He went out for milk. That was eleven years ago.

“He went out for milk. That was eleven years ago.”

Joey’s widened. “You’re kidding. He just… never came back?”

Lauren shrugged. “We haven’t seen him since.”

“Wow. I mean, you hear stories like that, but… Wow. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that actually happened to you.”

She shrugged again. “Like I said, it was eleven years ago. I barely even remember the guy.”

That was a lie. Her memory of him was painfully sharp. She could still picture every detail of his face; the small wrinkles beside his eyes, prominent especially when he smiled. The long scar across his chin. The way his bottom lip fell slightly to the right when he smiled.

She remembered the sound of his laughter, usually ending in a coughing fit after years of smoking. She could remember the way he smelled, like tobacco and natural musk. She could remember the way he felt when he pulled her head against his belly to drop quick kisses on the crown of her head.

No matter how hare she tried, she couldn’t forget him.

As if Joey could sense her silent anguish, he took her hand in his and squeezed. “That guy’s an asshole. Anyone who doesn’t want to be in your life is an asshole.”

Lauren smiled. “That’s sweet.”

She leaned over and pressed her lips to his. They were soft and comforting, and when his arms went around her, she almost felt as if she didn’t need a father.

When they parted, she said, “Tell me about your father.”

He lowered his eyes. Almost modestly, he said, “He’s alright.”

Nudging him, she said, “You can tell me. I’ll try not to get too jealous.”

He smirked. “Me and my dad are best friends. I can’t remember him ever not being around when I needed him. He’s a real stand-up guy. The epitome of a good parent.” He looked at her. “Hey, why don’t you meet him? We can go to my house, right now.”

Her mouth fell agape. “Meet your dad?”

“My whole family,” he said, the corners of his lips curling up into a smile. “Why not? It’ll happen eventually, right?”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” she asked. “I mean, it’s a big step. Meeting the family.”

Still smiling, he stood up and offered her his hand. “C’mon, Lauren. Let’s go introduce you to my family.”

Taking his hand, she returned his smile and let him lead her to his car. Her heart hammered against her chest as the ride brought them closer to his house. She cared about him, more than she’d ever cared about a boy. Maybe she even loved him. And now she knew that maybe he loved her, too.

Not every man is going to leave you, her mother always said. Not every man is your father. But in her heart, the fear of abandonment lived and reeked havoc. It left her cold and withdrawn, afraid to commit. Afraid to feel.

Except Joey somehow found his way through the wall she’d built. He found his way through it and, as they drew closer to his house, he tore it down. Resentful brick by resentful brick.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said, when they pulled into his driveway. “They’re going to love you. Like I do.”

Lauren could feel her heart fill with warmth. She took a deep breath and followed him through the front door. “Have a seat,” he said, motioning toward the couch. “I’ll go get everyone.”

Unable to stop grinning, she nodded and set down on the couch. When he disappeared, she peered around curiously at her surroundings. The small living room looked like something from a sitcom. A sitcom about a perfect, happy family. If she weren’t floating with elation, she’d certainly feel the pang of bitterness that lingered in her gut.

Family photos lined the walls and decorated the tables. One in particular caught her attention. It was propped atop the fireplace and Lauren stood to get a closer look at it. It was of Joey and his family; his mother, his younger sister, his baby brother.

And his father. 

She recognized the wrinkles beside his eyes. The scar on his chin. His crooked smile. And then his voice, from just behind her. 

One Response to He went out for milk. That was eleven years ago.

  1. Seymone says:

    WOW! Didn’t see that coming! Loved it

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