Elizabeth’s birthday present clutched in sweaty palms, Trevor stepped onto his partner’s porch and walked to the front door. He had been dreading this event all week, ever since Jake invited him to his daughter’s first birthday party. Even through the haze of painful memories he wanted a special present for his goddaughter. He'd stopped at Meier & Frank department store. The over-attentive sales ladies showered him with praise but the pain of his memories remained fresh.
Jake jerked the door open before Trevor's fist met with the wood and grabbed his hand in a tight grip, “You almost hit me.”
“Wait until I knock,” He gave Jake a mock right-hook to the chin, as he walked by.
Lorene came in after he removed his fedora and coat. “Trev!” she called and hugged him; reaching up to pull his face down so she could kiss his cheek. “I'm so glad you came.”
He hugged her and whispered, “Did I have a choice?”
She looked directly into his eyes, “No. You can’t run every time you get invited to a family gathering or a birthday party. You’ll be coming to this little girl’s birthday party every year; you're her godfather.” She turned to yell, “Mom, Dad, Trevor’s here!” He looked at Jake with an expression that screamed, “HELP!” Jake just shrugged. “She rules around here. I learned to pick my battles so I win a few.”
Lorene's and Jake's parents met Trevor in the living room. The women hugged and kissed him, telling him how handsome he was. The men pumped his hand, slapped him on the back and handed him a cup of coffee, which he found had a little extra added to ward off the winter chill.
The men were deep in conversation when Trevor felt small hands on his leg. He looked down and saw Elizabeth. She stood on wobbly legs next to him and smiled a toothy grin. She lost her grip, fell backwards and landed on her diapered bottom. The surprised look on her face was so funny he chuckled. Her face puckered and big tears ran from the corners of her eyes. Before the silent cry turned to a howl, he instinctively reached down, picked her up and sat her on his knee. She stopped crying and reached her dimpled arms out to him. He froze for a moment and resisted the band of pain that encircled his heart.Unaware of the pain that pressed his heart, Elizabeth cooed and leaned against him for a hug.
He slowly brought her to his chest and breathed the familiar baby smell of lotion and powder. He closed his eyes to the memory of a dark haired boy who had once hugged him. After a moment Elizabeth wiggled against him and tucked her head under his chin, her warm body cuddled against his. There was a great rending in his heart and warm release spread through his body. The palm of his hand held her bottom and the other patted her back. After a few moments she wiggled until he sat her on the floor at his feet. She gurgled something at him and crawled away.
When he looked around the room there was a difference; it seemed brighter. The sun was still hidden behind the puffs of clouds, but he felt lighter as if heaviness released around his heart . He'd just allowed a child’s unconditional trust into his heart; something he hadn’t done since he had lost his wife, and his son. The anger had turned him into a workaholic. How could the touch of one beautiful, little, girl change all that? It was probably just a momentary lapse. Tomorrow he would be his old self.
When the party ended Trevor felt a tug on his pant leg. Elizabeth tried to stand up. She was tired and cranky, but the others were taking their leave at the door.
He reached down and picked her up. Her head went to his shoulder and she nuzzled into his neck. He waited for the familiar pain but it didn’t come. Was he finally healing? Was this all it took; holding a child? Or was it just time to let go?
Trevor rubbed Elizabeth’s back, her thumb in her mouth, there was no movement. He let her slide a bit in his arm until he could see her face. Her eyes fluttered as she tried to fight the sleep that threatened to overtake her. He continued to hold her until she fell asleep.
Lorene touched his arm, “Come put her to bed. I don’t want to take her in case she wakes.”
Trevor followed Lorene to the bedroom she and Jake decorated for their daughter. He had declined when Jake asked for help. Just remembering all the hours he and Becca spent painting, hanging decorations and setting up the crib, overwhelmed his spirit. Now, here he was in a baby’s room. He quickly laid the sleeping girl in the crib and covered her with the blanket Lorene handed him.
“Are you okay Pal?’ Jake whispered.
“The pain I had just looking at a baby or child around John’s age was too much. Funny thing, I feel different now."
“You're healing. The process might have been sooner if you hadn’t cut yourself off from all your friends.” Lorene raised her eyebrow at him. “Could be time to move on with your life and see what else is out there you might be missing.”
The two men walked to Trevor's sedan,“Trev, in the years since Becca and John were murdered by those thugs;you have been driven. In most cases, it kept your job, and you, alive. In other cases, you've isolated yourself from everyone who cares about you. I hope whatever happened here, is a start to a new life. Then there's Barbara.” Jake laughed at the blush that crept up Trevor's neck.
On Monday Trevor and Jake sat in Trevor's office with a stack of leads that had come in over the weekend. "What do you have on any connections with Karl's work? " Jake asked while reading a card and setting it aside in a growing stack.
"Nothing. I got Karl's work records for the last year or so. He didn't work on a building or residence of any leading members of the Mob, that we know about or suspect. That isn't saying he might have done some work on the side." Trevor shrugged. “At this point I might even take “The Dad's” suggestion and see if there is anything to the fact they might have been relocated because they were a witness to a killing somewhere.”
“You think yours and Lorene's dad's might be on to something? You have got to be joking.” He made rude snort at the prospect.
Trevor shrugged, “Why dismiss them, if we don't have any other leads, we may as well check it out.”
“Only as a very last resort. If we find any truth to their suggestion, I'll never hear the end of it.” Jake shook his head and went back to looking for a promising lead from his pile.
It was a long, tedious morning and Trevor was ready to take a break when he picked up one more card.
It had his name at the top and the name below was Helen Layton, her address, home and work numbers were also listed. Below that was typed the information she gave.
"Served dinner to a family that she says fits the description of the Stevens family, Saturday evening at 5:30pm in at the Palisades diner.”
"Jake, how about a drive out to the gorge today?" he was staring at the card.
"What do you have?" Jake never questioned Trevor when he had that certain look.
Trevor pulled his notebook closer and flipped a few pages back, "We suspect that Karl bought gas near The Dalles. If so, and he was driving to Portland, why not stop for dinner along the way?" He held the card for Jake to read.
"Sounds like a plan.' Jake went back to his office to get his hat and coat.
Trevor called the diner and set up a meeting with Helen for that afternoon.