Authors: Debbie Macomber
I'd always wanted a daughter, hungered for a second child. At one point I'd suggested we adopt, but Sean refused. I'd gone so far as to contact a couple agencies, thinking if my husband understood how badly I wanted another baby, he'd give in. I'd been wrong.
Sean must have seen the pain in my eyes because he leaned forward and placed his hand on my knee. “Leanne, I know that I've hurt you, and, God help me, I couldn't be more sorry. What I'm asking isn't for me. This is for our son.” His eyes searched mine and I could see the sincerity in him. “Will you talk to Nichole?”
I knew it hadn't been easy for Sean to reach out to me. He never would have if not for our son's sake. I didn't like the thought of Jake agonizing over his divorce any more than Sean did.
“Will you?” he repeated.
Slowly, I nodded.
His relief was instantaneous and his shoulders sagged as if he'd been holding in his breath. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“I'm not making any promises.”
“I'll talk to Nichole, and if she's willing to hear him out one last time then it's up to her to get in touch with Jake and arrange something.”
“That's all I ask.”
I set my half-full glass of wine aside.
“It was good to see you, Leanne,” Sean said, and as far as I could judge, he meant it.
He relaxed. “So you're teaching?”
“English as a second language at the Community Center. It's not far from here.”
“I bet your students love you.”
I smiled. “They're wonderful.” My mind immediately went to Nikolai and the caring way he looked after me. His appreciation was huge. He couldn't seem to do enough for me.
We finished our drinks, and then Sean paid the waiter. We left together and stood outside for a couple of minutes.
“Where are you parked?” Sean asked.
“Around the corner.” I'd been fortunate to find a spot relatively close.
“I'm across the street,” he said, and leaning forward, he kissed my cheek.
I walked alone to my car as Sean looked both ways and then jogged to the other side of the road. We took off in different directions as we had most of the years of our marriage.
My attorney mailed the final divorce papers and all that was left to do was sign my name. I read them over, even though I knew my lawyer had already scrutinized every detail. I set the thick manila envelope aside.
When I married Jake I thought it would be forever, until death do us part. I believed with every fiber of my being that we would grow old together. I took my vows seriously. In the five years we'd been married I never once looked at another man. Oh, I admired a fewâwho doesn't?âbut never with any intention of doing anything more. My appreciation was more cursory glances than actual interest. My faith and trust in my husband were total.
I could remember once shortly after our wedding, Jake and I talked about his father and the fact that Sean had often strayed. Jake had seemed appalled and embarrassed by his father's behavior. Yet it seemed that barely five years into our marriage Jake had fallen into the same pattern of cheating on his wife. Cheating on me.
With a heavy heart I collected Owen before leaving for work at the Portland High School. I'd been fortunate enough to have gotten a three-month substitute job teaching a sophomore English class for a teacher who'd broken her leg and required surgery. Mrs. Miller had taken a three-month leave of absence.
I was happy to get the job, particularly for the extra income. I needed a new car, but wanted to save for a substantial down payment before I seriously started looking.
I hadn't been at the school more than a few days when I discovered Kaylene Nyquist was a freshman there. We passed each other in the hallway one day and I immediately recognized her. Not wanting to embarrass Rocco's daughter by singling her out, I smiled. She did a double take and moved on. The second time we happened upon each other she waved. I smiled and waved back. I wanted to ask her about the dance, but waited for her to approach me.
When school was released for the day I checked my text messages and saw that I had one from Shawntelle Maynor.
I didn't get the job.
I sighed with regret. I'd connected with Shawntelle. I loved her wit and the way she viewed life. That girl called a spade a spade and didn't hold back. I wanted to hear every single detail, so I pressed the button to connect us. Shawntelle answered after the first ring.
“What happened?” I asked. She'd told me how prepared she'd felt after the practice interviews.
“I thought I was going to blow them away, too.”
“Oh Shawntelle, I'm so sorry. Don't let this discourage you, you hear me?” I hated the thought of her getting down on herself because the employer didn't appreciate her potential. All she needed was a chance to prove herself.
“Those suckers are losing out,” Shawntelle insisted.
“Yes, they are. How about I take you to lunch on Saturday and you can tell me all about it?”
“That's what I said.”
“Okay, sounds good.”
“Great. I'll see you Saturday.” We set up a time and place. Going out would mean that Leanne would need to watch Owen. She'd do it because I'd let her talk me into going out to dinner with Jake. I'd hesitated, unsure seeing Jake was the right thing to do, but in the end I'd agreed. I knew he was hurting, but then so was I. Leanne was in a difficult position, wanting the best for both of us. The only reason I decided to go was because Leanne had asked.
Shawntelle and I chatted for a few minutes longer. I'd started toward the teacher's parking lot when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and saw that it was Kaylene Nyquist.
I held up until she joined me. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey.” She clenched her hand around the strap of her backpack and drew in a deep breath.
“I've wanted to ask you about the dance. How was it?”
Her eyes brightened. “Fun. I had a blast, and Dad didn't go all hyper on me.”
“Did he like the dress?”
“I guess. I showed it to him and he didn't tell me to take it to the trash barrel and burn it. We don't actually have a trash barrel, but he says that when he hates whatever I'm wearing.” She paused and then added, “He says that a lot. If he chose my clothes, I'd look like a nun.”
“So if he doesn't want you to burn something, that's his stamp of approval?”
I grinned. That sounded like Rocco.
Kaylene looked down at her feet. “Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” I needed to collect Owen from the daycare center, but I could talk.
Once more Kaylene hesitated. “I've got a problem with my dad,” she said, “and I don't know what to do.”
“Oh, is he being a dad again?” I meant it as a joke, but she took me seriously.
“I'm in this group of girls around my age that my dad wanted me to join. It's part of Boys and Girls Club and it's for daughters being raised by single fathers. We go over things that mothers would normally tell their daughters, and other stuff, too. I've made a lot of friends in the group.”
“Cool,” I said. It sounded like a great program.
“The leader decided it would be a good bonding experience to have a dance for fathers and daughters. All of us are excited about it. I have my dress from the school dance, so Dad wouldn't need to buy me anything new.”
If she told me Rocco wasn't willing to take his daughter to the dance I would be terribly disappointed in him. “Your dad doesn't want to go?”
Kaylene's face tightened and for a moment it looked as if she was struggling to hold back tears. “Dad said he'd go if he had to.”
“But he said no way was he going to dance.”
“Dad says he doesn't dance.”
“Oh Kaylene, I'm so sorry. What would you like me to do?” I'd try to help her, but I wasn't sure there was anything I could say that would change Rocco's mind.
“Would you talk to him?” She folded her hands as if praying. “Please, Nichole, you're my only hope. Dad thinks you're classy. He said he never knew a woman who ate pizza with a knife and fork.”
I struggled to hide a smile.
I hesitated, but not because I wasn't willing to help; I didn't know what to say other than that this dance and this group of friends were important to his daughter and he should reconsider.
“I'll do my best, but I don't know what I can do other than talk to your dad.”
“You have to, you have to convince him,” she said. “It'd be horrifying if my dad sat through the whole night while all the other girls were dancing with their dads.”
I agreed. Kaylene would be embarrassed in front of her friends and the group leader.
“I don't know that your father will listen to me,” I told her, “and I don't know that he'd appreciate me butting into your family business.”
“I'll tell him I asked you to talk to him, so if he gets mad it'll be on me.” Her eyes were wide with appeal and hope.
I could see how important this was to her. “All I can do is try,” I said. “I'm not making any promises, but I'll do my best.”
She smiled and then, catching me by surprise, she tossed her arms around me and gave me a hug. “Thank you, thank you. I knew you'd help. Dad will listen to you.”
I wasn't nearly as convinced. “Tell your father I'll be at the dress shop on Saturday and ask him to stop by before four. He knows where it is.”
“Okay,” she said, walking backward. “You don't want to call him?”
Strategizing, I bit down on the corner of my lip. “It'll work best if I talked to him in person.”
“Thanks again, Nichole. This means the world to me.”
All I could do was hope that confronting Rocco would make a difference.
Saturday afternoon Shawntelle met me at the shop and we left for lunch. “Tell me about the interview,” I said, once we were seated and had placed our orders.
“The interview went good, I thought,” she said, fiddling with the paper napkin. “That woman from human resources asked every single question I'd practiced. I nearly stopped her to say I could ask and answer the questions if she wanted, but thought better of it. I didn't want to intimidate her with how smart I am.”
I silently agreed. My biggest fear was that Shawntelle wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut. “Alicia styled your hair?” Although it'd been several days, Shawntelle's hair still looked great. What a difference a decent haircut made.
Shawntelle gave me a limp-wristed wave. “My hair has never looked better. With my wild curls she had to use enough hair product to sink an oil freighter. I told that woman from HR that she shouldn't expect me to look this gorgeous every day because I'd had it done up special for the interview.”
I couldn't help it; I laughed out loud. “Did you really?”
“Sure I did. And look at these fingernails, girlfriend. They are a thing of beauty.” She held out her hands for me to examine. Shawntelle was right. They were painted a bright, bold shade of red with tiny white daisies in the corners.
“Naw, it was a friend of hers who's training. She used me to practice on.”
I'd thank Alicia later.
“I walked in that car dealership like I owned the place.” Shawntelle slapped her hand on her hip and raised her chin, giving me a demonstration.
I was beginning to get the picture and it wasn't necessarily a good one.
“I told the sales manager I'd take that showroom Mercedes.” Illustrating, she stretched out her arm and pointed across the restaurant. “And another in red, if available. And he could add a black BMW to the list. He didn't appear amused. Guess I shoulda quit while I was ahead.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Shawntelle's smile was gone by now. “That HR woman had her mind made up about me even before I went in for the interview. I could tell she didn't think I was their type. Well, la-di-da.”
“Do you have another interview lined up?” I asked.
“Nope.” Her face fell. “Finding a good job ain't gonna be easy for someone like me, is it?”
“Now, don't you go losing faith,” I insisted. “There's a great job for you out there. Be patient.”
“I'm gonna try. Next time I'll do better at keeping my trap closed. Maybe I should bake cookies and bring them in with me. I make a wicked batch of peanut-butter cookies.”
“I bet you do.”
We ate lunch, and although Shawntelle put on a good face I knew she was discouraged. We walked back to the shop, and just after we entered I caught sight of a patch of blue pulling into the parking lot: Rocco's tow truck.
It seemed Kaylene had convinced him to come see me. I half expected Rocco to refuse. I almost wished he had. While I wanted to help the teenager, there was no reason Rocco would listen to me, especially if he hadn't with his own daughter.
“I need to talk to someone briefly,” I told Shawntelle. “This won't take long.”
“Sure thing, Sugar Pie.” She sifted through the rack of clothes and peered through the window.
By the time I was out the door, Rocco had climbed out of his truck. He met me in front of the shop.
“Kaylene said you wanted to talk to me.” He crossed his arms over his massive chest and braced his feet apart. He resembled the Jolly Green Giant, except he wasn't smiling. And he wasn't green.
“It's good to see you, Rocco,” I said, using a gentle tone.
He blinked and cautiously glanced toward me. “I know Kaylene told you about that father-daughter dance. I don't care what you say, I'm not changing my mind.”
This wasn't starting off well. “It means a lot to your daughter.”
He held firm. “I don't dance.”
“You don't really have to dance dance,” I assured him. “It isn't like it is on television, where you're going to be judged or asked to do complicated steps. This is just you and your daughter.”
“And about twenty others watching me make an ass of myself. It's not happening.”