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“You want kids, right, Ben?”
He was working on his physiotherapy exercises, slowly leaning forward and back while sitting on the bed. Her non-sequitur alerted him that something was off, but he played along. “Of course. I’ve always dreamed of being a husband and father after I clean up my act.”
She nodded, and plinked on her laptop. “What if you met someone, and she already had kids?”
His heart skipped a beat, and he paused his awful exercises. “Are you saying you –”
She flinched. “I’m not talking about me! I just mean, in general. Do you think you could love someone else’s kid as your own? Even if you missed out on the first few years?”
Troubled, he rubbed his chin, and thought of Tynan, one of his rowdy kindergarteners, and Kwasi, the sweet, brilliant boy in the hospital who’d wanted Ben to adopt him. He could picture the orphanage on the compound – all the beautiful kids who needed a home. Seeing them, he’d been so close to giving up on his dreams.
“I’ve always wanted to do parenting from scratch. I’m kind of tired of walking in on families that are already formed.”
Annoyance tightened her hands into fists. “What does that mean? A kid’s a kid, right?”
He sat up straighter, resolved in the conclusion he’d drawn when he’d turned away from the Qalcad social work office. “It’s not that. I want to finally be able to see myself in someone else. I want it to be my blood in their veins. Of course, I love all kids. But every time I looked at them, I’d always be reminded that they aren’t mine.”
“That’s not what the Santos family thought about you,” she snapped, then clapped a hand over her mouth.
The sting was quick and sharp, deep in the cavern of his heart.
Her hands fluttered on the arms of the chair. “Ben, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that they loved you so much, no matter where you came from. And Bel, he –” she cleared her throat. “He organized that whole adoption proposal thing for you. Trust me, blood isn’t everything. I hated all my blood relatives. It’s the people who didn’t have anything to do with my family tree who cared the most for me.” This made her take pause, as though she was just realizing the truth of her words for herself.
He sighed. She didn’t understand, but he didn’t want to argue with her. “I just think it can get complicated when you bring a step-parent into the mix, that’s all. Why do you ask? Are you considering becoming a step-parent yourself?”
As far as he knew, Jake didn’t have any kids, but could he be sure? Were the two of them becoming more serious? His mouth turned sour, and he clenched his jaw as an unbidden picture popped into his mind: Lanie in a white dress, Jake watching her from the other end of the aisle. Where was he in this image? Eternally relegated to the friendzone, cheering for them with a hollow smile that felt like glass between his teeth? Unable to get in the way of her happiness, but equally unable to ignore the frilly invitation she would send to him?
“No.” There was that shift in her breathing as she tried to make it more even. “I’m just making conversation. You’ll be a great stepdad. Don’t worry.”
The foregone conclusion negating his capability to father his own children was more than offensive. “I don’t plan to be a stepfather. I plan to really be a father. Not someone who ‘stepped’ into the picture.”
She smiled, apparently taking his words the wrong way. “I know, B. Any kid would be happy to have you as a dad. I wish I’d been so fortunate.”
This was bad. Did she see him as a father-figure, now? It wasn’t like he was that much older than her. only six or seven years. Crestfallen, he tried to figure out where he’d gone wrong. He’d been clear about his feelings, hadn’t he? And he was nearly certain that there was something there for him, no matter what was going on with Jake. But what had he done to fall so far down the ladder?
Maybe that’s why she was visiting so much – because she saw him as family. A brother, or, God forbid, a father. As much as he loved her company, maybe she was wasting her time here. She was an important woman, with lots to do.
“You know you don’t need to be here, right? There’s somewhere else you need to be. I’m okay.” No way would he be the sad, friendless, old invalid that she felt honor-bound to visit in the hospital
Still lost in whatever revelation she was having, surprise flickered across her face, as though she was just realizing that he was there. “What? No. I like being here.”
“Really, there’s no need. I actually have my own work to do, you know.”
Now she looked deeply sad. “Are you angry with me? I didn’t mean to make you upset.”
Guilt tore at him. No matter the reason she was here, the last thing he wanted was to hurt her. And he didn’t actually want her to go. Not really. As much as he wished she were here because of an interest in him, he figured that spending time with her at all was better than nothing. Hence why he’d tear his own heart out to watch her marry another man.
He was done for.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13