Getting in the car, my dad greets me friendly, “Hey, stranger.”
“Hi.” I want to add stranger, but I do not think he would appreciate my sarcastic humour.
He drives in silence and when he leaves the town behind, I turn to him. “Where are we going? I thought you still lived in Drogheda.”
He glances at me. “No. We live in Slane.”
We. He said we and the we did not include my mom or me.
The silence is awkward, so I ask him, “What have you been up to?” As an extra stab, I add, “I haven’t seen you for two weeks.”
“I know. I am sorry, but we have been busy getting everything ready. Shirley spent the whole week getting your room ready.” He glances at me again. He looks hopeful when he says, “She is very nervous meeting you.”
I am sure she is. She is, after all, a woman who steals men from other women.
“How old is she?” I roll my eyes in the darkness for being so forward. Do I really want to start the weekend this way? Well, it is closer to turn around now and take me home, I suppose.
He surprises me by laughing. He asks between gasps of air, “Does it matter?”
“What is wrong with you? What’s so funny?”
He is still laughing, but he manages to say, “You. You are so funny.”
He sobers as he says, “Your first question is, how old she is? Not how I feel about her or why I love her instead of your mom?”
This is my cue. “Why do you love her more than mom?”
“I love Shirley very much and she fulfils me in a way your mother never could. Your mom will always have a special place in my heart, but Shirley completes me.”
He reaches for my hand on my lap and he squeezes it snugly. “I know it sounds clichéd, but she does. It is difficult to explain what it really is that makes me feel this way, but it is just there.”
Interested I ask, “How did you meet, and don’t tell me at work.”
He laughs again. I never even knew my dad knew how to laugh. “It was actually at work.”
Pulling into a driveway, I see the houses surrounding me are nice and I notice it is a newer housing development.
“Here we are, and to set your mind at ease, Shirley is only five years younger than I am.”
The front door opens and a woman with long blond hair opens the door. She looks elf-like she is so tiny. She is smiling nervously and hurriedly my dad gets out of the car and rushes to her side. He scoops her into his arms, and she almost disappears into him. Embarrassed I look away.
I get my bag from the back-seat and then I walk toward them slowly.
My dad turns back toward me with a huge grin on his face, while he keeps his arm around Shirley tenderly. He says, “Shirley, please meet my princess, Heather. Heather, Shirley.”
He has not called me Princess since I turned ten years old. I think I fell asleep, aliens came and abducted me and then they dropped me back into the wrong earthly dimension. It is the only explanation.
I smile at her friendly as she says, “Please come in Heather. Can I take your bag?”
There it is. She is going to treat me like a guest when I am supposed to feel as if this is my home away from home. “No, it’s okay. Thanks.”
“Come I’ll show you to your room.”
I follow her up the stairs. As I walk into the room, I am happy to see at least I am not being squashed into the box room and the room is a decent size. The room looks nice. It is decorated in pastel colours ranging between pinks, blues, greens and yellows. The bed has a canopy and sheer lace in pastel shades drape down and is tied back to the posts with large elaborate silk ribbons.
She looks at me nervously. “If I knew you liked black so much I would not have used so many light colours.”
I frown for a few moments as I look at her blankly, then I realize she is referring to my all black outfit. “It’s okay.” I smile friendly. “It’s pretty, I really like it. Black can get boring.”
She smiles relieved. “I’ll leave you to get settled. I am making hot chocolate, so come down whenever you’re ready.”
I sit down on the edge of the bed, the straps of my bag still dangling in my hands. I look around the room and pinch my eyes tightly shut to keep back the tears threatening to spill over. I have to go back down, and I cannot do it with red-rimmed eyes.
After taking a couple of deep breaths, I step over my bag, leaving it on the floor, unopened.
I look around as I walk down the stairs toward their chatter. The house is nicely decorated. Along the wall down the stairs there are, what must be about a hundred, little miniature paintings. When I stop to look at one, I cannot believe the detail the artist managed to get into such a small amount of space. The carpet under my feet is thick and a rich caramel colour. The wood on the floor in the hall is real wood and not the laminated kind that is in my house.
I walk into the lounge nervously, there are only two lamplights lighting the room. The room has a somewhat romantic, relaxed feel to it. They are sitting closely together on the couch, and she is sitting under his arm. Looking at them, I think I understand why he loves her. He makes her feel safe and he feels as if he is protecting her—if you considered the sheer difference in size between them. My mother does not need any protection, and I guess this is another Neanderthal thing about my dad.
My dad lifts his hand from her shoulder a little and points with his finger to my hot chocolate, waiting for me on the coffee table. I smile appreciatively, as I take the mug by its ear and I sit down on the nearest chair.
My dad asks, “So how is school?”
We do not really have anything to talk about other than my mom or Shirley and we could not discuss either subject in front of Shirley.
My dad suggests, “There is a nice movie on soon, an action movie, and I know how you like those. Shall we all watch it together?”
I smile awkwardly. “I don’t mind.”
We watch the movie and then afterwards we say good night to each other before we scatter to our rooms.
In my new room, I pull the heavy covers on the bed back, and then I climb into the bed. I find it difficult to find a comfortable position and eventually I just curl up into a ball and I cry myself to sleep.