Shadows of Yesterday(10)

By: Sandra Brown

“You do, too. You’re thin.”

She laughed and looked down at herself, only then realizing how disheveled she was. She glanced back up at him nervously. “Come in. I’m sorry I look so frightful. Sarah and I were playing and…”

“You look great,” he interrupted. He stepped into the room and halted suddenly. “This can’t be Sarah,” he said, unabashedly squatting down in front of the infant’s swing and catching her bottom in the cloth seat to stop the pendulum motion. Sarah looked at him curiously.

“Yes, that’s my Sarah,” Leigh said proudly.

“She’s a beauty,” he said softly. His index finger came up to touch the baby’s face, but it was instantly caught in a tight, moist fist. “Good reflexes, too,” Chad laughed. He gently pulled his finger from the plump fist and stood up. “I have something for her.”

“Oh, Chad you shouldn’t have,” Leigh exclaimed, immediately embarrassed by the triteness of the phrase. She rushed to make amends. “You certainly did enough for Sarah by bringing her into the world.”

“I wanted to give her something. It’s outside in the truck. I’ll go get it.” He went out the front door but didn’t close it behind him.

With ineffectually rapid fingers, Leigh stuffed in the tail of her blouse and crammed her feet back into her shoes. Her hair! It was a mess. She could feel the heavy, chestnut chignon slipping down the nape of her neck. Loose strands hung around her face. No time to repair it. He was coming back.

“What in the world,” she cried, laughing when he carried in a huge, gift-wrapped box.

“You’ll have to open it for her.”

“And you may have to help me.”

Leigh took the bright pink ribbon off the enormous box and started ripping the paper. “My mother always saves the wrappings of a present. She’d faint if she could see me tearing into this.”

“It’s no fun to open a present if you have to worry about saving wrapping paper,” Chad said.

Leigh looked up at him and smiled. “You’re right.”

Lifting the lid off the tall box, she saw a mass of white tissue paper, which she began plowing through until she uncovered a tuft of soft, black-striped yellow fur.

“Here, let me lift it out for you,” he offered.

Standing aside, she watched as he pulled a giant tiger, complete with lengthy tail, long eyelashes, and wide, benevolent grin, from a box. She clapped her hands over her mouth in astonishment. It was a paragon of a stuffed animal.

“Chad!” She reached out to touch the luxurious fur. It must have cost him a fortune, and she knew he couldn’t afford it. First the flowers he had brought to her room at the hospital, and now this lavish present.… His generosity surpassed common sense. “Chad,” she repeated.

“Do you think she’ll like it?” Proudly he carried the toy tiger to the swing and stood it directly in front of Sarah. The stuffed animal stood several inches taller than the swing. Sarah eyed it warily for a moment, then her face crumpled, her mouth opened wide, and she burst forth with a long, loud, sustained wail.

“Oh, God, what did I do?” Chad asked, spinning around toward Leigh in sheer panic. His anxiety was even greater than Sarah’s.

Leigh stepped between her daughter and the tiger and lifted the crying baby out of the swing. “I think she was overwhelmed. That’s all.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean”

“Of course you didn’t. She’ll be all right in a minute. She only needs to know I’m here.”

In just a few moments Sarah’s cries had subsided. She hiccupped softly and then became intrigued with the gold loop in her mother’s ear.

“I guess I don’t know too much about babies,” Chad said by way of apology.

“Give her a day or two to get used to it, and she’ll love it.”

“I hope so.”

“As a matter of fact, I think you’re already forgiven.”

Sarah’s bobbing head had turned in the direction of the low-timbred voice. Besides Leigh’s father, the baby hadn’t been around men. It hadn’t taken her long to discern the difference in pitch between this voice and her mother’s.

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