Richard stared his ex-wife’s name in the contacts of his phone for a long time. He’d run through the script in his head over and over again, but actually calling was another matter. She wasn’t going to like what he had to say, but he had to say it anyway. This might be his last chance to fix things.
He made the call.
The phone rang and rang, but there was no answer. Could she be screening his calls? No, she had her own life to live and was probably just busy. That was fine. Well, he made the effort. Now he could put the whole thing behind him, couldn’t he?
He called again, and this time Ava answered.
“Hello Richard,” she said, affecting the tone of detached pleasantness that she had perfected during the divorce. “How can I help you?”
“Darren’s birthday is coming up,” he said.
“Yes,” Ava said, her tone measured. “Did you want to swing by and see him?”
“I want to throw him a party.”
Silence. Odd— Richard had expected anger. This definitely wasn’t in the script.
“Ava? Are you still there?”
“You’ve missed five birthdays in a row, and now you want to throw the party yourself?” Her restraint was starting to crack, along with Richard’s composure. “How can I trust you with that?”
“You know I was busy with my research, I couldn’t—”
No, he thought, stopping himself cold. Don’t make excuses. That’s what got you here in the first place.
“I had my priorities wrong before,” he said, flatly. “I want to make it up to him. Don’t you think a boy should have a relationship with his father?”
Another silence, this one deliberative and heavy. Richard hadn’t felt so much weight riding on her word since he had gone down on one knee all those years ago. He wanted to say more, but he had long since learned not to interrupt Ava when she was making a decision.
“Fine,” she said.
With that one word the weight was lifted. Richard felt light enough to fly.
“Thank you, Ava,” he said. “I’ll pick him up at 10:00, if that’s okay. I just have one question.”
“What does he like? You know, in terms of… hobbies or interests. What should the party be about?”
A third and final silence, this one boiling with barely contained anger. What kind of father had to ask that? It was shameful, but he had no choice.
“Raptors,” Ava said at last. “Darren likes raptors.”
When the big day came, Richard could barely contain himself. He had been worried that he wouldn’t know how to break the ice, but Darren had barely finished buckling his seatbelt when the words came gushing out.
“Raptors, huh? Fantastic. Eight years old and already crazy about raptors. You’re a regular chip off the old block, huh?”
Darren’s shy demeanor melted away in an instant.
“I love raptors! I’ve got a raptor backpack, a raptor lunchbox, raptor tv shows, raptor—”
“That’s great, son. Let me tell you, if you like raptors, you’re going to love the party I’ve got planned for you.”
Darren beamed, and it was the most beautiful thing Richard had seen since the boy was born. The big smile gave way to a look of befuddlement, though, when they pulled into the zoo parking lot.
“I rented out their whole aviary,” Richard said, his chest puffed out in fatherly pride. “We get to see all of the animals up close and personal. The eagles, the hawks… they even have a secretary bird.”
And then it happened. Darren’s confusion gave way to disappointment, and Richard realized his mistake. To a zoologist, a raptor was a bird of prey, but Darren was just a kid. Ava had meant Jurassic Park raptors, not birds. Dromaeosauridae, not telluraves. For a fleeting moment he had thought he had finally made a real connection with his boy, but it had been yet another stupid mistake.
But then something special happened. Darren’s big smile came back, and his eyes lit up as bright as stars.
“Sounds great, Dad. Let’s go!”
He hopped out of the car and darted into the zoo with all the youthful enthusiasm that only an eight year old could summon, leaving Richard blinking in amazement.
“But… I got it wrong,” he said.
But maybe it wasn’t the difference between a bald eagle and a dromaeosaur that mattered. Maybe what really mattered was that he had picked up the phone.