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Beyond Some Other Looking Glass

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Beyond Some Other Looking Glass

  

For as long as she cared to remember, parts of her life had been irrevocably broken.

 

There was the picture frame her mother had hurled across the living room. She remembered coming home from soccer practice to the sound of wild sobbing, the air peppered with shattered glass and obscenities. Though she was only fourteen, she wasn't naive; she knew the family photo had been singled out for a reason, that something was terribly wrong if her mother was taking her anger out on an innocent picture of the three. When the shock faded, she ran to it first, sifted it from the shards.

"Mom..." Her fingers traced the smiling faces: Hers in the middle and, on either end, her mother and—

"He's gone. That no-good fucking sonofabitch is gone!" Her mother choked on the words, pulling a chair from the dining room table and sitting, face buried in her hands. Any curses that followed were lost in her muffled cries.

"What? Dad's gone?" That couldn't be right. "But, mom, he—"

"Goddammit, Beth! He's not coming back. His—he already took a bunch of his shit with him. Fucker. Fucking fuck."

Beth knew it wasn't true. Whether her mother was lying or just stupid, she didn't care. She snatched the photo and stormed up to her room, indignant, slamming the door behind her before throwing herself on the bed. When she laid the photo out on her pillow, she noticed how bent it had become. She hadn't realized how tightly she'd been gripping it.

No. Her father would never leave them. She knew the man in the photo, with his graying hair and lab coat, grinning as he wrapped his arm around his daughter, so proud that she'd won first place at the middle school science fair. He couldn't—

She knew her father. He was a scientist—he went exploring, traveled to strange places and built strange things. All sorts of people came to visit him, hired him to work on secret projects. He had left before, for days at a time, but he'd always come back home. She remembered him being gone for a whole week once, years ago, remembered how profusely he'd apologized to her mother, to her. How he'd pulled clusters of multicolored crystals from his pocket, placing them in her tiny hands—a gift, because he said no matter where he went, he could never forget about her. How they'd used the crystals as pretend food for her plastic horses, because he was never too busy to find time to play with her.

She forced back the tears. He would return soon, she knew it.

But weeks passed, then a month. Summer came and went with no sign of him.

She found herself tearing through his workshop one night, rummaging through the things he'd left behind, the things her mother had yet to sell or throw away. She was looking for that strange gun, the one that shot green spirals instead of bullets. There were places on the other side of that spiral; she'd been there with him, been mesmerized by the different colored skies and landscapes, mesmerized by his own excitement at new discoveries. It was like a fairytale for her each time he'd invite her to come along, taking her hand hurriedly, pulling her to him with a wink and a smile and the promise that they could have a secret picnic somewhere the grass was purple and the caterpillars were as big as cars.

Even as a teenager, as their outings became less frequent, she hadn't lost that fascination with her father and all the wonderful things he'd shown her. She stupidly thought that if she'd managed to find the gun, she might be able to follow him to wherever he'd gone.

But she came up empty-handed. He had probably taken it with him, used it to finally escape from this monochrome world. As she sank down against the old wood-paneled wall, clutching her knees to her chest, Beth felt her heart would be the next to break.

 

 

After that came Liza Whitmere's nose, though Beth had a hand in that one. In her defense, the bitch deserved it, probably deserved more than just that one punch, though that was all it took to knock her flat on her ass and send her cowering against the row of lockers, trying to keep the dripping mess of her face from staining her blouse.

"You like talking shit about my dad, huh? Well he's the one who taught me how to beat the crap out of cunts like you!"

The blood was starting to make her knuckles itch; she could have kept going, should have knocked the girl's fucking teeth out, too—really given her something to be afraid of. But she was paralyzed by her own rage. She barely even reacted when the principal came rushing over, throwing his arm around the whimpering teen, shouting about all the trouble Beth had gotten herself into, and how she'd be suspended for it, and such and such. Those words didn't matter to her. Rather, what played over in her mind like a broken record was Liza's nasally sneer: "Poor Beth...Your dad finally build himself a perfect robot family? Or did he just run off with some drunk whore?"

It never stopped, kept echoing over her mother's scolding, drowned out her reasoning, buried the voice inside that tried to tell her No, this isn't your fault. And that mantra began to warp:

This isn't your fault.

This isn't your fault.

This is his fault.

It's all his fault.

Back in her room, she dug the crinkled photo out from beneath her pillow. Her eyes glazed over with tears and anger. Had he ever been happy? With her? With the both of them? Was he always just looking for a reason to leave? All he ever wanted was to get away from this boring fucking life, this sorry excuse for a family. The photo began to tear at the edges, too flimsy to withstand her trembling grasp.

Fuck him.

With a stifled scream, Beth sent the pillow flying across the room, unprepared for the crash and clatter of items behind her. When she spun around and saw the mess she'd made, her heart sank.

"Nononononono, please..."

Bottles of nail polish and perfume littered the floor around her dresser, but she quickly brushed them aside. What she sought was far more important. There, between the wall and the dresser, lay the metal music box she had helped her father build, back when she was barely old enough to know how to work a soldering iron. The lid had fallen open, and one of the tiny feet was bent at an odd angle. She gingerly picked it up, traced her fingers along the rim.

"Daddy! Make me a toy like the ones you're always building!"

The name of the song always escaped her, but she loved how calming the melody was. How, as it played, a tiny opening inside the box would project a rotating hologram of the universe. She'd spent a large part of her childhood opening and closing that box, pulling it beneath the darkness of the covers, trying to touch the multitude of stars, the galaxies. Trying to hold it all in her small hands.

But when her fingers turned the key, all she heard was an ominous grinding. The light inside the box flickered wildly, and then faded. She shut the lid and brought it close to her ear, gave the gentlest shake; something rattled around, loose and out of place. Beth imagined for a moment that she could take it apart and somehow figure out a way to repair it. Surely, there couldn't have been so many gears or circuits; she wasn't very good with wiring, but her father had been patient with her.

She clutched the box to her face, the metal cold and sobering. It smelled faintly of oil and machinery, recycled computer parts—memories of him. She knew she couldn't fix it alone. And she knew if she tried, she'd only make things worse. It was all she was good for anymore.

He had always told her not to cry—to be strong—but now that he was gone, what did it matter? Let her tears cause it all to rust; the world had become so ugly anyway. What was one more shattered piece to add to the collection?

 

 

Of course, she'd never be able to forget the day she broke what was left of her mother's heart. She'd watched her face turn white, the corners of her mouth twitching, unsure if they should frown or snarl. In the chair beside her, Jerry Smith—eternal class clown—fidgeted nervously, drumming his thumbs on the table and humming some stupid jingle. Beth couldn't remember what she'd seen in him, this awkwardly unattractive kid she'd known since middle school, who had teased her when she'd gotten braces, and whom her father would often joke about dropping off in the Eighty-fifth Dimension. She didn't really want to think about it, chose to blame it on the excitement of prom night and the alcohol they'd swiped for their own private after-party. It wasn't their fault if things had gotten out of hand; if, in the heat of the moment, they'd forgotten to use protection. It was only hormones.

Her mother didn't take it well. She screamed, spat out harsh words in between tears, acted as if she was the one hurting. It didn't matter that Beth had been the one sprawled across the backseat of Jerry's Volvo, anxiously biting back the pain of her first time. Or that Beth was the one burdened with having to choose between the remainder of her youth and the responsibility of raising a family. Yet her mother was the wounded one, shouting about ruined lives, and how they should just get the fucking abortion, and if her father were here…

And that's when Beth lost it. "How dare you have the—the fucking nerve to bring up dad? All these years he's been gone, and you never gave a shit about him!" She stood up so fast, her chair nearly toppled over. "Well, we don't need any help from a bitch like you." As she tugged Jerry towards the door, she heard her mother's sodden voice:

"You always were such a Daddy's Girl."

 

They'd patched things up as best they could after Summer was born. Her mother had even helped babysit while Jerry was finishing Community College and Beth was agonizing over Pre-Med. It had been a difficult time, but Beth felt her life was slowly getting back on track.

Then, she'd gotten pregnant again. And after that had come her mother's cancer.

Beth had known that her mother wouldn't last long; she'd never fully recovered from her husband's disappearance, and was too worn-down by the constant stress of supporting her disappointment of a daughter. She just hadn't the will to fight. As Beth sat solemnly at the funeral, holding her infant son in her arms, she wondered how different things would have been if her father had stayed.

It would have been easy to blame him, to hate him for all the pain he'd caused. But what good would that have done? All the hate and anger and remorse wouldn't change a thing. She was a fool for spending her years believing otherwise. The mess that had been set in motion could never be undone.

 

 

How stupid.

She scolds herself for not seeing it before: The sweet stench of alcohol that clung to him like a perpetual fog; the arguments that would wake her at 3AM; the lies and secrets, excessive apologies and endless promises, overcompensation for his shortcomings. She was blinded by her own willful ignorance, her childish insistence that he could never do any wrong.

She should have seen this coming, should have learned from the past. But that day he showed up on her doorstep, she took him in without a second thought. Twenty years' worth of unanswered questions scattered to the wind, if it meant she could have her father back in her life. She had wanted this more than anything—had dreamed of it for so long. She should have known it was too good to be true.

But she did know. Only, she had been too afraid to acknowledge it.

Afraid that something like this would happen.

It was just like that day she'd come home from soccer practice and found her mother in tears. Only the broken frame she holds now is a portrait of her own family. She'd fished it from amongst the wreckage: toppled furniture and smashed appliances, clothing and items strewn about the house with no rhyme or reason.

They're gone. The silence settles around her like ancient dust, like she hadn't just been there that morning, kissing her kids goodbye before she left for work. She had only been away a few hours. How could this have happened? Why?

The lamp in the corner flickers. Through her tears, Beth catches a glimpse of white on the perimeter of the room, but it's disappeared by the time she turns her head.

It can't be. She'd already checked every room of the house, knew it was empty. But she calls his name, nonetheless.

"Dad? Dad!" The picture frame slips from her grasp. She ignores the crash and tears through the kitchen after him. There! Past the garage door! His coat tail flutters by; Beth stumbles around the clutter—broken plates and glasses, silverware, trampled boxes of food—nearly tripping through the entrance, fighting to keep him in her sight.

"Dad!"

And then she's sprinting with all the strength she has left, propelled by her desperation, clambering over the destruction, the fragments of machinery and memories, there—there—towards the portal on the far wall, reaching out her hand, grasping at the hem of his coat before it disappears—

 

 

Beth jolts awake, breathing heavy, a tiny cry caught in the back of her throat. Eyes dart around the darkened room as she jerks upright, trying to focus on something—anything—just a fucking reference point—

The blaring red of the alarm clock stabs her eyes like a clutch of needles. Beth squints, and slowly, the haze solidifies into a familiar arrangement of lines: 1:42AM.

Shit. It was just a dream. She wipes the sweat from her forehead, brushes aside a tangle of damp hair. "Shit." It tumbles from her lips now, almost too faint to be heard over the quickened pace of her heart. Beth swallows hard, shifting to place a hand on the body next to her. Jerry drowsily mumbles something about brownies before rolling onto his side and resuming his oblivious snoring. Waking him won't do much good, she decides; she doesn't really want whatever half-assed comfort he usually offers. So she pulls her hand away, draws back the covers and quietly slips out of bed.

Sweat-soaked pajamas cling to her skin; she peels them off, slipping on a dry cotton nightgown before heading down to the kitchen. Beth has done this routine too many times before: She doesn't need to turn any lights on; she can seamlessly make her way to the cabinet containing the wine glasses; she knows exactly where the box of merlot rests and can even tell how much to pour before the glass threatens to overflow. It's not so much of an achievement as it is a testimony to how pathetic her life has become. Same as usual, she thinks, settling down at the dining room table, because no matter how hard you try, you can never reclaim what was lost. So why not just drown it all?

God, I'm just like my father.

She sits there, sipping in silence, the wine as bitter and clawing as she'd always remembered. It's become far too commonplace. She doesn't even startle at the sound of the garage door opening, instead laughing to herself. They're early this time. A smile tears at the corners of her mouth.

Next comes the scrape of metal against concrete, followed by her father's voice, gruff with age and alcoholism, a shadow of its former self. "Y-You did a good—real bang-up job, tonight, Morty. You're getting the hang of—of not shitting your pants when—all the time."

"Aw, come on, Rick! Th-that was like—like one time, and I apologized, s-s-so you could try not being such a—an asshole about it."

Beth takes a long drink, lets the wine douse the giggles building in her throat. Her father had taken quite a liking to Morty. Her son had always been so detached, so awkward around others; she was glad that he had found someone with whom he wasn't afraid to be himself. She'd been out with her father when she was younger; she knows that despite his rampant irresponsibility, he'll at least keep Morty safe. Still...

Her fingers slide up and down the stem of the glass, her worries tuning out the approaching footsteps, the hushed voices. Still, she hopes that Morty isn't as naïve as she was at his age—that he'll be able to see through all the charm and enchantment. Because she knows her father will never change.

It's too late for Beth to make her escape now. She can only sit quietly and hope to be unnoticed, finding it ironic that for once she's the one sneaking around. The muffled sounds of bodies moving and clothes rustling pass through the kitchen, then into the living room, and then the foyer. Beth holds her breath, stares at the outline of her glass, thinking she's home free, before a squeaky voice shatters the silence.

"M-Mom? I-I-Is something wrong?"

When she lifts her head, she catches the faint shadow of her son standing in front of the stairs. She exhales, tries to steady her voice. "Everything's fine, Morty. Just...go to bed. It's late."

He doesn't budge, and Beth fears she wasn't convincing enough. To make matters worse, she hears the scurry of feet down the hall, the huff of her father's voice as he stands in the entranceway. "Beth, sweetie, w-w-what are you—I, uh—we were just out, you know, working on a—a science project for Morty's—"

"It's OK, dad. You don't need to lie to me. I'm not mad. I don't really care what the two of you get up to anymore." She speaks her words to the table, wondering if she should have played angry, if the fear of being in trouble would make them leave, but not having the heart to fake it. It really doesn't matter. She just doesn't care.

Doesn't flinch at her son's anxious stutter.

Doesn't make a move when she hears her father shove Morty up the stairs with a subdued growl.

Doesn't even react to the soft sound of the chair scraping across the carpet, the creak of the wood as Rick settles down beside her.

A cold palm presses against the back of her hand, and Beth finally looks up, is met with darkness and the permeating scent of whiskey and metal as her father sighs. "Y-You gonna tell me what's wrong, Beth? Or—or do you expect me to believe like—that you like drinking alone in the dark so late—so early in the morning?"

Beth slides her hand from beneath his, picks up the glass and brings it close to her lips. She wants to say something scathing, something like Sure, dad, I am your daughter, after all. Instead, she swallows a mouthful of wine, feebly replying, "I'm fine, dad. I was just having trouble sleeping is all."

"Yeah, see—that's not working." She glimpses the dim rearrangement of shapes, Rick digging through his pockets for some elusive item. "I just replaced the batteries on my—my bullshit detector, and damn is it—it's going off like crazy." He pulls something from inside his coat—a small bag or satchel, Beth can't quite make it out—gives it a brief shake before carefully emptying the contents on the table. A half dozen or so glowing marbles scatter in all directions, tiny suns inside them softly fluttering: yellow—blue—green—purple. The new light illuminates Rick's features, his eyes tinged with concern instead of their usual detached cynicism. "Come on, sweetie, talk to me."

Beth can't take this kindness right now; she gazes down at the orb shimmering beside her hand, thinks of how long it's been since she's seen something so beautiful, and remembers telling herself once that she'd never again become distracted by such false beauty. Because beneath it all, it's just so ugly. Yet she can't pull her eyes from the dazzling lights, not even when she hears the slosh of liquid, the spin of the metal cap, feels the anger rising in her throat because Fuck, he's at it again. We're both drowning, too deplorable to even try—

"Beth…" Rick prods, silencing her self-pity.

"It's nothing, really. I was just…thinking about things."

"Oh yeah?" he drawls, and she hears him take another swig. "You finally think about—d-decide to sign those divorce papers?"

Beth's head snaps upright, the ire in her glare matched by her scalding tone. "Dad!"

"W-What? I mean, it's obvious Jerry is the root o-o-of your problems—"

"No, dad—that's you." Her fingers curl into fists, body tensing in an attempt to keep her voice down—to keep her from losing it completely. "It's always been you."

"Wh-what—whoa, whoa—what the hell did I do wrong now?" A look of shock crosses her father's face, and Beth thinks she might just throw up, she's so sickened by his insincerity.

"Everything!" The word flies out on a head of spittle, erasing Rick's stupid pout of disbelief. "How can you not see it? It—all of it—it's always—since—" Her rage burns like phosphorus, cooling to a dull heat by the time she manages to collect her thoughts. She shuts her eyes, pressing numb fingertips against the lids in an attempt to massage the tears away. Her other hand grasps at the wine glass, pours the remaining contents down her throat and sets it back on the table a little harder than she'd intended. "You—you never even realized, did you?"

For once, Rick is silent. Beth tries to listen for his breathing—for a whisper or murmur or any sign that her pains haven't fallen on deaf ears—but all she can make out are her own sniffles and tear-laden gasps. Keeping her eyes closed, she lets her hand slip from her face, pausing to wipe at her nose before resting it in her lap. The fabric of the nightgown twists anxiously between her fingers. She's expecting some reply—a snide retort or biting accusation or even the stamp of his feet storming out of the room. What she hears instead is the gurgle of liquid being poured into her glass, opens her eyes in time to see Rick clink the opening of the flask against the rim, a toast to all the things they'd managed to fuck up.

Beth stares into the gleaming fluid, and sees only what remains of her father, what will become of her future. Her fingertips graze the curve of the goblet, stopping just short of lifting it. In the ghost of her reflection, the tightness in her chest, Beth finds the strength to speak, lips burning with the single question that had dogged her for years. "Why, dad?"

She wants to look him in the eye, to sear all of her sorrows into those uncaring lenses, but Rick's head is bowed, gaze focused on the flask clutched in both hands as he listlessly thumbs the lip. A faint hum sticks in his throat, and Beth fears he's numbed himself completely, that nothing she says will ever reach him. He's as absent as the day he left. But when she peers closely through the wavering light, she notices how his face has softened, the wrinkles framing his lips more prominent. Optimistic, she presses on.

"Why did you leave, dad? Why did you come back? Why did—why do you do anything that you—that you do?" There are novels she could write with all her questions, but the words have fled her, dissipating with her courage. She exhales, unwilling to hold her breath for a response.

"Beth, listen…" It comes out in a hush, whispered to the metal in his hands, before he turns to her, bridging the gap between them with clear yet jumbled thoughts. "I-I could explain it—all of it to you. I could lay out the st-story from—from start to finish. B-But there's not enough hours i-i-in the year, a-and no matter what, it's not—nothing I say will ever change the past." The weight of his frown stings her. "I-It won't erase the pain, Beth. Believe me, I-I-I've tried."

He's right, in a way, though Beth still feels foolish for believing he would ever be straight with her. Why would he, after all this time? She lifts the glass, wrinkling her nose at the bitter scent before downing the whiskey in one gulp.

Bottoms up. Here's to the fuck-ups.

She reminds herself that this is what she'd always wanted, feels guilty for the days she'd wished he had stayed away. "It doesn't matter," she croaks, throat scorched by the alcohol. To be honest, Beth doesn't want to hear any more, afraid she might fall back inside that comforting blanket of delusion. Rick moves to refill her glass, but she places her hand atop it, breathes silently, "I…I wouldn't know what to believe, anyway. I mean, I've seen so many unbelievable things, so many different versions of you. I can't…"

It takes all her willpower to hold his gaze, but she can't turn away now; she's kept her thoughts buried far too long. "How can I even be sure that you're my father? Not just some random Rick Sanchez?"

Rick's eyes widen, brow knit in distress, and Beth can see how her words have wounded him. "Beth! O-O-Of course I-I—"

"—No, don't answer that. I don't want to know."

Her father leans back in his chair, looks away, out into the dark depths of the house, and takes a sip from the flask. Beth doesn't know what's left to be said. She considers leaving, spending the remainder of the morning staring at her bedroom ceiling, alone again with her thoughts, but stiffens when she hears his voice, hoarse and heavy with remorse: "Remember when—y-you were a-about five or—or six, and I made the prototype for th-those grappling boots? And—and—and you kept begging me t-to let you wear them, so I crammed, like, eight pairs of socks in 'em and told you—'Go knock yourself, out, kiddo'?"

Beth smiles despite herself. "Yeah, I remember. They were bright orange. I thought they looked fun."

"Yeah, well—" Rick belches, "—it wasn't fun when y-y-your mother and I were—went searching the whole neighborhood for you. We found you in—up in the old oak tree in the backyard."

"The batteries ran out when I was halfway up. I wasn't really scared, just a little worried about getting down." She shrugs, tries to make the best of a less-than-ideal memory. "I mean, the view was nice, at least."

He snorts a short, biting laugh. "You mean the view o-o-of your mother giving me shit for being a-a-an irresponsible dick? Psssh, not like I didn't take care of it." Rick waves a dismissive hand, turning back to Beth. "Right?"

"Dad, you told me to just jump."

"Y-Yeah, but—" he takes another swig "—I caught you, right?"

"I hit a branch and fractured my elbow on the way down."

"Th-that was, what, thirty years ago? You did—healed up pretty nice since then." With a chuckle, he taps the base of his flask against one of the marbles, sending it reeling towards a larger cluster. Lights flash violently as they crash into one another. "T-To think, your mother wanted to call th-the fire department."

"You probably should have let her, dad."

His face reverts to a grimace, his tone sullen. "Well, I—I was probably drunk a-at the time. I just—I didn't want anyone to—to think that I was a-a-a bad parent." The flask moves to his lips, but Rick just lets it hang there for a moment before sighing and replacing the cap. He slips it back into his pocket, laying his empty hands on the table.

"Dad, you were…" Beth's voice trails off at the pained look in her father's eyes. "I mean—you had your moments." She toys with one of the orbs, rolling it back and forth beneath her index finger, perplexed by how cool the surface feels even with the heat of the stars burning inside. A memory crosses her mind, and she smiles. "Do you remember when I asked you to take me to the planetarium for my twelfth birthday? And you laughed and told me how stupid that idea was, that you wouldn't waste your time in one of those—those—"

"—Celestial septic tanks?" He smirks. "I'll never—never forget the look on your face. Shit—" A hand rakes through his disheveled hair. "—it almost broke my heart, see—seeing you like that. Almost ruined th-the surprise."

"I was so upset, I—" Her voice cracks, overcome with nostalgia. "—I was shocked when you woke me. I-I guess I thought you were drunk again and just forgot which room was yours. I didn't know what to think when you dragged me out of bed and into the garage, and..." Beth laughs quietly. "You know mom loved that old hippie Beetle. She never forgave you for turning it into a flying saucer."

"Yeah, I-I tried fixing it, but the hyperdrive just killed th-the engine." Rick winks and flashes her a grin. "I-It never made it t-t-to another awful PTA meeting, but it got you—us to the stars th-that one time."

She would never forget that night, huddled together beneath the dome of the ship, the warmth of her father's arm around her shoulders, billions of stars seared into her memory. S-See, Beth? You deserve better than the planetarium.

Beth reaches for him, but her fingers fall short of his wrist; they settle for gently brushing the fabric of his coat instead. He eases himself up, maneuvers his chair beside hers and places a shaky hand on her shoulder. In that moment, in the long-forgotten connection between them, Beth lets her emotions spill over. She can't keep them to herself any longer.

He has to know.

"You know, when I was little, I used to think that my life was a fairytale: That you were some wonderful magician and I was your princess. After you left, I still clung to that childish fantasy, and it only made reality seem that much harsher. I knew deep down that you coming back wouldn't be our panacea...but I kept lying to myself because I didn't want to acknowledge how imperfect it had been from the start. I couldn't bring myself to smash that looking glass."

Rick's grip tightens; his bottom lip quivers, mouth opens as if he's about to speak, but Beth isn't finished yet. She can't soothe his uneasiness, can barely steady her own voice. "...But things just got worse. It got to the point where I wasn't sure if I should keep fighting to fix it all, or if I should just continue to break things because it seemed to come so naturally. Either way, I wasn't just going to sit back helplessly while everything went to shit."

His palm leaves her for the briefest moment; Rick wipes at his grief-tinted eyes before finding her hand, gingerly threading his fingers between hers, damp with the tears she'd missed out on decades ago. His words are breathless, hushed: "Beth, I—"

"I can't go back to that, dad." She squeezes his hand, says it plainly, more of a statement than a plea for help. "I promised myself I'd never buy into that fantasy again. I won't believe—"

The rest is muffled, lost to the universe as her father tugs her to his chest, her face buried in the thin shirt, just below his shoulder. His breath stirs strands of her hair, tickling her ear. "Beth—sweetie—I'm s-so s-s-sorry. Believe me, I-I-I never wanted to hurt you." She sinks deeper into his embrace, feeling the erratic expansion of his lungs, listening to him choke back sobs, his words more heartfelt than anything he'd ever spoken.

"A-And please—please—believe me when I say that I'm back. I'm not—not going anywhere. I know I-I can never fix things, but I—I'll try to ch—to make it up to you."

Beth thinks she might cry, but her sympathy is tapped out. "It's OK, dad." She feebly pats him on the back. "I don't expect you to."

Rick's arms slip from around her, and he places both hands on her shoulders, looks into her eyes before pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I-I love you, Beth. Always have, always will."

"I know, dad," she flashes a weary smile.

A grin breaks across her father's face. With a sense of urgency, he gathers the marbles back into their satchel, the glow diffusing beneath the fabric. As Beth readjusts to the darkness, she hears the excitement in his voice, the soft laughter, "H-Hey, Beth, wh-what do you say we—we take my ship up, an—and see the stars? For—for old time's sake?"

Beth stands slowly, feels around for her empty glass. "If it's alright, dad, I think I'll just go to bed. I'm not really in the mood for stargazing anymore." She turns in the direction of the kitchen, but is stopped by a hand on her wrist.

"Look, Beth, I-I'm not trying to—to gloss over my actions, o-o-or downplay your feelings," he speaks calmly, somberly, "I just w-want to see the stars with my daughter again. So..." Rick gives her a playful nudge. "C-Come on, Beth, sweetheart, come out with—with your old man just one more time."

"Dad..." Beth tries to pull away, but Rick isn't giving up as easily.

"It'll be fun. And it—it's mostly clean. Morty did—hasn't puked in there for a while."

"Dad, I..."

"I mean, there might be s-some empty bottles a-a-and a few dirty magazines in the back, but c'mon, sweetie, that shouldn't keep—stop us from enjoying ourselves, right? Come on, once more? Beth?"

Through all the sorrow and anger and tears and years of fuck-ups and strife, Beth just can't fault herself for loving her father. It's an inescapable part of her reality. So she exaggerates a groan, puts up a pitiful fight as Rick pulls her along to the garage, catching up to him with each step, until they're both running through the dark, giggling like children. And in the end, Beth is the one who reaches the ship first.

 

[[end]]