“Okay, I’ve called every police station in the area,” Noelle said, furiously tapping her phone. “And no one has seen him.”
She was sitting in a desk chair while she called. I had my face buried in the couch cushions and was attempting to suffocate myself.
I groaned. “What if he got run over or something? Where could he have gone?”
Noelle squeezed my shoulder. “It’s okay, Mr. Be—Ace, I mean. Let’s get in the car and drive down the road. We’ll see what we can do.”
I pulled myself up and tried to unsuccessfully smooth my hair. I’m sure it stuck up in all directions, but for once I didn’t care. I needed to find out if my father was okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I still didn’t like the man. But I didn’t want him to be homeless. I figured the best I could do was set him up in a semi-nice apartment with provisions to last him a couple of months. After that, he was on his own.
Noelle and I walked to the car and she motioned for me to get in the passenger seat. I was tempted to argue, but then I realized I was in no state to drive. I would probably drive into a tree.
She backed out of the driveway and we drove in silence for a few minutes, with me craning my neck and Noelle biting her lip nervously.
“So, um, Ace,” she said tentatively, “I just want to say, I’m really proud of you. You’ve changed so much over the past few weeks, and being around you is actually… pleasant.”
I glanced over at her, grateful for her presence. “Well, I would still be a self-absorbed snob if it weren’t for you, so… thank you, Noelle. Really.”
She gave me a rare smile that lit up her entire face. I had a strange urge to… no. Pretend I never said anything.
Noelle slammed the brakes, almost breaking my collarbone as the seat belt snapped me back. Her eyes were fixed on something outside the car.
I frantically peeked out the window, but nothing caught my eyes.
And then I saw it. A flannel clump lying in the grass. I gasped.
“Pull over, pull over!”
Noelle steered the car over to the side of the road and I jumped out before it came to a complete stop. I hurried over to the sorry man with the scraggly beard.
He looked up as he heard me approaching and I sucked in a breath when I realized that it was, in fact, my father. When he saw me, his head fell back to the grass. He didn’t say a word.
I could tell that Noelle was hovering by the car, unsure if she should interfere. I stepped closer to my father and sat down beside him. I ignored the fact that I was probably ruining my two-hundred-dollar pants.
We were silent until I couldn’t take it any longer. I took a deep breath and began to speak, but I kept my eyes on the sky.
“I know it was hard on you when Mother died. I don’t think you really knew how to handle your grief. But that’s no excuse for your behavior. You should have cared for me, instead of leaving me.”
I paused, expecting a snarling retort, but when none came, I pushed forward. Although I tried to voice my feelings matter-of-factly, I could hear the tint of emotion in my own voice.
“I’m sure the loss of Mother was as devastating for you as it was for me. You weren’t open to me, and I wasn’t open with you. We avoided each other’s feelings for the longest time. That was partly my fault. I resented you for not crying over Mother. I never saw you cry.”
“I couldn’t cry,” my father said suddenly, sounding hoarse. “I was so numb with grief I couldn’t bring myself to cry. I hated myself for it.”
I swallowed. “I think, deep down, I realized that you were still my father. But I refused to see it. It was easier to hate you than forgive you.”
Tears were running down my cheeks now, and I swear I even heard a sniff from my father. A warm hand gripped my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, son.”
I finally met my father’s eyes. The same eyes that stared me down in the mirror every morning. They were glistening with tears.
“I’m sorry, too… Dad.”
He hugged me then, and I gave him a fierce hug back. I didn’t even hesitate to ruin my shirt. The whole outfit was probably ruined, but I don’t think I had ever been so unconcerned.
My father was back. After so long, he was finally back.
We finally pulled apart, each attempting to wipe our eyes without the other noticing. After a slight hesitation, my father spoke again.
“Son? I really did try, ya know. That’s why I convinced yur aunt to write ya in her will.”
I froze. “You told her to do that?”
He nodded. “Yep. I downright begged her.”
“Dad, I own my own company. I don’t really need any help.”
“I know that now. But I didn’t even know where you lived until a few months ago. I just wanted to help you out.”
The realization that my father was behind the large sum of money made me feel queasy. Why would he do that for me? Something was tugging at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t place it. Something was off.
But his face was so open and sincere, so I beckoned for him to follow me to the car, where Noelle was standing. There were many emotions written on her face, some I could read, some I couldn’t. But there was something there that was different, that I had never seen before.
It kind of made me want to kiss her.
Woah. I did not just think that.
My expression must have given something away because Noelle suddenly looked uncomfortable.
“There’s grass on your pants,” she muttered, looking away. I smirked.
“Do you enjoy making fun of me?” I joked. The corners of her mouth turned up, although she still didn’t meet my eyes.
“I think you know the answer to that,” Noelle answered, helping my father into the backseat. She tossed me the keys. “You’re driving home.”
I smiled. “Home,” I said, rolling the word around in my mouth. For once, it didn’t taste sour.