HENRY: I’ve been a naughty boy. I have been caught up in my other hobby, music, and have neglected my story.
For whatever reason, I’ve had 4 or 5 people write to me this week asking about the story, so I guiltily submit Chap. 22, which actually was written in late March.
I’ve kept a rule that I would wait one chapter before submitting, but since I’ve been behind, I’ll go ahead and submit Chap. 23, too, even though I haven’t even started 24.
I may regret that, if things in 24 necessitate changes in 23, but what the heck.
So with Father’s Day close, enjoy two chapters of Neighborhood Dad.
I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself for the next few hours.
Nothing on TV could hold my attention. The guitar on its stand just reminded me of Randi too much. I paced around the house, but every room reminded me of her.
That thought brought me to a stop in mid-pace. Every place reminds me of her – didn’t I used to think the same thing about Beth? Charles once asked me if I was considering moving, but I couldn’t imagine leaving the place where Beth and I had raised Paige. I always thought the memories of that childhood would keep me company whenever Paige went off to college.
It gave me some peace to remember that I found the strength to survive Beth’s death. If I could do that, then I could find the strength to let Randi go and move on.
The weirdest thing about all this was thinking about breaking it off permanently without ever having a discussion with Randi. How can you have a breakup without speaking or even writing her a letter?
But I suppose that’s the nature of a forbidden love. I couldn’t afford to write her a letter or leave her a voice-mail that could be used to prove I had a relationship with a high school student. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and she could very well take such evidence to the principal or school board.
And I wasn’t sure I had the strength to break it off face-to-face. The argument we had in our last conversation sucked the life right out of me. Ever since then, I felt like I was going through the motions of living. Ending things once and for all was a task I could not face. I suppose that made me a coward.
Finally, I could put all those thoughts aside as I saw headlights brighten the glass in the front door, signaling Paige’s return. I went to the kitchen to get a drink so that I could settle in and hear all the details from the dance.
I couldn’t help but smile as the door opened and Paige floated through like she were still dancing to unheard music.
We sat down at the small dinette table, and she described the decorations and commented on some of the dresses she’d seen.
“And then Rodney Haywood had to bring this sophomore tramp with him. Claudia. Uggh, her boobs were practically falling İçmeler Escort out of her top, and she just looked so smug to be there ’cause you know freshmen and sophomores aren’t allowed at the prom unless they are somebody’s date.
“I mean, okay, sure Autumn’s dress was a little revealing; she had some cleavage going on -“
I really needed to go back and look at those photos.
“- but her dress was still pretty tasteful. And besides, Autumn is 18, and Claudia just turned 16. Sixteen! Can you believe her parents bought her a dress like that?”
I hadn’t seen said dress, but I shook my head in general support nonetheless.
“What about Lori?” I asked.
“Her dress? What about it?”
“No, not her dress. You said she went stag. I hope you and Ricky weren’t so caught up in each other that you ignored your best friend.”
“No, not at all. She and I talked plenty, and some of the other girls were with us, too.”
I nodded my head. A useless worry, Paige always looked after her friends. She had such a kind heart.
“Randi came with this boy, Cody. I don’t really know him very well.” She paused for a few seconds, looking over my face. “You know, Randi wasn’t even planning on going to the prom until about a month ago. She seemed flat against the idea, then all of the sudden she’s not talking to anybody or coming over to the house. And she shows up with a date.”
I nodded my head noncommittally while looking at my glass.
“That was you, wasn’t it?”
I looked up to see her examining my face more intensely, trying to read my reaction. She’s not just kind, she’s pretty danged smart, too.
“That is what the fight was about that night I came downstairs because you two were getting loud.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I went back to looking at my glass.
“I told you to be careful. With Randi coming over here to learn guitar, the girl developed a big old crush, didn’t she? And after that nice road trip to Asheville, she wasn’t worried about getting a prom date. She was after a bigger target.
“And when you let her down, told her there was no way you two could date, she got mad. Thought you were leading her on.”
Paige had some things right, but some things wrong. I felt an urge to correct her, but doing that would mean telling her the real story, and Randi and I had already decided not to tell anyone.
“So she decides to get a date. Either out of spite for you or to prove something to herself, I dunno.”
Those damned x-ray eyes were still focused on me.
“But that’s not the whole story, is it?”
That made me sit up straighter. Where was she going with this line of thinking?
“It’s been a long time since Mom died, and an even longer time since she was healthy enough to be a real İçmeler Escort Bayan wife to you. You want to act like your job and me are all you need in life, but you’ve still been lonely, haven’t you?”
She reached out to put a hand on one of mine, and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“A pretty young woman gets a crush on you, and it was nice. You felt things you haven’t felt in a long time.”
Neither of us spoke for a few seconds, then she pulled her hand back and sat up taller.
“But, you being the mature adult that you are, you just had to set her straight. Nip it in the bud. God, you are such a dad.”
She sounded so exasperated that I was shaken out of my thoughts.
“Okay, I’m just another kid in your eyes, so you’re not going to listen to me any more than you did her. But here goes: why not?”
“Why not? You mean, why not her and me? Together?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean, you big dummy.”
“Don’t be absurd, I … I -“
“I, I, I. Let me stop you before you go on one of your long Dad rants. The way I see it is pretty simple. Since she’s been coming over for guitar lessons, I’ve never seen you so happy.
“I know you have told me countless times about how great you and Mom had it, but I was so young when she was still healthy. I can’t really remember any other time when you just walked around the house with this big, dumb smile on your face.
“I don’t know if it’s just a two-way crush, or if maybe some real feelings started to develop, but don’t you think you owe it to yourself to find out? Sure, there’s an age difference, but why don’t you try going out on a couple of dates before you write the whole thing off?”
“The easiest answer,” I said, formulating my thoughts, “is that I could be arrested.”
“I know, but there was a school teacher in Tennessee arrested for having an affair with an 18-year-old student. Another teacher up in New Jersey arrested for the same thing.”
“Okay, first off, I said take her out on a date, not drag her to a cheap hotel. You don’t have to sleep with her. Second, Randi doesn’t play basketball, so you haven’t had any school-related contact with her that could qualify you for laws protecting students. Third, there’s barely more than a month of school left. Then she’s not a high school student anymore, so even this flimsy argument is over.”
“Sounds like you’ve been giving this some thought lately.”
“Maybe just a little – you know, around prom dresses and college acceptances.”
“Let’s forget about me for a minute and think about Randi. Sure, she meets an older guy and thinks he’s great. She develops a crush, as you said. What’s the best-case scenario here? The two of them date, they get serious, then she Escort İçmeler goes off to college and that’s that? Or does she skip going off to college to be around him, only to grow bitter about missing out on her opportunities? She grows more and more resentful about how he’s holding her back. If they stay together long enough, she can watch him grow old while she is still in the prime of her life.”
“Now who’s been giving this some thought?” she asked, drawing a smile from me. “Before I get into the real answers to your questions, let me first say that you can’t make decisions for someone else. Adults have to make their own choices. You can offer advice, but you can’t live their lives for them.”
“Are we still talking about Randi?”
“Mostly. But this isn’t about me. And it isn’t about Randi. It’s about you. Way back in the horse and buggy days when you were graduating high school, I’ll just bet that you had at least one of your jock buddies tell you to break up with Mom. He probably said something about how you could go to a small college and play basketball and get lots of babes rather than go to a bigger state university to be with her.”
Did I mention my daughter is smart? She must take after her mom.
“You’ve never said anything to me about it, but, Dad, I know you were an all-conference player in high school. And just like me, you probably had some schools throwing scholarship offers at you. But you turned that down to be with Mom. What that a mistake?”
“Mistake? Of course not. It was the best decision of my life. Your mother and I were crazy about each other. I couldn’t have cared less about playing on some college team.”
“Really, you didn’t grow bitter and resentful about your missed opportunities?”
“Throwing my own words back at me now?” I asked with a light smile on my lips.
“My teacher said to always quote the best sources for a research paper. Do I need to put your name on my bibliography page?”
“I’m not sure I want you going to college,” I said, shaking my head. “You’re already too danged smart now.”
“Look, I have talked with Randi a lot, but she has never said much about her plans for the future,” she said. “I can’t say what opportunities she might be weighing, and neither can you. The only one who knows what she wants out of life is Randi, so it’s her decision what to do with her life. And if she wants to give a relationship a try, it’s her time to waste.”
“You, on the other hand,” she added, with a grin crossing face, “are old and could die any day now, so you really don’t have time to waste. Hop to it.”
“Old? I’m still young enough to turn you over my knee, young lady.”
“Not tonight, I’m too tired to fight back. I need to get out of this dress and collapse into bed. In the meantime, you need to think about what I said. I just want to see you happy, and since she’s been in our lives, you have been. Give it five weeks until after graduation – if it makes you feel better.”
With that, she dragged herself out of the chair and headed for the stairs.
Halfway up the steps she called out, “But I’m NOT calling her Mom.”