The hotel waiter presented him a bowl of Raisin Bran and tall, thin glass of an orange beverage. Paying more attention to his book, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, he took a swig and savored the alcohol mixed with the juice. The waiter was preoccupied with a tall blonde who appeared upset. His book was new and the pages were stiff. He picked up the damp cocktail napkin the mimosa sat upon and bookmarked page twenty-nine. He approached the waiter and audibly annoyed young woman with caution. He caught the last part of their conversation. The blonde’s blue eyes narrowed as she voiced her complaint.
“Why is God’s name would you not have to pay for a mimosa when ya check-in or when ya go the pool but ya gotta when come to the café? Think ’bout that? Does it make any sense at all?”
Her tan arms made a circular motion and blonde curls bounced around her dimpled cheeks. She was remarkable in her young beauty. Her accent sounded familiar. Slow, twangy, and full of character. He pulled a ten-dollar bill from his back left jeans pocket and injected himself into the situation.
“How many mimosas will this buy, sir?”
They looked at him with incredulousness. The waiter was an older Hispanic man with bushy eyebrows and a leathered complexion. He showed no emotion but took the money and mumbled “tres señor”, then walked to the bar. The woman smiled and her face changed. Like a sunrise, light came across her round face, illuminating her eyes and causing her dimples to shine. She smiled and mouthed “thank you.” He smiled back and responded.
“No one should be denied alcohol on vacation.”
She flicked her tongue across her full, pink lips and looked around him to see where he came from. She pulled golden strands of stray hair behind her small ears. She seemed to increase in prettiness as he stood in front of her. Her words fell from her mouth with a country ease.
“Thank you. I thought those mimosas were free everywhere. I’m not a bum, I swear, I just don’t like to carry a purse, ‘specially when I wear these shorts.”
He chuckled and looked her over. Blue bikini straps shared space on her sun-kissed shoulders with a yellow tank top. White shorts hugged her thighs, revealing her curvy figure. He guessed she was a few years younger than his twenty-four. She looked around him.
“Raisin bran, huh? You don’t look eighty-years-old. I’m more of a cornflake girl. Well, cornflakes with whole lotta sugar. Does that book have pictures?”
He liked her teasing. She was gorgeous, young, and oozed personality. He was smitten. They laughed together. Her guffaw was fun.
“It’s a new book for people who like music way too much.”
He looked around to see if anyone was with her. Someone this pretty and funny had to have a boyfriend or a husband, he thought to himself.
“So, I’m on vacation by myself. What about you?”
The last few words of his third question drug out, allowing his American southern accent to show. He braced for her answer.
“I’m with my family. But we have an agreement. They leave me alone and I don’t hope they drown in the ocean by the end of the week. Will you let me pay you back for the mimosas later and we can talk about music?”
He felt high, even though he’d only had one drink of an alcoholic beverage. He extended his right hand, and introduced himself.
The car door opened and the dinging noise startled him from his memory. His sixteen-year-old daughter, Violet, threw her gym bag into the backseat and bounced into the passenger side. Her sigh was loud. Her natural prettiness and deep blue eyes were offset by a sassy tone to her voice and body language.
“Dad, I had the worst day so, yeah, not discussing but, let’s note, volleyball coaches are stupid.”
She placed her bare feet on the dashboard and sighed again.
“I vote tacos tonight. I’m willing to help you make them but you’ve got to stop and buy sour cream. We are so out of sour cream.”
Violet fidgeted after she buckled. He put the car in drive and changed the radio from his rock to her pop.
“So, dad, there’s this mani-pedi kit at the store for, maybe thirty dollars. I was thinking Josie could come over tomorrow night and we do our fingers and toes. Sounds beastly, right?”
He smiled at how she learned from her mother to change her tone when she wanted something.
“Do I get a hug and kiss out of this beastly offer, Vi?”
She rolled her eyes and tapped her toes along the dashboard with the rhythm of the song.
The tan line on his left ring finger had disappeared. It had been three months and four days since her death. Standing over a kitchen sink, he was mesmerized at the ease with which the soapy water trickled over his unadorned hand. When he’d worn the ring, months earlier, he’d take it off to wipe the film that formed when he cleaned with his wife. Words she would say during those moments sang through his mind.
“I hate it when you take your ring off. It feels like you’re not mine for few seconds. That breaks my heart.”
He swallowed hard. Violet spoke over his right shoulder.
“Dad, I’ve got so much homework. It’s so ridic. Can you finish the dishes?”
He bit his bottom lip and placed a washed plate on a white towel layed across the counter. His chest heaved and he responded in a stutter.
“Vi, I, uh, I would, um, like to go see your mom tomorrow. Will you go with me?”
The prospect of her saying no or him breaking down in tears wasn’t something he could endure. He refused to turn around. Violet’s answer was a small hush.
He waited until Violet’s bare feet stopped making squeaks on the hardwood floor before turning on the water. Her cute steps soothed him. After several minutes of washing and drying dishes, cutlery and cups; he turned off the water and heard faint laughter. It sounded like his wife’s. He began a slow stride toward the middle of the house and almost said her name when he realized it was Violet. Their laughs were identical. Then he heard Violet say, “Oh my God, Davey!”
He clenched his fists and muttered.
Running up the stairs, leaping two at a time, he arrived at Violet’s Chris Daughtry postered bedroom door and pushed it open. Violet’s large blue eyes bulged and she reached for her laptop. He growled.
“Say goodbye, Violet!”
She said nothing and closed the video chat screen then glared with incredulousness at her father. He snapped, again.
“Vi, you’re doing homework and handing me your phone and web cam!”
Violet sneered and crossed her arms over her t-shirt displaying the band The Temper Trap.
“What’s the deal? I was just saying hey and goodnight to Davey! This wasn’t major until mom…..”
Violet didn’t finish the sentence. She read her father’s hurt, dead stare. It took over the room. She stood on her bed, pulling cords that connected her phone and web camera to the wall. She handed them over with attitude.
“So, can I, like, study now? “
Her tone and body language were defiant. He marveled at how grown-up she appeared. A dizziness overwhelmed him and he was afraid to move. He mouthed “sit down”. Violet obliged and splayed over her full-size bed, pulling a blue bedspread over her volleyball practice shorts and long bare legs.
“I miss her too, Vi. So much. But I can’t stop being your dad, ever. Davey distracts you. Your grades were going down before…..”
He was painted into a corner with his words. He stopped his speech and looked around Violet’s room. Next to a hair straightener, on a book shelf, under an indie rock CD was a blue and white square. Violet followed his eyes and got out of her bed. She tip-toed to the little hardcover book and pulled it off the shelf.
“Dad, I found this in mom’s closet about a week ago. I forgot to tell you. I loved that book so much when I was little.”
He took it from her and laughed while reading the title.
“Detective Puppy and the Case of the Missing Knickerbockers was your favorite when you were four years old. You made your mom and I read it to you every night for months. I miss that little girl.”
He handed it back and turned to leave the room.
“I do too, dad. So, can I have my phone and cam, back?”
He was crying and almost to the door when he replied over his left shoulder.
“Absolutely, not, Violet. Now, do you homework.”
He caught himself slipping on the last stair when the cell phone buzzed. She was calling again. He jogged to the dancing gray square on the kitchen table.
“Sorry Gus. Vi and I made tacos and then she had a thing.”
He cringed before his sister-in-law Augusta’s response.
“Vi is a thing! I’ve been texting and calling for 2 hours!”
He sniffled and she heard.
“I’m sorry I worry. You need to start going with me to the support group. At the end of the day you need more than me and a teenager to talk to. There’s one tomorrow night.”
The sputtering of the older model, yellow Volkswagen beetle simmered tension between the two of them. He shook his head in disgust and glared at the teenage driver. She rolled her pale blue eyes and responded.
“It says we have a quarter of a tank, dad! Look at it! I’m not lying! I swear! Okay?”
He craned his neck a few inches to his left and rolled his tongue through over his top set of teeth, along the gum line. She continued, in exasperation.
“I hate this car! You know I hate this piece of crap!”
His mind was elsewhere. He knew it shouldn’t have been, but he missed her mother. He eye-balled their residential surroundings and felt safe.
“Park the car on the shoulder, Violet. We’ll be alright here while we walk to the nearest gas station. It’s less than a mile away.”
Her small, recently manicured right hand put the gear shift into park. Her body language screamed conflict. His muttered loneliness.
“Mom wanted you to get rid of this stupid car and you wouldn’t !”
He ignored her and collected their belongings and took note of landmarks for later. He opened his passenger door and left the Volkswagen. She followed him to the front of the car where he opened the trunk and took out a small two gallon red gas can. He had used it the last time they ran out of gas.
“Come on, sweetheart. We have quite a walk.”
She crossed her arms and pulled her shoulder length dirty blonde hair into a pony tail, using a brown band that was around her left wrist.
“This sucks so much. Why couldn’t you have just let me go to Davey’s house instead of proving what a great dad you are?”
The sarcasm in her voice was hostile and disrespectful. He was hurting inside and she knew it.
“Your mom’s been gone for three weeks and all you care about is going over to some boy’s house whose parents lie to me about being home? Here’s what I know about your mom. She would have kicked both of our butts if I let you go over there. It’s Saturday. You’re 16 years old. We do driving lessons on Saturday. Get over it!”
They were both drowning in grief. Before her death, they never argued. Since she’d been gone, this was their fourth confrontation. He was tired of the fighting. He just wanted his wife back. Trees lined the path. Sunlight danced in and out of the foliage. They were, now, several hundred yards from the little yellow car with a broken gas gauge.
“Dad, why are you walking in the middle of the road? You’re going to get run over! There’s a blind curve ahead!”
He wanted to tell her that the middle of the street was the safest place for him. He could feel danger, which was more than the numbness inside of his chest he felt most of the time. Instead he dropped his shoulders, placed the gas can on the white center line and extended his arms. She stared at him with gross disapproval. He mouthed the word “please” and fought back tears. Violet stepped toward her defeated father and gave him what he needed. They embraced for several seconds, straddling the middle of the road. She began to cry, hard, into his chest. For the first time in a while, he felt fueled.
The hug seemed to last for minutes. Violet’s warm tears dampened my t-shirt. She let go of me and began walking down the road. I bent down to grab the gas can. She started singing. I hadn’t heard her burst into song in months, well before her mother died. She swung around and rolled her eyes at my grin.
“What? It’s Lady GaGa. You hate her.”
I felt tears of my own so I turned away. My body language was still abrupt despite our moment of emotional relief.
“Vi, hearing you like that means something to me. Just keep singing.”
“I want you to get me high.”
He laughed through mouthing the word “no”.
“We’re in paradise, thousands of miles from home. We’ve told each other our life stories. You’ve done drugs. I haven’t. “
This blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, layed out in a blue bikini on his hotel room balcony, was asking someone she’d known for two days to procure drugs in a foreign country.
“Where in Cancun should I find your poison?”
She sat up. Sun-baked tresses danced on her tanned shoulders.
“There’s a band staying here. The drummer hit on me when I checked in. Trust me, he’s holding.”
“Dad! Car’s coming, you might want to, totally, get out of the middle of the street!”
Lost in the memory of his late wife in a Mexican hotel 17 years earlier, he woke from the moment and looked over the road. A green Honda approached at a slow speed. Violet waived her arms like a hyper-active windmill. He grimaced and called.
“Vi, we’re not hitchhiking!”
The car idled next to them, about 15 feet away, and electronically lowered it’s driver’s side window. The driver removed her dark sunglasses. Reddish-blonde hair danced around her pale, pretty face.
“Ya’ll okay? Car trouble, I’m guessing?”
Her accent suggested that she was local. He thought she may know of the closest gas station. He took three steps forward and forced a grin. Violet blurted over his shoulder.
“Oh thank God, you came by! So, yeah, my dad makes me drive this old volkswagon with a broken gas gauge. We ran out of gas like a mile or so down the road.”
He cringed and imagined how much he could ground her when they got home. Silently, he hoped the driver would help them. The woman got out of her car and motioned with her left arm for them to get in. Before he could turn down the gesture, Violet ran by him.
“Thank you so much! Oh, hey, I’m Violet. That’s my dad.”
He shook his head and followed his daughter to the backseat of the woman’s car. Violet saw the look on her father’s face. She placed her left hand on his right shoulder and leaned into him.
“It’ll be okay, dad, I’ll protect you if she’s like, a serial killer or whatever.”
The woman got back in her car and through the clicking noises of seat belts, said.
“Hey, I’m Mallory. There’s a gas station with, like a, little sandwich shop inside of it about a mile before the neighborhood where ya’ll ran out of gas. It’s small so you can easily miss it. The gas is high, but they’ve got great BLTs. They’re thick and really fresh.”
He shook his head and said “thank you”. Violet rolled her eyes. He hoped she was wondering how long he’d stay mad at her.
“Dad, you love BLTs and I’m starving! This is turning into a great day!”
He didn’t respond. His thoughts drifted went back to his wife, in that Mexican Hotel, so many years ago.
White Cancun sand sifted over their feet. The evening tide crept toward their stolen hotel white towels. Her curly blonde hair jumped onto his chest as she rolled into his arms.
“You’re thinking about what happens after we leave this beach, aren’t you”
Her dimpled cheeks conspired with her magnificent blue eyes to alter his answer.
“I just hope when I wake up from this dream, it’s not a disaster.”
Mischief formed in the corners of her smile. She nibbled his right ear before whispering.
“Have a little faith in me and I’ll make your some of dreams come true.”
Sitting at a blue and brown two-seated table inside a Starbucks, the sounds of masterenas made him feel anxiety. The paper-shredding sound of steam rushing through milk reminded him of a hospital oxygen machine. Mallory waved then picked up her coffee and chocolate muffin. His mind wandered as he stared into the beams of sunshine dancing through almond colored blinds.
“Mr. Hanna, the oxygen isn’t helping her. I think it would make her more comfortable if we removed the mask and let her breathe on her own, until it’s time.”
He held his wife’s weakened hand and stared across the bed at his teenage daughter, Violet. Tears streamed down her sixteen-year-old face. Sshe stuttered the words “No, Dad. Don’t let her go”. He looked up at the doctor and nurse and cried over the machine’s hiss.
“We’re not ready for that.”
A low, alluring voice startled him from the memory.
“Hey there. You okay? You seem way out there. The muffins here are fantastic so I got us both one along with your bottled water, Mister “I Don’t Drink Coffee.”
He didn’t look at Mallory. Embarrassment prevented a proper response.
“Mallory, I need to go. I shouldn’t be here. I just need to be at home.”
He jumped up, knocking over the wooden chair. The loudness of wood hitting the concrete floor drew the attention of every customer in the barista. Mallory stood and ran her fingers through her long red hair.
“It’s okay. I know what I’m getting into. We have a lot in common and I’m becoming really good friends with your daughter. Let’s talk about the Silversun Pickups show I went to two nights ago and if you want, you can talk about your late wife . I’m a big girl. I can listen to it.”
Her coolness froze him in an uncomfortable state of worry and wonder. He bent down and picked up the chair and gave a nervous grin to the gawkers around him. He sighed and put his hands on the back of the chair, his knees knocking against the wood.
“Mallory, I should apologize. This isn’t me. I feel like I’m being someone else with you. I didn’t mean to ask you out. I just wanted something, or someone….”
Fear took the rest of his speech. He put his top lip together with the bottom row of his teeth and waited for her to interrupt.
“You need someone to talk to. I’m a social worker. I picked you and your daughter up on the side of the road. Then, I tracked you down on Facebook and through your my niece and your daughter’s high school volleyball game. So, hey, I’m begging to be that person for you.”
She was disarming, in a unique way. Her smile was large and warm. He felt safe with her so he sat back into the chair and opened the bottled water. Before drinking, he looked into Mallory striking grayish green eyes.
“I guess, for a few minutes, I could share the pleasures of coffee and chocolate. I miss going to concerts. Tell me about the show.”
He listened to Mallory’s twang as she picked apart her muffin. From her stylish red-streaked hair that touched her shoulders to a recent manicure to her v-neck t-shirt showing plenty of cleavage; she tried too hard. His thoughts drifted to his late wife who always presented a smooth sexiness. Mallory was pretty but his wife was beautiful. His phone vibrated several times so he pulled it from his jeans. It was his teenage daughter.
“Are you with Mallory?”
He glared across the table. Mallory leaned forward to read the message
“It’s Violet? Guess I should keep our business off Facebook?”
“There’s nothing cute about it,” he said. The register of his voice indicated decision more so than discussion.
She disagreed heartily and privately, staring past his head and out the window behind him.
He watched Mallory cross her long legs then evened his rough tone.
“Please understand, it’s only been three months since my wife died. My teenage daughter shouldn’t read about us on the internet.”
“Listen, Mallory, this is all my fault and I should apologize for calling you. I should talk to someone with the similar interests but right now, my head’s not right. “
He stood in haste and watched his cell phone tumble from the frayed opening of his jeans pocket onto the concrete floor. The little, gray metal rectangle settled near Mallory’s three-inch heels. He leaned down and she recrossed her legs revealing off-white underwear and long, unhosed legs from a short beige skirt. He felt trapped between politeness and urge. He decided against retrieving the phone and caught Mallory’s sly smile as he stood up straight. She leaned under the table and grabbed the phone then spoke through a pronounced smirk.
“You don’t have to be awkward around me. I’m used to difficult. It’s the nature of social work. You’re a unique blend of kind and gorgeous. But you called me for a reason and it wasn’t coffee.”
He was tired of being strong, appropriate and lonely. He just wanted something visceral. His next few words were careless, on purpose.
“Let me go home to deal with my daughter’s questions about your Facebook announcement, and you keep your Friday night clear.”
Mallory smiled and handed him the phone. Her neat nails clicked against the metal casing. He sighed and cupped his shaking left hand so she could drop the phone. She sat back in her chair, sipped her coffee then licked the excess brown liquid from her full lips.
“I’m very sorry for putting our meeting as my status. I guess I got caught up in getting a chance to be around you.”
He wasn’t ready for flirting. He looked to the door . They mouthed “bye” to each other at the same time. After exiting the Starbucks he tapped his phone and checked messages from his daughter and sister-in-law. The texts were inquisitive and hostile. He rolled his dark, sad eyes then murmured to himself.
“Everyone is right. I don’t listen very well. This is stupid but I just don’t care.”
A wave of shame met him as he walked through his front door. His brief furlough of naughtiness was now imprisoned by his daughter’s streaming tears. Violet’s blue eyes were flooded. Her cheeks were flushed. She sniffled and stuttered.
“Well? Are you dating her, dad?”
He dropped his shoulders and measured his answer.
“No. Look, honey. I don’t expect you to……”
Violet slapped the armrest of their living room couch. A small box of Kleenex fell to the floor.
“Don’t talk to me like a little baby! Mom is still in this house!”
Her unleashed hurt shot through his chest.
He scooped his arms under Violet and lifted her off the couch in a hug that had her bare feet dangling an inch off the living room hardwood floor. Her glistening face dampened his shirt.
“Violet, loneliness made me do something stupid. I’m so very sorry.”
He lowered her to the ground. Violet didn’t let go. She muttered into his chest.
“I know mom said you could move on, but I wish you’d wait a little bit longer.”
He remembered his wife’s words then whispered into Violet’s soft blonde hair.
“I felt like running away, today. But I came home.”
He closed his eyes and remembered.
Violet appeared asleep, curled in a dark blue chair in the hospital room’s corner. Her small, bare feet dangled over the arms inches away from a bouquet of lillies delivered earlier in the day. His wife’s whispers couldn’t compete with the hissing of the oxygen machine. He moved in close to her chapped lips.
“I want you to move on. It’s been over a year since I was really your wife. ”
Her clammy hands, once warm and satisfying, were limp inside his grasp. He looked up and caught Violet staring at him.
“Camille, my love remains with you and Violet.”
He opened his eyes, releasing the memory of Camille and ending his long embrace with Violet. Violet ran upstairs and brought her homework down. For the first time in many months, he sat with his daughter on the same couch watching television while she did her school assignments. He flipped channels to a hockey game and slid into a more comfortable lounging position. Violet remarked.
“You should let the scruffy face grow. It makes you look more like a dad.”
He smiled and leaned over to kiss her forehead.
“Vi, I’m going to take a shower and get some stuff ready for work tomorrow. Should I wear a tie to my meeting, downtown?”
Tapping a number two pencil against her smooth chin, Violet answered.
“No. You look old in ties. Take out your off-white dress shirt but don’t iron it. That blue sports coat you wear all the time would match the shirt. Wear those nice jeans Gus and I bought you a few weeks ago. You’ll look younger and happier in that ensem. Your meeting people will pay attention to you more.”
He shook his head from side to side in agreement and grinned.
“What would I do without you and your Aunt?”
Without hesitation, Violet lowered her head to the textbook on her lap and shot back.
“Dress very poorly.”
An ache in his back made him cringe as he walked to the bathroom. Approaching his fortieth birthday, He noticed his body becoming more brittle. He felt his feet become cold as he reached the tiled floor. Turning on the shower, he caught his reflection in the fixtures and vanity slapped him. He grumbled to himself.
“I’ve aged five years in the past twelve months. “
He felt his cell phone in the left front pocket of his jeans as he pulled them off. Two text messages were in his inbox.
“Hey, it’s Mallory. I’m sorry if I came on strong. Hope you’re having a good night with Violet.”
“I’m working downtown, tomorrow. You mentioned you were too. I can have lunch at 12:30.”
He felt a wave of confidence wash over him. Now naked, he examined himself in the mirror. He saw good things and bad things. He saw needs and loneliness. With the phone still in his left hand, he smirked at his reflection and texted Mallory.
“I’ll meet you at Smyth’s Olde Pub at 12:30 if you don’t tell anyone, especially Facebook.”
She answered immediately.
“”I promise. Can’t wait to see you.”
He grimaced at the guilt pangs, ran his right hand over his face stubble and looked away.
“Mallory, you’re going to get four days of scruff and a female approved wardrobe. Hope you’re ready.”
He chuckled at his bravado and stepped into the warm shower.
He traded texts with Mallory during his business meeting. Paranoia became his companion as he swiveled his head to see who was watching him during a three-block walk.
As he opened the door to Smyth’s Olde Pub, the smells recalled when he’d played guitar there in a southern rock band called Boxer Ego, before he met his late wife. He figured it’d be a place he wouldn’t feel her presence.
A tall, thin, well-tattooed young man greeted him.
“Hey there. So are you by yourself?”
He looked away and stuttered his reply.
“I’m uh, just, um, waiting on a friend.”