First Vanessa from nursery school, then Evie from first grade. Before easing the car into traffic, Amanda turned to the backseat and checked each girl’s seatbelt.
“How was it last night? Does your dad let you eat brownies for breakfast?”
“Yep. He really does,” Vanessa said. “Ice cream, 7-up, he’s Mr. Junk Food.”
“I hope you appreciate your father. He’s good hearted and generous.”
If Amanda was on his side, why were they getting divorced? “No, wait! I didn’t ask that! Mom, please, you’ve told us a zillion times.” Evie covered her ears and so did Vanessa.
All right, Amanda said, she wouldn’t repeat the reasons. Providing they both knew that their grandparents, mother, and father would love them forever.
Immediately and throughout the evening, Amanda heard—father, love, forever. That night, awake or asleep, she heard the echo louder and faster, father-love-forever.
Years ago, when she’d told her mother, no joke, she had a right to know who her biological father was, her mother snapped, one of four creeps, all right? Whose names she didn’t remember.
But if Walter’s love for Amanda was like a real father’s, he really would love her forever. Wasn’t that better than being a lover? The choice was Walter’s, and he chose (could one choose like eeny, meeny…?) to stuff his feelings into a father-daughter compartment.
Which infuriated Amanda! Even while she felt truly grateful. Look at the lustrous woman she’d become, compared to the pitiful wretch she’d been. Walter had rescued her. Consequently, he had paid beyond reason. If after that, he loved her at all—she should rejoice. And she did. She rejoiced and fumed simultaneously, while he left her rambling voicemails Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoon—nothing pressing, honey; nothing at all.
On Thursday, Amanda took her mother-in-law to lunch at the Atwood Café. And Christ if her ravenous-bitch-self didn’t render lovely Caroline into another surrogate parent hydra head. Her phenomenal rapport with her mother-in-law had vanished. Amanda stared at her lap. She played with a fork. Her phone buzzed a text.
“Always better to check,” Caroline said.
Amanda tilted the phone inside her purse and peeked at Walter’s message—About Olivia, it read. Urgency stifled her further. But she politely commented on the raspberry tart. Either she said delicious and Caroline said tempting, or vice versa.
“Grown daughters,” Caroline touched Amanda’s wrist, “don’t tell their mothers everything, and probably shouldn’t.”
Outside on the sidewalk, they stood woman-to-woman and face-to-face. “Let’s get together once a month and take what comes, easy or not easy.”
“I’m in,” Amanda said, “if you are.”
She didn’t need grace or rapport; Caroline loved her as was, even fidgety. Sliding into her car and adjusting the steering wheel, she fetched her phone, which then rang in her hand. Before she could say hello, he said, “Don’t hang up, honey.”
“Is Olivia okay?”
Walter said, “Instead of backpacking, they went to Paris and wore out their welcome at the Ritz.”
“Drinking, I think.”
“I’ll call her.”
“Not yet. Keith called me from the manager’s office. It’s imperative I go there and deal with the authorities, he said.”
“Amanda, just hearing your voice, makes me feel better.”
“Call me when you know more.”
“Are you sure, honey? You don’t need to be involved.”
“Remember how if I was happy, you were happy? That hasn’t changed. If you’re worried, I’m worried.”
Friday afternoon, Amanda was organizing the district’s faculty into groups of sixteen for Monday’s Superintendent’s Day. Her new boss, Benjamin, had asked if she wanted a role and when she said yes, he gave her control over most of it. The caterer should be contacting her about seats per tables. But that’s not who was calling.
“Comment allez-vous, Ah-manda?”
“Walter, you speak French.”
“Enough money makes you a polyglot.”
“Well, you sound good.”
“Olivia’s arm has a hairline fracture. But the chandelier is shattered.”
“You’d think on her honeymoon, my daughter would know better ways to please her husband.”
“They stayed in their room, the manager says, making noise and calling room service for Chambord, vodka, and ice. The croissants were gratis. At night, they dressed up for the hotel bar. Bought bottles of champagne and cognac. Within their budget, Keith pointed out to me, of 300 euros or less per bottle.”
“Good thing Oak Park’s school budget is more specific.”
“Of course, they bought however many bottles they could use. Treated the other guests to taste tests: Taittingers; Rémy; Veuve Clicquot, and Hennessey. Following that, Keith said, O stood on a seat and sang Beatle songs by request.
“So at eight in the morning, at the top of the staircase, they had found the Ritz conference rooms, and a large chandelier.
“By way of explanation O told me that Keith believes—and belief is his big thing—that in Paris, women swing on the chandeliers and men wear lampshades.”
“Uh? No kidding.”
“The upshot was that a guard had to escort Keith to his flight, but first they met mine. I was called over mostly to pay the damages. O and I return tonight. She’s promised to spend the week with me before contacting Keith.”
“Tell her to call me, Walter.”
“Probably not for a while, honey. Olivia has had a history of calamities ever since her granny died. Sterling’s certain she’s alcoholic and keeps sending her to rehab centers where she meets other well-off alcoholics. But I’m afraid drinking might not be the only trouble.”
“She could visit me, except I start work on Monday.”
“We’ll both be busy. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a month or so, I’m still thinking of you. And if you need anything—”
“Help Olivia get set up. She told me she liked living in the east village. And Walter, she was always mischievous. And super-smart.”
“Amanda.” He hung up but whenever he said her name like that she knew he meant much more.