The Way Back Around: Chapter 9
I grabbed up the phone from Hanna’s hand before she had a chance to react. “Caleen, we need to talk.”
Behind me, the bell on the door rang as another group came through, and the first employee at the food line shouted the restaurants greeting. “Bienvenu!”
“James? Are you at a Lycée Pita?”
I frowned. “What is it with you two and this yuppie restaurant? Listen, we are in D.C.”
“What are you doing all this way out here? You have business or something? Are you forcing Hanna to pay for your meals, you bum?”
“Caleen, I need you to listen. We’re going to be there tonight, and you better be ready.”
“Wait, hold on now-” Her voice rang in a shrill call as I hung up. Hanna sat petrified in her seat, staring at her bread pocket.
“We should have called her… some time ago.”
I slid the phone back across the table to her. “Eat up.” I directed. “We’re going to need fuel for when we stand up to your mother later.”
Hanna was mostly silent as we covered the last two hours north to the even bigger city. As soon as we crossed over into the New Jersey area, I jostled her shoulder to grab her attention. “Listen, I know your mom. Even if me and her can’t get along, I know what to say to get her back to her senses and have you back at home where you belong.”
“Sure…” She said, shifting back in the seat.
I pried my phone out of the holder on my dash and passed it to her. “Put in your address for me.”
Hanna took it with an exasperated sigh. “She’s usually at work until this time.”
“I know she’ll be home. How is she supposed to welcome you back if she’s not?”
“Whatever you say…” Hanna trailed off as she put in the route and shoved my phone back inside the holder.
Caleen lived at the tip of Manhattan, in an area named ‘Tribeca’ The building that the GPS brought us to was as fancy as I expected, a glass exterior that rose up into the sky and glowed from the inside with various shades of lighting, a description I could have given to half the buildings around the area. “This it?” I asked Hanna.
A loud honk came from behind me as I scanned the street ahead for a place to park. “Yeah.” Hanna said, sitting up. She pointed us forward to one of the side streets where there happened to be a meter open.
The machine took a good handful of change before offering up a meager half an hour. Hanna retrieved her bag and backpack from the back seat and stood up on the sidewalk waiting for me.
“Lead the way.” I said, looking up the side of the towering building.
Hanna sighed and turned up the sidewalk. At the front of the building was a set of security doors, opened with a combination of numbers that she was able to put in effortlessly. The lobby was fancy, but also somewhat plain, with several rows of mailboxes and awaiting elevators. I was once again helpless but to follow Hanna inside and to the level she had chosen.
I held my breath as Hanna finally stopped outside one of the doors up on the third level. Hanna put in a second set of numbers to open the door. I grabbed the handle and held it open.
Hanna dumped her things immediately on the floor inside. I looked up upon hearing the tapping of heels my way. “James.” She said with arms crossed. Caleen was the same woman I knew, with a slightly different shade of hair, and slightly more tired complexion. “You’ve gained weight.”
“And you’re as gorgeous as I remember.”
“Flattery won’t get you anywhere.” She scowled. Hanna crept up beside her, and Caleen draped her arm lazily down the girl’s back. “Good to see you back, my dear.”
“Go take a shower and change. You smell like dirt and grease.”
Hanna nodded and began wandering off. Caleen continued to stare me down. “Why did bring her back all this way? And without asking me.”
“Why did you send her my way? It’s not like you you asked, either.”
“Well, it’s obvious you didn’t feel like playing father.” Caleen planted her hands on her hips. “Come, have a seat at least. I don’t have any beer, unfortunately.”
The fancy apartment had a clear lack of walls, divided up rather by bookcases and long couches and tall plants. The glass windows at the far back looked out upon the evening city. Caleen planted herself on a wide, flat, uncomfortable looking couch not far from the doorway. I found the matching ottoman nearby and sat down to face her. “Listen, I know what you wanted to punish her for, but that’s not fair for her or myself.”
Caleen smirked. “I figured that if she got away from that boy, he would lose interest and find someone else. Boys are like that.”
“Fine, if that’s what you came to so spontaneously.” I sighed. “Hanna’s a good listener, though. I’m sure she would have-”
“Actions speak louder than words, James. And your actions tell me you have no interest in being a father to her.” She stood again and pulled out her phone. “Now, you flew in to D.C. or something first? I’ll have my assistant book you a ticket for tonight from JFK.”
“I drove. I had business in Dallas, and my work should pay at least that distance.”
Caleen looked at me dumbfounded, mouth held half open. “Well…”
“My car broke down in Tennessee. Got a rental. If you really want to send me off, a flight to Memphis was already on my mind.”
“Fine, whatever you want.”
“I just worry about Hanna.”
“You should worry about me. I gave her nanny a couple weeks off, so who knows if she’s going to be around to help me out when I have to work still.” Caleen began, pacing around on her tight heels. “The woman’s off on some crazy vacation… Buffalo, or Niagara Falls or something.”
“A nanny?” I asked, taken aback. “When I was Hanna’s age, I was at home by my self plenty of time, even a weekend here or there.”
“Well, you know what she’ll get up to if left alone all summer.”
I stood and shook my head. “The girl only wants attention. She doesn’t need to hear from a nanny or a personal assistant. She needs a mother. Have you had the talk with her yet? About what that boy really wanted with her? Or what she’s supposed to do when that time comes? I had a great time, I’ll have you know, driving all this way with her, getting to know her. You should try it once.”
“Just leave, James.” Caleen scowled at me once again.
“Do you mean that?” A small voice came out from the hallway. Hanna had changed her clothes, and was wiping down her wet hair with a towel. “About having a fun time?”
“Sure I do, Hanna.” I declared.
Hanna dropped the towel on the ground and ran to me, wrapping my midsection with her arms. “I didn’t… mind it either.”
Caleen tapped her foot loudly. “Well, your father is going to be leaving now. I’ll get you your flight confirmation number to Memphis when my assistant finishes booking it.”
I leaned back and let Hanna go. “I’d be more than happy to have Hanna again. Just let me know before she does.”
“Winter Break.” I declared, looking into Caleen’s eyes. “We’ll be done with the Christmas advertising season by then, and I’ll be free to hang out with her again.”
“That’s just fine for me.”
Hanna tugged on my arm. “I’ll come! I’ll come!”
I nodded at Hanna. “Sure thing. Now, I think my meter is running down. Caleen-” I paused, looking to her again. “You know what to do.”
Hanna continued at my heels while I went to the door back out into the hall. “Bye! I love you, dad!”
I blinked the tears out of my eyes as I turned back for one last waive before pressing the button for the elevator.