Mom said he was fool’s gold. Nothing more than sparkles and promises, always on the cusp of something big. I explained to her it had been ten years and he’d had a lot of time to change. But what was the use? Neither of them would change. So I told her not to worry, I wasn’t going to suddenly fall in love with a father who’d never been around. I told her she would always be my favorite.
She didn’t think that was funny.
We met at The Woodchuck, a local bar and grill with ancient wooden tables held together by chewing gum and burger grease. A place Dad and I used to go whenever it was just us.
I walked in and knew where to look. There he was, waving me back. My dad. A flash of him driving away–always driving away. He’d swoop in for a weekend, shower me with gifts and smiles only to leave before I could catch my breath. Then it was Mom and me, alone again with nothing more than the lingering smell of his cologne, all those ridiculous, over-the-top presents on the floor.
When he went to prison the gifts seemed tainted. All the smiling memories of him seemed worthless. He was convicted of fraud. Mom said it was only fitting.
Now, at twenty-two, about to graduate from college despite my father’s bad decisions, I was determined to take control of this lunch if nothing else. Scratch it off my list. I wasn’t about to let him buy me off with a Barbie Doll.
He swung out of the back booth—our booth—with that smile. My dad. Tall, graying at the temples, adjusting his glasses with his smile. My heart hitched and threw me overboard. And just like that I was seven years-old. Mom stroking my hair as I held in my hands whatever he’d given me as we watched him drive away. I shook it off and told my heart to get itself together.
This New Year’s get-together was his idea, although my own private resolution was about facing the past. Already in my head I’d faced Clive, my freshman boyfriend, Jill, my sophomore nemesis, Mom, well, I’d get around to her next year. The only thing left on the list stood before me, holding both my hands and telling me I was beautiful. Just like my mother, beautiful.
I broke away, unable to stop myself from smiling, from gushing. My face went warm and all my prepared conversation thoughts flew from my head as we took our seats opposite each other. My mother’s betrayal gripped me tight. My hands slid over the grooves, the initials and graffiti carved into the table. I glanced up, to my father in a dusty blazer, collared shirt with no tie. His hair was on the longer side, Buddy Holly glasses. He didn’t look like so much like a convict but an aging hipster.
“I’m so happy you’re here,” he started. He seemed nervous, which was surprising but also endearing. He reached for his menu then set it down. “I just can’t believe it, you’re graduating this spring. Crazy, huh?”
I nodded. Almost said I can’t believe you did ten years in prison but managed to check myself.
Dad nodded. “So what else?”
Even prison couldn’t take away his charm. Before long I was gushing, talking fast to make up for lost time. I told him all about the trip to Europe I’d mapped out. My hopes to go to grad school out west. How I wanted to go into teaching. I wanted to please, wanted to impress. I wanted him to know how great I was despite him being gone.
“Wow, that’s…” He shook his head. “How’s your mother?”
It took me a second to shift gears. “Oh, um, she’s good.” I left out the part about telling him to go to hell. It didn’t pair well with Europe.
“You know, I’ve been wanting to talk to her, too.”
“Good luck with that,” I blurted out. Maybe I wasn’t the adult I fashioned myself to be. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wanted to reach out and hug him, slap him, then hug him again. Hold him tight like I used to so he couldn’t get away. Maybe my love for my father was a punch drunk boxer. It would always stand in the ring, under the lights, swollen and swaying, refusing to go down. Refusing to throw in the towel.
My father closed his eyes and smiled. It irritated me. I wasn’t a child. I didn’t need to be patronized. When he reached across the table, I pulled back.
He tapped a spot, looking down. “It’s still there.”
“What? I snapped. “What’s still—”
I followed his gaze, where, in the midst of scrawls and carvings, I saw what he was smiling about. It was still there, smoothed over, stained by spills and smoothed by time, but there it was.
DADDY LOVES ELLA.
I remembered telling him to stop. Looking around because I feared we would get in trouble as he worked with a knife. His hair was darker. He didn’t wear glasses. But he was my dad. Would always be my dad.
He reached over and took my hand. “I’m so sorry, Ella.”
The waiter returned with our drinks. “Can I…” He took one look at me and took a step back. “Oh, I’m um, I’ll, I’ll come back.”
So much for control.
*From the Writer’s Digest word prompt – The Resolution