Melissa had it all – good looks, a beautiful baby, and two men who each thought they were the baby’s father! (Published in Woman’s Day, 2000)
What Melissa wanted, Melissa got.
It had been like that all our lives. We were resigned to it. Melissa got all the luck.
She was the only slender blue eyed blonde in a family of sturdy brunettes, and played on it mercilessly. We adored her. We indulged her. She was the middle child, and totally spoilt.
Even my wedding day was viewed by the family not as Samantha-and-Bruce’s-Wedding, but as Melissa’s-day-as-chief-bridesmaid. Slim and dainty, she led the procession down the aisle so effectively that I, gazing lovingly (erroneously so, as it turned out, but I digress) at my bridegroom, was almost ignored by the entire congregation. I remember the minister’s eyes were on gorgeous Melissa as he intoned, “Dearly beloved”. But that was Melissa. It was only to be expected.
She had all the luck with boyfriends, too, stringing them along heartlessly; the consummate flirt. It was uncommon to see her with only one, and so careful was she that each boy, or man as time went on, never found out that he wasn’t the only one. Within the family, it was viewed as a joke.
And when, red, exhausted and bloated after almost 30 hours labour, I had Amy, Melissa held her and declared she’d have one too, Amy was so lovely.
Of course, what Melissa wanted, Melissa got. Twenty two and single, she duly became pregnant, but told us, amused, she wasn’t sure who the father was. It was either Bill, who lived interstate and provided her with the most fantastic affair on his regular business visits, or Greg, who lived in Sydney and played the stock market for something to do (Melissa only ever got the rich ones). I’d met Greg a couple of times, he was quite good looking with an honest, lived in face and a mop of fair hair like an unkempt poodle, and I hoped Melissa would make a go of things with him. Bill was a complete mystery to me. Melissa didn’t even have a photo of him in case Greg found it.
“It’s going to be a girl,” she informed me and our younger sister Allie. Well, of course it would be, if that’s what Melissa wanted. The bulge in her stomach was duly named Henrietta Evadne – God only knows where she got Evadne from! – and was called Henny from embryo stage on.
Interestedly, Allie and I watched her glowing with expectant motherhood. Not for Melissa those awful mornings hanging over the loo with the thought of dry toast churning her stomach like a washing machine. I think she threw up once, or maybe twice. And when Henny demanded to be born, she too had Melissa’s luck and slipped into the world after only three hours of labour. It was enough to make you sick.
Greg was at the bedside cheering through the birth and Bill, with marvellous timing, waltzed down the hall straight from the airport bearing one dozen red roses as Greg, still cheering, drove out of the hospital carpark. I wasn’t there but heard all the delighted details from Melissa afterwards.
In the next few months I didn’t hear much from Melissa. Presumably all was bliss for the four of them. I had enough troubles of my own, with Bruce dating his secretary behind my back – or so he thought. If he’d taken lessons from Melissa on double-dating he hadn’t passed the exams. Exasperated and exhausted from waking all hours of the night to placate a fractious Amy, who thought sleeping was a bit of a bore and who’d rather exercise her lungs, I spent the days at work and then cooked dinner for a husband who, reputedly, was busy selling life insurance until eight or nine at night and usually came home too tired to eat. I wondered sleepily about all the Amex bills for restaurants in his wallet, but awoke to myself with a rude start the evening the Oaktrees Inn rang to tell me I’d left my watch in room 311 and was that the correct address to courier it to?
There followed an hour I’d rather forget. I went through urges to rip every suit in his wardrobe to shreds and throw them in the street and then rip him to shreds too when he came home. I looked in the mirror in despair at myself; was I so ugly he had to find someone else? No, of course not. I’d lost a lot of the Amy weight and the bags under my eyes were receding nicely now my daughter was finally discovering how happy five hours of sleep a night instead of three could make her. I almost looked my real age of 25 again.
I won’t bore you with the arguments that followed. Bruce’s suits stayed intact – just – but Bruce ended up with a black eye. I think I was more shocked than he was.
Subdued, we edged around each other for the next few weeks. Bruce made a habit of coming home on time and told me he’d be faithful forever. I ate several grains of salt. I was turning into a cynic. Had I ever noticed before how pompous he could be, how patronising? How he belittled everything I told him that I thought was important? How he spent more on cosmetics than I did? It dawned on me that he had used Amy as an excuse to have an affair, but it was only for Amy’s sake I’d given him a second chance.
Melissa, Henny and her entourage were, understandably, at the bottom of my thought list.
So I was surprised when I arrived home from work and then childcare, shattered, on a particular Thursday and found Melissa and Henrietta parked on my doorstep, Melissa with a tearstreaked face. It was the first time since childhood I’d seen her less than composed and – almost – ugly, with swollen eyes and chewed lips and fingernails.
It seemed Melissa’s luck had finally run out.
“Bill’s coming back to Sydney to live,” she wailed, barely giving me time to climb out of my car. “He’ll find out about Greg!”
“And you think you’ve got problems,” I retorted to her, unbuckling a gurgling Amy from the back seat. “You’ve got two men. That’s two up on me.”
Melissa roused herself from self-absorption. “What do you mean?”
“Bruce wants a divorce.” He hadn’t even had the guts to say it face to face, he’d merely phoned me that morning at work, said his piece, waited for me to say it’d cost him and he’d better not bother coming home any more, and then hung up. I’d fully expected to arrive and see a moving van outside the house instead of my sister and niece.
“Oh, Sam! I’m sorry!” We hugged each other and wailed in the middle of my driveway. Our daughters, fearing competition I think, joined in. It must have sounded like a choir of tomcats. I’m surprised the neighbours didn’t throw shoes.
Naturally enough, Melissa brought the conversation back to herself as we commiserated over one of Bruce’s best bottles of red, which I uncorked with malicious pleasure.
“Bill’s coming to live in Sydney and I think he’ll want to move in with me. But I’m moving in with Greg next week!”
“Have a menage à trois,” I said graciously, waving my glass. I shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach. That’s how I said “yes” to Bruce.
“Oh, you’re no help,” Melissa moaned, her pretty forehead concertinaed in a frown.
“Well, who do you really want?” I said reasonably. “Who’s Henny’s father? Come on, you must know. Either in your heart or by the calendar.” I opened a packet of potato chips and we munched in relative silence for a few seconds. I reflected you couldn’t tell who Henny’s father was from looking at her; she was all Melissa, a miniature version of her mother, right down to her demanding wails and innocent blue eyes.
“Greg’s her father,” Melissa admitted, drawing circles on the table with her glass. “And he’s the one I want. I’ve always known that, deep down. Bill was fun, you know, dinner and dancing. Romance from afar. Just – fun! I haven’t seen Bill in a couple of months, haven’t thought about him for ages. The last few times I saw him I felt so guilty about Greg I didn’t enjoy being with him at all. That was a new experience for me! Anyway, he hadn’t been ringing as often because he’d been tied up in all this company stuff about moving. I don’t know how to tell him it’s over.”
“Say, ‘Bill, it’s over’. Or ask Bruce. He’ll give you advice,” I said sarcastically.
“It’s not that easy. He’s in Sydney now and he’s coming round tonight. Will you come around, too, just in case he turns nasty?”
I jumped. “Good grief, is he likely to?” Visions of Melissa and I being chased around her flat by a bellowing executive throwing Gucci loafers at our heads flashed past my eyes. “Oh, God, Liss, you’ll have to drive. I’ve had too much wine!”
“Oh, thanks, Sam!” Melissa lurched across the table, almost spilling Bruce’s precious Hill of Grace, and kissed me. “I don’t think he’ll turn nasty, but you never can tell. He’s very quiet as a rule.”
“Except he thinks he’s Henny’s father.”
Melissa and I looked at one another. “Oops,” said Melissa in a small voice.
Melissa’s luck, I thought, had actually hit rock bottom.
* * *
Henny slept and Amy played on the carpet as we waited for Bill. Melissa had pinned up her long, wavy hair on top of her head, which, she said, made her feel more self assured. She turned on the TV so we couldn’t hear our knees knocking.
When she opened the door to let in the man-who-had-become-an-ogre, I was mildly surprised to find a tall, well-built, brown haired person in his early thirties who looked even more nervous than Melissa. Kind sludge-coloured eyes hid behind gold-framed glasses which I was to discover Bill pushed up his nose six times each minute. Instinctively I liked him; his sleeves were rolled up rather absently and when he smiled he showed straight white teeth.
He looked rather disconcerted to find me sitting on the sofa, trying to act nonchalant and hoping my face wasn’t red.
“Er, Melissa, I’d rather thought we’d be alone,” I heard him murmur.
“This is my sister, Samantha,” Melissa went on brightly. “Sam, you’ve heard me mention Bill.”
“Heaps of times,” I nodded enthusiastically.
Bill seemed uncomfortable. He wandered across the room and picked up Amy. “I can’t believe Henny’s grown so big!”
Melissa and I howled with laughter, the tension broken. “That’s my little girl, Amy,” I told him.
Suddenly the three of us were giggling uncontrollably. Amy shrieked in delight and pulled Bill’s ear.
“Fine father I’d make,” Bill said self-deprecatingly. “Can’t tell one kid from another. Which is why,” he went on seriously, “I’ve come here. Melissa, it’s over. You and me.”
The delight on Melissa’s face was almost embarrassing. “Bill, I think so, too. H-have you found someone else?”
“Sort of. Well, she doesn’t know it yet,” he sighed, nudging his glasses upwards again, “But I had the feeling you and I wouldn’t work full time. I’ve also had the feeling that Henny isn’t mine. I know we were never serious – were we? – but I’d rather you’d told me the truth.”
Melissa had the grace to look very guilty indeed. “I never said she WAS yours, Bill, and no, she’s not. I never said whose she was. She’s always been – mine. I AM sorry, though. It was good fun, but that’s all. I would never have asked you for money to look after her.”
“I know. I hope you’re happy and…er…faithful to whoever he is.” Bill, still carrying Amy, leaned over and gave Melissa an affectionate, almost brotherly, kiss on the temple. What an amazing man! Melissa giggled and said she was very happy, thank you, and…er…would be staying faithful, too.
Incredibly, things appeared to be working out. Melissa’s luck – again.
Then it was my turn to be surprised. Bill went on: “I knew we were doomed when you sent me that photo of you and your sisters. I took one look at Samantha and I desperately wanted to meet her.”
I sat down with my mouth open. Me? Old married me?
Melissa’s big mouth said, “She’ll be a free woman soon. You can ask her out to dinner.”
Bill and I eyed one another. “I suppose you wouldn’t like to go out tonight?” he said. “Melissa’s told me a lot about you but I’d like to know more.”
What the hell, I thought. Melissa can babysit. She owes me one. I thought remotely of Bruce, who’d be politely shooting his cuffs and smoothing his already smooth fair hair and telling his secretary presumably the same lines he’d told me in the beginning. Had it really only been this morning that he’d requested a divorce? It seemed ages ago, in another lifetime. I didn’t know what to feel about Bruce any more; he’d somehow become a stranger. Oh, damn it, I thought, a date might be fun. And as I said, I liked him on sight.
Bill sat beside me, bouncing Amy happily on his knees, his eyebrows raised in a question. Amy, content, was busily trying to unbutton his shirt. I had a fleeting thought that I wouldn’t mind unbuttoning it myself.
“Dinner would be lovely,” I said truthfully. “As long as you’re not an insurance salesman.”
* * *
Melissa’s luck held to the end. As Bill was busy unlocking his car Greg galloped past, waving at me, and shot into the block of flats where Melissa waited for him.
© Copyright 2000 Caroline Sully
Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited