“Nothing.” A quick shake of the head. “It’s … you’re here. You’re staying.”
“I just thought …” He shook his head again. The corners of his mouth darted up and down as he cleared his throat. “I just never thought you’d be back.”
There was so much emotion in his gaze, and they were too visible to me. He hadn’t turned the light on, but the moonlight lit the room up. A sudden lump formed in my throat, and I looked away.
“Oh, right.” He finished with the heat and flipped the light switch. The room was flooded with new light, and I was struck with the same emotions.
This wasn’t home. Not anymore.
The kitchen counter was covered with empty pizza boxes. There must’ve been thirty of them, and the floor had empty cases of beer scattered around. The kitchen table had mail all over it. Not an inch of the tablecloth could be seen. When I spotted a television in the corner of the room, I gestured to it. “That’s new.”
“Oh.” He sighed, flushing at the same time. “Yes. Before Malinda, I watched a lot of the game tapes here.”
“Not in the basement? You used to watch them down there.”
“Yeah. I, um, got into a habit of staying up here in case …” His glanced at me, but turned away. Bumping into the pizza boxes, the pile fell to the floor. “Oh no.” He dropped down and began picking them up with rushed movements. “I’m sorry. This place is a mess. I haven’t cleaned since—” He stopped himself and took a deep breath.
I sensed a change as he straightened. I waited for whatever he was going to say next, and my heart began pounding in my chest.
“I don’t know why I’m lying to you. You’ve been through enough. You deserve me to tell it to you straight.”
My stomach tightened.
“I would sit up here,” he gestured around the kitchen, “in case you ever came back. It sounds stupid, but I wanted to be here if you ever came back. You never did. Well, you did, but it was the day after you moved.”
“Yeah.” My voice was hoarse. “She forgot something and asked me to get it. I did …” And he had come home. A stabbing pain pierced me. If only I had realized how final it was going to be. If I had known he wasn’t my real father then, but no. It wouldn’t have changed anything. She still would have forced me to go with her.
“Like I said before, it became a habit. Sitting here. Eating here. Watching the games here. I did everything here. Even months later when I knew you weren’t coming back, I couldn’t stop. It made no sense to me.”
I nodded, but I didn’t know what to say. When I saw the broom in the back, I asked, “Do you want me to clean up?”
“What? No. Oh no, Samantha. This is my mess. I’ll clean it up. You can go upstairs if you’d like to get changed or get comfortable. Maybe email or check your Twitter. Mark’s always talking about that with Malinda, but I never understand what they’re talking about. I’m not big on technology.”
“I know.” Neither was I. I thought I had inherited that from him.
“You know what?” With a garbage bag in one hand, he began stuffing the pizza boxes inside. “I bet you’re hungry. Malinda asked if she should make us something, but I told her that I’d take you to dinner. Do you want to go out to eat?”
“That’s okay. We can eat in.”
“Oh.” He frowned. “Um … I could go and pick something up. Chinese? You used to like Chinese.”
“Or there’s that new noodle place. You want to go there?” His eyes lit up.
I gestured to my face. The bruises had started to fade, but I had another two weeks until they’d be completely gone. “I’m not feeling like going out yet.”
“That’s right. Your face.”
“Oh,” he sighed again. “I’m nervous, Samantha. I’m your father. I’ve raised you since you were little, but I’m very, very nervous right now. I can go and get you something from the noodle place.”
“You don’t have anything in the refrigerator?”
“I don’t stay here often.” The corners of his mouth lifted again in a quick grin. “Things went fast after my first date with Malinda, and I’m there most of the time. I use this place more for storage. I guess.”
Another thing that changed. “It’s nice that you’ve kept the house.”
“Yeah, well, I had hoped you might need it someday.” He frowned. “But not like this. This was a horrible way to need it.”
“I know, Dav—Dad. I know.”
A smile formed on his face. It widened as his eyes blinked rapidly. Then he brushed at his eye and jerked his head towards the door. “I’ll go and get us something to eat. I’ll be back quick. I promise.”
Unsure of what to do, I began cleaning up. The rest of the pizza boxes were put in the garbage bags, along with the beer cases. All of that was taken to outside to trash bins and then I started organizing the mail. He had bills from the fall. When I found one from August, it was the date we left him. My hand trembled as I stuffed the envelope underneath the rest. The magazines were thrown out—they were Analise’s. She never bothered to cancel her subscriptions. The pile I moved to the side were the football ones. All the coaching newsletters went there, too. Then there were the newspapers. Most were still folded together, and I knew he hadn’t opened any of them. All of them were tossed. I put what I could into recycling piles. After sweeping the floor and wiping down the counters, I skimmed over the sink. There weren’t many dishes, but David never dirtied a lot of dishes. The few he did, he cleaned right away. That was something Analise could never complain about.