The sound of seagulls brought me back to the waken world the next day. Shoving the covers off my head, I glared at the clock. It was nearly noon. I was shocked at first that the blonde drill sergeant hadn’t been in to demand me at breakfast but then it dawned on me that Chris had been out late too and she probably knew not to wake either of us. I was still for a moment, listening to the sounds of the house. Once I detected no movement, I crawled out of bed and bee-lined it for the shower. I was in desperate need to change out of my clothes from last night and to wash any kind of memories from that sleazy trucker off my body.
Back in my room, I changed into a pair of comfortable shorts and one of mom’s old t-shirts as I headed to the kitchen. I was brushing out my rats nest when I noticed that the back door was open. Peering out, I saw Chris sitting at the picnic table on the deck. A large pile of seafood laid in front of him and he was taking turns cutting filets and shucking what appeared to be clams. Biting my lip and taking a deep breath, I stepped out onto the deck. The wood felt soft under my bare feet as I approached him. He didn’t look up until the screen door slammed behind me. He smiled when he saw me then returned to cutting his filets.
“Hey, kiddo. How’d you sleep?”
“Okay I guess. You?” He shrugged.
“I got a few hours in then the delivery truck dropped of our shipment for the fourth of July party this weekend. 200 pounds of swordfish, clams and shrimp. Every year, we throw a big party on the fourth. We charge admission and everyone gets to eat, drink and hang out for the fireworks at the Marina. It’s always a great time.”
“Yeah? Big turn out?” I asked, grabbing a clam and prying it out of the shell. He didn’t say anything as I moved on to the next one, tossing the meat into the bowl he had been.
“About 300 people each year. Most people stay, some head down to the county fair for a bit after eating but come back for the show. This year, I’ve hired Greg’s band to play after the fireworks to bring in more people afterwards.”
“Sounds fun.” I replied. We sat in silence for awhile, the only sound was the meat of the clams clumping in the bowl and his knife cutting through the filets as he worked. Finally after what felt like an eternity, he sigh and washed his hands off on a towel that was next to him on the bench.
“We gotta talk, Ker.” I didn’t look up at him as I nodded. “Your mom and I haven’t been honest with you about this summer.” My head popped up to look at him.
“What do you mean?”
“When I left your mom and you, I was in rough shape. I was addicted to pills and didn’t care about anyone else but myself. So your mom and I agreed that I should leave until I got my shit together. That’s when Greg told me that he could get me in a rehab place down here and a solid job at the Wharf. Mom and I discussed that I couldn’t have contact with you until I was straight and it took a long time for me to see the light. After I got sober, I told your mom that there was no way I could impose on your life. You were thirteen at that point and your mom said that you had begun to get very upset whenever she brought me up. So we both decided to just let you pick how it was going to work. The owner of the Wharf offered me the place and I took it up. That’s how I met Tammy. She was the agent that helped up close the deal. I told your mom about her and that’s when she decided we should go to court and have a judge help us. We explained to the judge before court that we were on good terms but you had no idea that we were and that you hadn’t had contact with me in years. He helped us come up with the court order idea.”
“There’s no court order. Your mom knew that you’d never willing come down here so she thought that if you thought you had no choice, you’d end up growing to love it here. I’ve told her like a hundred times we should just tell you but I see now that she has a point.” I wiping my hands on the towel, staring at him in disbelief.
“Why didn’t you try to contact me? Just because Mom didn’t want you to? I wanted you to! The last ten years have felt like HELL knowing you were somewhere else living a life without us in it.”
“I know, Ker, and it kills me that I wasn’t there for so much but I couldn’t be the Dad you deserved. I didn’t want the Dad you hated to be around because I screwed you up.”
“But it was easier to be the Dad who was screwed me up by not being there? You missed so much! I looked for you at my sixth grade graduation, my first dance! Everyone else had their dad’s there for the father daughter dances but instead, I had no one. At 13, I was old enough to at least be included. If I had known all of this then. I wouldn’t have felt so betrayed as a kid. I wouldn’t hate you.” I exclaimed.
“Listen, kid. No one was trying to hurt you. Me and your mom worked together through the whole thing. She sent me pictures of all your stuff and videos of your important things. And I even came to a couple of your school functions like that short time you were on the volleyball team. You just never saw me because that’s what we wanted. This summer was meant for you to get to know me without any past ideas from you as a kid or what you might have heard about what happened between your mom and me. We only wanted you to be able to make a decision on your own. I don’t blame ya for being pissed and if you wanna leave, I’ll take you to the airport tonight. But you can’t leave without knowing how much I love you and how I much I wish I could change the things I’ve done but I can’t.” He looked at me with the saddest puppy dog look I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of the looks I give Mom when I want something. No wonder she can never tell me no.
“I don’t want to leave. But I don’t want to be lied to anymore. I’m almost a legal adult. You guys can’t just toy with me like that.” He smiled and nodded, standing up.
“Okay. You sure you wanna stay though?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Good cause I thought I was gonna have to tie you up and toss you in the freezer next door till September to get you to stay.”
“Shut up, dad.” I said, rolling my eyes. He pretended to be having a heart attack and clenched his chest in a dramatic fashion.
“Holy hell, she called me dad! It’s a miracle!”