He looked at his watch once more and grew more nervous with each ticking second. He knocked on the heavy doors again. What was taking so long? They knew he was coming. Maybe it was an effort to dissuade him. He’d been trying to do that himself for days now.
A little whimper against his shoulder told him that the little boy was waking up and he raised his hand to rub against his back to settle him. Was this really the right thing to do? He must have asked himself that over a million times now. Each time he had decided that it was, but it still didn’t make it any easier.
“Daddy?” The tiny voice made him tear-up a bit.
“Yeah, Owen?” he asked, doing his best to keep his voice calm. He didn’t want to scare him.
“M’hungwy,” his little one whimpered.
“Ah know.” He kissed the boy’s cheek as he continued rubbing his back. Neither of them had eaten since early that afternoon and it was nearly nine o’clock now. All they’d had was an apple he had been able to steal from an open-air market. Stealing wasn’t as easy with a two-year-old in tow, so all he had been able to manage without getting caught was just one. And he made sure that Owen had eaten most of it. As for himself – he’d had maybe a small bite or two only after Owen insisted that they share it. He’d gone without food for a few days in the past, so he would be fine. Owen was more important. That’s why he was doing this. “Getcha sommat ta eat in a bit, ‘kay? Promise.”
“Kay…” Owen pouted and settled back down against his father’s shoulder.
If his daddy promised, he knew it would happen so he didn’t have to keep asking. Didn’t make his tummy stop rumbling though. He wondered what his daddy was waiting for. They had never been out when it was this dark – bedtime was forever ago.
He turned his ginger head as the big doors behind them opened.
Digger straightened a little as the nun stepped outside and he tightened his hold on his son a little.
“Mister ‘Green’?” she asked. She knew the name was false – he could hear it in her voice when they had talked on the phone earlier. He nodded and she looked at the little boy in his arms. “Is this Owen?”
“Yeah,” Digger replied. He turned the boy a little bit to face her and kissed his cheek. “Say ‘hi’, Owen.”
Owen hid against his father, giving a shy little wave. “Hi,” he said quietly.
“Hello, Owen,” she said, kindly. She looked back at Digger. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
He swallowed tightly and hugged his son, kissing him once more. “No. Ah dun want t’do it. But, I ain’t gotta choice. Loik ah told yer on th’ phone – ‘is Mum… ‘is Mum is gone an’ ah can’t tike care of ‘im by meself. He wouldn’ be sife ‘f he stays with me an’ there’s no one I c’n trust t’look after ‘im if ah end up back in –” He stopped and looked at Owen. What else could he do?
He couldn’t take him back to the Rogues. That would involve a lot of questions that he couldn’t answer. That he could never answer. If they ever found out where his little boy came from – if they knew about his mother… Digger trusted the Rogues with his life, but he would never be able to trust them with his son’s.
As for family – taking him back to Australia was out of the question. Digger would never allow his son to be raised in that house. Nothing against his mum, of course. She would certainly take him without question, he knew that. But it was his father that concerned him. Digger still remembered all too well the physical and verbal abuse he suffered growing-up and he would never subject his little Owen to that. Especially now that his mother was getting older and wouldn’t be able to defend the boy as well anymore from the man who he knew would never accept the spawn of the son he never wanted.
No – this was his only option.
“It ain’t fair ta him. I love me boy – ‘s why ah have ta do this. ‘E deserves better’n whot ah c’n give ‘im.”
She felt her heart break for the father – clearly, he wasn’t looking to shirk his responsibility and just dump the child off on someone else. She had seen it with too many parents in the past and feared this little boy was being abandoned as well. No. This man’s love for his son was genuine and he was trying to do what was best for the boy, not himself. Perhaps, he was not as cruel as the newspapers said.
She nodded in agreement. “We’ll find him a loving and safe home. You have my word.” She thought she heard a muttered ‘thank you’ as he continued to cuddle the toddler. “There was a young woman who came to mind after I spoke with you earlier. She and her family have been members of our Parish for many years. She’s a good woman and well-off. She lost her husband and one-year-old son in a car accident a few years ago. She’s come to me a few times in the past few months to discuss adoption. She has plenty of family and friends in the area who can help her, if need be. I have no doubts that Owen would be loved and well-cared for with her.”
Digger swallowed again as the situation became more real than he would’ve liked. “Awright, then.” He pushed the boy’s messy ginger hair back and kissed his forehead. “Owen?”
“Huh?” The boy’s bright blue eyes looked up at him and Digger felt his heart shatter again.
“Daddy’s gotta leave now. Okay? Ah needja t’be good while I’m gone.”
“Whehw’r you going?” He was very confused. He went everywhere with his daddy, so why wasn’t he this time?
“Member when ah toldjer b’fore tha’ Daddy migh’ hafta be gone f’r a while?” Owen nodded, sort-of remembering that conversation. That was the same day they went to the park and saw the ducks but his daddy hadn’t been as happy as he was. “Well… Ah gotta go’way, now.”
“Go’way like Mommy?”
He choked as a few tears finally escaped. “No,” he said as firmly as possible. “No, naw loik Mummy. Ah might see Mummy again someday, but it ain’t gonner be t’day. I’m juss… juss gonner be a li’l trip, is all.”
“I wanna go,” Owen whimpered.
“Ah know. Ah wantcher t’go, too. Butcher can’t. Li’l ones loik you ain’t allowed where I’m goin’.” He nodded towards the Sister. “This noice lady here? She’s gonner find someone noice ta tike care o’ yer while I’m gone. Ah needja ta be good.”
“Oi – yer dun say tha’ word t’me.” He usually sounded sterner when lecturing his son about telling his father ‘no’, but he couldn’t bring himself to be this time. He didn’t blame him for being mad.
The tone didn’t seem to matter to Owen as he wrapped his little arms around his father’s neck and kissed his cheek. “I sorwy, Daddy.”
“Ah know, li’l myte.”
“Ah have to.”
“Cause I can’t tike care o’ ya no more. I got no way ta do it.”
“When you come back?”
“Ah dunno, yet. Migh’ naw be f’r a long time. Hey, hey – dun start tha’ now.” He cuddled the boy close, rubbing his back again as tears started running down his cheeks. It didn’t do much good as Owen’s sobs soon filled the night air. “Shh… Shh-shh… S’okay… s’okay… Shh…”
Owen held tightly to his daddy, begging again and again for him to stay. “I wuv you, Daddy.”
“Ah luv ya, too, me li’l myte. Ya ‘member tha’, okay? Daddy luvs ya. An’ ah promise I’ll come back, okay? Here.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small wooden boomerang – just Owen’s size. “Ah carved this one juss f’r you.”
Owen’s sobs became little hiccups as he looked at the present. He wrapped his tiny hand around one end and looked at it. “Mine?”
“Tha’s roit,” Digger said, kissing his cheek. “Y’gotcher own, now – juss loik me. Look –” He pointed to the etching on the curve “- s’even gotcher name on it. Ya be good, okay? An’ when ah come back, I’ll teach yer ‘ow ta throw it. Ah promise.” The boy only whimpered as he nodded and his daddy kissed him one more time. “Ah luv ya, Owen. Yer me li’l boy ‘n ah luv ya.”
He looked at the nun. “He uh… he ain’t had any dinner yet. Could ya -?”
As he pulled him away and handed him over the Sister, Owen began to struggle. “No! No, Daddy! Don’ go!” He reached his little hands out for his father, trying to squirm out of the nun’s arms. “Don’ go, Daddy! Pwease, don’ go!”
“I’m sorry, Owen.” He looked at the Sister. “Please…”
She nodded, trying to control her own emotions. “He’ll be safe, I promise.”
Digger looked back at his little boy one last time. “Ah luv ya, li’l myte.” With that, he turned away and all but ran down the street, trying to get as far he could, as fast as he could before he stupidly changed his mind. Owen’s screams only grew louder as he got further away.
“Noooooo! Noooooo!” he heard his boy yelling and let his tears fall freely now. “Daddeeeee! Daddeeeee! Come back! Daddy – come back!” He turned around a corner and looked back one more time. The Sister was trying to comfort Owen, but was not having much luck. “Nooooo! Daddeeeee! I want my Daddy! I want my Daddy!”
As the Sister took Owen inside, Digger collapsed against the alley wall and buried his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, Owen…” he sobbed. “I’m so sorry…”
Thank you for reading! ... Here's some tissues if you need them.