Steve hadn’t felt this excited in a long time. It reminded him of Christmas Eve as a child, the anticipation and joy building as Christmas morning neared. That was where the similarity ended, though. It was too hot to be Christmas; June in Alabama usually was. He wiped sweat from his brow as he shoveled a few more piles of dirt against the post.
“Dad! Mom wants to know when you’re coming in.”
“Tell her I’m still working. I’ll be another couple of hours so don’t wait up for me.” Steve leaned against his shovel as he spoke.
“I’ll tell her, but what are you building, dad?”
“It’s a secret. You’ll all find out soon enough. Did you get all your homework done?” Steve asked about Jan’s homework simply to change the subject. He wanted to tell her the secret so badly he was afraid he would let it out at any moment.
“Yeah,” Jan replied. “I got it all done during study hall. Are we gettin’ a dog?”
Steve couldn’t help but notice how much Jan looked like her mom. Standing with her hands on her hips, her wrinkled forehead emphasized the question she had just asked. She even had black hair and a freckled nose just like her mom.
“No. We’re not getting a dog. Now get back inside and let me get back to work.” Steve smiled as he motioned with his shovel, hoping that Jan wouldn’t pry any further. He watched Jan go back into the house before continuing.
This was the fourth night in a row that Steve had spent working late in the corner of the back yard. He had not expected it to take so long, but digging the holes for the posts was harder than he had imagined. Now that the last post was in place he was hoping to get the fencing tacked on and the gate in place before catching a few hours of sleep.
“You do know that you have to get up at 4 am tomorrow, don’t you?”
Sylvia’s comment caught Steve by surprise, causing him to jump. “Why do you sneak up on me like that?!”
“I didn’t sneak up on you. I walked across the yard like anyone would. You’re just too engulfed in this… this… project of yours, whatever it is, to notice me. You’ve been up late every night this week. Don’t you think you should get some sleep tonight?”
Steve couldn’t help but laugh as he turned and saw Sylvia standing with her hands on her hips, her forehead wrinkled to emphasize her question.
“Didn’t you already come out here and talk to me once?” Steve chuckled, “Except you looked a bit younger then.”
Sylvia smiled, knowing exactly what Steve was referring to. Everyone commented about how much she and Jan looked – and acted – alike.
“So are you coming in? You have a ten hour shift tomorrow.” Sylvia had quit asking about Steve’s project a few days ago. It was obvious he was not telling anyone.
“Not now. I’m going to finish a few things. I’ll be alright in the morning and for my shift. You go on to bed when you’re ready.”
“Ok. But don’t forget when you get home tomorrow night we’ll have a house full of girls. Jan is having her friends over for a sleepover.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” Steve feigned forgetfulness. The truth was he had not forgotten at all. The sleepover was all part of why he had been working so hard this week. That night was the perfect night to give his special gift.
The plan had started a few weeks earlier when he went into Jan’s bedroom to kiss her good night. She was already asleep, her diary lying open on the bed next to her. He didn’t mean to start reading it, but his eyes caught one sentence as he picked it up to move it.
One day I hope to have a pet pig.
Now what dad wouldn’t take note of that? He scanned the rest of the page which was filled with dreams about things she wanted. She wanted a boyfriend. She wanted to go to college close to home. She wanted a car for her sixteenth birthday. She wanted to go to Hawaii on her honeymoon.
None of the others were things that he could give her for her eighth birthday. But a pig? That he could take care of. And that is how the project began.
Steve stepped back from the gate to admire his work. A quick glance at his watch explained the sudden fatigue that he felt. 1 am! His excitement had pushed him until everything was in place. Well, almost everything. A quick stop by the Co-op on the way home and his plan would be complete. Now it was time for a brief nap.
“Sylvia, can you get Jan and her friends to come out back? I have a surprise for her.” Steve was leaning halfway through the back door.
“Oh. You’re home? I didn’t hear you drive up. Those girls sure do make a lot of noise. It’s going to be a long night. Whatcha got?” Sylvia hugged Steve looking over his shoulder to see what the surprise could be.
“Exactly what I said it was – a surprise.” Steve smiled playfully, covering Sylvia’s eyes with his hands. “Go get Jan and you’ll find out.”
Once the group was assembled, Steve opened the back door slowly. “Follow me.”
“Happy Birthday, Jan.” Steve announced as they neared the pen that he had been building in the back yard. He watched Jan’s face, his excitement building.
“What is that?” Jan’s face did not give the expression that Steve was expecting.
“It’s a pig. It’s your pig. Like you said you wanted.” Steve was confused by the look on Jan’s face. Sylvia’s face didn’t help him much either as she looked at the pig with a slight mixture of disgust and confusion.
“I said I wanted a pig?” Jan’s expression was the mirror image of her mother’s.
Steve felt his excitement deflate like a popped balloon. “Yeah, in your diary. You said you wanted a…”
“You read my diary!” Jan interrupted before he could even finish.
Steve felt like he was about to be mobbed. Jan and her friends were now all looking at him with disgust and disbelief.
“Well, no… I mean… just the part about…. well… honey, help me out here.” Steve turned to Sylvia for some support. This was not going at all like he had envisioned.
“You read her diary?!” Sylvia’s hands were back on her hips and her expression was in sync with the other six girls surrounding him.
“I didn’t read your diary. I mean, I read one page, by accident…” Steve turned back to Jan. He felt like he was going to cry. For two weeks he had been unable to contain his excitement and now it was all crashing down. “You said you wanted…”
“Dad.” Jan interrupted him again. She was doing it again. Her hands were on her hips and her forehead wrinkled for emphasis.
Steve didn’t say a word, but just looked at Jan waiting to see what she had to say. The few seconds of silence seemed like forever.
Finally, Jan smiled, walked over to him, put her arms around him and gave him a huge hug. “Thank you, Daddy. You’re the best dad a girl could ask for… even if you can’t read very well.”
“Huh?” Steve pulled his head back to look at Jan’s face.
Jan giggled. “It said I wanted a pet pug, you know, like the dog?”