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Archive for August, 2011

Tillamook – Chapter 7

The chirping of the alarm slowly roused Mike from his sleep.  Peeling his head from the down pillow, his sleepy eyes struggled to focus on the time.  It was five o’clock, but his body insisted groggily that it must be earlier.  He wasn’t ready to get up; the mental fog produced by months of poor sleep was growing thicker.  Groaning, he propped himself up on his elbows and shut off the alarm.  By getting up now, he knew he would enjoy the next hour of hot coffee and quiet reflection before having to wake the girls for school.  What had become a personal habit years earlier had taken on a new, vital role in his life since moving the girls back to Oregon.

He hadn’t initially recognized the importance of this morning meditation, focusing instead on simply trying to make it through the exhausting pace of trying to balance his newfound parental responsibilities with work obligations.  But Tanya’s comments about his downward spiral increased.  She had indeed borne part of the brunt of his quickly diminishing energy level and moods.  At first she had been content to allow him his space, but after a particularly tense evening, she had taken matters into her own hands, suggesting that Mike needed to make time for himself.  It was a diagnosis he had begrudgingly admitted was right on the mark.  He had promised to give it a shot.

The past two weeks had been much better, he sensed.  No, he knew things had changed for the better.  His patience level, although still not great, was improving.  His panicked reactions to parenting were subsiding, replaced or at least gradually overshadowed by a prevailing sense of calming acceptance in his new role with the girls.

His feet flopped to the icy floor and he shuffled toward the window seat.  The sky was a dark grey, no longer the pitch black of night.  Squinting toward the heavens, he spotted the fading twinkles of stars through fuzzily distinct clouds.  As predicted, the storm had broken and there was a chance the new day would bring sunshine for the first time since they had moved in.  He smiled.  It would be the girls’ first time waking to good weather in the new house.

Maybe that would help Sam’s attitude, he thought.  He hoped so, anyway, as he open the leather journal and clicked open his pen.  He began writing.

 

By the time he heard the soft pattering of feet behind him, Mike had written six pages in the worn notebook.  His thoughts had flowed as easily as the rivers of water through the reappearing carved channels in the pre-dawn light in front of the house.

“Good morning,” he said, without turning to see who was approaching.

“Hey, Dad.”

Turning around, Mike smiled at his twelve year-old daughter.  Her hair was tangled and knotted, and her eyes hung only half open.  She yawned widely as she crossed the living room.

“How are you this morning?” he asked.

“I’m good.”

“Sleep well?”

“Yeah, once I fell asleep I did,” she answered.  It was exactly the way he expected the conversation to go.  Every morning was the same thing, he had learned.

Climbing onto the window seat next to him, Sam cuddled up next to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head against the warmth of his t-shirt.  He hugged her back, relishing the childish intimacy that emerged most mornings, only to be drowned out by pubescent hormones by midday.  He missed the closeness the two of them once had, the giggling snuggles each weekend morning and her eager willingness to ask whatever popped into her head.  Middle school had changed her as the way it does most people, the developing need for independence and the struggle to fit into a social scene that welcomes few.  Not to mention the divorce.  He knew that even the difficulties of this phase would pass, but his little girl was growing up and the past dynamics of their relationship would also evolve.  For now, he was content with their morning cuddles, he thought as he kissed her forehead.

“Why did you get up early?  You could have slept another ten minutes,” he told her.

“I know.  I just woke up.”

“Cool,” he said, gesturing toward the window, “Well, you get to see your first actual sunrise in this house.”

“Um, Dad, actually we’re looking west.  The sun comes up in the east,” she commented, looking at him inquisitively.  Her eyes sparkled, and he knew she understood what he had meant.  She could definitely sense someone’s buttons and even in play, she enjoyed pushing them.  Like father, like daughter, he thought, chuckling.  He would not take the bait.

“Ready for your last week of summer?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess.  I wish summer would never end.“

“Well, school here will be okay.  You make friends easily, and we know what a great student you are,” he assured her.  “It’ll all work out.  I promise.”

Transitioning to a new school was never easy, though.  He knew better, but really knew nothing else to say at the moment.  Sam did make friends easily.  But in middle school, easy is a relative term.  This was why they had moved into the house before it was finished.  The alternative was to start the school year in Portland, only to move again to Tillamook partway through the fall.  That made no sense at all.  Tanya had agreed.  Besides, she had pointed out, this way the girls could help to make choices about their rooms and other details that still needed to be decided.  It could be a bonding experience, and definitely something young girls would enjoy. Her assurances had helped.

“Seriously,” he continued, squeezing Sam’s shoulder, “it could be great, right?”

Sam shrugged.  “We’ll see, Dad.”  With that, she turned and shuffled back down the hallway.

Watching her retreating figure, Mike’s smile slowly transformed as he sucked his lower lip between his teeth.  It wasn’t middle school that made him apprehensive at the moment.  After all, that was still a week off.  No, it was a much closer milestone that caused his face to slightly contort in a combination of bottled-up excitement and nervous energy.

In slightly more than two hours, Tanya would be there.  The daily phone calls over the past month had brought them closer, he felt, but that had been their only contact.  By her own insistence, they hadn’t even seen each other since Mike and the girls returned to Portland.  He needed to focus entirely on the girls, she had told him.  And while he agreed on an intellectual level, the comment had perplexed and worried him.  What if she had cooled on the idea of a relationship?  After all, he could no longer afford to be the carefree, easy-going bachelor that she had met in Tahoe.  As a “package,” he could no longer be separated from the girls.  What attractive, intelligent woman would be interested in taking on that commitment?  The thought gnawed at him.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

In an instant, a feigned smile erased the frown that had crept across his face with a quick rub of his hand across his day-old stubble.  Meg came crashing into his legs, hugging him tightly.

“Oh nothing, sweetie…I was just thinking about the things I have to get done today.” His smile softened into a more natural expression.  “Did you sleep well?”

“No, I had nightmares again.  These ones were about an ugly old man who sold us a boat that kept sinking every time we tried to go sailing.  Only I couldn’t swim, and you wouldn’t help me.”

“Oh my…that’s not good,” he said.  “Well, it’s not real, is it?  See, everything is better in the morning, huh?”  Lacking anything else to say, he merely stroked her long hair as she clung to his legs.

“Daddy, why do you have to work today?  Why can’t you just take the next week off and spend it just with us?”

“Oh, I’ll be here most of the day.  Remember, from now on, I get to work from home.  But I do have some things to get done today.  That’s why my friend, Tanya, is coming over.  She really wants to meet you guys.”

“Okay, if you say so,” she replied.

“Trust me, you’re gonna love her,” he said, hoping his voice was more convincing than it seemed to him.  The fluttering in his stomach was intensifying.  What if they didn’t like her?  It was a bridge of uncertainty he would cross only if necessary.  “Now, go get dressed.”

 

The crunching gravel under the approaching tires of a vehicle caused Mike’s pulse to flutter even faster than before.  A glance out the kitchen window confirmed the slow approach of a white Honda.  Okay, buddy.  This is it…God, let this go alright! 

“Girls,” he called down the hallway, “Tanya’s here.”  He cringed at the giddiness in his voice, and he instantly wished he could take it back.  He wanted their introduction to be as informal as possible.  After all, maybe then they wouldn’t realize that Tanya wasn’t just his friend.  “They don’t need to know anything else, right?” he whispered, trying to convince himself.

Stepping out the back door onto the unfinished pine stoop, he gave a quick wave and a brave smile toward the white car.  The rain from the passing storm had beaded nicely along the light colored pine boards of the porch, and looking at the rainbow glistening, Mike realized that not only would this be Tanya’s introduction to the girls.  She had also never been to the house.  Oh, she had seen photos on his laptop, but pictures could never do justice to the rugged backdrop of the Oregonian coast beyond the house.  And the house itself was impressive, even in its developing state.  He could see Tanya perched forward in the Accord’s driver’s seat as she took it all in, and an adolescent flutter surged over him.  She’s going to love it….right?  I mean, who wouldn’t?  He bit down on his lip both to quell the self-doubt and because he felt suddenly self-conscious of the excited grin that had ambushed his face.

Tanya pushed open the car door with her knee and smiled at Mike.  Wow! She mouthed in his direction, her smile expanding as their eyes met.

“Be careful of the mud,” he called out.  “I’d hate to have to hose you off!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” she called back, grinning devilishly.  “I think you’d thoroughly enjoy that!”

“Who me?” he exclaimed, his hands clutching his chest in mock innocence.  They both laughed, as she carefully made her way between the muddy puddles to the half-sunken two by fours that made an unsteady walkway to the porch.  Mike stepped down onto the last board and held out his hand for her.  When their fingers touched, he felt an electric excitement shoot through his body and his heart pounded against his ribcage.  Wow, it’s been a long time, he thought, as he gently pulled her onto the porch beside him.

When she was safely on the porch, Tanya turned toward him and gave him a warm hug.  He pulled her into his chest, and breathe in the faint smell of perfume that lingered behind her ear, the slightly sweet odor of lilacs.  Only when he felt her body tense a smidgen did his arms relax, freeing her from his grasp.

“It’s great to see you,” he whispered, afraid that if he spoke any louder the emotions that were welling up inside him would overflow completely.  It was silly, he knew, how much he had longed for such an embrace over the past month.  Although he certainly received his fair shares of hugs from the girls, the embrace of another adult, a woman, was much needed.

The door cracked open and a button nose and one beady eye peaked out.  From inside a whispered voice hissed, “Megan, close the door.”

Mike’s eyes met Tanya’s and they both stifled a laugh.  “It’s okay, girls,” Mike said, turning toward the door just in time to see it snap shut again.  He waved to the pair of small faces peering from the lowest glass panes of the windowed door.  “Come on out.”

The door opened slowly, and one by one, with Megan leading the way in her typically brazen and courageous manner, the girls stepped onto the porch.  Tanya smiled warmly toward them.

“Hi,” said Megan, returning the smile with a toothless grin.  Her missing front two upper teeth and her bottom left bicuspid created a jack-o-lantern appearance that, if not for the soft features and fly-away blonde hair, might have frightened some.  Instead, it usually served to melt even the most hardened stranger’s heart.  “I’m Megan.”

Tanya bent forward slightly and reached out her right hand.  “Nice to meet you, Megan.  I’m Tanya…a friend of your dad’s,” she quickly added with a sideways glance toward Mike.

Megan’s fingers curled and with her tightly clenched fist, she lightly tapped Tanya’s knuckles.  “That’s pounds,” she explained.

“Megan,” Mike began, a pinkish hue creeping up his neck and over his jawline.  “Can you shake her hand?”

“Oh, it’s cool,” Tanya interrupted, laughing loudly.  She too balled her hand and returned the gesture.  “That’s pretty awesome!”

Megan beamed, obviously pleased with the positive impression she had made.  Her mission clearly accomplished, she bounded down the porch steps and leapt from plank to plank across the mud in front of the house, like a little clothed monkey freed from its captive laboratory for the first time in ages.

With her departure, Tanya turned toward Samantha, who, although having exited the house remained within a short arm’s length of the open door.

“And you must be Sam,” Tanya stated matter-of-factly.

“It’s Samantha.” The tweener’s voice oozed with attitude, a sharp contrast to the giddy exuberance of her younger sister.

Again Mike felt himself flush, and he fought to keep the annoyance from rising in his voice. “Sam…”

And again Tanya interrupted with a wave of her hand, “It’s nice to meet you, Samantha.  I have a younger sister about your age.  How old are you?”

“My dad didn’t tell you how old I am?” The disgust in Sam’s voice hung thick as the coastal Oregonian morning humidity.  The corners of her lips curled ever so slightly into a sneer.

Tanya smiled politely.  “Of course he did,” she replied, “but that was several months ago and I can’t remember if he said that you were almost twelve or almost thirteen.”  Her own painful memories of those early middle school years, with the awkwardness spawned from puberty, bodily changes and hormonal onslaught, coupled with her own parents’ divorce and the dissolution of her nuclear family, made Tanya understand all too well Sam’s sassiness.  She was hurting, and in deference to her mother, it was uncomfortable to be meeting her father’s new female friend.  That Tanya was posed simply as a friend made little difference, and the therapist in her understood that.  Too often in her psychological residency program had she sat across the room from just such a tormented teen soul.  We’ll get past this, she thought, nodding to herself more than to anyone else.

With a shrug, all three of them disappeared into the house, the screen door easing shut behind them.

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