Lets remain, strangers
The table she choose was situated near a large window with a view of the busy streets of afternoon London. Her usual spot where she observed the businessman going for an early lunch, tourists that got lost looking for museums and the usual touristy spots and the locals who rushed to run undoubtedly important errands. She made it a point to be early before her father arrived so she could prepare herself for the meeting with a few deep breaths and a martini. She was not scared or particularly nervous but the man she was meeting was essentially a stranger, he was her father only on the birth certificate and that is who he has been since the day he left when she was 10 years old. Yet here she was 15 years later, a well-respected and popular artist with a big bank account and possibilities at every turn waiting for the stranger who suddenly remembered he had a daughter. She didn’t remember much about him other than the emotional abuse and gaslighting that occurred so often she thought that’s how everybody speaks to each other, the looks of disappointment on his face when she got a bad grade or choose to draw instead of doing something ‘actually useful’. The day he left however was something that would be forever ingrained in her mind, screaming, plates and cups tumbling, the sound of a suitcase being stuffed with clothes and the rapid sound of footsteps on the staircase. Even though he was a horrible father April tried to stop him, grabbing his hand tightly only to be shaken off as he turned around and said “You are a disappointment, you are nothing. I never want to see you again”.
Those memories provided her with years and years of therapy – that she still attended from time to time – a couple of toxic relationships and a few decent paintings that now hung in some millionaires living room. She was perfectly content to never see her father again but when he called and asked to meet she could not resist the curiosity that overcame her. He said that he saw her picture on the cover of Art Daily and the interview that she did with BBC a couple of months ago and just wanted to meet to chat and catch up. She shouldn’t have agreed it was not worth her time and effort but when she hung up the phone she sighed, smiled wickedly and thought ‘This will be good for the plot”, maybe she could even get inspired and create a couple of new prints she could share with the world.
Smoothing out her light skin coloured bodycon dress she looked around enjoying the atmosphere of her favourite restaurant, it was the perfect mix of fancy dining and an artsy hole in the wall. She decided to meet him here because this was her safe space and If anything went wrong she could always just leave through the back door, everyone at the restaurant knew her and nobody would look twice if she did so. April didn’t have to wait long for her father to arrive, the bell that hung next to the door chimed as he entered the restaurant. He looked old, older than she imagined him to look even after 15 years of not seeing each other. Salt and pepper hair neatly combed to the side, an old worn-out navy-blue suit and dress shoes that have seen better days, suddenly she remembered that it’s Wednesday so he must’ve left work to meet her here, that also meant that he still worked at some big accounting company because he had a dress code but not enough money to buy a new suit. His face was decorated with wrinkles or various depth and undereye bags the symbols of old age and dissatisfaction with one's life. A slight tug at her lips brought her back to reality she couldn’t help but feel a bit of satisfaction to see that he got what he deserved for being a shit human being – a long and miserable existence. She tried to remind herself to remain civil and only bite when provoked or disrespected but the sight of him after so many years woke up the feral part of her that begged to be let loose, to make him pay for all her lost childhood. April clenched her fist under the table and watched as the man approached the table slowly when he halted presumably expecting her to greet him - she didn’t bother standing up. After he realized he won’t get a heartfelt hug he sat down and smiled awkwardly at her placing his hands on the table.
“Hello April” he finally spoke and April lifted her chin slightly up, as she always did to show that she was not to be messed with.
“Hello John” she answered with a cold voice. The man raised his eyebrows at her and chuckled half surprised and half-amused.
“John? So no more ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’ like you used to call me” April tilted her head to the side and she couldn’t help but grin viciously at Johns words. Folding her tattooed arms in front of her chest and without missing a beat she replied
“I think you lost that title years ago” Silence fell as John looked at his daughter in disbelief. She often got that kind of looks when she encountered people from her past. She was no longer the scared little girl that was afraid to say what she thought, that needed validation and acceptance from other people. After she left the small town she grew up in to go to art school she changed beyond recognition, the confidence she acquired was visible from miles away she knew her worth. She was happy and successful and no one could make her regress into her old self. Even the man that was partially responsible for her rough start. April saw movement from the corner of her eye and turned to see Meghan her favourite waitress at the restaurant. She approached them silently with a tray on top of which stood another martini, a glass of whiskey – presumably for John – and a colour full charcuterie board with her usual favourites.
“Can I get you anything else, Mrs Carter?” Meghan asked smiling at her after she set the food and drink on the table. April looked up and smiled at her friend knowing exactly why she used her last name rather than the usual nickname – establishing status and dominance, John was on her territory now.
“I would love to have the parmesan pasta please Meghan” she answered and turned to John “Do you want anything?” the man cleared his throat still affected but the whole situation.
“Y-yes. I will have the same thing” Meghan nodded staring at him with ice-cold look in her eyes.
“I’ll be back with your order soon,” she said, winked at April and strode towards the kitchen. The artist felt much more comfortable now that she knew she had the higher ground, so she lazily picked up her drink and reached the other hand to grab a particularly good-looking grape. She stayed silent, it was him that wanted to meet not her, she had nothing to say to him. John while still looking extremely uncomfortable tried picking up conversation again but failed miserably by asking.
“How is your mother?” April froze ‘Of course he didn’t know
“She killed herself a year after you left” she replied stone-faced “I lived with Aunt Grace after that”
“Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t know,” he said looking down at the table as he fiddled with his fingers. Another moment of stillness during which he reached for his whiskey and took a small sip. April could practically hear the cogs in his head turning as he tried to come up with something to talk about, he found the topic when he looked at her left hand and the ring that decorated her finger.
“You got married?” he asked and she nodded “tell me about him”
“Her” she corrected
“What?” he asked confused
“I married a woman, so it’s a she and no I don’t think I will tell you about her”
“Oh, that’s nice…” he said but before he could say anything else Meghan came back with two steaming plates, she put one gently in front of April and the other one – not so gently in front of John, then left again. They ate in silence for a bit, the artist didn’t pay any attention to the man that glanced at her every few bites. She heard him put away his utensils and then he spoke again.
“April, honey please talk to me,” he said but she didn’t stop eating. “I want to fix this. I want to be your dad again” April swallowed the bite of her food, slowly sat back in her chair and absentmindedly reached for her martini.
“Don’t you think It’s too late for that?” She asked and swirled the liquid in her glass.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” John said, leaned slightly towards her over the table and placed his hand palm up close to her. An olive branch. “And since you agreed to meet with me you must want it too” April suppressed the need to snort at the last part of what he said.
“You’re wrong,” she said “I agreed to meet you because I was curious about what you wanted. Now I know and the answer is no.”
“Please Pumpkin I’m a changed man, I think I deserve a chance,” he said with a hopeful look in his eyes that was shattered immediately as April slammed her glass back on the table, he flinched.
“Three things” she started as she stared the man down with the intensity of a tiger looking at it’s next meal. “One, you don’t get to call me Pumpkin, mom came up with that nickname and only Aunt Grace is allowed to call me that. Two, judging by your looks and my last conversation with Uncle Luke you have not changed a bit and you don’t want to be family again, you’re broke and hoped that now that I’m rich I would give you some money. You’re not getting any of my money and three. I forgave you a long time ago, I needed to do that in order to move on with my life and rebuild myself from the ground up after what you did to me. I don’t blame you, you had a shitty childhood too so yes I forgave you but after this, I don’t want to see you ever again” John's mouth hung open as he comprehended the weight of what he just heard. He didn’t know that April talked to his brother, he didn’t even know that they stayed in touch, he didn’t expect to be forgiven and put aside right after. The woman in front of him was a stranger. He swallowed loudly.
“I don’t want to get money from you that’s ridiculous,” he said chuckling nervously. April smiled viciously.
“Oh, so you still tug your ear when you lie,” She said and as John tried to speak again she held her hand up to stop him.
“As I said I forgave you. That’s my gift to you but I don’t ever want to see you again, my life is better without you in it. Understood?” John nodded “Good” April turned to the side and gestured at Meghan to come over. “Meghan, could you please pack Mr Carter's food to go?”
“Of course,” the waitress replied with a bright smile and took John’s plate to the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” he said voice barely above a whisper. April nodded in acknowledgement just as Meghan came back with a small paper bag and set it in front of John. He grabbed the bag got up and started walking towards the door but he stopped when April spoke again.
“Oh, and John?” she raised her drink and tipped it slightly in a farewell gesture. “Let’s remain strangers”