She looked out the window, through her vines of plants, at the black specks against the freshly fallen snow. Her husband had taken their boys sledding on the hill down the street. She smiled, thinking about how she was glad that it was them outside and not her. She was always cold and getting soaked through in the snow did not sound like a good time to her.
She imagined their rosy cheeks and snow-covered hats and mittens and her husband, getting breathless, dragging the sleds behind him as the energetic little boys ran ahead, shouting for him to hurry up.
The oven timer beeped and snapped her back to reality. She pulled a tray of cookies out and placed another tray in the warm oven. Yes, she would much rather be in here than out there, despite the joy. She would have warm cookies and hot chocolate ready for them when they came inside.
She glanced at the trash can that was about to overflow and decided she would get dressed to take it outside.
"I can bear the cold for a minute," she sighed to herself.
She grabbed her sweatshirt off of the stairs and slipped the plush fabric over her and pulled on her furry hat her friend had sent her for Christmas. She slipped on her sneakers, with no socks, knowing she was risking snow blowing in them. The dog looked up at her with pleading eyes to go out in the snow with her.
"Not right now, buddy. I'm running this out and coming right back in -- I'm not a fan of the cold. You know this."
The old boy rested his head on his paws in defeat.
She grabbed the trash bag, "What on earth did you people put in here? I really hope Sam didn't throw away one of Jack's toys again." She searched with her eyes for a moment and tied it up, ready to make her trek out to the other side of the garage, deciding to go out the front door since her path would be shoveled and mostly clear of snow.
She lugged the bag and suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She started to shake and felt her heart drop into her stomach. She did not bring her cell phone out with her. Dammit. Why did she not bring her cell phone out with her? Because she was only taking the trash out. Not expecting this at all.
He started to walk towards her.
Her fear and surprise quickly turned to anger.
"What the hell do you think you are doing here? Get back in your car and go away. There is nothing I have to say to you."
"Cassie, please. Just give me a couple of minutes. Do you know how long I have been standing out here? Do you know how hard it was for me to come?"
Tears were burning behind her eyes. How dare he come here. How dare he just show up and expect her to feel bad for him and how hard it was.
"Mark, you need to leave. Now." She fought back tears and tried to maintain her anger.
"You don't even call me Dad anymore," he looked sad. Not angry. She was confused by the forlorn look in his face.
"Why would I want to? You do not care about me. You proved that time and time again. The fact that you have the audacity to show up here after 6 years. How is your new family? I've seen the pictures on Facebook. You seem like you're the best dad to them. Go home, MARK," the inflection on his name was purposeful, full of the intent to hurt. Her hands were still shaking. She had prepared for this moment with her therapist. She had practiced how well she would handle herself. She promised herself she would not let it affect her like this. And now she felt like she was back at square one.
“Can I please come in for a couple of minutes? I know you’re hurt. You have every right to be. I just need to talk to you,” he looked at her with pleading eyes.
Her thoughts were pinging all over her brain. She wanted to be angry, but she also wanted a dad. She had never really had one and one of the topics of therapy for years had been to grieve the loss of what she had not had and so desperately wanted. And now here he was. He had lost weight. He’d gotten dentures. He looked…healthy. Not compared to the last time she had seen him. He didn’t remotely look like the same person that had conned her into driving him around to different emergency rooms looking for pain pills when his prescription had run out. Hunched over, shaking, sweating profusely and going through withdrawal that he wouldn’t admit to having.
“Do not tell me I have a fucking problem! I’m in pain. It is real. You have no idea what it is like you stupid, selfish bitch,” he would growl the words at her, making it even more threatening.
She remembered the moods. The rage he would cast towards her. How scared she had felt. How embarrassing it had been.
“Cassie?” He cocked his head as if to say, where are you right now.
She snapped back from the awful memories and looked at him again. He was truly standing in front of her.
“You can’t come in my house. Travis took the boys sledding. I don’t know when they are coming back. It would be really confusing for them. Shit! I have cookies in the oven. Just,” she had no idea how long she’d been standing out there, “Just…hold on a minute. I need to go back inside.” She turned around, leaving the trash bag where it was, and went back into the house.
She leaned her back against the door after she had closed it and wiped the warm tears off her cold cheeks. She hadn’t even realized that she’d been crying. Or how cold she was.
She smelled the overdone cookies and ran into the kitchen to pull them out. They were not a complete loss, and Travis always liked the crispier ones to dunk in milk.
“Oh my word, my dad is outside,” She blinked a few times to try and wake herself up. Her feelings were all over the place. She grabbed her phone and sent a text to Travis.
“Don’t freak out. You will never believe who showed up.”
“What the hell? Are you okay? Why is he here? I’m coming back. Just give me a few minutes.”
“I’m fine. Don’t come back with the kids yet. They don’t need to see him. Just take them for Happy Meals when you’re done or something.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with you there with him alone.”
“I swear to you, I’m fine. I’ll take my phone out with me. I’ll text you when he leaves”.
She took a deep breath and slipped her phone into her pocket. She kept her ungloved hand on it.
“You can handle this. He does not have power over you. This is your house. This is your family. He cannot hurt you,” she wiped her tears away again in the hallway mirror as she reassured herself.
She walked back outside and he was still standing there, only he’d moved underneath the porch awning and closer to the house.
“Did I hear you say Travis took the BOYS sledding, when did Sam get a little brother? How did I miss that?” he half-smiled but still looked forlorn.
“Don’t even get me started on the things that you have missed. And my kids are none of your business,” that moment inside had let her anger come back to the forefront. She did not want him to mistake her sadness as weakness like he used to when he was still around.
“Cassie, I know. I knew this wouldn’t be easy, but I also didn’t know when a good time would be. I knew if I tracked down your brother and asked for your number, he probably wouldn’t willingly give it to me. And if he did, you probably wouldn’t have answered. I know it isn’t right, but the internet makes it much easier to find people these days.”
She made a mental note to go over every privacy setting she ever had. Wasn’t there a way to block our address? To be honest, she never really thought that he would ever reach out to her.
“You can’t come in my house. But we can go down the street to get coffee,” she knew she made a confused face openly. As much as she wanted to tell him to leave, her curiosity was piqued. She had never expected to really see him again and had really thought she had come to terms with that. She had grieved for her living father because he had never really been a father anyway.
“That would be great, Cassie. I can drive.”
“I’ll drive separate. It’s called Jumping Beans. Just put it in your GPS. I’ll meet you there in like 15 minutes.”
She saw Travis’s car turning into the cul-de-sac. Her father nodded at her and walked towards his car and got in before her family made it to their driveway. She stood in the driveway, Travis locked eyes with her as he pulled in and she felt the tears start to burn in her eyes again. Sam let himself out of the car as soon as it was in park.
“Mommy! You would not believe how fast this sled goes! The old one grandma brought over that Daddy used to use works way better than that plastic one we got in the store!” the little boy was talking a mile a minute, as he wrapped his arms around her. She patted his head and tried to pay attention but her thoughts were drifting elsewhere, and she gently pushed him towards the door.
“Wet things off as soon as you get inside!”
Travis closed the car door, with Jack in his arms. His cheeks were red and his nose was running but the light in his eyes from spending time with his big brother doing ‘big boy’ things, was very apparent.
“Mommy!” His little arms reached for her and she pulled a tissue out of her pocket to wipe his nose.
“Did he just leave? Good. He does not need to be here,” Travis had a bluntness to his words.
“Trav, I know. But I’m going to meet him for coffee,” she waited for his reaction, which she was sure would be strong.
“Cassie, what the he—heck,” He corrected himself for the sake of Jack being within earshot, licking the remaining snow off of his mittens.
“I know,” she said, “I was completely prepared to tell him to shove off and go, but I don’t know Travis, he looks…better? It can’t hurt for me to hear what he has to say”
“After everything he has put you through. After everything he put US through. It’s been what, 6 years? He doesn’t even know about Jack. He acts like he’s better – he’s done this before – maybe this time he’ll ask us for money, which we don’t have to spare by the way,” Travis was understandably upset and most of all, he was protective of Cassie. He had been the one to comfort her and hold her and dry her tears when her dad would text her threats and other mean things.
Her dad never acted like that in front of him. In fact, he normally bought Travis a present or complimented him when he saw him. The classic acts of an abuser: making sure that they appear like the nice guy so that their victims cannot be believed.
“I’m just going down the street to Jumping Beans. I’ll give him an hour. That’s it. I’ll call Wendy on my way. I think I have to do this. I’ll always wonder what he was going to say if I don’t go. And if I can forgive him in person, even if it is just for me, can’t that be something that helps me? More than just making it up in my head?”
“Cass, I just don’t want him to hurt you anymore. I love you. It’s been so peaceful for us without him around. You smile. You enjoy us. You live your life. You’re happy, Cass. I don’t want this to backtrack you,” Travis put his arms around her inside once she put Jack down. They watched him fumble with his boots and then head straight for the cooled cookies.
“I know. An hour Trav. That’s it. And you’ll know where I am.”
“If you think this is what’s best, do it. I love you. Just please be careful. Call Wendy.”
“Thank you,” she kissed him on his cheek and grabbed her keys.
She walked in the coffee shop and saw him sitting in the corner, and he gave a slight nod and put a finger in the air to acknowledge that she came in the shop.
She had called her therapist, Wendy, on the way.
“Hey Cassie! I am between clients, so I must be quick. You can do this. This is brave and you are capable. Just remember to lower your expectations and hold your boundaries. I’ll see you on the 5th! I’ll make sure you’re in my schedule for an hour,” she heard Wendy chuckle in the encouraging way that she did. She appreciated the humor because she knew this was going to be hard and she needed to lighten her spirits.
“You have an hour,” she placed her hand with her keys in it harder on the table than she had intended, “If at any point you decide to be abrasive, I will leave and I will ask that you not contact me again and leave my family alone. I will not tolerate it.”
“Understood,” he nudged the coffee cup towards her, “Dark Roast, two creams, liquid sugar and vanilla. Hopefully that’s still right.”
She barely nodded that it was correct and did not want to give him the satisfaction that he was right, “Normally 3 creamers, but it’s fine. Thanks,” she replied curtly.
“I just need to say a few things. First off, Cass, you have to know. I didn’t have it so easy growing up and I think I hung on to a lot of that. I’ve been going to therapy – it was court mandated after the last time I got arrested. Things really went down hill fast after your mom was gone. I didn’t realize how badly I was hooked on the pills. Maybe I did and I didn’t want to realize it. Maybe it was embarrassing,” he stuttered over some of his words.
Cassie’s head was spinning with a thousand retorts, but she kept them quiet. She did not want to cause a scene in the shop. She just nodded and tried to listen.
“I met Sandra, and I was in a really dark place. I know you saw pictures, but you know pictures don’t always tell the truth. I hung out with her kids but they weren’t my kids and I thought about you and your brother, but I think part of me thought maybe I could just start over and you guys would find your way without me. It would be better, maybe. But it didn’t work. She helped me blow through your mom’s life insurance money, which I am not proud of, and introduced me to more than just the pills since the doctor put a cap on my script. Before I knew it, I was on probation, she was gone once the money was gone and I was alone again. Back in our old house. And the more I went to therapy because I am too much of a wimp to go to jail – three nights was enough and I didn’t want to go back – the more I realized that I might actually be the problem. They hooked me up with a psychiatrist and I went back on those meds I was on the first time I got out of the hospital after you guys had me committed – which I now understand why you guys did that – but I know I didn’t at the time. Things aren’t perfect Cassie. I am not perfect. But I have to tell you that I am sorry. I need to tell your brother too but, that has to be later. You’re the one I hurt the most. I know that. Now I know that,” he choked back tears and put his head in his hands.
Cassie could not completely digest what she was hearing. This was what she had talked to an empty chair about in therapy sessions. However, here, in this moment, the chair was not empty, and it was filled with her dad, and the apology that she had always wanted. She wanted to hug him but she also wanted to scream at him. Why did he have to let his past affect how he treated his kids and her mom? Why did he think it was okay to leave after their mom died? Even though they were adults. Why was he so wrapped up in himself, that he could not let them make him happy, his family that he made? She knew the answers to all these questions, logically, but it did not take away the hurt and the pain that had been there since she was a little girl.
He wiped his eyes with a napkin, and still hung his head, “Cassie, I know you don’t trust me. But I hope you can forgive me. I hope I can prove to you after some time, that I have changed. I hope it isn’t too late.”
Cassie breathed in deeply and exhaled, “Maybe. Dad.”