Babs was here?
Steve dared say nothing; couldn’t ask anything. His eyes darted around, hoping to see her somewhere.
The older man continued with his thoughts, not seeing how pale, Steve had become.
She’d still borne grudges from ten years earlier. Maybe he had over-reacted then, as well as now, to have those old wounds opened up.
“This morning it all came to a head. We exchanged unkind words. I couldn’t understand half of what she said, but I should have listened and asked more than I did.
“She spoke of an island of happiness in her life when she’d been fifteen; how just a few weeks in her life at that time had changed her, given her something to live for.
“I floundered. It didn’t make any sense to me. Her entire focus for life had been contained in just three or four weeks of time in that one summer?” He hadn’t understood that.
Their conversations had rarely been at the same level, constantly misunderstanding, and talking past each other. It made his head spin.
“I told my daughter I would cut her off if she… (he’d threatened that too many times) so she threw a hissy fit and stormed out of here, but it hadn’t been exactly that way. I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been.”
He’d often threatened to cut off her allowance to try and keep her in line, but she’d defied him each time.
Her mother had stepped in at those times to save him from doing that foolish thing.
“Who would understand such a deep statement from a fifteen-year old girl? Would you?”
“Yes, sir. I think I would. I had a similar experience in my own life when I was almost that age.” He’d better be careful.
He wouldn’t say how it had involved this man’s daughter in some truly intimate ways.
“It became a pivotal moment in my life too. We all have them about that age, after puberty kicks in.”
Mr. Moranis nodded, accepting it, but he would have to think about it more to see anything in it. His life had changed half a dozen times like that. His grandfather had died about that time, and life had changed for everyone then.
Babs didn’t seem to need him at all, hadn’t cared, even from the age of fifteen, or had she been even younger? telling him to do his damnedest. ‘She didn’t need him.’ He remembered her words. ‘He’d already screwed her life up’.
How? He hadn’t understood that, or what she’d meant, and it bothered him. Hell, she was only a kid. What did she know about life? What could he possibly have done to screw up her life that was just getting started?
She’d thrown other things at him too, verbal things—truths, as it turned out—about her older half-brothers and his treatment of them that had driven them away too. That, had hurt.
He hadn’t driven them away.
He’d done what every father could have done for them. He’d made sure they landed on their own feet and did not rely upon him for everything.
She’d hit too close to the mark, making him think, and re-evaluate, so he’d continued to deposit her allowance ever since she’d gone away to school, but not to the school he’d first wanted, or the ones after that. She’d gone against him at every turn, and he could say nothing.
She’d moved schools more than once so that he couldn’t trace her easily for himself. He backed off and took to relying upon her mother to tell him how she was doing, without him getting involved.
Barbara had been the one to cut him off from all communication with her. She didn’t answer his calls into the schools, and she studiously never showed any interest in anything to do with what he wanted for her.
Then, she’d come back home just a week ago. She’d never said what had brought her back, so he’d waited to find out, saying nothing that might trigger any problems, or open up old wounds.
She’d tell him eventually why she’d returned.
That, had been his intent. Instead, like an idiot, he’d raised that question of her age. She was twenty-five now, and maybe she was ready to think of settling down, and maybe of marriage.
It was as if he’d dropped a match into an open powder keg. She’d blown up at him in a way he’d never seen before and accused him of trying to manipulate her life again.
It had begun calmly enough, he thought, except she’d gone pale and her lips had tightened, and her hands had clenched, as though she’d been about to physically attack him.
Had she been a man, she would have done.
He would have deserved it.
The hatred blazing from her eyes, had roasted him.
She’d said just the one word. “Really?” Then she waited for him to explain.
He’d ignored the warning signs.
She asked. “Who?”
She’d listened calmly enough after that, saying nothing, as he’d explained her need to settle down and put roots down somewhere. He didn’t have anyone in mind for her, fortunately.
Then, he’d seen the tears.
She’d turned away to hide them from him, but he’d seen.
He didn’t understand it. It pained him unbelievably to see her cry like this.
“What you dared not admit, Father, was that I’d already made my choice about that, when I was fourteen. Even then. Yes. I’d found the love of my life, and you killed it.”
It was as though she had hit him.
“How you learned of that, and what happened between us, I don’t know, but your actions following that, told me everything; sending me away like that. You never did care for me.”
He was caught flat-footed, not expecting that. What the hell was she talking about? He had cared for her far more than he would ever be able to tell her, except he seemed only to find the wrong way to do it.
“You thought that, as young as I was, I couldn’t possibly understand my own emotions or understand love, so you exiled me to school to get me out of the way and to make sure I didn’t make a mistake with my life over some boy, and bring embarrassment down on you. You interfered with my life and with what I wanted so much.”
But he hadn’t done anything for the reason she’d suggested. He’d known nothing.
What boy? What had happened between them? He didn’t know the first thing she was talking about.
“You’ve been trying to rule my life ever since I was a child, while I fought for what I wanted, not for what you expected of me.”
This, was the first he’d heard of that, or of any boy, or a romantic connection.
He’d learned nothing about any such ‘choice’, or that it had happened when she’d been only fourteen. She’d been too young, of course, to make any such choice.
How old had Juliette been? Thirteen? Fourteen? His daughter’s age at that time. But that was all fiction and bore no resemblance to real life.
It was his turn to ask. “Who? I knew nothing of what you are accusing me of.”
She’d not believed that he hadn’t known. He’d stopped Steve’s letters to her, and had somehow, intercepted her own to Steve. What else explained her not getting his letters, or him not getting hers?
She turned her back on him and walked away, leaving him to agonize.
What had he said? That she might be ready to think of marriage, had only been a suggestion. The final choice would always be hers. All he had intended was to let her know that she was old enough to know what she wanted now, and he would stand by her and pay for whatever she wanted, and instead, he’d managed to appear to threaten her again.
He came out of that regretful reverie.
“My daughter is something else, Steve. She has a mind of her own.” It was not said with any bitterness or rancor, but with a grudging admiration.
“She won’t do a damned thing I want for her, but I love her like I love her mother. Two, more different personalities….” He sighed.
It was the usual story. He’d heard it enough times.
‘You’d choke on your own pride, Father, rather than admit you were wrong.’
She was accusing him of things he hadn’t even known about.
That’s what would kill him. His selfishness, and thinking he could control his childrens’ lives for them, yet he’d not done, or ever intended any of that.
“I sent her to the best schools. Whatever I did was wrong… to her view of it, without me even knowing in what way. She wouldn’t talk to me and tell me what she thought I’d done wrong. I’ve been paying for it, ever since. She goes against me every way she can, and still does, and I can’t help but love her for it. Our children will be the death of us.”
He realized he was saying more than he should, to a relative stranger, except Steve was no stranger.
“But you wouldn’t have met her, more’s the pity, with there being those two or three years between you. And you don’t need to hear my family problems.
“She’ll break my heart one of these days.”
Steve had met her, but he couldn’t tell her father how, or when, or where, or what had happened. She’d changed his life in every way possible, and then her absence had broken him.
And now she was back home?
“You didn’t see her on the road as you came up here, did you? On a black mare?”
Steve shook his head. He knew about that mare. They’d made an interesting three-some at the lake as they’d ridden around it bareback… all three of them. Such memories!
He’d seen no sign of any horse and rider.
“Then she’s not in town. Probably went out into the woods then.”
For the first time, he noticed that it was getting much darker than it should be.
Rain hadn’t been in the forecast.
He walked over and looked out of the window, deeply concerned by what he could easily see.