On December 19th Steve was all ready and raring to fly to Ojai to spend Christmas with his parents on their farm. Early that morning he drove to the OSI offices to offer his holidays wishes to Oscar and Callahan and bid them farewell for two whole weeks.
With a bounce in his step, he pushed his way into the reception area to greet the lovely secretary with a bouquet of multicoloured roses.
“Beauties for a beauty.”
She accepted the flowers with a glowing smile and drank in the intoxicating aroma with a deep whiff. “Thank you, Steve,”
He reached inside his shopping bag to take out a small gift. “And this is for you. Merry Christmas.”
She placed her hand against her heart in complete elation. “Another gift?”
“It’s small but I hope you like it.”
“May I open it now?”
Steve took pleasure in watching Callahan eagerly unwrap her present. She popped open the rectangular velvet box and froze at the glinting sight before her. Her jaw dropped as she went into rhapsodies at the gold and ruby bracelet that stared back at her. She sank back into her chair without averting her mesmorized eyes from the priceless item. She was all choked up. “Oh Steve! It’s…it’s too much.”
“It’s hardly enough as far as I’m concerned.” He took out the bracelet and delicately clasped it on her wrist. She took a few seconds to admire the gem before she reached inside the top drawer to pull out a gift that she presented to Steve. “For you.”
He raised a suspicious eyebrow at her. “Callahan, you didn’t have to do that,” he chastised good-naturedly.
She smiled wickedly. “It’s something funny.”
“Oh?” He tore off the wrapping paper and opened the carton box. He burst out laughing at the folded plastic punching bags with Oscar’s face painted over the clown’s.
She joined in the laugh. “When you’re mad at Oscar you just inflate a bag and punch it to kingdom come.”
He leaned in to give her a grateful kiss on the cheek. “Thank you. That is one gift that will not go to waste.” His laugh dwindled into mere giggles as he set foot inside the boss’s office.
“Steve!” Oscar waved from his desk. He stood up with one hand concealing a package behind his back and frowned at Steve’s chuckling. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. Just Callahan telling me a joke.”
“Ah! So, you’re officially on holiday break.”
“You’re going to Ojai?”
“I’m flying over there Sunday.” He placed the shopping bag on the desk and pulled out a large square box that he presented to Oscar. “That’s for you.”
“And that’s for you,” Oscar echoed revealing the package hidden behind his back.
With breathless impatience, both men ripped open their respective gifts. Oscar’s was a gold watch and Steve’s was two tickets for a two-week cruise to the Bahamas.
“You always said you wanted to take Maryann on a real vacation. Now is your chance.”
“That’s awfully nice of you Oscar but the little woman and I aren’t together anymore.”
“Oh. Well you can always take someone else or go by yourself. I hear those floating palaces can be hazardous to a bachelor’s lifestyle. One night onboard and you’ll be fighting them off with a stick.”
“We’ll see!” Steve stretched out his arm to shake Oscar’s hand. “Have a safe holiday. I’ll see you when I get back.”
“Take care, Steve. Say hello to the folks for me.”
“Will do.” As Steve opened the door Callahan accidentally fell into his arms.
“I’m sorry Steve,” she apologized embarrassingly. “I wanted to know if any of you wanted some coffee?”
“None for me, I’m going.”
“Hey Steve!” Oscar nodded to the mistletoe hanging above the door.
Steve looked up and then narrowed his eyes at Oscar. “Don’t tell me you put it there?”
“No, it was me,” Callahan informed gleefully with wide expectant eyes. Her heart was set aflutter at the anticipation of receiving a proper kiss. She instinctively puckered her lips as Steve leaned forward. He wrapped her arms around her waist and allowed the kiss to linger a few seconds before he disengaged the embrace, leaving her breathless and flushed with passion.
“I’ll see you in two weeks,” he told her before stepping out the office. She watched him exit the outer office with a longing look that even Oscar’s call didn’t disturb.
“Callahan?” he spoke louder to break into her trance.
“I would like some coffee, please.”
“Oh sure, right away Mister Goldman.”
Steve returned to his apartment to finish packing for his trip to Ojai. Upon entering he was greeted by a wicker basket sitting on the living room sofa. He removed the key out of the lock and briefly surveyed the room warily before he closed the door and treaded circumspectly toward the suspicious package. As he neared the basket he took sight of a sleeping baby bundled up in a woollen blanket. He sat beside it with a perplexed expression wondering where this tiny bundle came from. He reached inside for the note tucked inside one of straps and unfolded it.
‘Please take care of our son. Love, Sarah.’
The name Sarah sent a tidal wave of emotions rushing to his throat. Time stood still as he sank deeper into the sofa and began musing on the past with a reminiscent smile. He closed his eyes to evoke the moment her beautiful lady with sun-kissed hair and deep ocean-blue eyes fell into his open arms and gushed, “I will marry you, Steve Austin.” His grin reached his ears as he recalled the lusting passion that consumed them on that special night. He was lost in the moment when suddenly it hit him. His eyes shot wide open at the realization of this baby being the result of their consummation. He studied the slumbering cherub’s face to ascertain his age and estimated that he was roughly 6 months old, which would coincide with the first night they spent together to seal their engagement.
He perched himself on the edge of the couch and flipped through the phone numbers roster to look to Sarah’s. Once he found it he picked up the receiver and dialled her house. Five rings later, the answering machine picked up. ‘Hi you’ve reached Sarah Chapman’s residence. I’m not available to take your call at the moment but if you leave your name, number and a brief message at the sound of the beep I will call you back as soon as possible. Thank you.’
“Hello Sarah, it’s Steve. I received your package and I would much appreciate it if you could give me a call. We really need to talk.” He hung up the phone and stared at it for a brief moment before the baby’s gurgling wails rouse him out of his thoughts.
“Hey there little one,” Steve cooed. “Did you have a nice nap?”
Prying his baby blues open, the little tot yawned his head off before frowning at the strange face hovering before him.
“Don’t be afraid little one. I was told I’m your daddy.”
It wasn’t long before his cute button nose crinkled and his face puckered up. His quivering bottom lip was the sign of loud squall about to erupt.
“Hey! Am I that ugly?” Steve teased with an affected pout. When he went to tickle his son he shrunk back in disgust at the stench emanating from the loaded diaper. “Ohhhhhhhhh! That explains it.” He unwrapped the blanket around the baby and picked him up gently, keeping him at arm’s length as he walked to the bathroom to lay him on the counter beside the sink. Realizing he’d forgotten to bring a fresh diaper with him, he traced back his steps with his bawling papoose and reached inside the basket where Sarah had taken care of stuffing a few spare diapers, baby powder, a bottle and a can of milk. He returned to the bathroom with the two needed items to buckle down to his task.
A shrill of delight escaped the baby’s lips at the removal of the dirty diaper. His arms began flailing about as he expressed his joy of being poop free. “Feels good, doesn’t it? But what about me? I have to clean this mess,” Steve complained good-naturedly as he kept one hand on the baby’s stomach to hold him still while he wiped the buttocks dry of the excrement with the other. Steve’s grimace elicited another squeal of delight out of his son. “Oh you think that’s funny, don’t you?” Steve sneezed out a giggle. “You’re right. It’s pretty funny.”
Once the chore done, Steve held the baby against his shoulder and walked back to the living room to set him down in his basket. The moment he felt the walls closing in on him, the little one started to cry.
“What’s the matter? You don’t want to take another nap? You want to eat? That’s it you’re hungry, aren’t you?” He lifted the baby out of the basket and cradled him in one arm while he rummaged at the bottom of the basket for the can of milk and bottle. “I haven’t done anything like that before. I need help here. I got it! Callahan.” He gently laid the baby on the sofa and sat beside him to make the phone call.
Callahan was on her way out the door for lunch when the phone rang. She rolled her eyes and heaved out a sigh thick with exasperation. She dither whether to answer it or let it ring. She opted for the former. “Mister Goldman’s office.”
“Callahan, it’s Steve. I’m sorry to catch you on your way out to lunch but this is an emergency.”
“What is it? What’s wrong Steve,” she asked worriedly. Her eyebrow raised in suspicion at the muffled shrill coming through the phone. “What’s that I hear? Somebody strangling a cat?”
“Not quite. That’s the emergency. The baby is hungry.”
“The baby!” she squeaked.
“I’ll explain when you get here.”
“I’m on my way.”
Barely twenty minutes passed that Callahan was knocking on Steve’s apartment door. She was curious to meet the troublesome bundle that was giving her friend such a hard time. He ushered her inside and escorted her to the living room to introduce her to the little one, neatly tucked in his basket and happily nursing a bottle of milk. Steve picked him up and cradled him in his arm to continue the feeding.
Callahan was in complete raptures over the cherub focused on drinking his milk. “He was too hungry. I managed to heat up the milk and filled up the bottle.”
“Did you check if it wasn’t too hot?”
“Yes I did with a few droplets on my wrist.” He gazed down at the infant sucking on his bottle with blue eyes glinting in wonderment. He stopped to let out a sigh before resuming his drinking.
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know his name, only that he’s my son.”
“You remember my fiancée Sarah Chapman?”
“The agent who disappeared…”
“Right after we became engaged, that’s right. Well it was on the night of our engagement party that this little one was conceived.”
“How come she never told you?”
“I have no idea. I planned to ask her when she calls me back.”
“You haven’t seen her? But what about the baby?”
“She dropped him unexpectedly. He was here when I arrived earlier. No doubt the landlord remembered Sarah and let her in.”
Callahan reached out to twiddle with the baby’s dainty fingers. “He’s adorable.”
“Yeah he is,” Steve mused with a wistful smile. “I don’t quite understand why she would leave him here with just a note.”
“What did it say?”
“Take care of our son, Love Sarah.”
“That doesn’t sound like a mother who’s planning to come back for her infant,” Callahan surmised plainly. “Steve, she did leave you without any explanation and on the morning after you announced your engagement. Why would she come back after all this time and drop her baby at your door?”
Steve shook his head in puzzlement. “I don’t know. I expect I’ll find out when she returns my call.” He tugged at the bottle to remove it from the baby’s mouth.
“Can I burp him?”
“Sure.” Steve handed her a hand towel that she slung it over her shoulder before he gently placed the pudgy bouncing boy in her arms. He admired her touch as she patted the baby’s back to elicit loud belches. “You’ll make a wonderful mother someday.”
“Thank you for saying so, Steve,” she blushed at his heartfelt comment. She willed her gleaming eyes up to gaze at the man marvelling at her beauty. She appeared different than what he was accustomed to seeing every time he walked into Oscar’s office. For a brief moment, time stood still as they lost themselves in the mirrors of their souls. Why was he suddenly so attractive to him?
She caught his lingering stare and frowned. “Something wrong, Steve?”
“No,” he mused. “On the contrary, everything’s just fine. You have a gentle way with babies.”
“They are so easy to love.” She lifted the little one off her shoulder when he started to cry and handed him over to Steve. “I think he wants his daddy.”
The laments dwindled into happy gurgles the moment Steve’s arms enfolded his son. Callahan was in complete elation before this Kodak moment and yet she felt a twinge of regret at the fact that she was still single and without children. Her deep longing for motherhood gradually overwhelmed her. She lowered her head and bit her upper lip to refrain from crying.
“Are you okay, Callahan?”
She nodded and exhaled an emotional-fraught sigh. “Fine. Well I’d best be going back to the office or the boss will have my hide.” She stood up quickly and walked to the door. Steve followed.
“Callahan if you don’t have any plans for tonight, I’d enjoy having your company for dinner. I can be a very good cook.”
She smiled shyly. “I’m sure you are. I’ll come.”
“Say around seven?”
“I’ll be here.” She tweaked the baby’s nose before heading out the door.
Steve looked down at the baby cradled in his arms. “She’s a great lady, isn’t she?” his answer came in the form of a squeal of delight. “Yeah I knew you’d agree.”
Late in the evening after putting the baby to sleep, Steve tried Sarah’s home again but still got a recorded message. He then looked up Sarah’s mother phone number and dialled.
In Wichita, Kansas, Yvonne Chapman answered the call. “Chapman residence.”
“Mrs Chapman? It’s Steve Austin.”
“Steve!” she gushed. She sat on the couch and tossed her cleaning rag aside. “So good to hear your voice.”
“I was wondering if…well…I’ve been trying to reach Sarah but I keep getting her answering machine. It’s very important that I talk to her.”
“I wish I knew where she was Steve. She hasn’t given any sign of life since the day she left you.”
“You mean she hasn’t called you or anything?”
“No. We contacted the FBI but they couldn’t give us any information on her whereabouts. She usually phones home before she goes on an undercover mission. I can’t imagine the organisation sending her out on the field during her pregnancy. She must have gone into hiding.”
“She was at my apartment early today but I didn’t see her. She just dropped off the baby with a note to take care of our son.”
“Your son?” Yvonne put a hand over her mouth. “Oh dear Lord! I didn’t know.”
“That makes two of us. That’s the reason I’m desperate to locate her. I have a feeling she’s in some kind of trouble; otherwise why would she abandon her child?”
“She trusts you, Steve. She knows you won’t let anything happen to him.” She shut her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Thank God she’s alive. But where is she?”
“I’ll look into it and keep you abreast of the new developments as they filter in.”
“I would greatly appreciate it.”
“In the meantime, I’ll be at my apartment if you need to reach me. I believe you have the phone number?”
“Yes I still do.”
“Tomorrow I’m flying to Ojai to spend Christmas at my parents’ farmhouse. I will be taking the baby with me.”
“How are Jim and Helen?”
“They’re fine. I’m looking forward to seeing them. It’s been a while, what with my demanding schedule and all.”
“You keep in touch. It’s not because Sarah broke up with you that you can’t still talk to us.”
“Thanks you Mrs. Chapman. My only huge regret is that I never got the chance to have you as a mother-in-law.”
“Who knows? If you find Sarah maybe the two of you can finally get married. You have a son. That little one needs a family.”
“I’ll do my best to find her. That’s a promise.” Steve hung up the phone and sank deeper into the couch. Soon his mind roved back to the day he proposed to Sarah. His daydream was interrupted by a knock on the door. He ushered his dinner guest in and offered her a glass of wine.
During dinner, Steve filled Callahan in on what he’d learned about Sarah’s disappearance. He feared the woman was in serious jeopardy.
Callahan infuriated her friend when she dared question him on the paternity of the child. She wondered if Sarah hadn’t pretended the baby was his so he’d unconditionally agree to take care of him. Steve was further appalled when she suggested that perhaps she was running away from the true father. He politely and calmly explained that Sarah was trustworthy and honest. He never entertained the thought that she could deceive him using an innocent child.
The night ended on a beautiful note. The argument they came close to having early in the evening was all forgotten. A tender goodbye kiss on the lips filled Callahan with high hopes that Santa might be granting her wish of a steady relationship with Steve. She berated herself for wanting the search for Sarah to come to a naught so Steve could be free to court her.
The next morning, Steve gathered his thing and did a quick check around the apartment before closing up for a week. He drove to the airport to catch the plane to Ojai. During the flight he discovered that his son was a lady magnet. Women, young and old, single or married flocked to his seat to coddle the baby who loved every bit of the attention he was receiving.
“Like father like son,” he winked at the happy bundle excitedly flailing his arms and legs about in his basket.
Jim met his son and grandson at the airport and drove to the farm. Barely had Steve stepped out of the car that Helen flung his arms around him and clenched him in a motherly hug.
“Welcome home, Son. Have you had a nice trip?”
“It was fine, mom.” He pulled back from the embrace to crawl into the backseat to unfasten the seatbelt around the basket carrying the little one. “Mom, this is my son.”
Helen went into raptures over the cherub who was the picture perfect of Steve as a baby. “Oh my goodness. He’s you.” She looked up at her son to note a glint of regret in his eyes.
“You still haven’t heard from Sarah?”
“No. I left her another message on her answering machine to tell her I was going to Ojai for Christmas. Hopefully she’ll call.”
Helen let out a wistful sigh and hugged Steve once more before tucking her arm in his. “Come, let’s go into the house.”
Helen quickly took over as surrogate mother for the little boy who had stolen her heart. She would get up at night to change and feed him without Steve ever knowing it.
On Christmas morning, Jim, Helen and Steve gathered around the tree to unwrap their presents. The little boy they had unanimously decided to name Billy after Jim’s brother accompanied their laughter with shrills of his own. In the background the television was on to the news with the sound turned down low.
Jim casually glanced at the set and saw picture of Sarah. “Hey, isn’t that Sarah?” Jim asked, motioning to the TV screen. He got up to turn up the sound.
“Although experts attribute the cause of the crash to a faulty pressure valve the authorities haven’t ruled out the possibility of a sabotage. The FBI will be investigating into the exact cause of the helicopter accident in the upcoming weeks. This is Helen Doran for Channel 3 news.”
“Oh my God,” Helen exclaimed in shock. “Did they say if she was alive?”
“I don’t know. The sound wasn’t on.”
Steve jumped on the phone to call Oscar at his home. He had just received the call a few minutes ago and regrettably informed Steve that Sarah had perished in the accident.
“Oscar, it’s no accident. I’m sure of it. Find out what you can about it and call me back.”
“Sure thing, Pal.”
In the hush of the night, Steve woke up with errant tears streaking down his cheeks. In his dream Sarah was running up to him with outstretched arms and a gleaming smile upon her face when suddenly, she vanished in a puff of smoke. He searched everywhere, combing every inch of the park looking for her when a little boy tugged at his pants. “Hey Mister. You’re looking for the beautiful lady?”
Steve hunched down in front of the boy and clasped both his hands. “Yes. Do you know where she is?”
The little boy nodded his head and pulled at Steve’s hand to lead him to a tombstone underneath the tree where he first proposed to Sarah. “There she is.”
Steve knelt down on the grave and brushed his fingers delicately against the letters chiselled in the stone. When he turned around, the little boy was now a baby in a basket.
Still reeling from that dream, Steve drew in a deep breath and wiped his tears. He sat on the edge on the bed to recover his composure before ambling down to the guest room where baby Billy was sleeping in his old crib that his mother had Jim taken out of the antic. He bent down to stroke the baby’s head and then pulled the covers up to his shoulders. He closed his eyes and heaved a mournful sigh before leaving the room to head down to the kitchen to fix himself a glass of milk.
He sat at the counter and twirled his glass in his hands. Staring at it he slowly drifted of to another time and place. He was so deep in the thoughts that he didn’t hear his mother’s footsteps. He flinched slightly at the touch of her hand on his shoulder. “Can’t sleep?”
He shook his head and took another sip of milk. “I was dreaming about Sarah.”
She sat next to him and tucked her arm into his. “Do you wish to talk about it?”
Seconds trickled down before Steve finally spoke,” I never knew how much I missed her until she brought the baby to my apartment. And then last night when I saw her face again on television, the memories just came flooding back,” he explained in a voice cracking with emotions. “She knew she was in danger, that’s why she brought Billy to me. Why didn’t she say anything? I could have helped her.”
“Maybe that’s why she didn’t say anything. She knew you would have offered to protect her at the risk of your own life.”
He shut his eyes, squinting the eyelids tightly together to hold the tears. “I really loved her, mom,” he wailed, leaning his head against her shoulder.
She patted his head soothingly and stroked his tousled hair. “I know you did, son. She was a good woman; very kind and loving. She would have made a good wife and mother.”
He lifted his head off Helen’s shoulder and stared back absentmindedly at his glass of milk. “Oscar’s secretary, Peggy Callahan, asked me if I was sure Billy was my son. She thought that perhaps Sarah might have pretended he was my boy so that I would take care of him in the event something happened to her.”
“I admit I had the same suspicion. But when I saw the baby, the same face that smiled at me when you were born, I knew without a doubt this was your son.”
A faint lopsided grin crossed Steve’s face at her mother’s words. She dispelled any doubt that he might have entertained about the paternity. “I just wish she’d told me she was pregnant. Why did she disappear? Was it something I said? Something I did?”
“Maybe your Mister Goldman will shed some light on the matter. Don’t torture yourself until you know for sure.”
“Yeah you’re right.” He quaffed the last of his milk and kissed Helen on the cheek. “Thanks for listening.”
“That’s what mothers are for.”
“You’re the greatest. Good night.” He stood from the stool and squeezed her shoulder.
“Good night, son.”
The next day, Steve introduced his son to horses. He and Helen brought him to the horse paddock where he sat Billy on the fence, holding him tightly by the waist. One of the horses pricked up its ears at the squeals of delight and slowly walked up to the fence. Helen gave the gentle animal a sugar cube to keep him by the fence while baby Billy leaned down to touch the horse’s head. His shrills with ecstasy made the bay tossed his head back. “Easy now, Trotter,” Steve pacified the skittish horse with a pat on his neck.
At this instant, Jim walked out of the house. “Steve, phone call from Oscar Goldman.”
“Ah finally! We’ll have some answers. Can you take him, mom?”
“With pleasure, Steve.” She took the baby into her arms. “You take as long as you need to. Billy and I will walk the grounds with your father.”
Steve leaned in to kiss Helen on the cheek before trotting inside the house to answer the call.” Oscar? You got something?”
“Yes but it’s still sketchy. The reports are still trickling in.” Oscar put on his glasses and began reading from the report in his hands. “Your Sarah Chapman was a busy bee these last few months. She was working undercover for the FBI to infiltrate a covert organization that stole atomic components to sell to the highest bidders. Their front was a warehouse where they stored fresh produce to ship to markets and grocery stores. Sarah was their pilot, transporting the goods to their clients. The FBI suspected that’s how they snuck out the components. At first they was nothing unusual; only fruits and vegetables in the crates. She figured they wanted to ensure she was on the level and not a spy. The last two trips she made she checked the crates and sure enough she found some components. On her last shipment, she was instructed to veer off course and land at an government airfield but she never made it.”
“They must have been on to her.”
“That’s the assumption brought forth by the FBI.”
“Won’t they need another pilot to carry the goods?”
Oscar frowned with suspicion. “Steve, I hope I’m hearing your wrong?”
“I want that job.”
“Steve, it’s too risky. Besides the FBI is already dispatching another agent to do the job.”
“He’ll end up dead just like Sarah.”
“What makes you think you’ll have better luck?”
“Oscar I’m not like the other agents. If anyone can make it out alive in the event of a leak, it’s me. Besides I really want to do this….for Sarah.” Steve could hear Oscar sigh heavily on the other end. “Please. Can you arrange it?”
Oscar heaved out another heavy sigh. “I’ll see what I can do.”
After dinner Steve settled on the couch to give Billy his bottle. His soft cooing drifted all the way to the kitchen where Helen was drying the dishes. She put away the last plate in the cupboard and draped the damp dishtowel over the oven handle to let dry before moving to the living room where she stole a few silent seconds to marvel at her son’s touch with the tiny infant.
Steve caught her presence in the corner of his eye. “Mom? How long have you been standing there?”
“Just a few seconds,” she said smilingly as she moved to the sofa to brush her fingers against the tiny tuft of light-brown hair on top of Billy’s head. “That brings back fond memories of you when you were that age.”
“Was I that hungry?”
“It’s a definite tie.” She continued to stroke the baby’s hair. “He’s so precious.”
“That he is,” Steve agreed, smiling beatifically at the baby cradled in his arm.
“I beg of you, son. Don’t do this.”
Steve looked up at his mother with a puzzled expression. “What are you talking about, mom?”
His stare followed her as she moved over to the other side to sit by him on the couch. She then placed a hand on his knee and sighed. “This mission. Don’t go for Billy’s sake,” she beseeched with imploring eyes.
“Mom, I need to find out what really happened to Sarah. I want to put her killers behind bars,” Steve fumed between clenched teeth.
“At the risk of your own life? Billy already lost his mother. He needs his father. He needs you alive to take care of him.”
Steve curled his lips in suppressed fury. He inhaled a lungful to quell the anger rising within him. He had no intention of fighting his mother on the issue. “Mom I need to do this for Sarah.”
“You want to do something for Sarah? Then you grant her wish to be a father to your son.” She leaned closer to Steve and stroked his hair with a warm motherly touch. “Do this for her, for me and for your baby boy.” Both she and Steve lowered their gazes upon the baby with drooping eyelids. “I beg of you. Don’t go. Let the FBI handle the case. After all she was working for them.”
Steve removed the nipple from the dozing baby’s mouth and gently lifted him to lean against his shoulder. He rubbed his back in a circular motion to trigger a belch. After the last burp, Steve cradled his son in his arms and rocked him to sleep. As the tiny blue angelic eyes surrendered to Morpheus’ arms, Steve dropped a kiss on the tiny forehead and conceded defeat. “You’re right, mom. I have a responsibility to my son. I’ll tell Oscar to get me off the case.”
Helen went into transports of delight at her son’s sensible decision. She leaned her head on his shoulder and gave his arm a grateful rub. “You made the right decision. Sarah would be proud.”
Steve closed his eyes in remembrance of his last night with his entrancingly beautiful fiancée. He was still in the dark as to the reason for her baffling disappearance the morning after their engagement but felt that it was perhaps better left unknown.
A few days later, Steve bid farewell to his parents, leaving them with his solemn promise to return for a visit for Valentine’s Day, barring incidents. During the flight to Washington, baby Billy’s charm worked its magic on the ladies. Many flocked to the single father’s seat to get a peek at the precious bundle. Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at his son’s magnetism. A real babe magnet. “I see I have serious competition. I’m going to have to keep my eye on you, lady-killer, ” Steve teased with a tickle on his son’s belly that elicited a gurgling giggle. He nuzzled the tiny hand that eventually clenched his nose. “Ouch! Ouch! You’ve got some grip there.” He gently peeled the dainty fingers off his nose and let the baby play with his big calloused hand.
Back at his apartment building, Steve stopped by the letterboxes to pick up his mail before heading up to his apartment with the basket containing the sleeping lambkin. He elbowed the door open and padded up to the sofa to deposit the basket before skimming through the envelopes that he annoyingly tossed on the table one by one. “Bill, bill, advertisement, bill, advertisement, soliciting funds, bill.” He frowned at the last letter bearing Sarah’s handwriting. He perched himself on the arm of the couch and tore at the envelope to read the content:
My dearest Steve,
By the time this letter reaches you, you would have found the little bundle I left in your apartment. I hope you don’t mind I named our son Scott after my grandfather. He’s a wonderful baby. I hardly had time to nurse him and be with him as I had to keep working undercover for the FBI.
Please understand that my leaving abruptly that day had nothing to do with you. I loved you with all of my heart and I still do. I’m involved in a delicate assignment that even my folks don’t know about. I left Scott with you for I feared my life is in danger. I hope to wrap up this mission by next year. I planned to drop by your apartment to have a long discussion about Scott’s future and perhaps…if you still want me…we could try to make it work.
I’m enclosing the combination of the safe inside McAllister’s manor. I have reason to believe that’s where he stashed a list of all his clients to which he distributes nuclear components. My source is reliable. One of McAllister bodyguards who loathes him and wants him sentenced for life as much as the FBI and CIA do. If I don’t make it, please advise Oscar. My source warned me that the room is equipped with an impregnable security system with invisible laser beams that only a keen eye such as yours can penetrate.
I haven’t sent this information to anyone but you. I trust you, Steve. I know you’ll bring it to the right people.
I hope that you won’t need to deliver this information yourself. If you do, then this means we won’t be seeing each other for quite some time. Take care of Scott and know that I always loved you.
Steve sat prostrate with grief. His eyes shifted back and forth between the letter and his son. He leaned back and exhaled a heavy-laden sigh as he began drowning in a sea of vivid images from a not-so-distant past. He closed his eyes and allowed the gentle stream of memories caress his soul. Suddenly the news of Sarah’s tragic death popped into the picture and snapped him out of his trance. His eyes shot wide open and gasped in a breath. He glanced down at the letter resting on his lap and pore over it before he picked up the phone to dial Callahan’s number.
After dropping Scott at her apartment, Steve drove to the OSI to discuss the letter with Oscar.
“I think she’s hinting me that I’m best qualified to do the job.,” Steve spoke with conviction to an incredulous Oscar.
“Steve, you said that…”
“I know what I said,” he hissed, interrupting Oscar in mid sentence. “But she sent the letter to me. Not you or her boss; me. She wouldn’t intentionally throw me into the dragon’s lair if she weren’t sure I could slay the beast. Beside all I need to do is sneak into the room, disable the security system, break open the safe to retrieve the list and I’m out of there. Your guys do the rest. It’s a cinch.”
“It may not be that simple, Pal. What if you get caught?”
“Since when is that a concern?” Steve sneered. “You’re well aware of my own personal weapons?” Steve reminded with a slight tease about his voice. Seeing Oscar lower his gaze and shift his weight on one leg, Steve stepped up to the desk to will his eyes back to him. “Oscar, I really need to do this. For Sarah. So she won’t have died in vain.”
Oscar sighed heavily and sank into his leather chair. “Alright Pal. I’ll see what I can do to get you in.”
Steve flashed a grateful lopsided grin. “Thanks Oscar.”
“By the way when am I going to meet your baby boy?”
“I’m on my way back to Callahan’s apartment. She’s babysitting for me. If you’re through here you could drive over there with me.”
“Just let me make a few phone calls and I’ll be right with you.”
Steve nodded. “I’ll wait for you in the reception area.”
Two days later the FBI gave Oscar the green light to send in his operative to retrieve the list. Following a briefing with FBI special assignment director Steve drove back to his apartment to pack the necessary items for his trip to Portland, Oregon, where he was to penetrate the domain of the mastermind behind the organization. Thereafter he dropped by Callahan’s to kiss his son goodbye.
Although Callahan was pleased that Steve would entrust her with his son she resented the possibility of having to compete with a ghost to win his love. She knew he cared for her but as a friend only.
“How long will you be gone?” She asked Steve who sat beside her on the couch with the baby cradled in his arms.
“I’m not sure. If everything goes accordingly I should be back by the end of the week. I hope it’s not an inconvenient?”
“Absolutely not. Mister Goldman was kind enough to give me a week off for that special assignment.” She smiled at the baby who reciprocated with a shrill.
“Owww” Steve cringed at the piercing sound. “He has a great set of lungs.”
Callahan reached out to the baby with her finger. He eyed it warily before grabbing a firm hold of it. “And a vice-like grip,” she added amusedly.
Steve lifted his eyes off his son to gaze tenderly into her beaming eyes. “I want you to know I really appreciate everything you’re doing for me.”
“Don’t think anything of it, Steve I’m pleased that you asked me in the first place.”
“I don’t know anyone else aside from my parents I could entrust my son to,” he stated with a hand on her arm, a touch that made her come out in goose pimples.
“Thank you,” she said in a quavering voice barely above a whisper. His stare bore a hole right through her soul, shaking the very core of her being. Suddenly time froze and her heart throbbed at her neck when Steve slowly leaned in to brush his lips ever so lightly against hers. She felt him about to deepen the kiss when the baby squealed in protest of no longer being the centre of attention. The couple quickly broke the kiss and blushed with embarrassment. Steve beheld his son and shook his head disapprovingly. “Kid she’s too old for you,” he said teasingly, making Callahan broke into a giggle. He placed a light kiss on Scott’s forehead before he laid him in Callahan’s arms. “I’m afraid I have to go. I have a plane to catch in less than an hour.” He stood up and crossed to the door. Callahan stood up with the baby cradled in her arms and walked up to the departing guest.
“Steve, be careful. We both want you back alive.”
He smiled and gently stroked her cheek. “I will.” He leaned forward to place another kiss on her lips before leaving.
Callahan closed the door behind him and exhaled a shuddering breath. She glanced down at the innocent baby boy who could only gurgle with delight at what was happening around him. “Your daddy is a wonderful human being, Scott. You’re a lucky boy to have him for a father. And I wish I could have him for a husband.”
Before entering the premises, Steve spent two days surveying the mansion and the daily routine of its residents, keeping tabs on their comings and goings. He outlined a strategy that would enable him to break into the main room with the safe without any surveillance camera spotting him. It would take him a bit longer than originally anticipated but it entailed less risk. In his situation he could not afford any mistake. He intended to hold his promise to his son to return unscathed. Before jumping into the lion’s den, Steve sent a small prayer to the heavens above. “Sarah, I need you to cover my back. Give me strength, girl.” He drew in a lungful of air to summon his courage and went in.
Barely thirty minutes later, Steve was back in his car with the list. ‘Too easy,” he thought to himself. He suspected a switch; that the list was a fake, but the description he was given of the document matched exactly the one he’d retrieved in the safe. He opened the throttle to his hotel where he phoned Oscar with the news. Two agents came to pick up the list and two others escorted him to an Army airfield where a chartered military plane was standing by waiting to fly him back to Washington.
Steve wore a permanent grin on his face during his return trip home. He was satisfied not only of having avenged Sarah’s death but of knowing that he’d kept his promise to his baby boy.
A few days later, Steve dropped by a florist to purchase a dozen of fresh yellow roses before driving to the cemetery to visit Sarah’s grave. With tears welling up in his eyes an emotional Steve hunched down in front of the tombstone and gently placed the roses upon the grave. “Yellow roses. I remember they were your favourite,” he said with a wistful smile. He shut his eyes to squeeze out the tears and lowered his gaze with a heavy heart. “It’s odd but knowing we caught that guy and dismantled his network doesn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t bring you back.” So lost in his grief was he that he didn’t hear the approaching footsteps.
Steve swirled on his heels to behold a vision of loveliness standing with a beaming smile on her face. His jaw dropped at a sight he believed was a figment of his imagination. “Sarah?” he quavered in a choked voice as he slowly rose to his feet.
“It’s good to see you again, Space Cowboy.”
That pet name sent his senses reeling. Could it be true? Was it a dream? A rush of emotions coursed through his body, sending chills down his spine. Anticipation grew with each step taken towards her; every cells reaching a peak of ecstasy the moment he felt her in his arms. He refrained from tightening the hold, fearing she would vanish. “Sarah,” he whispered in a shuddering breath. “It’s you. You’re real.”
“I am,” she sighed back, pulling him closer to her. “Feel so good to hold you, Steve. God I’ve missed you!”
”And I you.” He buried his face in her neck to drink in the intoxicating aroma. Her scent triggered a maelstrom of images from their past, sending him adrift on a sea of cherished memories. He was yanked back to shore when she tugged lightly on his shoulders to disengage the embrace. They momentarily gazed into each other bleary eyes, wanting to freeze this moment for eternity.
“But how?” he managed to utter. “They said…they said you died in that helicopter crash?”
“I nearly did. But someone up there,” she glanced heavenwards, “must have been looking out for me because I came out of this crash with minor injuries that were easily treated. The FBI issued a false statement to the press designed to make McAllister drop his guard. Unfortunately the evidence was destroyed in the crash and therefore they couldn’t go charge in and apprehend the man. Thanks to the list you managed to retrieve from his manor’s safe they were able to proceed to a few arrests. They are dismantling the network as we speak. “
“That’s good news.”
“When they told me that you’d asked for the assignment I panicked. I knew that my letter had reached you but didn’t think you’d be volunteering for the job. The “keen eye” reference was used to hint you as to what kind of security system the operatives would be up against. I expected you to tell Oscar and in turn he would have relayed the information to my boss” She looked downcast and sighed with repentance, “Guess I did wrong.”
“When I first heard the news of your death, I jumped on the phone to ask Oscar to put me on the case of finding your assassins. Then my mom reasoned with me not to go for Scott’s sake. He’d already lost is mother. I couldn’t risk my life and make him an orphan. But when your letter arrived, I…’ he paused to recover his composure before continuing, “I had to go. I had to do something.”
She stroked his cheek. “It fills my heart with joy to know that your still care about me.”
He reached up to place his hand on hers, pressing it against his cheek to feel all the warmth and love. “I can’t risk losing you again, Sarah.”
“You won’t Steve. I’m here to stay. That is if you still want me.”
He gasped in a shuddering breath at her statement and pulled her into his arms. “What kind of stupid question is that? I love you so much. And that little baby is so adorable. How can I stay away from the both of you? You have captured my heart and soul.” He drew back to search her eyes for permission to steal a kiss. When she smiled her answer he slowly leaned in to brush his lips delicately against hers. The deepening of the kiss sent their bodies shivering with excitement and made them oblivious of their surroundings. His arms tightened around her waist while her hands travelled up and down his back. The moment was seared in their minds forever.
On the ride back to Callahan’s apartment, Sarah filled Steve in on the details of her sudden disappearance the morning after their engagement to Scott’s birth. “I had known about the assignment a week prior to our engagement party. I was sworn to secrecy. I couldn’t even tell my mother, the person I most confide in. McAllister already employed me when I discovered that I was carrying your child. I told him I’d been raped so that he wouldn’t worry about a possible boyfriend trying to seek me out. I had to assure him that I was unattached. He offered to lodge me at his manor and tended to my every need. A few months after Scott was born I decided to move out. I knew the next stage of my assignment was hazardous. It was possible that my next moves would arise McAllister’s suspicion. I couldn’t jeopardize my son’s life. One false step and he wouldn’t have thought twice of using him as a bargaining chip or even perhaps a human shield. Then I thought of you.”
“I admit that was a shock. I berated you for not telling me about the pregnancy; for vanishing with no explanation; for not giving any sign of life. I rummaged through my mind for the last hurtful words I might have said that made you leave me. What did I do? What did I say? I bore the cross for months.”
She leaned forward to place a hand on his shoulder. “Believe me, I’m so sorry for putting you through this. I swear from now on, no more secrets.”
His eyes briefly left the road in front to glance at her with a lopsided grin. Her eyes twinkled in the same manner as Callahan’s do. Suddenly it hit him. He screeched to a halt.
“What’s the matter?” she asked worriedly. “Are you okay?”
Steve broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of the kiss he and the little lady shared a few hours ago before he left for the cemetery. “It…it’s..it’s nothing. Just some important paper I forgot to give Oscar. He’ll kill me if he doesn’t have them on his desk by four.” He glanced down at his wristwatch and drummed his fingers nervously against the steering wheel. “Sarah do you mind if I were to drop you at my apartment while I go to the office?”
“I thought we were going to Peggy’s to pick up Scott?”
“I will go by her apartment on my way back. I need to talk to her about something confidential anyway. I’m sorry I can’t divulge the information,” he fibbed, hoping she would buy the act.
She chuckled and nodded. “I understand perfectly. You be sure to thank her again for babysitting Scott.”
“I won’t forget.”
After dropping Sarah at his apartment, Steve drove to Callahan’s. As he stepped out of his car, he froze in fear. What was he going to say? He hadn’t rehearsed any speech. How was he to tell Callahan that he was going back to Sarah without hurting her feelings? He got back into his car and sat behind the wheel, his head leaning heavily against the headrest. He sighed and closed his eyes in despair. Callahan already knew about Sarah for she’s the one who told her where to find him; therefore she must have an inkling of what he intends to do now. It’s obvious that he’d want to remain with the mother of his child. Would she understand his decision to go back to Sarah and not go forward with her? He took several deep breaths to muster up his courage to walk up to her apartment door.
“Steve! Come on in. You came for Scott?”
“Yeah,” he replied unenthusiastically.
He stared at her with a puzzling expression. “You saw Sarah.”
“Yes. Isn’t it wonderful? She’s alive,” she gushed.
She pressed her fingers against his lips. “Don’t. I know what you’re going to say and it’s okay. I’d do the same.”
“Callahan, I…I love you.”
Tears gushed to her eyes and her heart throbbed at Steve’s confession. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for you to say that. I love you too.,” she quavered, her voice cracking with emotion. “I have for a very long time. But it’s not meant to be. You belong with Sarah and your son, Steve; not me. I only need your promise that you’ll remain my best friend, the one I can turn to in times of joy and sorrow. Can you?”
He clasped her into a soul-stirring hug. “This is one promise I will keep for as long as I live. I don’t want to lose your precious friendship. I was afraid to come here and tell you about…”
“I figure this much.” She pulled back and wiped her tears. Steve reached for her hand and kissed it. They locked stares and gave each other one last lingering kiss before parting ways. He left the building with his sleeping son in a basket and stepped into his car. As he put on the ignition, he looked up at Callahan’s apartment window where she blew him a kiss goodbye.