Amy and Ashley walked into the kitchen to find her dad rummaging in the fridge. Noticing them out of the corner of his eye, he stood up.
"Hey girls. What are you two up to? Since when do you two hang out?" Ashley just rolled her eyes and Amy shook her head. Amy decided to speak first.
"We needed to have a sister to sister talk. And if you're not busy right now, I need to talk to you too." George raised his eyebrows in question but Amy didn't explain.
"Sure kiddo." Maybe now I'll get some answers about what's going on.
"Let's go into the living room. And Ash, since secrets don't stay secrets for long around here, you're welcome to join us." George and Ashley followed her and they all got comfortable on the couch. George sat with one ankle resting on his knee while Amy sat cross legged facing George and Ashley sat behind her.
"Dad, I need to ask you some hard and personal questions and I need the truth, all of it. No wise cracks, no sarcasm, no defensiveness, just straight answers." George could tell from her expression and body language that Amy was serious. Considering she rarely initiated confrontational discussions, she now had George's undivided attention.
"Deal. What's on your mind kiddo?"
"Did you ever love our mother or were you just in love with her?"
"WHAT!? Where'd that come from, Ames!?"
"Just answer the question please, dad."
"Ames, you know I love your mom."
"That wasn't what I asked you."
"Ames, it's not that simple."
"Actually, it is dad. You either love someone and care about their wellbeing or you're just in love with someone and once those romantic feelings disappear you don't want anything to do with them anymore, for any reason." George could only stare at his eldest daughter. When did she become as blunt as Ashley?
"It's not always that black and white, Ames. Over time people change and so do their feelings for their spouses."
"I know that. What I want to know is why you went through with a marriage to someone you didn't love."
"Why are you so certain I don't love your mother?" No use beating around the bush. The direct approach seems to work best with dad.
"Because your actions have been screaming that you never loved me." George was floored. How on earth could she think I don't love her!? Even Ashley was shocked at Amy's answer.
"Okay young lady you're gonna have to explain that last remark. How did you arrive at that ridiculous conclusion!?"
"You're not gonna like my answer, dad, but I need you to let me say what I need to say." George nodded and Amy began her explanation.
"I carried my son inside me for eight and a half months. I was terrified of doing something wrong that could hurt him before he was born and my love for him grew every day, especially once he was developed enough that I could feel him kick and move around. I loved my son unconditionally and wanted him to have the kind of childhood illusion I had growing up. I wanted to be able to provide my baby with a stable, loving home, complete with a father and mother who both loved and wanted him unconditionally. I wanted him to be safe and worry free. I knew I couldn't provide that for my baby as a fifteen year old, unmarried, unemployed teenager. I didn't want to give my baby up for adoption but I loved him so much that I wanted to give him the best life I could, even if that life meant he was raised by another loving couple. When things fell into place so that I could financially and physically be able to care for my baby, I was ecstatic dad. Every day I would be able to see and care for the little person that had grown inside me and I couldn't wait to meet him."
"I held and cared for my son every day after his birth, dad. I've looked at his face, watched his little personality develop and I can clearly see both myself and Ricky in him. I know exactly which physical features and personality traits John got from his father and which ones he got from me. I can clearly see that the person who doesn't care about my wellbeing makes up part of who my son is. It hurts knowing that someone you gave an irreplaceable part of yourself to, and I don't just mean my virginity, doesn't want anything to do with you. But it doesn't stop me from loving him and our son. I wanted to hate Ricky but I can't. It's not because of any romantic feelings I have for him, it's simply because I can't love only half of my baby. John wouldn't be John if he weren't the exact mix of me and Ricky that he is. He wouldn't be the same little boy I've loved and nurtured if anyone else were his father. John is the greatest gift I've ever received and I have Ricky to thank for that. He's an irreplaceable person in my son's life and for that reason alone Ricky is important to me; I care about his wellbeing and what's going on in his life. Even though he doesn't feel the same way about me, I will always love him, even though I don't know if I'll ever be in love with him."
"Knowing why I feel about Ricky the way I do makes his attitude towards me that much more hurtful because I don't understand how it works. I don't understand how you can claim to love your child and yet treat your child's mother, the female who gave him or her life, the person whose DNA makes up the other half of your child, so wrong? You either love your child completely or you don't. And that brings me back to you, dad. You tell me and Ashley you love us, but your actions have said otherwise. If you loved us, you wouldn't have hurt our mother by having an affair. If you loved your family you wouldn't have torn it apart with your selfish actions. I understand that people in relationships go through rough patches, but if your relationship's based on genuine love for each other then you work it out, even if you aren't in love with each other anymore; you don't hurt each other and destroy your family. You were able to turn your back on your wife and the children she bore you to obtain whatever it was you were getting from the affair so you obviously don't love any of us enough to do what's in our best interest. A situation like I have with Ricky where a child is raised and cared for by both parents in different homes isn't ideal but it can work. So I'll ask you again. Why did you bother marrying our mother in the first place if you never loved her?"
By this point tears were streaming down Amy's face unabashedly, even though miraculously here voice hadn't wavered at all, and George was silently crying as well. Ashley hadn't realized Amy had been so deeply hurt by their dad and she was crying as well but out of anger. I never thought of it like that. Does dad really care about our family anymore? Did he ever? George didn't answer right away. Instead he bridged the small space between them and pulled Amy into a tight hug. He knew he'd hurt his girls by having an affair but he never dreamed that either one of them, especially emotional, sweet, little Amy would come to the conclusion that his actions meant he didn't love them.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought my actions could or would be seen that way, Ames. I get how you came to the conclusion that I maybe don't love you as much as I should but you're wrong. Ames, the instant the doctor put you in my arms at the hospital I knew I'd go to hell and back to make sure you were safe and had everything you needed in life. And when I held you, Ash, for the first time, I felt exactly the same. All I ever wanted was to be able to protect my girls and provide them with all the basics: safe home, clothes, good food, plenty of toys to keep you happy and occupied. Nothing makes me happier than to see my girls smile." He released Amy, took a breath and continued, his voice wavering slightly.
"Your mother and I were really happy when you girls were little. That wasn't an illusion, Ames. We were truly happy. Towards the end of our marriage we just seemed to stop communicating clearly and to be stressed all the time. I just wanted to go back to those days when we got along but since she didn't seem to like me anymore, I went in search of someone who did. At first I honesty did just talk to Cindy. The affair didn't start right away or anything. It wasn't like I woke up one day and decided to hurt my girls. I have no excuses or explanations as to why I went all the way to a full blown affair and honestly, I need more time to think about it and figure out exactly how I let it happen. All I can say, honestly, is that I do love you girls, completely and unconditionally. I'm sorry if I forgot to say it and show it." He looked at his girls, tears still streaming down his face. They could both see that, maybe for the first time, their dad was overcome with the guilt and regret of his decision to have an affair and for turning his family's lives upside down. There were several minutes of silence as the three of them took a few moments to process everything that had just been said. Amy was the first to speak.
"Dad," George looked up, not sure what was coming next. "Even though I just heard you say you love me and I know you regret hurting our family, why did you sell your house to Adrian's parents? Didn't you know she and I didn't get along?" George hung his head. He knew Adrian had the potential to be a good person but chose more often than not to take the low road because he'd spent some time talking to her while he and Cindy were together. He also knew Amy had only seen Arian's bad side but at this moment defending Adrian would only hurt Amy more.
"I knew she wanted the house so she could spy on you and Ricky. While I knew it might be awkward at first having her as your neighbor, I needed to sell the house and her parents were looking to buy one, so basically I let Ruben and Cindy help me out by buying it."
"But how did she even know you were interested in selling the house?" George hung his head in shame. Time to come clean.
"She found out from Grace that I'd lied about my vasectomy and that Robbie might be mine and not David's."
"Wait, how did Grace even find that out?!"
"I told her." Amy and Ashley both looked at their father with shock and anger all over their faces.
"Dad!" Ashley said, "How could you tell your ex-wife's daughter before you even confessed that to your wife!?"
"I was trying to cheer up Grace."
"And how exactly does revealing a personal secret to a teenager you have no relation to help cheer her up?" Amy asked.
"I saw her walking home in the middle of the school day and could tell she was upset. I pulled over and we started chatting. She said she felt bad that people were talking about what she'd done and I told her it was nothing compared to what I'd done. She didn't believe me so I told her I'd lied about my vasectomy. I was feeling really guilty and it just came out. At least I could tell by the shock on her face that she wasn't feeling so bad about having had sex anymore."
"DAD!" Amy wailed. Ashley huffed in irritation before saying to Amy, "So that's how the rumors got out around school."
"You didn't know, dad?" Amy said sarcastically. "After you confessed to Grace it somehow got out around Grant High that our mom was apparently a slut because she didn't know if her baby was yours or her boyfriend's and the reason she didn't know was because you'd lied about getting a vasectomy." George's eyes got wide with surprise. Amy knew?
"Why didn't you tell me that you knew I'd lied?" he asked Amy curiously, but it was Ashley who answered. "Because I covered for you." This time he looked at Ashley with surprise and she explained.
"I came over to see Amy and she told me rumors about your fake vasectomy were floating around Grant. I told her they were just rumors. After all, how would any Grant High students know about something so personal? Amy agreed with me that they were just malicious rumors and asked me not to tell you about them or that Amy had momentarily believed you were capable of stooping that low and lying about something so major." George looked at Amy, regret, guilt, shame and sorrow clearly present in his eyes and face. Ashley looked at her father and shook her head in resignation.
"This family's always gonna be dysfunctional until the lies and secrets stop, dad." Raising her head to look her father squarely in the eyes, she began to tell him about her and Amy's earlier discussion. "When Amy and I were talking earlier this morning I confessed to the secrets I'd kept from her and the lies I'd told her. We agreed to break the cycle, dad, and start being honest with each other and talking about what's bugging us instead of being sneaky and hurting each other. But that's not gonna do us a whole lotta good unless our parents start being honest too. You gotta talk to mom, dad. And I know there's gonna be a lot of tears and shouting but we've gotta get everything out in the open so we can deal with it!" George just stared at Ashley for several seconds.
"When did you become the parent in this relationship?"
"When you started acting like a kid." George smiled a humorless smile. "Touché kiddo," he said. Returning his gaze to Amy, he saw that she was upset and trying hard not to cry.
"Ames, I wasn't trying to hurt your mother by telling Grace. I simply felt like I was in over my head and needed to get my secret off my chest." Amy opened her mouth to respond but George put up a hand, motioning for her to let him finish. "I know that the first person I should've told was your mother. It's just that sometimes when you've told a lie for so long, you're unprepared for what to do when your lie starts to unravel and I ended up doing something stupid, like telling a grieving teenager the truth about my lie."
"Even after deciding to come clean to mom and then trying to reconcile, how did you figure selling the house to the woman you'd had an affair with would be a good idea?" Amy asked George, her desire for more answers slowly helping her bring her tears back under control. "You didn't think mom might find it awkward accidentally running into the 'other woman' from time to time, seeing as they would now be neighbors?"
"Your mom and I were trying to reconcile and put the past behind us so no, I didn't feel it would be awkward."
"Were you aware that Adrian went out of her way to make digs and me and mom and try, successfully, to get under my skin?"
"I knew she was jealous of Ricky spending time with you but I didn't know she was going out of her way to bug you." What did I do? Is Adrian still messing with Ames or have they worked all that out now? Just how much have I been clueless about? George leaned his head back on the couch, closed his eyes and sighed.
"I hurt you again by selling them that house, didn't I, Ames?"
"Inadvertently, but, yes." George huffed out a breath, disgusted with himself. He turned his head and looked at Amy for several quiet minutes.
"I've been a horrible father to you girls."
"Not horrible, just selfish and clueless" Ashley said. George could only nod in agreement, having nothing else to add or any defense to offer.
"I haven't exactly helped though." George looked at Ashley confused.
"I mean, with the two of us always siding against Amy and mom, keeping things from them, me stealing things from Amy's room and taking to you about them behind her back. I've helped you hurt Amy and mom." Ashley and Amy shared a look before she continued.
"Dad, as part of our agreement this morning to do better by each other we agreed to have each other's backs as well, no matter what. I think everyone in this family needs to make that commitment." George just stared at his two, beautiful daughters before wiping his eyes and smiling.
"How did you two become such smart and mature young ladies?"
"We've been through the school of hard knocks," Ashley replied with a smirk. They looked at each other and started to laugh, finally free of some of the tension of the past.
"Dad, there's one more thing I've always wanted to ask you."
"What's that, Ames?"
"The first time Ricky came over, he said you had talked to him and he made you some promises he didn't think he could keep. When he came back over that night, he said that you and I would like it better if he didn't exist. What exactly did you say to him?" George thought back for a moment to that first meeting with Ricky and suddenly frowned, remembering exactly what he'd said. Time really does change your feelings about people.
"He was hanging out at Cindy and Adrian's apartment when I came in to grab some lunch. Yes, the affair had progressed to the point where I had a key to her apartment and I let myself in. I gave it back to her when the affair ended. I thought he looked familiar and when he introduced himself, I told him that I was your dad and I knew he'd gotten you pregnant. I was furious, Ames. I was furious that some punk had taken advantage of my little girl. I knew you, or at least I knew you pretty well, so I knew sex hadn't been your idea. Anyway, I told him that all decisions about what was going to happen with the baby would be made by you, me and your mom, he got no say. I told him he lost that right when he took advantage of an innocent, fifteen year old girl. I told him that if you opted for adoption, he would sign whatever he needed to sign and if you kept the baby and didn't want him around then he wouldn't be, although he was gonna pay child support for the rest of his life, and even that money didn't entitle him to anything." George's eyebrows suddenly knit together in confusion. "I was surprised when he changed his mind and said he wanted to be involved because he told me he was okay with going along with whatever you wanted. He only raised his voice with me once, at the end of my little talk with him."
"Why'd he raise his voice?"
"'Cuz I insulted him." Amy and Ashley looked at each other surprised. It wasn't like their dad to insult people, at least not to their faces.
"What'd you say?"
"I told him he was a worthless piece of trash."
"You know what his childhood was like! No wonder he changed his mind!"
"Huh?" Why is she defending him all of the sudden?
"After everything his dad did to him no wonder he decided to try to do better by his kid than his dad did by him."
"Hang on, I didn't know about his past back then and neither did you. All I knew was that he was some sixteen year old punk who'd hurt my little girl and turned her life upside down." Amy started to tear up again
"You defended my honor, so to speak?"
"Of course sweetheart. I know I've hurt you unintentionally, and that made you think I don't really love you, but I do Ames. And when I find out someone's hurt you and there's something I can do about it, I'm not gonna stand by and let them get away with it." George suddenly came to a decision "And that includes next door neighbors." Amy looked at him confused.
"You told me that Adrian picked at you. Is she still doing it?"
"Yes or no, Ames?"
"She's still trying to stick her nose in my business, but no, she's not putting me down anymore, at least that I know of."
"Well, until she sincerely apologizes and her words and actions prove that she's changed her ways, I don't want her to set foot in this house. If you wanna talk to her over the fence, fine, but I don't want her on the property unless we all know she's gonna play nice. Understood?" Both girls nodded.
"I'll talk to your mother about this and let her know too. Sound good?"
"Yeah, and thanks dad."
"Anytime, Ames. Our family comes first." They all stood up and George hugged both of his daughters before they each went to their bedrooms, leaving George alone with his thoughts. George sat back on the couch in silent contemplation. Ashley sat in her room lost in thought as well. Maybe there's hope for this family yet she thought with a smile. Amy, meanwhile, set her cellphone and alarm clock for 12:00 and then took that nap she'd been wanting.