I remembered summer evenings like this one.
Top down, wind in my hair, heading home.
Back then, my dad had been the one driving.
For so long, all I’d wanted was to shake off his control. But now I would do anything for him to take the wheel.
Life was funny like that. You tended to want the wrong things at the wrong times.
All I wanted, after a meeting that felt like it lasted hours even though it was only one drink, was to talk to him. To say, “Dad, I just got a big offer today.”
And he would smile, slow and mischievous, and rush me to tell the whole story.
I could just picture his face alive with excitement.
Well, Dad, I hope you can see me now.
And even though I could never prove or even explain it, part of me believed that he could.
I had a feeling he was watching over me as I headed home to my family, just like we used to head home to mom.
Buzz. My phone vibrated in the cup holder, and I saw on the console screen that it was Al. So I ignored it.
Dad would be happy to know Angela and I were as in love as ever, and I couldn’t wait to see her and our beautiful kids.
Okay, so our home life wasn’t all roses and candlelit dinners. But it was ours.
And right then, I was even excited to share a watery beer on the dilapidated couch with my father-in-law.
Our meeting with the O’Malleys left me feeling unsettled, agitated…and I wanted to be home with Angela. She was the only one who could help me when I got to this state.
My phone kept buzzing in the cup holder. More messages from Al. I opened the phone, one hand on the wheel, and without reading the texts I pressed down the voice record.
“I told you I’m driving, asshole. Let’s talk about this tomorrow like we planned.”
I sent the voice note and sighed. Part of what I loved about Al was how invested he was in our work.
But I wasn’t afraid to draw boundaries. Not anymore.
Speaking of boundaries…
“Al, I told you we’ll talk tomorrow.” was my greeting.
“Look, Xavier. Just digest this with me for a minute, please man.” Al’s voice came through the car stereo.
“There isn’t that much to digest.”
“Are you kidding? That money was a power play, wasn’t it? I felt like every eye in that bar was on us. It was that tense.”
“We had a good night. We should both pat ourselves on the back and head to bed. Honestly, Al, I’m driving home and all I want is to forget about work shit until tomorrow.”
He was quiet for a minute. “Fine.”
“Pour yourself a few fingers of X and call it a night. Okay, champ?” I said, pulling onto our street.
“Cheers,” he replied, and I heard ice rattling in a glass.
The sound of dishes breaking yet again echoed in my ears.
I stood in the living room by Dad’s ratty couch and took one cleansing breath before entering the kitchen.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“Sloppy joes!” Ace shouted, running out from behind the island in his little apron and crashing into my legs with a hug. I stroked Ace’s hair, blond like mine.
“My sous-chef is right! Can’t you smell it, sweetheart? This used to be your favorite meal.”
“I can smell it, alright,” I replied. “And can you please be more careful with the china?”
“Sorry about that, buttercup,” Dad replied, his face flushing pink amidst the traces of stubborn makeup from earlier in the day.
I know he feels bad…how can I stay mad at him?
After the kids-playing-in-the-street-while-he-slept incident, Dad had stubbornly burst into action, refusing to even take a shower.
He was convinced he needed to make it up to me. Of course, Dad didn’t realize that the one thing that would help me relax would be if he relaxed.
But that was a conversation for another time.
And I did still have a soft spot in my heart for sloppy joes. My husband, on the other hand…
“But Xavier already ordered sushi for take out.”
“I don’t want you or Xavier to lift a finger. Ace and I will take care of everything.”
“Yay! Sloppy science!” Ace launched himself from my legs and right into Dad’s.
An expression of pain crossed Dad’s face, so quickly that I wondered if I had imagined it.
“Be careful with Grandpa, Ace.”
“Don’t worry about me, Angel. Leah, Ace, and I have plans to rrrrrrumble later. Hey! How about you join us, Xavier?”
I turned around and met my husband’s eye as he entered the room…and his bewildered expression matched the way I felt.
“I’ll sit this one out,” Xavier replied, touching the small of my back. “And you could use some rest, too. Dinner’s already on the way.”
“You can kiss lousy old take-out goodbye. Now that you have a chef in residence, you’ll be eating home cooked meals every night!”
I felt Xavier’s body go rigid with terror behind me, and I had to bite my lip so I didn’t laugh.
“That is not necessary,” my husband insisted. “But I’ll cancel sushi for tonight…”
“‘Atta boy! Now you two get out of here. Ace and I have a kitchen to run.”
Dad didn’t have to tell me twice. I turned around, taking Xavier by the hand. In the living room, he twirled me around, and his lips met mine.
His kiss was urgent yet tender. His fingers wound through my hair, holding me close to him as I relaxed into his touch.
“What was that for?” I asked breathlessly when he pulled away.
“Just because I’m happy to be with you.”
I stroked his face, my heart melting. “Me too, baby. Did your meeting go okay?”
“I’ll tell you about it later,” he replied. From his expression, it didn’t look good. “I have to call the restaurant.”
“Sorry about that. But Dad said he’ll do the dishes, so we’ll have some time to relax,” I said seductively, pulling him down by his collar for one more kiss.
“That’s exactly what I need,” he replied.
After managing to get down the sloppiest sloppy joe of my life, I leaned back in my chair.
From the head of the dining table, I had a full view of my family:
Ken, with sauce dribbled down his Giants t-shirt. My beautiful wife with sauce on her cheek. And my kids with sauce… everywhere.
“Thank you for dinner, Ken. That was…unforgettable.”
Angela shot me a look, but Ken waved off the compliment with a gracious wave of his filthy napkin.
“Sloppy joes are my new favorite,” Leah announced.
“Just like your mother!” Ken said with pride. “When she was a little girl, we used to eat on paper plates. And here we are with fine china!”
“Paper plates are bad for the environment,” Ace said with a frown.
“But they’re good for saving time! Now that I’m retired, I have all the time in the world to do the dishes.”
As Ken began to clear the table, Ace yawned and reached for Angela. “Mama, can I have a cuddle?”
My wife didn’t blink as his dirty hands grabbed her silk blouse. She lifted our son into her lap and kissed his head.
I felt my heart swell, feeling so much love it practically hurt. How did I get so lucky?
For so many years, I worried that a woman could only love me for my money. Hell, I even thought Angela was a gold digger.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. She constantly reminded me of what was really important in life.
“Let’s get you two in the bath,” Angela said and then she caught my eye. “Meet me up there?”
“Of course,” I replied.
I picked up the rest of the dishes on the table and joined Ken in the kitchen. I opened the dishwasher—
“STOP!” Ken boomed. “I’ve seen too much in my days at the restaurant to let a machine touch that china. Leave it to me, champ.”
“Alright,” I replied. I was beyond arguing. Mentally, I was already upstairs in bed with my wife, with this day behind me.
Half an hour later, I was in bed physically, too.
Leah and Ace were tucked in, and I had told Angela all about our meeting with the O’Malleys.
Our sheets were warm, the lights were dim, and her body was pressed against mine.
Even the rat pack jazz blaring from the kitchen couldn’t touch me. I was finally exactly where I needed to be—with my wife.
“Don’t let the O’Malleys get to you,” Angela said softly, massaging my neck with her hand. “Can you just take it as a compliment and move on?”
“I hope so. There’s just something…weird about them.” I paused. I could have stopped there, but I decided to tell her what was really on my mind.
“I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot today.”
Angela held me tighter, giving me time to go on.
“I miss him. More than usual. Like I just…need to know that he would be proud of me.”
My throat felt dry. It was almost physically painful to admit, but it was true.
Angela held my face, forcing me to look in her eyes. When I did, I saw pure love.
“Brad is so proud of you. Can’t you feel it?” A smile touched her lips. I knew what she was thinking about.
Our kids. Our life.
X-Label was just a small part of it.
And I had managed to hold onto this angel of a woman, my soulmate. Angela was right. My dad would be proud.
I kissed her, needing to show her the love I couldn’t say out loud.
“I love you,” I whispered, kissing her jaw bone, her ear lobe, her neck, her collar bone…
All that mattered to me was right here in my arms.
Angela’s breath faltered, and my whole body came alive with desire. After a day where nothing made sense, finally, everything was easy.
“Oh!” Angela gasped. “Do you think—?”
“Definitely the china,” I replied.
“I mean, my dad—”
I sighed. “Let’s go.”
Angela jumped out of bed, straightening her shorts and tank top as she walked. I stood up, rearranged my pajama pants, and considered putting on a shirt…
Aw, fuck it. It was my house, after all. If Ken didn’t like my six pack, then it wasn’t my problem.
I followed my wife down the grand staircase, Ken’s singing growing louder with every step.
Well, at least he’s okay.
In the kitchen, I stopped in my tracks. Ken was dancing across the marble floor, his hand to his chest as he belted out the chorus.
I was about to say something about the china shards swept into the corner, but stopped myself.
At least there’s more where that came from.
Ken’s eyes lit up when he noticed us and he sauntered over, taking Angela’s hand. She laughed as he twirled her away, shooting me an apologetic glance.
“When Angela was growing up, we had our own jazz club every night!” Ken recalled with pride.
I watched my wife laugh as she dipped dramatically in Ken’s arms.
She blew me a kiss, and I smiled back. But I couldn’t tell if it reached my eyes.
Mentally, I was still upstairs. Might as well return there, even if I was going alone.
Angela and Ken didn’t notice as I left.
I climbed into our still-warm sheets with a feeling of sinking sadness. And it wasn’t just because sex was interrupted, or even that Ken got on my nerves.
It was the same feeling that consumed me on my drive home…without Angela there to comfort me, it returned in full force.
I was so glad that Angela still had her dad in her life. My wife and I both knew we couldn’t take anything for granted, and I wanted us to make the most of the time Ken had left.
Hell, that was why I invited him to move in with us!
But it didn’t change the fact that I was hurting. It didn’t change the fact that I wished my father were here, too…
Dad, if you’re hearing this…
I miss you.
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