Three Months Earlier…
Derek stormed into his room and collapsed onto his bed, sobbing into his pillow, kicking and screaming. This wasn’t fair. Dad had promised him the best birthday ever! Tomorrow was his birthday and his party, and Derek didn’t want anything but his Daddy.
There was a knock at the door. “Go away!”
Mom didn’t listen. She never listens! “Derek, sweetie…” She sat by his feet and he buried his head in his pillow. She caressed the back of his thigh. “Why don’t you want to have a birthday party?”
“I just don’t!”
“You know, Dad would hate if you missed your birthday party just because he’s not here. He’d be so upset if you didn’t have fun bowling with your friends, eating pizza, getting gifts.”
Derek turned and propped himself up on his elbows. He pouted. “The only gift I want is for Daddy to come home.”
Mom’s smile fell. “Oh sweetie. I wish I could make that happen. Grandpa wishes he could too. But Daddy’s going to be gone for a while. We can visit him, though, after he get’s sentenced.”
Derek sat up and sniffled. He hated crying in front of Mom. He wasn’t supposed to cry. Babies cry! “How long is he going to be gone?”
“I don’t know. But he is trying really, really hard to make a deal so he can get home sooner rather than later.”
“I hate this! It isn’t fair! He’s my Daddy! He needs to be home!”
Mom’s laugh sounded sad. Derek didn’t like that he was making her sad. Or was it Dad that made her sad now? No matter, he didn’t like it. “I hate this too. You want to know a secret though?”
Derek slightly shrugged his shoulders. “I guess.”
“Time will fly so fast, that we won’t even remember him being gone. We’re going to get through this Derek, and we’re going to get through it together. I promise.”
“Derek!” Mom shouted. He was in the bathroom practicing his smile at the mirror. Mom told him he needed to be happy today, since it was his birthday and no matter what he was going to have fun. He didn’t believe her, but he didn’t want her to be sad either.
“Derek, there’s someone on the phone that wants to talk to you!”
Derek exited the bathroom and went to Mom, who held out her cell. It was probably Grandpa or Grandma. He took the phone out of Mom’s hand. “Hello?”
“Happy Birthday, Derek!” Dad shouted.
“Yup. I got some time to use the phone, and I decided what better way to use the phone than call my big guy on his birthday. You excited about today? It’s going to be epic.”
“I guess,” Derek said, trying hard to be happy but he really wasn’t.
“Ah, sport. Don’t be sad. I know you really want me there, and I want that too. But could you do me a favor? And have fun for me, for the both of us?”
“I don’t know how. I want you home for my birthday present.”
“I wish I could come home, sport. I really do. But…maybe soon you can come visit me.”
“How long are you going to be gone?” Derek sniffled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
Dad was quiet for a bit. “I’m not sure. I won’t know for another month or so how long I will have to be gone. I did a really stupid thing, Derek, and I need to pay for it.”
“I don’t like this, Daddy.”
“Me either. Hey, I got to go. I love you, kiddo. You have fun today. Okay?”
“Love you, Daddy.”
“Give Mommy and Bailee extra hugs for me too. I gotta go—” The phone clicked off.
Derek handed Mom back the phone and hugged her, crying in her arms. “I want him home.”
“I know, sweetie.” She held him tight and kissed his cheek. “Let’s go try and have fun with your friends.”
Derek slumped into a chair and watched as Olivia bowled her frame. His other friends were also bowling down the different lanes. He wasn’t having any fun. Every time he saw the door open to the bowling alley his head popped up, hoping beyond hope that Daddy would step through the doors.
Grandpa sat next to him after a bit. “You know, for someone who’s having a birthday party, you don’t look like you’re having fun.”
He shrugged. “I’m not.”
“Your mom told me that your dad called you today.”
Derek nodded. “He said he can’t come home. I want him home. It’s not fair.”
Grandpa pulled him into his arms and held him close. Derek cried into his grandfather’s shoulder. “Shh, I know, Derek. I know.”
“Can’t you help him?”
“I’m doing what I can, kiddo. I promise.” Grandpa wiped Derek’s tears. “Daddy broke the law, though, and I have to help protect that law.”
“But he’s really sorry!”
Grandpa chuckled. “I know he is, sport. But it doesn’t work like that.”
“Mom and Dad say they don’t know how long he will be gone,” Derek pouted. “It’s not fair.”
Grandpa nodded. “You’re right, no one knows how long he’ll be gone. We’ll find out as soon as he goes to court and is sentenced by the judge. And even if the judge gives him lots of years, he might be able to come home early like he did last time. Remember what I said about parole the other day? Well, he could come home on parole again.”
“Well, that’ll be up to him and if he behaves. Hopefully not long.”
Derek smiled. “Next time I see him, I’m gonna make sure he stays outa trouble so he can come home.”
“That’s the spirit! Now, why don’t you show me your best moves. Bet you can’t beat me at this game.”
Derek laughed and jumped off the bench. Olivia had finished her game with her sister and Uncle Marv. With Grandpa’s help they set up a new game, and Derek grabbed a ball from the rack. The bumpers went up, and Derek took his turn to bowl.
He jumped up and down when all the pins fell. Maybe he could have fun after all.