Lindsey was a surprisingly good driver. I had a feeling that she had her fair share of practice; her practice probably was a big part of what landed her in an all-girl boarding school. I had been in the passenger seat for four days. I had successfully converted her to a night shift schedule using the ploy that there will be less of your friends on the road to laugh at you for carting around an old man around. Lindsey shrugged and suggested we start around ten o'clock.
We mostly made small talk about school and her social life. Lindsey was surprisingly conversational and polite. She would occasionally comment that it had been a long time since Catherine had someone hang around long enough to move in. Lindsey gave the impression that there had indeed been many ill-fated relationships. She said that I seem to make her mother really happy.
"So, Mike, do you have any kids?" Lindsey asked as we made another loop around yet another suburb that looked the same as the previous ones.
"My ex-wife was too busy having kids with another man. She didn't even try to lie about it," I replied. I very well could have said that I knew marrying her was a bad idea from the get go, but I guessed that she would probably be more interested in the truth. In retrospect, there wasn't a time when I ever thought about kids. Amy and I were more concerned about getting married and finding jobs. My ex-wife had been way too busy fooling around with her boss.
"My dad was like that too. I love him, but he was kind of a scum bag," Lindsey replied.
"Sucks, doesn't it."
"Really sucks. All I really remember about my dad was that he wasn't there. You know ballet recitals, school plays and musicals, and those stupid little graduation ceremonies. Mom, Uncle Gil, and Uncle Nick were there, but I really wish I remembered something good about my dad," Lindsey rambled.
"I know," I replied.
"My father died in a car accident when I was about four. It was three weeks before my fifth birthday. I don't remember him; I just remember than my mother forgot about my birthday that year," I replied.
"My dad died a few weeks before my birthday. He would have been too drunk or high to remember it anyways," Lindsey replied.
"Shitty way to grow up?" I asked.
"No, Mom is good. Tough, but good," Lindsey replied as we exited the subdivision and headed back toward the city.
"So what landed you in boarding school?" I asked.
"I fucked up. I was so pissed that my dad was dead that I started drinking, smoking anything I could find, and hooking up. Mom caught me stoned out of my mind in the process of hooking up with some guy whose face I don't even remember. I was about fourteen years old . . . was pretending that I was a lot older," Lindsey admitted as a slight blush crept into her face.
She was a tough girl; almost hardened. Lindsey rarely acted like she was sixteen; she would give me brief glimpses of her goofing around and acting silly, but for the most part, she seemed hardened . . . maybe restless. She seemed tired of her unpredictable life. For the past six days, Lindsey looked most happy when we made dinner together. It probably gave her the glimpse of the family-life she never really had.
"This thing with you and my mom . . . is it serious?"
"Serious as in forever . . . 'til death do us part?"
"Maybe. That would depend on your mother being willing to put up with me for that long," I replied as Lindsey merged onto the highway.
"She would. You make her different . . . you make her eyes sparkle. No one has been able to do that," Lindsey replied, "You're decent to me. The others always treated me like crap . . . baggage."
"You're a good girl despite the cursing like a sailor and inability to change a tire," I replied.
"I think you're a good guy. Just let me know if you ever plan on breaking Mom's heart," Lindsey replied.
"I will. Where are you taking me?"
"Coffee. We could both use a cup of coffee," Lindsey replied.
"Aren't you worried it will stunt your growth?" I teased.
"My dad was five-nine and Mom is five-two . . . I'm five-five . . . I think I've maxed out my potential," Lindsey replied.
"Then coffee it is. So who is this Justin that picked you up this afternoon?" I asked willing to push my luck a little further.
"A dumb ass. He spent three hours talking about Halo 3," Lindsey replied, "He picked up in a mini-van."
"Ah . . . the fatal flaw. You could always focus your attention on school," I offered.
"What fun would that be? Come on, Mike. Let's go get coffee," Lindsey said as we pulled into a parking lot and she parked the car.
"My treat, kiddo," I replied as I got out of the car. It admittedly felt good to stretch my legs. Lindsey was immediately barraged by a group of teenage girls, who probably were breaking curfew. She told them that she was getting coffee with me. She introduced me as her 'almost, something like a stepdad.' It felt kind of cool.
After I paid too much for too little coffee, we loaded back into the car. Lindsey began her lazy laps around the suburbs again. I coached her through parallel parking. We finally decided to call it quits at three in the morning.
I settled into the living room and turned the television on. Lindsey reappeared in her pajamas and sat on the couch next to me. I randomly flipped channels until I got to Funny Girl. I remembered my mother always liking this movie. I remember myself always running away from the opportunity to watch it with her. Lindsey and I watched the movie in silence.
I walked through the front door and found Mike and Lindsey playing poker. Judging by the number of poker chips on each side of the table, they were fairly evenly matched. Lindsey said they were playing to determine who would get to chose their rest stop during their late night driving marathons. Mike kissed my cheek and said he'd make breakfast as soon as he wiped the floor with my daughter. To which Lindsey threw a pillow at him.
I shook my head and went to change. It had been a long time since Lindsey tried to befriend any man I brought home. When she was younger, she tried so hard. All my boyfriends bought her toys and video games. It was an easy ploy to get her out of our sights. Mike genuinely seemed to enjoy her company as much as Lindsey enjoyed his.
"Mom?" Lindsey asked as she pushed my door open. She closed the door behind her and sat on my bed.
"What do you need, sweetie?" I asked as I grabbed an armful of clothing as disappeared into my bathroom.
"I really like him. Please don't screw this up," Lindsey said, "He's a good guy. You know, cool to talk to. Doesn't treat me like I'm baggage."
"I know," I replied.
"I'm serious. He's good for you. We talked last night. He listens to what I say . . . I think he cares about it too," Lindsey replied.
Mike did have a way of looking deep into your soul when he was listening. He would quietly take in all that you would offer, then gently probe what you didn't. I felt like I could tell him anything. He made it very clear that he wouldn't judge me; he only silently asked for the same. Mike seemed to revel in the fact that this was a clean slate for him . . . maybe even a clean slate for me.
"I know, Linds. I really love him . . . it's different this time," I replied.
"Good because I want him to be my stepdad. He'll be good to me . . . already treats me like we're family. Even if he's totally embarrassing," she replied.
"Girls, breakfast is ready," Mike called down the hall.
"He made pancakes because I asked him to," Lindsey admitted.
"I have no doubt. It's his birthday on Monday," I said as I walked out of the bathroom.
"Good, that gives us time to plan something for him. I bet he would love if we took him out to a nice restaurant . . . since he's always cooking those fancy meals," Lindsey rambled.
"I think he might appreciate a quiet night at home even more . . . maybe a nice dinner in," I replied.
"No, Mom. Nice dinner out . . . cheesy presents. I bet he would like it if we were like a family for a night," Lindsey replied after she rolled off the bed.
"So it is, but you have to be my partner in crime. Complete surprise," I replied.
"He's going to love it!" Lindsey squealed.
I followed Lindsey down the hall. We ate pancakes and talked about her driving and the movie they watched last night. Mike teased Lindsey about ordering a soy no foam something or other. Both of them listened as I talked about work and a few of my cases. Mike promised to help me on my night off.
After breakfast, Mike and I retreated to my bedroom. He held me as I began to fall asleep. The world seemed so much simpler when I was in his arms. I felt safe . . . I felt at peace.
"When do I get you to myself for an entire day and night?" I inquired as I traced lazy circles on Catherine's stomach.
"I have the feeling I would have to fight Lindsey for your attention," Catherine replied with a smile.
"We just have a lot in common," I replied as I kissed her bare shoulder.
"Growing up in single parent homes . . . making stupid choices and having to live with them. The fact that we both love you," I replied.
"She's awfully smitten with you. This morning she warned me not to screw this relationship up," Catherine replied.
"Sounds like sage advice. I don't want you to screw this up either," I replied as I kissed the nape of her neck.
"I love you," Catherine replied as she snuggled closer to me.
"I love you, too. Catherine, I need to thank you again for giving me all of this. I don't think life could get better than this," I replied.
"Mike, please . . . just let me know if you ever get tired of this. You can hurt me, but please don't hurt Lindsey," Catherine replied with a long drawn out sigh.
"Funny, your daughter made me promise the exact same thing last night. I don't want to leave you or Lindsey. I was actually starting to think about ways to make our situation a little more permanent," I replied as my head began to pound and my hands began to sweat.
"Permanent?" Catherine asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Until death do us part. Making you my wife, Ms. Willows," I replied.
"Really. We haven't even known each other that long," Catherine replied.
"I know that I want to be next to you for the rest of my life. I want to watch you crinkle your nose when you are nervous . . . listen to Lindsey talk about school and boys. I want to wake up next to you every afternoon," I said.
"Well, Mr. Keppler . . . don't make any promises until you survive my daughter for an entire month and everything that comes with that month," Catherine said smiling.
"Bring it on, Ms. Willows," I replied with a laugh . . . knowing fully well that PMS did scare the hell out of me.
"So you are up for the challenge, Mr. Keppler," Catherine replied.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," I replied as I finally silenced her lips with a kiss.