Chapter Three
Buster

Sam thought Mr. Griner deserved a "Boss of the Year" award or something. The owner of the video store had said okay when Sam asked permission for an extra-long lunch and okay when Sam hesitantly asked if it would be all right for him to bring a child into the store during the morning hours. Usually, before noon, most of the store's business was drop-offs anyway. Of course, Sam left out Rex's age and how he came to be visiting Sam and Joon. Mr. Griner thought the couple was doing a favor for friend of Joon's who had the flu--well, at least part of the story was true.

With one thing and another, it took longer than usual for Sam to complete his daily routine. While Sam vacuumed the aisles farthest from the counter, Rex pulled over a life-sized cardboard cutout of a spandex-wrapped action star toting two gigantic plasma cannons. Returning to the front of the store, Sam found his charge happily gnawing the star's silver-clad ankle.

"Nice going, Rex," he complimented the kid. "You just did what an alien army ten thousand strong failed to do. I'm impressed." The display had been looking a bit past its prime, anyway, and Sam figured when Rex was through teething on it, it could go out to the dumpster, no great loss.

Rex chuckled as Sam went through his Keaton routines. The baby was an undemanding audience; he watched the show, beat on the cutout with his chubby fists and gurgled gleefully. A couple regular customers came in with their tapes, most of them wondering if Sam was that adorable little baby's Daddy. He managed a smile at that; he could safely say without hesitation that he wasn't, just a helpful friend.

The hours from nine to one had never passed so slowly before; by now, the infant had chomped and slobbered his way up to the alien-fighter's knees. Usually, Sam had his lunch break at noon, but today he was going to give Rex to his mother before the support group met at two. He planned to leave at one, allowing time to get across town, but at ten minutes til, his replacement called, and claimed a dead battery.

Sam called Mr. Griner's cell phone, trying not to panic. What would happen if he was late getting Rex to Allison? She might get Joon into trouble with their therapist. No, she wouldn't do something like that, would she? She'd have to tell them about the poker game, and that wouldn't look good for her, either. "I'm supposed to have Rex home before two, and Cathy just called and said her battery is dead, what should I do?" he asked his boss.

"Don't worry, I'm in my car, I'll be there in a few minutes. I can handle things while you do what you have to."

It was twenty-five minutes past one before Sam finally strapped the baby into his car seat. He took a quick inventory. Diaper bag, check, stock pot and spoon, check, enough gas to get us across town, uh-oh.

Getting gas took another twelve minutes. Sam was starting to see little spots in his vison and reminded himself to breathe. When he did, he realized Rex needed a fresh diaper. He couldn't hand over the kid the way he was. Phew, Sam couldn't even stand to be in the same car with him in that condition. Cleaning and changing and dressing Rex ate up more precious time.

Sam was a careful driver, which was good for getting somewhere in one piece, but not so good for getting there quickly. He missed every single traffic light and arrived at a railroad crossing just as the gate came down. It was long train--a very long train.

By the time he arrived at the hospital, it was well after two o'clock, and the therapy session had already started. He waited in the reception area playing peek-a-boo with Rex, and managed a quick call to the store. Cathy had gotten a ride in to work; Sam could take the rest of the afternoon off, since his shift was over at four anyway.

At ten minutes before three, the door to the therapy room opened, and the group members began emerging. Nobody seemed upset; one or two of the ladies he'd met on Tuesday greeted him and cooed over Rex--but there was still no sign of Allison, or Joon.

When Sam ventured to the door of the inner sanctum, he saw Allison wiping her eyes with a piece of tissue, and a woman he guessed was their therapist was patting her shoulder. Joon was standing nearby holding the box of tissues, and she was the first one to notice him. "There they are!" she caroled, and Allison's head whipped around.

"Oh, thank goodness!" She hurried over and swept Rex out of Sam's arms. "Oh, sweetheart!" she crooned to the baby. "I missed you so much!" Her voice dwindled into little murmurs, and Rex laughed and pulled her hair. She accepted the diaper bag without even looking at Sam; all her attention was on her son.

"Come on, Sam," said Joon. "I promised Micki we'd give her a ride."

"Bye, Rex," Sam said over his shoulder as Joon took his hand and led him out of the room

"Joon, I think you'd better just tell him," Micki said a little while later as they drove her homeward.

"Tell me what?" Sam asked uneasily.

"I want a puppy," said Joon. "I think canine companionship would admirably enhance our domestic situation. Can we get one of Micki's boxer puppies? Please? I was hoping you'd bring a puppy home with you on Tuesday, but you brought Rex instead."

"I guess so," Sam answered, thinking about it. "There's nothing against it in our lease."

"What are we going to call him?" Sam asked Joon an hour later as they took the newest member of their household home.

"I thought Buster would be an appropriate name," she said, as the puppy licked the strap of her crash helmet. "And see, he even looks like the dog from the Buster Brown shoe ads!"

Sam knew that wasn't the only reason Joon liked the name Buster. "Can we have a nice, quiet evening at home tonight, and maybe watch that movie I brought home two days ago?" he asked hopefully.

"A nice quiet evening at home with our faithful canine companion!" Joon declared, stroking the wrinkles on the puppy's velvety forehead. "What cinematic triumph of the silver screen are we going to be viewing?"

"An old movie with Cary Grant," Sam told her. "It's called 'Bringing Up Baby'."

The End.