If Allison slammed the door to her room one more time, I was afraid she would split the wood and damage the hinges. I knew why she was angry with me, and any eleven-year-old girl would be upset if her mother decided she'd had enough of an everyday kind of existence, left a note on the kitchen table in the middle of the night -- then left, without a single good-bye to her only daughter. But that had been two years ago.
I had remarried since then. Kaye and Allison got along as well as any stepmother and stepdaughter could. Until Allison dipped into one of those the-world-is-falling-apart moods when I felt as helpless as a turtle without a shell. That's when I climbed into my briefcase and worked even harder. Kaye told me I was a workaholic. Maybe I was, but my company never complained when my sales grew. And neither did our bank account. Work made me forget about my first wife, about how much it stung to be left like an empty Styrofoam cup.
Kaye and I were discussing Allison's moods yesterday evening as she wrapped Christmas gifts and I sipped coffee. My wrapping deserved the trash compactor.
"Allison wanted to talk this afternoon," Kaye said. "She told me about someone she met at camp in July, the girl everyone called Windmill. She said that being with her was like talking into a mirror. Same red hair, both listened to jazz and bass guitar when the rest of the kids were still hopping around to kid pop. Allison sounded excited. Then, without warning she started to cry."
"Did you find out why?"
"Has Allison told you anything about this girl?"
"Not much. I had an appointment with a client immediately after I brought Allison home after camp. There wasn't time to meet her. Allison couldn't find her. She wasn't in the cabin or in the yard. Besides, that was five months ago. Don't you think she should have moved on by now? There are seventy-five other girls in sixth grade."
"Maybe, but not seventy-five other girls whose mother left them in the middle of the night with nothing more than a note. Apparently Windmill's mother took off, too. However, Windmill watched her leave from her bedroom window. Her mother didn't even turn around for a final look-around before she took off."
"Allison never told me that."
"You were too busy defending your work schedule. It paid for camp and would send her to college someday." Kaye didn't look at me. She cut a length of ribbon and twirled it with the scissors. However, I felt sliced. Allison had complained that she didn't get a chance to get her friend's e-mail address. I hadn't listened. It didn't seem that important at the time. Guess I didn't give her a chance. All I remembered was that the girl had a peculiar name. I didn't recall it until Kaye mentioned it, a nickname that grew from her last name, Windmoeller.
"Windmill made Allison feel that healing was possible. This friend had forgiven her mother for leaving her -- and she was happy. Allison didn't know how that could possibly happen. Windmill said she would help her. All she had to do was call or e-mail, maybe even visit after she came home. If her dad and stepmom thought it was okay."
"So, you have a solution?" I poured another cup of coffee, even though I hadn't finished the first. It irritated me that Kaye, who only had known my daughter six months, knew something I didn't. True, Kaye had taught middle grades for fifteen years, but I had rocked Allison through nights of colic when she was an infant. I wasn't perfect, but when she had a difficult time in school I sat through hours of math homework and wiped more tears than I solved equations. I went to all her softball games. Together we read every book about horses that had ever been written. I learned to ride, too, albeit poorly.
Her mother never had been happy with motherhood. I should have known that, long before she had grown restless. I winced. Her mother left physically; then I married work.
"I have a maybe." Kaye pushed the wrapped gift aside and pulled another from a shopping bag. "Any chance we can go to Pittsburgh for the holidays?"
"Pittsburgh? Your answer is to go to Pittsburgh? You're a teacher, Kaye. If one of your English students gave you a partial explanation like that, you would give him a failing grade."
"You are right, dear. I'll explain the entire connection. Then, if it's okay with you we will Skype my nieces tomorrow and complete the plan. I'll call my sister in the morning."
"You do realize how many hours of work I will miss if we go out of town. You are already off for the holidays."
"Trust me. If my hunch is right, we could be mending at least one bridge."
"Okay. I'll think about it. But your hunch had better include a miracle."
Allison wore the stoic expression of a conditioned martyr as Kaye opened her laptop. "Okay, I'll meet your nieces and their neighbors and whoever. Then, can I go back to my room?"
I swallowed a sigh, and sat at the table. No coffee. Even decaf could have given me the jitters. Finally I found enough nerve to look at the screen as a small voice appeared, a little girl who didn't look any older than four.
"Hi, Aunty Kaye, are you coming for Christmas?"
"Don't know yet, Sweetie."
"Oh." The young girl pouted, and then began a monologue about a new cat they got from the shelter that peed on their living room carpet.
"Hey, it's my turn." Another girl, I assumed to be her older sister, interrupted. "You keep talking little-kid nonsense and we won't get a chance for Windmill to talk to Allison. See if she is the girl she met at camp."
"Huh? Windmill? You couldn't mean Lori Windmoeller?" Allison shrieked.
"Who else!" A red-headed girl with a smile the width of her face took up the entire screen. "Alley Cat, are you there?"
Allison almost pushed us over to get to the computer. "I'm here."
"I can't believe it's really you. One of the kids from another cabin said you were at the lake when you left. When I got back you were gone. Is your dad there? I wanted to tell him I read that entire series about the different kinds of horses you two read together: Clydesdales, Palominos, and Belgian horses. They were great. Darn I wish my dad saw me when I hit a double in softball at the end of the season. I usually strike out. He works a lot, just like your dad does. Says I'm too much energy for him. So I'm living with my grandma now."
I swallowed a lump that was growing in my throat before it grew too large to handle.
Kaye squeezed one of my hands and Allison wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
Another face appeared on the computer screen, probably one of Kaye's nieces. "You coming to Pittsburgh for Christmas?"
"You bet," I answered.
I suspected my sales would go down a tad that month, but my forgiveness rate was improving. And I discovered that maybe I hadn't done such a bad job as a daddy after all.