Authors: Kathleen Long
ALSO BY KATHLEEN LONG
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Kathleen Long
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
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Cover design by Danielle Fiorella
One day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces will stick back together.
My father stood at my front door as if he’d simply run out for bread and forgotten his keys.
A slight gray stubble dappled his chin and the line of his jaw, his appearance a far cry from the practiced, clean-shaven face he sported the one time I saw him each year.
Frustration and disbelief tangled inside me.
I didn’t need a surprise visit. Not tonight. Tomorrow would be one of the biggest presentations of my career, and the last thing I wanted was to find the mighty Albert Jones on my doorstep.
Yet there he stood.
I’d rarely seen my father during the twenty years since he’d handed me to my grandmother and walked out of my life. Last year the man had lingered for several awkward hours during his annual Christmas visit. The year before he’d stayed for fifteen minutes, leaving me to dine alone at the local café, which was, quite honestly, a relief.
I couldn’t help but wonder what he wanted, considering that he’d never before stopped by in the middle of August, much less looking like something the cat dragged in.
A taxi idled at the curb, but Albert stood his ground, feet firmly planted on the top step.
I studied him through the sidelights and thought about throwing the deadbolt and walking away. Instead, I opened the door but blocked his entrance.
“Destiny, my girl,” he said, the faux affection in his voice serving as a reminder of why the man had earned a collection of Tony Awards.
I couldn’t remember the last time he’d called me his girl.
The realization and reminder sliced me to the core, and I drew in a deep breath and worked to steady myself.
I had neither the time nor the interest to discover why he’d traveled the hour and a half from New York City to my hometown, but the sooner I dealt with him and sent him on his way, the better.
“You’re four and a half months early for Christmas, and you haven’t remembered my birthday in at least fifteen years, which begs the question: Why are you here?”
His green eyes measured me, their light dim, as though the months since I’d last seen him had stolen their brightness. They focused momentarily, flickered with hope. “
it your birthday?” he asked.
The pain of his not knowing stung, but I’d long ago learned to shove away my disappointment. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “Not even close.”
His focus faded once more, and I wondered briefly just how much his brain had been affected by the accident that had made front-page news in Paris, New Jersey.
Tony Award–winning native struck down during rehearsal three weeks before opening night.
According to the reports I’d seen, he’d been hit on the head by a faulty piece of scenery, and although he’d given all of Broadway a scare, he’d been treated and released and was expected to make a full recovery.
When he spoke, however, he did so carefully and succinctly, the very act of choosing his words seeming to require effort.
Worry flickered through me, but I tamped it down. This man hadn’t cared about me since I was ten years old. He’d never done a thing to earn my concern.
“Can’t a father visit his daughter?” he asked.
“A father can, yes. But you lack the basic qualifications, don’t you think?”
I cringed inwardly as the words left my mouth. Even for me, they were harsh.
He graced me with the facial expression theater aficionados called
Stoic. Superior. Put-upon.
Albert Jones might not be a household name, but among people who knew Broadway, he was royalty.
Here, where he was nothing more than an absentee father, he was anything but. He and I were linked by nothing more than DNA—a sad truth I’d accepted long ago.
Fatigue bracketed his famously expressive eyes and might have weakened me momentarily if he hadn’t spoken his next words. “I paid for this house.”
A knot fisted in my belly. Was this seriously how the man felt? That he had a claim on this house? He’d deserted me when I’d needed him most.
I laughed—a nervous reaction I did my best to control—but his statement was . . . “Unbelievable. Either you’re still suffering from your injuries or you’re even more selfish than I thought.”
He flinched as if I’d slapped him.
“You may have paid off the mortgage, but this hasn’t been your house since you walked away before Mom was cold in the ground. Or had you forgotten that part?”
He looked at me then, really looked at me, the mention of her apparently breaking through his façade.
Before my mother died, I’d been able to tell the difference between my real father and my actor father. Some of my proudest moments had been spent watching him onstage, acting out the emotions of characters he brought to life. My happiest moments, however, had been the times during which I hadn’t had to share him with an audience.
He’d been my dad, and the love that had once shone in his eyes had been genuine.
Now, however, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to tell whether my father was acting.
“You have her eyes,” he said, hitting me below the belt.
I dropped my grip on the door, and he slipped past me, stepping into the house as if on autopilot.
“Don’t leave,” I shouted to the taxi driver, hoping he could hear me.
“My bags,” Albert Jones said, as one might say to a butler or personal assistant.
Alarm bells chimed deep inside my brain.
I thought of the presentation I planned to make the next morning before the opera board, picturing the designs and budget materials spread across every available inch of my office.
“What do you mean,
“I’m staying for a visit,” he said matter-of-factly, dismissing my question with a wave of his hand.
My father hadn’t slept under this roof in twenty years.
While I’d never moved into the bedroom he and my mother once shared, the sheets, curtains, and carpet had long ago been replaced, erasing all memory of the happy family we’d once been, leaving behind nothing more than a sterile guest room that had never been used.
“Life is short. I want to know my daughter.” He raised his arms majestically, like a Disney hero who’d arrived to save the day.
Sadness pushed at my frustration, and my voice faltered on my next words. “Don’t you think you’re a little late?”
A horn blared from outside, and Albert blinked. “My bags,” he repeated.
We stared at each other, our eyes locked. His were a cool, pale green, so unlike my mother’s warm, dark-brown gaze.
“A visit, Destiny. Surely you’re not going to deny a tired old man a visit.”
And so, Albert the actor returned.
“One night,” I said as I turned for the door.
I fantasized momentarily about hoisting my father into the air and shoving him back into the waiting taxi, but I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of knowing how deeply his appearance had rocked my state of mind.
“Has he paid you, at least?” I asked the driver as he exited the car upon my approach.
The man, a silver-haired gentleman with a generous smile, tipped his hat. “Quite handsomely, miss.”
“Lovely,” I said beneath my breath as I waited for the trunk to open.
I expected an overnight bag, perhaps a weekender, not a large wheeled suitcase and an oversize leather duffel.
Albert Jones apparently planned on far more than a quick visit.
What the hell was going on?
The driver hoisted each to the curb, then slammed the trunk shut. I hesitated, half in the street, half out, as the taxi pulled away and faded into the distance.
“Selling luggage, darling?” a sweet voice called out from beside me.
Something soft and fluffy brushed against my ankles, and I instinctively bent down to scratch the head of Marguerite Devine’s poodle mix, Picasso.
I met Marguerite’s quizzical gaze and laughed, at a loss to do much else. “The great and mighty Albert Jones has returned for an unexpected visit. Apparently he wants to spend time with his daughter.”
Marguerite’s eyes widened, and she pressed one hand to her chest, as though I’d told her the sky was falling. Then she narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Have you questioned his motives?”
I nodded. “Most definitely.”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure he’s capable of telling me the truth.”
Marguerite nodded. “He rarely was.”
My next-door neighbor and my mother had been best friends since their days at Paris Elementary. While Marguerite had never married, she’d been part of our family for as long as I could remember. She’d always insisted I call her Marguerite. Not Aunt Marguerite. Not Mrs. Devine. Just Marguerite. As if we’d always been equals, when in fact, we had not.
Marguerite had been the bright beacon that guided me through my darkest years, and for that, she would forever sit upon a pedestal in my mind’s eye.
She pointed to her head. “How about the injury? Maybe he’s suffering from lasting damage.”
I shrugged. “He’s speaking a bit more slowly than usual, but that’s about it.”
She screwed up her features.
As close as Marguerite had been to my mother, her friendship with Albert had been tenuous at best. Once my mother became ill and my father began spending more and more time in New York, Marguerite had stopped trying to hide her dislike of the man.
After he’d handed me off to my grandmother, Marguerite had never forgiven him.
“Want me to march in there with you?” she asked.
Affection warmed my insides, but I shook my head. “I’ve got this. Thanks.”
Picasso trotted to her side and sat up on his haunches, urging his mistress to continue his walk.
Marguerite grasped my elbow, giving it a squeeze. “I’d tell you to give the mighty one my regards, but why start pretending now?” She leaned close, our heads touching. “You, however, I love like my own, so if you need me, holler.
“You have a big day tomorrow. Don’t let him throw you off your plans, and do not let him stay a second longer than you want him to.”
She released my elbow, but pressed her palm to the small of my back.
I stared at my house, the weight of Marguerite’s touch bringing with it a flood of memories.
While I was a fairly accomplished craftsman entering her thirties, I suddenly felt more like the frightened ten-year-old who’d hidden in the corner of Marguerite’s garden as mourners filled my parents’ house with platitudes and respects paid.
It had been Marguerite who’d found me that day, not my father. It had been Marguerite who’d held me tight and dried my tears, Marguerite who’d held my hand and led me back to where my father commanded the sitting room like a man on center stage.
While everyone else had seen a strong, grief-stricken husband and father, I’d seen an actor pretending to be brave when he was not.
You are enough,
Marguerite had whispered in my ear.
When my grandmother moved in the next week and my father moved out, Marguerite had held my hand and said it again.
You are enough.
And I had been. Without my so-called father.
Marguerite held her ground as I walked toward my front door, Albert’s luggage in tow. I glanced back over my shoulder once. Her ruffled, lemon-yellow skirt flounced in the breeze, and one hand gripped the wide-brimmed sun hat that covered her auburn curls. With Picasso by her side, she looked as though she belonged not in Paris, New Jersey, but in the real Paris, thousands of miles away.
You are enough,
Then I braced myself for the man who waited for me on the other side of the door.
I found Albert in the sitting room, standing beside what had once been his favorite chair.
He studied a pair of framed photographs, his fingers touching a treasured shot of my mother cradling a newborn me in her arms.
We’d been happy once. The three of us.
My father had been my hero—taking me for adventure walks, carrying me on his shoulders, helping me tie old towels around my neck in my superhero days. He used to take my hands and spin me until my feet and laughter flew.
Then Mom got sick, and he faded. First from our games, then from our home, eventually from our lives. He spent more and more time in New York and less here in Paris.
Once Mom died, he left for good.
“Why are you really here?” I asked.
He answered without turning to face me. “Sometimes life is so hard you simply want to go home.”
The delivery of his line was flat, defeated, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t the first honest words he’d spoken since he appeared at the front door.
Another person might offer a soothing word or ask what was wrong.
I was not that person.
When he turned toward me, a shadow crossed his features, and I remembered the look from the days when my mother had been failing.
Albert Jones was done talking.
My insides quaked with the unwanted emotions I’d long ago done my best to shut down. The truth was, if the man wasn’t going to honestly answer my question, I had better ways to spend my time.