It isn’t rush hour but the traffic is still steady, the normal hustle and bustle of cars and pedestrians surrounding me. Only a couple more blocks and I’ll be at dad’s office building; he’s a defense attorney for a successful local law firm. Dad has had me walk to his office every day after school since mom died. I think it’s juvenile and slightly embarrassing but I agreed to let the topic go, we’ve been through enough without fighting about something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. Staying together as a family and remaining close as father and daughter means much more than getting to my room right after school.
I reach the three story office building and walk up the cement steps to the entrance. The lobby still has a few people, including the receptionist, Jen, a homey brunette who sits behind a desk against the wall on the left, with the elevators on the right. She smiles and waves at me and I do the same back to her, so I don’t seem rude. I may not be in a social mood, but I’ve gotten to know some of the people in this building so there’s no reason to brush them off. Especially Jen, she’s always been sweet. I make my way to the elevators and push the up button. The doors open immediately and I walk in, pushing the number three. As the doors close, I listen to the boring elevator music while I wait to reach the top floor, when the elevator slows down and the doors open. To get to my dad’s office, you walk straight down the hall, take a right, and it’s the first door on the left. I’ve walked the path so often that it’s all muscle memory now.
It seems like no one is left on this floor, it’s really quiet. I walk slowly and take the right towards my dad’s office. I’m only a few feet away when I notice the door is ajar and I can hear whispering coming from inside. I look over at the desk on the other side of the office door where his secretary, Paulette, is supposed to be seated, but she’s not there. Her blond, medium length hair and blue eyes have always been there to greet me before. Dad doesn’t usually have meetings this late without letting me know, and he always keeps his door shut. I take a couple steps towards the door and I’m standing right in front of it, I can hear the two clearly now. It sounds like they are arguing about something…
“Paulette, stop!” I’ve never heard my dad angry before, he was always laid back before mom passed away, and seemed calm and collected after he had time to grieve, but he was definitely upset about something. I kneel down on the floor so I can get closer and hear him better, maybe even see what’s going on inside his office. He speaks again, softly this time. “I told you, I can’t do this anymore with you…”
“Oh, come on Don,” Paulette says in a flirty tone. She takes a step toward dad, his back to her. “It’s just a kiss. It’s been over two years since your wife died; I think we’ve waited long enough to go public.” She is standing within a foot of my dad again, and I bet he could feel her breath on the back of his neck.
“I told you before Mae died that I was over our relationship and I wanted to devote myself to my family. I loved my wife. I need to look out for my daughter now. I didn’t want to continue a relationship with you then and I don’t want to now.” He places his right hand on his desk and leans on it, his guilt weighing him down. He places is left on his forehead as if he’s trying to hide the shame he feels.
“Don…” She walks over and puts her hands on dad’s shoulders, gently massaging them, and talks to him in a soothing tone as if she’s trying to calm a crying baby. Dad looked pretty worn down, but talking to him as if he was a baby was a bit of overkill and condescending. “You told me you loved me back then, and I believed you. You once told me that you would leave her and be with me. You wanted her out of the way and she is now. We don’t have to rush into anything if you’re not –“
My ring-tone blares just at that point letting me know I received a text message. I jump back from the door so they don’t see me watching them. I stand and open my phone looking at the screen. As I walk into the office, I pretend I had just arrived at his door. I stare at my phone trying to fake a look of indifference and boredom on my face as if I didn’t just overhear how my dad had an affair with his secretary before mom died…it didn’t even matter how long it had gone on for, the thought of dad and the blond slut, Paulette making out made me dry heave. I did my best to hold it back so I wouldn’t look abnormal. I gracefully played it off as a cough.
“Hey dad,” I say to him as I walk over to the small couch against the opposite wall of his office and plop down onto it. For a couch meant as decoration, it was pretty darn comfy. His desk is over to the right side of the room as you walk in the door. Paulette and dad are standing in front of it.
“Uh, hey sweetie,” dad replies, anxiously. I can hear in his voice that he’s worried I might have overheard something. I guess he doesn’t want his daughter to know he has a dark past of adultery and betrayal. He wants to seem like the perfect father figure. Paulette takes a step back from dad so they are out of each other’s personal space, more of a professional manner. “Miss Simmons, can you please grab the file I asked you for before you leave for the day? The, uh, Jacobson file?” He was trying hard to seem as if they were only talking about business, but he is extremely uncomfortable, and clearly trying to push her out of his office.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Walker, right away. Hey Nora,” Paulette says, a little tense, as she walks toward the door.
“Hey Paulette, good to see you,” I reply to her, trying to seem normal. Would I normally respond to her like that?
She exits and it’s completely silent between dad and I in the room while we wait for her to grab this mysterious file for him. He walks around and sits at his desk, looking at his computer screen, probably pretending to look at emails. He’s trying to distract himself so he doesn’t seem so shaken up by what Paulette was trying to push on him. I take the time to look at the text message I received and it was from Mara, asking if I had gotten home yet. I respond to her saying no, but I’m hoping to be soon and that I had something to tell her. I push send as Paulette walks back into the room. I wonder if she was actually looking for the Jacobson file or if she was just rearranging papers.
“Here’s the file Mr. Walker. I’ll see you on Monday.” She places the file on his desk and turns toward the door. She smiles and waves good bye to me as she walks away from dad. I stare at my phone, but see her turn back to look at my dad as she stands in the doorway. Is that longing on her face, or anger? Maybe determination; whatever it was, she wants desperately to tell dad a secret but holds it back. Did she want to admit something to him? I can’t think about it now, not while I need to make it look like I’m still in the dark about my dad having an affair. She turns and leaves, shutting the door behind her. I turn to my dad and try to act as normal as possible.
Holy crap, what do I normally say to dad right now?
“So…how much work do you have left to do?” I ask him. Hopefully that’s what I would normally say if I hadn’t just found out my dad is a cheating bastard…it was getting really difficult to hide my anger. Every second in this room with him was making my anger grow like a weed in a garden. I only had to keep my cool until I got home. I took a deep breath to center myself and keep my poker face on to fool dad just a little bit longer.
“Uh…yeah, I just need to…” he mumbles and scrambles about his desk, looking for something to grab on to for an excuse. Failing, he continues his distracted thoughts, “Yeah, I have the file from – I have the file I need so we can go. How does McDonald’s sound for dinner, sweetie?” He doesn’t look me in the eye, he keeps his focus on the papers on his desk, and then the briefcase.
“Yippee, fast food again…” He didn’t hear what I said. He just anxiously walks around his desk and gestures for me to move my butt and get out of the office. He locks the door behind us before we make our way to the car, as he always does.
I love fast food as much as the next teenager, but after mom died, dad went on a sort of bender. We had fast food or pizza delivered three nights a week for a good four months after mom died, and the other four days of the week, I ended up fending for myself. Now I know that it wasn’t just sadness over her death, it was a lot of guilt as well for his affair with Paulette. I wonder how long before mom passed when he told her he was going to focus more on his family?
Either way, he was so distraught over her death he couldn’t leave his office. There’s a futon in his home office for guests, but he didn’t spend one single night in his bedroom after mom passed until six months after the funeral. It was not fun to watch. I did my best to make him meals and make sure he showered, but there’s only so much a 15 year old girl can do. I really don’t want to go back to that dark place we were in. My dad may have lied to me, lied to mom, and betrayed our family, but he’s still my dad and I still love him. He made the decision to end the relationship and devote his time to us in the end. He’s stepped up to the plate to make sure I have a parental figure in my life, so no matter what I will always care about him. I don’t think I can go through that again if dad reverts back.