Thanks are due as always to my editors, PapaKilo14 and Hal for the good work they do. My beta readers are Pixel the Cat, GeorgeAnderson and Olddave1951. I have an awesome team of kind and gracious gentlemen that keep me from looking stupid (any more than I do). Thanks guys, I love you. For those of you who know how regulated aircraft maintenance is, please allow me to take liberties with the facts. I know it isn't really like this.
It's easy to disappear when you have money. It's very difficult to find someone who doesn't want to be found, especially if you don't have money and they do. I know because I'm a ghost. I leave an electronic track every now and again, just to keep things interesting. I've been a ghost for five years. I'm not the spirit kind of ghost, I'm the kind that's flesh and blood, all right, you just can't find me unless I want you to. The ghost's name is Caine Brockman.
I'm an aircraft engine mechanic. Once I was the owner of a multi-million dollar business that repaired and maintained helicopter engines for the US military. When I disappeared, all the assets and cash were gone and the business was belly up.
A good mechanic can get a job at nearly any small airport in the country. I had to learn piston engines, but I had plenty of time. You show up at an airport and there's always a plane or two that's grounded. If you talk to the owner and find out how much it was going to cost to repair it, they are usually happy to talk price and pay cash for something good and cheap. Word spreads and I have all the work I want. I don't spend my money I've got stashed away, I just spend what I earn. That keeps me from making splashes that might be noticed. I don't pay taxes, don't have a bank account, Facebook or Twitter and my cell phones are pre-paid throwaways.
I can't rent a car because I don't have a credit card but I don't bother anyway. I own a motor home. It's in the name of a guy that died 20 years ago. I rent it from his wife. She'll never talk; I put her two kids through college after her husband died while he was working for me. She keeps up the license and taxes and I live in it. I also have a little scooter. It's classified as a bicycle so it doesn't require a license. When I get to where I want to be, I park the motor home in a park and ride the scooter. I stay in warm places so I don't have to worry about weather.
You may wonder why I'm a ghost. The answer is simple. I used to have a family. They might still be looking for me. I don't want them to find me.
Back when I had a family and a company, I took a chance. I was offered a contract to work overseas. My wife, Gwen, my two daughters, Allicent and Marisol who were sixteen and thirteen at the time, and I sat around the kitchen table and talked it over. It meant a lot of money. I figured that by the time I had been working the contract 18 months, we'd have enough to retire. Hell, I already had enough to retire. This was fuck you money. I'd be gone three months at a time and then home for a month. Everyone agreed that they could live without me for 18 months and then we'd be together all the time, permanently. It took eight months for the events to transpire that led to my ghosthood.
Gwen got lonely. There was no one there at night for her to snuggle up to. Her bed felt empty. She was emotionally unfulfilled. Apparently, the girls felt it, too. Not the empty bed, but all the rest of the bullshit I heard when I found out, and I found out. Fortunately for them, there was a football coach at the school where she worked as a secretary who also felt emotionally unfulfilled. He knew it was only a fling. His wife didn't know he was unfulfilled. She didn't understand him. He was a high school hero and he needed more than she could provide. They were very careful. They took all sorts of precautions because she loved and respected me. I just wasn't there and she had needs. There would be no repercussions; she respected me too much for that. Gwen didn't love him, she loved only me, but I wasn't there. They always used condoms, so there was no danger of pregnancy or STDs. Apparently, my daughters needed help with strength and conditioning. Gwen needed a cock and the two just happened to be wrapped up in one neat package.
It was also utter bullshit. I found out almost as soon as it started. One of my friends just happened to mention that he saw Gwen and the dickwad having dinner at an out of the way restaurant in a neighboring town. Of course, the first thing I did was get evidence. The PI had an easy job. He caught them at the local Holiday Inn. I authorized him to bug the house and our phones. Nothing ever happened at the house but the Holiday Inn was a different story. I had pictures and video evidence and I was ready. He did tell me that Gwen had ended the relationship, but at that point, I didn't give a damn. I made all my financial arrangements and flew home. She wept and vowed her eternal love and devotion. The girls cried and told me how much they loved me. I was their father, but their mother had explained it all to them. She had needs and it didn't mean anything. That was what hurt me more than anything. My daughters were my pride and joy. I had been the center of their universe and my little princesses were on the highest pedestals in that universe. We had been inseparable. We did everything together. If I went to the grocery store, they wanted to go. They had been so proud of me that they showed me off to their girlfriends and they were never too big to hug Daddy or embarrassed for me to put my arm around them in public. For them to justify their mother's actions in any way was inconceivable to me. I couldn't get my mind around it. I knew Gwen had twisted them up, but this pain was almost more than I could stand. Of course it was just sex, Gwen assured me. She loved only me and we would spend the rest of our lives together. I agreed that it was only sex, it didn't mean anything, that I was glad she had been so discreet and congratulated the girls on having such a mature attitude. I told them I would just take a little walk and clear my head.
I walked around the block and called a cab. It took me to the bank and I completed everything I had set up. I then caught another cab to the hangar and took the Bell Ranger. I headed southwest and my phone started ringing. I let it go to voicemail. I must have received more than a hundred calls and texts in the next eight hours. I saved them all to investigate later. By the time I landed in Texarkana I had a buyer set up for the chopper and Lilly met me with the motor home. The next time I stopped was in El Paso. I listened to all the voice mails and read all the texts.
They were curious at first, wondering where I was and what was taking so long. They wanted to go out to eat with me and celebrate my return. They grew concerned and then angry. The anger gave way to sorrow, then desperation and, finally, panic. They pleaded for me to call and just talk. They knew I must be upset. They would come and get me, wherever I was. It didn't matter what it took, they were going to make it up to me.
Then my parents and Gwen's got involved. I found out the depths of their complicity, too. They had known all along and they understood. I needed to just swallow my pride and accept that Gwen loved only me. I couldn't expect her to just sit around and wait for me. My girls needed me and I was just throwing away a wonderful life.
Well, it had been nice, but that was then. This was now and I knew just how big a castle in the sky I had built in my own mind. I cried like a baby, I cursed like a sailor. I decided to drink myself into oblivion. That lasted until the first time I woke up feeling like a dried cow turd. It wasn't the first time I'd woken up with a hangover after a drunken night, but it was definitely a new low. I decided this couldn't continue so instead of getting up to crawl to the bar for a little 'hair of the dog' I went back to sleep. I slept for 16 hours; when I woke it felt like a big, dark thing that had been weighing on my mind had vanished and left me strangely calm and more rested than I'd been in 20 years.
It felt good and I went to the diner and got breakfast. When I got back to the motor home, I went to the store and got a ream of paper. I had my laptop and I wrote letters to my former family. I laid out for them what I'd done. I told them I wished them luck with their new life. They couldn't keep the house. I'd taken out a home equity loan and on Gwen's salary; they could never make the payments. They would have no insurance unless she could get the girls on her policy at school. The leases on the cars wouldn't be paid, and unless Gwen could keep up, they'd soon be in default. They had ten days to get the utilities into Gwen's name and then they'd be turned off. I was gone and I wasn't coming back. Her lover's wife would be receiving a copy of all the evidence I had collected before the day was over, as would the school board members and parents at school. I never wanted to see them again.
My loving parents received their own set of letters. I wished them luck in their declining years and hoped they could console themselves with the fact that they still had a slut daughter-in-law and two faithless granddaughters they could commiserate with. I also included letters detailing their involvement to their pastor, Dad's brothers and Mom's sister. They were all religious folks and I knew some fancy dancing wouldn't get them out of that hot water.
I put the letters in boxes and dropped them at FedEx for overnight delivery. That brought on a fresh set of calls and texts. At first I was a cold, unfeeling bastard that deserved everything that had happened. As the reality of their situation set in, the tone changed again to pleading and protestations of undying love and devotion. Everything would be okay if only I could forgive them and give them a chance to make it up to me. I kept track for a week and then dropped the phone in an irrigation canal in southern New Mexico.
That was five years ago and I was working on a plane in Mesa, Arizona. I heard a car pull up outside the hangar and after a bit the door opened. I was laying half inside the engine compartment and I felt a tug on my pants leg. I wiggled out and there was a young couple standing and looking up at me. The young lady looked vaguely familiar.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
The young lady cleared her throat. "Dad," she said. "Don't you know who I am?"
It was Allicent! I didn't say anything; I just climbed down the ladder and went to wash my hands. They stood outside the restroom and waited. When I was done I walked past them and outside to my bike. She came running out as I was pulling away and she was calling something but I never caught it. I was taking down the awning on the motor home when a black BMW pulled up. She got out of the passenger door and the young man got out of the driver's side.
He started this time. "Mr. Brockman, you don't know me. My name is Andrew Waters. I'm Allicent's fiancé. We've been looking for you for a long time. Your family has been looking for you for five years."
I stopped rolling up the awning. "Why?" I asked. "I thought I made myself clear."
"You did, sir," he said, "quite clear. The problem is, I want very much to marry your daughter. When I learned the story of what happened I broke up with her. I felt like my heart had been torn out. I couldn't believe she had been a part of something so despicable and I wanted nothing to do with her. She didn't give up. She's really a very remarkable girl, sir. I think you'd like her if you got to know her. She asked me what it would take for her to get back to the place where we were before. I realized that what she had done to you was what kept me from accepting her back. She told me that she had been wishing for years that she could go back and change what had happened. That's impossible sir, but I told her she could straighten out what was going to happen in the future. I want to marry her and I want your blessing. I want to have children with her and I want them to have a grandfather. I want their grandfather to love our children and for them to love him. So, Allie is here to make that happen. If I leave her here, will you promise me that you'll give her a chance?"
I looked over at her. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was wringing her hands. She looked like she was about to pass out.
"How long were you planning to leave her?" I asked.
"At least a week," he said. "I was hoping for more like a month. I have business to attend to in South America. Can I leave her with you?"
I looked at her. She was beautiful. She reminded me so much of her mother. I felt the ground open under my feet and all those feelings of pain and anger came bubbling to the surface. I had put a bandage on that wound and now it was being torn off, leaving me raw and bleeding again. Her mother, she looked like her mother. God, how I hated that woman. Please, God, how I loved her. I didn't want to love her and everything about Allison just exposed me to the world as a fraud and a liar. Worst of all, I lied to myself every day for five years. I couldn't go through this again! I opened my mouth to say no and she took two steps toward me and fell on her knees at my feet. Her arms wrapped around my legs and she pressed her cheek against my thigh.
"Please, Daddy, I'm begging you," she sobbed. "Don't throw me away. I was sixteen years old. I was stupid and I'm so sorry. I've been living in hell ever since you left. Please don't punish me anymore. I've never stopped loving you. I'm so sorry and so sad and so full of remorse. Please, don't destroy me. You're the only one that can help me. I know what kind of man you are. I'm sorry I didn't know that all along. If you let me, I'll spend the rest of your life loving you and showing you how much I love you."
She clung to me, weeping softly and I looked at Andrew. He raised one eyebrow in question and I nodded. I reached down and pulled Allie up. "Give your fiancé something to remember for a month," I told her, pushing her toward him.
She threw herself into his arms, sobbing and laughing at the same time, giving him a kiss that made my toes curl. He held her tightly for a long moment and then disengaged. He took two suitcases and a bag out of the trunk, put them down and turned to me. "Take good care of her, sir," he said. "I'll be in touch."
She ran back to me and threw her arms around me. We watched together as the BMW drove away and she looked up at me hopefully. "Come on," I told her. "We need to get this awning back up."
We worked together and having something to do kind of kept the awkwardness at bay. By the time we got the utilities hooked back up and everything squared away, it was dinnertime.
That gave us something else to do and we talked about dinner and cooking. I had a pork tenderloin in the refrigerator and we sliced it up, breaded it and fried it. Allie peeled potatoes and mashed them and I made gravy in the skillet where I fried the tenderloin. We had corn on the cob to go with it and I gave her a beer. She said she didn't like beer, but I thought we could use the tension relief. We sat together on the sofa while we ate and talked about her life.
She was going to college. She had done a program in high school that paid for her first two years at a community college. She was getting ready to graduate and transfer her next semester. I asked her where she wanted to go and she told me she was going to one of the state board of regents' schools. She wanted to go to a small private school but even with scholarships and grants, she couldn't swing it.
I felt very guilty about that, but we'd see how it went. We had ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert and she was just like the little girl I remembered except a little pensive. She had the same cute little giggle and she had grown up to be a gorgeous young woman. I asked her if she wanted to watch something on TV but she said she just wanted to talk to me.
"I have so many things I want to tell you," she said. "I've been wanting to tell you for years. I'm so sorry, Dad. I know it's my fault but I've needed you so bad."
She cried a little bit and I pulled her over against me. She leaned against me and curled her legs up like she did when she was little. I knew none of this had been her fault, she was just caught up in the explosion. I had my princess back and it felt really, really good. I had to ask about Marisol.
"She's okay," Allie said. "She misses you as much as I do. We were wrong, Dad. We know that now. I wish I had just thrown a fit when Mom started hanging out around that asshole. I should have tried to stop her. I should have told you. I know that now, but I was confused and stupid and she made it all sound so reasonable. It would just be while you were gone and then everything would be happy again, except it wasn't. I think Mari would come and stay with you in a minute if you would let her. She kind of hates Mom. She feels like ... we both feel like she manipulated us. I know we should have done better, but we weren't thinking right. Do you think you'll ever want to talk to Mari, Dad?"
"Maybe," I said. "We'll see. Let's just figure you and me out and then we'll worry about other stuff. How did you find me, Allie?"
"I didn't," she said. "Andrew did. He's kind of rich, Dad. His uncle is some kind of government spook. He hired lots of detectives. He would hire some and then fire them when they couldn't find you. It took us two years. The last company had men hanging out around airfields, hoping to get some word about you. We found some people you'd worked for and they gave us other people until, here I am."
"Yes, here you are," I looked down at her all curled up against me. "I've missed you, Allie. I feel cheated. I feel like all the best years of my life got cut out with a dull knife and I'm just left with only the bleeding pieces."
She began to cry again. "I know, Daddy. I feel the same way. The difference is I was helping hold the knife. I just feel so good being with you like this. I'm a Christian, Daddy. I became one when I was seventeen and I've been praying for four years that I'd find you someday and you'd let me be your daughter again. I promise that if you do, you'll never regret it. Will you?"
I squeezed her tight. "Yes, baby. We just need to get connected again. I always figured you just hated me and had no respect for me. I never thought you'd want me again."
She looked horrified. "My God, Daddy, no! That's not true at all. I always loved you. You were always my hero." She sobbed a little. "I can't imagine how hurt you must have been. It wasn't until I met Andrew that I realized what Mom had done to you. I started thinking about what I would feel like if he did to me what Mom did to you, what we all did to you."
"Okay, baby, I get it," I told her.
"No, Dad, I need to say this. I have literally been living in hell for five years. After you left, I knew it was partially my fault. It was mostly Mom's but it was partly mine. I felt so bad about myself and I hated her. We had nothing. We barely ate, we got our clothes at the thrift store, we lived in crappy, dump apartments and we cried every day. The worst part was knowing we were getting exactly what we deserved."
I was feeling awful now. All that rage and anger and pain that had driven me was gone. I began to realize what a huge mistake I had made. I never gave my girls a chance. They had just been children and I'd treated them like they were as guilty as Gwen was. It still rankled that they had taken her side and supported her, but they were just kids. I still felt like I was justified in what I did, but it all now seemed futile and hollow. "I'm sorry, Allie, I just didn't feel like the three of you left me many options," I told her.
"I understand," she said. "My only hope was that someday I would find you and you would forgive me. Can you forgive me, Daddy?"
"Yes, Allicent, I know this wasn't your fault. You just got caught up in the explosion. I don't know if I could have a few years ago, but now I can." I sat for a minute and we said nothing while thoughts whirled through my mind. "Allie, I need for you to forgive me, too. I had no right to do what I did to you and Mari. I completely failed you as a man and a father. No matter what you did, you were my babies and I should have taken care of you. I should have kept track of you and made sure you had the things you needed. I was just so angry and so hurt that I couldn't get over it. Will you forgive me, sweetheart?"
"Oh, yes, Daddy!" she said. "I would probably have done the same thing or worse if I had been in your place. Where do we go from here?"
"Let's just take baby steps. I like your fiancé a lot," I told her. "He seems like a great guy. How did you meet him?"
She spent a long time telling me that story and by the time she finished it was getting late. There's not much space in an RV, but I did have two good beds. There's a third, but it isn't so good. There's not enough room in the bathroom for two people, so I went off to the facilities at the RV Park and she used the one in the RV. By the time I got back, she was ready for bed and she kissed me goodnight.
"I'm so happy, Daddy," she said as she hugged me. "It feels like a big black cloud has been lifted off me. I love you and thank you for giving me a chance."
I squeezed her tight. "Thank you for not giving up," I said. "We're going to make it, baby."
That was one of the best weeks of my life. I don't ever remember spending a week alone with Allicent, just her and me. She was an amazing young woman. We got comfortable around each other and by the end of the first week, we were pals. We didn't spend a single minute apart and we fell in love all over again. She made me feel like the king of the world. Andrew called her every couple of days and he talked to me twice. I liked him more than I ever believed I would like one of my daughters' boyfriends. On Monday, she told me she needed to call Marisol and her mother to let them know that she was okay.
"Daddy, can I tell Mari I found you?" she asked.
"How is that going to work?" I asked. "How are you going to do that without your mother finding out?"
"I was thinking about telling her, too," she said.
I stiffened up immediately and she jumped up and came to sit on my lap. She wound her arms around my neck and I relaxed.
"Dad, aren't you tired of hiding and running? How is it going to work when Andrew and I get married? I want you to give me away. I want you in my life. How can that happen if you don't face things and just get it over? Are you afraid of Mom?"
"Terrified," I admitted. "Do you think she'll try to go after me? I pretty much stripped everything I could get my hands on. I expect she could cause some legal problems for me if she wanted to."
"I don't think that's going to happen," she said. "If it does, you can just disappear again. This time, you can't disappear from me though. I'll even help you. I'll test the water and find out what Mom is thinking. Will you trust me?"
"I do trust you, Allie," I told her. "I don't trust your mother. I need to think about this."
"Can I at least tell Mari that you'll talk to her, that she can see you?" she asked.
"Yes, but it won't be right away. Jesus, Allie, I'm just getting used to you; let me go slow. Give me a chance to get back into Dad mode, okay?"
She nodded. "Yes, I'm so sorry that I ever let you get out of it."
"I believe you, honey," I said. "Stop apologizing. It's over and we're building something else. I'm falling in love with the amazing woman you've become."
She just melted against me and we held each other, talking and whispering for hours. It was time for her to call and she let me listen. She called Marisol's phone and they talked for a few minutes. Finally, Mari couldn't wait any longer.
"Did you find him?" she asked.
"Yes, Mari," Allie said. "He's just as awesome as we remembered."
"What did he say?" Mari asked. "When he saw you, was he still mad? Did he ask about me?"
"Yeah, I found him and he didn't say a word," Allie said. "He just walked out and left us standing there. We followed him to where he was staying and Drew talked to him. I think he was just going to disappear but I literally crawled over, held him by the legs and begged him not to throw me away. He let me stay, Mari, and it's been the best week of my life."
"Did he say anything about me?" Mari asked. "Is he going to let me talk to him?"
"Yes, but not right now," Allie said. "I'm trying to figure out some way we can get you together with him without Mom finding out."
"I have no idea how to do that," Mari said. "What, are we going to sneak around? That's what started all this to begin with. Are we going to become Mom?"
"No, of course not," Allie said. "I don't know what to do either. Let me talk to Dad and we'll figure something out."
They talked for a while longer and Gwen got on the line. She insisted that she wanted to know where Allicent was and what she was doing.
"Mom, I'm an adult," Allie said. "I don't have to account to you for my whereabouts. I'm doing something personal and it's none of your business. I'm just calling you to let you know that I'm fine, I'm busy and I'll probably be here for a while. Andrew brought me here and he knows where I am."
"I'm going to make Mari tell me," Gwen said.
"Well, good luck with that," Allie said. "If she tells me that you've been bullying her I won't call you again. Mother, I love you, but this is something I have to do and I expect you to respect me and trust me enough to let me do it."
"Allicent, are you looking for your father again?" Gwen asked. "Have you found him; is that what you're doing? If you have, baby, please tell me. I won't ask where he is. Just tell me he's alive and ask him to please, please talk to me. Tell him I'm so sorry and I've changed. You know I have, Allie. Please tell him. Please, Allie, I'm begging you. If you have a shred of love for me, ask him to talk to me."
Allie looked at me and raised one eyebrow. I nodded and she mouthed a thank you to me.
"Okay, Mom. Yes, I've found him. He's alive and well and I'm with him. If you let Mari come and see him, maybe he'll talk to you. I'll ask him, okay?"
There was the sound of wracking sobs and incoherent attempts to speak for a while. Finally, she got control of herself enough to speak. "Thank you, God," she breathed. "Thank you, Allicent. Yes, of course I'll let Marisol come and see him. I won't ask any questions, just please, please find some way for me to talk to him. I'll do anything. I won't cause any problems, I swear to God I won't."
"Okay, Mom, I'll ask him," Allie said. "Love you, and tell Mari I love her. I'll let you know." She ended the call and looked at me for a minute.
I could tell she was looking for approval but I was kind of frozen. I couldn't move or speak and my mind was whirling. I was almost in a panic. I felt as if I should jump up, push Allie out the door and drive away as fast as I could. I think she saw it in my eyes and she ran over and sat on my lap, holding onto me like I was a life preserver and she was drowning. I felt like I was the one that was drowning.
"Just give me a minute to catch my breath," I told her.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," she apologized. "I know this is such a shock to you. It must feel like your whole life is being turned upside down again. Just tell me this: have you been happy for the last five years?"
"I've been okay," I said. "Well, no, that's a lie. No, of course I haven't been happy. I live in a freaking RV; I was cut off from everyone and everything I loved. I've been living like a fugitive. The only relationships I've had are short term and I felt like I was just filling time until I died. Hell no, Allicent, I haven't been happy. What did you think?"
I was nearly yelling by the time I finished and she cringed down a little, but she just took it. "It's okay, Dad," she said. "I understand and I know it's partly my fault. I know I deserve anything you say to me," she was crying again.
Damn, every time I opened my mouth I was making her cry. I guess all that bottled up anger and hurt was bubbling up. I had thought I didn't have those feelings any more. I guess I was wrong. I had to get a grip on that because I was hurting Allie and that's the last thing I wanted to do. I hugged her tightly.
"I'm sorry, baby; I didn't mean to yell at you. What were you saying?"
"I've been so worried about you. You're fifty-two years old. You're not getting any younger and I need you around close to me so I can take care of you."
I laughed. "You make it seem like I'm ready for the nursing home! I don't need to be taken care of; I need to take care of you, not the other way around."
"Yes, but I want to be able to see you all the time," she said. "Mari is dying without you. I'm worried about her, Dad. She's been getting more and more depressed and wild ever since you left. Mom is just a mess, did you know that?"
"No, I didn't know that. I don't keep track of her, Allie. It's not my fault, whatever happens to her. We sat down and talked about what was going to happen before I ever left on that job. You know that; you were there. If anyone had been unhappy with it, I wouldn't have done it. You all agreed. Gwen agreed. It was going to be 18 months, I was going to retire and we were all going to be together for good. Jesus Christ, Allie, it was 18 months! If she was so unhappy, why didn't she just tell me and I'd have never done it?"
"I don't know," she said. "I think she believed you would never know, things would just go back to normal and we'd all just ride off into the sunset. I know she didn't love the creep. He was just a warm body, Dad. Do you know that she hasn't been with anyone since you left?"
"No, I didn't know that. I told you I don't keep track of her, Allie. Why are you telling me this?"
"I know you don't want to hear it, Dad, but she has changed. She's worked like a dog to keep everything together. She lost her job at the school and so did the creep. She worked 3 to 11 at the hospital and then got up and went to college every day for four years. She's an RN now and she makes good money. She's made Mari and me her life. She hasn't been on a date, she doesn't socialize, nothing. She works and works out and comes home, that's it. She still loves you, you know."
"No, I don't know," I said. "I don't know that she ever did. Why would I think that?"
"Because of what she's done since you left. She pulled herself together and did what she needed to do to keep food on the table. She never went on a single date. She never tried to divorce you, even though she could have when you abandoned us. I think for the first couple of years she thought you would be coming back every day. She kept her hopes up, but she's been getting more and more desperate. She tried everything she could think of to find you. She would get her tax refund and spend every dime on detectives. Money was very tight for a long time, but she would save and pinch pennies so she could try to find you. She cries every night when she's alone in her room or when she thinks Mari and I can't see her. She works out obsessively. I asked her why once and she said that when you came back she didn't want it to be to a fat, saggy old woman. I'm afraid that she'd almost given up hope. I've been afraid she was going to take her own life. I think she was just holding on until Mari and I were on our own. I've been scared to death, Daddy."
That didn't really answer my question, but it gave me something to think about. Would a woman who didn't love me have gone through all that? Why hadn't she divorced me or found someone to replace me? Plainly, Allie thought this was information I needed to have, but the question was still hanging there.
I have to admit that I was a little shocked. I just figured Gwen was a slut and she'd be hooked up with the next guy with a hard on before I was out of town. She couldn't wait 18 months and now Allie was telling me she hadn't been with a man in five years? It just didn't make sense. Gwen had always been a magnet for men. They swirled around her like a swarm of bees and she was the honey. Now she had no social life and didn't date? Either I was wrong about her or she just got better at hiding her affairs.
"Baby, are you sure you know what's going on with your mother?" I asked. "I was gone for just a few months and she was ... sleeping with that asshole. Now you're telling me that she hasn't been with a single man for five years?"
"Well, for the first few years she didn't have time," Allie explained. "She was working full time in the afternoons and going to school during the day. I expect she was exhausted. She was also dealing with two very angry daughters and the knowledge that she'd thrown away her marriage and her life just so she could fuck the asshole."
"Allie!" I exclaimed. "I don't like you to use words like that!"
"Sorry, Daddy, but that's what it was," she laughed. "I don't use words like that, but that's the only thing that fits. She didn't love him; she claims that she's never loved anyone but you. She was just horny and you weren't there. He was just a walking dildo."
"Well, I'd just as soon she had used one that didn't have legs and a chrome dome attached to it," I said.
Allie howled with laughter. "Yeah, me too. You can't imagine how it griped my soul to have to be civil with that jerk at school. Do you think you can talk to her, Daddy?"
I could feel my stomach churning. I knew this was coming but I had been refusing to face it. Could I talk to her? Would I be calm and dispassionate or would all that rage take over and just try to destroy her? What would I say? Sorry, you're a slut and I can never forgive you? I'm still desperately in love with you? Fuck you, Gwen, I never want to see you again? Can you forgive me for never giving you a chance to fix anything? I had it to do, but my ambivalence was overwhelming.
"I have no idea what I'd say," I told her. "I have no idea what she'd say either. What is there to say? We agreed that I should go. If she'd given me the slightest indication that it wouldn't be okay, I would never have gone. Somehow, 'I'm sorry, ' just doesn't seem adequate."
"I understand," she said. "I don't know what she wants to say. Maybe she wants to unsay some things. That line we handed you sounds a lot lamer to a twenty-one-year-old than it did to a sixteen-year-old. Maybe she wants to take that back. You'll never know until you hear it. At the very least, you'll fix things so you can be a part of my life and Mari's life again. I need that so badly, Daddy. Mari does too. I worry about her."
"Anything I need to be concerned about?" I asked.
"Of course you need to be concerned," she said. "She's your daughter."
She felt me stiffen at that remark and she was instantly contrite. "Oh, my God, I can't believe I just said that. I'm so sorry, Daddy. I know we don't have any right to expect you to feel like that."
I relaxed. "No, it's okay, baby. You're right. I've been a terrible father. If I'm going to be around, I need to be concerned. It just felt for a long time like none of you were concerned about me."
"No, that's not true," she protested. "There was that short time when I was so stupid and I know that I just didn't think about you. Before, and after, you were the most important person in the world to me. Mari feels like that too. So does Mom. God, Daddy, you're all I've thought about for five years. Well, for the last four years, I've thought about Drew too, but I'm very concerned about you. Don't ever think I'm not. I swear I'll never give you a reason to feel like that again."
She snuggled up against me and I squeezed my princess. "It's a lot to get used to again," I said. "What's Mari doing that I should be concerned about?"
"You'll have to get her to tell you," she said. "I think once she gets a chance to see you and to know you still love her she'll be fine. You do still love us, don't you Dad?"
I kissed the top of her head. "Yes, I do, Angel. I never stopped loving you. I fell in love with you the first time I felt you moving around inside your mother. The first time I held you at the hospital I cried like a baby. I didn't ever want to let you go. I was ready to fight the nurses when they tried to take you back to the nursery. I felt the same way when Mari was born. Look what you've become, too." I looked down at my beautiful daughter. "You're just a gorgeous woman. Andrew is a lucky man. You have a beautiful personality and you're as smart as your mother."
"She can be pretty dumb sometimes," she giggled. "Daddy, what are we going to do? We need a plan."
We hashed one out. I still had a couple of months of work to do before I would be free. It was late spring and Allie was already out of college. Mari would be out in two weeks, just about the time Andrew was expecting to come back. We decided that Allie would fly out to meet him and Mari would come and stay with me until I had my obligations cleared up. When I was free to leave, she would drive back with me and I'd see about arranging to see them on a regular basis.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours, my brain spinning a million miles an hour but unable to get any traction. I got up and got a bottle of water. Allie was asleep and I watched her for a minute, thoughts swirling through my head. Her lips were slightly parted and the covers rose and fell with her breathing. God, she was perfect! I marveled at her. How could such flawed people as her mother and me produce that? I went back to bed and worried.