Chapter 1

There are days when I wake up sure that none of it ever really happened. Just a vivid dream, I think. An awful lot of detail for a dream, but it can't have been anything else.

Can it?

Then I look over and see Cam by my side in bed, still sleeping. She's always still asleep when I wake up, she's an inveterate late riser. I tease her about it sometimes, and she just sticks out her tongue at me and tells me she plans to keep right on doing it. "If I don't have to wake up early, why should I?" she asks me. I can't argue with the logic.

It'll probably wind up being my job to get Gilda off to school, when the time comes. It's also my job to give her her morning bottle and play with her a while. My job and my joy. Cam takes care of the middle-of-the-night thing and I do mornings, that's how we agreed and that's how it is.

So I get up and walk to the connecting door and there's Gilda, also still asleep but stirring enough that I know she's ready to wake up and get fed. And on those days I'll just pause in the doorway and gaze at her perfect tiny body and that adorable little face, and my mind will flash back to all the events that led to this beautiful little child coming into being. And then my thoughts will run—I know it's an odd connection, but the linkage, to me, is always there—to my own career, and how drastically it's taken off and soared.

And that's when I know for sure that it was no dream. Yes, it really happened. I have all the proof I need, for me. OK, so it wouldn't convince anybody else, but that's not important. I know.

Sometimes my mind goes on for a minute to wonder about Asmedogh. Oh, that wasn't his actual name, not exactly, I never could get my mouth or my mind around the whole thing, but it's who he was to me and it's how I still think of him. What became of him, of him and the rest of his ... people? compatriots? kin? What's the right word? Are they still up there, scouting around and reporting back to whoever-it-is that they report back to, and generally keeping tabs on us? And probably laughing their asses off at the outrageous messes we keep making of our lives and our world? Most likely so, but I have no idea.

But I put that thought out of my head quickly; no point to purposeless speculation. I lean over and scoop the baby up, my hand carefully cradling her head. Her eyes pop open and she gazes up at me in total trust, squirming just enough to let me know there's a diaper to be changed before we head for the kitchen and breakfast. I give her a reassuring smile and turn my attention to the task at hand. Later on, after Cam's up and moving, I'll do my warm-ups and scales and all, and run that bit in the trio I keep having trouble with. Meantime I'm a dad, and that's the part of my life I need to focus on right now.

My God, I think for the umptieth time, do I have a great life! Me, Nick Volker, and who'd have thought? But all of it, or mostly all, is because it really did happen.

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