At the office, he spent hours on the phone, brokering deals, arranging client meetings and talking politics. When I appeared with files or message slips, he’d motion for me to set them down and then go on with what he was doing. I don’t think he said more than 10 words to me that summer at work. But, at home, he was the first to ask me to stay for dinner and invite me to join in on weekend plans. We’d be sitting around the dining room table or out by the pool, and he’d recount stories from his alma mater, where I was enrolled. He also shared stories from Brad’s childhood. On one occasion, he pulled out reels of family movies. But when he couldn’t get the Super 8 projector to work, I mentioned that my dad had one just like it.
“Run home and get it,” he said. “And, bring us your home movies so we can see how cute you were when you were little.”
By next summer, I felt like part of the family. One evening, Brad had a work dinner in New York and asked me to meet up with him afterward. When Mr. S. heard I was planning to take the train alone, he insisted on driving me. We made small talk, and then he broached the subject of Brad and me and our recent rocky period.
“I just want you to know that when Brad was acting like a jerk and taking you for granted, it was because he was scared,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“He told me you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and he doesn’t want to lose you. Sometimes, we push the one we love away to keep from getting hurt,” he explained.
“Oh,” I said.
“He loves you.”
Then I got quiet. It felt strange to have this conversation with an adult male. The one time my own father had approached me with advice on relationships, he squirmed and avoided eye contact, and I was uncomfortable too. Without history or baggage, it was easy to talk to Mr. S.
When Dad died that November, I asked my husband and my mother-in-law if I could speak at his funeral. “Of course,” they said. Brad would speak, then me, followed by his brother and sister. Hours before the service, I asked Brad if he thought his brother and sister were upset that I was giving a eulogy.
“Why would you think that?” he asked.
“I’m just an in-law,” I said. “Besides, when the three of you tease each other about being Dad’s favorite, inevitably, one of you adds, ‘actually, it’s Melissa.’”
“Don’t be ridiculous," I said. "He loved you.”
I know I wasn’t Dad’s favorite. But, I was his Melissa.