“Come on now!”
“So,” she went on, ignoring his outburst, “Carrie felt she had to do something. She offered to pay this guy to date her mother. Out of her own meager savings from babysitting jobs and walking the neighbor’s dog. She took everything she’d managed to scrape together to pay this man. She told me she would’ve done anything to give her love-starved mother a second chance at happiness.”
Philip restrained himself from rolling his eyes at her melodramatic rendition. All she needed was a violin playing softly in the background. “How noble of her.”
“That’s not the end of the story,” Mackenzie informed him.
“You mean there’s more?”
She paid no attention to his sarcasm. “When her mother found out what she’d done, she was furious with Carrie.”
“I can well imagine.” Philip crossed his arms and leaned against the doorjamb. He glanced at his watch, indicating that there was only so much of this he was willing to listen to and he was already close to his limit.
“But she withstood her mother’s outrage. Knowing she was right, Carrie gladly accepted the two-week restriction her mother placed on her.”
The strains of the violin grew distinctly louder.
“Carrie didn’t pick just any Tom, Dick or Harry for her mother, though. She carefully, thoughtfully surveyed the eligible men around her and chose this really cool guy named James…..or something like that. His name isn’t important—what is important is that Carrie knew her mother well enough to choose the perfect man for her. She chose the very best.”
Now his daughter was beginning to sound like a greeting-card commercial. “This story does have a point, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, yes.” Her eyes gleamed with triumph. “Not more than three months later, four at the most, Carrie’s mother married Jason.”
“I thought you said his name was James.”
“I also said his name doesn’t matter. The point is that he married her and they’re both happy.”
“That must have cost her a pretty penny, since Carrie had already paid him everything she’d saved just for that first date.”
“He married her for free.”
“Oh, I see, she was on sale.”
Mackenzie frowned at him. “You’re not funny. Carrie told me that meeting Jason was the best thing that ever happened to her mother. Once a year, on the anniversary of their first date, her mom sends her flowers out of gratitude that her daughter, the very one she’d restricted for two whole weeks, had cared enough to find the man of her dreams.”
As her voice rose victoriously, the violin faded and was replaced with a full choral arrangement of God Bless America. Philip could just about hear it. His daughter was Sarah Heartburn during her finest hour.
“Now,” she said, “will you ask Carrie out? She’s perfect for you, Dad. I know what you like and what you don’t, and you’re gonna like her. She’s really nice and fun.”
“No.” He yawned loudly, covering his mouth.
“I’ve never said anything, but I’d really love to be a big sister, the way Carrie is to her two half brothers.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” The kid was actually beginning to frighten him. Not only was she telling him he should date a woman he’d barely met, now she was talking about them having children together.
“Don’t do it because I asked it of you. Do it for yourself. Do it before your heart turns into a hardened shell and you shrivel up into an old man.”
“Hey, I’m not dead yet. I’ve got a good forty or fifty years left in me.”
“Maybe,” Mackenzie challenged. “If you’re lucky.” With her nose pointed at the ceiling she exited the room with all the flair and drama of an actress walking offstage after the final curtain call.
Grinning to himself, Philip opened his briefcase. He removed a file, then hesitated, frowning. It was one thing to have his daughter carry on like a Shakespearean actress and another for an adult woman to be feeding her this nonsense. While he couldn’t remember much about Ms. Carrie Weston, he did recall that she’d appeared interested in him, judging by the intent way she’d studied him. Perhaps he’d better set the record straight with her. If she intended to use his daughter to get to him, then she was about to learn a thing or two.
He slammed his briefcase shut and marched toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Mackenzie asked, returning—of course—at that very instant.
“To talk to your friend,” he snapped.
“You mean Carrie?” she asked excitedly. “You won’t be sorry, Dad, I promise you. She’s really nice and I know you’ll like her. If you haven’t decided where to take her to dinner, I’d suggest Henry’s, off Broadway. You took me there for my birthday, remember?”
Philip didn’t bother to inform his daughter that inviting Carrie to dinner wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. He walked out the door and nearly collided with the old biddy clutching the crystal ball.
“Good evening, Mr. Lark,” Madame Frederick greeted him with a tranquil smile. She glanced at him and then at the crystal ball and her smile grew wider.
“Keep that thing away from me,” he told her in clear tones. “I don’t want you doing any of that hocus-pocus around my daughter. Understand?”
“As you wish,” she said with great dignity and moved past him. Philip glared at her, then sighed, exasperated. He headed for the stairs, running down to the second floor.