Thanks, as always, to my editing team, PapaKilo14 and Hal: they catch the typos and embarrassing gaffes; my beta readers, Denny, who is just awesome at everything, and GeorgeAnderson, who is new to the team and Olddave1951 who gave it a first read while he was recovering. Thanks guys, I love you all.
I passed the door of the department store and looked in the window. There was a line of kids inside about fifty long, waiting to talk to Santa. He looked like he was about twenty-years-old and really didn't want to be there. I didn't blame him a bit. Kids these days! I saw one of the store workers come up and chain off the queue so no one else could get in line. I guess Santa's shift was over. I was mildly amused so I watched for a minute. I saw a young woman and a little girl hurrying toward the door. They rushed inside and I could see their faces fall when they saw the "closed" sign. The little girl was especially hard hit. They came back outside and she was crying softly. I could hear her mother talking to her.
"I'm so sorry, baby. I came as soon as I got off work."
"I know, Mom. It's not your fault," the little girl hugged her mother. "It's just that tomorrow is Christmas and I won't get another chance. I really, really needed to talk to him."
They stood there for a minute, just holding each other. "Come on, Molly," the mother said. "If we're going to get a bed we need to get to the shelter."
Jesus Christ, they were breaking my heart. "Excuse me, Ma'am," I cleared my throat. "I don't mean to intrude, but I couldn't help overhearing. If your daughter really needs to talk to Santa I can arrange that."
They both looked up at me with wide, frightened eyes. Mom had one of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen. She was some exotic ethnic blend, probably mostly black, but there was some white and maybe Hispanic thrown in there, too. Daughter was even lighter skinned than Mom was and they both had those tilted up, almond shaped eyes that just stole your soul.
Mom started to edge away from me, shepherding her daughter half behind her. "Please, don't be afraid," I said. I knelt down on the snowy sidewalk. I know my size can be intimidating. "Just listen to me for a minute and I won't bother you anymore."
They stopped retreating and stared at me, still obviously frightened. "What do you want, Mister?" Mom asked.
"My company is having a Christmas party at the Adams Hotel tonight," I told them. "I know for a fact that Santa is going to be there. I heard you say that you needed a place to stay tonight. It's bitterly cold out here and I'm afraid you won't get a place. I know the nearest shelter and you're late. There'll be a line already formed and you're not in it. I have 25 rooms booked at that hotel in case some of my staff get a little inebriated and need to stay. There will be food at the party, presents for everyone, and I guarantee that you'll get to stay in one of those rooms tonight. You can probably stay longer. You can order anything you want from room service. I'll give you a card and if you show it at the door, they'll let you in. I guarantee it."
"What do you want from us?" Mom asked.
"I want you to make me happy by letting me help you," I told her.
"Why would you do that?" she asked.
"I'm a nice guy," I grinned at her. "It's Christmas. I can help you and I will; no strings attached. I tell you what, I'll get you a cab and you run over to the shelter. You let me be your backup plan. If you get a bed, you can always go back there after you talk to Santa. If you don't, you come to me, okay?"
They stared at me for a minute. "He has nice eyes, Mom," the little one said.
Mom took a step toward me and held out her mittened hand. I put my card in it and hailed a cab. It pulled up and I gave the cabbie a fifty. "Give them the change when you drop them off," I told him. "You wait and see if they get in. If they don't, you bring them to the Adams and there's another hundred waiting for you. If they get in but they still want to come to the Adams, you bring them. You still get the hundred. Do you understand?" I tore a hundred in half and handed him one half.
"Yes sir," he said.
They climbed in and drove off. I didn't expect to see them again. There was just too much pain and mistrust in those eyes. I sighed. What a fucked up world we live in. Just in case, I went into the department store. They had been all bundled up and it was hard to tell what size they were. I would just have to guess. I figured they'd be skinny. They probably weren't eating too well. Mom was tall, probably close to six feet. Daughter was little, maybe four or five. I got a sales person to help me. She was a young woman and very helpful. I described what I wanted and we guessed at sizes. I had them wrapped and when I went outside the car was waiting. Fredrick took me to the hotel and I got changed for the party.
It was well underway when I stepped off the elevator and a server came over to ask me what I wanted to drink. I asked for a good bourbon and went to the table. People slapped my back and congratulated me on a great party. I nodded politely and shook a few hands. Malina came to meet me and I kissed her cheek. She looked stunning and she led me to the table. Malina is my Personal Assistant and I'd be lost without her. She's this gorgeous, Hispanic, jungle cat kind of a woman, a tawny complexion and a mane of dark hair with auburn glints in it. I'd been at the table about ten minutes and Paul, my sales manager, and Malina were telling me an amusing anecdote about a meeting earlier in the day. There was a little commotion outside the door and one of the hotel staff came over to me.
"Sir, there is a ... person outside," he said in a condescending voice. "She says you invited her to the party. She has a child with her and she had your card. Do you want me to get rid of her?"
I jumped up. "Absolutely not," I said. "Paul, Malina, would you excuse me for a minute?"
I went to the door just in time to see them disappearing outside. I hurried out onto the sidewalk and caught them. "I'm so sorry," I said. "Come in, please. I was hoping you'd come but I was afraid you wouldn't. Did you get a bed?"
Mom shook her head sadly. "No," her voice cracked a little. "You were right. We were too late."
I saw the cabbie standing there and I gave him the other half of the hundred I'd promised. "Thanks, man," I told him.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "Have a great Christmas."
They both had backpacks on and I took Mom's elbow and brought them back inside. We walked up to the desk and I talked to the Manager. He looked at them like they smelled bad and that pissed me off. "Is there a problem with your attitude?" I asked him.
"No, sir," he looked away from my eyes. He gave me a key card and I got the things I had bought for them from behind the desk.
"Why don't you go up to your room, get cleaned up and come back down for the party?" I said. "It'll be going on until at least midnight. I'll make sure Santa is waiting and then we'll eat, okay?" I handed them the packages.
"What are these?" Mom asked.
"I told you there would be presents," I said.
She looked at me suspiciously but the little one was so excited that it was impossible for her to say no. I took them to the elevator and told them that the door attendant would bring them to me when they came back down.
I gave the bellhop the word and it was close to an hour before I saw them coming. I was stunned at the transformation. Mom was a vision and the little one was a heart breaker. They both had this mop of black curls that stuck out in complete disorder. Their hair was nearly down to the middle of their backs and it was just gorgeous. Mom had on the red dress I had bought for her and I had guessed pretty close. The little one was in blue and the sales girl had been spot on with her too. They both had fuzzy shawls over their bare shoulders and gold bracelets. Leather chokers with pink safed coral moonga stones were around their necks and they were just gorgeous. They were walking a little gingerly and I suspected that I hadn't gotten the shoe sizes right. They both were carrying little black clutches and I stood up when they got to the table. There were chairs on either side of me that I had reserved for them.
I hugged Mom and she was as stiff as a steel post. "I need to know your names so I can introduce you," I whispered. "You're old friends of mine. Just play along, okay?"
I could feel her nod and she smelled very good. "I'm Sahara Wright and she's Molly," she whispered. "Who are you?"
"Bleys Wainwright," I said. "I own the company that is having the party. It's Wainwright Consulting." She nodded again.
I introduced them to Malina and Paul as old friends I had invited. They sat down and I got champagne for Sahara and punch for Molly. They took a sip or two and I took them over to the buffet. I suspected they were very hungry so we filled plates and I took them into a meeting room where we ate together. I was right about them being hungry. They finished long before I was done and I took them back. They filled their plates again and we took them back to the meeting room again. I managed to finish before they polished off the second plates and we went to get dessert. We took that back to the main table and ate slowly while the band started playing.
I looked over at Molly and she just had this glow on her face that lit up the whole room. It wasn't long before Paul asked her to dance. She looked hesitantly at her mother and Sahara nodded. I could hear her laughter as Paul twirled her around and she moved like an acrobat. I danced with Malina and Paul came back to the table with Molly. She whispered to her mother and when I brought Malina back, I asked Sahara. She tried to turn me down but when Molly lent her pleas to Paul and Malina's she gave in reluctantly. She didn't know how to ballroom dance, but you could tell she knew some kind of dancing. She moved like a dream and she was very athletic and flexible. I dipped her once and she bent over nearly in the shape of a U, her hair brushing the floor.
When the song ended, we went back and I sat between them again. I caught the door attendant's eye and he brought brightly colored packages over. He sat them on the table and went out to the lobby. When he came back, Santa was with him. Santa was Bill Kemp, my ex-father-in-law. He's been my best friend for more than 20 years. When Samantha left me to "pursue her dreams" ten years ago, he disowned her. As far as I know, he's never spoken to her since. His own marriage nearly fell apart over it until Helena, his wife, finally came to the realization that he wasn't going to budge and if she wanted to salvage her marriage, she was going to have to turn her back on Samantha, too. He's the kindest man I've ever met, but honor and loyalty aren't just words to him. That's the code he lives by. He's been my security chief since I formed the company back in 1998.
Molly squealed when she saw him. When he came up to the table, he looked like he had just dropped in straight from the North Pole. "Molly?" he asked. "Is that you? The elves tell me you're on the naughty list."
Molly looked like she was about to cry. "No, honey, Santa was just joking," Bill was horrified. "Of course you're on the nice list. Now you have to sit on my knee and tell me what you want."
Molly climbed up and put her arms around his neck. We all heard her soft little voice. "Santa, we need somewhere to live. It's cold outside and we're afraid to sleep in the subway. Me and Mom just need someone to love us. Daddy doesn't love us and we're really lonely. Please, can't you send us someone to love us?"
Bill was too emotional to speak. He looked around at us desperately and we were all trying to see through the tears in our eyes. I heard a choking gasp from Sahara and she jumped up, pulling Molly down off Bill's lap and walking rapidly toward the door.
Malina glared at me. "Do something," she choked out. "Don't let them get away."
I sprang to my feet and caught them before they could get outside. I blocked the exit and knelt down in front of them.
"Please, just let us go," Sahara said. "This was a bad idea. Thank you, but I can't let her get her hopes up like this," she was sobbing brokenly.
"Sahara, it was the best idea I ever had," I told her. "You don't need to go anywhere. You have a warm room upstairs with a good bed and a big bathtub. I'm going to be two rooms down from you and Malina is one floor up. I told you that you could stay here. You can stay as long as you need to. I can help you. Do you need a job? I can give you one. It isn't charity; you'll work hard and earn every penny. You can stay here until you get on your feet. If you insist, you can pay me back when you're able to. Give me a chance, please. Molly deserves this and so do you. You didn't open your presents. Let's go back in there with our heads high. It's Christmas Eve, Sahara. Let Molly's wish come true. If you can just bring yourself to trust me, trust Malina and Paul and Santa. We're good people, Sahara. You're good people, too. Let's make this a Christmas to remember."
She looked at me doubtfully. Molly ran to me and threw her arms around me. "I love you, Bleys," she said. "Mom, can we please open our presents?"
I stood up and offered Sahara my hand. She took it hesitantly. "Chin up, shoulders back," I told her.
We walked back in and no one said a word. We all had presents, even Santa, and Molly was thrilled with two dolls, a stuffed unicorn and a big tin can of different flavored popcorn. Sahara got a fluffy bathrobe, a big box of all different kinds of fudge and a gift card for Macy's. I got one of those wrist things that keeps track of how fit you're getting and a gift card from iTunes along with three bottles of cologne. Everyone got a kick out of that.
"So, I see what everyone thinks of me," I laughed. "I'm fat and I smell bad."
"We just want you around for a while," Malina teased me. "He's a very special guy, girls. If you're going to stay with us, you have to help us take charge of him. He'll just read books and get fat and never do anything or go anywhere but work if we don't hound him."
They all had a good laugh at my expense and I pretended to be very angry. I couldn't maintain the pretense when Molly climbed up on my lap and kissed my cheek. "I don't know what that 'hound' is," she said, "but I know Mom and I want you to be around for a long time, too."
I looked over at Sahara and those big brown eyes were liquid pools. We talked and played some party games until Molly started yawning.
"Some of us are four years old," Sahara said. "I need to put Molly to bed. Can I talk to you later, Bleys?"
"Do you want to come to my room?" I asked.
I could tell right away that she wasn't comfortable with that. "It's okay," I quickly said. "There's a sitting area down at the end of the hall. Come by and knock on my door and we'll go there."
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you all. This has been the best night of our lives. We'll always remember you all and how kind you were to us. My shoes are killing me," she grinned at me. "I'm a size ten." We all laughed.
"We're not through being kind to you," Bill said. "We'll see you around, Sahara. Molly, you're the sweetest little girl Santa has ever had on his knee. I'm going to see what I can do about your Christmas wish, okay?"
She hugged him and they walked away.
"Damn it, Bleys," Malina exploded as soon as they got in the elevator. "That was the saddest and sweetest thing I've ever seen in my life. I thought I was going to cry like a baby. How could you do that to that beautiful girl?"
"Hey, how was I supposed to know she was going to say that?" I asked. "I thought she wanted a pony or something."
Bill pulled off his beard and hat. "I was smothering to death," he gasped. "It's not your fault, Bleys, but if you don't help those girls I'll never speak to you again. I swear to God if you don't do something, I'm going to adopt them myself. Malina and Paul will quit you tomorrow."
"I don't need to be blackmailed," I said. "Jesus Christ, I'm the one that brought them here. I'll do what needs to be done. I'll make sure they get what they need."
"I think that's a very proud young woman," Paul said. "You better walk on eggshells with how you go about helping them."
"Give me credit for having a little sense," I protested.
Malina snorted. "You don't have sense enough to come in out of the snow. You're going to screw it all up."
"Well, I keep you all in a job, don't I?" I asked.
They all just looked disgusted. "Yes, you do, and we're all grateful," Paul said. "You're a smart guy, Bleys, but you have all the tact of a sledge hammer. You know that."
"Well, you just watch my smoke," I told them. "If you give me any more shit I'm going to fire the lot of you."
They all looked disgusted again. I had enough of their attitudes so I told them I was calling it a night. Malina and Paul hugged me and Bill just patted my shoulder. I left them to demolish my character and I went up to my suite. I actually live there. I changed out of my suit and into shorts and a t-shirt. I spent an hour on the treadmill, trying out my new calorie watchdog and grabbed a quick shower. I pulled on clean shorts and a robe and I was drinking water with fruit in it to get rehydrated when I heard a soft knock on the door. I poured two more glasses and carried them down to the sitting room. Sahara was there in her new robe.
I gave her a glass and we sat on opposite ends of the sofa. She curled her legs up under her the way women can and men can't.
"I need to tell you some things," she said.
"You're really Cat Woman," I said.
She laughed and the tension went out of the air. "I wish," she said. "No, I'm really a homeless person. I'm a single mother with no money, no skills, no high school diploma and a four-year-old daughter that would be taken away from me if Family Services knew where I was."
"That's where you're wrong," I told her. "You live at the Adams Hotel and those douche bags in Family Services couldn't afford your rent. You have a good job. You're going to learn skills and you're going to graduate from high school this year. Then you're going to enroll in college and you're going to get good grades. You are a single mother. I don't know how that happened, but you now have a support network and you're going to be fine. So is Molly. It's going to be a lot of hard work, but I have every confidence you're up to the task. The mom I saw rushing down the sidewalk after work so her daughter could talk to Santa has character. I'm betting the house on that. Tell me I'm wrong."
"I won't tell you that, but some people might," she said. "I got pregnant my junior year of high school. My mom kicked me out of the house when I told her. I lived with Molly's father for a year and a half. After he beat me up for the fifth time, we left. I had to drop out of school and I work part time at a convenience store. That's where I could get a job. I owe hospital bills I can't pay. I barely manage to feed us. I've made a bunch of bad decisions in my life, Bleys. I'm smart enough, but I've been very, very stupid. I'm in such a hole I haven't been able to climb out of it. Every time I manage to save a little money, something happens. Molly gets sick, thieves steal it at the shelter, and I've been robbed twice. People try to take advantage of me. There's a pimp that's trying to force me to become his whore. I'm desperate enough that I've been considering it. I've heard you have to hit the bottom before you can climb back up. I've been at the bottom for a long time. I just want you to know what you're getting into. I'll work hard. I'll do anything you ask me to do. I won't have sex with you or anyone else."
"I guess I know where that's coming from," I told her. "I don't ever want to hear that again. You're a beautiful woman, Sahara, but no one is expecting you to have sex with them. If I wanted that, I could just visit that pimp you were talking about. I know you probably have trouble believing what I'm telling you, but you'll see. You're going to quit that part time job. This job that you're taking has health insurance and a 401K. It has stock options and profit sharing. You'll start Monday."
"Why can't I start tomorrow?" she asked.
"Tomorrow is Christmas Day," I told her. "We don't work on Christmas. You need to go shopping after Christmas. You need to dress professionally and Molly needs to look like a professional's daughter."
"What will I be doing?" she asked.
"Anything Malina tells you to do." I said. "You're going to be her assistant. She may have you making coffee, filling the paper towel holder in the restroom or escorting important clients from one office to another. You may be typing reports or taking notes in meetings. You'll do whatever she needs you to do. Well, if she tells you to have sex with her, you don't have to do that," I grinned at her.
She laughed. "Okay, I guess I deserved that. Since she told me she's engaged, I suspect that won't be a problem."
"Well, she goes both ways," I said. "She's not a cheater, though. Now, do you have anything you need to tell me?"
"Yes, I do," she said. "I have 73 dollars. How am I supposed to buy clothes to dress professionally in?"
"You have a card for Macy's," I told her. "I'll have Malina take you and help you pick out what you need."
"How much is on it?" she asked.
"I have no idea," I said. "Malina will have a corporate American Express Card. If yours runs dry, she'll use that. You'll have one by the end of the week. You have to account for your expenses, but you can use it for anything you need. Just make sure you need it. You'll have to answer to Malina for what you spend. You can use it for food until you get your own cards. After that, it's up to you. You may need to eat here for a while. You can order anything you want from room service. You can eat in the restaurant here. It won't cost you anything. You can get toiletries from the hotel and anything you want from the concierge that is available. That will be at no cost. That should help you get started. Anything else?"
"What are Molly and I going to do tomorrow?" she asked.
"Hopefully, you're going to go with me to my daughter's house for Christmas dinner," I said.
"Oh, no, we couldn't impose on your family like that," she protested.
"It's only an imposition if I, or she, don't want you there," I said. "I want you there very badly and once she meets the two of you, she's going to want you there, too. She's a very nice person, Sahara. She's much nicer than I am. That's the way I raised her. I wanted her to be better than I am. Thankfully, she did what I said, not what I did."
"Do you think she'll like me?" her voice was tremulous and frightened.
"I think she'll love you, and I know she'll love Molly. Don't worry; I won't leave you alone with anyone you don't know."
She sniffed a couple of times and nodded. She stood up. "I'm going to go to bed now. Thank you, Bleys. I'll never be able to thank you enough."
"Just be happy and take care of yourself and Molly. Live a good life, that's all I want you to do."
She came and stood in front of me, her huge tilted up eyes fixed on mine. She stood on her tiptoes and incredibly soft lips brushed my cheek. She fled down the hallway and was gone.
When I knocked on their door early the next morning Molly opened it and threw herself into my arms.
"Good morning, angel," I hugged her close. "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes, me and Mom washed our clothes this morning. You should see our huge bed, Bleys," she dragged me off to the bedroom to show me. I saw that they'd had fruit and cereal delivered. Sahara was just pulling a sweater down over her head and I got a flash of milk chocolate skin and a red bra. She gave a little shriek when her head popped through the turtleneck.
"Bleys, Jesus, don't you knock?"
"He did knock, Mom," Molly told her. "I wanted to show him our bed!"
Sahara blushed and it was an interesting effect. Her cheeks took on a pink cast that spread beautifully down her neck. "Sorry," she glared at Molly. "Do I bring people into rooms while you're getting dressed?" she asked.
"Sorry, Mom, I thought you were dressed," Molly apologized.
"Well, it was a good show," I grinned at Sahara. Her blush deepened but she laughed.
"Well, I am dressed now," she said. "Are we ready? I'm sorry I don't have any nice clothes like you got us, Bleys."
Both of them had on jeans, sneakers and bulky sweaters. They might be a little warm at Alicia's but they looked great to me. "You're fine," I said. "Let's go."
The car was waiting when we got out front and we climbed in while Fredrick held the door. "Is this your car?" Molly asked. "Don't you ever drive? How come it's so big?"
I laughed. I remembered Alicia asking all those questions too. "It belongs to the company, I do drive sometimes and it's big so I can haul Molly and Sahara in it."
"Don't ask so many questions," Sahara told her.
"How will I ever know anything if I don't ask questions?" Molly asked.
"That's right," I said. "You're a smart girl."
Sahara rolled her eyes. "Please, don't encourage her. She never stops."
When we pulled up in front of Alicia's building Molly looked up in awe. "Why does your family all live in such tall buildings?" she asked.
"We like to make people's necks ache from looking up," I told her.
She looked up at me to see if I was serious. "Nuh-uh," she said. "You shouldn't lie to little girls, Bleys."
We both laughed and the door attendant opened the door for us and took us to the elevator. When it opened there were delicious smells filling the hallway. I rang the bell and in a minute, Alicia pulled the door open and flung herself into my arms. We kissed and I just held her for a minute. I love my little girl. She's not at all little any more. She's twenty-two and a second semester junior in college. I introduced her to Sahara and Molly and she hugged them, too. She hugs everyone. We were swept up in her tornado of energy and whisked through the door and inside. Cloe, her roommate gave a little shriek and came running to hug me.
"Hi Dad, (she's called me that since she was in the first grade) I've missed you!" She kissed me a dozen times and I introduced her, too, explaining our relationship to Sahara and Molly. Cloe and Alicia swept them off into the kitchen and when I checked Sahara was whipping mashed potatoes and Molly was sitting on the counter top, helping Alicia put whipped cream on a pie. Helena, my mother-in-law, was in there and she waved and blew me a kiss. They were all laughing and chattering and I went to join Bill in the living room. He poured me a drink from a decanter and it turned out to be a very good Scotch.
After a bit, Alicia came in and curled up against me. "I have something to tell you, Daddy," she said. "Promise me you won't get mad."
Well, that's never a propitious beginning to a conversation, but I promised. "You aren't pregnant or something, are you?"
She punched my arm. "No, silly. Mom is coming by later."
I wasn't mad but I was very disappointed. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" I asked.
"I didn't know," she said. "She called about ten minutes before you got here."
"Well, I didn't promise not to get mad," Bill said. "What the hell is wrong with you, Alicia? I won't be in the same room with her. Helena and I are going to leave before she gets here. Bleys, you can go with us."
"Jesus Christ, Grandpa," Alicia blew up. "She's my mother and she's your daughter. How long are you going to keep punishing her?"
"Forever," he said. "You just tell me right now when she's coming."
"You don't have to leave," Alicia said. "She's only going to be here an hour. You and Grandma and Daddy can go in the den. I promise I won't let her go in there. I'm very disappointed that you're all such a bunch of damn cowards though."
"Well, I'm disappointed my daughter is a bitch and that my granddaughter is too stupid to see it," he said.
"Whoa, whoa, let's not say things we don't mean here," I jumped in. "Bill, Alicia isn't stupid. Alicia, that was very rude. We all need to calm down here. Alicia, I'm glad you have a relationship with your mother, but none of the rest of us want anything to do with her. You know that and you shouldn't have let her come here."
She started to cry. "I'm sorry, Grandpa. Do you think I don't know what she's like? Do you know how many nights I cried myself to sleep when I was five years old, because my mother was too selfish to love me? I know you all hate her, but for my own mental peace, I'm not going to do that. I didn't want her to come here today. I promise I won't let her bother you. You can all just go to the den and I'll keep her away."
Bill moved over and took her in his arms. "I'm sorry I said you were stupid, baby," he told her. "I just don't want to see her or think about her. It hurts me."
They hugged and she composed herself. Helena called in that dinner was ready and we all trooped into the dining room. We sat down and began passing the dishes around. I noticed that Molly was sitting with her hands folded in her lap, just watching everyone. "What's wrong, honey?" I asked her.
"We should say grace," she said.
We all looked at one another. I'm a believer, but not at all comfortable with such open displays. "Do you want to say it?" I asked her.
"Yes," she nodded and all those curls bounced around her little face. "We should hold hands."
We all attached ourselves to the people next to us and bowed our heads. I watched Sahara and Molly. "Thank you, God, for this wonderful food," she began. "Thank you for Mom and for us all being together. Thank you for Alicia and Cloe and them being so nice. Thank you for Bill and Helena. I've been praying for a long time, God. I didn't think you were listening. Maybe Santa told you. I've been asking for someone to love us and you sent us Bleys. Please let him keep loving us. That's all I wanted to tell you right now. Thank you."
Sahara was sobbing and all the other girls were emotional wrecks by the time that little voice stopped speaking. There was the sound of scraping chair legs and every woman in the room was trying to hug her at the same time. I discovered that my cheeks were wet and Bill was just as bad. My God, it was heart breaking. Everyone was telling Molly they loved her and Alicia gave me a fierce stare and nodded at Molly. I didn't need the direction; I knew exactly what I needed to do. I got up, walked around the table to her and knelt by her chair.
I pulled that little curly head up against my chest. "I'm never going to stop loving you, Molly," I told her. "I'm going to love you for the rest of my life."
She gave me that little angel smile and stretched her little arms around my chest as far as they could reach. "I'm going to love you the rest of my life, too," she said.
I looked at Sahara and those exotic eyes were shining and liquid. "Thank you," she mouthed. I nodded and we all went back to our chairs. Alicia went and put on a Christmas album and the whole afternoon took on a lighthearted air as we stuffed ourselves and laughed together.
Bill and I cleaned up and when we went into the den afterward the girls were watching some sappy Christmas movie. I sat on the sofa and Alicia came and sat beside me. Molly noticed me after a bit and came to sit on my lap. I wrapped my girls up in my arms and just soaked up the love like a sponge. I don't ever remember feeling better.
The doorbell rang, and Alicia gave us all a look. The mood evaporated a little but I couldn't be brought down from that emotional high with a little napping angel on my lap. Alicia went to answer the door and after a bit I could hear voices talking in the living room. Molly stirred and woke up about that time and I stood up and carried her to the door. Alicia and her mother were sitting there and I leaned against the door and held Molly.
I hadn't seen Samantha for more than two years. She lives somewhere in France. I don't keep track. She pretends to be some sort of artist. I haven't seen any of her work for sale in the New York galleries, but evidently, it makes her happy.
She looked up at me when I leaned against the door. "Hello, Bleys," she said. "You're looking well." I nodded to her.
"Who's your girlfriend?" she asked.
"I'm Molly," she piped up. "I love Bleys. He loves me, too, but I'm not his girlfriend. Do you love Bleys?"
Samantha nearly choked. After sputtering around for a minute, she looked at Alicia for help. Alicia raised one eyebrow.
"Yes, I suppose I do," Samantha finally said. "We used to be married."
"Why aren't you still married?" Molly asked.
Samantha gobbled around for a minute and was saved from answering that awkward question by Sahara coming in and standing beside me. She slid her arm around my waist and I draped my free one over her shoulder. Samantha looked shocked. Her face went white and then red. I turned back to the den and took Sahara and Molly with me.
"Who was that woman?" Sahara asked.
"She used to be married to Bleys," Molly told her. "I forgot her name."
Sahara looked up at me. "We were divorced seventeen years ago," I told her. "Alicia and I were "stifling her dreams." We see her every couple of years when her dreams permit. It's a long story. I want another piece of pecan pie. You ladies want anything?"
Molly wanted fudge and Sahara wanted coconut cream so I went to get it. Samantha was gone and Alicia came into the kitchen with me.
"She thought Sahara was your girlfriend and Molly was your daughter," she said. "I didn't enlighten her. I think she was stunned about the idea of you finally having someone in your life."
"I've had someone for twenty-two years," I squeezed her.
"Yeah, me, too," she grinned up at me. "Jamie is coming over. You want to take Sahara and Molly and go on a walk with us?"
Jamie is her boyfriend. I kind of like the guy, but, of course, he's the enemy because he wants my baby. He's a broker with some firm down on Wall Street. I told her I'd ask them after we finished our pie. They wanted to go, but they needed coats. Alicia found one for Sahara and Molly made do with a NYCC hoody with the sleeves rolled up. Jamie showed up and we introduced him around.
We walked down to the park and around some trails. Molly skipped along, holding my hand on one side. Pretty soon I felt another hand slip into mine and Sahara smiled up at me. "Is it okay?" she whispered. I nodded and squeezed her hand. It was a beautiful day, very cold but sunny. The snow sparkled and our breath puffed out white clouds. Molly wanted a piggyback ride and I carried her for a long time. She felt like she weighed about ten pounds. That little voice chattering in my ear was the sweetest sound I'd heard in a long time.
Sahara walked closer and closer to me and then she took my arm and put it around her shoulders, pressing against my side as we walked. I played with that amazing mop of curls and when we got back, I didn't want it to end.
We stayed until evening and ate leftovers before leaving for home. The goodbyes were loving and tearful and Fredrick held the door for us to get in. The girls snuggled up against me and we talked and dozed on the way home. I dropped them at their door and got a hug from Molly before she scampered inside. Sahara came and pressed herself against me, looking up into my eyes. "Thank you, Bleys," she whispered. "This was the best day of our lives." Her soft lips brushed mine and then she was gone.
I made my way down the hall and I had to agree. I didn't ever remember feeling this good. After thirty minutes on the treadmill to burn off a small portion of those calories I had consumed I showered and got in bed, thoughts of little brown angels and bigger ones, too, lulling me into pleasant dreams.
Life got pretty much into a routine after Christmas. Malina took Sahara and Molly shopping the day after Christmas. Molly wanted to show me all her new things and dragged me off down the hall to their room. She was just adorable and Sahara and I talked about her going to school. Alicia had gone to a private school nearby and I suggested that Molly go there, too. Sahara told me she couldn't afford it, but I knew they offered scholarships to poor children. I promised to check into it and insisted that the company would pay her tuition if that was necessary. In the meantime, she came to the daycare at the office building while Sahara was working.
We met in the lobby in the morning and rode to work together. Sahara took Molly off to the daycare and then went to Malina's office to work. She had her own office but she wasn't there a lot. The first day we had been there about two hours when Maria, my secretary, buzzed me. "Someone is here to see you," she said. "I'm letting her in."
It was Molly. She had a daycare worker with her and she ran across the office and hugged me. "I was lonely," she said. "I'm kind of scared, Bleys. I don't know where Mom is and we couldn't find her, so I came to you."
"It's okay, baby," I told her. "You can come and see me anytime you're lonely or scared. Have your teacher there show you how to get here and you memorize it. I'll have Maria show you where Mom's office is. She may not be there, but sometimes she will be. I'll tell you if she's leaving the building."
It became a routine. Every morning about 10:30, Molly would come up the elevator and into my office. She would give me a hug, and go back to the daycare. I started keeping pastries in my office and we would have one before she went back. It didn't matter what I was doing, if I was in the office I made time to do that. I discovered that your day just goes better if you get a hug from a little brown angel at 10:30 every morning. She came up to my office at 5:30 and we waited for Sahara there. When she came, we would go home together and it became the usual thing for us to go out to eat three times a week.
Molly was accepted into the kindergarten at the school and she was on a scholarship. She only went in the afternoons and Fredrick came and picked her up from day care at noon. She went to school until 3:30 and he brought her back to the day care. They became very good friends over a short period. She was impossible not to love.