Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
school senior Gabe Delgado is trying to trade his bad-boy ways for clean
living. He remembers nothing about the night a mysterious girl loved him and
left him at a party, except . . . there was a kind of magic around her that had
nothing to do with his hangover the next day. Now he finds that "magic” in a
basket on his doorstep, cooing at him like a happy little bird.
Gabe, you probably already know our baby
is, well, different. If not, you’ll find out soon enough. Let’s just say she
has certain qualities most babies don’t have. The thing is, I’m scared. I’m on
my own and can’t keep her safe. But you can. You’re strong. You have a family
to watch out for her. Bad people want her. That’s why I left her with you. I
don’t really understand what’s going on, but it has something to do with The
Abolesco. Don’t try to find me. Please, take care of our baby girl and love
The Abolesco are notfriends of the family. They’re on baby Birdie’s trail, but why? Suddenly party-boy
Gabe has to man up to protect his daughter. Not so easy when her talents include
vanishing into thin air. It’s up to Gabe and his girl-pal Abby—who has some
extraordinary secrets of her own—to find out what’s up with something called
the Scientific Academy of Merit, what the goons want with Birdie, and whether
other kids like Birdie can be saved, too.
Brothers is a former high school teacher turned full-time author. She married her college crush, and they have
three sons. Marilee lives in Washington
State, where she’s hard at work on her next book.
THE NIGHT GABRIEL Delgado
found out he was a father, he was gazing into a mirror and scraping the stubble
off his chin. In exactly thirty minutes, he would drive his shiny black Honda
Civic—sedately—to the home of Stephi Jones, a semi-hot blonde. On second
thought, semi-hot was not an accurate description of Stephi. A better word
would be tepid. Not hot. Not cold. More like lukewarm.
Former bad boy, Gabe, had
low expectations for the Friday night date. For sure, there would be no
skin-to-skin contact, other than a chaste joining of lips in a goodnight kiss.
Gabe’s bad boyness had come to a screeching halt a few months earlier, which,
in the annals of Delgado family history, would be known as Gabe’s Summer in
It was all because Gabe’s father,
Ernesto, aka Papi, was a Boeing engineer and, as such, had prescribed methods
for dealing with his sons. For example: There was Papi’s
way... and the wrong way. Gabe had crossed the line from
right to wrong and, therefore, according to Papi, earned his summer in hell.
When the doorbell rang, Gabe yelled,
"Henry! Get the door!”
Gabe knew twelve-year-old Henry was
downstairs, because he’d heard his soccer ball bouncing off the wall for the
last fifteen minutes. The sound continued, unabated.
"Simon! Grab the door, will ya?” Older
brother, Simon, was in his room, probably with his nose in a book or jotting
page after page of equations. Simon was an engineering student at the
University of Washington and most definitely a Papi clone.
"Jesus Christ,” Gabe muttered. As he
said the words, he ducked, a conditioned response to the imagined whap of a
rolled up newspaper, Papi’s method of dealing with a person taking the Lord’s
name in vain.
"Henry!” he shouted again. "Simon!
Papi! Someone, please get the door. I’m buck naked here.”
The doorbell bonged again and again.
Whoever was leaning against it wasn’t about to give up. Gabe scrambled into his
jeans and hit the stairs running. He skidded to a stop on the scatter rug in
the foyer and threw the door open, just in time to see the taillights of a car
"Great, just great,” Gabe muttered, as
the car disappeared around a corner. An icy wind blowing down from the
mountains rustled through the pile of dead leaves in the front yard and raised
goose bumps on Gabe’s bare arms and chest. He stepped back into the house and
started to close the door when he heard a faint sound.
Gabe froze. Beyond the open door, he
saw nothing but a pool of darkness. He flipped on the porch light and stepped
Startled, Gabe rotated his head toward
the sound and spotted what looked to be a jumble of blankets tucked under the
wooden bench next to the door. Gabe watched, mesmerized, as two tiny bare feet
appeared, kicking and waving as if to say, "Hey, dummy, here I am.”
Louder this time. More demanding. Gabe
took another cautious step and then, another, as if the bundle of blankets
contained a ticking time bomb. A ticking time bomb with little pink feet, one
of which looked very familiar. Gabe leaned over and stared at the flailing feet
for a long moment, unwilling to believe what he saw. His heart sank. No way!
Not now. Not when he’d just started down the straight and narrow path to
He snatched up the envelope tucked between
the blankets and took a big step back. The name GABRIEL DELGADO was typed on
the front. His hands were trembling when he ripped it open and extracted a
sheet of paper.
"Hey, guess what?” the note began.
"This is your kid. Don’t believe me? Check left foot and right bun. Promise me
you’ll keep the kid until the diapers run out. Then, do what you think is best.
Don’t try to find me. Good luck.”
"I am so screwed,” Gabe moaned.
When he pulled off the blankets, he saw
the most comical looking baby he’d ever laid eyes on, and what with Papi’s
extended family, he’d seen quite a few. The kid was virtually bald except for a
bit of fuzz on top. Two little sprigs of bright red hair sprouted wildly from
double cowlicks on each side of its head. Unblinking brown eyes regarded him
solemnly. "Oh, sweet Jesus,” Gabe said, and not in a profane way. "Where did
you come from?”
The sound of footsteps pounding down
the stairs jolted Gabe out of his trance, and he yanked the door shut,
postponing the inevitable. The door flew open and Simon stepped out, followed
by Henry. Both their heads swiveled back and forth. When they spotted the baby,
both heads stopped, as if their movements had been choreographed. Before they
could utter a single syllable, Papi burst through the door, stopped, stared for
a full minute and then exclaimed, "Dios mio! What is this, Gabriel?”
"Looks like a baby,” Gabe mumbled,
hanging his head.
Papi whipped off his glasses, polished
them with his shirttail, then snatched the paper from Gabe’s hand and scanned
it quickly. Without saying a word, he squatted in front of the baby and picked
up its left foot, examining it closely from all angles. The webbing between the
second and third toe was clearly visible. Exactly like all the Delgados.
Papi stood and gave Gabe a significant
look, but still said nothing. He didn’t have to. Henry and Simon remained
uncharacteristically silent. Gabe averted his eyes and shrugged, aware that his
cheeks were growing hot with shame.
Papi leaned over and unlatched the
strap holding the baby secure. Gently, he lifted the child from the car seat,
held him against his body, and pulled the diaper down, exposing one round, pink
buttock. This time, Gabe couldn’t hold back a groan of dismay. There it was, in
living color. The birthmark roughly shaped like a blue rose. Exactly like the
birthmark imprinted on the right bun of all Delgados.
Papi sighed and handed the baby to Gabe
who held it at arm’s length. Papi said, "He’s yours, all right. No question
about it.” Then he turned and stomped back into the house. He paused in the
foyer and looked over his shoulder. "Gabriel, don’t stand there like a dummy.
Bring him into the house. You want him to freeze to death?”
Trance-like, Gabe followed his father
into the living room, aware at some level his brothers had gathered up the rest
of the baby’s belongings. Papi collapsed into his recliner and stared at the
ceiling as if the answer to this dilemma was written there. Probably wishing it
would appear as an algebraic equation, Gabe thought.
Still clutching the baby at arms’
length, Gabe perched on the edge of the sofa. Rosie, the family’s Labrador
retriever, trotted into the room and sniffed the baby from head to toe, wagging
her thick black tail in approval. Simon and Henry off-loaded baby paraphernalia
and turned to leave.
Snap! Snap! Papi’s chair returned to its upright position. "Hold it,
you two. This isn’t just Gabe’s problem. It concerns the whole family.”
The baby squealed in agreement, arms
and legs churning the air.
With a heavy sigh, Henry plopped down
on the couch next to Gabe. "Sure is a funny looking kid. Maybe it’s not yours.
No red hair in this family.”
"Check the birthmark,” Simon said. He
leaned against the wall, folded his arms and shook his head. "I don’t believe
this. Gabe sleeps with some chick—he probably doesn’t even remember her
name—she pops out a kid, decides it’s not fun, and dumps it here. How is it my
Papi leaped from his chair,
gesticulating madly. "Because we’re Delgados! When problems come up, like when
your mother left us, we stick together. We don’t walk away. Understand?”
"Yeah, yeah,” Simon muttered.
Papi began pacing back and forth across
the living room. Suddenly, he stopped and pointed his finger at Gabe. "Here’s
what you must do. Get paper and pencil. Write down the name of every girl
you’ve been with when you were... er... not
yourself. Include a physical description. Color of hair. Color of eyes.
Physical attributes. Leave out nothing.”
Gabe groaned. "But, Papi, there were a
lot of girls. How do you expect me to remember them all? Besides, most of the
time, I was kinda effed up, if you get my drift.” Gabe knew better to use the F
bomb, but even the alternative earned him one of Papi’s disapproving looks.
Before Papi could answer, the hall
clocked bonged seven times. Startled, Gabe leaped from the couch and placed the
kid in his car seat. "Man, is it seven already? I’ve got a date. Can we put
this on hold until tomorrow?” Without waiting for an answer, Gabe headed for
"Gabriel.” The steel in Papi’s voice
stopped Gabe in his track. "Look at me.”
Slowly, Gabe turned to face his father.
He heard Simon whisper, "Dumb shit.” Henry giggled nervously.
"Gabriel,” Papi repeated. "Do you
remember when Rosie was a puppy?”
Gabe shifted his weight from one foot
to the other, wondering if he was about to step into something stinky. "Yeah,”
he said carefully.
Papi’s dark eyes snapped with
intensity. "And how did you take care of her?”
Gabe rolled his eyes heavenward, trying
to remember Papi’s three cardinal rules for puppy care. "After she eats, put
her outside to poop. Play with her. Put her back in her crate.”
Papi clapped. "Excellent.”
Gabe grinned. This was going well. He’d
soon be on his way.
"Now, Gabriel, tell me this, how do you
take care of a baby?”
Uh oh. Gabe felt beads of perspiration
pop out on his forehead. "Well, um, I guess you’re saying it’s the same
Papi strolled up nice and close and
gave Gabe his shark’s grin. "So, after you feed him, you will take him outside
to poop, play with him, and then put him back in his car seat?”
Right then, Gabe knew he was screwed.
He glanced at his brothers. No help there. He’d already stepped in it. Might as
well go all the way. He looked his father square in the eyes. "Naturally, I
won’t take him outside to poop, but I’ll feed him and play with him.”
"And, you will start
"First thing tomorrow morning.”
Papi said, "And tonight?”
Gabe squirmed. "Remember what you said
earlier? We’re Delgados. We stick together when there’s a problem.”
"Ah, now I understand.” Papi stroked
his chin. "You assumed one of your brothers or your father would take care of yourchild while you went on a date. Is correct?”
Gabe flushed. "I would appreciate it.”
"Gabriel,” Papi said again. He pointed
at the baby. "That is not a puppy. It is a tiny human being who needs round the
clock care. Care that will be given to him by you, his father. Do you
Before Gabe could formulate an answer,
he heard the amazingly loud rumble of baby flatulence. All eyes turned to the
child, whose face was bright red as he clenched his fists and strained.
Simon snickered. "Looks like you forgot
to take him outside to poop.”
Papi handed Gabe a container of baby
wipes and a diaper. "Better get used to it. He’ll be doing that a lot.”
That’s when the Delgado family found
out he was a she.
AT SIX A.M. SATURDAY morning, Gabe
Delgado, clad only in boxer shorts, staggered down the stairs. Since he could
barely open his eyes, he clutched the banister with his right hand, so he
wouldn’t trip and fall, thus injuring the tiny red-haired baby girl tucked
under his left arm like a football. Her head was cradled in his hand, just like
Papi showed him last night. Gabe’s heel slipped off the last step and hit the
floor with a jolt that shot up his spinal cord and delivered a wake-up call to
his sleepy brain.
Muttering to the bright-eyed baby, he
rounded the corner into the kitchen. "Maybe you don’t know it’s Saturday. I
always sleep in on Saturday. How come you have to eat again anyway? You got a
straight pipe in there? Un-effin’-believable. In one end and out the other.”
"Good morning, Gabriel.” Papi was
sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper and drinking coffee out of his
"Yeah,” Gabe grunted. Just what he
didn’t need right now. Another round of interrogation from Papi. There was
light at the end of the tunnel, though. At the rate the kid was going through
the diapers, they’d be gone by tomorrow and he’d be out of the baby business.
Without that flicker of hope, he’d go friggin’ crazy.
He shuffled over to the coffee pot and
fumbled, one-handed, to fill a mug.
"That’s hot. Be careful!” Papi warned.
"Yeah, I know it’s hot,” Gabe growled.
"Coffee usually is.”
Papi dropped the paper and held out his
arms. "Give her to me before you scald the poor little motherless mite.”
Warning bells dinged in Gabe’s tired
brain. Given the Delgados’ personal history, motherless was a word so
loaded with emotion it was the verbal equivalent of stepping on a land mine. Be
Gabe lowered the baby into Papi’s
outstretched hands. Last night, Papi had gone to the garage and lugged in a
cardboard box labeled "Henry’s baby clothes” while Gabe phoned Stephi to tell
her he was cancelling their date, due to a case of fast-acting flu. She’d
offered to come over and make him a cup of herbal tea. When he said, "Oh, no,
that’s okay,” she’d said, "You are so lying,” and slammed the phone down.
The baby was now dressed in one of
Henry’s old Seattle Seahawks sleepers, three sizes too big for her. She also
clutched Henry’s favorite stuffed animal, Loopy, formerly known as Lupe, the
Lupe, a gift from Papi’s sister, Aunt
Lorena in Mexico, had arrived intact but soon lost his enhancements.
Originally, the stuffed bunny had a pencil-thin mustache, plaid trousers and
vest, and a rakish sombrero. The hat and mustache were long gone, along with
one of his eyes and the plaid outfit. Henry didn’t care. He loved Loopy and
slept with him until his older brothers shamed him into parting with the
beloved toy. Judging from the baby’s grip, Gabe figured Loopy had found someone
new to love him.
Gabe filled his coffee mug and mixed
yet another bottle of formula from the container he’d found in the diaper bag.
He’d learned, last night, when the kid was hungry, he’d better be ready. Papi
held the baby close to his face and said in the high-pitched, squeaky voice he
used for puppies and babies, "Hey there, baby girl. What’s your name? Huh? I didn’t
quite hear that?”
The baby waved her arms and said,
"Gah!” At least it was an improvement over the shrieks that had interrupted his
sleep. Gabe rolled his eyes. He remembered his father’s edict. When you name a
stray dog or cat, it means they are part of the family. He was about to remind
Papi of that fact when the little girl said, "Eeep! Eeep!”
Papi grinned and said, "You sound like
a baby bird. Maybe we should call you Birdie. Do you like that name? Do you?
Huh? Huh?” When the baby remained silent, Papi said, "What do you think,
Gabriel? After all, you’re the father.”
Gabe chose his words carefully. "Well,
um, the note said to keep her until the diapers run out. According to my
calculations, that will be tomorrow morning. So, I’m thinking she won’t be
around long enough to name.”
Papi lowered the baby to his lap and
fixed Gabe with an unblinking stare. "And, where, precisely, will she be?”
Actually, Gabe had a couple of
scenarios in mind. Scenario 1: The baby’s mother would appear, sobbing, on the
front porch, saying it was all a horrible mistake. Scenario 2: The other
grandparents, having discovered their precious grandchild was missing, would
track her down and demand custody. Scenario 3: The real father, armed with a
DNA test proving paternity, would knock on the door and take the kid off Gabe’s
All of the above was a little hard to
put into words, so Gabe just shook his head and mumbled, "With somebody who
cares about her.”
Papi shot out of his chair. "This is
your answer? Somebody who cares about her? Gabriel, she is a Delgado. She
belongs with us.”
Unwilling to back down, Gabe shook his
head. "We don’t know that for sure. That birthmark could be a fake. Maybe
somebody made it with a blue marking pen.”
"One way to find out. Get a wash cloth
from the bathroom.” Papi unsnapped the baby’s sleeper and deftly removed her
Gabe sighed and trudged into the
bathroom. He might have known Papi wouldn’t fall for the marking pen bit. But,
feeling trapped and desperate, Gabe thought it was worth a shot.
Papi scrubbed at the blue rose, first
with warm water, then with soap. The baby screeched in outrage, but the
birthmark remained unaltered. Papi dressed her quickly and thrust her into
Gabe’s arms. "Your child is upset. Do something.”
Brows furrowed in dismay, Gabe held the
screaming baby and watched as his father settled himself at the table and
calmly resumed reading the paper. Gabe sank into a chair, cradled the baby in
his arms and gently rocked her back and forth. He whispered, "Shhh, baby, it’s okay.
We’ll figure it out.”
From behind his newspaper, Papi said,
"Her name is Birdie... unless you can come up with something
Gabe shrugged. "Birdie’s fine.” After
all, when the diapers ran out, the name wouldn’t matter. The kid would be
As if he could read Gabe’s mind, Papi
lowered his paper. "I believe your school has a child care facility. Is that
Gabe’s mouth dropped open. Did Papi
really expect him to haul the kid to school every day? To Ho Hall? That’s what
Gabe and his buddies called the little building at the back of the campus. When
they spotted a teen mom pushing a stroller across the courtyard, one of the
group would say, "There goes another ho, heading for Ho Hall,” and they’d all
crack up laughing.
"Get serious,” Gabe said. "How can I
take care of a kid? It’s my senior year. Basketball starts next week. We’ve got
a chance to make it to the state tournament.”
Papi just stared at him without saying
a word. A tight band of fear snaked around Gabe’s chest and squeezed. He gulped
in air and tried another tactic. "The baby would need a birth certificate and
medical records and stuff like that. Come on, Dad, think about it. We don’t
even know if she’s had her parvo and distemper shots.”
A rare smile bloomed on Papi’s face. "Gabriel.
Parvo and distemper shots are for puppies. Don’t worry about it. Pablo will
take care of the vaccinations and Simon can dummy up a birth certificate.”
Gabe ripped a handful of paper towels
from the holder and mopped his forehead. Geez, Papi had thought of everything.
Uncle Pablo, aka Dr. Paul Delgado, was Papi’s brother, a successful
pediatrician. Brother Simon had great aptitude for producing fake documents on
Still clutching the baby, who’d fallen
fast asleep, Gabe pushed away from the table and stood. "No way! I can’t do
"You should have thought of that before
you began spreading your seed.”
"But I used a rubber. Every time.” He
raked his fingers through his hair. Rubbers break, idiot.
Why that particular thought? Why now?
"Did you make a list of all the girls
like I told you to?” Papi asked.
Gabe nodded. "No redheads. I’m not
attracted to redheads.”
"Thank God for small blessings,” Papi
mumbled. "No matter. Remember Mendel and the peas? Recessive genes? Somebody in
Birdie’s gene pool had red hair. Maybe even a Delgado, but I doubt it. After
all, we’re descended from...”
"Yeah, yeah, I know,” Gabe interrupted.
"The Spanish royal family.”
Gabe and his brothers had suffered
through Papi’s version of Delgado family history about a bajillion times. Their
father insisted the blue rose on their butts was the mark of royalty, proof
that the Delgados were destined for greatness. Each and every time, the boys
listened politely and tried not to smirk or roll their eyes until after their father
left the room.
Papi shook his finger at Gabe. "I know
you doubt me, but this baby is here for a reason. We just need to figure out
what it is.”
Gabe tried to hold onto his temper.
Unsuccessfully. "You need a reason? I’ll give you a reason. It wasn’t enough I
spent the summer with Aunt Lorena in Michoacán, milking goats and riding a
girl’s bike into the village to buy corn meal. Oh, no! I’m still being
punished. ’Cause now I get to spend my senior year trying to get good grades,
win basketball games, and take care of a kid who screams all night.”
Papi stood and folded his newspaper
into precise thirds. Before he walked out of the kitchen, he leaned over,
kissed the top of the baby’s head, and patted Gabe’s shoulder. "It will make a
man out of you, son.”
Gabe set the sleeping baby in the
middle of the table. She should be safe there. He was pretty sure she was too
little to roll over. He reached for the phone and tried to think who he could
call this early in the morning. He really needed to talk to somebody other than
his family. But who?
Kevin, who’d been his friend since
kindergarten? Nah, Kev would just laugh his ass off. Trevor Lombard? He was a
good listener, but he was also a big blabbermouth. He would text everybody in
Maple Grove within an hour of hearing the news. Gabe rested his elbows on the
counter top and stared out at the rain lashing the window, mentally going
through his list of friends and, in the end, rejecting all of them for one reason
or another. Even though it was almost seven, it was as black as pitch outside.
No sign of dawn. Gabe sighed. Sounded like a metaphor for his life.
A light flashed on in the house next
door and Abby Templeton, dressed in her pajamas, rounded the corner of the
house lugging a bag of garbage. Abby. She’d be perfect. A couple of years
younger than Gabe, she didn’t hang with anyone from his dating pool or circle
of friends. And, she was a little on the shy side. Hopefully, that meant she
could keep her mouth shut. As a bonus, she took care of a neighbor’s kid during
the summer, so she must know all about babies.
Gabe flipped on the yard light and
threw the back door open. "Hey, Abby! Can you come over a sec?”
Abby stopped dead in her tracks. Her
mouth dropped open and she stared at him for a full minute before replying,
Abby and her mother, Luanne, were
Canadian and, as such, had a few peculiarities. Their fondness for the word ehwas but one example.
Apparently, Abby realized her response
wasn’t adequate and said, "Hi, Gabe. What are you doing up so
early... in your underwear?”
"Oh, this and that,” Gabe said. "Come
"Maybe I should get dressed first,” she
said. "Maybe you should, too.”
"No, no, that’s okay. It won’t take
long. Better hurry up. You’re getting soaked.”
Abby slung the bag of garbage into the
bin and hurried through the gate connecting their back yards. Gabe stepped back
inside, trying not to grin when she squished through the door in her giant
The bunnies came to a screeching halt
in the middle of the kitchen. Abby said, "There’s a baby on your table.”
"Actually, that’s what I want to talk
to you about,” Gabe said. He glanced over at the table, shocked to see Birdie
was now lying on her stomach, dangerously close to the edge. The baby spotted
Gabe and her face lit up in a huge, toothless smile. She slapped the table with
both hands, said, "Gah!” and then arched her back and rolled.
With Abby’s scream of horror echoing
through the kitchen, three things happened simultaneously. Gabe dove for the
baby. His head struck the edge of the table. And Birdie vanished into thin air.