Part 19: What About Dad?
What are you going to do about your dad?” I asked.
The question threw her off. If Ashley was the thing that robbed me of hope and caused me to believe there was nothing else out there, I think Summer’s father had done similar things to her soul.
“I think I have it narrowed down to where he lives now. I’m going there in the morning. Hopefully he’ll be home. I’m scared though. I don’t even know what he looks like other than old snapshots from our family album. I mean, what am I supposed to say? Part of me wants to smack him right in the face and the other wants to hug him. Is that weird or what?”
“No, it’s not weird. It’s okay to have mixed emotions about things. I have them, too.”
She turned all the way to face me and drew her legs up to her, so her chin was resting on her knees. “All my life I have wanted to know things. Didn’t he love us? Why did he leave? Why did he never write, or call, or attempt to even remember me on my birthday?”
I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I reached over and put my hand on her foot, just trying to make some kind of contact to reassure her I was there for her, and it was okay to let go if she wanted. She placed her hand over top of my own.
“I haven’t had a decent relationship with a man because of him. I’m always afraid I will come home one day and they’ll be gone. And I think my fear, my expectations, drives everyone away. The longest I was with someone was three years, and the last two of those were horrible. Hardly loving at all.”
She took the back of her hand to wipe a tear that was now running down her cheek. I wanted to reach for her, but I was afraid. Now I saw it. She was fragile, and like me, on the edge of breaking completely apart.
“I don’t understand how he could have done this to my mother and I. I don’t know how she did it, getting over it all. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she hid it and just pretended to be happy. Maybe she held it together for me, I don’t know. All I know is, in my heart I judge every man like my father.”
“I understand. Guess I judge women like they’re Ashley. If there was a girl out there wanting me, I would probably just push her away like she did me.” I sighed. “I understand your pain more than you think, Summer. I really do.”
She looked up at me, tears wet on her cheeks. Her eyes were red from crying. “Will you go with me, Matthew?”
“Will you go with me to see my dad?”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. It’s a very personal matter. I wouldn’t know what to say or how to act. I don’t know if my presence would make things easier or harder.”
“I don’t know how to act or what to say either, but I need your strength.”
“My strength? I’m not strong. I couldn’t face anyone, I ran away. How can I be strong for you?”
“You are strong for me. You just don’t know it. Please, just go with me. You can sit in the car or stand outside, but I need you there, please.” She began to cry more, as if my answer would decide her very fate. I had never seen her so vulnerable. I imagine most guys, or at the least ones she had known, would have seen their opportunity and went for it. They would have kissed her then, touched her, taken advantage of her heartache, told her they would make it all better, lead her from the room and into another to expose her even further to her shame under the guise of tenderness. But that wasn’t me. Summer needed me to be strong for her, not abuse her weakness. I squeezed her hand.
“Okay, I’ll go with you.”
“Oh Matthew, thank you.” She threw her arms around my neck and cried into my shoulder. I could feel her tears on my skin, the way her arms clutched me close to her bosom, the scent of her perfume, and yet all I could think was I had a purpose at last. To be strong for another.
Summer continued to hold me close to her. She rocked back and forth, as if that slight motion soothed her somehow, like a baby being rocked to sleep. At some point, she stopped her sobbing and let me go, returning to her original position on the couch. She turned her attention to the TV, where the DVD was still playing the silly antics of Ernest. She lightly laughed and then laid her head on my shoulder. I looked down at her, wiping the last remaining tear from under her eye. I saw her lips curl up in a smile and she closed her eyes. At any other time, I would be lost in thought. My mind would be out there wandering and wondering about all manner of troubles, mostly Ashley or whether I would be able to do what I had come here to do. But not now. Now, my mind was blank, except for this beautiful creature beside me. This wonderful girl who now found comfort in my shoulder. Looking back down at her, I marveled at the way the light from the TV played across her skin. I reached my hand up and traced a line between two freckles on her cheek. She said something in a small whisper but I couldn’t tell what it was. She couldn’t either for that matter, because she had fallen asleep. I turned my attention back to the television, and as the flickering picture lulled me into my own moment of reverie, Summer slept against me and dreamed without worries for tomorrow.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.