The Music Box
He walked down the shadowy hall and peered into her dark little room, lit only by a street light shining through a window.
She was sitting up in bed.
“What are you doing awake?” he asked.
“Daddy, you know I can’t sleep until you rub my back.”
The six year old turned over on her stomach, pulling her night gown up behind her.
He stood there at the door shaking his head.
He wished he got home earlier.
He walked over to the music box on her dresser and wound it up.
It played her favorite song, “When you wish upon a star.”
Five minutes of his light touch and he expected her to be asleep.
“Daddy, tell me a story,” she whispered.
“It’s too late, Whit,” he whispered back.
“Please,” she whispered again.
“It’s too long.”
“That’s also too…”
“Baby Toothbrush,” she whispered sleepily.
“Okay,” he said resolutely.
He pulled her nightgown down over her little body and she rolled over on her back, looking half-asleep.
He smiled and kissed her, caressing her hair.
“Every night,” he began, “before bed, the little girl went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and every night she picked up the worn Mommy toothbrush, squeezed some toothpaste out and brushed her teeth. The little girl always swished some water in her mouth when she was finished, dried her hands and mouth, and turned out the light. ‘Mommy? asked Baby Toothbrush, when will I get to brush teeth? Someday, said Mommy Toothbrush.”
“But when? Baby Toothbrush asked,” he continued, “Someday, she said. Night after night the girl came in and used Mommy Toothbrush. Baby Toothbrush dreamed of the day when she would be used in that special way.”
He heard the little girl breathing heavily with a light snore and he knew she was asleep.
“Goodnight, Whit,” he whispered as he kissed her again on the forehead.
He shut and locked the window and then stood at the doorway again looking at her before closing the door.
For years he told her a bedtime story almost every night, not always one he made up, but later his versions of the classics when she got older, and ghost stories sometimes, like the one she loved with the headless horseman.
Every other Saturday Whitney’s father only worked until two in the afternoon and it was a special time.
He would take her to Coney Island or the Zoo or a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.
A few times they visited the Park or the museum close to the Park and normally Uncle Bill was there too.
Uncle Bill was tall and awkward like Ichabod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Subsequently, she assumed for a long time he was a teacher like Ichabod.
But he worked with her father, she figured out one day at Battery Park (This was the Battery Park before the landfills buried the old shipping piers).
Not long after this she understood he was not really an uncle, just was called Uncle Bill, for her alone.
Whitney liked having an uncle even if he really wasn’t one.
Uncle Bill was from somewhere else, not like Daddy, who was born in the City.
He was from Ohio or some other place when he was younger.
He moved to New York to make money to buy a home for his family back wherever they were.
He made Whitney laugh by stealing her nose with his thumb and for the longest time amazing her by using both hands to separate his thumb.
Daddy and Uncle Bill gave her the hardest time when she came home from kindergarten with a boyfriend.
They teased her about her man until she cried.
His name was Rondy for a few weeks and it was Uncle Bill who taught her how to say her lover’s name the right way by teaching her to say hotrod kneecap, then to remove the ‘hot’ and the ‘cap’.
Uncle Bill died when Whitney was eight or nine and it made her very sad for a long time.
Daddy said Uncle Bill drowned trying to rescue a lady from the Hudson River.
Whitney turned ten and she no longer needed the back rubs or the story of Baby Toothbrush or Baby Starfish or even The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or Rip Van Winkle.
She was a big girl.
She could read them herself.
One week after her birthday, late at night, Whitney, still a little girl, woke as large arms scooped her from her bed and pulled her through her bedroom window.
The firemen tried to rescue everyone.
The fire truck poured and poured until hours later when the building was completely burned out.
From that day forward Whitney was alone.
*Fifteen Years Later*
Whitney was now St. Vincent’s burn-unit Nurse Whitney, BSN.
After two shifts in the last thirty-six hours she was a zombie walking down into Christopher Street station, taking the train home.
Seven-thirty in the morning was the worst time to ride the train when all you want to do is get home and crawl into bed as fast as you can.
But going up to Times Square Station was better than coming down from there at this time of the day, she thought to herself, trying not to fall asleep for fear she would miss the Times Square stop or wake up on the shoulder of the person next to her.
Times Square station came fast as she dozed in and out.
She got to the 7 train and found a spot to sit.
The Seven would be less crowded and she would probably fall asleep but that wasn’t a problem since it would take her all the way to 69 Street/Roosevelt Avenue station, where Mr. Jumps, her cat, would be whining, ready to eat.
On occasion, on a morning like this, after two shifts in less than two days, she would wake from a dream on the subway and swear her father was in it.
Her hand would be cradled in his thick strong fingers and they were skipping or maybe she was sitting on his broad granite hard shoulders looking at the Statue of Liberty from the Ferry.
She would wake up and strain to envision his face.
This was the most haunting part of losing him.
Whitney couldn’t remember his face.
She knew his smell.
Sometimes she caught it when she was on the subway.
She sat by plenty of men on their way home and some didn’t exactly stink, more like the smell of hard work.
That was what he smelled like.
She had no pictures of him, just vague childhood thoughts.
His face was just out of reach in her memory.
This was her biggest loss.
When she had started nursing, a doctor in charge of the ICU, Dr. James Russell, filled that void because of his scent and build, which both fit her believed accurate memory, and so his face, which certainly could have been very much like her father’s, was what she saw when she closed her eyes.
The vibrating rumbling of the 7 train was like distant thunder on a rainy night as she slept and dreamed pleasant dreams far away from St. Vincent’s burn unit.
A violent screeching woke Whitney and everyone else coming home from the nightshift.
“Oh my God! Did you see that?” one woman screamed.
“Hey jumped in front of train!” a man said.
“Dayum!” another witnessed.
Whitney looked out the window but saw nothing.
Probably not a person jumping on the tracks, Whitney thought, more likely a mechanical problem.
This was the third time in the last month the 7 train had shut down completely before her stop.
They were now making people exit the train, just short of the 40th street platform.
She shook her head thinking about having to take the bus or walking the rest of the way.
At least she had four full days off, she thought.
If she had a Chelsea apartment or if she had taken the offer to move in with one of her coworkers on Barrow she would be home by now.
She had enough money to move into the Village but it always seemed like a waste of money since her apartment in Woodside was cheaper and larger than what she would have there.
Plus, she enjoyed her landlord, which most people she knew had a hard time saying.
Mrs. Butterball, was what she called her landlord.
Actually her name was Gwendolyn Butterfield.
In her youth, her small days as she called them, she was the most sought after courtesan in the 115th, a favorite of policemen, politicians, and Landlord Laydon Butterfield (aka Lord Butterfield) the one who forced her into marriage and retirement.
Years after Lord Butterfield’s death, as his sole heir, her appearance had become just like Guy de Maupassant’s description of Butterball with tight skin, bloated fingers and, except for the winter months when she bundled up, huge breasts spilling out of anything she wore.
Whitney loved Mrs. Butterball because a few times she helped Whitney when she was sick and on two occasions was a very good listener, once during a break-up, and another time when she had her purse stolen at the top of the stairs going down into the Christopher Street Station.
Mrs. Butterball owned two six-story buildings next to each other and when a tenant gave notice she would let Whitney know in case she wanted the apartment.
This was another reason she would never move because if she ever got married and her and her husband needed more room it would just be a matter of time and she would have it.
That was also another problem Whitney’s friends who lived in Manhattan had when looking for a bigger place.
Finding a larger apartment without being on a five-year waiting list was impossible.
Whitney stepped off the train and could see police officers up ahead ushering people past what was apparently a dead body with a detached arm and leg.
Some poor man who chose the 7 train as his exit route, she thought, as she herself was asked to move along.
“A lady pushed him,” someone ahead of her said.
“She came out of nowhere and pushed him,” another person claimed.
“World’s full of crazy people,” a bystander said as Whitney stepped up on to the platform.
She turned and could now look down on the scene with an unobstructed view of the body. Whitney shook her head.
If he was alive she would have insisted she could help but he clearly wasn’t.
She turned to begin the rest of her journey home, still not sure if she would take the bus or walk. Hell, she might even hail a cab she was so tired.
A decision like this would not be so difficult if you weren’t so tired, she told herself.
It was only a short walk from the station to a café she had visited a week before when construction was going on around 32nd street but she was tired.
Whitney knew about that interruption of service ahead of time and was a lot more prepared mentally and physically to walk afterward, having finished just her first shift after three days off. There was no place to sit so she decided to just buy a bagel and go.
The same young man behind the counter who helped her the week before was there, smiling.
He had a beautiful smile and she had already thought about that smile twice since the train stopped, knowing they were close to 40th street.
Under stronger conditions she would have walked straight home, with no desire to see the beautiful man and his smile.
His smile was the first thing she noticed about him but she also enjoyed how he reminded her of a fireman, thick but not fat, strong looking but not a bodybuilder.
And his bluish grey eyes were mesmerizing.
She didn’t need any of that though because she still felt wounded from her last man.
It was better to give it more time.
On the other hand, life was too short to worry about a past relationship.
“What can I do for you,” he smiled.
Whitney smiled, thinking about that question.
“Just an onion bagel,” she said pausing abruptly, “And cream cheese.”
He served her and she turned not expecting to find a seat but the café had thinned out and there were more than a few empty spots at the window bar facing the 7 train.
She prepared her bagel there and watched police go up and down the stairs to the platform.
“Did you hear about the guy who was pushed?” asked a voice from behind her.
She turned and it was him.
She had only seen his torso from behind the counter before.
He’s taller in front of the counter than behind.
She tried not to stare but realized she had been, remembering he had asked her a question.
“The guy,” he said again, “They say he was pushed.”
She shook her head.
“I didn’t see it,” Whitney answered, “but I was on the train when it happened. A woman pushed him somebody said.”
She suddenly remembered Mr. Jumps and how hungry he must be right now if he didn’t ration his food.
He didn’t ration his food, she thought.
“Thanks for the bagel. I just remembered my cat. I’ve got to go,” she said tidying up her area.
“Do you live in Sunnyside? I just remember seeing you last week and wondered,” he asked a bit awkwardly.
She noticed he was a bit lanky in his legs.
“No, Woodside,” she said opening the door to leave, “Have a good day.”
“Okay. Have a good day,” he said watching her leave.
Then he followed her, speaking up.
“Can I take you to dinner tonight, in Woodside?” he asked.
“I’m sorry?” she asked, caught off guard.
“Dinner, later tonight, Sripraphai? Do you like Thai? Do you know where that is?”
“I know where that is but I’ve had a long couple days,” she said, being honest.
He nodded humbly, which she thought was quite endearing.
“Well, I’ll be at Sripraphai at seven-thirty with a table if you decide you’re up for it,” he said.
“Okay, well thanks,” Whitney said.
“Oh,” he stuck his hand out. “I’m Sean.”
“Whitney,” she took his hand and it felt like her father’s.
She looked at his hand.
It did resemble her father’s rough with thick fingers.
She nodded her head profusely and stopped when she noticed.
“I’ll be there,” she said blushing.
This was the beginning of Sean and Whitney.
*Seven Years Later*
“Lilly Rose Bollin!”
The little girl began rushing her guests to finish their tea.
“Party’s over Mrs. Dumbles. Gotta go, Mommy says. Sorry Sparkles, tea time’s over. Purple Puppy, time to skadamoosh!”
A stuffed puppy, a plush porpoise, and plump porcelain granny were tossed into a huge bag containing all the other assorted frequenters of Miss Lilly Rose’s tea room.
“Coming, Mommy! Gosh!”
Lilly Rose quickly touched the window of her bedroom to decide if it was a sweater day.
She threw open a dresser drawer and grabbed a sweater.
In nursing scrubs Whitney placed breakfast on the kitchen nook.
“Here, Mom,” the five year old about to turn six slid into her seat, “Yumm!”
“Lil, I’m not picking you up from school, today. Your dad is.”
Whitney looked down at the street through the window of her third floor apartment.
She touched its pane.
“I’ve got a sweater, Mom, in my backpack,” Lilly said.
“Put it on, please,” Whitney said.
“Can we stop by and see Dad on the way?” Lilly asked.
“We don’t have time to stop. I’ve been calling you for ten minutes.”
Whitney could never say no to her baby.
She wasn’t spoiled.
She made sure that she was a grateful child.
Whitney never had a mom and she was going to be everything and more her for Lilly Rose.
Sean named her and it was a sweet name.
Whitney loved it the minute it came out of his mouth.
She loved everything Sean Bollin said, back then.
Time changes things.
Whitney still loved him but Sean had nearly ruined things.
It was just a matter of time and she would ask him to leave, and this time for good.
“Okay, Lilly. I like the way you said ‘please’. We’ll stop in for a little bit but he’s going to be busy. We’ll just say hi. We don’t have time to wait on the customers.”
Before kindergarten came, on Whitney’s work days, Sean let Lilly wait on customers.
Even as early as three years old, Lilly recognized the regulars and would address them by name, the way she saw Daddy do it, and she would say, ‘The Regular, Jan?’, or whatever the person’s name was, and she would fill their bag with the right item, refusing any help from Daddy.
She would then smile, and say ‘Nice to see you this morning’.
Sean hoped they would be coming by.
It hadn’t been busy that morning, and if they came by, he could pay attention to them.
The television mounted in the top corner of the café had been the focal point of the shop for weeks now.
It had been a month.
September 11th hurt everyone.
His café wasn’t hit like the ones in lower Manhattan that had to completely shut down but so many people who were his regulars were killed and so many others lost their jobs and had to move out of the city.
It was like a dark cloud that had settled for good and only the strong would survive.
Sean had been strong but he was faltering, the way he was afraid he would.
The way his father had.
It had nothing to do with September 11th.
And it wouldn’t do any good trying to blame any of this on that day.
She was too smart.
Whitney was too everything, not in a bad way but in a way that made him feel unworthy.
Sean had moved to Queens to find his father and until Whitney, it had been one disappointment after another.
First, the job he had when he moved to the Big Apple from Buffalo, the one at Pier 36, fired him just when he was about to start saving money.
They said they had fired the wrong Sean, weeks later, but by that time they had replaced him and all the guy would say was he was sorry.
He found another job a week later but that week put him months behind.
It was at that time Sean found his father, at least his remains.
A woman named Claudia Santiago knew his father, not well, but well enough to know he died. She lived next to him and when the superintendent cleared out the few things in his apartment and set them outside, she kept two things, not really knowing why.
Mrs. Santiago gave them to Sean and he never spoke of them.
He kept them in a safety deposit box with his mother’s wedding ring that he gave Whitney when they were married.
The day Whitney walked into the café that second time, Sean’s heart jumped into his throat.
He had been too busy to say anything of any significance when she had come in the week before and from that day on had seen her face all day every day in his mind.
He thought he might never see her again until the day she ordered her bagel with cream cheese. He was brave with her that day because he knew she would be the best thing to ever happen to him.
They were married two weeks later, in Doughboy Plaza, where they spent Memorial Day together, the Monday after their first date.
It was the same day she showed him Manhattanhenge and the first day he spent the night.
On her wedding day she was beyond beautiful, her thick and long dark black hair blowing behind her as she faced him and he faced Manhattan.
Her contrasting pearly white wedding dress, loaned to her by Mrs. Butterball, was stunning but not as pure and perfect as Sean saw her.
Seven months later she woke him up late one night after a shift at the hospital and told him she was pregnant.
He didn’t know what to say.
He was angry but he attempted happiness.
She saw it on his face as he tried to conceal his struggle.
He walked out of the apartment and she didn’t see him again until twenty-four hours later.
When he came home she was furious.
What kind of man does that?
She asked him that question so many times he wanted to kill himself.
He didn’t know what to say.
He couldn’t get himself to tell her the truth that he thought he’d never make a great father, that he would eventually abandon her and the child, like his father did.
He hoped he’d have more time to overcome his fear.
Maybe in a few years after being married, after he bought the café, he’d be ready.
Whitney had no idea how hard becoming a father was for him.
So, after she broke the news, he went to the pub to drink for the next twenty-four hours.
He walked back in and she was furious.
But she forgave him as he broke down.
And then she broke down.
When their sobbing turned to laugher they both thought he would never do it again.
And he didn’t for almost six years, until Lilly’s fifth birthday party, which he missed entirely.
That morning he discovered an accounting mistake at the café and the tax bill was much more than he could afford, even if he borrowed from everyone they knew.
So he started drinking and didn’t come home until late.
When he walked through the door she broke his nose with a flying coffee cup.
She demanded that he move out, until he got help, and he begged her to forgive him but after he knew she wasn’t budging he told her he would move out in the morning.
This wasn’t soon enough, she said, and she made him pack some things and leave immediately.
He went straight to the café, never going to sleep, fighting the urge to drink, and he went over the books again and again, in vain, trying to fix his error.
That night Sean went to his first support meeting and he felt it helped.
He didn’t go as often as they encouraged him to and he didn’t talk about his feelings with the group in as much detail as they said he should but he went every time he knew he had an extra temptation to drink, normally after fights with Whitney or rough months at the Café.
Whitney never made him completely move out when she saw him make the effort to get help but she knew he was still captive to whatever demons he had.
The tax problem was weighing heavier and heavier but he never told Whitney about it.
To make matters worse, September 11th happened and all the money they spent to make the café profitable seemed to be for nothing.
By that time Sean had ignored hundreds of calls and letters sent to the café and felt at any moment the authorities would come to take him to jail.
A visit from Whitney and Lilly would be the needed relief from the despair he felt that morning.
Lilly Rose threw open the front door of the café and ran behind the counter into his arms.
“Lilly,” he said holding back tears.
Whitney stood at the entrance looking at them.
She saw his face and knew his thoughts were heavy.
“We have to talk. I’m at the hospital until seven so I’ll be home after that,” she said.
Whitney took Lilly’s hand.
“Daddy’s got to get back to work, Lil. You’re picking her up, right?” Whitney asked.
Sean nodded and she and Lilly left to catch the next train.
Whitney had known for two months about the tax issue but that was his problem.
He was going to have to deal with it.
She and Lilly would have to be fine without him.
Watching the station behind them get smaller and Manhattan raise up in front of them, her heart was heavy thinking about Lilly not having what she always wished for her, a family, a daddy and a mommy.
But he had his chance.
What kind of man does this?
That evening Sean tucked Lilly in bed and she was fast asleep when Whitney walked in.
“When were you going to tell me?” she asked, pulling food out of the refrigerator to heat.
Sean shook his head as a last-ditch effort of denial.
“I know about the taxes, Sean. I’ve known for a while. Were you going to wait until I found out they closed the café? Because that’s what they’re going to do. The problem’s not going to go away, Sean.”
“I’ll figure it out. I’ll fix it,” he said.
“I hope you do, but it won’t be for me and Lilly,” Whitney said.
“What does that mean?” Sean asked, wounded.
“I’m done, Sean. For seven years I’ve tried to make us work but I’m done. And I’m not letting Lilly go through anymore disappointments from you. After Lilly’s party tomorrow you need to move out.”
He shook his head ‘no’.
“We’re a family, Whitney. I love you and I love Lilly. I’m not moving out,” he said.
As he listened to himself, it didn’t ring true because as much as he believed it, an equal amount of doubt that had always existed was choking out any sincerity.
He really was like his father, he thought, not a man.
“I don’t believe you, Sean. And I can’t keep doing this. Life is too short,” Whitney said
He didn’t utter another word but gathered a few things and left.
Whitney cried for hours, afraid a few times that her sobbing would wake Lilly.
She got up around three in the morning and went to stand at the door of Lilly’s room.
Looking in on her beautiful baby girl slumbering peacefully Whitney closed her eyes and tried to remember the days when her daddy would do this.
More than a few times, Whitney had been faking she was asleep and peeking to see him standing at the door.
What was he thinking?
Was he wishing she had a mommy?
Was he hoping he hadn’t failed her?
Or was he just enjoying the beautiful creation before him the way she was with Lilly?
Whitney looked at her and then closed her eyes again trying to remember his face.
It was still the most deeply agonizing feeling, not being able to see her father’s face again.
The vague ever-fading memories would someday be gone completely, when she was old.
Why couldn’t Sean step up and be the man he should be?
She loved him but he blew it.
That was that.
That night Sean had walked straight to the pub and stood outside the entrance.
There was nothing left to do but drink and maybe he would die somehow.
But still he
just stood outside the door of the pub.
It was very cold for October and he knew it would be warm in the pub and there would be familiar faces but he didn’t want to see any of those faces.
He wanted to see Lilly’s face and Whitney’s.
He was too angry to drink.
He realized he was angrier this time, more than feeling sorry for himself, angry at himself, not Whitney.
He stepped aside a few times to let some people go in, catching a glimpse each time of the inside of his favorite Irish pub.
Sean turned his back to the door.
He didn’t know what he was going to do but he knew he was going to figure out how to change things, for good.
Sean saw the train behind him, elevated above Roosevelt Avenue, out of the corner of his eye, and he ran to catch it at the next stop.
Running up the stairs, skipping most of them, he landed on the station platform as the subway doors were about to close and slid inside the warm and empty car.
Sean rode the seven train to Times Square and then the one line down to Franklin, where he walked as close as he could to Ground Zero.
He hadn’t been there yet, since it happened.
He had seen hours and hours of footage while working in the café but this was the first time he saw it firsthand.
The closer he got to Ground Zero the louder the sound of the cranes got as they lifted and moved debris and the harder it was to breath as the air was still toxically thick.
A cold breeze whipped around the corner of a building and gave Sean the chills.
He ran to the foot of the building on his right to shield himself from the wind and there he saw, lit up, hundreds and hundreds of pictures and posters and papers that had been mounted to the building as a memorial for those who were lost.
A missing son.
A lost brother and uncle.
A daughter and a sister.
Two brothers, fire fighters.
A missing husband.
A missing wife.
Again and again.
Over and over.
It had been more than a month.
Sean had already wept and sobbed and mourned and had been emotional about it.
He had been to twelve memorial services since then, so many, he couldn’t go to any more.
But standing so close to where it happened, to the place where so many people lost their lives and their loved ones, he lost his legs and fell down next to the makeshift memorial, unable to control his sorrow.
What if Whitney has been down here?
What if Lilly had been on a field trip or something?
This could have been him?
After an hour later Sean walked back to the train.
Before that day Sean thought September 11th had been real but not like it was now.
It sunk in.
It was a message he couldn’t file away or pretend it hadn’t made lasting impact.
If those people lost their family with no say, no way of reversing anything, he wasn’t going to let his family or his manhood go without the biggest fight.
Sean decided that his first step was to talk to the one person who knew Whitney as much or more than he did, Mrs. Butterball.
Twenty minutes later he was at the foot of her Third Avenue apartment building, buzzing her apartment.
“Mrs. Butterfield, it’s Whitney’s Sean. I need to talk to you,” he said.
She reminded him it was three in the morning but she buzzed him up and he took the elevator to the sixteenth floor.
She opened the door to her apartment just as he walked from the elevator to her apartment.
She appeared to have already been awake, completely dressed.
“Come in, Sean,” she said, in what was for her, a normal whispery voice.
She motioned him to sit down on the couch that sat in front of two large corner windows, displaying a breathtaking view of the Park and Downtown.
“I’m here because you know Whitney better than anyone else,” he said getting to the point.
She walked slowly but determinedly back toward him from the kitchen with two cups of coffee.
She placed them on the table between them and plopped down in a leather lounge chair that squeaked and creaked under her weight when she moved.
“I know you too, Sean,” she said smiling.
“She kicked me out again. She says I have to move out after Lilly’s birthday party tomorrow.”
“I just spoke to her. She’s very worried about you,” she said, whispering.
“She says she’s done and that anything I do will be for me and not for her and Lilly.”
For the next thirty minutes Mrs. Butterfield just nodded and listened as Sean described Whitney and his arguments and fights and his tax predicament.
“Do you love her, Sean? Whitney’s not sure you really love her. She doesn’t think you’re sure you love her. You know that makes her insecure. You know that, don’t you Sean?”
“I love her but…”
“Whatever the ‘but’ is, Sean, that’s what you got to change, right now,” she said smiling.
“I’m afraid to fail,” Sean said.
“Whitney told me about your father, Sean,” Mrs. Butterfield said, “You can’t let him keep you from being what you are, whatever you think he was.”
“What do I do?” Sean asked.
She shook her head.
“Do you want some more coffee?” Mrs. Butterfield asked, about to push herself up out of the chair.
He shook his head and so she resituated herself in her chair.
“You know about Mr. Butterfield, right Sean?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“He was a drinker, a boozer until he met me. But it wasn’t drinking was his problem. It was losing his wife and daughter. They died in a car crash that he lived through. I was the one that got him to open up. And then he made me love him, when I didn’t think I ever could. So, we kind of rescued each other. You two are like me and Lord Butterfield, except you aren’t a successful real-estate businessman and she’s not a high-priced hooker. You’re going have to bare your soul to her, not like you think you have already, but the way you do after there’s nothing left you think you could possibly say or do or share. Whatever you do, do it now.”
Mrs. Butterfield smiled, closed her eyes nodding off and then opened them.
Sean nodded thinking how ashamed he was but he knew what he had to do.
He thanked Mrs. Butterfield and down on Third Avenue he caught a cab that took him down FDR and then over the Queensboro Bridge to the Café.
Sean spent that morning in the back room of the Café thinking about Lilly and how she was so much like Whitney, so independent and self-assured.
She would be crushed if he didn’t figure something out.
And what would happen to Whitney if he left?
He couldn’t let this happen.
Sean didn’t know how but he wasn’t going to be like his father.
It was going to happen.
He started thinking about Lilly’s birthday party and decided to add some last minute things to make it even better, some more balloons, maybe a stuffed animal.
He had forgotten to get her a gift.
Whitney had found the Harry Potter potions lab that Lilly said she had to have so that would be her big gift but he wanted to give her something special.
He had been thinking about it but had gotten distracted the last couple of days.
Sitting in the café it hit him.
He knew exactly what he needed to give his daughter.
He didn’t know why he didn’t think of it before.
He hadn’t been ready.
He was ready now.
He said goodbye to the Café staff and set off to get the gift.
He spoke to Whitney around noon and they agreed to meet around one-thirty at Two Boots.
Lilly called it the Blue Boots because the façade of the restaurant was blue.
She loved the place because she could watch them make pizza.
The party went well and it occurred to Sean that his gift would be better given to Lilly after they were home and it would give him an opportunity to talk to Whitney.
After the party they took a cab ride together back to the apartment where Lilly immediately placed all her gifts in her room they way she had pictured.
“I want to give Lilly her gift,” Sean said, “and then I’d like to talk while she plays, okay?”
“What did you do last night?” Whitney asked.
“A lot of thinking,” he said.
“Where did you go?” Whitney asked.
“Daddy, can I see what you got me now?” Lilly asked, walking into the kitchen.
“Go sit on the couch,” he said and she went straight to the couch and sat in anticipation.
“I want to talk after she opens it, okay? I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking,” he said.
Whitney attempted to smile and nodded her head ‘yes’.
Sean and Whitney walked from the kitchen.
The brown box he had been carrying nearly the whole day contained the gift.
Lilly was eyeing it but waiting patiently.
Sean had taken it to have it gift wrapped that morning.
Until that morning Sean had no idea what to do with it and then it made perfect sense.
Lilly would love it and it would be a way he could begin making peace.
He pulled the gift wrapped box out of the larger brown box, handing it to Lilly, who began opening it feverishly.
As she opened her gift he also took a photograph out of the box and sat it down on the coffee table in front of Lilly.
Lilly’s eyes widened as she unwrapped her gift.
“I love it!”
Lilly removed the final piece of wrapping and held in her lap a small ornate music box.
As she opened it a song began to chime a familiar melody as a ballerina twirled slowly, mechanically.
“When you wish upon a star…”
Lilly loved it and Sean felt satisfied with the look on her face.
Sean felt Whitney’s hand on his arm and turned to face her.
She had a confused look and tears in her eyes.
She held the picture in her other hand and held it up to him.
“Where did you get this?” Whitney asked.
“What’s wrong? It’s just a picture of my dad and some man he worked with,” Sean said.
“No, Sean, where did you get this?” Whitney demanded.
“I’m sorry, Whitney,” Sean said, trying to calm her down, “It’s just a picture I never knew what to do with. I wanted to show it to Lilly. I wanted her to know I wasn’t going to be like him.”
Whitney hadn’t been able to hear what he was saying in her confusion.
She took the music box from Lilly and held it in front of him.
“And where did you get this, Sean? This was my music box? How did you find it?”
Now the confused look filled every face in the room.
“It was my dad’s,” he shrugged, “He worked making music boxes at some point, the lady said. I’ve been keeping it in a safety deposit box with that picture, unsure what to do with it.”
Whitney handed the music box back to Lilly and picked up the photo.
She began weeping and trying to talk, pointing at the two men in the photo.
“Uncle Bill. This is my dad with his friend, Bill. I called him Uncle Bill.”
Sean shook his head, not understanding.
“No, Whitney. This is my dad and some guy,” he said beginning to cry himself and Lilly tried to comfort them both.
“This man, Sean?” she pointed to her Uncle Bill, “This man? This is your father?”
“Yes, that’s my father. What are you so upset about?” Sean asked still not following her.
“Sean, that’s my dad with yours. How did you get this?” Whitney asked.
“I found where my father lived and one of his neighbors gave it to me, Whitney. She said my father worked with the man next to him. They made music boxes in a factory on Saturdays.”
“That man is my dad, Sean,” Whitney said, “and that man next to him is my Uncle Bill. That’s your father, Sean. He loved you. He was saving money to come back to you and your mom.”
Sean just shook his head in disbelief as he wept.
Whitney then told Sean everything she could remember about the third best man she ever knew, her Uncle Bill, and all the Saturday adventures they had, and how he spoke about the love he had for his family, and how he died trying to save a girl who fell into the Hudson.
That day, Sean made promises to himself, and to Whitney, that he kept the rest of his life.
And every single day from that day forward Whitney saw her father’s face and she never lost another man in her life until she was very very old.