"Oh," I murmured, taking another sip of coffee.
His face fell, since oh isn't exactly the response one wants to telling their kid they've finally got proof that they are sober. He seemed aware that I was searching for the tell-tale signs that he was struggling. I could tell he was sitting stiffly to not let his left shake incessantly, and was holding his hands in his lap to keep from picking at the cup. His muscles were so used to being suppressed by the numbing effects of something that sobriety always made him fidgety. He focused hard on my face, reaching for some sympathetic section of my soul. I knew he was having trouble finding it since his addiction forced me kill that part of my heart long ago.
"What have you been up to?" he asked.
I shrugged. "School. I was thinking of being on the dance team next year but I don't think I'll have time with AP classes."
"Mm," he took another swig of his coffee. "I missed you guys a lot. Rehab is a motherfucker."
"So I've heard."
"Well, your birthday is coming up, right?"
"It passed," I murmured. "It was yesterday."
"At least I remembered to call you this year," he said with a nervous laugh.
A part of me wanted to castigate him for his self-deprecating joke, but this conversation was painful enough. He let his fingers explore the edges of the coffee cup, and within seconds, tiny fragments of the paper cup were all over his side of the table. Pity kept me glued to my chair, though even that was beginning to grow yellow and hard. My dad looked up at me with sad eyes.
"I really have missed you and your sister. Even your mama though she nags a lot," he said with a nostalgic chuckle. "The holidays are always hardest."
"It's not a good idea for you to come around at Thanksgiving."
"Did your mother find someone else?" my father sounded almost like a child who found out his goldfish died.
"No, no. Nothing like that. It's just different."
"What do you mean, Racecar?"
"Don't call me that. I just mean we spend it with Aunt Diane and her kids. We like it, but I know you hate Aunt Diane, and the feeling is definitely mutual. She only stopped talking about you after mom's breakdown."
"Oh. Um, is your mother still drinking?"
My dad peeled another piece of paper off his cup and the cup began to leak. Awkwardly, he pressed the cup to his lips, momentarily forgetting the hole at the top and spilling coffee all over his arm. He tsked with the cup in his mouth. I got up and got him some napkins. He took them graciously and tried to sop up his mess and slurp down his coffee at the same time. I watched him sadly. It was hard to watch this man, the silly dad I grew to love before I was old enough to understand why that man would disappear, reappear after everything we had been through. After seeing him scream at and push my mother around when they fought over his stashes. Him sneaking in my room at night to borrow birthday money he would never give back. Days and weeks at a time when he would disappear and we would awake to our mother cooking breakfast at five in the morning because it was easier to stay busy than break her own sobriety.
My dad realized how I was looking and made a face. It was hard to look at him and not feel anything but pain. All the memories just came wasking over me every time I saw that puzzled look. Me slipping into the bed with Karter and us talking so she could distract me from the fighting downstairs. The broken dishes that my mother would spend all night sweeping up. The dots of blood that lined the hallway when my dad took too much. The tears, the hushed whispers at family gatherings when Mom would drop us off, the shame on her face when Aunt Diane and Aunt Lucia asked where Dad was. Where's your husband? You didn't bring Jack? Jack didn't want to come? I could see by his face that he always wanted to come but couldn't, was trapped fighting something we couldn't see and was trying to suppress the fight with whatever would make him calm. Yet, it made him lose everything he was fighting for.
He put the cup down, licking his lips. "That was close."
I chuckled, and it almost didn't feel forced. He sighed and put his and on his head.
"I ruined this, didn't I?"
I shrugged. "I mean, it could've been better. I would've loved to do this over pizza. But, the pizza place doesn't have pastries like this so, C-?"
My dad chuckled. I peered at his watch. Karter would be walking from baseball practice to Rebecca's house, where I'd lied and told her I would be, in ten minutes. My dad noticed my face and chuckled.
"So where did you say you'd be?"
"Your my kid, Karsyn. I can tell when you've lied about something. Who's supposed to be going to get you?"
"Karter," I murmured.
"Yeah, she'd never understand us meeting up. That's why I called you," he said with a wink. "Go on to wherever you need to be. You have my number now. It won't be getting shut off any time soon."
"Okay. Um, do you want to meet again or--"
My dad shook his head. "I've caused enough trouble."
"Oh, well, I'll ask them about Thanksgiving. Maybe we can do what we used to do again this year. When we were all a family."
"Don't worry about it. Have fun at Aunt Diane's. I know your mother is enjoying not cooking."
I started to say something else, but the clock in my peripheral vision stopped me. I kissed his cheek and ran out and down the street towards Rebecca's house, quietly hoping that Karter would trip or get sidetracked before I got there.