Before We Were Strangers: A Love Story: Chapter 23

Who Did You Think I Was?

MATT

Grace’s bedroom was bright with morning light, and I took in my surroundings for the first time. There was an antique dresser, a floral quilt, and Impressionistic paintings of the French countryside hanging on the walls—surprisingly generic décor for someone like Grace.

When I heard Grace tinkering in the kitchen, I slid out of bed, feeling invigorated. I put on my jeans and shoes and searched for my shirt, but I couldn’t find it. The door was cracked open, and I peeked down the long hallway. At the other end of the hall was the kitchen. I could see Grace sitting at a small, round table, sipping coffee, wearing a robe and pink slippers, her hair in a topknot. She looked up as the door creaked. The smell of coffee was beckoning me, but as I stepped into the hallway, something caught my eye.

The walls were covered in pictures. On the right was a black-and-white photo of Grace and Tatiana on a balcony in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was the face I had known, plump with youth. I smiled and looked down the hall at Grace, who was watching me with a blank expression.

I saw another photo of Dan conducting, with Grace sitting in the orchestra, her bow poised over her cello.

Then I saw a photo of Dan and Grace sitting in a park, a baby on her lap. I stepped closer and stared at it, my mind racing. They had a child? Had I even asked her if they had a child?

There was another family photo of the three of them right next to it, but the little girl was older, maybe five, sitting on top of Dan’s shoulders in Washington Square Park. And then another when the little girl was even older, maybe eight. I looked at Grace, whose eyes looked more weary than I had ever seen.

The little girl progressed in age as I walked toward the kitchen until I found myself at the end of the hallway, staring at a school photo of a teenager, maybe fifteen years old, with Grace’s long blonde hair, Grace’s lips, Grace’s light skin. But it was her eyes that sent me reeling.

They weren’t the spectacular green of Grace’s eyes, or the dull blue of Dan’s.

They were deep-set, so dark they looked black. . . .

They were my eyes.

I covered my mouth as a moan escaped from my chest. I heard sniffling and looked over at Grace to see tears running down her face. Her expression was still blank, as if she had learned to control it, even when she cried.

I blinked as tears fell from my own eyes. “What’s her name?”

“Ash,” Grace whispered. She dropped her head into her hands and sobbed.

Oh my god.

I put my hand over my heart. The evidence of a life burning well. “I missed everything, Gracie,” I said, still in shock. “I missed everything.”

She looked up. “I’m so sorry. I tried to tell you.”

I stared at her for what felt like a wordless eternity. “Not hard enough.”

She sobbed loudly. “Matt, please!”

“No . . . you can’t. What the fuck? What is happening?”

“I wanted to tell you.”

“Am I losing my mind?”

“No, listen,” she pleaded.

I wasn’t looking at her anymore. I couldn’t look at her anymore. “No talking. Oh, Jesus, what is going on?” I had a daughter whose childhood I had totally missed.

I headed out the front door and walked home, shirtless and dazed. I kept repeating in my head, I have a daughter, I have a daughter, I have a daughter.

I spent the next six hours in my loft, drinking vodka straight from the bottle. I watched people walking up and down the street, fathers holding their children’s hands, couples in love. The anger I felt toward Grace and Elizabeth was boiling over inside of me. I felt powerless, as if these two women had decided my entire adult life without me.

I called my brother but got his voice mail. “You’re an uncle,” I said, flatly. “Grace had a baby fifteen years ago, and I think Elizabeth kept this information from me. Now I have a teenage daughter who I don’t know AT ALL. I’m fucked. Talk to you later.”

He didn’t call back.

I hid in my apartment, mostly drunk, for the whole weekend.

On Monday morning, I kicked a pizza box across the floor and punched a hole in the wall. I decided that it felt really good, so I did it again, and then I spent a few hours trying to patch the holes. I thought about calling Kitty or one of those numbers on the back of the Village Voice, but instead I went to the liquor store and bought a pack of cigarettes. I hadn’t smoked in more than a decade, but it was like riding a bike. Really, it was.

I chain-smoked on the bench outside my building until I got a call from Scott.

“Hello?”

“You’re gonna wanna kiss me again.”

“Probably not.”

“Why so sad? You miss your fwiend?” He attempted a baby voice.

“No. What do you want?”

“I have good news.”

“Talk.”

“I got you something in Singapore.”

I didn’t hesitate for a second. “I’ll take it. How long?”

“Wow, you really want to get the hell out of New York, don’t you? Anyway, there is no ‘how long’—it’s a permanent job. You’d be working with production on our live series based out of Singapore, but you can keep shooting on the weekends. It’s a great location.”

“Great. When?” I never thought of myself as the type who ran away from things, but I was utterly helpless and hopeless. I felt like a caged animal.

“In the fall.”

“That far away?”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Fine, I’ll take it.” I hung up.

Grace tried calling me several times, but I never answered and she didn’t leave a voice mail. Finally, at ten p.m. that night, she texted me.

GRACE: Ash is a very strong-willed girl.

ME: Okay.

GRACE: I’m sorry to drop this on you. She told me to tell you that if you don’t want to know her then you’ll have to tell her to her face.

ME: Grace, while you’re at it, why don’t you come here and cut my balls off or steal a kidney?

GRACE: I’m in so much pain over this but Ash doesn’t deserve any more heartache. She’s your flesh and blood.

I didn’t even know Ash, but suddenly the thought of causing her pain caused me pain. I knew I had to see her.

ME: Fine I’ll meet her. What time will she be home tomorrow?

GRACE: Three thirty.

ME: I don’t want to see you.

GRACE: That’s fine.

When I got to Grace’s building the next day, a taxi was just pulling up and I could see a teenage girl through the window. Ash. I wished I had five extra minutes to prepare what to say, to figure out how to tell this kid that life sucks and it’s too late to go back and fix things, to just forget about me.

She stepped out of the cab and marched right up to me. “Hi,” she said, holding her hand out. “I’m Ash.” She was bold and confident. Not unlike her mother.

“Hi . . . Ash.” I was still testing out the name on my tongue. My face was frozen in a look of both curiosity and dread.

She wasn’t smiling but she wasn’t glaring, either. Her expression was soft. “Just so you know, my mom told me everything, and I’ve seen pictures of you before.”

“That’s good.”

“Do you want to get a coffee or something?” She arched her thin eyebrows. I was stunned by her friendliness. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Shouldn’t I be asking her that? I had expected to run the conversation.

She was taller than Grace and wearing a shirt with the sides cut out; I could see her bra. I thought she couldn’t really be my daughter, but somehow I knew that she was. How did I have a daughter her age? I felt old in an instant. This girl was a reminder of all the time Grace and I had lost.

“How old are you?” I asked, though I already knew.

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen going on twenty-five?”

“I had to grow up fast,” she shot back. “Are you gonna start doing the dad thing right away, ’cause I’m cool with that, but I think we should have that coffee first.”

“You’re allowed to drink coffee?”

She laughed. I think she liked that I was concerned. “Yeah, I’ve been allowed to drink coffee since I was ten.” A man walked past us and looked at me peculiarly. “Nothing to see, Charlie,” Ash said. She leaned in, “Don’t worry about him, he’s just bored.”

I nodded. This is my kid. This is my daughter. Reaching my index finger out, I poked her in the shoulder.

“I’m real,” she said, smirking. “You have a child.”

“Not really a child, though, are you?”

“Finally! The respect I deserve.”

I laughed nervously. I couldn’t believe how much I instantly liked her. She was funny and cute and so much like Grace when she was young. After a few awkward moments, she began walking up the steps.

“Ash, there’s just a lot I have to absorb here.”

“I’m not gonna be destroyed if you don’t want anything to do with me.”

I grabbed her arm and spun her around. I was just realizing that I did want something to do with her, but I didn’t know how to say it.

“Look, I only learned of your existence less than a week ago.” She looked down at my hand grasping her arm and then looked up into my eyes and squinted, searching for something. I recognized myself in her expression immediately. “Sorry,” I said, looking at my hand like I had no control over it. “Let’s get that coffee.”

She huffed. “Okay, okay. Let me drop off my bag inside and tell Mom.”

“Fine.” I nodded, noticing how, instead of saying “my mom,” she had said “Mom,” the way a kid does when she references one parent to the other.

My mind wouldn’t even let me attempt to make sense of how I felt. I watched the door until Ash came back out. She had wrapped her hair in a twisty bun on top of her head, the way her mother always did. Her face was scrunched up and she was scowling as she handed me my shirt. “Jesus Christ, she’s a mess in there. Way to go.”

“Your mom and I have some issues . . .”

“Grown-ups complicate things,” she said before turning and heading down the street. “Come on.”

I took my shirt and followed her like a puppy dog. She walked confidently, without looking back, as I trailed behind her. “Come on, it’s just two blocks away. Are you gonna walk behind me the whole way?”

I sped up to walk beside her. “So, tell me more about you. Are you a musician, like your mom?”

“I can play the piano, but no. I prefer visual media; I guess I’m more like you.”

“Yeah?” I could hear hope and pride in my voice.

“Yep. I hope it turns out to be a good thing.” I didn’t know what she meant by that. She continued walking. “I think I want to be a graphic designer.”

“That’s great. Do you do well in school?”

“School is a breeze for me. Kind of boring, actually, but I’m doing it. Not like I have a choice.”

Who is this person?

She pointed toward a neighborhood café and we walked in. Ash ordered a latte and a scone, and I got my usual black coffee. There was a good-looking young man working the counter, and I caught Ash brazenly shooting him googly eyes.

I looked at her in shock. Teenage girls were a totally different species to me.

“What?” she asked.

“Uh, nothing.”

We sat at a small, round table near the window and looked out. “It’s a nice day. I love the spring.”

“Are we gonna talk about the weather?” she asked directly but serenely. I couldn’t get over how self-possessed she was.

“There’s no manual for this, Ash.”

“I know, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but you’re a grown man. . . .”

I chuckled. “You’re right.”

“Look, I know the story. Mom was very honest with me while I was growing up, and now we know you were totally in the dark about me this whole time.”

I felt relieved. She was good at setting me at ease. “That’s true, I was.”

“No one blames you.”

“I wasn’t worried about that. But now that you mention it, what did you think of me before, when you thought I wanted nothing to do with you?”

“Well, my mom kept a book on you, sort of. It started out with a bunch of pictures and notes and things from when you two were in college, and then she would cut out articles about you and your work and add them in over time.” The thought of Grace doing that choked me up. “And she took me to see some of your photos when they were on display for a workshop downtown, but she didn’t really talk about your circumstances.”

“Yeah, but what did you think?”

“Honestly, my mom always spoke pretty highly of you, but the story of your relationship was presented like a cautionary tale or something. A lesson for me to learn from. She didn’t blame you, even before she discovered the truth, so I didn’t think much of anything—just that you had a crazy career and kids weren’t your thing.”

I stared past her out the window. “I wanted kids. . . .”

“My mom didn’t know, so you shouldn’t blame her. She would always tell me how badly she wanted me. She told me that when people come together and . . . you know . . . do it”—her cheeks turned pink—“that they should always be on the same page about kids and the future and all that. I guess she thought you knew from the letters and that you didn’t want to be a dad.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“I meant it when I say she never put you down. I’m smart enough to know it’s because part of me is made from you; she’d be putting me down at the same time if she did that.”

I was experiencing every feeling one could have at the same time, including love. I was feeling love for the sweet child sitting in front of me, defending me and defending her mom, equally, with such loyalty and insight. “You’re very smart.” My throat tightened. “You’re like your mom in that way. Very perceptive and witty.” I collected myself. “And your childhood . . . how was it?”

“It was pretty good. I mean, my dad totally loved me and my mom always did her best. I had everything I needed.” She sipped her coffee.

“What’s your last name?”

“Porter.”

I felt a lump in my throat. “Of course.”

“It was just easier that way. You’re on my birth certificate, though.”

“Am I?”

“Uh-huh. My dad tried to adopt me, like, five times. That’s why, at the end of his life, Mom tried so hard to get in touch with you; you would’ve had to give up your parental rights in order for him to officially adopt me. It didn’t matter because he was always my dad. That piece of paper would have meant more for him than for me.”

“I’m so sorry, Ash. I didn’t know. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” She started to get a little misty-eyed but held it together. I was close to having a breakdown myself and felt conflicted about everything, including Dan. He was dead already so I couldn’t kill him, but somewhere under the shock, I started to realize I should be grateful for him. After all, he raised my daughter into someone I would admire instantly.

Ash took a bite of her scone, smiled, and looked out the window as she chewed. It was like I was looking at Grace from a long time ago, but with my eye color and a tiny cleft in her chin, just like me, barely noticeable.

“Do you have any crooked toes?”

“Yeah, actually. My second toe is crooked. Thanks for that, by the way.” We both laughed, but then we got quiet again.

“What was he like?”

“Who?”

“Your dad.”

She looked me right in eyes, so brave, like her mom. “You’re my dad now . . . if you want.”

That was it. I started crying. I wasn’t sobbing, but there were tears running down my face, and my throat was so tight that I thought I would stop breathing. I reached across the table, took her hands in mine, and closed my eyes. I realized that I wanted Ash in my life. The pain of missing her childhood was killing me. “Yes, I want to,” I whispered.

She started crying, too. We both cried together, surrendering to the reality that we had to accept. No one could change the past or give us back the time we had lost, and there were no words to make everything better. We just had to accept the present for what it was.

We stood and hugged for a long time, and I was surprised that it didn’t feel foreign to me; she didn’t feel like a stranger.

There were a few stares from café patrons, but eventually everyone ignored us and went on with their conversations as I held my crying daughter. Gotta love that about New Yorkers. I felt bad for how things had worked out with Ash’s childhood, but I was still intensely furious with Grace and Elizabeth.

On our way back to Grace and Ash’s brownstone, she asked, “What’s going to happen with you and Mom?”

“There’s a complicated history there, Ash. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“She loves you.”

“I know.”

Once we reached the brownstone, she pulled her phone from her pocket. “What’s your phone number? I’ll text you so you have mine. You can call me if you want to hang out.”

I gave her my number. “You know, I don’t just want to ‘hang out.’ I want to be a part of your life. It’ll be weird at first, but I want this . . . if you do.”

She grinned and socked me in the arm, “Alrighty, I’ll see ya later then . . . um . . . what should I call you?”

“Call me anything you want.”

She laughed. “Okay, see ya, George.”

I shook my head. “Silly girl.” I messed up her hair and then noticed Grace was watching us from the window. She looked terrible, and had obviously been crying nonstop. She was wearing a sad, small smile. I looked away.

“How about I call you Father for now . . . since you are my father.”

“That’s fine with me. Do you want to get breakfast tomorrow?” I didn’t want to be away from her ever again.

“I can’t, I’m going shopping with my friend.”

“Okay, what about the next day?”

“School, and then I have chess club.”

“Chess club?” I arched my eyebrows.

“Yeah, it’s my goal in life to beat Mom. She’s so good.”

“Okay then.” I was starting to wonder if there was really room for me to step into her life.

“Dinner on Tuesday?” she asked.

“Perfect,” I said. “Wear your pajamas. I know a great place.”

“You’re weird.”

“You are, too.”

“Cool.”

I walked home, hoping, sadly, that Grace would be able to stop crying.

I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do except try to get to know Ash while I was in New York and be a dad, even though I knew nothing about what that entailed.

On Monday, I went to the library and read every parenting book I could get my hands on.

I texted Grace that night.

ME: I’m trying to wrap my head around all of it.

GRACE: I understand.

ME: I’m going to see Ash on Tuesday night for dinner.

GRACE: Okay.

ME: I want to see her regularly.

GRACE: Of course.

ME: Does she have a college fund?

GRACE: Yes.

ME: Can I give you some money?

GRACE: That’s not necessary.

ME: I want to.

GRACE: Okay then. You can put it in her college fund. I’ll get the account info for you.

A part of me wanted to say more, but I wasn’t capable of talking to her about anything beyond the logistics of coparenting.

The next day I was slammed with work stuff but I managed to get out and have lunch with Scott. When he started talking about Singapore, I told him about Ash. He didn’t say anything; he was just shocked. He told me to take the rest of the week off. I didn’t realize I really needed to until that moment.

When I returned to my building, I found Monica sitting on a bench near the elevator. She had the family bassinet balanced on her lap.

Her eyes were full of compassion, but her nostrils were flared and her jaw was set in a rigid line.

“Monica, don’t say it.”

“I was going to stab her in the eye with my heel.” I looked down at her five-inch stilettos. Yep, those would get the job done. “I’m so sorry, Matt. Alexander’s in Tokyo, otherwise he’d be here. I came in his place.”

“Thank you, Monica. I see you paid Elizabeth a little visit. You didn’t actually hurt her, did you?”

“Of course not, but I did give her a piece of my mind. I wasn’t gonna let her off that easy.” She pointed her long index finger at me. “That woman took a shit inside the soul of this family.”

“I know.” I had already resigned myself to that reality, but I could tell Monica was still fighting it, or at least trying to figure out how to fix it. “It is what it is. I just have to try to be a part of my daughter’s life from here on out.” I nodded my head toward the door. “Take a walk with me?”

She hiked her large Gucci bag over her shoulder and picked up the bassinet. “Can we stop by Grace’s?”

“You’re going to give that to Grace?”

“Of course. As a gesture of apology for that wretched Elizabeth.”

“I don’t know if she’s home, but we can go by there and see. Here, I’ll carry it.” I took the bassinet from her hands and looked at the ornate wooden legs and fading varnish and wondered what Ash would have looked like as a baby sleeping inside, peacefully.

As Monica’s heels clacked down the sidewalk beside me, I laughed at the fantasy of her taking her shoes off and throwing them at Elizabeth. “What did you say to her?”

“Oh, I just told her that she was a thief and a liar. She stole something more precious from you than she could ever comprehend. Of course, she denied it and acted like she knew nothing. I told her I wouldn’t believe anything she said. She is the worst kind of person, Matt. A self-deluded, self-involved bitch.”

“Do you think maybe she didn’t know?”

We got to the corner and waited for the stoplight to turn. Monica sighed and pulled an envelope out of her bag. “She knew something, but she didn’t open the letters from Grace. She threw them away, all except for this one.” She handed me a sealed envelope. “If she was getting a letter every year and going to such great lengths to hide it from you, she must have known Grace was trying to tell you something. I don’t know if she really would’ve kept such a secret from you if she knew what it was, but denial through ignorance isn’t an excuse.”

I set down the bassinet, folded the envelope, and stuck it in my pocket. “You might be right.”

“You’re not gonna read it?”

We were approaching Grace’s building. “I’ll read it. Just not right now. This is it.” I looked up to the front door of the brownstone and then held the bassinet out to her.

“Aren’t you going to come with me?”

“No, Ash isn’t home yet. She’s still at school.”

“You don’t want to see Grace?”

“I can’t, Monica. Just go, I’ll wait here.”

I turned around and watched an old woman walk her dog down the street, but I couldn’t help but hear Grace answer the door. “Monica?”

“Hello, Grace. It’s good to see you. It’s been a long time.”

“Yes it has. You look great. Life has been well for you?” Grace was still being sweet, even under the shittiest of circumstances.

“It has, but it got even better when I learned that I was an aunt.” Monica’s voice didn’t waver. She was determined to stay strong. “That’s why I’m here, to deliver this to you. I know Ash is a big girl now, but I wanted you to have it until the next baby in the family is born, wherever or whenever that might happen.”

“Thank you.” Grace sounded choked up, but I still couldn’t turn around.

There were a few moments of silence and then Monica said, “Here’s my number. Please keep in touch. I know you tried, and I’m sorry about you and Matt and this whole big mess.”

“I am, too.”

“You’re family now, Grace. Please know that.”

“Okay.”

A few seconds later, Monica was at my side. “Ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Matt, why are you taking this out on her?”

“I missed my daughter’s entire childhood, Monica.”

“But that wasn’t Grace’s fault.”

“I don’t know. It’s confusing and I can’t think about that right now.”

The truth was that I couldn’t face her, knowing that she had spent the last fifteen years raising our child, mostly on her own. And for all of that time, she thought I was just a selfish asshole ignoring her letters and calls. She had no faith in me.

“I have to stop. My feet are killing me.”

“Well, Jesus, it’s those shoes. They’re unnatural,” I said.

She took them off and shoved them into her bag. “I know; stupid, isn’t it? The things women do in the name of high fashion.”

I put my arm around her shoulder. “You’re all right, you know that? I’m glad my brother married you. Thanks for coming out.”

She kissed me on the cheek, “I love you. Now hail me a cab, would ya? I’ve got some shopping to do.”

I flagged down a taxi and opened the door for her. She ducked her head and got in. “I’ll be at the Waldorf Astoria if you need me.”

Back at my loft I opened the envelope.

Dear Matt,

Our daughter is ten today. I said before that I wouldn’t send any more letters, but I have an important reason this time. I’m very sad to tell you that Dan is sick. He’s been having severe heart problems over the last year, and his condition is likely terminal. He so desperately wants to adopt Ash, and I’m writing to ask you if you would please consider signing over your parental rights, as you were named on her birth certificate. Ash is a wonderful child, witty and beautiful, with a great sense of humor. She is the joy of my life. I never blamed you for the choices I made a decade ago, but now I can change things for her and Dan by making it official with the adoption.

I know you’re very busy, but would you please get in touch with us?

Regards,

Grace Porter

212-555-1156

The life she led, the tragedy, despair, and rejection, was all because of me. I could have blamed Elizabeth, but it wouldn’t matter in the end because Elizabeth meant nothing to Grace. I knew that if you followed the trail of pain, it would lead to me, at least in Grace’s mind, and my pain led to her.

Staring at my phone, a question popped into my head. I shot off a text immediately.

ME: Why were you looking in the Missed Connections section?

GRACE: I wasn’t.

ME: How did you get the note?

GRACE: A student of mine recognized the title “Green-eyed Lovebird” when he was looking for his own missed connection and brought it to me.

ME: So you didn’t really want to find me? Was it just for Ash?

There was no response.

Two hours later, I was on their doorstep, wearing plaid pajama pants, slippers, and a coat. It was six p.m. and the sun was beginning to set. Ash came to the door wearing white flannel PJs with a green turtle pattern on it. She swung the door open wide and announced, “Hello, Father!”

“Hello, Daughter.”

She pointed behind her with her thumb and lowered her voice. “Should I ask if she wants to come with us?”

I shook my head. Ash looked down for a second, as if figuring out what to do, and then yelled, “Bye, Mom! Love you, be back later.”

“Love you. Be careful!” Grace yelled from the other room.

“Ready?”

“Yep.” She bounced out the door.

“We’re going to a restaurant that serves breakfast anytime,” I told her.

“Oh cool. I’m gonna get blueberry pancakes during the Renaissance,” she deadpanned. I stared for a beat and then she started cracking up.

“You scared me for a second. I was concerned about your IQ.”

“I got that joke from a TV show.”

I laughed. “Now I’m really concerned about your IQ.”

The place Grace and I used to go to was long gone, so I took Ash to a diner in our neighborhood.

“Mom told me you guys used to do this breakfast-for-dinner thing all the time in college.”

“We did.” I smiled at the memory but didn’t want to dwell on the past. “How was school?”

“Good. Boring, except for ceramics.”

“You like pottery?”

“I love it.”

“My mom—your grandmother—loved it. She had a little art studio set up behind her house in California. She called it the Louvre.” I chuckled at the memory.

“I know.”

“Your mom pretty much covered everything, didn’t she?”

“Why didn’t you want her to come tonight?”

This daughter of mine didn’t pull any punches. “Like I said before, things are complicated.”

“You guys love each other, so why the hell aren’t you together?”

“It’s not that simple, Ash. I need time.”

“Well, I think you’re wasting it.”

Why was the fifteen-year-old the smartest one in the room?

Because she doesn’t have decades of bullshit clouding her judgment.

We ordered pancakes and milk shakes, and Ash told me about school and a boy she liked.

“Boys are pigs. You know that, right? Stay away from them.”

She sipped her milk shake thoughtfully. “You don’t need to do this. Seriously.”

“I do. I want to meet your friends and come to your school events. And that’s not a request.”

“I know.”

After we totally stuffed ourselves with pancakes, I paid and we headed out. On our way to the door, Ash stopped in front of the refrigerator case.

“You want a piece of pie?” I asked.

She dug into the little purse slung across her chest. “No, I’m gonna buy a piece for Mom.”

“I’ll buy it. What does she like?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You know what she likes.”

“One piece of chocolate cream and a piece of peanut butter to go,” I said to the woman behind the counter. She bagged it up and handed it to me, and I led Ash out of the diner.

Ash and I talked about music the entire way back to her house. It was no surprise that Ash had great taste and vast knowledge across genres. We agreed that we would see Radiohead together the next time they played in New York. I wondered how many times Grace had played Radiohead or Jeff Buckley to Ash over the years. I hadn’t been able to listen to either one since college.

I followed Ash up the steps. She swung the door open wide, turned around, and kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks for dinner, Father.” She left me in the open doorway, holding the pie, as she ran up the stairs and called out, “Mom, some dude is at the door with pie!”

I swallowed, frozen in the doorway.

Sneaky little thing.


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