Two years. That's how long it had been since I had last seen Dad. Two long, long years. It would have been okay if Dad had been a drunk, a recovering addict or a reformed convict, but it wasn't any one of those reasons. The last time I had seen Dad was at his wedding - to a twenty-one year old girl called Susan. I was nineteen at that time.
I had walked away from that wedding with just a perfunctory 'Best Wishes', and as much as I knew that Dad was hurt, my selfishness made my feelings paramount, and I had resolved at that moment not to have anything to do with my Dad or his bride - God forbid that I have to call her Mom or Stepmom - and had managed to keep up my part of the bargain. Dad tried to chat me up a few times, but as soon as he mentioned Susan, I would either hang up or excuse myself icily.
I wanted to convey my message in no uncertain terms. His bimbo was not welcome into my life.
So why was I here, in front of the huge, palatial house that I had grown up in?
While Dad was enjoying his married life with his young 'maiden', Mom had finally managed to ensnare an old pervert, and he was as rich as he was dirty. Obviously, for if he had been a pauper, Mom would have hardly given him the time of the day. And when the old geezer suffered his third heart-attack for the summer, Mom agreed to marry the poor bastard.
And then they left on a semi-permanent vacation to Hawaii.
Academic prospects in the Keys are not such a hot thing, especially when you are brought up in the hustle and bustle of Queen's, and reluctantly, I made the call to my father. Could I stay with them for a couple of weeks? He was ten times more thrilled than I was about the visit.
Don't get me wrong, though. I love my father. I have loved him since the day I was born, and I must admit I felt kind of cheated when he married a girl old enough to be my sister. My limited worldly knowledge at the time of his marriage did not have a very high opinion of girls like those, who were, in my opinion, bounty-hunters. I met her once before the wedding, and even though she was as nice and cheerful as possible, I managed to be as rude a stepdaughter as possible.
Unfortunately, I thought at the time, it hadn't been enough to break up their engagement.
Now, with two years of the real living behind me, that childish prejudice stood proved by the flash of the society. My mother was the best example I could come up with, and Mrs.Susan Alexander was a close second.
"Hello, Lisa. Come on in," greeted my 'stepmother' at the door.
I shot her a cold stare, but smiled sarcastically nonetheless. "Sure thing," I said, "Thanks for the invitation."
"Now that was uncalled for," a cheerful voice came from behind the door, followed by the person himself. "Why do you always have to be so sarcastic to Susan?"
I flushed at the chide - he sees me for the first time in two years, and all he does is defend his wife. I was getting pissed off.
"Come on now, Alex," Susan broke in with a smile. "The girl just arrived... Give her a break. All of us have to adjust, you know. And it's not easy with you pulling her up for every little thing like this."
Dad smiled back at her, and I seethed with - I admit it - jealousy. However, the momentary loss of face in front of Susie was quickly forgotten as I squealed in delight and jumped into his inviting arms. "Daddy! It's so good to see you. It's been two years..."
"Wasn't my fault," he pointed out.
"Alex," Susan began with a warning note, and Dad immediately apologized. I replied that it was quite all right, that he was forgiven. Not once did I apologize for my indifference to Susan, though, but she did not rake up the issue.
I must say I was surprised with her cool attitude. Two years in the high circuits can be pretty intoxicating for young brides, and I had really expected something totally different from what I had found. She was dressed in a simple shirt and jeans - not the leather-washed, shiny version of what the seven mill dollar a year families wear, but the type that you would expect to find on your neighbor.
Also missing were her sunglasses, which for some reason, I had thought she would be wearing inside the house. Lipstick, lipgloss, eyeliner, mascara... surprisingly, they were missing too. The air about her was not the artificial intimacy demanded by society, but the warm, happy environment of a friend.
I hated her!
Granted, so she was not the high society witch that I had thought she was... or would turn into. In fact, I hadn't even thought that she would be carrying their baby for the full term - I knew a couple of women who aborted theirs because it would ruin their figures! - but she seemed to be proud of the fact that she was three months and looked like it.
You could sense she wanted to be a mother. And she certainly looked like on her way to become one.
If the thought of her being rich and sophisticated had villianised her in my eyes, her simple and homely approach was even more infuriating. Just because I had predicted that she would change and show her true spots, and my prophecy had not come true, I had to make the conclusion - she was setting my father up for an even bigger fall.
My friends have often told me that my biggest asset has been my ability to read a character truly even when I was angry. They also mentioned that my greatest fault was in my stubbornness about the people I didn't particularly care about, and how I would look for ways to discredit their good intentions.
"Why don't you go into your room and freshen up, dear?" Susan asked me.
It had been my house at first - the house where I had been born, where I said my first word, walked my first step, the place where I had spent seventeen years of my life until Mom moved out, taking me along with her. And now this usurper was inviting me to my own room. The nerve!
I guess I snapped.
"I know the way around this house, Susan, so thank you. Let me remind you that before you whored your way into my father's house, my Mom and I were living here. And if you think you can invite me into my own house, sister, you've got another think coming."
And for two seconds, there was nothing else.
The slap stunned me - my own Dad had actually slapped me right across my face! Over some lousy bitch! I didn't know what actually hurt me more - the ringing in my ears, or the fact that I was humiliated in front of Susan. If looks could kill, Dad would have been a widower right then. I made no disguise of my animosity towards my Dad's second wife.
Dad, on the other hand, was solely concentrating on me. He was angry, so angry that I didn't want to risk facing him. He would have none of that crap, though, and caught my arm gruffly. It was the roughest I had seen of him in over a decade. He turned me around to face him, and then drew his face near, its handsome features distorted by the menace in them.
"Now listen, here, young lady," he shook my arm as he spoke, "I have put up with your attitude so far, but the ride ends here. Either you apologize and make up with Susan this instant, or you take your bags and go out the way you came. I am not going to sit by and listen to you insult my wife in such a way, got that?"
I quivered under his outrage, and shrunk in his arms. Dad raised his arms for another slap, but a sharp cry from Susan stopped him.
"Alex! What the hell do you think you are doing? That's your daughter, not some street punk."
Dad started to say something, but she indignantly cut him off. "Take your hands off her, and let her go to her room. Now!"
She turned to me, pointedly ignoring Dad. "Go to your room, Lena. I am sorry it happened, and I think your father and I need to have a little talk." Her voice made it clear that it would be my head she bit off if I didn't do as I said, so I just made my way up the stairs. I was conscious of her sympathetic eyes on me as I started to sob.
"For God's sakes, Alex! Why did you have to do that for?" I heard her say as I made my way up the stairs.
"You heard her - she insulted you, and no matter how much she doesn't appreciate the fact that I married you out of love, no daughter of mine is going to talk to someone that way. I am sorry, Sue..."
"To me? It's Lena you should apologize to - I know she insulted me, but hell, if my father married a girl just two years my senior, I would be angry too. I can understand her feelings, and she needs to have some time to get back into our family... even though I was the one who came in last.
"She needs to do it alone, you understand, and that does not require that you whip her ass every time she talks back to me. Hell, I am more a sister to her than a stepmother. If she doesn't like me, fine - that's my loss. Remember this Alex - she was your daughter for nineteen years before I even featured in your dreams, and I am sorry that I caused all this."
"You didn't, baby. She did -"
"Stop it! She doesn't take the blame any more than you do, and it's as open and shut as that. She is twenty-one, Al. She is her own woman, and she has her own likes and dislikes, and she has the freedom to express herself. Besides, every time you beat her, she wouldn't think of it as a punishment from you; she would think I manipulated you into hating your own daughter."
"I guess you are right - but to have her talk to you this way, especially since you were once willing to delay the engagement until she agreed..."
.... There is more of this story ...