I kept both hands on the wheel as I slowed to a stop. I’ve never had any problems, but sometimes my tattoo sleeves rubbed law enforcement the wrong way. They saw me as sort of a Colin Kaepernick, just shorter, less attractive, and with absolutely no talent.
“Son, do you know what I’m stopping you for?” asked one of Miami Dade’s finest.
“Was I speeding?”
“No. You drove through a flashing red light without stopping.”
Addy giggled from the most rear seat of the Range Rover.
The officer leaned in the driver’s side window and shined his flashlight towards the sound. His pudgy pectorals folded over the beige leather upholstery, revealing his name tag. Officer Huebler. Addy and Stacey’s tiny white dresses must have glowed in the light. The pair had taken over an hour to get ready; doing their hair, perfecting their makeup, and covering themselves in the spray tanner that made wearing white so flattering.
“Sorry to hold you up ma’am, but what’s so funny?” asked the officer.
“We’re in Miami, and we don’t have any coke,” said Addy.
“A cola,” I added quickly. “She’s been drinking Bacardi all day, but you can’t have rum and cokes without the coke.”
Addy was a bit of a square, so she didn’t have a high tolerance. She continued to giggle as the officer scanned the car with his flashlight; pausing on my daughter’s brown hair in her rear facing car seat. The flashlight went dark.
“Please step out of the car, sir.”
I found myself making handprints on the roof of my white Range Rover, while Officer Huebler patted me down in the sticky heat of the night. Mosquitos rose out of the grass; making an itchy snack out of the skin exposed between my socks and shorts. I looked down at Officer Huebler’s receding hair line and the bald spot spreading at the crown of his skull. His uniform was a polo and starched shorts. His boots were the same brand my dad used to wear.
“You can turn around now. License and registration please,” he said, as I turned to face him.
Without another word I reached into the center console and retrieved the items from my wallet.
He shined the flashlight on my driver’s license. “Patron?” he asked, now shining the light into my face.
He’s confused. I looked five years younger in person, than the twenty eight my license alleged. My girlfriend, Stacey, didn’t like the beard.
I nodded, “Yes, Patron.”
“How did you come to be driving around, at four am, with two inebriated women, and a baby, Patron?”
It was a valid question.
This trip started as a romantic birthday present for Stacey, just the two of us. She was turning twenty-one and I promised her we’d celebrate in a big way, like when Paris Hilton turned twenty-one.
I recently came into some money. My father passed, and as his only heir, he left me everything. He was a notorious cheapskate, whose only true pleasure was work. So everything, was quite a bit.
I loved my Dad unequivocally, despite the fact that he didn’t have much time for my mom and me when I was younger. Mom ran off, and a few years later he married my stepmom, the love of his life. By then Dad’s company was off the ground, and he had all the time in the world, to lecture me. Stepmom died when I was in high school.
“I’m taking them home. They called me to pick them up from a club,” I said.
I heard Addy giggle again.
“Is that the baby’s mother?” asked Officer Huebler.
“No, my ex-wife is.”
“You couldn’t leave the baby with her?”
“It wasn’t an amicable divorce.”
He sighed. “They never are.”
I got married to the perfect girl, who thought I had money that wasn’t mine yet. It was a beautiful ceremony, and on the beautiful honeymoon, we conceived our beautiful daughter, Patience. Hilarious, considering that her mother didn’t have any.
When are you getting a raise…When are you getting promoted…I signed your ridiculous pre-nup, when are we getting out of this tiny house?
My ex-wife didn’t sign up to stay at home with a baby all day. I was served with divorce papers before we received our daughter’s birth certificate.
She moved into her new boyfriend’s apartment. He was older than me, wealthier too. She saw Patience when she could; which wasn’t this weekend, because she canceled at the last minute.
For a time I was the one at home with the baby, then my Dad died, and the money came.
I found Stacey; a younger, prettier, replacement of my ex-wife. I liked her and she was good to my daughter. Most importantly, she looked good on my arm. Stacey liked to go to silly movies and dance until dawn.
I also found a nanny service, which usually worked great, but even they couldn’t find a proper nanny for me on such short notice. This was why Addy was here. It was her job to entertain Stacey, while I took care of Patience. And since Addy rarely got to travel, she was fanatical in her execution.
“You can sit in the car,” said Officer Huebler. “I’m going to check your license.”
I opened the driver side door and rolled down the window for the door behind me. Patience was sleeping, barefoot, in starred satin pajamas. She was always an easy baby to get to sleep; still the stress and travel of the day would have wiped anyone out.
Stacey had chosen a three bedroom condo to accommodate everyone for our stay; charged to my credit card of course. It looked great in the pictures and she couldn’t wait to make love to me in the Jacuzzi on the terrace.
The excitement died the moment we checked in. The condo was ninety degrees and no one would return our calls about fixing the air conditioning. The Jacuzzi had been uncovered and thus became a bird bath for seagulls and warblers. However the final straw was the sign posted in the bathroom. It said we weren’t allowed to flush soiled toilet paper, instead we were to throw it in the trash. Stacey flat out refused to stay. She was right of course, plus it was no place for a baby.
We ended up in two adjoining rooms at the Garden of Eden. I gave Patience a bath and she conked out. I insisted that the girls salvage the night. I wanted Stacey to have fun.
She took my words to heart, spending all her cash on coke as soon as she got to the club. This meant she had to run a tab for drinks on my credit card. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be an issue, but I was already out the money for the apartment we had to leave, while the Garden of Eden placed a hold on my card for incidentals.
A bouncer told Stacey to return to the bar, which was confusing, but she obliged. The bartender said the card was declined and asked for another one, but Stacey doesn’t have a card of her own. Besides, this trip was supposed to be all on me.
The bouncer snatched the drinks from Addy and Stacey and gave them to the bartender, before shuffling the girls out the door. He announced in front of everyone waiting in the line to get in, that they were lucky he didn’t call the police on “their broke asses.”
Stacey called me crying. She was humiliated, although not more than me.
Officer Huebler returned to my window. “Please step out of the car, son.”
I did, in slow open movements. “Is everything okay with my license?” I asked, as he handed it back to me.
“Your license is fine, but I have a son about your age, so I wanted to talk to you.” He started walking to the front of his cruiser. I followed him.
“You have a boy or a girl?” he asked.
“A girl, Patience.”
He paused. “That’s a beautiful name.”
“One of those pretty girls your girlfriend?”
“Yes, the one that doesn’t have the coke giggles.”
He laughed at that, like my Dad would have, and for a second I forgot I was pulled over on the side of the road with my daughter. For a second I was just having a conversation, man-to-man.
“There are lots of pretty girls,” Officer Huebler began. “Some will be nice, some will be naughty, but the most important girls in your life will call you Daddy.”
His unintentional play on words made me smile. His assumption that I regularly drove around with an infant in the middle of the night, did not. Police officers rely on rapid judgements to ensure their safety, but a quick assessment of this situation had gotten Officer Huebler the wrong idea. I didn’t explain. I had a feeling he would say the same thing my Dad always did: You may not control every circumstance, but you can control your response to it.
“I can tell you love your daughter,” he continued. “Her car seat is facing the right way and you even hung toys so she wouldn’t be bored. However, more than vehicular safety and playthings, she needs stability. She needs to know, even if she’s not old enough to know much of anything, she needs to just feel that things are steady, that her life is built on concrete, not sand.”
I was becoming annoyed. Even if I hadn’t inherited my Dad’s fortune, my daughter would never have lived in poverty. Besides I needed to get back to the hotel, there was no telling what Addy and Stacey would want to do tomorrow.
“And I’m not talking about money,” he continued. “I’m talking about knowing where she sleeps, when she sleeps, and who will be around. I hope she doesn’t normally sleep in the car, in the presence of law enforcement and two inebriated young women.” He turned and looked me straight in the eye. “I don’t mean to be hard on you, but you have one chance to do this right. If you don’t, your daughter could be out at four am, high on illegal drugs.”
His last statement hit me like a Miami Hurricane linebacker. My Dad would often say that sometimes you only get one chance, so do it right the first time. He never lost his temper. He just repeated it after I totaled my first car, after I dropped out of college, and after I was served with divorce papers. He managed to bail me out of every blunder, but he wasn’t here anymore, and he could never bail me out of this. Maybe this was what he was trying to warn me about.
I could have rescheduled the trip, when my ex-wife told me she couldn’t keep Patience for the weekend. If Stacey didn’t understand, then I’d have to deal with that. Patience had to come before Stacey. I could have asked Stacey to catch a cab home, and paid the driver in cash when he arrived; instead I rode in to rescue her in a white horse. Better yet I could have asked Stacey to stay in, and not insisted on her bringing Addy along. It was planned as a romantic trip, but so what if Patience would be here.
Officer Huebler extended his hand. “Take care of her. Take care of yourself.”
We shook as men, because for the first time I understood what that word meant. “I will,” I said, before walking back to the Range Rover.
I heard Patience kick her feet and exhale as I got in.
“Do we get to go now?” asked Addy. “I have to pee.”
I turned to face them. “We’re going back to the hotel, but I have to ask both of you to be quiet until then. I don’t want to wake Patience.”
Addy nodded. Stacey continued to rummage through her birthday present from her mother, a silver Nancy Gonzalez clutch. I was about to call her name, when her French manicured nails appeared holding a small baggy.
“See, I told you we had more coke,” she whispered. “Let Patience sleep. You, me, and Patron, can stay up all night.”
LaToya Jovena lives in the DC suburbs with her family. She’s currently working on her novel while trying to be glamorous. Follow her on Twitter @LaToyaJovena.