For the first time in many years, I looked at my Father with respect. He was kind, thoughtful, caring, and one of the most intelligent men I had ever met. We had dinner out on the back deck that over looked the pool, and enjoyed each others’ company very much. We reminisced about Mama and he told me again how much she loved me. He told me how important the letters were to her in her final days. Even when Mama could barely sit up, she asked for a paper and pen to write to me. I felt humbled and began to think about the whole situation differently.
“I’m so thankful that Penny took you under her wing.” Father sipped his sweet tea and looked at me. “She has always been such a good friend to your Mama, and now to you.”
I looked down and fiddled with the cloth napkin in my lap. I knew his words were true, but at the same time my stomach churned in repulsion at the thought of Mama in her arms. “Yes, she did help me a lot.” I couldn’t deny what Penny had done for me.
“Did she introduce you to Junior?” Father didn’t know me well enough anymore to know when I was uncomfortable with a subject. I was uncomfortable discussing Penny, and was painfully uncomfortable discussing Junior.
“Sort of.” I thought back to that afternoon on the beach when Junior approached us. I assumed he was interested in Anna and made myself scarce. Even now, I wondered what in the world he saw in me. I thought about the first night he came to the house, anyone in their right mind would have run at the sight of me stumbling half asleep down the stairs. I thought of our first kiss and pushed him out of my mind as fast as I could.
“She always promised to find you a summer romance.”
“That she did.” I felt like vomiting. The butterflies in my stomach at the mention of his name made me sick instead of excited like they had only a day or two before. I knew that I had hurt him, but I couldn’t fix it. I had to fix myself before apologizing to him. I was still quite confused about my feelings for Junior, and couldn’t face them yet. I had to get to know my Father again first.
“More tea?” Maria asked with a smile. She was prettier than I remembered. Her auburn hair had a nice wave to it, and I decided that her sister Consuela probably taught her how to style it. Maria's eyes were big and round, and I had never noticed the chocolatey brown warmth of them before. I realized in that instant that Maria wasn't the monster that I had molded her into in my mind, she wasn't a monster at all. She was just Maria.
“Yes, please.” I smiled, hoping that Father wouldn’t pick back up with the conversation about Penny after Maria went back inside.
“You look nice, Adeline. Tan.” Maria gave me the once over, I thanked her genuinely as she headed back through the French doors.
“How long has she worked for us?” I couldn’t remember life before Maria.
“Let me think.” Father wracked his brain and wiggled his fingers as he counted. “Twenty nine years… We hired her when your Mama was pregnant with you. She got too big to do much of anything.”
“I guess so with a ten pound baby in there!” I laughed, imagining Mama barefoot and pregnant.
“Yeah, she got spoiled. Maria was supposed to leave after you were a few weeks old, but here she is. Still cooking every meal and getting paid every month.” Father laughed heartily and I smiled. It had been a long time since I heard him laugh.
“You sure loved Mama.” I commented.
“Love. I love her.” He pulled his glasses down and intercepted a tear before it rolled down his face.
“I’m sorry for everything, Daddy.” I whispered, reaching across the table and holding his hand. I didn’t even realize that I had called him Daddy until he thanked me for it. I hadn’t called him that in sixteen years, but it felt right. He was still my Daddy. Even after everything I put him through, he forgave me and accepted me back.
Father took me on a walk after dinner and it felt great to wade our way through the humid summer night. The lightning bugs trembled in the distance and it felt good to coexist without feeling the need to start a one sided fight like I had done so many times before. With each step we took, we forgot a little more of the pain that used to hang between us.
“I want to know about this Junior fellow, Addy. I keep asking and you keep changing the subject…”
“I don’t really know what to tell you. What do you want to know?” I wasn’t ready to admit that my first attempt at love had only last a little while.
“Well, what does he do for a living?” he asked.
“He teaches high school English and coaches soccer.” I was ready for the conversation to be over after the first question.
“Ok, has he ever been married?”
“No!” I exclaimed, surprising myself by answering so passionately. “Junior is thirty one and has never been married. He is cautious when It come to love, like me.”
“Have you met his parents?”
“His Dad. He’s a great guy.” I smiled. “His Mother passed away when he was twelve.” I thought about the mix of sadness and love that flushed across Junior’s face when he spoke of her.
“And when do I get to meet him? Why didn’t he come?” Father was obviously interested in Junior.
“I, I don’t know. I don’t know when you’ll get to meet him.” I confessed. “I broke things off last night.”
“You what? I thought you were in love.” It was obvious that Penny had been giving him updates and I wondered why she hadn’t shared that information with him. Maybe she was selectively sharing the bits of the story that made her look good.
“I don’t know if I was in love or not. I thought I was, but I just got so confused after finding out that Mama…” I stopped myself from finishing the sentence.
“Oh Addy,” Father pulled me closer to him and I began to cry. I really didn’t know why I had broken things off with Junior without thinking it through first. “Your Mama loved me no matter what she did.”
“Did you ever wonder who her lover was?” I asked, wondering if he knew her secrets just like she had known his.
“We agreed not to ask questions. Sure, I wanted to know sometimes, but now I am thankful that I don’t.” Father took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. “It is better not to worry about things, and if I knew who it was I would always compare myself to him. It would have destroyed me.”
Him. There was no him, I thought. Father had no idea that his wife was in love with another woman and I intended to keep it that way. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“You didn’t do it. You have nothing to be sorry about, but you will if you don’t rethink the situation with Junior.” He looked at me, he was leveling with me and sharing his honest opinion.
His words echoed through my mind. Would I be sorry? Would I spend my life regretting letting Junior go? I didn’t know, but I couldn’t think about it. I had bigger things to think about. I had to internalize the truth about Mama and Penny so that Father wouldn’t have to feel the betrayal of it all. He didn’t deserve the agony of it, I wouldn’t wish the staggering pain I felt on anyone. I wouldn’t have even wished him that much pain back when I hated him. Junior would have to wait.