Michael stood in his ex-wife’s kitchen and pressed his lips together. Cameron was tall and willowy, with blonde hair and blue eyes. She had just let him into the house only to inform him that Jodi and Tiffany weren’t there.
“But we agreed that I’d meet them here and we’d go visit the Watanabe girls,” Michael told her.
Cameron snorted. “I don’t think she wants to talk to you right now. Seriously, Michael? You said her name on the air twice?”
“I already apologized to her. She’s cool with it.”
“No, she’s not. She’s just saying that for your sake.”
Michael pressed his lips together again and took hold of the red granite counter top on the maplewood island. It wasn’t just about the show, Michael realized. Cameron was sincerely annoyed, but her annoyance was overlaid with self-righteousness, and that always meant trouble.
“I think I know when my kid is lying to me,” Michael growled, not entirely certain that Jodi hadn’t been fibbing a little the evening before when they talked on the phone.
“Michael, you just don’t get her.” Cameron snarled.
“Oh? And you do? Is that why she came to me for help with this whole thing with Kira and Allie?”
“She came to me.”
“Eventually. When I told her to.”
“I didn’t want her involved, in the first place!” Cameron folded her arms and glared at him. “But, no. You had to get her up to her neck in it.”
“Excuse me. She got me involved!” Michael snapped, then tried to grab onto his temper. He began pacing.
“You didn’t have to encourage her.”
“She was well past that point, and you know it.” Michael turned on his ex-wife. “Come on, Cameron. What is this really about?”
“It’s about Jodi and respecting who she is.”
“I do respect her.”
“Oh, really? You said her name twice on the air. You call that respecting her?”
“I also pointed out that she asked me to do the show to help Kira and Allie, and that I had to establish how I knew what was really going on. Which she got and you’re not getting. And that tells me something’s going on with you and not her, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d be up front with me.”
Cameron looked away, then glared at him. “I enrolled Jodi at Seaton Ladies’ Seminary so she can be with Tiffany next fall. That’s that school near DC where Merilee wants Tiffany to go.”
“It’s done, Michael. I talked to Jodi about it last night. I told you I was going to make the final decision and I did.”
Michael stood back, shocked into silence. He had been surprised when Cameron had first told him that she was going to go with Tiffany’s mother, Merilee Sheppledorf, on Merilee’s sabbatical touring the world recording obscure folk music in danger of being lost. He’d also been ecstatic, thinking that Jodi would come to live with him and he was perfectly happy to take in Tiffany, as well.
Cameron melted a little and touched Michael’s arm. “I know you were looking forward to having Jodi come live with you, but I didn’t want her to have to choose between Tiffany and you.”
“I would have taken Tiffany in.”
“I know and so does Merilee. But the girls both got really good scholarships at Seaton and Merilee’s connections are better there. And there are enough high-profile families there that no one is going to care about who Jodi’s dad is. It will really be the best place for her.”
“But I wanted to live with her,” said Michael, feeling winded and furious and desperately hurt.
“You’ll have Toby and it’s not like you’ll be that far away. You can visit as often as you like. You can yell all you want. It’s not going to change anything. Merilee and I spent a lot of time talking it over and it’s done. The girls are going to Seaton and that’s it. Your sister will be there. It’ll be the best all around.”
But Michael was too shocked to yell. He sank into a chair from the nearby breakfast nook and just stared at Cameron.
“I just don’t understand why you don’t want me near my girls,” he finally whispered. “I’ve been a good dad. I’ve worked hard at it. I’ve supported you. I’ve never undermined you – and you can’t say that I have. But the only reason I have Toby is that she forced the issue. What have you got against me being with my own kids?”
.”They’re my girls, Michael.” Cameron sniffed and shrugged. “When you ran out on us-”
“I didn’t run out on you,” Michael growled, almost getting up. “You pushed me away. Just like you’re doing now. And I’ve wondered for a long time just how much of that really was about my career. Or was my career just a handy excuse to keep me away from my daughters? And for what reason? What?”
“It’s complicated, Michael,” Cameron’s eyes filled with tears and she sat down across from him, but looked everywhere else. “I’m not even sure I understand what all is involved or where I’m coming from. It’s just… Last spring when this all came up and Merilee asked me to go with her on her sabbatical trip, things just started to happen.”
“Happen? With what?”
Cameron looked down at her fingernails. “With me and Merilee. We’ve always been friends. But we’ve gotten really close over the past couple months. I mean, like, you know.”
“You mean, like…” Michael frowned, then suddenly realized. “You mean like gay?”
“I don’t know!” Cameron cried. “I mean, really, when I look back, it’s what makes the most sense. After we split, I never dated. I kept saying it was because I didn’t want to upset the girls, or that I preferred being with them. But I had no problems going out with my friends and leaving them. And you know I hardly dated before I met you. I kept telling myself it was because I was waiting for the right guy, but then I go and marry someone who was going to do exactly what I didn’t want.”
“My mom kind of pointed that one out,” Michael said softly. “But I guess I was too taken with you at the time to really pay attention.”
“You know, the funny thing is, when I was a kid and dreaming about raising my own family, there was never a dad around. It’s almost like I didn’t want one to be.”
Michael nodded and squeezed his eyes shut. “In other words, all that’s happened, shutting me out, is because you don’t want to share the girls.”
“Well, I…” Cameron looked around the kitchen. “I guess maybe you’re right. I love my life here. I love having my babies. And now they’re almost grown and I get to have another life. I guess I’m having a little trouble letting go.”
“A little?” Michael sighed.
“Listen, the girls don’t know about Merilee and me yet. We’re not even sure what we’re about yet, so we don’t really know what to tell them. It caught both of us off guard.”
“Okay. That’s up to you guys. But about Jodi’s school. I’ve got a perfectly good one-”
“No! Please!” Cameron looked at him for the first time, pleading instead of angry. “Merilee really wants Tiffany to go to Seaton – it’s a family thing. And I don’t want to have to make Jodi chose between you and Tiffany. And – I’m sorry, Michael, but Jodi was really looking forward to not having Toby around. Please? Can you trust me on this one?”
“How about I talk to Jodi first? But…” Michael paused and patted Cameron’s arm. “I get what you mean about Toby. She does kind of suck the air out of a room.”
“She’s her father’s daughter,” Cameron said with a tiny laugh.
Michael nodded. “At least we’ll be in the same time zone for a change.”
He left the house shortly after.