“We need to talk.”
I froze. I had just walked up the steps of the trailer, hoping Dad was still asleep. I knew sneaking in at eight-thirty in the morning was pushing my luck, but Billy had made me a delicious breakfast and I hadn’t wanted to leave before eating. Truth be told, I hadn’t wanted to leave his arms either. Even so, I had to get home and get my uniform before reporting to work at nine. My father was awake and sitting at the table with the coffee pot and two cups and saucers. I knew he was serious about talking.
“Hey Dad, I just went over to Audrey’s for a little bit,” I lied. “…and now I need to change before heading to work.”
“Uh huh,” Dad said, sounding like he didn’t believe me. “Sit Kass. I hardly ever see you.”
“Okay, for a few minutes,” I tried to sound like nothing was wrong as I slid into the green bench.
“What’s up kiddo?” Dad asked me, pointedly.
“The sky,” I said, sarcastically.
“Is something wrong?” he inquired.
“Why would you assume something’s wrong?” I snipped back, throwing my hands in the air.
Dad frowned. “Because I hardly see you and you’re always busy, but I don’t always know what you’re busy with.”
“Oh,” I shrugged. “This and that.” I tried to think of something substantial to tell him, something other than I ‘suck face’ with my guy. “I hang out with Audrey a lot… and work… you know, there’s always work… tutoring and the Sandy Place… and I’ve been… trying to write a novel…”
Truth was, I barely saw Audrey, except when I was begging her to take a shift for me or needing her to cover for me. I hadn’t been working many shifts at the restaurant and I hadn’t worked on my so-called stories and novel for weeks. I hoped Dad wouldn’t see through the facade. He instead politely smiled, his lips never parting, and the corners tightening. I don’t think he believed me, but he wasn’t ready to accuse his daughter of outright lying. We sat in silence.
“Would you like some coffee?” he asked, motioning to his cup, as if the hot beverage would give us something to do besides stare at each other.
“Oh, after you,” I motioned to the pot in the center of the table.
Once he poured his coffee, he handed me the pot and I poured myself a cup. Dad pushed the milk in my direction. He then took a sip before setting the cup on his saucer and asking the inevitable.
“What are you not telling me?”
I froze, and quickly averted my eyes into the brown liquid before me, the perfect blend of milk, coffee, and a bit of sugar, “a brunette” rather than a “blonde” or a “black” cup. I hadn’t expected my father to venture there, but I wasn’t surprised that he did. This “trip” with Dad was supposed to be about bonding and getting to know one another again, and I had been bonding with Billy more than anyone else. I swallowed several sips of coffee before trying to answer.
“I met someone,” I said truthfully, while remaining vague.
“I figured,” Dad remarked. “I’m glad you’re dating again.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Like my father actually cared about my love life. I wanted to get the subject off myself and so I asked him a question.
“How are things with you and…” I couldn’t remember her name.
“Marisol,” Dad filled in for me. “We’re keeping things pretty casual. I think she sees someone else too… a Donnovan guy… and I’m okay with that. I like her company, but I don’t particularly want to settle into a serious relationship right now with my health concerns. But you seem to be serious about…” he paused, staring into his cup awkwardly. “…about?”
“Yeah, he’s great,” I remarked, artfully avoiding his name.
We hadn’t really decided what to call one another yet, keeping things casual in our own way, or relaxed, even if things were hot and heavy. Are we serious? I wondered, looking through the curtain out the window at the endless expanse of sand, dunes, and red dirt hills. Serious about make out sessions. Serious about cuddling. Serious about having fun. But serious about… things that matter? Suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable, not with the conversation with Dad, but the fact that I still really didn’t know Billy. And I couldn’t imagine being okay with him seeing other women. I was still a one-guy kind-of gal and I expected him to be a one-woman kind-of guy.
“Kass,” Dad said, almost exasperated, jerking my thoughts back to the present. “Your mother called me.”
His tone was tight and terse. I blinked rapidly. Mamma called Dad? Since when did my mother call my father? Since when did she have his number? How did she get his number?
“Oh,” I shrugged, trying to swallow any feelings of panic. “Is everything okay?”
My own voice sounded odd and unnatural.
“Kass, she said you haven’t talked to her since you left. Is that true?” he looked at me.
I grimaced. “Why do I feel like a lecture is coming?”
“No lecture,” Dad said softly. “She was concerned about you and wanted to make sure you’re fine.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, flippantly.
“Really?” Dad’s forehead creased. “You spend all hours of the day and night with this new boy in your life. You haven’t called your mother in almost three months. I know I don’t have a relationship with her anymore, but you still do. Did something happen before you left?”
Did something happen?!? I felt anger rising for no clear reason. I didn’t want to think about what had happened before I left home with my father for this trip.
“He’s not a boy,” I retorted. “He’s a man.”
“Kass,” Dad looked at me with almost disapproval. “It’s not about this… man… you’re seeing… other than he’s keeping you from things that are important.”
“Oh like calling Mamma?” I snipped. “Since when is that any of your business?”
“Have you even talked with your sisters? You did tell them where you were going right?” Dad asked.
“Dad, why does it matter?” I asked. “I am okay. I’m safe. Mamma and I had a fight before we left, but we’re okay.”
Are we? a little voice inside me nagged. I swallowed with annoyance.
“So you’re running away from your problems, Kass? That isn’t healthy,” Dad said. “Believe me. I know. I spent years avoiding things. Why didn’t you tell me this?”
I felt disgusted. My dad was concerned about things that were none of his business. I was a grown woman. I felt cornered in the tiny green booth, sitting across the table from a man I barely knew, a man who until recently didn’t want to be in my life, a man who until recently I didn’t know if I wanted in my life. EXCES changed things, and brought Dad and I together, but I didn’t ask for this – lecturing, concern, parenting. I was a grown-up. I wanted to be treated like one, not like a kid who had to explain everything to my parents.
“Dad, it doesn’t matter, you didn’t need to know,” I replied, trying to keep my tone steady.
“Kass, I care about you,” Dad said. “I want to know about these things in your life – your friend, Audrey, and your work, and this man you’re dating, and even things like you’re fighting with your mom because I’m your Dad. I’m supposed to care.”
“Dad!” I exclaimed. “I don’t need to tell you everything. We’re not like best friends or anything.”
Sadness shadowed my father’s face. He slouched, staring off into space as if collecting his thoughts. I didn’t want to stop and feel sorry for him. I didn’t.
“Kass, I was hoping you’d share these kinds of things with me,” he started again, slowly. “I want to share in your life and know what’s going on, not because I’m trying to be invasive or anything, but because I want a relationship with you and that’s why we’re here on the road together. Kass, but if you’re keeping things from me and you’re not talking to your mom, I’m worried about you. I’m worried that maybe you’re avoiding problems, and maybe you’re spending too much time with this guy.”
I twitched angrily.
“And maybe you’re not taking care of yourself. Audrey came by yesterday…”
“Audrey did?” I grunted.
“Yes, she was dropping off your paycheck. Why didn’t you get it from work?”
“What? Dad? Seriously?”
“Yes, seriously, she said you haven’t been around lately so Romon asked her to bring it by. She was hoping I knew where you were. Kass, have you been blowing off work?”
“What? No!” I protested, even though I was lying.
“Kass, this is an incredible opportunity to work for a well-respected chef like Romon Tanner, and you’ve always been so responsible…”
“How would you know?”
“…and for you to waste it, over a guy…”
“Dad, you don’t even know Billy!” I screeched, standing up in complete frustration.
“You’ve never lied to me before,” Dad looked more hurt than mad.
“Seriously, how would you know?” I screeched. “You haven’t been in my life to know. What? Did you decide just now that you get to be a parent?”
“Kass, calm down,” my father put out his hands.
I threw mine in the air. “I don’t wanna calm down. I can’t believe you get to decide to be a parent right now. I mean, Dad, you missed most of my teen years. You missed being a parent. You missed out. You don’t get to lecture me or tell me what to do or say I’m spending too much time with this or that or that I need to call my mom. I don’t need to do any of that because I’m an adult and I don’t owe you or anyone else an explanation as to my whereabouts or how I spend my time because I’m an adult, Dad, and you missed out on the years of being able to tell me what to do so why don’t you butt the hell out!”
I turned before I could see his reaction or hear anything else he had to say. I snagged my backpack, and jammed my work uniform into it before leaving. I slammed the trailer door behind me, stomping down the stairs for effect. For an adult, I knew I was acting childishly, but I didn’t care. My father had no right to be concerned like this and corner me and ask me all these questions.
But as I fumed on my walk down the street, I couldn’t help but feel like maybe he was right. Maybe I needed to confront the lies and confront my problems. But I did! I told him off! I grumbled internally. But not to the right people, my conscience argued. I ignored the little words that my heart was screeching to me. I ignored them because I didn’t have time. I ignored them because they would cause me pain. I ignored them because I didn’t want to believe them. If I believed them, then things would shift and I’d start asking questions and I would have to give up things and I’d have to start acting like the adult I really was. So instead, I ignored the two little words that had the power to turn my life inside out.