“Would you like your table now or would you like to wait for your party at the bar?”
Lisa started to ask for the table, but then crinkled her nose and pointed to an empty stool. “I better wait at the bar.”
And wait she did. Wait and wait. First with a wine, then with a second, and after that she let herself graduate to a cocktail. The first in order to have something to do with her hands, the second to give him a little more time, and the third because even though she didn’t even want him to come it still hurt that he didn’t.
And then he came.
“Sweetie, I’m so sorry.” He used his sad voice, the one with a little whine and a choked little tear. “Were you waiting long? Of course you we were waiting long, what am I saying? I’m sorry. Are you in a hurry, can we still do this?”
She sighed. “Sure.” Lisa motioned to the bartender and reached for her purse.
“Oh no, let me.” She didn’t protest, and in a fraction of a second decided against making a comment or even a face. He was already in the hole, and would probably dig himself further in before the evening was over; she didn’t need to pile on. At least not at first.
The maitre d’ showed them to a table for two by the window. Lisa sat where she could see the front door. It gave her the option of planning out escape routes if she needed them.
“Hi, my name is Derrick, and I’ll be your server today. Here are your menus, take your time. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Hi, Derrick. I’m Tom. This is my daughter Lisa.” His charming voice. Tom Grand was a man of many voices. He toggled through them with ease. “Water for the table, and I’ll have a Diet Coke.”
Lisa downed the rest of her cocktail and arched an eyebrow at her father. “She’ll have another one of those,” her father chuckled. Derrick the Waiter chuckled, too. When he was gone Tom leaned forward, playfully, conspiratorially.
“I don’t want you to think I’ve gone religious or AA on you. I just figure it’s been a long day, I probably should focus on rehydrating tonight.”
She hadn’t thought about his choice of beverage at all. At that moment she had been thinking that she probably didn’t need another drink, and that although she had been very hungry not long ago she suddenly didn’t really feel like sharing a meal with her father or anyone. She just wanted to go home. Barring that, she should probably switch at least back to wine.
“I should probably stick to water but I like the bubbles and the sugar, too.” He was obviously trying to fill the air with words. Lisa figured that she should redirect him to whatever point he was getting at.
“So you were in town?” she asked.
“When today? No. I just got in. That’s why I was late. I hit all the traffic.”
“You drove here from Cleveland?” He nodded. There was a faint trace of a smile that was somewhere between proud and embarrassed. “What was that, twelve hours?”
“Something like that. The reviews said that the bistecca fiorentina is really good here. But the vegetarian options were good, too.”
“I’m not vegetarian,” she said curtly. He paused.
“Of course not,” back in his gentle voice, which was similar to his sad voice but a bit less whiny. “But we all try to eat healthy now, don’t we? You look wonderful, I have to say. How’s Boston? How’s work?”
“They’re both fine, I guess.”
“Are you still with that law firm or did you get away like you wanted to?”
She had to stop and think. “I… forgot about the law firm. I was only there for a few weeks. Yeah, I’m… Yeah. Last year. I work at the Museum of Fine Arts now.”
“Wow, that’s great, honey!” His eyes opened wide and he grinned from ear to ear. The reaction was both genuine and exaggerated. “Doing what?”
“I help manage the endowment. It’s pretty low-level.”
“Well, you’re twenty-four years old, of course it’s low-level. But I bet you’ll be in charge faster than you think. I bet your boss doesn’t even know he’s already working with his replacement. He better watch out.”
Derrick the Waiter set their glasses on the table. “Cosmopolitan for the lady, Diet Coke for the gentleman. And water for the table. Can I take your order or do you need a little more time?”
The two Grands, father and daughter, exchanged questioning looks and the elder Grand took a stab at interpreting them. “I think we’re ready.” She wasn’t, but she nodded anyway, and then hurriedly studied the menu. “Derrick, I’m torn. I read all about your bistecca fiorentina, I gotta tell you that’s why I picked this place, but I’m trying to eat healthy and now, you know, I’m having some doubts. What do you recommend instead of a bloody hunk of meat?”
Derrick had a theatrical background. It showed. “Our chef does wonders with a portobello mushroom, I tell you, you won’t even miss the meat. And it has, like, almost no calories so you can smother it in all the cream you want.”
“I’ll have that then.”
“And for the lady?”
She hadn’t really read the menu, and she wasn’t hungry, so she stopped her eyes and read aloud the words in front of them. “Spinach ravioli in red sauce.”
“Those are great, too. Anything else? No? I’ll be right back with bread.”
Lisa watched Derrick walk away. Tom watched her watch him. When she turned back she was a little startled to find her father looking at her, and to find herself sitting at a table with him. There was a time once, not long ago even, when he awed her. She absolutely adored him, in spite of everything. She excused everything she could, forgave what couldn’t be excused, and ignored the rest. There was a time when she looked upon his like her own personal god.
“Where were you when you called me today?” she asked him, leaning back in her chair to add some distance.
“Somewhere around Syracuse. I stopped to eat and called you before I went in.”
“What time did you leave your house this morning?”
“It doesn’t matter, sweetie. Four in the morning or so, I think.”
“What if I’d told you I was busy? What if I hadn’t answered?”
“I would have turned around and tried again another day.”
She couldn’t look at him now. That was how much her god had fallen. She looked away and chewed on her cuticle for a moment, a childhood habit that she had mostly overcome but that still surfaced from time to time.
“Why?” she finally asked.
Tom Grand sighed and let his upper body drape over the table, closing some of the distance to her. “I wanted to see you. I just… Even now, if you get up right now and walk away, it’s worth it. I can’t explain any more, I mean I want to, I just can’t. I woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like my heart was just being crushed, and I said to myself, ‘I need to see Lisa.’ Just see your face, hear your voice in person, not over the phone. And I said, hell, Boston’s not so far away. I can start now and get there, you know, in time for dinner or something. Then I thought, what if she’s busy, or doesn’t want to. On vacation or something, I don’t know. So I stayed in bed. It was ridiculous, right?” She nodded, and her eyes flashed with cruelty. “But I couldn’t get back to sleep and I thought, you know, I’ll drive until morning. I can take the day off. I work for myself, I don’t care. And besides, who has plans on a Thursday night? No-one, not since ‘Friends’ got cancelled. So I got in the car and drove. And then I was scared to call you until lunch time.” He picked up his glass but didn’t drink it. “Thank you for answering. And for coming today.”
She picked up her drink and downed about half of it.
“And here’s your bread. Is there anything else I can get for you?” Lisa wondered if waiters were clueless on purpose or if just the blur of serving prevented them from catching the mood at the table.
“No, we’re good, thanks,” Tom smiled up at him.
“Just let me know if you need anything. Enjoy!” Derrick the Waiter lingered a bit longer than was strictly appropriate, and Tom smiled at him the whole time while Lisa’s ears burned hot. Finally he was gone, but by then the words she had meant to say had curled up and gone back inside. She took a sip of her drink instead.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you this way, sweetie. Is this weird?”
“Yes. Yes, it’s weird. You know it’s weird. No-one drives from Cleveland to Boston because they can’t sleep.” She was getting excited, and that wasn’t helpful. Lisa stopped herself and took another drink. The fact is she had no reason to be angry with him today. She took a breath and looked up at him with a calm and neutral expression.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Why kept you awake?”
He scratched his arm and looked around the room before saying, in a genuinely embarrassed near-whisper, “I’m a horrible person. And most of the time I don’t care or I give myself excuses, but sometimes, you know, you’re there, all alone, with just you and the truth, you know? And it’s like, regret… regret is the easy part. Regret is, it’s nothing. It’s entry level hurt.”
He reached out for a piece of bread. Tom poured olive oil into a little saucer and then mixed with parmesan, black pepper, and salt. With his butter knife he spread the concoction onto his bread. When she was little he used more olive oil, making a flavored dip that he’d scoop up with the bread, dripping trails of oil and cheese across the tablecloth. He was using less oil now, so the result was more of a paste. Maybe he was trying to cut down on the oil. Maybe he just messed up. His hand was unsteady, and the lengthy pause in the conversation while he did this was unlike him.
For a moment she felt it wash over her, the filial obligation to reach out and comfort her father. She was nine years old again, scooting over onto his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck and tucking her face with closed eyes into his neck and hoping that this moment would pass and her warmth and love would save the day and the family and everything. She could almost see herself now– grown up and independent but still so small beside him, still afraid of him, still needing him–reaching out and taking his hand, the first hand that had ever touched hers.
But he was still holding the bread in one hand and the butter knife in the other, and anyway she had successfully outgrown him and didn’t owe him any more, and he hadn’t earned anything else.
Just as abruptly as he had stopped talking he started again, in a conversational tone that bordered on chatty. A backyard-barbecue voice. “When Jimmy was about seven years old–this was way before you obviously–he decided he was going to find a wishing stone. I never knew where he got the idea from, maybe a TV show or something, I don’t know. One day he asked me wouldn’t it be great if there was such a thing as a wishing stone, and you could wish for anything you want in the world and you’ll get it, right? He was super skinny back then, have you even seen pictures? Tiny little guy, huge eyes like half his head. And he lost his front teeth early and it took forever for them to grow back in, so we just got used to him having a lisp. Anyway, he looks up at me on the couch and says this, and right away I’m like, you don’t need a stone to make your wishes come true, you just gotta work. And then I started picking it apart, you know how I do, you wouldn’t care about anything if you could just get it, is this really just an excuse to not have to do your chores, you know like I could never really imagine anything, right, I just had to bring everything right down to earth and dismiss the rest. But he kept with it, and a few days later he brings it up again, and I could see that this idea stuck with him, right, he was figuring out the odds and ends, the logistics of a wishing stone, what kinds of things you could wish for and what was out of bounds. Like you couldn’t wish for world peace or to travel through time but you could wish to get any toy you want, or to have a holiday. He had all sorts of examples of what was and wasn’t allowed, and he’d bring these up at the most random moments just about every day. I wish I could remember more of them.
“But anyway so gradually it stops being an intellectual exercise and becomes something so real inside him that he couldn’t really understand that it was only inside him, you know? He wanted it so badly. I bet he stayed up at night thinking about it. I could see him doing that every night, you know? I bet he did. And he got to where he really wanted it, and if you want something so badly you have to be able to get it right? Because how could you want something so badly and not get it? That goes against pretty much everything he had ever been taught to believe. So in his mind it went further. He could see the wishing stone, he could feel it in his hands, and he began imagining what he would wish for and in what order. And finally he decided he would get it for his birthday, and he began building plans around it. This fantasy world that was so meticulously constructed he could feel it in his hands. And then his birthday came and we got him everything we thought he wanted but when he didn’t get the wishing stone, I mean he just crumpled up.
“You could see it on his face. He felt so stupid and wondered how he could have ever believed in it, and at the same time he was confused because of course it should have been real.”
He still hadn’t eaten the bread.
“So what do I do. I show him all the great new toys he got, I start playing with them myself, but he just keeps sliding down himself until he’s crying, and I… I just felt this rage boil up in me, like it wasn’t fair, I’d done so much for him that day and he was upset because he didn’t get a thing that didn’t exist. And I took all the new toys and threw them in the trash.”
She winced and looked away, out the window and into the street. Even though this story took pace before she was even born she knew how it would end. It could only end one way with him.
“It made him more upset now but I kept doing it, stuffing them into a big trash bag and then making a show of carrying them out to the trash can in the driveway. He followed me crying and when it was all thrown out I yelled at him and made him go to bed. And after he was in his pajamas and curled up in the bed–it’s something like four in the afternoon, right–I turned off his light and closed the door and drank a beer, and then–then–I went back out and got the toys out of the trash. Put them in the living room on the floor and told him he could come out and play with them.
“Which he did, scooting his little cars around on the rug like nothing had happened, except his voice was quiet and his eyes were red.
“And I was the evil asshole watching him, wishing I had a wishing stone, too.”
He still hadn’t touched his bread. He just waved it around from time to time to emphasize things.
There were, of course, lots of stories like this. Tom Grand’s explosive temper was exactly as famous as his gregarious smile. When he was happy it was impossible to believe he could ever be anything but. And when he stormed there was never a hint of sunlight left behind, or the promise that it could ever come again. What would cause him to shift from one to the other was a mystery to everyone, and this unpredictable volatility formed the bedrock of Lisa’s childhood, and that of her two older brothers.
“I was a real shit of a dad,” he said.
“Is that why you drove all the way here?” she snapped back. She hadn’t meant to. She didn’t even know that she was talking out loud until all the words were out. “For a pity party?”
“No, no–” He cut her off quickly. “Not at all.” He was slightly desperate in his apology but she knew he was sincere. “I just wanted to let you know that I know, right? I was a shit dad. This is a statement of fact. Not a confession or a backdoor, I don’t know, fishing expedition. I was a shit.”
He put the bread down on his plate down. She picked her drink up. Lisa had kind of expected that he would come to apologize, someday, and had sketched out a number of responses for herself over the years. At this moment, though, she wasn’t sure where in her mind she had filed them all.
“How’s your brother?” he asked her.
“He’s good,” she said without taking the glass from her face.
“It was a baby girl, right?”
“Yes.” She had never discussed it with Robin and wondered now how much information he would want her to pass along. Not that he’d get mad at her, but she wanted to respect his privacy. “You know, you could call him.”
“He wouldn’t answer.”
“You were always good to me.”
“You weren’t that bad,” she said, shaking her head. The gesture was difficult to interpret. “You didn’t molest us,” she finally offered.
“Jesus, that’s a really low bar,” he said.
“But you cleared it,” she said.
“By a mile, at least!” He laughed a bit and then stopped himself in case she wasn’t being funny, but when she laughed, too, he let himself laugh for real.
“But I was bad enough,” he said when the laughter died down.
She wasn’t sure how to proceed. The alcohol was definitely making its presence felt but her thoughts felt clear. Maybe she had reached that magic moment where she was uninhibited but still made sense.
“You were a nightmare. Not all of the time. Not even most of the time. And we wanted to love you, we really did. You were, I don’t know, brilliant. Charismatic. Handsome. You knew so much, about everything. But you destroyed us. It took me a long time to figure that out. Mason always said you mellowed out when I came along. Jimmy wasn’t so sure, but Jimmy got the worst of it, all the time. You know they called him Blinky at school? It was how he dealt with the stress. Every time someone’s voice went up he’d freeze and start blinking. You’re– You were just a volcano. Even when you weren’t mad, even when you were playing with us or teaching us something or whatever, we could just sense it roiling underneath, and knew that at any moment something that we said or did or didn’t say or do–or the change in the weather or the ground buckling away under its own weight. You would just erupt.”
None of this was anything she’d ever planned on saying. She had lined up anecdotes and stories and matched them with witticisms, koans, and insults that she felt would shut him down forever. But that wasn’t what she wanted anymore. It was easy to be angry from a distance, and that was why she hadn’t been in touch with him for more than a year. Seeing him now, being in front of her father, her dad, she didn’t want to be angry. She didn’t know what she wanted but it wasn’t to hurt. There’d been enough hurt already.
“And I look back,” she started, then hesitated, then forced herself to continue, “and I just wish I could know why it had to be that way.”
She looked straight at his face, and this look was completely unambiguous. She wanted him to explain himself, and he did.
“Before any of you were born,” he began, “I had a work colleague who had a baby. And while we having his celebration party he ended up having a semi-private conversation with me in the corner, right? He said he was scared shitless. It was a girl, and he didn’t know anything about kids in general or girls specifically. And I said to him–I remember this because I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I ever said on the spot–I said he had nothing to worry about, that all he had to remember was that for the next few years the only thing that she would want or really need was to love him, and for him to love her back. His heart, I could see it, it totally melted. He was a really great dad. I take full credit for that.
“I wanted kids, you see. I really did. My whole life. I wanted other things, too, but I always saw myself with a big family, like ten kids, all of us playing and romping together, them bringing me flowers and frogs and stuff like that, and me teaching them about life and love and everything. It was my dream.
“And when Jimmy was born, it was the happiest moment of my life.” He took a long pause. Lisa kept looking at him, unsatisfied.
He continued, but differently. A new voice, dark and cautious. “I’m going to say something awful but I need you to hear me out and understand what it means. Bear with me.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t like him. And three years later Mason was born and I didn’t like him either. They weren’t what I wanted. I’d wanted kids–sons, daughters, whatever–but I had an idea of what they would be like. These two were…God, what…disappointments.” He held up his hand quickly to stop her from interrupting, although she wasn’t actually going to say anything. She was thinking a lot, and had begun a constant internal monologue reacted to his every word, but she had no intention of interrupting.
It was Derrick the Waiter who interrupted instead.
“Here you go!” he said in a voice so cheerful it was like nails on a chalkboard. With great and obnoxious flair he presented the seared portobello mushroom which did smell something like heaven, and the spinach ravioli which was much less so. “Can I get you more to drink?” They didn’t answer him back, so he took it as a yes. “How about the bread?” Tom still hadn’t eaten the piece he’d taken, and Lisa had never reached for the bread basket at all. “Is there anything else?”
“No, thank you,” Tom finally managed.
“Well enjoy your meal and just let me know if you need anything. I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute.”
The spell had been broken. Tom rubbed his face with his hands and cursed the waiter’s poor timing. What a miserable thought to have left hanging in the air like that. There was nothing to do now but pick up the thread where it had been rudely severed.
“It’s not their fault, it’s mine. They were lovely kids. Everybody liked them, and justifiably so. But I didn’t. They–and I mean it, this was my problem, not theirs–they weren’t what I wanted. They were dull–for me, compared to what I’d imagined. Your brothers, you know, weren’t little geniuses. Jimmy had no curiosity about the world at all, Mason wouldn’t read no matter what we did. And I did everything I could think of.
“There was a lot to appreciate in them, there was. They were beautiful little boys. But I was disappointed. And those disappointments just ate at me. I got to where I didn’t want to come home from work, and when I did I just wanted to get them into bed as quickly as possible, and then I wanted to stay up as late I could to pretend that things were different, and in the morning I didn’t want to wake up but I had to because they were both so needy. I think I’m the only father I know who would have been a better parent if I’d just disengaged, drank more, and spent less time around his kids. I felt obligated, but I came to hate them, really quickly.
“And that’s not how it’s supposed to be, right? You’re supposed to love your kids. It’s what you do. Even crappy ones. And mine weren’t crappy, they were good kids. But I hated them.
“When you were born– All right, so I always told your mom I wanted at least three kids, and then after Mason I thought to myself that I was done. But a few years later she remembered what I said and there you were. And you were so different from them, right from the start, you were the smart and fun little thing that I’d wanted. But by then I was broken. And I tried to do everything I could to be with you the father I’d wanted to be, but I’d gone so far down that road already I couldn’t go back. I had let myself explode at small children, and I couldn’t put that genie back in the bottle, you know?”
It had been much noted in the Grand home that Lisa was the favored child, not just by her father but by everyone. Her brothers formed a wall to protect her from their father, but it never occurred to them that Tom himself had also tried, and perhaps partly succeeded, to protect her from himself.
Jimmy moved away as early as he could, but Tom was right, he was needy and wasn’t ready to face the world. He needed to be nurtured, and that wasn’t what his father provided.
Mason was good and dependable, but Tom was right, he wasn’t a thinker. He was content with a simple life, which had a few months ago provided him with a daughter. Lisa had gone to visit when the baby was a few weeks old, and watching him hold her Lisa knew that Mason was on his way to becoming the father that he had always wanted.
“Do you understand what I’m saying so far?”
“None of this is new, dad,” she said. “We always knew.” She picked up her fork and poked at her meal.
“Of course,” Tom said in a small voice. He cleared his throat.
None of Tom Grand’s children made a declaration that they would never speak to their father again. It just happened, one at a time. Mason moved out just a few days after finishing high school. He served four years in the Navy, bought a house in Florida and made sure he never found the time to call him father back. In time this distance became permanent, and they hadn’t spoken in seven years at this point.
Lisa followed a similar path, with the difference that instead of shipping out she had simply had a fight, an ugly one, and then never reached back out to him.
Jimmy, the oldest and sweetest of the Grand children, had struggled on his own, and one day when Lisa was in high school and Mason was deployed somewhere, Jimmy put a bullet in his own head. The note he left dwelt on recent frustrations and humiliation both personal and financial, but everyone knew that the seeds of those problems had been sown much earlier, when he was too young to remember. Nobody ever said that Tom killed him but nobody had to.
Tom raged against everything then, feeling guilty but mostly feeling angry at his disappointing son who had offered one final stinging disappointment.
Lisa moved out a few days after graduating high school. The university wouldn’t let her move in until August but she went in May anyway, using her meager savings to sublet a summer apartment. Her father kept her bank account from running dry, but once she found a job that she could keep without interfering with school she stop drawing her father’s money.
He visited occasionally, and she went home for Christmas all of her undergrad years, but in grad school money was tight so she stopped doing that. The last time Tom visited he learned that Mason’s wife, who he had never met, was expecting. He flew into a rage, the sort of epic explosions that formed the backdrop of her childhood, and because he didn’t even have Mason’s phone number he had to use Lisa’s phone. It was the first time Tom and Mason had spoken in a long time and it was all Tom raging. Lisa finally ripped the phone from her father’s hands and he left.
They had fought before, of course, especially during that raw year after Jimmy died but before Lisa moved out. The difference this time was that before she had always needed to mend fences. This time she didn’t. She was fully independent now, lived no where close to home, and had an example to follow in Mason. So she also found it inconvenient to call him, and he, sensing that it was over, never reached out to her.
“So I was lying in bed last night,” he began abruptly, “and I don’t know why but I remembered a Halloween night where you three went as the Three Musketeers. You were, what, five? So Mason was nine and Jimmy was twelve. It was your idea, right?”
“That’s right. And we couldn’t buy the costumes so we made them, you remember that? I bought a sewing machine and I learned how to sew and the three of us worked every day for a month to make three costumes. I forgot to take a picture when you guys went out, but I got it here in my head.” He tapped his head with a finger. “And I was lying in bed remembering that moment and suddenly I wanted so badly to be there, to touch it, to touch you guys, to start over. And I started by telling myself that I would call you guys over sometime, or maybe take a vacation with you. I started making all these plans, really plotting it out. Like I’d call you, and then spend some time really working on you, you know, and then you could come with me to get Mason on board. I bet if you guys did it we could even get Mom to come out.” Lisa’s parents had divorced when Lisa was small and all three children still lived at home; because Tom had the money Tom kept the kids, which was unsatisfactory for everyone but Mom had coped with her marriage by developing a drinking problem and was still a few years away from sobriety so there was really nothing else to do. She was better now, and on good terms with her two surviving children.
“I start making these plans in my head, and really letting them become real, you know. Because I try to make them so realistic. I don’t pretend Jimmy’s still with us, or that none of that bad stuff ever happened. I make all these plans like they’re going to happen–I have some big meetings next week so I start assigning in my head who’s going to cover for me at the office, what sort of preparations I need to make. I think about what kinds of gifts I can get for Mason’s kid–I don’t want to show up empty-handed, right, but I don’t know anything about her or what they want or need for her, I’m not even sure it’s a girl, right?
“And then I realize that I can’t have that. That no matter how airtight I make my plans I can’t have it. You guys were the best thing in my world and I can’t have you, no matter how hard I try.
“Unless I could get my hands on a wishing stone.”
Lisa had buried her face in her hands long ago, and Tom forced himself to watch her cry because it was unbearable.
“You don’t get to do this,” she said, and then looked up. “You don’t get to apologize.”
“I’m not apologizing,” he said. “That’s not why I came.” She blew her nose and wiped away the dampness in his own eyes. He made a few false starts before he finally managed to say what he meant to say. “I came here today because I know I can’t make this right. I can’t. The best I can do is remove myself from your life, for good. And I know, I could just go on doing like we’ve been doing, like with Mason, but that wouldn’t quite do it. I don’t want you thinking that maybe there is something you could do. I don’t want you to wonder if I’m avoiding you because I think you did something wrong, or because I’m waiting for you, or something. I don’t want you in your old age wondering if I understand what I did.
“Instead I want to say it, clearly. I am sorry. I will never stop being sorry. I will never stop being bad. You and your brothers deserved better. And so I bow out. Whatever regrets I have now are my own. You two–you three–don’t have to think about it anymore.” A pause, and then, “Does that make sense?”
“Is everything okay with the food?” Derrick the Waiter.
Tom, without missing a beat. “We’ll take the check. And can you box this up?”
They sat in silence while Derrick the Waiter took away their plates, and then returned with the check. Tom paid in cash in order to avoid having to wait for the receipt.
In the meantime Lisa looked out the window and thought. Was this what she wanted? What they had before, a de facto separation, wasn’t good. She worried he would call, she wondered if she could call, she stayed up wondering if he was thinking about her, cursing herself for thinking about him. Nobody ever asked but she planned out responses for what would happen if anyone ever did.
The de jure emancipation he offered, was it letting him off the hook? No, it wasn’t. She knew that the guilt ate at him and would for the rest of his days. But it didn’t have to eat at her anymore. He wasn’t making himself a martyr; he was simply making sure that only one of them had to be. It was, perhaps, the only decent option left.
She mulled this over while they waited for Derrick to return with their plates of completely untouched food. He took a lot longer than they had expected. During this time neither of them said anything. The tears dried and when Derrick finally came Tom picked up the bag of plastic containers and they both headed to the door.
“Here, you take these,” Tom said and held the bag out to Lisa. She took it.
“You’re not driving back to Cleveland tonight, are you?”
“No, no. I booked a room in town, I’ll be all right.”
“I’ll figure it out tonight, I think. How to get in touch with Mason. It’ll be different than this, I think. I just don’t know how.”
And they stood in front of each other for what they both knew would be the last time. Lisa put the bag of food on the sidewalk and, standing on her tiptoes, reached up and put her arms around her father’s neck. He smelled the way he always had and she was transported back to when she was small and she would dangle off his neck, laughing, her feet just barely reaching past his belt. His hands could cover her entire back, and he’d press her to him and spin. He didn’t spin now, but feeling her weight on him and her warmth pressed again transported him to the same place. He put his hands on her back, as before, and simply held for as long as she would let him. They were both thankful that the beat lasted longer than it needed to. When she backed away he let her slip through his hands, and she picked the bag back up.
“Good bye,” he said.
“Good bye,” she said back.
Both thought to add, “I love you,” but neither did. For the rest of their lives they would both reflect on that and neither one could decide if they regretted it or if it was exactly right. Either way it was done, and when she turned and walked down the street he watched her until she turned the corner and disappeared.