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I had imagined my reunion with my father so many times over the past two years, I had every last detail down. I knew how many breaths of surprise I’d take upon seeing him. How long my strides would be as I raced across the distance that separated us and into his arms. I knew that he’d pick me up and twirl me around exactly three times before setting me down again, pushing my hair back from my face, and saying, “I missed you, bud.”
In my mind, it had always looked like some sappy Disney movie. Him with a big, toothy grin. Me with my feet kicked up, my skirt flying. The sun was always shining and the birds were serenading us with a happy tune. It was the kind of scene that would bring tears to moviegoers’ eyes everywhere.
Except I didn’t actually wear a lot of skirts. And the sun had gone down hours ago. Plus, the only sound outside the car was the annoying beeping of a truck backing up. Also, it had never occurred to me that when we all saw each other again, no one would feel like smiling. In fact, the moment I spotted my dad on the front steps of the condo my mother and I shared in the Orchard View Condominium community, all I could imagine doing was shoving him as hard as I could.
“Oh my God,” my mother said from the front passenger seat. Outside the window, my dad slowly rose to his feet. He was wearing pressed khakis and a crisp, white button down with varied stripes. His salt-and-pepper hair was cropped short on the sides and pushed back from his face on top. His shoes gleamed, and he wore the silver and gold Rolex my mother’s father had given him on the day of their wedding. Since leaving Orchard Hill in shame and destitution two years ago, my mom had sold most of her good jewelry to help pay the bills. Apparently that plan had never occurred to my dad. “I’m not really seeing this,” my mother said. “Tell me I’m not seeing this.”
Her hands shook as she reached for the clasp on her seat belt.
“Melanie, just take a breath and calm down,” her boyfriend, Gray Nathanson, said. He put the car in park and covered her fingers with his large hand. “You don’t want the first thing you say to him to be something you’ll regret.”
“Something I’ll regret?” My mother’s voice sounded like it was coming to us through a tin can tunnel. “I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to kill the bastard.”
Yeah. A Disney movie this was not.
Gray said my mother’s name, but she was already out of the car. I found I couldn’t move; my legs had gone dead. I watched through the window of Gray’s luxury SUV as my father’s eyes followed my mother’s approach and suddenly registered fear.
“How could you?” my mother screeched, slamming his chest with both hands. Like mother like daughter. My dad staggered back a couple of steps and Gray hustled out of the car.
“Wait here,” he said to me, slamming the door shut behind him.
For some reason, that directive was what finally got me moving. I undid my seat belt and scrambled out onto the pavement. A couple of lights flickered to life around me, and I saw concerned neighbors peeking through the slats of their blinds. Great. I gave it five minutes before the Orchard Hill Police Department descended on my little family reunion. As if there hadn’t already been enough humiliation tonight.
“Gray? What the hell are you doing with Gray Nathanson?” my father said as I approached.
Gray had one hand on my dad’s chest, holding him back as my father talked about him like he wasn’t even there.
“What the hell am I—? Are you kidding me, Christopher? Where the hell have you been for the last two years? Who the hell have you been with?” my mother shouted.
“I haven’t been with anyone! I’ve been trying to get my life back together!” my father shouted back.
“Oh really? That’s funny! Because I thought your life was with us! Have you been here all this time and I’ve just missed you somehow?”
Gray put his other hand on my mother’s shoulder. “Why don’t we all just calm down, go inside, and—”
“I have a better idea. Why don’t you shut the fuck up and let me talk to my wife?” my father demanded, shoving Gray off of him.
Gray finally lost his composure. His face turned purple and his fists clenched, the tendons in his neck stuck out. My heart thumped with panic. My dad was tall and toned, but thin. Not exactly the fistfighting type. Gray worked out every day and was a lot stronger-looking than my dad. If hooks and jabs started flying, my father would be toast. I had to do something.
“Dad?” I croaked.
All three of them turned to look at me. They had clearly forgotten I was there. Gray’s fists relaxed. My mother’s eyes flooded with tears. My dad blew out a breath, tilted his head, and said, “Hey, bud.”
He even managed to smile. It was almost exactly like I’d imagined it. Except—
“No!” my mother shouted, slicing a finger through the air. “No! You do not get to call her ‘bud.’ You don’t even get to look at her! Not after you haven’t so much as called her for her birthday or for Christmas or for anything in the past two years! Not after what happened to her tonight, thanks to you.” My mother was hysterical now, the tears streaming down her face as she blindly, haphazardly groped for my hand.
My dad’s face was blank at first, then concerned. “Wait . . . what happened to her tonight?” He repeated. “What do you mean ‘What happened to her tonight’?”
Nothing much. I was just completely blindsided and humiliated when Shannen Moore played a video at her birthday party for half the junior and senior class and most of my mom and dad’s former friends to see. A video of her, Faith Kirkpatrick, Hammond Ross, and Jake Graydon “happening upon” my father as he worked behind the counter at a deli in New York City. Up until the moment it unfolded on the huge screen over the dance floor, I’d had no clue where my father had been for the past two years, whether he was alive or dead, whether he’d . . . I don’t know . . . gotten himself a new identity and moved to Paraguay. I found out at the exact same time as everyone else in the room that he’d been slinging bologna less than fifty miles away all this time. Just making sandwiches and pouring coffee and wiping counters. Living life as if my mother and I had never existed.
Wait, strike that. A few people had known before me. Namely, the people in the video, who had filmed it last winter: Shannen, Faith, Hammond, and Jake.
“We are going inside now. We are.” My mother grabbed Gray’s hand as well and basically yanked us both up the stairs. She fumbled with her keys until Gray finally took them from her and opened the door. He ushered me inside ahead of him while my mother let the screen door crash behind us. She turned around and glared down at my father, who, at that moment, looked smaller than he ever had in my life. “You can stay out there and rot.”
I watched my father as the door closed on his stricken, disappointed face. My mother ran to her room and slammed that door as well, leaving me and Gray alone in our cramped entryway. He put his hands in his pockets and looked out the tiny window set high in the door.
“No one would blame you if you wanted to go out there and talk to him,” he said.
“Oh really? I think my mom would disagree,” I replied, somehow speaking past the thick, wet paper towel that had jammed itself in my throat.
“She’s just upset right now,” Gray said. “But he’s your father. She knows you two should have a relationship.”
I swallowed hard. There was a long, skinny window of cut glass next to the front door, which you could only see through if you angled your eye just right, and even then you could only catch a sliver of the outside world. I stood on my toes and tilted my head to see my father frustratedly pacing in our parking lot. He moved out of view, then back again. Covered his face with his hands, muttered something under his breath. Finally, he turned and walked away, toward the exit of the complex, whipping out a cell phone as he went.
Just like that. He was here and then he was gone again.
“I think I’ll just go to bed,” I said weakly.
Gray gave me a sympathetic smile. He looked like he maybe wanted to reach out and squeeze my shoulder, and I was relieved when he restrained himself. I liked the guy, but I didn’t much want anyone touching me at that moment. Definitely not a father figure touching me in a fatherly way. Not now.
I walked to my room, closed the door, and sank down onto the edge of my bed, clutching the blanket at my sides. I was still wearing the black cocktail dress I’d bought specifically for Shannen’s party and I suddenly felt like tearing it off my body in shreds. What a waste of a week’s paycheck. I couldn’t believe I had been so naïve. So stupid and gullible and oblivious. Less than five hours ago I’d been standing in front of the mirror in this very room, grinning at my reflection, giddily anticipating Jake Graydon’s arrival so he could squire me off to the biggest party of the year. Five hours ago Jake was my almost-boyfriend. Five hours ago I was almost friends with Shannen and Hammond and Chloe Appleby again. Five hours ago life was on its way to being good. It was on its way to being great. One might even say perfect.
It is amazing how in five short hours, everything completely and irrevocably turned to crap.
Daily Field Journal of Annie Johnston Sunday, June 27
Position: Window stool at the Apothecary.
Cover: Trying out tinted moisturizer at the counter. Oddly (and to the saleslady’s obvious annoyance), none seem to exactly match my skin tone. Perhaps because the cheapest three-ounce bottle is priced at $22.50.
1:05 p.m.: Subject Chloe Appleby arrives. Uniform: pink skirt, white T-shirt, silver thongs, ponytail, larger sunglasses than usual. (Assessment: Clearly mourning the death of her relationship with Hammond. Note: Confirmation of this was all over Twitter this morning. Ally has still not answered her phone.) Subject walks to the sunscreen aisle, stops, and stares at a Clinique bottle. (Note: Shisheido is her brand of choice. Assessment: She’s not handling this breakup well.)
1:21 p.m.: Subject Chloe Appleby still staring at Clinique bottle. Subject Shannen Moore arrives. Uniform: cutoff shorts, rubber thongs, wrinkled Three Dots T. Subject freezes when she sees Subject Chloe, turns around, and walks out. Subject Chloe never sees her. Unless she hid her reaction behind those big-ass glasses and just faked it. (Assessment: Chloe totally saw her.) 1:45 p.m.: Subject Chloe has replaced Clinique bottle and moved on to nail polish. Subject Hammond Ross walks by the window. Uniform: plaid shorts, polo shirt, Nike sport sandals. Subject Hammond spots Subject Chloe. He stops. Turns. Hesitates. Walks in. Subject Hammond approaches his prey.
Hammond: “Hey, babe.”
Subject Chloe slams the NARS bottle she was considering down on the shelf and storms out. Several jars hit the floor and two of them break, ruining Subject Hammond’s Nikes. Pinched-face saleslady forces Subject Hammond to pay for two sixteen-dollar bottles of nail polish. He shoves the door open so hard on the way out, it smacks against the window, and the Botoxed customer next to me actually changes expression.
(Personal Note: It’s a good day.)
© 2011 Kieran Viola