My dad turns, spots us, and smooths his face out. He even gives Sam a tentative smile, but he’s not looking.
His attention is glued to his father, hope and happiness etched on his face.
I’m not sure I have ever seen anything more beautiful in my entire life. Leighton wasn’t kidding… Sam looks a lot like me. Same brown hair that glints red in the sunlight. When he becomes a man and starts growing facial hair, it will be more red than brown. Same green eyes already fringed with super thick lashes that will get him picked on in school by the boys but will make all the girls swoon.
Those features aren’t what makes him beautiful, though.
It’s because he is a part of me. It’s because I had a part in creating that miraculous child.
I can’t help but think about how my first meeting with him should have went. With me holding Leighton’s hand while she struggled to push Sam into this world. Crushing my bones with strength I never knew she had while calling me all sorts of vile names, most likely threatening to never let me touch her again. My first meeting should have been him squirting out into the doctor’s hands before being lovingly placed—all red and squalling—into our arms so we could ooh and aah over how beautiful he was.
But this… while it’s not what I ever imagined, it’s perfect just the same.
Because he’s perfect, leukemia riddled, nine years I missed out on, and all.
The thing that amazes me most—and I’m sure I’ll reflect on it later—is that I don’t feel awkward while meeting him. Despite my anger toward Leighton and the fact I want to punch her dad’s lights out, despite not knowing this child, I don’t feel there’s anything strange about this moment. I don’t have the slightest bit of stress at all. The only thing I can assume is it’s because like knows like.
Leighton and Sam stop halfway across the yard. Her arm goes protectively around his shoulder. I know she stands prepared to do battle as a mama bear would, gearing up to protect her kid if things go wrong. I don’t know what Sam is feeling. I don’t want him to be scared or intimidated. However, the excitement on his face tells me he feels otherwise. Taking two steps toward him, I crouch so I can be more on his level.
Sam leaves his mother’s cocoon, showing no hesitation as he walks the rest of the way toward me. He’s tall and lanky the way I used to be. Shoulders thrown back confidently and I have to give testament to Rich and Leighton—they must have raised Sam right.
To be brave.
When he pauses before me, I smile. “Hey, Sam… My name is August.”
“You’re my dad,” he says in awe. A truth we all know.
I chuckle. “Yeah, I am. And I have to tell you—this is one of the happiest days of my life.”
Sam grins. “It’s one of mine, too.”
I wonder if he means because he’s finally meeting his dad or that I could potentially save his life. Probably both. I’m happy for the same reasons.
I twist to look over at Rich, and it hits me I don’t even know his name.
I mean his current name.
It was Rich before he went into hiding. Leighton never bothered to tell me what his new name is. Don’t care to be honest, but I’ll figure it out later. For now, I see he watches us cautiously.
I glance over at Leighton. She has one hand wrapped around her stomach, her other fist hovering in front of her mouth. Her expression is worried yet hopeful.
I meet my son’s eyes. “I’m not sure what the proper protocol is right now. Should we shake hands like men? Hug it out like father and son?”
Once again, this miraculous child—who could be dying but hopefully I can save—finds it within himself to smile with a love I did not know was possible. “I’m kind of a hugger by nature.”
That was all I needed to hear. Snagging my son, I tug him into my embrace, feeling such completeness as his arms wrap around my neck. I straighten, pulling Sam right along with me, his body weight nothing to my strength.
There’s no stopping the tears that flood my eyes.
“Favorite football team?” Sam digs out another scoop of ice cream from the carton on the counter.
We’ve been left alone as Mike—Rich’s new name—and Leighton went to the grocery store to buy hamburgers for us to grill later. They wanted to give us time alone.
I have no clue if it’s appropriate since Sam’s appetite could potentially be ruined by the ice cream he asked for and I gladly allowed, but I figure my first act as a father should be to unrepentantly spoil the kid to make up for lost time.