The next day I was so distracted I could barely function. I went to work for a short while, but Sandra finally told me, in no uncertain terms, that she would get a lot more done if I wasn’t around. Apparently I was getting in the way and messing things up for her. I was home before noon, prepared myself a bowl of soup for lunch, and ended up tossing it into the sink untouched.
I had slept badly the previous night. I kept reliving my visit with Michael Walters, and the more I thought about it the more my anguish grew. My plan had failed. Badly. Instead of persuading him to sign Melissa over to me, I had convinced him that she could be his daughter. Now he might fight for her, and in a legal battle I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, not with his power and influence to back him up.
I should have shut my mouth. He would have written me off as another gold-digger and that would have been that. I could have built my life with Melissa with a clear conscience since I had kept my promise to Sylvia. Instead, he sat me down and stood over me like a vulture eyeing a wounded bird, wondering which eye to pick out first.
“We’ll set up a meeting place, somewhere neutral,” he firmly suggested. “Then I can have a little talk with Melissa.”
“I don’t want you to upset her. She’s been through enough lately, and she’s only five. She’s very sensitive.” After a moment’s hesitation, I added desperately. “As a matter of fact, why don’t we both take some time to think this over? There’s no need to rush things. In a few months, you can contact me if you still want to see her.”
Hopefully, by then, he would have changed his mind, I thought frantically.
He continued, undaunted. “I promise I’ll be discreet. Despite what you may think, I’m not a monster who enjoys scaring small children. I’ll pretend I’m a friend of yours and I just happened to meet up with the two of you.”
His voice was matter-of-fact, but his expression showed how ridiculous he considered the possibility of us actually being friends.
I jumped up and started to pace the room.
“Sylvia told Melissa her father was dead. It’ll be devastating for her to be told differently. She’ll be upset about her mother lying to her. I don’t want you to give her any indication that you even knew her mother.”
There was a flash of anger in his eyes, and he seemed about to say something but changed his mind. Instead, he said, “How about we meet at Bunny’s ice cream parlour at the end of the day tomorrow? Do you know where it is?”
“Yes, I do,” I answered, dejectedly. It was one of our favourite places to go for a special treat. I suspected it would now take on a new meaning for me. I didn’t want to go through with this, but I knew I had no choice. After all, for better or for worse, he was her father and no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t deny him the right to meet his daughter. With any luck, he’d decide he didn’t want the responsibility and he would sign the papers I so badly craved.
“Good. How about four o’clock then? Does that give you enough time?”
“Yes,” I said simply. Without looking at him, I got up and slowly headed for the door.
I stopped without turning.
“If Melissa is mine, why didn’t Sylvia tell me about her years ago?”
I turned and looked him coldly in the eye.
“She didn’t trust you.” I paused. “And I can understand why.”