Dad’s eyes flicker to my duffel, obviously hastily packed and sitting open in the corner. “You know, we talk, but we don’t talk,” Dad starts. His voice is weak, sort of reedy, and this is always what happens when we get emotional. Neither of us knows how to do it. It’s like putting a kid on a bike for the first time. They’ll stare at the pedals and then look up like, What am I supposed to do?
“We talk almost every day,” I remind him.
“I know everything you do, but not much of what you feel.”
I groan into my coffee. “I thought we were here to talk about you and Ellen.”
He ignores this. “You’ve been on a work bender,” he guesses, turning to look at me. “I’m serious. I want to talk to you. You’re a mess.”
My dad knows every one of my best and worst choices. He knows every part of my story and so I always assumed he knew what I felt, too, simply because he knows me. But he’s right: we don’t dive deep into our feelings. We never have. We crack jokes and use sarcasm to make each other laugh, but we don’t label emotions. I’m not sure if it makes me feel better or worse that I do the same thing with Oliver.
“Come out in the kitchen and let’s have breakfast. Let’s talk.”
I look around the room to see where I’d strewn my things as I crashed into bed last night. “Actually, if you’re sure you’re fine, I should head home. I have a mountain of work.” I close my eyes, swallowing down the bubble of panic already working its way up my windpipe.
“No,” Dad says, and he has a sharp, level tone that I’m not sure I’ve heard since I was a little kid getting into trouble. It makes my brain itch, makes me long for open air and more physical distance.
I put my mug down on my bedside table and get out of bed.
“You said that already.” I walk past him to start another pot of coffee. “I just have a lot going on with work. Tell me what happened with Ellen.”
He settles on a barstool and spins in small arcs as he speaks. “Apparently she started seeing some guy she works with.”
“Are you using the term seeing loosely?” I ask, leaning back against the counter, facing him.
“Out of respect for my daughter’s delicate sensibilities, yes. More accurately, she was fucking some guy at the bar.”
He laughs, drawing out the single word with a twist in his voice: “Nope. I saw her with him when I went to surprise her after her shift. She was leaning across the bar with her tongue halfway down his throat. They looked pretty familiar.”
Laughing again, he shakes his head. “I want you to make me your special eggs and tell me something good.”
I turn toward the fridge, pulling out a carton of eggs and a stick of butter. “I’ve got nothing.”
I shrug, grateful that I’ve got my back to him as I grab the bread. “We’re doing about the same as you and Ellen.”
“No,” I hurry to say, immediately defensive. “Nothing like that, it’s . . . it’s just a long story.”
“You may have noticed I’m currently minus one girlfriend. I’ve got time.” He watches me pull two slices of bread out of the bag and rip little circles out of the middle for Eggs in a Basket, his favorite breakfast. He always watches me make this with a look of wonder on his face like there’s some voodoo involved. It’s adorable; the secret is bread and eggs cooked together in a pan. Sometimes I’m amazed he’s survived living here alone.
“What’s going on?” he presses. “You were here with him the other night and the two of you could barely keep your hands off each other. Now you’re here, sleeping in your old bed for the first time in ages. Talk to me.”
I set the eggs and bread on the counter and pull out a frying pan.
“I don’t want to talk about Oliver,” I tell him, and am blindsided by the sting of tears rising up out of nowhere. I know Dad sees me brush them away, so I mumble, “Sorry, I’m just wiped. I’m messing everything up. The movie, the new series. Oliver. All of it.”
“That doesn’t sound like you, especially not with Oliver.”
I laugh, lighting the burner. “Doesn’t sound like me? Do you remember the first time Oliver came over? You looked at him like he was an endangered species.”
“It was new,” he says in his defense. “You’d never brought a guy home before.”
“I panicked about work and told him I wanted some space. So, he went out with someone else,” I say, and brush at my eyes. “He’s mad and I guess he thought that would help.” I place a pat of butter in the pan and watch it melt. “I regret saying what I did, and now I’m not sure how to fix it.”
“But you just . . .” He pauses and shakes his head. “I’ll admit, Lola, I may be more upset about this than about Ellen.”
And now, relief. There had been a tiny piece of my brain that was stuck on the image of Dad after Mom left, and worrying he would go to that terrible place again if Ellen ever left him. Thank God he won’t.