I could feel her starting to let go, beginning to relax. She was smiling, so beautiful showing me every picture and explaining why her mother took her there. Nicole doesn’t really talk about her childhood, and yet here we were sharing a moment while she stared at pictures with sparkling eyes. I could hear the emotion and happiness in her voice as she told me things about her past. Until he spoke. I came here with an open mind, knowing what he did to the woman I love, I was still believing in his story. In all the crap he was saying about being clean.
Now I’m even afraid of lifting my head and killing the man. Nicole’s hand clasps on mine for support, and I move closer to her. Letting my lips rest on her cheek, I couldn’t care less about the presence of the man in front of us before dragging my nose across her skin until whispering into her ear.
She inhales sharply; I knew it would help her shift focus. It wasn’t supposed to entice her into anything other than to move her attention and see I’m still here. I’m not leaving.
“I get by,” she says, staring at him.
“Oh Nicky, you’re a doctor; you do more than get by.”
I don’t know where he is trying to go with this, what’s the purpose of this conversation, but there’s definitely one. He does seem to be clean from alcohol, but I’ve seen things when I used to work with people from the business. Now that’s Tyler’s part of the company. They don’t drink; they are not allowed to, so they do other things. Dangerous things.
Things that put their lives in danger just because they’re ignorant.
“I have an easier life; yes,” her voice changes into the icy tone from before.
I can sense her walls lifting, and I don’t like it. It’s not that Nicole will hide from me, but I don’t enjoy seeing the woman to whom I gave my heart to hurt by someone else’s stupidity. I look at the man who still smiles at her. Now I see it; as my eyes drift around the house, I see he doesn’t care about this place. It’s not just the dust; the house isn’t cherished for years now.
If he is trying to stay in the past, shouldn’t he at least take care of the things that remind him of that?
“That’s good,” he says, leaning forward.
My hand automatically falls on Nicole’s leg, and I push my whole body next to hers as if I could shield her from him. It won’t do much; I see him thinking, planning on what to say. I don’t know Nicole’s father, but from what I’m experiencing, he seems to be someone who thinks about himself.
She came here to forgive him, and I know that won’t happen.
“So, I know it’s not my place, but-” he stops when lifting his eyes to her.
Nicole has a serious face; she glides her tongue on the inside of her cheek and stares down at the man. I see how he gets intimidated by it but still decides to speak. My woman can be intimidating as hell when she is pissed.
“I was thinking if you could lend me some money.”
“Lend you money?” She asks, quirking up a brow. This won’t end well. Nicole is starting to get angry at him. I she shifts on her seat closer to me, closing her hands into fists and ready for him to speak again.
“Yes,” he drops his gaze from her and stares at his hands instead. “I just got a call from a guy; I need to pay someone back.”
She inhales sharply, glancing at me before glaring at him.
“What did he lend you money?”
“I- Uh,” he doesn’t seem to be able to speak entirely. Her eyes don’t move from him, forcing the man to speak, and so he does. “I used it on a poker game.”
“So, you gamble now?” He squints his eyes at me as I speak, and I straighten myself in the seat.
The promise I made myself stands. I won’t let anyone hurt Nicole.
“It’s not gambling,” the man confesses, rolling his eyes. “I just went to play a small game of poker and had to ask someone money for that.”
A scoff leaves my lips, but Nicole doesn’t move. It’s not like her to be so quiet, and it’s worrying me.
“So, you replaced one addiction for the other?” I speak instead of her.
“Yes, you did,” I interrupt him. “You replaced drinking for gambling.”
His eyes darken while the man lets go of a small chuckle. A sarcastic one. My body stiffens, and the need to tell him everything I think about his attitude keeps rising. This is not how I thought I would meet her father, but it’s turning to be hard for me not to speak my mind.
“I’m not replacing anything,” he speaks directly at me. “And I also don’t owe you any explanation.”
“But you owe me.”
Nicole’s voice sounds as cold as ice between both of us, cutting the atmosphere so sharp that we can’t help to look at her. She stands up, walking towards the fireplace and picking up one of her mother’s photos.
“I came here today because I needed to see you to know that you are ok.”
“You are too-”
“I’m not done,” she cuts him off, sending a menacing glance. “All I wanna do right now is scold myself from thinking you could have changed. That maybe all these years would have done you good. But they haven’t. Instead of drinking, which I’m proud that you have stayed clean and away from it, now you also gamble. You waste money in a different way, but you waste it nevertheless.”
Her father stands up; he takes a step forward towards her. She watches him, hands on the side of her hips closed into fists.
“Don’t call me that.”
She snaps her head at him so fast the man takes a step back. I see the fear in his eyes. I see the way her words affect him, and although I know she is harsh, I need to let her speak.
“Mom used to call me that; you have no right.”
Her eyes fill with emotions, blinking away the tears that gather until they fall on her cheek, sliding down. Anger, hurt, sorrow, all of them swirl in the pit of her chocolate gaze as she takes a step towards her father.
“You made my life a living hell. Staying out till late, forgetting me in places, forgetting my birthday. You brought men to this house, men that would look me up and down and made me feel uncomfortable. That’s why I started to lock myself in my room. That’s why I started to avoid you-”
It’s then that I see him changing. I had my share with people like him, people who won’t take the blame. People who can’t accept their daughter talking at them thing’s that make them see just how despiteful they are. Things that are true but hurt them.
“You avoided me,” her father sneers, “because you couldn’t face that you are just a big of blame as I am.”
Nicole stops in her place, staring at the man before furrowing her eyebrows. I stand up, putting my hand around her wrist and trying to grab her attention again, but it’s too late.
“I’m to blame? For mom’s death? That’s why you hate me?”
“She was speeding because she had to come home because I was working, and you were alone without dinner. She was speeding because she had to take care of us and-”
“SHE WASN’T SPEEDING,” Nicole shouts, and even I flinch. “Another person went straight at her. God, you live in your world, and you will blame anyone when things don’t go your way.”
Nicole turns to the bookshelf, she pics one of the photographs and another album with a cover identical to the one she had before. When she does so, a small glass bottle falls on the shelf, hidden behind the book.
I pick it up, staring down at the man as Nicole turns to him.
“Really?” She asks, rolling her eyes and pacing to the sofa to pick up the other album. “So, you are still the same pathetical liar you were.”
“Where are you taking those?” He asks, pointing at the albums she carries and hurrying to stand between her and the door.
“With me, I have the right.”
“You can’t just leave with that. You’re still the same ungrateful girl of all those years ago. You only think about yourself. I asked you for help, and you couldn’t even lend me some-”
My hand beats loud against the coffee table, and they both jump and stare at me with startled expressions.
“This,” I speak, pointing to the set of bills, “is for you to pay your debt. I think there’s enough in there for you even to have a drink after.” I walk towards Nicole, taking the albums from her hand turn to face the man I’m growing to despise. “These are coming with us. Do you need anything else, gorgeous?”
Nicole shakes her head. I see the tears there, but she doesn’t let them fall anymore, trying to stay strong and not giving her father what he wants. She won’t cry in front of him again.
“Nicole-” he calls for her when she grips the door handle. “Please, I’m your father; you can’t walk away from me.”
Nicole takes a deep breath pulling the door open, she steps out, and I do the same. But she turns to face him one last time, needing to be the one with the final word.
“I lost my mother years ago; I lost the person who loved me more than anyone else. I lost my father then as well.”