The ride went relatively well as Jon and Steph chatted about the Soul and the team they were playing from Denver. Stephanie seemed to be relaxing and I settled back and just listened, feeling a little relieved.
We arrived at the stadium and headed in, but there were fans everywhere, as much for Jon as for the team. Jon stopped to sign autographs and shake hands with his fans while Steph and I stayed back and waited.
“Steph, why don’t you two go on ahead and I’ll catch up with you. Show Trish where to go. Richie should be coming too” he said to Steph and then turned to me. “She knows the way. Just follow her. I’ll be along shortly, just a couple things to do first” he explained to me.
I followed Stephanie to the owner’s box and we settled in. Richie came in just after us and gave each of us a hug.
“I’m so sorry about last night. I don’t blame Jon for taking off after he saw all the press. She makes me so mad sometimes” he said to me, apologizing for Denise’s rudeness the night before.
“It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault, Richie. She’s got a sharp tongue” I replied.
“She felt left out and she knows no one approves of her and that’s just how she gets when she’s hurt” he rationalized. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but I bit my tongue. Jon was right. It sounded like he’d already forgiven her.
“I’m glad you’re here today” I said simply. We sat down and Richie talked to Stephanie a little about school and what she wanted to do over her summer vacation. She was delightful and they got along well.
“Your Father says you have a boyfriend. Some guy from school who keeps calling? Is he your boyfriend?” Richie teased.
“Oh, him? No, he just needs help with his English and he keeps calling me. Mom thinks he likes me, but I like another guy” she answered.
“What’s he like? The other boy you like?” I ventured, trying to join the conversation, but she ignored me and kept talking to Richie, changing the subject to the game today. Richie looked at me sympathetically and tried to draw me into the conversation.
“Are you a football fan, Trish?” he asked.
“Not really. This is my first game, so I really don’t know much about it” I explained.
“Oh brother” Stephanie muttered under her breath. Richie then tried to explain how arena football is different than regular football, but I just nodded, having no real frame of reference to understand the comparisons.
“Do you watch regular football too, Steph?” I asked, trying again, but she wasn’t listening. Richie excused himself to say hello to someone else and I turned forward to look at the crowd.
“Your dad has a lot of fans here too, I see” I said, trying again to find a way to connect with Stephanie. I pointed at a couple women who were dancing in the stand to ‘Who Says You Can’t Go Home?’ hoping to maybe engage her by talking about her dad.
“Just leave me alone, will you? You’re just some tramp my Dad picked up and he’ll be over you soon enough, so just quit trying to be nice and leave me alone” she blasted me. The hurt and anger on her face made me catch my breath.
“Steph, I know this is hard for you. But your dad and I love each other. And he loves you too. I don’t want to ever come between you” I said, tears forming as I thought how hard this was going to be for Jon. I was trying to be rational, but I didn’t particularly like Stephanie a whole lot at the moment.
Richie had returned a moment before and I thought he’d heard the exchange as he looked at me sympathetically and asked if he could get me a drink. I nodded and Stephanie had turned away and I thought she was trying not to cry. Richie came back and handed me a glass of wine just as Jon arrived. Stephanie moved over another seat and he sat down between us, sensing the mood.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” he asked me anxiously.
“Nothing really, Stephanie is a little upset still about me. She’s having a hard time accepting all this. I think she just needs some time, Jon” I said, taking a deep breath. “I’m okay” I whispered. “Take care of her now.”
Jon looked at me and he looked tired now. He really hadn’t seen this coming and he was used to taking care of things, but here he was at a loss. He wasn’t used to things not going his way.
He turned to Stephanie who was staring straight ahead, not looking at him either.
“Steph? Is everything okay?” he asked, putting his arm around her.
She sniffed and said nothing, struggling to hold back the tears I knew were there. They needed some time alone. I turned to Richie and asked if he could show me where the ladies room was and he stood and gave me his hand, helping me climb over the seat. We stepped out of the owner’s box after I whispered to Jon that I’d give him some time with Steph.
“Are you okay? I heard what she said to you and you know that’s not true. Jon loves you and he’d never even introduce you to his kids if he wasn’t serious” he said reassuringly.
“Thanks, Richie, I know. It was hard to hear that, but I know this all has to be a shock for her. I think it’s all just too much too soon. She needs time with him alone to know that it won’t change their relationship” I said.
“I know. The other kids will be okay, but Steph is close to Dot and I’m sure this hurts her because she’s always believed they’d get back together. Jon’s never shown any interest in anyone else before and this is challenging her fantasy that they’ll get back together. She‘s a good kid, really” he said.
I was impressed with Richie’s ability to understand it all and surprised that Jon had so misread his daughter. But then again, maybe he only saw what he wanted to believe. We peered inside the owner’s box and could see that they were still talking.
“Let’s get another drink at the bar and give them some time” Richie suggested and we walked back in, but over toward the bar. Richie introduced me to John Elway, the owner of the team from Denver and we chatted for a bit.
The game was just about to start and everyone stood for the national anthem. Afterwards, Richie and I watched Jon and Steph from the bar. Jon glanced back once and I nodded to him, but it was obvious he was still talking to Steph, so we waited. Finally I saw her hug Jon and I nudged Richie.
“Think it’s safe to go back?” I whispered to him.
“Yeah, looks about as good as it’s likely to get, I think” he agreed and we made our way back to our seats.
I sat down quietly next to Jon and he put his hand on my knee. I put my hand over his and knew we were okay without needing any words. The game was actually rather exciting, even given the fact that I really didn’t understand a lot of what was happening. The Soul were losing, though, but Jon seemed preoccupied and less upset than I would have anticipated.
By half-time the Soul had nearly caught up and it looked like the game might turn around. John Elway came over to say hello and chatted. Jon wanted to go and talk to the coach and asked if we wanted any food or snacks. I didn’t have much of an appetite still and declined, but he was hungry and Steph wanted nachos. Richie went with Jon to help with the food, leaving me and Steph alone again. I decided I wouldn’t try to talk to her and waited to see whether she’d say anything to me this time.
As soon as Jon was alone with Richie, he asked him if he knew what happened. Richie recounted the gist of the conversation, but Jon wasn’t satisfied.
“Tell me what was said, all of it” Jon demanded.
“It was a little rough” Richie said, still hedging.
“What did Steph say? Tell me” he insisted and Richie relented, giving Jon the whole story. Jon was shocked that his daughter would behave like that and none too pleased.
“Let it go, man. She’s twelve. Trish is okay and she handled it well. Just leave it alone and give her time. You can’t force them to bond because it would be easier on you if they did” Richie advised.
“I’m not letting her get away with talking like that. I don’t care how upset she is, that’s no excuse for what she said. She’s going to apologize” he said, fuming.
“Man, she’s settled down now. You’re gonna make it worse. Let sleeping dogs lie” Richie cautioned again, but Jon wasn’t having any of it. His need to force the situation the way he wanted it to go was too strong.
Stephanie and I sat in silence for more than ten minutes. It seemed like hours, but I was determined to back off and wait for her and I could see she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye. Finally, she spoke.
“They’re dancing again” she said pointing. I followed the direction of her finger and saw the two ladies I’d pointed out previously who were dancing in the stands again.
“You’re right, they must be big fans” I said, staying on neutral ground.
“Yeah, dad had a picture taken once with the one lady. I think her name is Ruth. She seemed really nice. They’re at all the games I’ve been to” Steph replied, still not looking directly at me and I followed suit.
“It looks like the Soul may win after all. How many points did you say you were thinking they’d win by?” I asked, still staying on neutral ground. She looked at me then, forgetting herself.
“Seven! I really want them to beat Denver. They’re sort of a rival” she offered, explaining. I was feeling relieved now until Jon returned, scowling.
“Uh-oh, looks like your dad’s not very happy about something” I said, assuming it had to do with his conversation with the coach. Jon sat down and handed Steph her nachos and turned to her.
“We need to have a word, young lady” I heard him say to her. Shit. Not now, I thought to myself and nudged Jon. He looked at me with an annoyed expression. I mouthed “Don’t. Not now” at him, but he ignored me and turned back to Steph who was staring at her nachos.
“Look at me” he said to her. I nudged him again and he shrugged me off. Stephanie looked up at him.
“Jon, please” I tried again, knowing I was treading on thin ice, but feeling sorry for Steph now.
“Let me handle this” he said in an irritated voice.
“Stephanie. You owe Trish an apology. I know what you said and I’m really disappointed in you. That was uncalled for and you’re not getting away with it” he said to her and she started to cry. Shit, I thought again. Please stop, leave it alone. I was silently willing him to back off.
“Jon, it’s not necessary. Please, we’re okay. Leave her alone” I pleaded.
“Don’t tell me how to handle my daughter!” he went off on me now too. That was it. Now I was mad as well. I got up and went to the bar and Richie followed me, having heard the whole thing.
“He just can’t leave it alone. He can be such a bastard sometimes” he said.
“Yeah, I’m beginning to see that! We were getting along okay and he just blew it. Damn it!” I said, pissed off at Jon for being pig-headed.
Jon looked back at us and then at Steph who was still crying and stormed off. I couldn’t tell if he was mad at both of us now or at himself, but I went and sat by Stephanie.
“It’s okay, sweetie. I’m sorry. Your Father is a hard man, sometimes” I said soothingly.
She sniffed and pulled away, but looked at me, tears still streaming down her face. I handed her a tissue and looked away.
“I am sorry; I shouldn’t have said what I did. I just wanted it to be true. I don’t want my Dad to love somebody else, but I know he does. I am sorry” she said to me.
“It’s okay, Steph. Really, I know it’s a lot to take in. But your dad loves you. He’s just so demanding sometimes. It’ll be okay” I said.
Richie had gone looking for Jon and found him outside the box, hitting the wall with his hand. “Hey, asshole! Are you happy now? They’re both pissed at you, ya jerk!” he said to Jon, not letting him off the hook.
Jon looked at him with a mixture of rage and anguish. He knew he blew it and now he didn’t know how to make it better.
“Just go and apologize to both of them, man. Bite the bullet and act like the grown-up, will ya?” Richie chided him.
Jon just stood there looking impotent for a moment. “I just don’t know how to handle this. I didn’t see it coming. I’m not even sure how I feel right now” he confessed.
“It’s hard, man. Kids are hard and women are harder. Just buck it up and apologize. You can work it out later” Richie encouraged him. Jon looked exhausted, but nodded, admitting defeat. “I should’ve listened to both of you” he added, looking sheepish.
“Yeah, but that would’ve been a first” Richie grinned.
Jon punched Richie in the arm and followed him back into the box, stopping at the bar to get a drink first. He sat down between me and Stephanie and neither of us looked at him.
“I’m sorry, ladies. I acted like a jerk. Will you forgive me?” he said to both of us. I knew it took a lot for Jon to say that and I responded with a smile. Stephanie was a little more difficult. Jon turned her head to look at him.
“Steph? I am sorry” he said and I saw the ice melt. She hugged him and he hugged her back. The knot in my stomach dissolved and I knew we could watch the rest of the game without the previous tension. The Soul ended up winning by exactly seven points and the ladies in the bleachers across from us did their happy dance. Stephanie and I joined in and even Jon did.