When Melissa bounced into the house after school I gave her the good news. She was so excited she didn’t even question why we would be going out for ice cream before supper on a school night.
I, on the other hand, was questioning my own sanity, but it had nothing to do with ice cream. What would happen if I didn’t show up? No, that wouldn’t work. I knew he had all the information he needed be able to find me and, besides, there was no use putting off the inevitable.
We arrived a bit before four o’clock. The shop wasn’t crowded, so we were able to settle into a booth relatively quickly, Melissa with her cone and I with my sundae. I saw him arrive, look around, and, after spotting me, cross over to the counter. Once his purchase was made, he casually headed in our direction. It occurred to me that the expensive suit and the business-like look didn’t fit with the large ice-cream cone in his hand.
“Rebecca, how nice to see you!”
I was reluctantly impressed. He had actually managed to sound sincere. I didn’t think I could be as good an actress, but I gave it my best shot.
“Hello, Michael. This is a surprise. Why don’t you join us?” To my ears, my words sounded hollow and fake.
Melissa looked up at the tall man standing beside our booth. Two identical sets of eyes stared back at each other. The expected look of surprise appeared on Michael’s face. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the resemblance between the two of them. It wasn’t only the eyes. Their hair was the same color and their faces had the same shape. My heart sank into my stomach and I looked down at my ice cream, knowing I’d never be able to finish it.
“Do you mind if I sit beside you, Melissa?”
His voice was huskier than usual, and when I glanced at his face, I could see an emotion he was obviously trying to control.
“No… but how do know my name?” she asked curiously, as he slid into the booth facing me.
“Rebecca told me about you the last time I saw her. By the way, my name’s Mike.” He smiled and held out his hand to her, and she grasped it firmly. He held her hand a moment too long for my comfort as he continued to stare at her. Then, he finally seemed to collect himself and let go of her hand.
“What kind of ice cream do you have there?”
“Bubble gum,” she answered, as she resumed eating. “It’s my favorite.”
She looked curiously at his sundae. “What kind is yours?”
“Chocolate chunk,” he answered with a smile.
“Oh, that’s my favorite too,” she said. “And Orange Explosion is my favorite.”
“Boy,” he said, laughing, “You sure have a lot of favorites.”
“Yep. Becca’s favorites are anything with caramel in them,” she stated.
“Oh, is that so?”
He looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Do you want to see my scar?” she chirped.
“Wha…” Before he could react Melissa opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, displaying a small scar in the middle of it.
“I got stitches. The doctor said he never seen anybody as brave as me. I didn’t hardly cry at all.”
“Really? That is very brave. How did…”
Again, he was interrupted. “You shoulda seen Becca though. She…”
This time it was my turn to interrupt.
“Melissa, I don’t think Mr. Walters wants to hear about this.”
He answered me, without even glancing in my direction.
“Of course, I do. Go ahead, Melissa.”
I groaned inwardly when Melissa plunged ahead, unheeded, with her story. All I could do was roll my eyes and brace myself for the humiliation that would follow.
“She almost passed out. Right there on the floor! The nurse had to catch her and put her in a chair. She almost threwed up. The doctor said I was much braver than her.”
This last sentence was whispered loudly in a conspiratorial tone, as if she was trying to spare my feelings. She was a little late for that. Michael was once again looking at me with that damn raised eyebrow, and his next question, directed to Melissa, managed to raise my hackles.
“How did this happen, Melissa?” The question was innocent enough, but his tone led me to believe that he thought I might have had something to do with the accident. I quickly interjected.
“She slipped and banged her jaw against the table. Her tongue happened to be in the way at the time. It’s a very common accident among children.”
Those green eyes looked at me narrowly.
“I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.” He paused. “You certainly are very defensive Miss..eh… Rebecca.”
I glanced at Melissa, hoping she hadn’t picked up on the tension in the air, but she was happily devouring her ice cream, content now that she had once again shared the story of getting stitches in her tongue. It was one of the first stories she told new acquaintances, and usually it didn’t bother me. Actually, I normally found it cute, but today I didn’t feel like having my weaknesses on display for this irritating man.
We spent about half an hour longer in the shop, with Melissa and Michael chatting cheerily while I sat, silent and morose, staring out of the window. I don’t think either of them noticed or cared. I could see from the smile on his face that he found Melissa to be charming. Who wouldn’t? For the first time, I wished she could have been an ugly, bad-mannered brat who would have sent him running, screaming, out of the ice cream parlor, and straight to the doctor to have a vasectomy.
Finally, when my nerves couldn’t stand it anymore, I said we had to be going and that it was very nice of Michael to have visited with us. Melissa seemed reluctant to say goodbye. He had been effusively charming to her, obviously having a way with children. I could picture Melissa happily skipping off to live with him, leaving me dejectedly standing on my doorstep. The thought was painful.
As we stood to leave, Michael turned to me and said casually, “I’ll be calling you soon about that business we have to discuss.”
He didn’t give me a chance to answer before he turned and walked away.