Bodega Bay by Nick
Through the years, there were certain defining characteristics about my dad that I had come to know. One of them was the cologne he's always worn. For as long as I could remember, before he would leave the house, he gave himself a shot of Eternity. It was one of the most pleasing fragrances I knew of. Whenever he was getting low, we would drive to the mall so we could go to one of those fancy cologne counters at Macy's.
As I set my eyes on him for the first time in months, my nostrils picked up the familiar scent of my father and my mind started to race. Part of me wanted to run as far away from him as possible, still feeling the hurt of his betrayal. Another part of me wanted to tell him how mad I was at him for abandoning me and not being around to protect me from Billy. For believing that I was responsible for the sexual abuse my stepbrother had endured. For making me feel like a deviant.
But there was another part of me that wanted to go to him and beg him to believe me. To wrap my arms around his neck as hard as I could and lock my fingers together so that no one could ever make me let go. For him to tell me that he knew I didn't do those things and that he loved me and that he was going to make everything okay. That he was taking me with him, and even if it meant he had to divorce his wife, I was going to live with him from now on.
Yet he hadn't even noticed me. He was immersed in conversation with my grandparents, and it was obvious to me that they were coming down on him. I watched from the entrance of the kitchen as he lifted his cup of coffee to his mouth and took a large gulp as more memories flooded my mind. My immediate thoughts were of being on the road with him one time on a hot summer day. The temperature was well over 100 degrees, and we had pulled into a Mc Donald's for something to drink. I ordered an orange soda and my dad got a large black coffee. I teased him the whole way back to Modesto about his choice, but in reality, I sat in awe of the man my father was. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
His hair was the same way I always remembered it, too. Extra short all over, and his side burns were down to the bottom of his ears. He had on a shirt, tie and slacks, just like I figured he would, too. My guess was that he was planning to go to work, but my grandparents called him and told him to come. Even if he wasn't working, he kept a professional appearance all the time in case he ran into someone he was doing business with.
When we made eye contact, he gasped a little, then he relaxed and smiled at me. For my part, I wasn't too sure how I should act, so I just stood still and stared, still unable to grasp the idea that he was actually there. When my grandparents looked over at me, they both smiled hopefully and looked between us.
"Hey little buddy," my dad said, breaking the silence between us. "You're finally up. Are you going to come give your dad a hug?"
I scratched my head a little, trying to digest his words. He spoke as if there was nothing wrong. Like I hadn't just been through months of hell. Like he hadn't hung the phone up on me when I called him just days earlier, pleading for his help. Now, after everything, my dad wanted a hug. I watched as he scooted his chair out from under the table and held his arms out for me, and I did the one thing that felt right at the moment.
Feeling his arms envelope my whole frame seemed like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. My whole body quaked as I cried uncontrollably on his shoulder, sobbing loudly as I felt the warmth of my dads touch for the first time since March. Without even realizing when it happened, I found myself in his lap, being rocked back and forth as I wailed like a baby, desperate for more of my fathers' affection.
Even when my wailing stopped, my tears flowed freely as I hid in his arms. I knew I had soaked his shirt with my tears, but I couldn't stop. I knew I needed to, though, because I had to tell him it was all wrong. That I hadn't been the one to hurt my stepbrother. That someone had hurt me the same way and that I needed my dad to protect me. When I heard him gently shush me, I obediently complied with his command.
"I missed you daddy," I said quietly but tearfully, as I tried to wrap both of my arms around his body to no avail. "I don't want you to hate me."
"I missed you too, Kevin," he said as he stroked the top of my head. "I don't hate you, and I never have."
"Do you still love me?" I asked, afraid of his answer.
"Of course I love you, buddy," he said. "I always have."
I looked up at him and studied his face. There was a different feel to his touch, a different tone to his voice. I couldn't place it, but something was off. He had a look on his face that I didn't like. It wasn't a mean expression, or even a disingenuous look. If anything, it was a look of heartache. But not because of the events that had transpired. It was because of what he was about to do. When I looked into his eyes, my heart sank and he didn't have to tell say another word.
I knew that this was probably going to be the last time I would see him for a long time. I wasn't going home with him, and he hadn't changed his mind about me. He still believed that I didn't belong in is life anymore. Maybe he felt bad about what I had to endure, but he didn't feel bad enough to take me back to Modesto with him.
My shoulders slumped down when the reality hit me, and I suddenly felt like I was sitting in a strangers lap. The moment of elation that I felt at the thought of being with my dad again had passed, and now it was time to face the facts. He didn't want me anymore. Or maybe he did, but my stepmom wasn't having it. It didn't matter anymore.
I let go of him and slid out of his lap. Once my feet were on the floor, I made a beeline for my room, where I closed my door and buried myself under my blankets so I could cry in private. When my door opened, I made it a point to roll myself up in my covers, not wanting to be seen by anyone. I had never felt so let down in my life. My dad had given me false hope, then he crushed me in an instant. I felt my bed dip and a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
"Hey pal," I heard him say with a sigh. "You know, this isn't easy for me either."
"Why don't you want me?" I asked him through my blankets.
"I do want you son," he said. "But it's not that easy. Do you understand what happened to your brother?"
"He's not my brother," I said bitterly. "And I didn't do it."
"Kevin, I wish I could believe that," he said sadly. "But I don't."
"Why not?" I demanded through my tears, wishing I hadn't pressed the issue.
"Son," he started, but then he stopped mid sentence and got up. "Well, I'll be in the kitchen with grandma and grandpa if you want to come see me before I leave."
I heard him leave my room, closing the door on his way out, and as soon as I knew he was gone, I sobbed again. I knew I didn't want him to see me cry for him ever again. The overwhelming feeling of sadness I had at that very moment was taking me over, though, and I spent the better part of an hour crying. Once I stopped, I crept to my door and listened. It was his voice again, piercing my eardrums like a knife. My hero was abandoning me all over again.
This time I knew it would be for good, though. I had a feeling that the next time we saw each other, there wasn't going to be a tearful hug, or any I love you's exchanged. In fact, I never wanted him to say those words to me again unless he could back them up with actions. But again, I knew it wasn't going to happen.
When I laid back down on my bed, I rolled over and caught the scent of his cologne on my sheets. I pressed my nose down and inhaled slowly, careful not to take too much in. As if smelling it too much would cause it to wear off, I conservatively took in my dad's familiar scent, and I let my mind drift to a happier place.
This time, though, my mom wasn't there. Neither was my stepmom. It was just me and my dad, and we lived alone. We were happy, too. We would wake up and get ready together, then he would take me to work with him. While we were making his rounds, he told me over and over again how much he loved me, and how he was always going to be by my side. Then, when he was off of work, we would go home and spend time together in the garage, working on the sports car he bought me for when I turn 16 and get my license. Then, we would eat dinner at some restaurant and after that, he'd take me shopping just because.
Sometime while I was dreaming about all of this, I realized that I really did want to tell my dad goodbye one last time. I got up and made my way into the living room, but no one was there. I noticed the front door opened, so I walked out front just in time to see my grandparents waving goodbye to my dad as his truck made a right turn off of their street. I was too late.
"Are you hungry, sweetheart?" my grandma asked as she made her way toward me.
"No," I barely managed to croak out as I found myself wracked with a new set of tears. This time they were tears of regret, because I didn't get to tell my dad goodbye or give him one last hug before he left. Somewhere inside of me, I thought he would have come to my room to tell me he was leaving, but he hadn't. Maybe that's what hurt me the most. Whatever it was, my grandparents seemed to understand how I felt, because they were instantly at my side, guiding me back into the house and comforting me on the couch.
Once I managed to pull myself together, I followed my grandma into the kitchen where she made me some toast and got me a glass of milk. When I finished, I went out to the backyard with my grandpa to help him plant some flowers and get some of the sadness out of my system. There was something therapeutic about working side by side with my grandpa in the yard. He seemed to know everything about gardening, and the roses he raised could have been award winning if he had bothered to enter them in a competition.
He was showing me how to turn the soil with a shovel when I heard the screen door open and close. I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see my grandma, but it wasn't her. I had to blink to be sure, but it was true. My dad was back.
I couldn't take my eyes off him as he walked toward us, getting closer and closer until he and my grandpa were face to face. He knelt down, putting himself at eye level with me, and he laid a hand on my shoulder.
"What do you say we go get a sundae?" he asked me with a small smile.
I didn't answer him. I couldn't answer him. I was too busy trying to steady my breathing as I fought the urge to cling to him again. Every instinct I had, every emotion I felt, told me to break down and give him the hug I wanted to give him earlier before he left. But I knew better. I wasn't going to let my heart steer me this time. I solemnly nodded my head and looked away, not wanting him to know the torment I was truly feeling.
Sitting across from him as I bit into my ice cream cone, I pondered what our visit would entail. What were we going to talk about? What did he want to know? Was he having second thoughts? Was he at least thinking about letting me live with him?
"Son, I want you to know that I love you very much," he said as he finished a bite of his sundae. "I know you've suffered a lot over the last few months. I wish there was a way I could have known."
"I tried to tell you," I said quietly, feeling the anger that I had felt before rising in the form of a lump in my throat..
"I know you did Kevin," he said with a look of regret. "I should have done more."
"Why didn't you?" I asked, as I tried to keep my composure and fight back the tears that were starting to cloud my vision.
"I don't have an excuse," he said in a quiet tone, his look of regret seeming to gain more definition as the moment wore on. "I'm your father and it's my job to protect you."
"Will we ever get to live together again?" I asked as my tears finally won out and spilled down my face.
"Maybe, Kevin," he said in a noncommittal tone. "A lot has happened son, and it's not as easy as just taking you home with me."
"But why dad?" I asked tearfully, my heart breaking behind the words he had just spoke. "I swear I'll be good."
He reached across the table, took my free hand in his, and gave it a long, gentle squeeze. I knew then that I was fighting a losing battle. The pain in his eyes was evident, but there wasn't enough pain in the world to make him change his mind. I set my cone down on the table and laid my head down next to it so I could sob silently as I felt my dads grip tighten on my hand.
"Am I going to live with grandma and grandpa forever?" I asked, raising my head to make eye contact with him, praying for one last miracle that I knew wasn't there. Instead of answering, he lifted the back of my hand to his face and kissed it, then, releasing his grip, he gathered the remnants of my cone and put it in his dish, using the napkin dispenser at our table to wipe up the melted ice cream from the table.
He motioned me toward him, so I got up and did as I was told. He took another napkin from the dispenser, wet it a little with his tongue, then he wiped my face. When he was finished, he pulled me into a hug, stroking the top of my head with one hand as he wrapped his other arm around me. When we broke our hug, he stood up and took my hand, and we walked out to his truck.
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