Part of the Lost and Found series
"There's lots of Hickoks, you know, she might not be mine." Jimmy shifted nervously in front of the young nun. She was a little too eager to help and her blue eyes were so wide he'd momentarily feared they'd take over her small, pointed face.
"Oh, I don't judge, Mr. Hickok. We are all human, apt to be swept up in the heat of a moment." She sighed, her stooped shoulders rising to her ears and then collapsing. "You were probably ripped apart by the war. You - unaware she was carrying your child; her - trying to find you and failing. It's all so terribly romantic! I suppose she died of some wasting disease in the end."
"She?" Jimmy asked confused. He crumpled the letter in his fist and then self-consciously smoothed it out again. Another sister had scuttled down a hallway to fetch Rose and Jimmy found himself anxiously looking for her return. When he arrived, he'd hoped Rose would no longer be there, that some nice family had adopted her already. The very thought of her terrified him.
The letter had been folded into his pocket for almost a year. She couldn't be his. But there weren't that many Hickoks and Jimmy knew he'd be more than lucky not to have been a father by this point. He had to see her; he had to know.
The nun prattled on, "Why your amour, of course, the mother of your child! I'm sure she was beautiful, lying on her death bed, fever giving her cheeks a rosy blush, her last thoughts of you, of your child together, of the life you'd never share - "
To Jimmy's great relief, the other sister emerged, leading a scrawny little girl in a very patched dress. "This," pronounced the other sister, a rotund and bustling personage more in keeping with Jimmy's general view of nuns, "This is Rose. Rose, this is your father."
The little girl tipped her head back to look at him and Jimmy suddenly felt giant, too big for the room. "Might be, might be your uh, your father," he muttered weakly. He looked down at her and caught his breath. It was as if the last twenty years had melted away and he was staring down at Cindella.
The colors were wrong. Rose's blonde hair was more silver than gold and her pale face lacked Cin's rosy cheeks. That jaw, though, that jaw that Cindella complained made her mannish because it was the same jaw as their father's, as Jimmy's. And those eyes, they were his eyes, right down to the defensive gleam as she sized him up. She was his.
Jimmy wondered at the ugliness of her dress. First, he thought, we'll buy her something pretty. He hated the nuns for dressing her that way, for letting her face be so thin, and wasn't it drafty inside the mission? It was drafty and damp and Rose could catch cold. Was she shivering? She was shivering inside that drab little dress and these monsters didn't care. He felt in his pocket and then crouched down, holding out his hand, a gleaming butterscotch in his palm. "Hi, Rose. I brought you a piece of candy."
She kept her eyes on his face as she plucked the candy from his hand. "You're my father?" the question had an accusatory tone to it.
"Yeah," Jimmy answered, "I'm your father." Over their heads, the sisters twittered.
As it happened, Rose did not want a new dress. Nor was she cold as she grumpily pointed out when Jimmy tucked the wagon blanket around her. She was willing to eat and Jimmy took her to one of the new ice cream parlors and let her eat until her face was an unpleasant gray color. She'd moaned for awhile after he'd loaded her into the wagon, but now she was feeling well enough to eat the jerky Jimmy offered.
They would stay with Lou and Kid tonight and be at Sam and Emma's tomorrow. Emma would know what to do with Rose. Jimmy could remember what he'd wanted as a child, but what children needed was a nebulous affair. He mentally went through a checklist. She had to eat, stay warm, keep clean, and go to school. He felt this was an incomplete view of parenting, but the finer points were a mystery to him.
And that wasn't the only mystery. He knew what everyone would ask and to not know the answer would be more than an embarrassment. It was clear that Rose wasn't Rosemary's or Sarah's, which meant he and her mother hadn't had a real relationship. No one had known about his visits to Rock Creek's brothels during that first year of the war, and Jimmy would be happy for no one to catch on.
"Rose," he said gravely, "Do you remember your Momma?" Rose nodded and savagely tore at the jerky. "What, uh, what was her name?"
The girl stopped eating and stared at him disgustedly. Jimmy cursed himself; his own daughter thought he was callous for not knowing who her Momma was. "Momma," she answered as though he were unbelievably dim-witted.
Jimmy took a breath, "What did she look like?" Rose shrugged. "What color was her hair?"
"Gray," Rose answered, throwing Jimmy for a loop. "Like mine."
Jimmy looked at his daughter's ashy hair. Maybe, in some light you'd think it gray. He tried to imagine who he'd known with similar hair. "Rose, is your Momma, uh, do you know where she is?"
Rose contemplated her jerky with sad eyes. "She was really sick. Tockins said she couldn't take care of me anymore, and sent me away."
"Tockins? Who's Tockins?"
Rose shrugged again, "I dunno, just Tockins. Where are we going?"
"To see Lou and Kid," Jimmy answered, "They're friends of mine, ours." Rose yawned loudly. Jimmy smiled at her. "You can sleep if you want to."
"What if I fall out?"
"I won't let you fall out," Jimmy said and put his arm around her tiny shoulders.