Stayin' Alive

In the 'It's A Small World After All' department, Melysa Munson and Cullen Williams - who grew up in the same neighborhood and went to school together - ended up working at the same place after college.

Cullen, who got his business degree from UMASS Amherst and Melysa, who earned her graphic artist degree from Suffolk University in Boston, both manned the Sales and Advertising Department of The Greenville News and Dispatch.

It was easy for the two friends to develop a natural collaborative effort together given their familiar shared past and they formed a formative advertising team. Cullen was great at making sales and Melysa was a talented graphic artist who came up with some interesting designs for the ads. They got along well and work was, for the most part, an enjoyable experience. The two developed a sixth sense of understanding and they were effective departmental partners who got the job done.

Cullen came into the office one morning to find Melysa sitting at her desk with a dazed look on her face.

"Something wrong?" He worried as he took his familiar seat at his desk that faced hers.

"I got an email this morning," Melysa reported.

"We lose an account?"

"My father's dying."

"Oh My God!" Cullen said with disbelief. "I just saw him last week."

"That's my step dad," Melysa told him.

"What?" Cullen asked, thunderstruck. "What are you talking about?"

"My mother was married before," Melysa explained. "Before we moved here."

"And you're just telling me this now?" Cullen asked with amazement.

"It was sort of a family secret," Melysa confessed.

"Jesus," Cullen remarked, sitting back in his chair.

"His second wife e-mailed me," Melysa said. "She says my father is nearing the end. He's in Hospice Care. He could die at any moment."

"I'm so sorry, Mel."

"She must have gotten my work e-mail off the website," Melysa said.

"I guess she wanted you to know."

"I don't know why," Melysa sighed. "I haven't seen the guy in forever."

"What's his name?"

"Milton Squires" Melysa was staring out the office window. "They call him 'Ton.' "

"You were Melysa Squires?"

"A long time ago."

"Maybe you should tell your mom."

"She won't care," Melysa replied knowingly. "She still reacts with disgust and resentment whenever he's mentioned."

"Is he mentioned a lot?"

"Almost never," Melysa acknowledged. "I was only three when they divorced. I barely remember. Tina was five, she remembers a little bit more."

"This blows my mind," Cullen admitted. "All these years and I had no idea. I thought Mr. Munson was your real Dad."

"He basically is," Melysa said. "He's the one who raised us. Nurtured us. Mentored us. Loved us."

"What about your real Dad?"

"I don't know him," Melysa sighed. "I'd get a postcard out of the blue every millennium. Some scribbled message I could barely read that never said anything of relevance. He always signed them 'Bye, Dad'."

"Oh," Cullen said, studying his friend as she sat slumped in her chair with her arms folded across her chest.

"I can't tell you how much I resented him," Melysa admitted. "He may have been my biological father but he was never my Dad."

"Mr. Munson was your Dad."

"That's why we took his name," Melysa confirmed.

"He's a great guy," Cullen said.

"Gracious and genteel," Melysa agreed warmly. "He dropped into our life like an angel, a kind and nice man. I love him."

"Of course."

"Didn't you ever wonder why me and Tina are blonde and full and he's black-haired and skinny?"

Cullen shrugged.

"We called him Dad from the moment my mother married him," Melysa said. "He came to all our dance recitals and soccer games. He loves to laugh. He's so positive."

"He always welcomed me."

"He welcomes everybody," Melysa said. 'And he brings so much joy to my mother. That's his greatest gift. He adores her and she found her soulmate."

"That's great," Cullen said.

"What few memories I have of my biological father can't be been more different from the ones I have of my step-Dad," Melysa said. "I only have vague recollections of someone who was loud, obstinate, and distant. He played football in college. He was tall and strong and stocky and handsome, a man's man my mother said. He was supposed to be her knight in shining armor, the storybook romance and marriage. He had money but as they say, money can't buy happiness."

"Your mother is very pretty," Cullen observed. "I guess that's what the draw was."

"She's a beauty," Melysa agreed. "Homecoming queen and cheerleader and all that good stuff. Smart. Sexy. Popular. I supposed that's what made them the alleged perfect couple but my mother said she knew it was all wrong almost before the wedding was even over."

"That's sad."

"They lasted long enough to have my sister and me while his business took off but he was too busy trying to become a millionaire and playing golf to pay much attention to us."

"So they split up," Cullen guessed.

"That's the basic story," Melysa confirmed. "I don't know the exactly timeline and particulars. She met Albert, they got married, and we moved to Hillsboro so he could teach at the community college. I didn't ask a lot of questions. My mother never talked about it and I didn't want to torture Albert with questions."

"When's the last time you saw your real dad?" Cullen asked.

"I was ten," Melysa replied. "He remarried. A woman named Donna. They had three kids. My mother wanted nothing to do with it but our step-dad brought us down for a visit. Tina was curious. I was mostly nervous."

"How'd it go?"

"It was a disaster, of course," Melysa sighed. "Big huge house on Long Island. Donna was a bitch. The kids were spoiled brats. My father was loud and brash and arrogant. Very condescending toward our step-dad. Tina vowed never to go again and I had little desire either although a couple of weeks later he sent us some money. My mother said it was guilt money."

"That's too bad," Cullen said.

"For years, I had this fantasy that he would be this nice man who would listen to me and be thoughtful and insightful and caring and loving, wanting to make amends and treat me like a real daughter and we would have this wonderful connection and be all comfortable and happy but I knew that was all just make believe. After that, it was just those stupid postcards and I mostly forgot that he even existed."

Melysa sat in her chair deep in thought for a long moment.

"So what are you going to do?" Cullen finally asked.

"I don't know," she groaned. "I don't even know what I'm supposed to do."

"You should probably talk to your sister," Cullen advised.

"Yeah," she agreed.

Cullen studied her for a long moment.

"What?" She asked, aware of his eyes on her.

"We've known each other all these years and I learn this about you," Cullen said. "It's this whole new piece I knew nothing about."

"We should probably get to work," Melysa said, finally pulling herself together, sitting upright in her chair and going into a different screen on her computer.

"Are you going to be okay?" Cullen asked.

She glanced at him over the top of her computer monitor but didn't answer.