Stepping Through The Door
Gil Bingham always waited in the car to pick up his daughter Amy for visits. He had no interest in having face to face confrontations with his ex-wife after their bitter and contentious divorce. As much as he loathed Phyllis for her cheating ways, she was still a good mother and while he knew he was a good father perhaps he wasn't the greatest husband during their ten year marriage and he didn't want to take Amy away from her familiar surroundings.
Gil enjoyed Amy's company every other weekend, alternating holidays, and when circumstances warranted. Phyllis was good at allowing visits whenever it was convenient for all involved. Gil didn't like the idea of another man living in his former house but Phyllis had bought him out of his share of the property and as long as Amy didn't have any complaints about her mother's boyfriend (Jim), Gil wasn't going to make an issue of it.
Gil waited patiently for Amy to emerge from the house. They had been practicing this routine for well over a year now so there weren't any big surprises. Amy appeared from the house with her overnight bag slung over her shoulder, although the second bedroom at Gil's condo was already full of her belongings. Gil was struck by how old Amy was starting to look. Fourteen was that awkward age for her – no longer the kid she had always been with but not quite the woman she was waiting to be. She wore to much makeup (in Gil's opinion) but still dressed appropriately enough. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she had her cell in her hand as always.
"Hi, Dad," Amy said as she climbed into the front seat of the car. "How are you?"
"Great now," he smiled, putting the car in gear and driving to the condo on the other side of town.
The condo served his purpose, about fifty units of mostly retired and divorced people, single moms and the occasional younger couple. There was a pool and most of the people Gil met were pleasantly enough. Of course, being a cop, neighbors were more apt to treat him with kindness and respect in case they ever needed a favor (or break!) from him.
"How's Stella?" Amy wanted to know.
"Fine," Gil assured his daughter.
Stella was the now thirteen year old teen who lived in the attached condo next door to Gil with her Mom, Tammy Peterson. Stella was a Godsend for Gil because Amy had a distraction during her early visits and now that more than a year had gone by the two girls were fast friends, even with Amy's internment visits.
"How's Tammy?" Amy grinned.
"Neighborly," Gil replied.
"Come on, Dad," Amy groaned. "When are you going to show some interest?"
"She's younger than me," Gil reminded his daughter.
"Not that much younger, Dad," Amy pointed out, rolling her eyes.
"Younger enough," Gil sighed.
"What, are you some old fogy geezer now?" Amy wanted to know.
"No, of course not," Gil smiled.
"So why aren't you more interested in Stella's mom?" Amy wondered.
"She's a widow, Amy," Gil reminded her daughter. "It's different when your husband dies."
"You mean she still loves him?" Amy asked. "Even though he's dead?"
"And I'm sure she wants to protect Stella too," Gil theorized.
"I'm pretty sure Stella wouldn't mind having a step-dad in her life if it ever came to that," Amy" said.
Gil was turning into the condo's main drive now. "Listen, Tammy is a very lovely woman and a great neighbor," he said. "Stella is a wonderful kid."
"I like them too, Dad," Amy smiled.
Gil squinted at her. "You would seriously be okay with me getting involved with somebody?" He asked with surprise.
"Dad, I'm getting old enough now to understand reality," Amy said, rolling her eyes. "Besides, wouldn't it be great if my friend became my step-sister?"
Gil parked the car in his assigned spot, next to Tammy's SUV. "Well, don't get your hopes up," he warned. "There's nothing going on."
"Maybe Stella and I should try to do something about that!" Amy laughed mischievously.
"Let's not try to re-enact The Parent Trap," Gil requested.
Gil hated to admit it (to himself) but one of the benefits of having Amy visit was that he was more likely to see Tammy in social settings. There had been occasions when the two parents took the girls out for pizza or ice cream or even a movie together (or at least given the girls rides to those events). The two adults had never been out on a social outing together alone, of course, and their conversations were mostly about (single) parenting and their kids' welfare but it was still nice to be in Tammy's company.
Tammy had invited him and Amy over for dinner and Gil had returned the favor several times when Amy was visiting. Tammy was a working mom - a nurse at Blue County Community College. Gil had met her mom (and mother-in-law) several times when they helped out watching after Stella when called upon. Gil had even pinch-hit in that department a few times in a pinch and he really did find Stella to be a good kid, although Gil felt guilty for spending time with somebody else's kid instead of his own.
Stella wasn't as independent or free-thinking as Amy but she was smart, well-behaved, polite and respectful and - as a cop - Gil definitely appreciated her strong character traits. Gil had a few run-ins and disagreements with Amy from time to time - mostly teenage girl acting out stuff and misunderstandings and Tammy had been good enough to offer her 'woman's view' to help Gil gain a better perspective when dealing with his daughter as a single Dad. Sometimes, Gil and Tammy compared notes on parenting, swapped stories about raising daughters, and their interactions were friendly and positive.
It was Tammy standing in her doorway as Gil and Amy passed the stoop. The condos were attached wood two story Colonials so it was easy to be neighborly.
"Hi, Tammy!" Amy said cheerfully. "Is Stella home?"
"Sure is," Tammy replied. "Settle in and then come over."
"Sure," Amy said.
Gil waved to Tammy before unlocking his own door. He used to feel cheated and jealous when Amy spent time with Stella during her visits, thinking his daughter should spend all her (quality) time with him but Tammy said there was no point suffocating the kid and Gil learned to find the balance between being an involved Dad and allowing Amy to breathe.