Copyright© 2010 by Jay Cantrell
The conversation was thankfully less serious during the afternoon.
"So, what are you getting me for Christmas?" Kasey asked. "I saw a nice little convertible down at the used car lot."
"In your dreams," I answered. "If anyone is getting a convertible it's me. I'm the one in line for a mid-life crisis. Besides, I thought I gave you your Christmas present in August when you wanted to go to lacrosse camp."
Kasey put her hands on her hips and glared at me.
"You better have been joking," she insisted.
"Maybe I was and maybe I wasn't," I replied. Kasey had turned into a sports nut. She played lacrosse in the fall, volleyball in the winter and ran track in the spring. During the summer she played all three. And she maintained a better than perfect GPA when you toss in her Advanced Placement classes.
I'll admit to a great deal of pride my child.
"Wow, your dad told me you were a great volleyball player," Carrie said. "But you play lacrosse, too?"
"And track," I added.
"Great, a running partner," Carrie said. "Do you mind jogging in the winter? I haven't been able to run for a few days and I miss it."
"I run every morning," Kasey said. "Two miles minimum."
Carrie was nodding enthusiastically.
"Can we go tomorrow?" Carrie asked. "I have to beg your dad to loan me some money to get some running clothes."
Kasey was on her feet in an instant.
"Oh, no," Kasey said as she took Carrie's hand. "His wallet has cobwebs. Mom always said he has alligator arms – his hands don't quite reach into his back pocket. I've got a ton of stuff you can wear."
I sat there watching the byplay. It was interesting to see Kasey interact with an adult in that manner. It hit me suddenly.
Kasey was on the verge of adulthood herself. She wasn't interacting with Carrie in a child-parent manner. She was interacting as a peer. The feeling of helplessness swept over me again.
My little girl was going to be heading off into the world in just six shorts months. She would graduate high school and head off to college. She had been accepted to numerous universities – including the alma mater my ex-wife and I shared.
"Dad?" Kasey asked.
I realized she had been speaking to me.
"Yeah, Shortstuff?" I answered. Kasey was almost as tall as I was and towered 8 inches above her petite mother. But Shortstuff was a nickname from a decade before.
"I said," she replied with a mixture of mirth and embarrassment, "that Carrie and I are going shopping for female type things. But first we're going to the house to delve through my closet to see if I have some things she would like."
"Ye, Gods," I said. "Don't do it, Carrie. I swear, all she has is 80s band T-shirts and jeans."
"Cool," Carrie answered. She wasn't kidding.
"Shit," I said as Kasey stuck her tongue out.
"So, can I have it?" Kasey asked.
"Your credit card," she replied while rolling her eyes. Suddenly the adult description didn't seem to be appropriate. "Carrie has no money. So cough it up."
Wordlessly I complied.
"Mike," Carrie said. "You don't need to do that. I can wait."
I brushed her off.
"No sweat," I replied. "Really, I don't mind. Kasey, if you tell your mother I gave Carrie money you're out of my will."
Kasey kissed my cheek.
"Your secret is safe with me," she said. "But it's OK if you cut me out of your will anyway. I'm pretty sure I'll be OK if you leave your old sweatpants collection to Mark."
I almost flipped my daughter the bird before I caught myself.
The house was silent while the women shopped. It gave me a moment to reflect on what had happened over the past few days. It had been a whirlwind for me – and my mind doesn't accept change readily.
Carrie was a refreshing presence. She had a sense of humor that I appreciated – and she seemed to appreciate my slightly off-center wit. She could join Kasey – who had inherited my tendency to take jokes to the lowest common denominator – as the only other person who would even smile when I tried to be witty.
She seemed to be a positive influence on Kasey, but God only knew how long that would last. Mark was going to be the easy one to introduce her to. He had never met a person he didn't like and as he had grown older I had to caution him about talking to people he didn't know.
I was mid-nap when my phone rang. I was expecting Kasey or Carrie with an update – or asking if I wanted them to bring me food. Instead it was Kelly.
"Is Kasey there?" she asked – and she seemed to be trying to be nice.
"She's out for a while," I replied. "Did you try her cell?"
"It's off," she answered. "I left a voice mail. How are things up there?"
What was this? An attempt at conversation?
"OK," I said. "She was here when I got home last night. I wish you would have called to let me know."
"I thought she would call you, Mike," Kelly replied. "I'm sorry about that. I hope it wasn't a problem. There were just some things that needed to be done up there."
"It's never a problem," I answered. "You know that. Things any better down there?"
Kelly let out a deep sigh.
"I'll take that as a no," I said. "Is Mark OK?"
"Mark is the only thing that keeps me sane," Kelly said. I could hear something strange in her voice. I realized she was crying.
"Do you want me to send Kasey back down?" I asked. "Is it getting that bad? I'll take care of anything up here that you need done."
Kelly was silent for a moment.
"It's not that," she said. "It's just, well, I think Mark can see that I'm at the end of my rope. Every time I'm almost at the edge or every time Grandpa becomes a total ass, Mark will crawl up on his lap and ask Grandpa to tell him a story. Then the old bastard becomes almost normal. He's told Mark a lot of things I don't remember him ever telling me. Did you know he fought in World War I?"
"No, but then he never liked me," I replied. "I don't think he's said more than a dozen words to me in 20 years."
"Do you know why that is?" she asked brightly.
"I've never questioned it," I answered. "I've just enjoyed it."
Kelly laughed again.
"The first time you met him he was spinning some tale of bullshit," she said. "You pointed out the flaws in this theory and he's never forgiven you. No one, I mean no one, corrected Grandpa. He was always right and never wrong. But you laid out his errors so succinctly that there was no way for him to refute it. That's the other thing that keeps me going. I can still see, plain as day, the look on his face when you did that. If I ever forget why I loved you I always think of that."
It was rare for Kelly to admit that she had ever loved me either.
"I always think about how great you were when Mom died," I answered. "I was telling Carrie and Kasey about that this very morning. I'm sorry about the way things worked out, Kelly. I probably should have told you that earlier but it was just easier not to. There were a lot of things about being your husband that I should have done better and I'm sorry that you didn't get to live the life you wanted. I mean that."
"I know you do, Mike," she said. "But when I think back about the years we were married there are things I wished I had done differently too. Especially at the end. I know that Kasey will never forgive me for dragging her away. In fact, I dread her high school graduation because I worry that will be the last time I ever see her."
Kelly was crying fully now. I felt like hell and for the first time in recent memory I felt like reaching out to her.
"That's not going to happen, Kel," I said. "I promise you that. She's confused and she's angry. She has no ready outlet for her anger so you're it."
"I know you try to reflect some of that anger back onto you," Kelly said. "She overheard me, oh I guess, over the summer, venting about something you had said or did. I don't even remember who I was talking to or what it was about. She pulled the phone out of my hand and just lit into me. She told me that you have never said anything in front of her that was even remotely negative about me. In fact, she told me that you took my side on almost every issue – even when I'm wrong."
"Unified front," I replied. "I have also told her that there was an 11 in 14 chance that if one of said something crappy about the other it would be you she overheard. I think she accepts that."
"Maybe we can try to be better about things, Mike," she said.
"Maybe," I replied.
"When I got the call from down here I started to think about who I could rely on to do what Hope Haven needed," she admitted. "I hated to ask you to do it but every time it would come back to you. You are the person I trust most in the world with anything important."
I chuckled and tried to add some lightness.
"I'm the only person you know dumb enough to agree," I interjected.
"Well, I do admit that I considered that small fact," Kelly joked. "Listen, I need to go and take care of Grandpa. I can't make Mark do it all. Have Kasey call when she gets in. By the way, where is she?"
"She took Carrie to the mall to get some 'female type' things," I answered. "Then she was going by your house to go through her closet to see if there was anything there she wanted to borrow."
"Oh, Christ," Kelly said. I was worried the she would be pissed off about Kasey spending time with Carrie. "I hope she takes the whole closet – right down to those god-awful thongs Kasey insists she needs."
Entirely too much information for a father to hear.
"Well, it sounds like she's having fun," Kelly said.
There was additional silence.
"Mike, be careful with Carrie," she said.
"I will be," I answered. "I know she's been through a lot."
"So have you, Mike," she answered. "It's you I'm worried about. Let's find time to talk after the holidays."
I told her we would. When I hung up the phone I realized I couldn't remember the last time I had a civil conversation with Kelly.
Kasey and Carrie were giggling like schoolgirls when they came through the door. They saw me sitting on the couch with a book and immediately were silent. They shot each other guilty looks and continued down the hallway.
I saw the number of bags that each carried and immediately wondered if there was anything left at the mall – or on my credit card.
Kasey came bouncing out a few minutes later with my card in her hand – it was still smoking from the use.
"Should I just cut it up now or should I wait until I see the statement?" I asked.
Kasey just rolled her eyes. I couldn't wait until she was in college and every need wasn't met within seconds.
"A hundred bucks, Dad," she said. "That's all we spent on this card."
"On this card?" I asked. Kasey whipped out the debit card that the state provides to all child support recipients.
"This card got a bit of a workout," she said gleefully. Great, I have one adult conversation with my ex-wife then Kasey spends 9 months worth of support and it's right back to loggerheads.
"You realize that your mother will want me to pay it back to her," I said.
Kasey sat beside me on the couch.
"I spoke to mom," she said. "Carrie and I went to a movie after I cleaned out my closet. Mom left a voice mail so I called her back when we got out. She told me she knew that I was shopping with Carrie and that she knew the child support took up most of your pay. So she told me to pay for it with this."
I'm sure my jaw dropped.
"When I told her of the clothes that I had given to Carrie she told me it was OK to get me some new things, too," she added. "So long as I didn't go overboard."
"Your mother has been kidnapped by aliens," I said.
"I believe that to be a fact," she said. "I suspected it when she told me that she had a very nice conversation with you today. I was almost certain of it when she told me to spend money on Carrie. It was confirmed when she told me to buy myself some clothes. I thought perhaps pod people but I think alien abduction is probably closer."
"It makes as much sense as anything else," I responded.
"Did you really have a 'very nice conversation, '?" Kasey asked. "Or did you manage to go 2 minutes without cursing at the other."
"It was a nice conversation," I replied. "I'm not sure if it was a very nice conversation but it was nice."
"She's worried about you," Kasey and I said at the same instant.
"Punch, you owe me a Coke," she said. It was game we had played for years.
"Why is she worried about me?" Kasey asked after a moment. "Does she think I'm going to sneak out? Jesus, you'd string me up alive."
"You're right, I would," I answered. Then I took a deep breath. Kasey was at the stage where adult and child intermingled so easily that it was impossible to tell which version of my daughter I was talking to.
"She's worried that when you leave her house in six months it will be the last time she sees you," I said.
Kasey's face was firm.
"A year ago, that was my plan," she said. "I planned to show up here and ask if I could live with you until I went to college. Maybe even while I went to college. I might still want to do that but I don't think so. But, no, there are times that I am displeased with Mom. But I don't hate her anymore."
"Kasey," I said sharply.
"What?" she answered. "Do you think I didn't hate her for what she did to us – to you? Well if you think that then you're out of your mind, too. Dad, you don't get it. I was your little girl. I am your little girl. When I'm 80 and you're 99 I'm going to be your little girl."
"Well, that is a fact," I said sweetly. "At least in my mind."
"But to her I was always the reason she didn't get to do something or go somewhere," Kasey said. "I was the reason she had to get married and the reason she had to stay married."
"I think you're wrong about that," I said. "There might have been times that she might have felt that way but I don't think it was often. And I'm sure she was embarrassed when those thoughts did creep into her mind."
I hesitated for a moment but I decided it needed to be said.
"I know I was always embarrassed when those thoughts would creep into my mind," I said.
Kasey didn't speak for a moment and I was poised to watch her flee to her bedroom. But she didn't. She simply nodded.
"I didn't say that to hurt you, Sweetheart," I said softly. "I hope you know I would never say or do something for the sole purpose of hurting you. I said that so you know that all the things you accuse your Mom, I'm guilty of, too."
Kasey responded to this – angrily.
"You didn't drag me away from her and make it impossible for me to see her," she said hotly.
"No," I admitted. "But I might have if it were possible and anything else would interfere with the dreams I wanted to achieve."
"Really?" Kasey asked.
"Maybe," I said. "Kasey, you need to understand some things. I made the divorce difficult for your Mom. She wanted to transfer the proceedings to here. I wouldn't allow it. While your Mom was over here, I was working for a woman who won statewide office over there."
"I know, Dad," she said. "I used to Google your name and I have almost all the news articles where you gave comment."
"Oh," I said. "Well, one of the benefits to doing that is that I had a bunch of very good lawyers who would work for me. They made the divorce a real pain in the butt for your Mom. Do you remember that for almost six months she had to come across to there twice a month?"
"I loved those times," Kasey answered. "I got to see you every week!"