"I don't think this was a good idea, Sandi," Linda Griffin said in a cold voice as she tossed aside her napkin and stood. Her words fell into one of those odd hushes that occasionally fall over even the most crowded of rooms.
And crowded didn't do justice to the state of Governor's Park. It was Valentine's Day and twice the number of tables as usual had been crammed into the dining room to accommodate the many happy couples, and the odd family. The eyes of all but the most lovesick followed Linda as she stalked out of the restaurant.
Conversation began to buzz again. Tom Griffin, left alone at the table with his daughter, saw her eyes begin to fill. "I'm sorry, Sandi," he said simply, taking her hand. "I know you wanted this to work."
Sandi looked up, tear-streaked face accusatory. The divorce had hit her hard. "Did you?"
"Did I what?" Tom blinked, confused.
"Want it to work?" She'd arranged a special Valentine's Day dinner, taking advantage of the President's Day holiday to come home from Pepperhill. She'd made sure that Sam and Chris weren't there, figuring that the fewer the distractions, the less likely her parents would find something to fight about. She wouldn't have come herself, if she thought her mother and father would show up without her.
"Of course I did, honey," he said, making sure not to meet her eyes. "It's not like I wanted to get divorced."
"But you did." Her tone was flat.
"I'm sorry, honey. It's just that your mother and I don't get along anymore."
"You got along for a while tonight."
"For about fifteen minutes." He sighed. "That's been our limit since Chris stopped wearing diapers. We just don't have anything in common. It's just that we've gotten tired of pretending."
"You got tired? Just got bored with your little marriage, did you?" Sandi blinked back tears. "How perfectly selfish of you. What about Sam and Chris?"
Tom counted to ten. He'd already lost his temper with Linda tonight. He was not going to lose his temper with Sandi. "What about them?"
"Well, it's not like I need parenting, now. I'm an adult and on my own." She wouldn't meet his eyes, either. "But Sam and Chris are still at home. They still need both parents."
"Sandi, Sam and Chris helped talk us into it. It's gotten so much worse since you left for college..." He trailed off, remembering whole weeks of cold silence punctuated by the sharp shock of raging, day-long arguments. Sam and Chris had taken to staying with friends whenever possible.
Sandi had gone almost purple with rage, but with a great effort, she controlled it. "You seemed fine when I came back over the summer."
"We tried to put a good face on it when you were home. Helen Morgendorffer recommended a marriage counselor and she seemed to be working for a little while." With a wince, he added, "Until we had a huge fight in her office right after you left. I stopped going after that, and that's when your brothers confronted us. They told us they couldn't live with us the way we were and that if we were going to get a divorce, we should just do it." He'd actually been rather proud of them.
The rage seemed to drain out of Sandi as he spoke. Finally, in a dead voice, she asked, "So why'd you come tonight, then? You know it was over. You both wanted it to be over. Why come?"
"I came for you, Sandi. Remember the Bruce Springsteen song I used to sing you when you were little?" He smiled at the memory, and sang softly. "I came for you/for you/I came for you." His daughter's stony face told him that she wasn't enjoying this little stroll down memory lane, so he stopped. "I came because you asked me, and I would try anything for you. That's what daddies do for their little girls."
"Dad, I..." Sandi struggled for a moment, before giving up and putting her head in her hands. She began to weep softly.
Tom stood to put his arms around his daughter. "Shhh, shhh. It'll be okay."
"I'm sorry," she whispered into his shoulder, as she cried.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," he said. "You did everything right, pumpkin, and I love you. I'm just sorry it's not a very happy Valentine's Day for you."
She cried for a moment more before looking up at him. "I love you too, Daddy."
At a nearby table, Jake Morgendorffer put a hand on his wife's arm. "It's not our business, Helen."
Helen Morgendorffer, who had been on the verge of rising, settled back into her seat. "I know, Jake. It's just that she's Quinn's friend."
"And if I know our Quinn, she's already been a huge help to Sandi." Jake smiled at his wife. "After all, we have a couple of great kids."
"We do, don't we?" Helen smiled back, and the Morgendorffers continued eating. But both Morgendorffers thought back on years on marriage counselors and intimacy seminars. And both Morgendorffers watched a few minutes later, as Tom and Sandi Griffin made their slow, sad way out of the restaurant.