Michael Walters politely gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs opposite his huge mahogany desk. As I sank into the depths of the brown leather seat I tried to compose myself. I had planned the general direction that I was going to take with the conversation. I wanted to be smooth, composed, straightforward and above all, diplomatic. Unfortunately, my head and my mouth had seemingly parted ways, figuratively speaking, and for several awkward moments I just stared at him.
With a slightly raised eyebrow and a smile, he said encouragingly, “I am told you have a personal matter to discuss with me, Miss Andrews.”
My well-rehearsed speech, which had been meant to gradually ease me into the subject at hand, fled from my mind and I blurted, “I came to tell you that you have a daughter.”
Struck dumb by what I had just done, I watched in fascination as his eyebrows lowered and his previously warm eyes became cold and hard. He slowly leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk in front of him, those disconcerting eyes never leaving my face. He looked at me for a long, uncomfortable moment and then he gave a short, humourless laugh.
“I think I’m going to suggest to my brother that we have some sort of register set up in the outer office. Then each time a woman arrives with a similar statement for one of us, she could just sign in and indicate the name and sex of the child in question.”
His offhand remark had the effect of turning my nervousness into anger. I could feel it blossoming in my chest and I could feel my cheeks redden with heat.
“I don’t consider this situation funny, Mr. Walters,” I replied tightly.
“Believe me, I’m not laughing,” he answered dryly. He stood up and slowly walked around the desk. He leaned back against it, directly in front of me, so I was in the uncomfortable position of having to look up to see his face. I know that had been his intention.
“You really take the cake, though,” he continued, his tone laced with cynicism. “You must think I’ve had so many women that I wouldn’t even remember what they looked like.”
His cold gaze insolently made its way down my body and then back up again.
“My memory isn’t that bad. I think I would have remembered you.”
“I’m not the mother,” I replied stiffly.
Again, he looked me up and down, apparently noting my casual attire.
“You don’t look like a lawyer.”
“I’m not. I’m a friend of Sylvia’s.”
I had the satisfaction of seeing him stiffen. I saw a flicker of something, I wasn’t sure what, in his eyes.
“Yes. She asked me to contact you.”
He seemed to consider this for a moment, and then he shook his head.
“You’re lying. First of all, I haven’t seen Sylvia for years. Second of all, if she had something to tell me, she would have come here herself.”
“She’s dead,” I replied bluntly.
His manner so far had been unpleasant and disdainful, and, at the moment, I didn’t feel disposed to be gentle with him. When I saw his eyes widen slightly with shock and disbelief, I realized that maybe I should have cushioned the blow a little.
“She died of cancer about a month ago,” I added in a somewhat softer voice.
He turned and walked over to the window. He stood there for several long moments, perhaps deep in thought. He could have been grieving just as easily as he could have been thinking about the weather. His next question took me somewhat by surprise.
“What do you want?” he asked harshly.
“I don’t want anything. Sylvia asked me to come here to tell you that you have a daughter. Her name is Melissa and she’s five years old.”
I was becoming impatient. I wanted this whole ordeal to be over with. As far as I was concerned, I had just fulfilled the promise.
He turned towards me and fixed me with a piercing gaze.
“So who are you?”
I took a deep breath.
“I’ve already told you. My name is Rebecca Andrews and I’m a friend of Sylvia’s. I’m also Melissa’s legal guardian.”
His eyes narrowed and his mouth curled into a sneer.
“So, that’s the game you’re playing. Sylvia’s gone, you’re stuck with the kid, and you’re looking for someone with enough money to pawn her off on. I should have known. Sylvia would never have kept something like this from me. Well, Miss Andrews, you can find yourself another victim.”
Fury coursed through me. I jumped out of my chair and strode over to him until there was no more that a foot separating us. I lifted my chin and looked up at him.
“Of course that’s the first thing you would think of, isn’t it? Money. That’s all it ever boils down to for people like you,” I raged angrily. “God forbid there should ever be any emotion attached to anything. Sylvia was right about you. Well look here, you overgrown stuffed shirt, I don’t care what you think of me, or Sylvia, or even Melissa for that matter. I made a promise to Sylvia that I would tell you about her daughter. As far as I’m concerned my obligation has been fulfilled and you responded exactly as I expected. I’ll be leaving now, and believe me, you don’t have to worry about me signing your damn register.”