I went straight to the café after my conversation with Clara. The winter sky was dark by the time I arrived, and the light streaming out of the café’s windows reminded me of the shelter it was becoming to all of us who frequented that street corner.
I pushed open the door and drew in a deep breath, welcoming not just the warm air but also the aroma of fresh-baked pastries and brewed coffee. But no voices greeted me today, and I looked around the room, finding no one. Emily had decorated for Christmas that morning, and the café had been turned into a winter wonderland complete with dancing snowflakes and evergreen boughs. Jerome’s briefcase and laptop lay open on a table, but otherwise there was no sign of life until I heard a noise from behind the counter and then Jerome stood.
“Good afternoon, Walter,” he said.
“Hi Jerome.” I put my bag down on a chair. “Where’s Emily?”
“She’s with Kate in the back room.”
I nodded. “How long has Kate been here?”
“An hour or two. They looked like they needed to talk in private so I told Emily I could look after the café as long as she needed me to.”
“At a friend’s house, but she should be back soon.”
“I’m going to work for a bit,” I said, “but if you want me to take over for you, just let me know.”
“Will do,” Jerome said, then ducked back behind the counter.
The next hour passed slowly. I tried to work but couldn’t focus on the music. I kept thinking about Kate and Emily, and what I might say to Kate, if I were in the place of Emily. I had always thought abortion was wrong, but had never thought about it much. It seemed so straightforward to me: you don’t kill a baby. And yet it seemed so much more complex than that, and it took me almost the whole hour to figure out why. But then I realized that the baby wasn’t the only person involved: we had to think about Kate, too. Not in a way that disregarded the baby, but in a way that considered her as a person as well, that thought about her needs. It Emily just focused on the baby, then that would leave Kate feeling unloved at a time she needed love the most.
Ema’s voice pulled me out of my thoughts as she came barreling into the café bundled in an overstuffed coat and hat. “I’m home!” she cried, running to me. “Help me take my coat off,” she said, tugging at her zipper.
I helped her wriggle out of her winter gear and then took her into my lap.
“Did you have fun?” I asked her.
She nodded. “I didn’t want to come home, but I know mommy needs me. What are you working on?”
“I’m writing music for the New Years’ concert. This one has some Christmas carols hidden inside. When it’s done I’ll play it for you and see if you can find them.”
Ema rested her head on my shoulder, then rolled it back so she was looking up at me. “Sarah calls someone like you daddy. Are you my daddy?” She asked.
I bit my lip. “No, Ema.”
“Then is Jerome my daddy?”
I didn’t answer.
“Then who is?”
I hugged Ema close to me. “That’s a question for you to ask your mother,” I said. “But she’s with Miss Kate right now.”
“Can I sit with you until she’s done?”
“You can sit with me as long as you like.”
A few minutes later, Ema’s breathing grew quiet and slow and I knew she had fallen asleep. I didn’t have the heart to keep composing and my thoughts grew deep once more.
I thought about Ema, without a father, and Kate’s baby, with an absent father, and Emily, with angry parents, and myself, with parents who cared for me but didn’t always know how apart from paying college tuition. And I thought about how Jerome was in many ways becoming that father to us all. And it made me wonder about God. I’d never doubted that He was real, and the few times I’d prayed made me think that He was involved in our little lives here on earth. But I didn’t know much more than that. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how a God who answered my prayers could also take Javi, leave Kate alone with her baby, and estrange Emily from her parents. Jerome had spoken to us of his desire to be a father to the fatherless, because he loved children and had none of his own, but also because the fatherless often ended up in terrible places in our big city. And yet, here were three essentially fatherless people – and how could God allow that?
The swirling thoughts didn’t stop their questioning, but slowly they began to settle in my head as a melody that needed developing, just as my questions needed answering. I held Ema close and decided that for her sake, finding those answers was something I needed to do.
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually Jerome left. Just a few minutes later, Kate came running out of the back room and left the Café. Emily stood in the doorway between the café and the back room. She looked exhausted. I looked away.
“Did Jerome leave?” She said after a few minutes.
“Yes, but not long ago.”
She came and took Ema from me, holding her close.
I wanted to tell her about Ema’s question, but was afraid to when she had so much to think about already. Yet I also knew she would need to be prepared when Ema asked her.
“Emily,” I said.
“I thought I should tell you – when Ema came home she told me that Sarah calls someone like me ‘daddy,’ and then she asked if I was her daddy, and then if Jerome was.”
Emily looked like she was about to crumple, and so I went to her and put my arms around both her and Ema. In a few minutes my shoulder was wet with Emily’s tears.
“I miss him so much,” she said, her voice muffled. “And I want Ema to know about him. But it still hurts to talk about it.”
“I think she needs to know now,” I said. “She knows she’s different now. Don’t let her flounder there.”
“I wish she could meet him.”
Neither of us spoke for a long time.
“Can you come in and run the café tomorrow so Ema and I can talk?” Emily said at last.
“I’d be happy to,” I replied.
Emily went to the window and watched the snow falling outside. I packed up and joined her there on my way out.
“What happened with Kate?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going through her mind right now. I’m scared for her.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself for what Kate does. Some people are already gone by the time we reach them,” I said. “Whatever happens, it’s not your fault.”
“I know. But it’s hard to live that out.”
“If anyone can get through to her, it’ll be you, Emily. She’s in the best hands she can be in.” I picked up my bag. “I’ll see you in the morning. Get some rest.”