Chloe texted. Walter sent email. Mike phoned, having kept Evie and Vanessa overnight and driven them to their first day of school in Oak Park. Because Amanda had missed her Sunday morning flight. “Sorry,” she said (as she had several times.)
“No problem.” Mike didn’t have anything urgent that morning (as he’d said several times.)
Could he stop by? Show her how to work the TV and sound; tell her about Evie and Vanessa? “They’re the best,” he said.
Evie had told him and Vanessa: no following her and hanging around outside her first-grade classroom. Just drop her off—she wasn’t a baby.
Vanessa wasn’t a baby either. Mike should let her out on the sidewalk and no spying on her the way they had spied on Evie, or else! Then she’d caught him peeking at her and stuck out her tongue.
Amanda laughed and said he was a great father. But the TV and sound system worked perfectly and what a surprise, actually looked good in the living room.
Well, he said, the floating shelves and translucent panels had been Chloe’s idea. He’d bought them from her friend at the Merchandise Mart, who’d talked him through the installation. He could show Amanda how they worked.
“Hey, Mike, I think that’s Chloe now. Monday’s her day off and she needs to talk through her romantic troubles.”
“All right. But, the girls’ afterschool programs end at four and they’ll be waiting in their regular classrooms.”
“Thanks again, Mike.”
She hoped she didn’t sound mean. For once, he hadn’t begged her, to beg him, to try again. He was always angling to see her and always sounded forlorn when saying good-bye. He probably did regret leaving her for Nadia. But once he’d packed his shaving kit, he knew—no return.
Amanda had lied about Chloe being at the door. She wouldn’t arrive for an hour. The first week they met, Chloe had said that instead of a husband, she intended to keep three boyfriends “on call.” Recently, she had decided not to have children, in light of the trauma her sisters had brought upon themselves. So she had really splurged on her goddaughters, transforming their little square bedrooms into special, personal spaces.
Evie’s was a portal to fun: a swinging orange chair bolted to the ceiling as were two vivid blue slings to suspend her upside down anytime she felt like it. Chloe had also found bright snap-together cubes to hold clothes, toys, and electronics.
Vanessa’s bedroom belonged to a storybook princess. A sheer canopy over her bed and a larger, even finer canopy surrounding her little table and chairs. Pink light bulbs covered by frilly lampshades, and tiers decked out to match the histories of her American Girl dolls.
No, Amanda had turned Mike away so she could finish screaming into a pillow in reaction to Walter’s email. He was sorry for giving her mixed signals. He simply hadn’t been prepared for her thoroughbred amorous pull. After putting himself through the paces, though, he’d buried his desire six feet under. It honestly hadn’t occurred to him until she had the sense to pull away that he’d been touching her all day long.
He prayed she would forgive him. Prayed she knew him better than to wonder if he’d deliberately done to her what she in her innocence attempted on him long ago. Because Walter never acted in retaliation. And for the record, it hadn’t been that way at all. His love for Amanda when she was eleven was much like hers for her daughters.
Yesterday he’d been an old man befuddled by an alluring child grown into a woman of commanding beauty. Henceforth, he would love Amanda paternally as long as he lived. He needed her. He needed to be in her life. And wanted to be a grandfather to her children.
That’s what Walter wanted? Well, Amanda was sorry for being a grabby, needy child when she would so much rather have been a homeless urchin—and then, whatever happened, honey, was worth it—to her!
So no need, everyone, to lock up your fucking daughters! Just bury your feelings six feet deep.
Now Chloe really was knocking.
What a shame Amanda couldn’t whistle—like so-what, so-what, so-what! Opening the door to brilliant Chloe—three boyfriends on call!—Amanda absently accepted a florist delivery. The man handed her two abundant English Ivies in celadon pots, a note taped to one edge.
“They’re exquisite,” Chloe said and then, “Oh no, what’s happened?”
Later, she said just what she’d said in Mexico, “My advice is to get over him.”
“Don’t worry,” Amanda said. “I totally am.”