in two hours. The final hour with Jenny curled comfortably on her Steve’s chest, a tiny hand clutching the fabric of his shirt tightly, Steve left arm supporting her. The doctor heard someone enter the lab and went to greet the unannounced visitor.
Oscar approached, “I heard Steve was here.”
“Yeah, he needed some repairs in his arm.”
“Nothing serious I hope?”
“No. I fixed the problem, in a couple of hours.”
Seeing the diaper bag and car seat on the desk he asked, “Is he still here?”
Rudy smiled, “Yes, they’re back here.” He held an index finger vertically on his lips invoking silence.
Turing the corner both sets of eyes and a pair of warm smiles took in the scene before them. Father and daughter were both enjoying a restful nap with content expressions on their faces.
Sensing someone in the room Steve slowly opened his eyes, first looking at Jenny on his chest then at his two friends wearing silly grins.
“What are you two grinning at?”
“Nothing. You just look like two peas in a pod.” Oscar replied he and Rudy sharing a laugh.
“So Steve how are things going?” Oscar inquired.
Steve carefully moved his daughter to his left side, noticing the repairs on his right arm were completed. He sat forward, slid his right arm into his sleeve and stood. Rudy stepped towards him while Steve handed the tiny baby over and buttoned his shirt. He answered truthfully, “Fine.”
“Why do you look so haggard?”
Obviously Oscar had never experienced a new baby in the house. “Because my daughter has a set schedule all her own.” He answered taking his child back.
“Ever think of coming back to work for me?” He teased, exchanging a mischievous glance at Rudy.
“Yes I do every night...” Oscar couldn’t hide his surprise and hopefulness at Steve’s answer. His elation was short lived as Steve finished the thought, “at 11 pm, 1 am, 3 am and 5 am. Working for you was certainly a lot easier than my present profession.”
The three men chuckled as sleeping beauty began to wake. She looked at her father as he handed her to her Uncle Oscar who was definitely uncomfortable with the arrangement. He held her at arms length and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I thought you could take care of Jenny while I buy Rudy lunch. What do you say Rudy?”
“Sounds good to me!”
Oscar was in disbelief, “But Steve…?”
“Don’t worry I’ll be back in 30 minutes, 60 at the most.” He gave his child a quick kiss on the head, “You be good for Uncle Oscar.” He said as he gave his friend a wink.
“Steve you can’t just leave!”
Steve and Rudy were making their escape, “Oh come on Oscar, you run the one of the most powerful government agencies in the country AND you do have a way with women. You can handle my daughter for 30 minutes. If she starts to cry just turn on the Goldman charm, I’m sure she’s not immune.”
“Steve what if it doesn’t work?” He asked beginning to panic.
“Then tell her some of your old jokes. She’s only been around for 3 months I guarantee she hasn’t heard them yet.” With that he shut the door.
Rudy laughed as they headed down the corridor. “Are you sure you want to leave Jenny with him?”
“Absolutely! It’s payback for all those very uncomfortable situations he has put me in over the years.”
“What if he doesn’t know what to do?” The doctor asked sincerely.
“Trust me my daughter has a way of getting her point across loud and clear. Okay, maybe not clear but definitely loud.” They laughed as they went to grab a very quick bite to eat.
When they returned they found Oscar looking quite smug with Jennifer in her seat playing with her plastic keys. “Well I see she’s in one piece.” Steve observed as he walked across the room.
“Of course! Anyone can do this job.”
“Oh really?” Steve picked her up to inspect for hidden damage. “Then why are her shoes on the wrong feet and her diaper is on backwards?”
Rudy and Steve shared a laugh as Jenny squealed her delight while Oscar’s face turned a crimson red.
Jenny's Birthday Party