I stood leaning on the side of my beat up black Honda civic in the gravel parking lot of Herman’s Farm in the section next to the orchard. My stained grey converse fit right in at the farm and my ripped jeans, not bought that way, made me look like every other basic white girl going apple picking. Today my green-dyed hair was pulled into a side braid that laid across the plain yellow t-shirt on my left shoulder.
He would be here soon, I hope. The time on my phone told me he was already twenty minutes late. The parking lot was filling up, but I couldn’t see any red pickup trucks that he told me to look out for. I sighed, seems like he’ll be disappointing me again.
I heard a honking by the road and looked over the top of my car. There he was, cutting someone off to pull into the apple picking parking lot. A couple with a stroller scrambled out of the way as he tore through the gravel lot. As he got closer I saw how his face had changed since the last time I saw him. His head was bald, face coated in facial hair, but he still wore a baseball cap backwards. He screeched to a stop next to me and spit his cigarette on the ground.
“There’s no where to park in this Goddamn lot.”
Nice. That’s the first thing he’s said to me in six years.
I shrugged and looked across the lot. A grey SUV was pulling out, he saw it too and took off to cut off the minivan that was waiting patiently to take the spot. I shuffled to stand at the trunk of my car as I waited for him to get back over to me. He walked with a limp and wore a shirt with the sleeves cut off and his steel-toed boots were stained with black splotches.
“So, why’d you want to go apple picking?” He asked as he approached me.
I shrugged and looked toward the orchard. I didn’t know how to honestly tell him that we never did as kids after he left and I had always wanted to.
“Well, let’s get to it.” He flicked another cigarette to the ground and took the lead toward the orchard booth.
I walked behind him and stayed silent. How do you start a conversation with your dad who abandoned you? What do you even say? As the booth came into sight I began to wonder why I even asked him to meet me here today.
“I didn’t bring any cash.”
I looked toward the signs on the front of the booth. Cash and card accepted here! My shoulders slumped as I took a twenty out of my pocket and gave it to the girl. She handed us a basket and smiled. “Enjoy!”
“Thanks,” I tucked the basket under my arm and fell back in step behind him.
“So, how old are you now? Fifteen?”
“Damn,” he laughed. “So I have been gone awhile. You working now or what?”
I nodded, “I work at a restaurant on the weekends as a server.”
“You’re a waitress? What place?” He glanced at me.
“Harry’s Diner, on Kepler Street.”
“Yeah I know that place, used to bone the old owner’s daughter.”
I recoiled. Being raised in my grandparent’s Christian household, I wasn’t even allowed to say ‘Darn’ let alone speak like that to a family member. If you can call us family.
“Either way, waitressing is bitch work.” He turned left to follow the trail further into the orchard.
“Well, I’m going to college next year.” I touched my neck where a cross hung. Grandma gave it to me, just as she was paying for me to get my Associate’s degree at the community college the next town over. I never thought I’d be able to go to college after he walked out.
He laughed, but an ugly, harsh laugh. “College is for idiots, don’t need that shit. Where are the apples?”
I looked around us at the trees spanning out on either side. Wanting to drop the college subject I stopped and pointed down a row, “We can start here if you’d like.”
He shrugged and walked across the grass to a ladder that was leaning against a tree. I watched as he climbed it and started smacking apples off branches.
The last time I saw him he was slumped over a steering wheel, drunk or high, I couldn't tell. Mom, who was just as messed up, was screaming something unintelligible and hitting the hood of the truck. He almost her as he swerved off down the road. I didn’t see much of Mom afterwards either, she stayed holed up in her room for a few weeks until Grandma and Grandpa finally took me home. All I remember about that day was Grandpa’s raised voice from inside the house while Grandma packed me a small bag into the old silver station wagon. He hasn’t talked about her since, I’m not even sure if she’s still alive.
That’s why when he reached out to Grandpa Dave three months ago, I was in shock. Grandpa Dave called me and after some thinking I asked him to set up this apple picking trip. I’m still surprised he actually showed up.
“There’s a stupid little shit flying around me, get off!” He swatted at a fly in the air.
He started aiming and throwing apples at the basket. They all missed, but he didn’t seem to actually be wanting to collect apples. I walked around the basket and started placing them inside. Later, I’d be making some apple pies with Grandma for the girls at brunch to take home.
“Were you always this quiet?” He leaned against the top of the ladder. “I don’t remember.”
I shrugged, “I’m talkative when there are things to talk about.”
“What, don’t wanna talk to your old man?” He scoffed, “Typical of the bitches of your family. Well, your mother talked too much. Her mom kept her mouth in a tight little line, probably puckered from the stick up her ass.”
I stared up at him from the bottom of the ladder. He was looking out over the tops of the apple trees, watching people as they walked by. Somehow I knew he was staring at the ladies that were in the orchard. Everything about him seemed to be the same, his mannerisms, his voice, his attitude. Memories kept flashing in my mind of us being out in public and getting side glances from strangers after he opened his mouth.
“You’re gonna tell your grandpa that we did this, right?”
I frowned, “What?”
“Dave, he knows I’m out here with you, right?”
I crossed my arms, a little uncomfortable by his questions. “Yeah, he put gas in my car this morning.”
He nodded to himself, “Good.”
He scrunched his nose and shook his head. “Just making sure.”
I stood at the base of the ladder looking up at the man I call my father. He refused to make eye contact, and even if he didn’t I knew I wouldn’t like what I saw. Grandpa Dave was a sucker, always falling for whatever sob story was thrown his way. I wonder what sort of trouble he was in to make this deal with Dave.
I turned on my heel and walked down the orchard of the aisle.
“Hey, where ya going?” He called after me. After a minute I heard the ladder creaking. “Hey!”
My feet kept going forward, crunching leaves with a purpose. The basket with few apples hung down by my side. I shook my head back and forth, sending my braid spinning around my head. People whizzed past me in a blur as I went past them. I hardly registered the booth on my left and stepped into the road without looking. The headlights of my Honda flashed at me as I feverishly pressed the bottoms on my key fob.
I flung the basket on the front passenger seat and threw my car in reverse and tore out of that parking lot faster than he left us that day. There was no turning back, no need to. He didn’t want to reconnect, he just wanted something from Grandpa Dave. I should’ve known too, Dave isn’t the most honest guy. My friends always told me that family was family and I should forgive my dad.
But you know what, blood doesn’t make family.
It’s about time I learned that.