I paused slowly and looked in the door. Dad was there with a newspaper turning the pages slowly with a thoughtful look on his face. Nearby the clock ticked steadily. Should I go in?
Part of me said yes, the other part said no. I hovered near the door, not really wanting to make a decision but wanting to watch Dad all the same. I stroked the fingers on the door knob and accidentally coughed. He looked up.
I wanted to hide, but his eyes caught up to me and he frowned quizzically, not quite sure why I was here. After all, wasn’t I the one who only a couple of days ago slammed a door on his face and told him I never wanted to see him again? I blushed and I was not able to move. He looked sad and very tired.
“What do you want?”
I wanted to tell him the truth. I didn’t know what I wanted – hell, I wasn’t even sure why I was here. But there was something about his tired eyes that froze me. I realized my mouth was open and shut it quickly. Then I opened it again.
“I-I wanted to apologize.”
He grimaced and pulled the newspaper shut. I cringed. “Sit down,” he said softly, gesturing a chair facing him. My legs felt like lead, but I walked across the room and sat down stiffly. He looked at me carefully. “You know you didn’t need to apologize. You know what my feelings are.”
My blush grew darker and I couldn’t bear to look at his face. “I know,” I whispered. “But still…” I couldn’t bear to finish that sentence.
He laughed gently. “Don’t feel embarrassed. It happens to the best of us too. Love, love! What a complicated issue. Why, even I had my shares of my own misfortunes.”
“But not like that.” I paused, certain he was going to interrupt. After a moment, I said, “I thought you were going to be at work. I didn’t realize you were going to come home so early. I didn’t know.”
“No,” he said gently. “You couldn’t have known. I only decided it myself after realizing halfway through my day that I wanted to be home. You looked so stressed at breakfast. I wondered why.” He laughed gently. “And I found out later. No, no, don’t look so embarrassed. I don’t intend to stay on the subject for long. But I do want to know one thing.”
“What?” I said, my lips feeling dry.
“Did you love him?”
I felt confused and dizzy. I held my head and groaned. “I thought so. But he didn’t. Or at least I didn’t think he did. So I thought that would make the relationship better and he would love me more…” I stole a look on his face. He looked thoughtful.
“If he loved you, yes, it would make a difference. But if a relationship isn’t there in the first place, then why should you expect it to grow stronger?”
“I was stupid.”
“No, my love. You just felt it would make you happier. Happiness is a noble goal. Not necessarily the best goal, mind you, but a noble one.” I couldn’t bear to speak.
“Well! If it makes you feel better, I’ve had my share of failed endeavors. When I was younger, I was one of the guys that all the other girls fell in love with. Naturally, for my first date I picked the prettiest girl in town. Her name was Beverley. That relationship lasted about one week before both of us wanted to kill each other.”
“Really?” I said weakly. He laughed.
“Oh, but it was much worse than that. The girl I was really in love with was a long haired girl with sparkling dark eyes. She was a sophisticated lady and wanted nothing to do with me. Well, I tried to get her to have a date, but every time she refused. Then I tried a trick. I put bubble gum on her flute. She was enraged at this and swore to get even with me. Finally she did.”
“Well, she wanted to go in my house and play a prank – I forget what it was now. But you have to realize, at the time I raised chickens and I had this one rooster who was slightly demonic. Anyway, he sees her and instantly he’s squawking and flapping his wings at her. He bit her and did the best he could to terrorize her. She didn’t want to get caught, but eventually I hear this screaming. I rush out, and who would have guessed? My rooster was chasing this girl and as soon as I saw it, I burst out laughing.”
I looked at Dad with some shy interest. “What happened after that?”
“Well, after I finished laughing, I got a gun out and shot the rooster. Then the girl – her name was Maggie – and I spent the evening cooking chicken. Not quite romantic, but it was our first date.”
“Did she like it?”
“Yes, very much. We fell in love with each other quite deeply.”
He had a nostalgic look on his face and I didn’t want to interrupt him. Finally I said, “How did you break up with her?”
“Hmph?” He looked at me strangely. I dug my shoe into the carpet. “Oh, that. We didn’t. We married and had one kid – a daughter I believe.”
My mouth opened. “But my mom – her name is Jessica. You couldn’t have been married to that other woman!”
“No, no, don’t worry child.” Dad’s voice was strangely calm, and I relaxed immediately.
“Then what happened?”
He shrugged. “She died in child birth. The child didn’t last much longer.” He was staring at the floor. Then, when he realized I was looking at him, he smiled, but his eyes showed grief. I supposed he wanted to seem strong by smiling. I didn’t know. All I know was tears were beginning to form in my eyes. I wiped them off fiercely.
“Oh, child, I never meant to upset you.”
There was nothing I could do but to walk over to him and bury my head in his belly.
“I never knew.”
“I never told you. I probably wouldn’t have either, but you reminded me of her just now. It’s funny how the past catches up to you.” He laughed gently.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
He shrugged and stroked my hair. “Would you have understood? Now, look at me.” He held up my chin and I was forced to look into his eyes. “It could’ve been a lot worse, for the both of us. Now I have you and you have me. And both of us have your mommy. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”
I nodded and sniffled. He laughed gently, kissed my eyes, and then grabbed his newspaper. “Now, that’s over. Do your homework.” He winked at me.
I hugged him once more before leaving the room.