Never Came Back: Chapter 9

 

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Chapter 9

The sound of sprinklers rang through the air early the next morning.

Bitsy walked at my side, huff-puffing as she tore down the sidewalk at an impressive heel-toe pace. Only Bitsy could walk so fast that others would have to jog to keep up. Birds twittered overhead, calling to each other, but I ignored them. I ignored everything but the steep tension in my chest.

Set a challenge for me, I thought, matching Bitsy’s stride. I want to win at something today.

“So,” she drawled, glancing at me from the corner of her eye. “What’s going on with you today? You’re awfully quiet." 

“Ah . . .”

Where to start? Telling Lexie had been easy. In fact, Lexie had known something was up thanks to Pat—even if she hadn’t known it was my dad—before she called and heard it in my voice. Besides, saying it out loud and in person felt like more of a commitment.

Shoving that aside, I swallowed my hesitation. 

“My dad showed up.”

Her eyebrows lifted, but she didn’t break stride. In fact, she sped up. “Whaaat?” she screeched. “Your father?" 

“Yeah.”

“At your house?” 

“Yep.” 

“What happened next?” she asked, huffing as we turned the corner. “What did he look like? Did he try to apologize? Did your mom see him? Did you throw water on him? I would have.“ 

“Water? Seriously?”

“He deserves worse, like hot coffee. Tell me everything.” 

With a sigh, I recounted everything that had passed. We circled her block time and time again while it flowed out of me. Bitsy’s stiff shock slowly faded until, with a puzzled expression, she shook her head.  

“Grief,” she muttered. “It’s like a soap opera. It’s kind of weird getting the whole story. Kind of makes a lot of things click into place.”

“Right?”

"Where does he live now?”

"Three hours from here. He's worked a lot of odd jobs the past twenty years. Oil rigs. Construction. He likes working with his hands best. He said he worked as a business man while he lived here, and hated it. He recently decided to go back to school to get a degree in construction management. Said he's tired of always being the grunt. Wants to find a managerial position he can retire too. Said something about a bad back."

"Really? Go back to school at his age? Impressive.“

"Yeah." I grimaced through another deep breath, feeling a sharp, stabbing pain in my side. Geez . . . did she ever slow down? Maybe I wasn't up to the Bitsy Walking Challenge after all. "But he kind of wanted to see what I thought about it before he submitted the application. He didn't want to live here if it'd cause me distress."

"And?" 

"I'm not sure."

“That’s very . . . interesting he thought of you. He could live here without you ever knowing, don’t you think?”

The thought had occurred to me, but I didn’t give it much space. Instead, I just nodded, pushing it away to think about later.  

“He certainly would be closer and more accessible," Bitsy murmured, eyes narrowed to slashes as she tore around a corner. "That isn't the worst thing if you're looking to build a relationship with him. But . . . are you?" 

The penultimate question. My panting breaths could barely keep up. The burn in my calves, however, kept my mind from wandering too far.

"I guess I’m interested in getting to know him better,“ I said.

"That's not really an answer to the question.” 

“Then, yes. I guess I’m willing to be cautious friends.”

“That’s something. Are you going to tell your mom?”

“Eventually. I’m just not sure how to approach it.” 

She sighed. “Fair enough. Be careful not to string your Dad along though.”

Really? Not lead him along for twenty years? I bit the retort back. It faded into the back of my mind. That thought was too exhausting to maintain. Taken all together, I wasn’t sure what to think anymore. Besides, it felt good to let go of my simmering aggression, like relieving a heavy burden. Why keep reliving the past?

Why not move forward?

“Can I just . . . do that?” I asked. “I mean, I feel like he deserves some kind of punishment for all he did. Or didn’t do, really. If I let him back into my life, isn’t that just telling him that all of this abandonment was okay?” 

“Depends on what you mean by punishment.” Bitsy met my troubled gaze. “Because I’m worried that punishing him is going to hurt you more than anyone.” 

Fair point.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” I said. “That he gets to come back when it’s convenient for him.”

Bitsy wiped her forehead off with her arm, clad in a long-sleeve workout shirt despite the already sticky warmth. Unlike Lexie, Bitsy approached every situation with meticulous questioning, as if she could remove all emotion and head straight into logic. Perhaps I needed that most.

“Parents are funny things, Rachelle. We’re imperfect. We’re a hot mess. We’re a big ball of teeming emotions, fears, and insecurities. We love these little humans so much, but don’t always know how to help them. If you ask me, twenty years away from you—and the guilt he must be carrying around about it—is sort of punishment itself.”

I hadn’t thought of that.

“Think of all he missed,” Bitsy said. “Your whole life. All the opportunities to spend time with you, to watch you go to prom, to have sleepovers, and goodnight kisses, and memories and all your firsts. He missed every single one and he can never get that back.” 

Would he really mourn that? I thought, feeling a stirring of the little girl inside me. Am I really worth him mourning those missed opportunities? What if he saw it as freedom instead of punishment?

"Are you glad you met him again?" she asked when I ventured nothing else.

“I think so." 

"How are you feeling now?”  

"Confused, mostly,” I said, grateful to tuck those thoughts away to deal with later. “I’m definitely not looking forward to talking to my Mom about their nuptials."

Bitsy's gaze slid to the corner of her eye. "She knows, Rachelle. She knows they're still married."

"I don't think she does."

She rolled her eyes. "C'mon, 'Chelle! She didn't sign the papers. Some part of her will remember that, no matter how deeply she's buried it in all the TV shows that she's been watching."

I threw my hands in the air. "Why wouldn't she sign the divorce papers? I'm so confused. Meeting my dad answered a lot of questions, but I think it mostly just created more. I mean, you signed yours!"

"In half a second." She snapped her fingers. "Best decision I ever made. Thought about boxing that pen up and keeping it forever as a sign of good luck."

I snorted. Bitsy managed a wry smile as we circled back in front of her house. No sign of the girls having awoken, so she sped back up. I groaned.  

"Can we slow down?"

"Nope." Her speed increased. "We only have two laps until we hit three miles. But today, I think we should go for four. I'm feeling good."

"Four?"

She waved a hand through the air. "You can do it, 'Chelle. Believe in yourself a little, all right? Now, tell me your plan for your Mama. How are you going to tell her that your Dad is back and you met up with him? Not going to lie. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation."

I ran a hand through my sweaty hair and gulped some deep breaths. Bitsy pushed her lips to one side, her arms swinging so high I thought she might punch herself.

"Just remember how much you love her, Rachelle. Hearing that you've reunited so unexpectedly with your Dad will be hard on her."

"I know."

"It's okay to still have your Dad, but Mom's have a hard time separating things in their head. We don't have waffle brains like men. We're like spaghetti. All over the place, you know? Give her some extra love and grace during this time.“

A picture of a steaming plate of spaghetti dumped inside of Bitsy's brain, wiggling around like chaotic worms flittered through my mind. The corners of her lips twitched. A dog barked in the distance. A car door shut. Sun rays burst over the horizon in long streams. The rustle of life felt welcoming, even though I missed the solitude of the earliest part of the morning. We turned the corner, approaching her house again.

"I think I'll just be honest with her," I said.

"I think that sounds very wise. We may have spaghetti for brains, but we're very smart and wise." She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Trust me on that. Also, know that I’m proud of you, Rachelle. Forgiveness is hard. Really hard. You have to flesh out parts of yourself that you don't want to see and deal with emotions that don’t feel safe. But it's worth it in the end."

We continued down the road with a giggle, the mutual swish swish of our legs carrying us into the morning.

 

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