“So his name is Thayer Ainsworth,” I say.
She wrinkles her nose. “What kind of name is that?”
If she only knew …
I laugh because the first time I heard his name I had the exact same reaction, but I don’t dare tell her that.
“Let’s not get sidetracked here,” I say. “MJ … that man who came to visit? That’s your father.”
She finishes chewing her latest fry, swallows, and then stops, staring blankly ahead at me. I expected a bigger reaction out of her than this, but I’ll go with it.
“How do you know?” she asks.
I bite my lip to keep from laughing at her innocent question. “Because I do. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.”
MJ pushes her food and shake away and leans against the back of her seat, uncharacteristically quiet.
“I’m sure you have a million questions, sweetheart, but right now all you need to know is that he would really love to get to know you and be a big part of your life,” I say. “What do you think about that?”
She shrugs. “Okay.”
MJ reaches for another fry, and a minute later she’s blabbing on about some game she played at recess today.
I adore her resiliency.
And I’m beyond relieved at how well she took this news. The thought that MJ will get to know her father and have a relationship with him is more than I could have ever hoped for at this point in our lives.
I spent a significant part of my younger years feeling like a piece of me was missing, feeling like I wasn’t worthy enough to be loved by a man because my father didn’t love me enough to stick around. And after learning about Ari Caldecott being my biological father and spending an entire summer in his presence and being treated as if I were invisible, I can only say that my “unworthiness complex” has only intensified.
Just last night, Thayer was practically begging for us to try to be together again, and I realize now that I shut him down because I didn’t feel worthy.
How could I have not realized?
“Where does he live?” MJ asks. “My dad.”
“New York City.”
“Can we go there sometime and visit him?”
“This summer?” she asks.
“I think so.” I’m sure Thayer can make that happen, but I’ll let him make the offer first. I’m not about to go to him with my hand out. I’m far too proud, and that’s never been my style. “He’ll come here, too.”
“Where does he work?”
“He’s a constitutional lawyer,” I say. “I’m sure he’d love to tell you all about it when you see him again.”
“Do you think he knows how to play Chinese checkers?” she asks, referring to the game Grandpa used to play with her almost every night after dinner before his condition got worse.
“If he doesn’t, you can teach him.”
“What’s his favorite kind of ice cream?” she asks next.
“You’re asking all the important questions, aren’t you?” I swear she’s destined to be an investigative reporter.
“I just want to know how alike we are.” She sips her milkshake until air rattles through the straw.
“Believe me, MJ, there are a hundred things about you that are just like him.”
“Like my hair?” She tugs on a pigtail that hangs on her left shoulder.
“Like your inquisitiveness. He was always asking questions, always trying to get to know people. And he was so good at making people feel welcome. I know you’re the same way at school, always making sure everyone’s included. And he’s persistent. Remember how many times you fell off your bike when Grandpa took the training wheels off? You never gave up once. You kept trying until you nailed it,” I say. “And you’re always looking on the bright side. Your dad was like that. I would assume the worst, he would assume the best. You definitely take after him.”
She smiles and for a fraction of a second, I see him.
And I see us.
And I see an entire life together.
“Are you sure that’s the most current version?” I ask Granddad’s attorney Saturday morning. I had no intention of attending the reading of the will, but when my teary-eyed mother begged me to come, I didn’t have the heart to say no.
I’m seated between my parents in a small conference room. Aunt Lorelai sits beside my mother, their hands clasped as Uncle Ari massages Lorelai’s shoulders. Ever since learning about Uncle Ari fathering Lila with Ed and Junie’s daughter, I can’t look at him the same. I’ve lost all respect. And it kills me that my aunt is none the wiser. I can’t imagine being married to someone for almost thirty years and never knowing that he fathered a child with someone else and carried on like that child never existed.
“This is the most recent version we have on file, yes,” Hageman says. “Signed and notarized in 2014.”