Carson hits the brakes, and his body rocks forward as the car stops in traffic for at least the tenth time this afternoon. It is a sunny Sunday, and everyone in Horseshoe Bay appears to be either on the road or spilling out of every restaurant in town. He has a deposition in the morning, and a pile of paperwork calling his name. Carson just needs dinner and perhaps coffee to make it through the long night ahead.
He spots what he hopes is a mostly empty cafe and pulls up his car to park. Carson turns off the ignition and steps from the car. He waves to neighbors he has known for years. The cafe he stands before is one he has visited many times. A favorite of Kate’s, Carson remembers buying many chicken salad sandwiches and Nancy tugging at his pants leg begging for a cookie with pink frosting.
Just thinking his daughter’s name tugs at his heart. It has been months since he confessed the truth of her parentage, and he has given the space she seeks. He hurts to have her gone and so distant. They have struggled to find equal footing since his wife’s death. The pain of losing Kate is hard enough but watching Nancy pull away and put up walls stings differently, deeper. He feels like a failure, one misstep after another, as they dance this angry tango. Then, when everything feels right for the first time in six months, it crumbles in his hands.
Carson pushes against the door, and a tiny bell alerts the shop owner of his presence. A large, gray haired woman grins when she sees him. “Carson! It’s been ages.”
She hobbles to him and throws her arms around him. “Not that long, Martha,” he chuckles.
“Just about,” she pulls away and pats at his arm like a scolding parent. “So, what brings you in today? Still love my chicken salad sandwiches?”
He nods with a faint of a smile. “Can I order two?”
“Of course you can,” Martha answers and busies herself behind the counter. “You’re lucky though. We’re nearly sold out. I had 75 orders today.”
Carson is impressed. Martha’s various sandwiches are a local staple, but he cannot recall when she has had that many orders in a day.“Is it international chicken salad day?”
Martha looks up with a surprised glance. She studies him for a moment before placing her hands on her hips. “Why, Carson, it’s Father’s Day.”
His face drops. He has forgotten. For the first time in 19 years, Carson Drew forgets about Father’s Day. It is not as if he has made it a huge deal in the past, but the day has always been marked with cards, balloons, and the hugs and kisses from a red headed girl now woman who takes up most of the room in his heart. Her absence on this day drops like a brick in his stomach. Martha is standing beside him with obvious concern when he focuses back on where he is. “I, I guess I forgot,” he says numbly.
“Carson, you work too much,” she scolds. He cannot argue with that. “I’m sure someone else in your life hasn’t forgotten,” she says meaningfully and reaches for two pink frosted cookies. “Here. On me.”
“Thank you,” he says softly. He cannot voice that he has not spoken to Nancy in weeks and only knows her whereabouts because Ace updates him. If she knew, Carson wonders if she would refuse to tell him, but then again, Ace has always had a way of finding out information no matter how secured.
Carson drops the bag in the fridge once he is home, his appetite lost somewhere on the cafe floor. He picks out the cookies though and munches on one. The memories of summer days nearly chokes him, and he discards the remaining cookie on the counter. He finds himself upstairs, sitting on his daughter’s bed, remembering laughter and skinned knees. Carson always suspects he would miss the sound of a child’s laughter and tea parties and school rehearsals. But he never guesses Nancy’s presence would disappear overnight without even a call to say hello. He misses her; he needs her. He just hopes he can make this right with her. Carson has given her the space she wanted, but how can he mend their relationship when she is hundreds of miles of away?
He falls asleep on her bed. It is embarrassing and clingy, and he wishes even more than ever that Kate was still here. She always knows what was best. Even when they disagree, she understands better than him how people work. Empathizes with people to a fault. He guesses she would be the same with him even when validating the hurt Nancy feels. Carson manages a smile remembering how she could reach everyone even when they stood on opposite sides. If only she was here to help him now.
But she is not. It is only Carson with empty halls and a sad heart. The challenge falls to him, and he can only hope he finds a way soon.
Today, however, he makes his way to his office and organizes the papers he will need in the morning. He is about to call it a night when he sees a small blue envelope nestled under his briefcase. The corner slightly sticks out, barely visible. But those who know him best know it is where you put anything to ensure he sees it.
Carson slides out the envelope. There is one word on front: Dad, and the handwriting brings tears to his eyes. He sits at his desk and slowly rips the blue paper open. He pulls out a card with a clock on the front. When he reads the inside of the card, he finds a short message. “In time. Happy Father’s Day. Love, Nancy.”
He is crying freely now. They may be hundreds of miles apart at this moment, but somehow Nancy made sure to deliver this small but important message to him. She is still hurting, and Carson will have to face the consequences for his deception in person one day. But the promise of one day is there. Offered by Nancy. His job now is to wait.