Neil couldn’t stop staring at her tiny fingers. Nimble they were not, but he marveled at her determination. Her little hand was like a carnival claw as she tried again and again to grab a Cheerio off the tray. There were no signs of excitement when she finally succeeded—clutching the crunchy ring in her fist. She stubbornly kept her mouth open while her hand hovered drunkenly, less than an inch away from it. When the treat reached its goal, he couldn’t help but cheer a little inside.
It had been difficult in the beginning. All she seemed to do was cry. Cry and poop. But now he could see that she was a little person. He was fascinated by her clumsy hands and chipmunk cheeks. Her bright, inquisitive eyes and fat smooshy thighs. He found that when she smiled, he smiled. When she laughed, he laughed.
He watched as she mindlessly gummed the treat—her focus returned to the circles still on the tray. Staring at the déjà vu of it all, he couldn’t help but wonder who she would become. What she would grow up to be.
He imagined her as a doctor, or a lawyer, or President of the United States. He wished for her to find love, to get married and have a family. Ultimately, he just wanted her to grow up to be happy and kind and loved.
She wiggled back and forth, clapping her hands, pleased with herself as another Cheerio reached her mouth. She looked up at him, revealing her two tiny teeth as she smiled. Heart melting, Neil clapped his hands and smiled back. By the time Stu came into the room they were laughing.
“Hate to break up playtime,” he said sarcastically, “But the parents called—they have the ransom. Get her ready to go.”
“Alright,” Neil said.
He tried his best to hide the overwhelming sadness that suddenly gripped him. Stu wouldn’t understand.
Then, he thought about her going home and imagined her graduating from high school, then college. He imagined her curing cancer and mediating peace talks. He imagined her happy and then, just like when she smiled, or when she laughed, he was happy, too.
He pulled her from the highchair and she kicked her legs with excitement as if she understood.
“Looks like you’re going home, sweetie,” he said as he handed her one last Cheerio.