Half the year (usually less), Walter lived with Danielle Zee, the talk show host. But he certainly wasn’t married to her. Olivia only accused him of that because she despised Danielle’s fake enthusiasm and sound bite advice.
Amanda had never seen her TV show but did know that Danielle was a celebrity.
“To say the least.” But she had sent him clients during his probation and beyond. With the court’s approval, he filed tax returns for her and her friends. Now he ran a full service business, and consulted with another start-up.
“Does Danielle know anything about me?”
“No, Amanda. Her brother, Nick, was my public defender. And I don’t know, he introduced us. But the case is sealed and everyone, including Nick, is sworn to silence.”
“Wait. Do you mean Nicholas Zee? New York’s flashy attorney general?”
“Now he is, but then he served as public defender.”
“Why couldn’t he get you into Club Fed?”
“My crime was kidnapping, not financial profiteering.” He did, however, convince the judge to stipulate probation within five years. “Down from twenty.”
“God.” She covered her face.
“Come on.” He took her hands again. “You already knew that.”
O said Sterling and Charles had paid people and pulled strings for Walter’s appeal. But she’d always made up stuff. And Walter was speaking so freely—so rum-tum-tip—he just might banish her ghosts.
Their waitress brought the bill, saying, No rush. Amanda turned her head and a light softened behind Walter, casting a nimbus around his head. Turning her hands over, he traced Xs and Os on her palms as he continued talking.
Their trip to Disney World wasn’t entirely spontaneous. It was a fast, rash way out of there—after Amanda was gone. And he knew she’d be gone because Cheryl’s lawyer—Walter’s friend—was behind the Wisconsin deal. But the big thing was that after his guilty but idyllic time with her, Walter sought limbo, which didn’t exist. Just hell. And, hell it was. He’d wanted out the minute he got in. Yet—this was key—if the circumstances were the same, he’d do it again.
“Do you remember the last thing I said to you, Amanda?”
“I think so, but what was it exactly?”
“ ‘No matter what, honey, our magical good-bye was worth it to me.’ ” Leaning forward, he pressed the tender sides of her wrists, his thumbs waking countless sensations. She breathed a slow tune while her heart went crazy with drum patterns.
He said he loved her but his love was paternal. Three days ago, he and Olivia had watched the video of her fourth birthday party. Amanda was only three. Even then, he said, he’d loved her. “You were shy with me but, Amanda, you already had that smile to stop time.”
Keep talking, she thought. Keep touching me.
Outside, he asked if she was cold.
She wasn’t. Charlottesville wasn’t cold.
After a block, they entered a yarn shop, where he selected a knit cap of varying reds, from light to dark. “Let me see this on you.” He smoothed her hair along her neck. A saleswoman showed them the matching scarf and mittens. Walter bought these while she examined soft grey yarn—alpaca—and found instructions for a man’s cabled V-neck.
“If I knit this for you, will you wear it?”
“All the time.”
They rented skates and clung to each other. Soon, though, they were skating in sync, gliding together and apart, together and apart.
Afterward, Walter remarked how much better they were now that Amanda was an adult.
But in the café where they ate lunch—lentil soup, black bread, dark beer—he explained that thirteen years ago, if he had let anything interrupt them, he would have kept his perspective. If, for example, he’d volunteered to teach adult reading—an hour a week—she could have jumped on him all she liked. Instead, Walter had spent every day lifting weights and waiting for her to skip up the hill after school. Had anyone else been around, or even stopped by, he’d have remained earthbound. No separation from reality. No guilty but happy idyll.
Imagine, she said, if they could have that time now that she was grown-up.
“No.” Watching her when she was three, he’d seen her as a daughter. “Believing that now, Amanda, isn’t easy. But it’s still true.”
She didn’t see why—but did see that somehow she had pushed him into the same old trouble when he’d been floating along—happy. Not easy was right. (And for anyone else—not necessary.)
They walked together, not touching. Walter said, Just to be clear, Olivia loved playing his wild child and even kissed him on the mouth. “But it’s different with you. Please, Amanda, don’t play games with me.”
“Only if you don’t play games with me, Walter. We’re on a two-way street now.”
Inside the Pavilion, they found a couch facing a gas fire with fake logs. Amanda’s eyelids closed and her head dropped—she hadn’t slept at all last night . She shifted away from him and stacked cushions. “Don’t do that,” he said, encouraging her to rest her unwounded cheek against his chest. She shifted onto her side and tucked her legs up against his thigh.
In her dream, he was saying her name. Then he said it again. “Are you hungry? We’ll eat at a bistro before going to the airport.”
At the airport, her tears trickled and she wore her sunglasses.
His flight left fifteen minutes after hers so they went through the security rigmarole together. At her gate, he found an out-of-the-way pillar and beckoned her to stand behind it with him. He pressed her body against his but she pushed free. “A two-way street means separate lanes, Walter.”
Before she handed in her ticket, he stopped her. Could he phone—often?
Yes, and she’d phone him.