On a Wednesday afternoon in early December the bookstore in the little mall was bustling , and Jack O'Neill figured folks must be shopping for Christmas presents. He was shopping for a gift too, but not a Christmas gift. It had been years since he had bought a Christmas present for anyone…not since he'd bought a baseball glove for his son Charlie the Christmas before he died.
Jack didn't like to think about how different his life used to be back then. These days he usually only shopped for himself, and he rarely went into a book store. Books weren't really his thing. One of his high school teachers had said he was a tactile person; he had to touch things, handle them, in order to understand them. Jack agreed. He learned better by touching, using things with his hands, than he did reading about how they worked. He was a 'hands on' type of person, and that suited him just fine.
But today he wanted to buy a very special gift for a very special person….a person who was way smarter than him, and she loved books. So he asked the store clerk to suggest something. And once Jack had selected a book from the volumes the woman had pulled off the shelf and he paid for his purchase, he let the clerk wrap it in gift paper. When she was finished, he took the silver and black bag with the store logo on the outside and headed toward the exit.
But on his way out a display caught his eye and he stopped to look at it, his eyes falling on one thing in particular. It was a blue bound book, not too large or too thick, but just right. And on the front there were white letters that spelled out the words, "Our Baby".
On a whim Jack set down his purchase next to a nearby chair. Then he took the baby book off the display shelf and sat down on the chair, thumbing through the book from back to front, as he often did when he had no intention of actually reading the contents. But surprisingly the book held his attention, and he sat there reading it for several minutes.
The book was organized into three main sections, the ones toward the back containing forms on which a person could list the names of schools attended, including grade schools, high schools and colleges, as well as the courses taken and the grades obtained in each. Then in the center section there were places to list hobbies and special achievements, such as sports, after-school activities, and other accomplishments.
But in the front were the pages Jack liked the best. There were lines on which the name of the child could be written, and also the child's birth weight and length, and the name of the doctor and the hospital. There was also a graph chart that could be filled in, to show the child's growth from birth up to the age of 18 years.
Jack remembered that Sara had kept a baby book for Charlie, but he had no idea where it was now. He imagined it was at her father's house with Charlie's other things. That was where Sara was living now that she and Jack were divorced. At least he thought she was still there; he hadn't seen her or heard from her in about fourteen months, not since she had brought him the divorce papers to sign. When the divorce became final, he had received a copy of the papers in the mail, but not so much as a phone call from Sara. He couldn't really blame her. He hadn't been much of a husband, especially after Charlie died.
He often wished he'd asked her if he could have some of Charlie's things, but then he figured seeing them would just make his life that much more unbearable. They would remind him of how much he had loved being a father, how proud he was of each little thing his son did, and just how much he regretted that he hadn't spent enough time with the boy. And Jack didn't want to be reminded of all that he'd lost. What he wanted, deep down in his heart, was to get that proud feeling back, to experience all the things he'd missed with Charlie because he'd been in some foreign land fighting so that other fathers would not lose their sons and daughters. What he wanted was a second chance. But he knew that people didn't often get second chances; they just went on with their lives as best they could. And that was what he was trying to do, but there were days….
Shaking off the gloomy feeling that had suddenly grabbed hold of him, Jack put the baby book back on the shelf. As he did so, another book caught his eye. So he picked it up and took a closer look. It was a children's book about a little boy who was adopted. Jack read some of it, and then he picked up another book from the same section. This one was intended for adults, and it talked about different kinds of adoptions and something called surrogacy. Jack sat down again and spent another half hour reading the book. Finally, when his stomach began to remind him that it was lunch time, he decided it was time to go home.
On his way out of the store he held open the door for two women, each pushing a baby stroller with a baby in the seat. The two mothers were chatting about this and that, and they didn't seem to be paying any attention to the small boy of about six years of age who was walking along behind them. Jack smiled knowingly at the boy and winked, while he continued to hold the door open until the child was safely inside the store. As Jack let the door swing shut, he heard one of the women tell the boy, who she called Joey, to hurry up or he would miss story time. Then Jack started walking in the direction of the parking lot. He was almost to the curb when he heard a small voice shouting at him.
"Mister! Mister, you forgot your present!" the boy called out, as he ran toward Jack carrying the silver sack that he had left by the chair.
"Thank you very much, Joey." Jack shook the boy's small hand, as the child smiled up at him. He was missing his two front teeth, and Jack couldn't help but smile in return at the boy's silly looking grin.
"How'd you know my name?" the boy asked curiously, squinting in the sunlight.
"I heard your mother say you were gonna be late for story time. You better get back in there," Jack said, waving his free hand in the direction of the bookstore.
"Okay!" Jack watched patiently as the boy ran all the way to the double doors, his arms straight out at his sides, as though he was a bird flying, or perhaps he was pretending to be an airplane? Jack didn't know, but either way it made him laugh.
One of the women was standing in the doorway, and she held the door open while waving a hand at Jack. Jack waved back at her and smiled. Then he walked on to his truck, noting that he felt much less depressed, just for having talked with the boy. Suddenly something occurred to him. He really loved kids, and he was financially secure. He could easily afford to raise a child, so why shouldn't he have one? Maybe he could adopt one? So what if he was single; didn't single people adopt kids every day?
'Yes, but not OLD single people. You're too old, Jack. They'd never let you adopt a kid,' his conscience reminded him.
Suddenly he recalled the topic of one of the books. 'Whoa! Maybe I could make a kid of my own!' The book had explained how some couples, and even some single people, hired a person called a surrogate to have a baby for them. In many cases where the wife was unable to produce an egg, the baby was the natural child of the husband and of the surrogate mother. So why couldn't he do that? He didn't need a wife or even a girlfriend. All he had to do was find a woman who would be willing to donate one of her eggs and carry the baby around inside her till it was ready to be born!
The idea stuck in Jack's head, and for the next few weeks he couldn't stop thinking about the possibility of being a father again. And as each day passed his desire to make his dream a reality grew, until finally one day he decided to do something about it.
"Colonel, are you sure about this?" the bald robust man asked, as he stood facing the CO of his premier off-world team.
George Hammond was not at all pleased about this turn of events. Now he would not only have to find a replacement for Captain Carter, but he'd have to find someone to take the reigns of SG-1 as well!
"Yes, Sir, I am."
"The Air Force won't be happy to see you go, son, especially now that the program has been given a green light to expand. You know we'll be taking on six more teams…..as soon as they're trained, of course."
"Yes, Sir, I know. But I'm sure they'll have no problem finding someone to replace me."
"You're much too modest, Jack," Hammond replied, smiling. "Well, I'll submit your request and see what they say. There's just one thing I have to ask you; does your decision have anything to do with Captain Carter going to the academy? I'm sure you are disappointed to be losing her from your team. But you know it's only temporary; I intend to get her back here as soon as possible."
Captain Samantha Carter had been asked to head a recruitment program at the Air Force Academy, in order to find and train cadets for the stargate program. Normally Jack would have been opposed to her leaving SG-1, because she was by far the best 2iC he'd ever had. But since he wanted to retire anyway, he really didn't mind. He just hoped she'd be happy wherever she was, because she was a fine officer and a nice person as well. She was also very easy on the eyes, which was an added bonus he'd never had before in a subordinate.
"No, Sir, my decision has nothing to do with her or with anyone else," Jack replied honestly.
"Okay, Colonel, I'll let you know just as soon as I get a response."
"Thank you, Sir."
Jack left Hammond's office feeling like he was walking on air.
'This is the first day of the rest of my life!' Jack cried inside. He felt positively giddy, and for a sarcastic, often cynical and sometimes irascible old fart like him, that was a new experience.