I was walking Jannie and Damon to the Sojourner Truth School that morning. Little Alex was merrily toddling along at my side. "Puppy," I called him.
The skies over D.C. were partly cloudy, but now and then the sun peeked through the clouds and warmed our heads and the backs of our necks. I'd already played the piano - Gershwin - for forty-five minutes. And eaten breakfast with Nana Mama. I had to be at Quantico by nine that morning for my orientation classes, but it left time for the walk to school at around seven-thirty. And that was what I'd been in search of lately, or so I believed. Time to be with my kids.
Time to read a poet I'd discovered recently, Billy Collins. First I'd read his Nine Horses, and now it was Sailing Alone Around the Room. Billy Collins made the impossible seem so effortless, and so possible.
Time to talk to Jamilla Hughes every day, often for hours at a time. And when I couldn't, to correspond by e-mail and, occasionally, by long flowing letters. She was still working homicide in San Francisco, but I felt the distance between us was shrinking. I wanted it to and hoped she did too.
Meanwhile, the kids were changing faster than I could keep up with them, especially Little Alex, who was morphing before my eyes. I needed to be around him more and now I could be. That was my deal. It was why I had joined the FBI, at least that was part of it.
Little Alex was already over thirty-five inches and thirty pounds. That morning he had on pinstriped overalls and an Orioles cap. He moved along the street as if a leeward wind were propelling him. His ever-present stuffed animal, a cow named Moo, created ballast so that he listed slightly to the left at all times.
Damon was lurching ahead to a different drummer, a faster, more insistent beat. Man, I really loved this boy.
Except for his fashion sense. That morning he was wearing long jean shorts, Uptowns, a gray T with an Alan Iverson "The Answer" jersey over it. His lean legs were sprouting peach fuzz, and it looked as if his whole body were developing from the feet up. Large feet, long legs, a youthful torso. I was noticing everything that morning. I had time to do it.
Jannie was typically put together in a gray T with "Aero Athletics 1987" printed in bright red letters, sweatpant capris with a red stripe down each leg, and white Adidas sneakers with red stripes.
As for me, I was feeling good. Every now and again someone would still stop me and say I looked like the young Muhammad Ali. I knew how to shake off the compliment, but I liked to hear it more than I let on.
"You're awfully quiet this morning, Poppa," Jannie laced her arms around my free arm and said. "You having trouble at school? Your orientation? Do you like being an FBI agent so far?"
"I like it fine," I said. "There's a probationary period for the next two years. Orientation is good, but a lot of it is repetitive for me, especially what they call 'practicals.' Firing range, gun cleaning, exercises in apprehending criminals. That's why I get to go in late some days."
"So you're the teacher's pet already," she said, and winked. I laughed. "I don't think the teachers are too impressed with me, or any other street cops. How're you and Damon doing so far this year? Aren't you about due for a report card or something?"
Damon shrugged. "We're acing everything. Why do you want to change the subject all the time when it's on you?" I nodded. "You're right. Well, my schooling is going fine. Eighty is considered a failing grade at Quantico. I expect to ace most of my tests."
"Most?" Jannie arched an eyebrow and gave me one of Nana Mama's "perturbed" looks. "What's this most stuff? We expect you to ace all your tests." "I've been out of school for a while." "No excuses."
From Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson. Copyright © 2003 by James Patterson. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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