My mother believes there’s something deeply unsettling about having a plan for your life. I’ve never taken this philosophy seriously, because it’s standard hypocritical parental advice. Sure, my mom never meant to get pregnant with me when she was twenty-one, but it’s not like she threw caution to the wind afterwards. My parents, young as they were, decided to stay together and see if they could make things work. From an outside perspective, their status as a divorced couple makes it appear as though they failed. I heavily disagree.
Sometimes, two people try very, very hard to be together, only to split up. It doesn’t matter how much they love each other. In the end, it might not be realistic. My mom and dad always insist that they loved each other, still do, but it wasn’t meant to be. They’re happier as friends than lovers, and I think there’s something special in that.
You’d think I’d try to follow their example.
“This is going to be good for you.”
“I know, Mom,” I say, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. It’s surprisingly difficult.
“A change of scenery. I’ve always said you’re too much like your father to flourish in a desert.”
She’s talking, of course, of Arizona State. At least, she’s trying to talk about it. She’s been waiting for me to talk about it for a month.
Not gonna happen, Mom. “Yeah. It’ll be cool.”
“He’s still not there?”
I peek around the cement pole I’m currently hiding behind, searching for signs of a well-known police cruiser going exactly three miles above the speed limit. “Nope.”
I can feel my mom’s anxiety rocket skyward. “You’re around other people, right? There’s airline security? You’re not alone?” She asks, louder now that she’s pressing her cellphone against her face.
The concern is more welcome than usual because I’m standing in front of an airport, surrounded by strangers who all look like they know what they’re doing. My mom is worried about me. It makes me feel solid, real, like I have importance. I’ve been struggling with a lack of such feelings lately.
So, I smile to myself, and reassure her. “There’s a security guy by the door, and it looks like he’s keeping an eye on me. I’m sure Dad will be here soon.”
“Alright,” my mom says, still wary, but willing to let it go for now. “Stay on the phone with me until he gets there.”
Sounds good to me. The longer I keep talking to Mom, the more I can pretend everything’s normal, and nothing went wrong. I didn’t spend two useless years at a state college before suffering through something my doctor affectionally titled, “A severe panic attack”. I’m just visiting my Dad over the summer, being a good college kid and spending my breaks with my family members. Nothing to cry about.
I wipe at my eyes with my jacket sleeve, and try to re-focus on whatever my mom’s saying.
“…and I want a picture of you and your father, preferably standing in front of that old truck he’s going to surprise you with.”
“Oh god, he actually bought me a truck?”
If my mom notices the slight tremor in my voice, she doesn’t say anything. She usually would, but she probably suspects I need the space. “Yes, he did, so you’re gonna be grateful and not let him know we found out about the truck ages ago.”
“But I can’t drive.”
“Just don’t mention that, and act surprised!”
“You know I suck at lying.”
“Don’t think of it as lying. I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised regardless, once you get a look at that thing.”
“Great,” I drawl. “Can’t wait to drive around Dorwall in style.”
My mom laughs. “Honey, in Dorwall, nothing is in style.”
She’s right. My dad’s home town, the little Oregon community in which my parents went to high school, is so incredibly separated from the rest of the nation that it seems to follow its own set of seasons. Winter, while merely a myth in Arizona, is a steady constant in Dorwall. It rains in the summer, snows in the winter, and rains again in the spring. The air is mercilessly chilly, offering no reprieve from the pouring onslaught from above. The people who live in Dorwall should be miserable, given their conditions, but it’s almost the exact opposite. There’s a creepy, old-timey charm in Oregon, born of old traditions and a complete lack of self awareness. The town members are odd and much too conversational, and fully believe that there’s something wrong with the rest of the country for not acting the way they do. In the end, I’ve found it’s wise to simply smile and nod your way through the day. This strategy has helped me whenever I’ve traveled to visit my dad. Of course, in the past it was only for two weeks. This time, I’ll be here for an entire year.
An image passes through my mind, of me transforming into a Dorwall town member, Night of the Living Dead style. My black hair loses all it’s loose volume, and lies flat against my cheeks underneath an ugly woolen hat. My skin, tan and freckly from the warm Arizona sun, turns deathly pale in the foggy Oregon air. A necklace of seashells appears around my neck, and I suddenly know the names of all the native birds in the surrounding area.
“Bella, sweetie, you know I love you, right?” My mom says, snapping me out of my nightmare.
I nod like an idiot, despite being on the phone. “Yeah. I love you too, Mom.”
“It’s going to be okay. When life throws you something like this…”
“It can only get better,” I finish. A little family philosophy..
And really, I can only go up from here. The last thing I need is to be mopey and sad throughout my year in Dorwall. I left my angst days behind me in high school.
Something white and blue catches my eye, and I turn to see my dad pull up in his police cruiser, lights flashing and all.
“Dad’s here,” I say, and my mom must hear the embarrassment in my voice because she huffs out a laugh.
“He’s got his lights on, hasn’t he?”
“Yup.” I smile and wave at my dad, who pulls up to the curb. Around him, cars slow down, and people remember their driving lessons from way back when. But my dad’s only got eyes for me.
“How’s he looking?” My mom asks in my ear. By that, she means his weight. Last spring break, she started him on a diet to help with his blood pressure.
By the looks of it, Charlie’s lost the diet instructions. He’s got enough of a pot belly to make it clear he enjoys his food, but he still moves about with a spring in his step.
“He looks fine,” I tell my mom. She hums, and I can tell she knows he’s ignored her advice.
“I want to talk to him before you leave,” she says as my dad gets out of the car.
“Okay.” And all of a sudden, I’m getting choked up. This is stupid, I left home two years ago, there’s no reason for me to be sad about moving away from my mom.
But I am. At least when I left home the first time, I was still within the same state. Close enough to visit, but far enough away to get some breathing room. Now, it’s like I’m entering an entirely different world. Growing up was never supposed to be like this, right?
The thing is, after what happened, Arizona changed. It became constricting, a reminder of all I failed to accomplish. I no longer had breathing room. In fact, it felt as though I lost the ability to breathe. Oregon is supposed to fix this.
“Hey Bells,” my Dad says, all smiles. He gives me a quick hug, wafting his coffee and leather scent all over me, then picks up my two suitcases and hauls them to the cruiser.
“I can help,” I protest, but he shakes his head.
“Nonsense. You’re my guest. It’s the least I can do.”
“I’m not your guest, I’m your kid. I’m pretty much obligated to do the manual labor for you.”
He merely grunts, and tosses the cases into the trunk. They’re rather small, since they only contain the meager number of winter items I have which are suitable for Dorwall.
“Is Charlie there?” My mom asks, her voice reaching a demanding pitch.
“Yup.” I pause. “I’m gonna miss you.”
“No, you’re not, because I’m going to be Skyping you every night, right?”
I smile. “Okay.” When my dad comes back over, I hand him the phone. “There’s a lady who wants to talk to you, something about ditching you with the kid and never paying alimony.”
My dad gives me a look. “That better not be a jibe at me.”
“Nah. You’re a cool dad.” I kiss him on his whiskery cheek and head for the car.
Behind me, I can hear my dad talk into the phone in a low voice. “Hey Renee…Yeah, she looks fine….A little tired, maybe, but—“
I slide into the car, shutting the door with the intentions of not listening to the conversation. My parents need the time to talk about their daughter, the sad girl who dropped out of college and is in desperate need of a mental rework. I figure they have something resembling a 5-step-plan.
Step one: Make sure Bella is comfortable in Dorwall.
Step two: Ask Bella what’s going on.
Step three: Really ask Bella what’s going on.
Step four: Somehow get Bella back into school.
Step five: Settle with whatever Bella decides is best.
A solid plan, figuratively. Realistically, it all falls apart.
They can’t ask Bella what’s wrong with her, because Bella sure as hell doesn’t know. I could always say the pressure of school got to me, but they’d never buy that. I don’t buy that. I was a perfect student in high school; mastering school work, a social life, and volunteering with my mom. College comes along and BAM! It all falls to complete shit.
After everything that happened, my mom tried to get me to go traveling with her, seeing the world like we’ve always wanted to. I would have said yes if it wasn’t for Phillip, my mom’s new husband. It’s their first year as newlyweds, I didn’t want to step all over that.
Then, Charlie called up with an entirely unexpected idea. He suggested I take a year off, come live with him in Dorwall.
He thought I would say no. My mom thought I would say no. I thought I would say no. I surprised us all by packing my bags and buying three scarfs. In the moment, I think I was so desperate for any sort of escape that I was willing to do something surreal. Dorwall feels far enough away from reality for me to fully fight for my life back.
‘Course, life has a way of just fucking with me anyways. For funzies.
Outside the car, the conversation topic has obviously switched from me to Charlie. He’s frowning, and appears to be trying to interrupt whatever my mom is lecturing him about. Poor Dad. Things are already awkward enough between us, without this big college issue hanging over our shoulders.
He finally says goodbye, hangs up, and walks to the car.
“She remind you that cholesterol exists?” I ask as he opens the door.
“I can still ground you,” he grunts.
The cruiser starts up, and we’re off.
Twenty minutes later, and I’m considering opening the car door and running back to the airport, screaming. We haven’t said a word to each other. I’m sitting next to my father, the man who helped raise me, and I can’t think of one thing to say to him.
“So. Dorwall,” I try, desperate for anything. “Was Floor-Ceiling taken?”
Holy shit that’s a lame joke. That’s such a lame joke, it’s not even a joke, and everyone always says that whenever they visit Dorwall. I’ve probably said it at one point. To my dad. Because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Like right now.
My father, who’s also desperate to stop this horrible silence, laughs weakly. “Yeah, so was Housington.” When I don’t laugh, he glances over. “Like a house? Get it?”
“Oh.” I cough. “Right.”
I send up a silent prayer to whoever’s listening, for a bolt of lighting that will crash down upon this car, instantly killing us both. I’m pretty sure my dad is thinking the exact same thing. Somehow, it’s always like this. In the genetic split between my parents, I got my mom’s thick black hair, brown eyes, and skin that freckles in the sun. I got my dad’s personality, which consists of horrible conversation skills, the ability to completely forget sound advice, and the power of spiteful sarcasm.
A pretty fair split.
My dad grunts, suddenly becoming Charlie the Police Officer. “Sorry I was late to pick you up. Pulled over a couple of rich punks speeding downtown.”
Oh thank god. Something to talk about. “Rich punks?” I ask. “In Dorwall?”
He shrugs one shoulder. “Well, not really punks, but they’re pretty rich. Big family that moved in three years ago, have a huge house in the woods. Sports cars and stuff. Nice folks, but…”
I’m actually interested now. My mom will want to hear about Charlie chasing down sports cars. “But what?”
My dad’s expression goes blank for a moment. “I don’t know, there’s something weird about them. It’s the way they move, like they’re all dancers or something. Smooth.”
“Smooth?” I raise my eyebrows.
My dad’s face colors a bit. “Yeah, well,” he mumbles, “they’re freaky. A perfect family, the Stepford Wives or something.”
I settle into my seat, happily mulling over the possibility of an interesting feature in my new home. “I take it they’re the talk of the town?”
“Probably, but I don’t partake in the gossip,” he gruffs out.
That’s a lie. I know my dad loves himself a rumor, like all the good folk of Dorwall.
“I bet you’d have something cool to contribute to the conversation.” When he gives me a confused look, I’m once again reminded that my dad and I don’t think on the same wavelength. “You know, since you pulled them over?”
He blinks. “Oh. Right. I pulled over two of them.”
“No.” Charlie hesitates, then starts to rant in a very Charlie way. “There’s Carlisle and his wife Esme, and they have three daughters. I think. I know two are in their thirties, but I swear they barely look twenty-one. Good genes. I think the youngest is around your age. I hardly ever see her though, I mostly run into the older two and their husbands. They were speeding around in a Jaguar of all things, blasting music. Thought it was kinda strange, seeing as I’ve never pulled any of them over for anything before. Almost like they wanted a ticket.”
I tap my hand on my thigh, wishing we had some music to play instead of a police radio. “If you’re rich enough, you probably don’t care about tickets.”
My dad mutters something in approval, but suspiciously quiets down.
“You did give them a ticket, didn’t you Dad?”
He stays quiet.
I find myself smiling, and softly teasing him. “What, did they buy you off?”
“No,” he says quickly. “Nothing like that. They were just really polite, I’ve never given them a ticket before, and it’s not like anyone at the precinct would have started a fuss over it…” His face is red for some reason. He’s not willing to tell me everything, but I don’t care because it’s so hilariously cute.
“Don’t worry Dad, your crooked cop side-game is safe with me.” I ignore his disgruntled protests and glance out the window. The further we drive, the greener everything seems to get. I have no idea what kind of trees these are, but they seem to be fighting a personal battle with civilization. They tower up into the sky, almost glaring down at our tiny car driving underneath their lush branches. “The air must be really sappy here,” I say.
“You get used to it.”
My dad says that so easily that it’s clear it’s a familiar phrase. I think that over while the car falls into another bout of quiet. After about twenty minutes of both of us pretending nothing is awkward and that we both love companionable silences, my dad clears his throat.
“Bells,” he says, and I can tell we’re really going to get into it now. “I just want you to know I didn’t invite you here because I pity you, or because I want to steal you away from your mom.”
“I want to help you. We can work this out together, away from whatever was freaking you out. College isn’t for everyone, I should know.”
“You can stay here with me for the whole year if you want, or if you start to figure things out, you can leave. Whatever works. I’m also….I’m here to talk about stuff. If you need that. If you want to.”
Well Dad, there’s nothing I’d rather do than talk with you about whatever the fuck’s wrong with me. We can go over so many interesting topics, like why I think I’m a failure, how I became a failure, and what it is I failed to do. Family bonding, yay!
But then I look over, and I can see how he's not looking at me, and I suddenly understand he knows what I’m thinking right now, and he doesn’t want to be saying this as much as I don’t want him to be saying this.
But he has to. Because he’s my dad. And he loves me.
I swallow past my stupid feelings and nod, hoping he can see in his peripheral. “Yeah. Alright.” I pause. “Thanks, Dad, for all this.”
“It’s nothing Bells,” he says quickly, nearly cutting me off. “What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t…” He stops talking, but I get it.
Jesus, if every conversation we have goes like this, my dad and I are never going to get anywhere. And that’s a bad thing. I’ve always been closer to my mom, because I’m more like my dad. My mom is a constant source of sunlight and energy. She talks nonstop so that I don’t have to, and she knows me. Really knows me. Probably more than I’m comfortable with. I tell her everything, regardless, and she’s the only person in my life who I trust completely with my feelings.
Charlie, on the other hand, is something close to a blank slate. Whenever we see each other, it’s like we’re meeting for the first time again. I’m pretty sure both of us hate that. So, along with getting my shit together, I’m going to try to initiate some form of emotional contact with my dad. Considering I’m about as skilled in that particular area as he is, it’s gonna be painful.
The rev of a powerful engine catches my attention, and my eyes snap to a yellow sports care racing out of the woods in front of us. I’m shocked for a moment, until I see a barely visible dirt driveway leading off through the trees.
“Speak of the devil,” Charlie grumbles, and the siren comes on.
I feel myself sliding down my seat, silently screaming at a cruel god who refuses to end my mortification. Not only am I moving into a town wherein everybody remembers me as an obnoxious fourteen-year-old, but I’ll be meeting the newest town members while my dad gives them a speeding ticket. Awesome.
“Are these the same people you pulled over earlier?” I ask meekly.
“No, but it’s one of the sisters. And her husband.”
Cool. By the end of the day, their family is going to hate my family, and my family includes me. Welcome to Dorwall, Bella.
The sports car pulls over to the side of the road, smoothly sliding to an easy stop. The police cruiser jerks me forward a bit when my dad hits the brakes. Knowing the Dorwall police department, this car probably needs a tuneup. Not that I would know anything about that. In fact, I’m having trouble trying to recognize what kind of sports car that is, besides the fact that it’s yellow and goes fast.
“Hey, you’re coming with me,” my dad tells me as he unbuckles his seatbelt.
The words you’re coming with me bounce around my head. My brain decides they have no meaning, so I say, “What?”
He makes eye contact with me. “You’re coming with me. Out of the car.”
I immediately leap into the action I know best: Trying to desperately get out of doing something embarrassing. “Dad, no, that’s gotta be against regulation or—“
“Bella, me picking you up from the airport is against regulation.” He huffs out a small laugh. “But all the officers knew where I was going. Dorwall operates to its own tune, people are pretty understanding.” He climbs out of the car, leaving me staring after him with a sense of impending doom. “Thought you wanted to meet the rich family. You seemed interested.”
And dammit, I am. If someone in Dorwall drives a bright yellow sports car, and is willing to obviously speed that sports car in front of a police officer, I want to get a good look at their face so I can accurately describe them to my mom later. Besides, maybe being the daughter of a police officer will give me some sort of cool status with these people. It probably won’t, but I need a proper excuse to get out of the car and watch my dad give someone a ticket.
I unbuckle my seatbelt. My dad smiles.
There’s a blonde woman in the driver’s seat of the sports car. I kinda want to call it a Lamborghini, because it’s one of the few sports car names I know. I also want to call this woman a model, because she’s gorgeous. Long blonde hair that seems to shimmer despite a cloudy sky, lips that look naturally pink and plump, and golden eyes that are focussed on me and my dad. The more I stare at her, the more I keep trying to look for a flaw in her face. There are no blemishes on her skin, no freckles or wrinkles. The glimpses of her teeth I see when she talks are pure white. She’s beautiful, yet somehow, I’m unnerved. There’s something not right about this, something putting me on edge.
It’s like seeing something merely on the surface, while knowing something else is hidden away, something you probably wouldn’t like. I realize I don’t want to stand too close to this woman, but at the same time, I’m interested enough to take a step closer. I think there might be some specks of brown in her eyes, and maybe if I moved forward I could—
I blink, and the world slams back into focus. “What?”
My dad’s staring at me. The woman’s staring at me. “I was just introducing you to Rosalie here, telling her how good of a kid you are.”
I stare at my dad. What did he tell her, about that time I made the honor’s club when I was sixteen? Probably nothing recent. I haven’t exactly been the poster-child for “daughter of the year”. I look to the woman, Rosalie, and take a step back. Somehow, I’d gotten really close to the driver’s side window.
Rosalie smiles at me, unworried by my weird actions. “Hello, Bella,” she says. Her voice is smooth, no strange cracks or pitches. “I love your name. It’s very pretty.”
I swallow. “Uh.”
Her smile widens. “Don’t worry, I won’t hold the speeding ticket against you. Your dad’s a good cop.”
I regain control of my vocal chords. “Yeah. He is. It’s nice to meet you.”
She laughs, and it sounds gorgeous. “Yes, if only it were under better circumstances! I’m afraid my husband, Emmet, is to blame for this.” She turns towards the guy in the passenger’s seat, whom I’ve failed to notice. Like Rosalie, he’s beautiful, with flawless dark skin and sparkling teeth.
He smiles wide at me, leaning forward. “I can’t help it if I’m so distracting. Gotta keep up appearances.”
I smile back. He has the same eyes as his wife. I’m guessing they’re wearing contacts or something, because there’s no way that color of gold exists naturally in the real world.
Rosalie leans out of the window to look at my dad. “He’s only teasing, officer. I wasn’t distracted, merely not paying attention to the speed limit.”
Part of me knows that statement is dumb, because it contradicts itself, but the rest of me is smiling and nodding, completely willing to accept whatever this goddess suggests.
I see my dad is doing the same. His cheeks and nose are red, and he’s almost giggling as he writes up a ticket. “No worries, Mrs. Hale. If I owned a car like this, I’d be racking up the speeding tickets.”
Rosalie sighs, and she looks apologetic as she says, “I know, this thing is ridiculous, and it draws too much attention whenever we drive. But, Emmet loves it when I fix up his cars.”
“Well, you’re an excellent mechanic, and your husband has good taste,” my dad says, like he’s joking around with an old buddy. Emmet laughs along with him.
What a happy bunch of people we are, giving out speeding tickets. Oh the fun we have.
I think this, but I’m laughing too. I’m enjoying the company of these beautiful strangers, the Hales in their sports car. And yet, I know something’s wrong. This whole situation is off, not because it’s surreal, but because I really don’t want to be anywhere near this couple.
And yet I’m standing a foot away from them.
I want to tell my dad to get us both back in the car, and as far away from this spot as possible. We need to go, now. At the same time, I love looking at these two gorgeous people, and the woman smells nice, and they’re being so friendly, and I really just want them to be happy with me and smile more and maybe give me a hug.
Woah. Okay. That’s weird.
I stop smiling and laughing. Next to me, my dad writes up the ticket, but now I’m staring at the couple in the car with new eyes. Those thoughts I just had were not my own. My real thoughts were of escape, of getting the hell away from these two.
When my dad hands Rosalie a ticket, there’s a moment where she turns her head and locks eyes with me. It only lasts about a second, but within that time her expression changes. Her face becomes a blank slate, her eyes boring into mine. I stare back, terrified.
Then she’s smiling again and thanking my dad and all is well. The sports car starts up with a roar, and they pull away, driving off at a respectful speed.
I turn around. My dad is walking towards the cruiser, waving at me to follow him.
I don’t want to turn my back to the car driving away, like some sort of instinct embedded in humans who don’t want to be eaten. Still, I brush away my fear and hurry back to the car.
Once we’re both buckled in, I ask my dad something that just occurred to me. “Hey, how far away are we from Dorwall?”
“Shouldn’t be too far. About a half hour.”
I look back to the yellow sports car, driving off into the slight fog of the morning. “I guess they’re a bit far from home, huh?”
My dad considers it. “Yeah. Guess so.” Then he starts up the car, and we’re off.
Pretty soon, any worries I have about supermodels and sports cars are pushed to the back of my mind. We’re driving through downtown, and I’m getting my first view of Dorwall in three and a half years. I’d stopped visiting after sophomore year of high school, because by that point my mom and I decided it was time for Charlie to pay for a plane ticket.
Nothing seems to have changed too much, which is somehow comforting. At least something is remaining stagnant these days, even when it’s just a few knick-knack stores and a knockoff Italian restaurant. We pass the two bars in Dorwall; the Old Joint, which my dad and the other officers visit, and Orange Zest, the bar for the younger college kids and high schoolers with fake ID’s. My dad sees me looking, and tries for another bout of awkward conversation.
“Did you have fun with your friends often? In college?”
I nod, but don’t elaborate. I had friends in college, people I hung out with. My roommate and her buddies. But it was more than a little obvious I was often only invited along because I was there. I wasn’t friendless, per say, but I never really had a close social circle. When I dropped out, I got a few heartfelt text messages, but no contact otherwise. I’m sure if I told my dad this, he would see it as a reason for my breakdown.
He’s quiet for a moment, then says something so quickly I almost miss it. “Any boys catch your eye?”
I look over. My dad’s eyes are on the road, and he’s clearly trying to look as disinterested as possible. I don’t know why, it’s not an emotionally loaded question. But, I suppose for a man who only gets to see his daughter a couple times a year, this is probably a conversation he doesn’t know how to handle, but feels like he should.
Meanwhile, I just say, “No,” and look away. I’m telling the truth, I didn’t date through college. It never seemed like a priority, and despite a few options for hookups here and there, I wasn’t interested. Nothing for my dad to worry about, and probably yet another example of something not right with my life.
It’s ten more minutes before we arrive home. Four blocks away, I can see the rusty red bumper of a beat-up truck in Charlie’s driveway, which has the aesthetic of a man-made object meant to outlive man. My dad must see the look on my face, because he lets out a small sigh and says, “You can at least try to look surprised.”
“I am!” I protest, because it’s true. I knew he was getting me an old truck that had previously belonged to his friend, Billy, but I didn’t know it would resemble a bulldozer.
We park next to the rusty red monster, and I remember how my mom wanted me to get a picture of the two of us standing in front of the truck. I hold my phone up, we smile, and I nearly blind us both with an accidental flash picture.
“You hungry?” My dad asks.
I shrug. “I can eat.”
“Great. Went shopping the other day, picked up a few things.” He turns and starts walking up the cheap gravel walk that replaces a front lawn. He pauses once he gets to the front door. “You’re not, uh, allergic to anything new, right?”
We stare at each other. Then he opens the door, and holds it out for me.
Charlie’s house is a small two story that used to belong to his parents. When my mom got pregnant with me, they lived together for two years. For a small family, the house is the perfect size. For one person, it must be kinda lonely. It doesn’t look too welcoming, with cheap eggshell painted walls and a mix-match collection of old furniture. The couch is the most welcoming part of the ground floor, well worn and grooved where my dad probably falls asleep in front of the television. The kitchen is tiny, though the counters look freshly cleaned.
“Well, what do you think?” my dad asks.
He’s looking at me out of the corner of his eye, his chest puffed out a bit. Realizing he must have spent a while cleaning up before I came over, I smile wide. “Yeah, looks great.”
Pleased, he nods towards the stairs. “Wait until you see your room. I tried to make it look nicer than the rest of this dump, to make you feel more welcome.” He heads back for the front door. “I’ll grab your things, you go on up.”
Upstairs, there’s a bathroom, a master bedroom, and a guest room at the end of the hall. I’ve slept in the guest room before, and I like it. It’s got a huge window, and if you’re seven-years-old and stand on your tip-toes, you can just see the tips of the mountains that stand behind the forest surrounding Dorwall.
When I open the door, I almost don’t recognize the room. Charlie must have stopped by Bed Bath and Beyond. There’s a floral print bedspread, a desk with new office supplies, a little book shelve that hangs on a freshly painted lilac wall, and a lamp with miniature owls on the lampshade. There’s a little bench by the window, and a hand-made reading nook with pillows and pink curtains. My dad even bought me a little cork board to hang over my bed, where I can stick photographs.
It’s nice. Really nice. So nice that I feel myself let out a deep breath, and some tension leaves my shoulders. My dad, gruff as he may be, cares. This is his silent little way of showing he knows I’m going through shit, and wants to help. Maybe he can’t fix everything, but he wants to make me feel at home.
Suddenly very tired, I sit down on the end of the bed and take out my phone. Two texts from my mom show up on my screen, one making sure I packed enough warm clothes, and another reiterating that she loves me.
I turn off my phone and fall back on the bed. The sheets smell unfamiliar, but they’re soft, and it’s not long before I fall into a dreamless sleep.