The next week seemed to pass very slowly, perhaps because I spent it anticipating Michael’s phone call, a call which never materialized. I assumed he was too busy, or he was taking his time trying to formulate a plan. I didn’t dare hope he had put us out of his mind. Every time the phone rang, either at work or at home, I found myself holding my breath until I knew who it was. At least I hadn’t noticed anyone following us recently. He obviously didn’t see the need to do so since he had already made direct contact with us.
A few days after our meeting at the ice cream parlour Melissa asked me if we could do it again and invite Michael to join us.
“Well, I don’t know, honey,” I responded, cautiously. “Did you enjoy it that much?”
“Yeah, he was really nice and kinda funny too.”
She added wistfully, “He kinda reminded me of Stephanie’s dad. I always thought she’s real lucky to have a daddy like that.”
For the first time, I realized how much Melissa probably missed having a father. She never talked about it, which led me to assume it wasn’t very important to her. Selfishly, I thought the love she had received from Sylvia and I had been enough for her, and any sort of male influence wasn’t necessary. Now it occurred to me that maybe I had been wrong in my assumption. Which would then mean that I shouldn’t be trying to keep her to myself.
But, I wasn’t convinced that Michael Walters should have a presence in her life. After all, he had lied to Sylvia, and after my own experiences with him, I believed she had had every reason to mistrust him. I certainly didn’t appreciate his arrogant and condescending attitude. I wasn’t going to thrust Melissa into the arms of someone I didn’t trust, at least not without a fight or some type of reassurance that he wouldn’t break her heart as he had broken her mother’s.
When Mike returned to his office after the staged encounter at the ice cream parlor, he was dismayed to discover his brother pacing the floor in front of his large oak desk. He had hoped to have some time to himself to think about the situation in peace. After all, that was why he had decided to return to the office, thinking that everyone would have left for the day. Instead, he was assaulted as soon as he walked in the door.
“Did you see her? What do you think? What are you going to do?”
“One question at a time, Steve.”
Michael’s voice was heavy with disappointment and weariness.
“First of all, yes, I saw her. Second of all, I believe she’s mine. The resemblance is unmistakable.”
“You’re going to acknowledge her as yours?”
Mike looked at his sibling with astonishment.
“Of course, I’m going to acknowledge her. She’s my child. I can’t just ignore my responsibility.”
The younger man seemed to catch himself.
“I’m not saying you should ignore it, but maybe you should have more testing done; be absolutely sure.”
“I’m telling you, she’s the picture of me. And if that wasn’t enough, Rebecca’s reaction to my seeing her clinched it.”
“The woman could be a total fraud, Mike. This isn’t like you to be this reckless. You must realize how important this is?”
“You think I don’t know it’s important? Of course it is. That’s exactly why I can’t just turn my back and walk away. As for Rebecca being a fraud, I’m well aware of the possibility, but I don’t think she is and, in this case, I have to go with my gut.”
Mike was getting tired of this old argument.
“Look, Steve, I’m beat and I have some things to finish up before I can go home. How about we talk about this another time?”
His brother looked like he wanted to argue some more, but he finally took the hint and, with a shake of his head, turned and left the room.
Mike slumped into his chair, put his head back, and closed his eyes. All he could see was the image of the beautiful little girl with the dark hair and green eyes. She had an infectious smile that made you want to reach out and hug her. He definitely had a lot of hugs to make up for, and he felt a surge of anger at the thought that he had already missed five years of her life, some of the most important years.
He blamed Sylvia. She had no right to keep his child from him. He didn’t really understand why she had dumped him so many years ago. He knew she was angry with him about not telling her about his background, but if she had really cared about him it wouldn’t have mattered. She would have understood his reasons and been able to forgive him. He had finally been forced to accept the fact that her feelings for him had not been strong enough to overcome their apparent problems.
He also felt a certain amount of resentment toward Rebecca Andrews. She obviously had been very close to Sylvia, otherwise she wouldn’t have been granted guardianship of Melissa. She had conspired with Sylvia to keep the truth from him for all those years. The only thing which kept him from openly hating the woman was the memory of the look of misery on her face when they had met in the ice cream parlor. Although she had spoken politely enough, and Melissa hadn’t seemed to notice any strain, her eyes had given her away. In them, he had seen the depth of her love for the little girl. He had also seen a mixture of despair and fear, as if she was expecting him to snatch the child away from her.
He would never consider such a thing. There was obviously a strong connection between the two of them, almost like a biological mother and child. It was certainly stronger than any connection he had with his own mother. He would never dream of breaking up their relationship, one that had been sanctioned by Melissa’s own mother, but he did want to be an integral part of his daughter’s life, in one form or another. Now he faced the problem of working out what form that was going to take.
There was a lot to consider, not the least of which would be dealing with Rebecca’s antagonism toward him. She was definitely the key to how smoothly his future relationship with Melissa would unfold. He would have to win her approval somehow. If Rebecca Andrews got to know him, he would be able to convince her that he wasn’t the monster she believed him to be.