Dim light illuminates the room as I step inside, and it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. When they do, my hands fly to my mouth at the sight of my Dad.
He’s hooked up to a blood pressure monitor and an IV line stands at his bedside, directing fluids and pain meds into his body via the back of his hand. His face is bruised, a dressing covering what looks to be a nasty cut over his left eye and a cast covers his right leg from just above his toes to mid-thigh.
Although it doesn’t seem like it right now, he’s been lucky, and the thought of what could’ve happened makes my stomach turn over, especially after the way things were between us when he left.
Dad stirs in the bed, groaning a little before his eyes focus on me.
“Dad!” I’m at his side in an instant, reaching for his hand as tears spill down my cheeks. “God, you scared me! I thought I’d lost you too!”
“Hey, hey,” Dad says huskily, reaching up to stroke my hair. “I’m not going anywhere, kid. It’ll take more than a semi to take me out,” he jokes, then coughs, holding his bruised ribs.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here sooner. I didn’t get the call from the hospital until this afternoon. They’ve been trying to contact me, but the battery was dead on my cell phone because I’ve been with…” I stumble to a halt.
“Tyler. You were out with Tyler,” Dad finishes for me. “It’s okay, Jenna. You don’t have to worry about saying his name in front of me.”
Dad grimaces, shifting in bed a little to get more comfortable. “I know I messed up. I should never have interfered the way I did. Everything you said to me the other night was true. I did judge Tyler. I judged him based on the word of an abusive drunk and I’ll never forgive myself for not seeing through his lies. For someone who prides himself on his instincts when it comes to work, I really did drop the ball when it comes to Tyler - no pun intended.” Dad smiles weakly at his own joke.
“I was away so much when you were growing up that I think I overcompensated when I was home. Anyone who wanted to be with my little girl had impossibly high standards to live up to and I thought Tyler didn’t come close. I couldn’t have been more wrong,” he says, resting his head back against the pillows behind him, closing his eyes.
“We don’t need to talk about this now, Dad,” I say, concerned.
“Yes. We do,” Dad replies firmly, lifting his head and fixing me with dark brown eyes so much like my own. “If being here has taught me anything,” he gestures at the hospital room around him, “it’s that you can’t leave things unsaid.”
He pauses before continuing, “I told you that it didn’t take much convincing to get Tyler to leave but that’s not strictly true,” Dad admits.
“Tyler told me the only reason he would take me up on my offer was because he thought it was the best thing for you,” Dad says, and I look at him, confused. “Tyler left because he wanted to make something of his life. So that he could come back to you when he felt he had something to offer you,” Dad explains.
“But, he always had something to offer me!” I protest. “Himself! He just never thought he was enough.”
“I know,” Dad says sadly. “And I played a large part in that, something I’ll always regret. I thought you were too young to fall in love, but I was wrong there too. I, of all people, should have known better, because I fell in love with your mother the first time I ever laid eyes on her when I was sixteen,” Dad says, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “I’ve made so many mistakes as a father. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry!”
I reach out to him, careful not to jostle him, and we’re crying and hugging each other as best as we can around tubes and wires.
“It’s okay, Dad, it’s okay,” I soothe, as if I’m the parent consoling the child. “It doesn’t matter now anyway,” I sniff, taking two tissues from the box on the bedside cabinet and handing one to Dad.
“What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?” Dad asks.
“Tyler’s leaving again soon,” I reply.
“California. He’s been signed. I saw the contract. It’s a done deal. He may have come back, but it was only to tie up loose ends, put the past to rest. It wasn’t for me,” I say, feeling tears threatening again.
“I don’t believe that,” Dad says, shaking his head. “You need to talk to him. Ask him. I saw the way he looked at you at the cemetery. It was the same way he looked at you all those years ago. If you love him, really love him, you need to fight for him.”
Dad can’t know that he’s repeating almost the exact same words I said to Tyler two nights ago, when I accused him of not fighting for me. Am I brave enough to fight for him?
I sigh, feeling closer to my dad in this moment than at any other time in my life.
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll talk to him.”
“Good girl,” Dad says, patting my hand. “Now, I assume Tyler didn’t let you come alone and is hiding around here somewhere?”
I nod, smiling inside at the idea of Tyler hiding from anyone.
“Then, go find him, make things right, and let your old man get some sleep,” Dad smiles.
“I don’t want to leave you,” I protest.
“Go. I’m tired and I need to sleep. And get some rest yourself,” he adds.
“Okay. I’ll be back first thing,” I promise, kissing him on the cheek and heading towards the door. I pause with my hand on the door handle.
“Yeah, honey?” Dad says, looking at me.
“I love you.”
Dad clears his throat before answering.
“I love you too, kid.”