“So. How’s life, kiddo?” Dad wrapped an arm around me as I sat on the basement couch with him. “I feel like it’s been months since you’ve been around here.” He felt that way because it had been.
“Yeah, I know Daddy,” I said, fidgeting with my shirt. “I’ve been really busy.”
He nodded erratically. He was sweating, and his nose was running.
He was using again. I could tell.
“Oh, right, right, right. I know.” He patted my shoulder and squeezed gently. “I’m so proud of you, you know that?”
I nodded, smiling. “I know.”
“Damn,” he continued, tipping his head back against the couch. His chest rapidly lifted and fell with his breath. “I can’t believe my baby girl is going to be a college graduate next year. I can’t believe that, one day soon, you’re going to open your very own coffee shop and make your old dad the meanest Frappalatte, or whatever the hell they call those things.”
I laughed. “It’s Frappuccino Daddy, and I won’t be making that yuppy crap. You know that.”
“Yeah,” he said, staring at me through half-hooded, dilated eyes. “My little girl wouldn’t sell out like that.”
He pulled me down to nestle against his shoulder. “So, come on Ky … tell your old man what’s been going on in your life. What’ve you been doing? How’s Brooke? Been to any wicked parties lately? Do you have a boyfriend?”
The questions dropped on top of me rapidly as he speed-talked his way through the verbal barrage. I swallowed, making a note to ask Mom why the rehab hadn’t worked—again. If we should find somewhere new for him to go. If we should chain him to their bed and never let him leave. Ever.
If maybe, just maybe, we should let it get the best of him.
But then I smiled, relaxing against him at the thought of his last question. “I did meet a guy.”
Dad squeezed around my shoulders. “Ooh,” he teased. “What’s his name? How long have you been dating? When do I get to meet him? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”
“Well,” I said, shrugging and suddenly bashful, “his name is Devin, and he’s not—”
“Devin, huh?” Dad nodded his approval. “I like it. What’s his last name?”
“Uh, O’Leary, but—”
“O-Lear-y,” he said slowly, enunciating the syllables, scrutinizing as though he could discern his character by the sound of his last name. “He’s got the luck o’ the Irish, does he?” he asked in the worst accent I’d ever heard, and I laughed with a roll of my eyes. “Is he a short little Leprechaun?” he teased.
At that, I guffawed and shook my head. “Oh God no. He’s freakin’ tall. Like, six-foot-five or something.”
“Whoa,” Dad said, suddenly serious. “That’s a tall guy you got there. Does he take care of you?”
I thought about the year of friendship I’d spent with Devin. The weekly movie nights, the talks, the walks around campus and the songs he played on his old guitar. The time he rescued me from that jerk at the party that started it all. And I smiled, letting my mind focus on the memories. On the silver linings against the persistent and dark, stormy clouds in my life.
“Yeah, Daddy, he’s a really good guy,” I said nodding, not having the heart to tell him that he wasn’t actually my boyfriend. Dad seemed so excited, that I’d finally found someone nice and good to call mine, so, I let him believe it.
“That’s good,” he said, nodding. “That’s really good. You deserve a good guy, honey. Not like your old dad.”
My lips twitched and my eyebrows drooped with the impact of the comment. “You are a good guy, Daddy,” I said, wishing there was more sincerity in my voice. “You really are,” I added, hoping so badly that it was enough.
He shook his head. “No, I’m not. I’m not a good guy. I haven’t been a good guy for a long time, but … I do what I can, right? I pay the bills. I love you and your mother. That’s the best I can do at this point.” He was nodding incessantly, reassuring himself, that barely coasting along was as good as it could get.
We were silent for a few moments. Me, slumped against my father in his basement den, wishing I was with my friend and not there. Him, breathing unsteadily and furrowing his brows, the way he did when he was thinking.
“Hey,” he finally said after minutes of quiet, shaking my shoulders. “Hey, I need to tell you something.”
I turned my head to look up at him. “Yeah?”
He tapped my nose with his pointer finger. “I’m sorry for the hell I’ve put you and your mother through. I know I never say that, but … I wanted you to know, okay? I’m sorry. I know it’s not easy. I know it’s not …”
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to make him feel bad. I didn’t want to feel bad. “Daddy, it’s fine—”
“Kylie, it’s not fine. It’s not. But it is what it is. I am who I am, and I’m sorry for it.” His voice was edged and harsh, and my lips tightened, afraid to speak. Afraid I’d cry and make him feel worse. Push him further down into that grisly spiral of chaos and cocaine. “The best I can do is help you out where I can, like the coffee shop and the savings account.”
I wanted to smile at the thought of the savings account Dad and I had been putting money into for years. The savings account that would buy me my coffee shop after graduation. It was the dream we’d brewed together, on our walks to and from the beach. During our infrequent visits at the rehab center. I wanted to feel the satisfaction of hope for the future, and I felt none.
“Kylie,” he said, “I want you to promise me that you’ll turn out okay and chase that dream of yours, despite all of this shit.”
“Daddy, I am okay,” I insisted.
He shook his head again. “If you were okay, you’d be here more often. You’d bring your boyfriend around.”
“Kylie, just promise me, okay?”
I swallowed, and my eyes wandered up to the ceiling. “Okay, I promise.”
“Good. And promise me that you’ll never settle for less than perfect from any man that you’re with, even this guy Devin. Promise me you’ll always make sure they treat you right.”
“God, Dad …” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Isn’t that your job? To intimidate my boyfriends?” I teased, glancing up at him.
Dad’s expression was unreadable. Sad, angry, doubtful. It broke my heart, and It scared me.
“Promise me,” he repeated.
I inhaled the stuffy air of the basement, longing to be upstairs. Outside. Back at college.
“Yeah, Daddy,” I said. “Yeah, I promise.”
He nodded, satisfied, and he kissed my temple. “That’s my girl. I love you, you know that?”
My heart ached as I rested my head back on his shoulder, hating so much that I wanted to be anywhere but there with him.
“I love you too, Daddy,” I said, hoping so badly that it was enough.