October 01, 2021
I never imagined that horrible meeting with a little girl in her pajamas in the middle of the road at night would change my life.
I thought the pattern of my life was set in stone, that I already knew what was before me. I was forty-nine years old when I discovered that fate and the future are as fluid as water, and I was adrift on a current.
I had been a widower for ten years now and had raised my daughter Hannah alone. She had been the center of my world, but now she had left to shape her own life. As I drove home that night, I was thinking about how much I missed her, and that was when I saw the child.
A little girl was standing in the middle of the road, lit up suddenly by my headlights. I only had time to hit the breaks and swerve. Thank God I missed her! I fetched up centimeters from the shoulder of the road and another parked car!
My heart was beating so hard it felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. I tore the door open and ran to the middle of the road where I'd seen the child. She was there and she was safe!
I hadn't hit her! I reached her and swept her up into my arms, carried her to the side of the road. I could feel her small body trembling, shaken by silent sobs. I sat down right there, holding that child, whispering those nonsense words we use to comfort babies.
I thought I'd forgotten those magic words but here I was crooning them to this child. She was so small! I thought about that first. In the blaze of the headlights all I'd registered was a child: limp blond hair and huge terrified eyes.
Now I realized she was tiny, no more than three or four years old, with that baby smell I remembered from my daughter's childhood. I carried on crooning and rocking her until she stopped sobbing and her little body relaxed.
Then I asked, "What's your name honey?"
A soft breathy voice whispered, "Mila."
"Mila," I said gently. "Where's your mommy?"
"Mommy's gone. I woke up and Mommy was gone." She was agitated again, I could tell, and on the verge of a fresh storm of sobs.
"Listen to me Mila," I said. "We will find mommy. Where is your house?" The little body in my arms stirred with fresh purpose.
"I'll show you," she said and struggled to get loose from my arms and back on her feet. She took my hand and started leading me along the deserted street, past houses and gardens until we came to a Victorian cottage.
Mila led me up the walkway to the porch. The door stood open and light poured out. I pushed the door open the rest of the way and called, "Hello? Is anybody home?"
Mila said, "Mommy's gone, I looked and called but she's gone." She turned tragic eyes up to me. "She told daddy she wanted to go away and now she's gone forever."
"No, she hasn't," I told her firmly. "Mommy would never go without you." At those words, her tiny pinched face looked hopeful. "Maybe mommy had to go somewhere in a hurry."
Mila looked up at me and her little mouth tried to smile. "Maybe."
"I think you need to go back to bed and sleep," I said. "Where is your bedroom?"
Mila led me upstairs to a bedroom painted pink and full of all the signs of a well-loved child. "Get into bed," I said. "I'll wait for your mommy downstairs."
"No!" she whimpered. "Please, don't leave me alone!"
"I won't," I said gently, and I sat down on the chair next to her bed and held her hand until she fell asleep. I must have fallen asleep myself because I woke to loud voices and breaking crockery and with a painful crick in my neck.
I immediately checked on Mila. She was sleeping soundly, thank God! Which told me the altercation downstairs was probably so common it didn't even wake the child up.
I walked downstairs, wondering how whoever it was would react to my presence in the house, and the news that I'd slept in their child's bedroom. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw them.
A woman and a man were standing there. The breaking sound was evidently from a bottle of beer that had been flung at the wall. "You left her ALONE?" the woman screamed. "To buy BEER?"
That was when I stepped forward. "Excuse me? I'm Kirk Foster. I found your daughter in the middle of the road. It was a miracle I didn't run her over."
The more we give, the richer our life becomes.
The woman turned and stared at me with her mouth open. The man looked blank, and more than a little drunk. "What are you doing in my house?" he screamed. "Get out!"
The woman's reaction was completely different. "Mila?" she gasped and pushed past me to run upstairs. The man took a threatening step towards me.
"Get out!" he said. "You trying to stir up trouble for me? I'll beat you into a pulp!"
But the woman was back looking pale but composed. "You left her on her own, and she was nearly run over. I nearly lost her. You left her alone to get beer, you drunk!"
I could see an epic clash was in the offing so I quietly edged my way over to the door and made my escape. I got into my car and drove away. I just had time for a shower and to change clothes before my first meeting.
That night, as I drove home, my mind went back to the child. I deliberately drove past the house. The lights were on, and standing on the curb were Mila and her mother. The woman was struggling with a heavy suitcase.
I stopped immediately and got out. "Hey!" I said. "Are you two okay?"
The woman looked up at me in surprise. "Oh! You're the man who saved Mila. She told me you tucked her in and stayed with her. Thank you!"
"That's okay, it was the least I could do," I told her. "What's going on, if you don't mind my asking?"
"My husband kicked us out. It's a good thing, really," the woman said. "I'm going to check us into a motel for the night."
"Please," I said impulsively. "Stay with me. I have a huge empty house. You and Mila can stay until you find a new place. I'm never home, so you'll have your privacy!"
"You mean that?" I could see where Mila had gotten her huge eyes from. I nodded and the woman smiled at me. "I'm Meghan, Meghan Torrel."
"Hi Meghan," I said. "I'm Kirk." I took Meghan's suitcase and bags and put them in the trunk, then I drove them to my home. I settled Meghan into the guest bedroom and Mila into my daughter's old room.
That night I slept better than I had in a long time and woke to the sounds and smells of someone making breakfast. Meghan and Mila were in the kitchen, and I sat down to a delicious plate of scrambled eggs with bacon and mushrooms.
I finally learned the whole story. Meghan had met her husband in college. He'd been a football star and a big man on campus and she'd believed she was in love with him.
The inevitable happened and Meghan found herself pregnant at the age of 21. She married the man, and they both dropped out. Meghan discovered that all night drinking was more than a college pastime, it was his whole life.
After Mila was born, Meghan had gotten herself a job at a 24-hour convenience store -- the night shift -- which meant that the husband had to be there to babysit Mila during the night.
He was far from reliable and would often duck out to buy cigarettes and beer. Meghan would discover that he'd left the baby alone the next day when she found him passed out drunk on the couch when she'd made sure there was no alcohol in the house.
Last night had led to the biggest row ever, and the former college football hero had kicked his wife and daughter out in a drunken rage. I listened quietly, and I told Meghan I was a lawyer and would be happy to help her file for a divorce.
As it turned out, the house was Meghan's. She'd inherited it from her grandfather before her marriage, so I immediately filed to have Joe College evicted. This all took over six months and during that time, Mila and Meghan stayed with me.
I'd never been happier. I woke up to the sounds of their voices and the smell of fresh coffee and joined them for breakfast and exciting conversations with Mila, who wanted to know everything and had a thousand questions.
I got used to them being there. I was home at six every evening so Meghan could go to work, and tucked Mila in and told her a bedtime story before doing some work before bed.
I got into the habit of waking up to greet Meghan when she came home at 3:00 am with a hot cup of tea. One night I realized that little ritual was the best part of my day.
I loved Mila, but I was in love with Meghan. It was ridiculous, of course. I was decades older than Meghan who was only 26. My own daughter was 24. Still, when the divorce decree was passed and her ex-husband was evicted from her house I was saddened.
Meghan and Mila moved out and I realized how lonely I'd been. They weren't far away, just two streets over, and I took to dropping in several times a week. Meghan was transferred to the day shift which made life easier for her and Mila.
They didn't really need me anymore, but I needed them. I wanted to tell Meghan how I felt, but each time I opened my mouth, I choked. So one day I sent her some flowers, red roses.
I thought she'd guess it was me, then I wouldn't have to say anything -- I'd know from her reaction. When I visited that afternoon, Mila came running out. "Kirk, Kirk! she cried. "Mommy's got a secret mirer."
"A what?" I asked. She was so excited her eyes gleamed.
"A secret mirer sent mom red roses, lots of them," she explained. "But mommy said she's not interested because..."
"Mila!" Meghan cried. "What's that you're saying?"
"I was just telling Kirk you don't want a secret mirer," she explained to her mother.
Meghan shook her head and explained. "Someone sent me roses. Honestly, I prefer wildflowers!"
"Oh really!" I said. "I thought women liked roses. Romantic and all that!"
Meghan shook her head. "Not me. But forget the roses! Come on in. I made your favorite tea!"
The next day was a Saturday, so I got up at dawn and went out and picked a huge bunch of wildflowers. I parked down the street from Meghan's house. I was going to sneak in and leave them on the porch and she'd never know it was me.
I had just placed the flowers on the front door mat when I had the fright of my life. A voice screamed, "MOMMY! Kirk is here!"
The door swung open and I found myself on my knees in front of Meghan clutching the wildflowers. Not quite what I'd been planning. "Kirk!" Meghan exclaimed. "What on earth!"
I knelt there looking up at her. My mouth was open but nothing was coming out so I just handed her the flowers. Mila was staring at me. "Kirk is funny," she told her mom. "His mouth is opening and closing but no noise comes out."
"That's OK, Mila," Meghan said. "I know what he wants to say." And then she bent down, took the flowers, and kissed me. "It's alright Kirk," she said, "I love you too!"
Anyway, it wasn't long before I asked Meghan to marry me and move back in with me. My only worry was my daughter. I didn't know how she'd feel about a stepmom only two years older, but she surprised me.
"Dad, all that matters is your happiness," she said. "I will never allow myself to ruin it. Because I love you." My daughter and Meghan became friends, and she fell in love with Mila immediately.
After Meghan and I were married, I adopted Mila, and my daughter was delighted --- and even more so when we announced that she'd have another sister just two years later.
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