Looking past the screen of her laptop, Heather glanced toward the young woman working the register. Last weekend, the two had gotten together as friends to drink and chat. Things ended up getting complicated after that, though, what with the kissing and then her ex showed up the next day and he just made things more difficult for everyone, well meaning though he may have been. Regardless, the weekend had been a bit of a wake-up call in regards to things like regret and personal understanding. And here Heather was, a Thursday evening, waiting to meet with someone who could help her with at least one of her many regrets. While she stared over her computer at her best friend who she may or may not have a crush on in spite of knowing better.
“Excuse me, miss?” A slightly gruff, yet comforting voice came from over Heather's shoulder. Even after over 15 years, she knew exactly who was standing there.
Turning to face the man, she smiled. A few of his hairs here and there were white and gray, and the lines by his eyes were sharper than she remembered, but it was still that same face she used to see every day. “Hey there, Dad.”
The older gentleman smiled and took a seat across from Heather as she closed her laptop. “Bet you're a bit surprised your old man has a FaceSpace account, huh?”
“Not really,” Heather stated simply. “I hear they're pretty popular with the elderly.”
“Now now, little missie, you should know better than to speak with your father that way,” he replied with his best imitation of an old TV patriarch. The two shared a laugh before sitting silently for a moment. Each was certainly sure of the issues that would be brought up, but it was clear that neither one of them were in a hurry to start the conversation they'd come here for.
After a deep breath, Heather decided to take the first step. “So, how've you been since Mom kicked you out?” By this point, there were only a couple other people in the coffee shop with the pair, namely Jessica at the counter, and Mr. Colm enjoying his usual evening coffee and reading a book on the opposite side of the room. “Still sailing the seven seas?”
“I've only sailed one sea, but basically, yes. I'm on shore leave for another couple of days, then I'll be out at sea for another four months. That is, if the world doesn't explode or something,” he amended, glancing to the side as he shifted in his chair slightly. “Kind of a lucky break you caught me when you did, baby girl.”
Heather smiled warmly. After a childhood of neglect and ignorance, just hearing those words brought comfort. Dad always saw her for who she was, not her condition. “Yeah, pretty lucky indeed.” And yet, in spite of that fact, she still had a question left to ask, and it scraped at her throat and pulled her stomach into knots as she did so. “So, why did you stay away all those years? What even happened with mom?”
Her father took some deep breaths, taking his time to piece together the ideas of where to start and what to say. “Well, it started a little while after you were born. Your mother had her-” he paused for a moment, grasping at euphemisms to find the peg that fit the round hole before continuing. “-quirks, we'll say, before you were born, but something just kinda got messed up in her head afterward.” He looked into Heather's eyes and made one point very clear. “It wasn't your fault, baby girl, just please remember that.”
“I know, Dad. I know.” She nodded, feeling the tears in her eyes but not in her words.
He continued the story. “After a few years, when you were about four, she found some photographs from the relationship I had before I met her.” His words prodded Heather's memories of childhood as he stopped to choose his next words. “Do you remember my friend Kenneth from when you were about four or five? He had the longer hair and the perpetual stubble, you said he had a...”
“A cactus face. Yeah, I kinda remember saying that.” Heather found it odd just how easily she made the leap that her dad was clearly trying to push her into. “He was your ex, then?”
“We were together for a while, but our romantic relationship ended about a year before I met your mother. We stayed distant friends, though, and he was even the best man at my wedding.”
Heather took all this in with a sense of relief, mostly for Ky's sake. She did need to gauge whether it would be a good idea for Ky to meet him, after all. “Okay, so, how exactly did mom find out, and why did that even matter?”
“You were young then, but it really was a different time. Your mother found some pictures among my personal effects, and when Kenneth and I started spending time together as friends, well...” He didn't need to finish the sentence that time. But he continued with the explanation of what had occurred. “Kenny's partner, well, he succumbed to what used to be referred to as 'a long illness' when I was a young teenager falling in love with another boy at my school. It was a tough time for him, so I really tried to be a good friend to him. But don't misunderstand, I was monogamous and I was committed to my relationship with your mother. She just didn't see it that way, and she easily found a judge and a lawyer that agreed with her.” Heather grabbed hold of each thing she heard and all the things that weren't said. “She got sole custody, and basically threatened me with a bunch of lies and slander that were commonly associated with gay and bisexual people at the time.”
Heather sat there quietly, putting everything in place before she said anything else. “That's quite a story, Dad. And it actually kinda makes some things make more sense, in a way.”
“I'm sorry, baby girl. I'm sorry I didn't fight for you and Kylie,” her father continued. “I just... I was so hurt and scared and I didn't know what to do. And even if I fought, I knew your mother would just fight back, no matter who it hurt. So I justified my cowardice by using you and your sister as an excuse.”
Heather looked into her father's eyes. “I never really blamed you for any of it, Dad. And I'm sure Ky doesn't blame you either. But in any case, I forgive you, Dad,” she responded, getting up and rounding the table to embrace him. “Thank you for coming today.”
“Thank you for inviting me, Heather. And if you can, let Kylie know I'd like to meet her.”
“Shouldn't be too hard since Ky lives with me now,” Heather replied.
Her dad pulled back from the embrace a bit. “Wait, really?”
Heather backed up as her dad got to his feet. “It's a long story, I'll tell you next time we talk.”
“Well, alright, baby girl. I think I'll get a coffee and head out, then,” he stated before heading to the counter.
Jessica stepped to the register. “What can I get you, then?”
“Just a regular coffee with milk.”
“Okay then, and your name?”
“Ethan Coven,” he stated.
As Jessica turned to get his drink, Ethan quickly stepped over to his daughter's side. Leaning in close to her ear, he whispered, “Tell her how you feel soon, baby girl.”
If Heather had been drinking something at that moment, she would have probably sprayed it over half the room. “Dad!” she whispered as loudly as she could without being heard.
“I saw you looking at her when I got here, I'm not blind.”
“It's not as clear as that, Dad,” Heather added.
Ethan went to the counter as Jessica called for him, then stopped for a moment next to Heather on his way out. “It's never as clear as that, sweetie. That's why you should tell her.”
“When I know how I feel,” she explained, “then I'll tell her.”
Heather's father smiled and placed his warm hand on her shoulder. “I know, baby girl. I'll see you soon.”
Just outside the door to the small cafe in Centerville, Ethan Coven stood quietly drinking his coffee. He took one look back through the glass to see his eldest child, his beautiful daughter, all grown up and figuring her own life out. He felt pride more so than regret, an ideal he wasn't sure would play out when he agreed to meet her again. Turning to follow the sidewalk to the bus stop, he saw a young man, maybe a teenager, jogging up toward the cafe with a thick book under his arm. As the kid moved past him into the cafe, Ethan couldn't help but notice some familiar features in his face, his eyes most especially. He kinda looked like...
The young man walked up to Heather inside the cafe and handed the book to her. The two carried on for a little while, and with a surprised smile, Ethan came to a realization of why his children were living with each other here, far from the place they once called home.