Now, both Tilly and I are utterly stunned. Meanwhile, Sam continues.
“You’re not going to believe this Dad, but I have even started following the spiritual practice of Buddhism. I feel it’s really changing the way I see the world around me, including the people in my life. Buddhism tells you to accept the people in your life as they are, after all. You cannot change that over which you have no power.”
My mind spins. I can’t believe I never thought about getting Sam someone to talk to through all of this. I think Tilly suggested it to me once, but I never did anything, and now I’m humbled at my lack of action in this divorce. I thought I had tried everything, but really, I just talked at Samantha. I suppose I never really took the time to listen. I never worked to get her to open up about things. I’ve always thought she was strong enough to take on the world, but inside, she was so vulnerable. Everyone needs help now and again, and I’m proud of her for finding a way to overcome this on her own.
And she’s Buddhist now?! Man, I’ve really got to check in more often.
I take a deep breath, trying to exude calm.
“I know, Sam. Some things in life don’t come with an instruction manual. And the things you did are not acceptable, but they are forgivable. I’m glad you went and got help, but don’t ever feel like you have to hide anything like that from me in the future. You can come to me with anything. You know that. I’m your father.”
“Yeah Dad, but I could say the same for you. How long have you been sneaking around with my classmate, by the way?”
I take a deep breath, trying to find my footing in this new situation. My classmate. Those words kill me a little bit inside, but then Tilly jumps in. She is being so brave through all of this.
“We’ve been seeing each other for a few months now. I’m sorry too, Sam. I know this is totally weird, but you have to listen: we never expected this to happen.”
Samantha’s nose scrunches.
“How did it happen, anyways?”
I step in.
“I went over to Tilly’s house after our meeting with Principal Hartman to apologize again. And I don’t know, we just got to chatting, and we really connected. Like Tilly said, this was unintentional, but I know that I care about her.”
I turn towards Tilly, with my heart on my sleeve.
“I love you, Til. I didn’t mean for you to find out like this, but I do.”
She is holding back tears.
“Does anyone else know about you two?” Samantha interjects.
“I’ve told Nicole,” Tilly says hesitantly, glancing at me in a way that almost asks for my approval.
“It’s okay, I figured you did,” I say reassuringly.
“Well then,” Sam starts with a small smile, “the Buddha says that the path to enlightenment involves allowing others to seek their own path. And if you want to walk your path with Tilly Mortensen, then I won’t get in your way, Dad.”
I could not be prouder. My daughter has grown up right before my eyes. Samantha shakes Tilly’s hand and they share a civil smile. Then, my daughter leaves, closing the door to the classroom behind her.
I turn to find Tilly weeping tears of joy. She falls into my arms and I hold her tight, gently kissing the top of her head. I don’t even have to think twice about what I’m about to ask her.
“So, what do you say we make our relationship public, sweetheart?”
She looks at me, with her heart in her eyes, and then presses a gentle kiss to my lips.
“Yes, Michael. I love you too, so let’s go public with our love. But first, I have a surprise for you.”
I chuckle deep in my throat.
“What is it, sweetheart? I doubt anything could surprise me more today.”
She blushes and smiles, with a secretive look in her eyes. Then she takes my hand and presses it against her soft belly. Immediately, I look up and meet her eyes.
“Are you…?” I breathe.
“Yes, Michael. You’re going to be a father again. I don’t know how this is going to affect our plans, but we’re going to have a baby in about seven months.”
With that, my heart soars, and I pull the curvy girl close. Tilly has given me everything, and now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been before.
Two years later.
“You know, if someone told me two years ago that this is where my life would be, I would have never believed them,” I say.
I take in the scene before me: the street lined with shops and cafes, and families like ours filling the sidewalk. I inhale deeply, enjoying the smell of roasting coffee beans wafting out onto the street from the Green Bean, while Michael stops to indulge in an organic smoothie sample being handed out by a young man in a white paper cap.