Maybe in Michigan Too
Disclaimer: *reads the tag on Stevie Y's underwear* B-R-E-N-D-A-N. Yeah, so not mine.
Summary: Year? 2010. Stevie Y is happily retired? A look at his strained? slowly becoming estranged? relationship with his daughter.
AN: Twilight Zone marathon. Roswell reruns. The beautiful Sue. Sue amazes me with her writing. This is her idea. This is my attempt. (Scenario for a perfect) Failure.
Rating: R. Because arrrrrrrriba, it's hot hot hot. No, not really.
“Isabella Katherine Yzerman, get down here right now!”
Silence, and then a moment later the slamming of a door and the angry stomp of footsteps on the stairs.
Hard eyes match steely face, and chilly disposition? No--angry, and white hot.
“Would you mind explaining to me where you were today?”
“School,” comes the cool, almost smooth reply.
Right. The clock ticks, and the waiting game begins, both staring and waiting until the other one breaks. Perhaps later to his chagrin, he breaks first, but it is anger that fuels him now, and tells him to speak up.
“Yeah, and you just happened to somehow miss all eight periods. Where were you? In the bathroom?” Sarcasm drips, but she doesn’t bite, and so he moves on to the next act of insubordination on the list. “Fine. Was there anyplace you had to be this afternoon?” She refuses to respond, looking through him, looking bored, looking angry, looking sad--he can never read her anymore--and her eyes bore straight through his chest. He fears to glance down at his shirt; afraid, somehow, that she really has, and that he’ll fine two holes straight through his heart.
“Your sisters,” he barks, and he searches her eyes for any wounds. He finds none; her eyes barely flicker with recognition. “You were supposed to pick them up. After school,” he grinds out. “You do remember that, right? It’s the reason you have a car. Because, for some insane reason, I thought you’d be able to handle the responsibility. I thought you were old enough and smart enough to handle such a simple task.”
She does nothing, and he snaps.
“Fuck, Izzy! Your sisters count on you. When you blow off your responsibilities you aren’t just--” He stops himself from screaming, and closes his eyes, counting to ten before beginning anew. “They were waiting for you and you let them down. Did you take their feelings into consideration at all before you decided to go off doing God knows what? If you had seen their faces when I arrived--which, by the way, pulled me away from a very important event--then you would have…” He lets out a heavy breath, shaking his head. “God, Maria was so scared. She was certain her big sister would never forget to pick her up. She was certain something terrible had happened to you and that--”
“I get it already! I screwed up; I’m a horrible, awful person! Can we get this over, already?”
She seems to regret opening her mouth--regret screaming at him, but only because the steadiness to her emotions, the evenness to her voice seemed to cut him more. Unaffected before, he could take victory that she was at least listening to him now and that he may be getting through to her.
He swallows. “I want your license.”
He expects her face to drop. He expects her to protest. He expects her to scream and shout and cry, and plead for a second chance.
She does nothing but stare, and disconcerted, he babbles. “Maria and Sophia already take the carpool in the morning; it should be no big deal to have them picked up in the afternoons. And Nancy Pollenski--her daughter, Janet, is a freshman at your school. She and several other ladies from nearby have a carpool as well and…” He stops as she exits and then quickly returns with her purse, fishing out her wallet. She tosses him the plastic card, and he feels as if she is tossing him aside just as easily.
“I hate driving, anyway,” she speaks, monotone.
“And…and you’re grounded for a week,” he reaches, hoping to draw some reaction from her. Grasping at straws and hoping somehow to find a way to punish her. She stares back, glassy eyed, uncaring.
“Are we done?”
He nods, sinking into a nearby chair in defeat, watching her retreating form. Breathing is hard as he wonders if he’ll ever be able to repair his little girl, himself, and their fading relationship.
Let me further explicate, and paint you the background to the scene you’ve just witnessed.
The year is 2010 and Stevie Yzerman is forty-five. Once captain of the Red Wings, now his only title is ‘father.’
The off season has always been difficult for Stevie. Left without the ice, the camaraderie formed on the road, the pressure and competition, and most of all, a team to lead, he has found himself lost at times, but has always found solace in his family.
Hockey had always been such a large part of his life. Others may boast of their ability to leave the sport behind, their ability to see their family as a higher priority. And Stevie has never really put hockey before his family. But he isn’t stupid enough to say that hockey isn’t important to him or a large part of his life. So during the off season, although he has always cherished the extra time he’s been able to spend with his daughters, and extended family and friends, there’s always been a part of him that itched to return to the ice.
Now, in retirement, the off season stretches all year round. This, the off season, is now his life, and while it was hard at first, he has since grown accustomed to the slower pace--its peaks and valleys revolving around his daughters, and not wins and losses. He has changed in many ways, changed his lifestyle, become a regular Mr. Mom. His wife laughed, and then grew frustrated as he tried to “help” her around the house. But now he has learned--learned most of her routines, learned the girls’ routines, his home’s routine, and is more help than hindrance.
Although his career was filled with success, he has known his handful of hardships--struggling through injuries and poor years, and he has known loss. When people look back fondly, they speak of his longevity, of the young man Detroit adopted, and point to the back-to-back championships in the nineties. They remember his courage and strength, and trade stories about his knee in 2002. For every struggle, every set back, he has always managed to rise above it. To solve and fix problems, and if unable to play, give encouraging words and advice from the sidelines.
But that was all on the ice.
He is at home now, sitting and retired, and facing his daughter, not an injured knee, a two game hole in a playoff series, or a burly defenseman. And, unfortunately, he cannot flippantly toss it aside as the usual teenage rebellion or adolescent problems, because he knows it is more than that. He knows, but he doesn’t know how to fix it--fix her.
How unaware he was a year ago that his revelation, his words, would drive the two of them to the breaking point. He never thought he’d find himself here. Never thought he’d barely recognize his daughter. Never thought he’d be sick to his stomach, afraid he was losing his her.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
Headlights flooded the living room, bathing the drapes, and casting silhouettes of every object in the room against the opposite wall. Stevie started, but stopped at the sound of his wife’s voice.
“Why don’t you wait for her to come inside rather than meet her outside in your ratty underwear?”
He half-smiled despite his anger. He smoothed the worn material. “What? I thought you liked these old boxers.”
“Maybe I enjoy the smiley faces, but I doubt Izzy wants to be greeted by them. Especially in front of her friends.”
“I can’t believe you’re worried about her being embarrassed when she’s kept us up all night worried about where she’s been.” He tightened his bathrobe nevertheless.
She shrugged. “You’re going to confront her--be it on the front porch in your underwear, or in the kitchen, or her room. You might as well save a little dignity by not embarrassing yourself and revealing to the world that you’re a fan of Joe Boxer.” She paused, taking a sip of her coffee. “Besides, by not embarrassing her, you’ve given her no ammunition. She certainly can’t get mad at you for screaming at her in front of her friends.”
Stevie kissed her. “I have the smartest wife in the entire world.”
She smiled. “I’ll go make some more coffee and some hot cocoa. I have a feeling it might be a late night.”
She left, and he stood as the front door slowly opened. Isabella, illuminated by the street lights, carried her shoes in her hand. She slowly padded in her socks across the floor and to the stairs. She’d make an awful cat burglar, but rather than amuse him, that thought only made him bristle further.
“Stop right there, young lady.”
Isabella shrieked and dropped her shoes. She whipped her head around in the direction of her father, and as she recognized his features in the semi-dark of the living room, her fear turned to annoyance. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes,” he stressed, “it’s me. Your father. The man who waited up all night for you.” He closed the distance between them quickly.
She rolled her eyes and picked up her shoes. “Well, you shouldn’t have. I was sleeping over at Sara’s house.” She paused, staring at him intensely. Her eyes seemed to bore into his. “I left you a note,” she spat out. “We got in a fight so I came home early. Her mom dropped me off.”
“Oh, she did, did she? Because that’s kind of funny considering how I called her after dinner, and she said neither she nor Sara had seen you all day.” He tried to keep his voice level, but found his tone wavering near the end.
“You were checking up on me!” she cried out, shocked. “I can’t believe you didn’t trust me!” She turned on her heel and ran up the stairs.
Stevie ran after her, grabbing her elbow. “Trust you? Trust you! How am I supposed to do that when everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie?”
“Don’t you ever touch me!” she screamed as she wrenched herself free of his grip.
“Izzy! Isabella!” he called after her as she sprinted to her room. She managed to slam the door in his face, but a moment later he pushed it in with enough force for it to make a loud smack against the wall. “Don’t you dare run away from me when I’m talking to you.”
She looked outraged--half angry, half shocked that he had the audacity to open her door and follow her. “Get out of my room.”
“No, not until we talk about where you--”
“Get out of my room!”
“We are going to talk whether you like it or--”
“It’s my room! Get out of it!”
“It’s my room!” he bellowed. “My house! I paid for it! And since you‘re living in it, you are going to listen to what I have to say.”
“I hate you! I hate you!” She burst into tears and ran into her adjoining bathroom, locking the door behind her.
“Izzy, open up!” He pounded on the paint-slickened door--his fists sounding hollow against it. “Open the door right now! You are in big trouble, young lady!” He beat his fists against the door until they were red and he had come to the conclusion that she wouldn’t open the door no matter how hard he pounded on it. His fists came at slower and softer intervals as his initial anger began to fade. “You are grounded for…” He swallowed, thinking. “You are grounded indefinitely.”
“Daddy, why are you making so much noise?”
He turned to find his youngest daughter standing in the doorframe of the bedroom. His fading anger crumbled completely as he stared at Maria. He sighed and walked towards her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I was just trying… trying to talk to your sister.”
“It sounded more like you were yelling at her.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. Yeah, his mind repeated, as he directed Maria down the hall and back towards her room. He was tired and wanted to go to bed. He didn’t want to deal with Isabella anymore.
“Mommy never yelled at her before.”
Stevie closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to rid his throat of the lump resting uncomfortably in it. “Yeah, I know.” Yeah, the exhausted voice in his head said yet again. Frustration and something else, burned behind his eyes, and he willed the tears back so he could open his eyes once again.
When he did, Maria was already back in bed. “Goodnight, Daddy.”
“Night, Maria.” He flipped the light switch on the way out, and slowly stumbled towards his own bedroom. Lisa was inside, already under the covers.
“I nixed the coffee/cocoa idea. It sounded like Izzy really wouldn’t be up for it. Especially since she holed herself up in her bathroom.”
He cringed and lost the bathrobe, slipping in under the covers. “You heard, I take it?”
“Who didn’t?” she asked, amused.
He let out a deep breath. “Maria… Maria woke up too. She told me you’ve never yelled at Izzy before.”
She kissed his temped and then clucked her tongue. “Oh, Stevie… I’ve yelled at her many times before.” She paused. “Well, maybe not as loudly or with the lovely histrionics, and the extended pounding on the door…”
He groaned and buried his head in his hands. “I messed up big time, didn’t I?”
She smoothed the hair on the back of his head down. “Not the brightest move, but no permanent damage done.” She moved her hand, rubbing his neck and then the top of his shoulder. “Don’t beat yourself up.” She kissed his shoulder as if to reassure him. “Talk to her tomorrow morning. Make amends for the damage to her door, and then explain to her about why you were so upset.”
Stevie lifted his head and stared at her. “But I shouldn’t have to! Isn’t it obvious why I was so upset? She lied to me about where she was going. What if she had gotten hurt? I’d have no idea where she was--no idea at all. She’s so completely selfish! She didn’t even think about me!”
“She wasn’t thinking at all!” he continued, staring across the room and concentrating on the painting on the wall. “Not one bit. And I bet she was sneaking off to see some guy too. Oh God, and what if she’s on drugs? What if she was out buying heroin? I bet that no good guy she sneaked out to see got her hooked on drugs and--”
“Stevie!” He stopped rambling, and actually looked over at Lisa. “First of all, we have no idea if she sneaked out to see a guy at all. And I seriously doubt she’s on drugs.” She smirked and shook her head. “Heroin, Stevie? You think our little girl is on heroin?”
“Well, no,” he grumbled. “But at least if she was, I could fix that. This. This--” he made a flourish with his hand, pointing in the direction of Isabella’s room, “--I can’t handle. She doesn’t talk to me anymore unless we’re in a fight. She’s always lying about where she’s going. She--I mean… She’s my daughter, Lisa… and she won’t even talk to… why won’t…” He choked back a sob. “My own daughter won’t even talk to me anymore.”
“Shhh,” she shushed soothingly. “I know, I know.” He clung to her as she rubbed smooth circles on his back. “It’s okay; she’ll come around. You’ve just got to have faith, Stevie.”
He fell asleep with her arms around him, and her words on his mind.
He kissed the top of Sophia’s head and then refilled her glass of orange juice. “Gotta keep those vitamins up. You’ve got a big soccer game today.” She nodded silently, and drank the glass dutifully.
“I can’t wait,” Maria piped up. “It’s going to be great. I’ll cheer the loudest. I’m your number one fan.”
Stevie bit his lip, then started slowly, “Um, Maria… Sophia’s game is all the way across town. So Mrs. Jacobson is going to pick you and Izzy up from school, and Izzy’s going to babysit you until we get back.” He sighed as he watched her face sink. “You can help her make dinner,” he offered.
“Oh. Great.” She stabbed her eggs with her fork. “I get to spend time with her.”
He debated his answer. “It’ll be fun,” he said finally.
“She hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate you.”
“Yes, she does. She told me.”
“Well, I’m sure she didn’t mean it. You know Izzy… she’s just… really angry right now. So she’s saying a lot of things she doesn’t really mean,” he tried to reassure her, but even he wasn’t so sure. To tell the truth, he wasn’t surprised by her actions. She’d been completely out of control--so out of character with him. It should be no surprise she was acting differently around her sisters.
“Yeah, well, I get angry too. But I don’t tell her I hate her or sneak out of the house without permission.” She stabbed her eggs once again, scraping the metal tines against the ceramic.
He glanced over her head at Lisa, who had one eyebrow raised, as if to say, “She does have a point.”
“Just be good for her today. Try to make things easier for her. She’s having a hard time right now.”
Maria opened her mouth to respond, but bit her lip instead, stabbing her eggs harder.
“Stop that, and eat your eggs.”
“Why? Izzy doesn’t have to.”
It wasn’t even nine yet, and he already had a headache. “Fine. Don’t eat them. I don’t care.”
She blinked. “What?” She stared at him as if he had grown a second head. “You aren’t going to let me get away without eating. I have to eat my breakfast. It’s the best--”
“--way and right way to start the day,” he finished. He grinned. “Yeah, yeah, I know. What was I thinking?”
She smiled and scooped the eggs up. “Eat yours too,” she urged. He chewed the yellow rubbery things and barely managed to choke them down. He was impressed that she was able to do it so easily. “It’s okay, Daddy. You were probably just thinking about Izzy.”
A car honked outside, saving him from possibly breaking down at her words. “That’s the carpool. You girls go grab your backpacks.”
He sat at the table, staring at Maria’s empty seat as he heard their feet running through the house, and eventually out the door, slamming the heavy oak door behind them.
He rose slowly, then began to clear and wash the dishes. The suds washed away any remnants of their breakfast, and he watched them swirl and disappear down the sink before turning on the garbage disposal.
Lisa jumped up on the counter, watching him wash. “I know you’re having problems with Izzy right now, but don’t forget that you have two other beautiful daughters as well.”
“I know. I just had breakfast with them.”
She clucked her tongue as his sarcasm. “I just don’t want Maria to resent all this extra attention you’re giving Izzy.”
“Attention?” he scoffed and dried his hands off on a dish towel. Whether she had intended to or not, her words had put him on the defensive. “So why didn’t you jump in and say something, better-half?”
“Maria already knows I love them all equally. Cut off any one of my five fingers and it’s going to hurt just the same.”
“Oh, and I play favorites?”
She grinned. “Never had a favorite player on your team? Never favored a certain tall dark Irish winger?”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s different. I love all my daughters.”
“I know that. And I’m sure on a good day, she knows that too, but you can’t blame her for wondering or being hurt.”
He nodded. “I suppose.”
She kissed his forehead. “So bring her home an ice cream cone.” She winked. “Bring me one home too.”
He smiled. “You got it.”
She swung and kicked her feet against the cabinets below her. “What’s your plan for the day while I’m out? Brendan stopping by?”
He shrugged noncommittally.
“Ah,” she replied.
“I was going to think about what to say to Izzy. Maybe run it by him. See what he thinks.”
“What?” He eyed her, trying to gauge her reaction.
“Nothing.” Her face matched her answer.
“No, really, what?”
“You think too much.” He laughed, but she held up her hand. “I’m being serious. Less thinking, Stevie, and more talk. It’s obvious she’s upset about this. I mean, this is a huge change in your life--in their lives. In everyone’s lives. Don’t run this by Brendan. I know you love him and value his opinion, but you should be running this by her--not him.”
“What if I say the wrong thing?”
“Didn’t you do that last night?” She smirked and his jaw dropped.
“Hey!” He grabbed the dishtowel and whipped her stomach with it. She yelped and jumped off the counter. He chased her around the kitchen, laughing as she shrieked with each lashing.
She grabbed a spatula from the counter and held it up. “Ha! Now I’ve got a weapon! What are you going to do now, tough man?”
He laughed. “I’m going to--” He stopped suddenly as she put the spatula down, and smoothed her hair, staring down at her feet. He glanced over at the door frame. “Izzy,” he breathed. Time seemed to slow down as he stared at her. Her eyes were wide, and the look of hurt so evident on his face that it gave him a stomach ache, and all he could do was stare, unable to breathe, let alone speak.
He didn’t have to as she ran from the room and out the door, not bothering to even shut it, such was her rush. He dropped the dish towel and ran after her, catching the van as it was pulling out of the driveway. Mrs. Pollenski smiled when she saw him, stopping, and lowering her window.
“Morning, Stevie. How are you?”
“Uh.. Good. Morning, Nancy.” He maneuvered his head around her, seeing Izzy in the back, hunched up in her seat. Even though he wanted to drag her back into the house and sit her down and make her talk to him, Lisa’s words rang true in his head, and he swallowed, promising himself that he wouldn’t embarrass her. “Izzy, sweetie, don’t forget that you’re making dinner tonight…” She didn’t answer, and he gave Mrs. Pollenski a half-smile. “Great, Izzy. See you later. Bye, Nancy.”
He watched the van pull away, and grow smaller and smaller. It seemed that any hopes of talking and getting through to Izzy grew just as small, as he watched it disappear around the corner.
“Great game today, sweetie.” Sophia sat in the front seat, decked out in her home green jersey, sporting a new scrape on her knee, complete with a yellow band-aid to match the one over her eyebrow. While she battled on the soccer field, he had battled himself, deliberating over what to say to Izzy after dinner. The hurt was still fresh in his chest and he feared her rejection. He had never feared anything on the ice--never backed down from anything--yet the only thing that was keeping him from running away from this confrontation was the thought of a stern lecture from Lisa.
“You did real good,” he continued. “And I bet both your sisters wish they could have been there. Are you hungry? I know I’m starving. I wonder what Izzy made. Probably something good, huh?” He rambled until they pulled into the garage. He grabbed her gear while she ran into the house to wash up.
“Izzy, what’s for dinner?” he called, inside. He dropped the duffel bag and sniffed the air, perplexed. “Izzy?”
He walked into the kitchen, greeted by his youngest decked out in an apron. “I made sandwiches, Daddy.”
“I made sandwiches, Daddy. Peanut butter and jelly for me and Sophia. I was just about to make you one.” She smiled, holding up the butter knife.
“Maria, where’s your sister?”
“I made sandwiches,” she began again, and he left the room before she could continue, taking the stairs two at a time, following the loud music to the end of the hallway.
He pushed the door open, finding Isabella sprawled out on the bed and staring at the ceiling. “Why is your sister downstairs making sandwiches?”
She shrugged. “Probably because she was hungry.”
“Funny. Ha ha.” He walked over to the stereo, flipping it off.
“I was listening to that!” she protested.
“You were supposed to be making dinner.”
She rolled her eyes. “Jesus, what am I? Your slave?”
“No. I don’t think you’re my slave. I didn’t realize that dinner was that hard to make. I didn’t think it was that difficult for you to make dinner for once! How hard is it to throw something together?” She pursed her lips together and stared right through him. He let out a noise, exasperated. He picked up a few of the magazines that littered the ground and threw them on the bed. “Is this what you’ve been doing all day? Reading those stupid things? Your sister just got home from a soccer game and she’s hungry. I’m hungry. And you were supposed to make dinner.” He paused, but she refused to acknowledge him--a total stone wall. “This is a family. We work as a team; we all have to pitch in. And so far you’ve done shit,” he spat out. “I ask you to do one thing and--”
“And what do you do all day?” she screamed, rising from the bed. Involuntarily, he took a step back at her outburst. “You do nothing all day! Why couldn’t you make dinner?”
“I do plenty. I--”
“No, you don’t! You don’t have a job. You aren’t a hockey player anymore. You aren’t the captain of the Red Wings anymore!”
He clenched his fist into a tight ball. “My job is taking care of this family.”
She laughed bitterly and flopped back down on the bed. “Yeah, and you’re doing a great job, Dad. Real stand up job.”
“I’m trying. I’m trying!” He cried out, frustrated. It didn’t seem to matter what he said to her, or how he said it. They always ended up fighting.
“You aren’t trying that hard.”
“What more do you want from me? What? I’m doing the best I can.” His voice was gravelly to his own ears--the sound of frustration and anger, but through it all he was pleading with her. Pleading with her to understand, or better, to tell him what he could do to make things better between the two of them.
“It’s not good enough.” Her voice was low and soft, but she’d hit her target and he slumped against her bookcase, sliding down slowly until he reached the floor.
“What? What do you want me to do?” And now his voice was no longer harsh or loud, just as quiet as hers, and the pleading he’d been striving for earlier sounded strained against his ears. He was afraid if he kept speaking his words would break in his mouth before they ever left it.
“I don’t know.”
He wished she would cry. He wished he could hear the tears behind her voice. He wished for anything besides the quiet resignation in her voice, as if she had already accepted that things would always be like this.
“I don’t…” she started, struggling with the words, and maybe herself. Stevie bit his lip, silently willing her to find the words. “I don’t want Brendan coming over to the house anymore.”
“Oh.” How could a word so tiny be so hard to say?
“I don’t ever want to see him again.”
“I thought…” he cleared his throat. “I thought you liked Brendan.”
“That was before. It hurts now to see him.”
Before. She said things so simply, and he wished they were that simple. He wanted her life to be that simple again.
He wanted his life to be that simple again. But he didn’t choose this life. It certainly wasn’t his choice. Despite his love for his daughter, and wanting to do things to make things right between them again, he also didn’t want to lose Brendan. He needed to make her understand how important it was for him to keep Brendan in his life.
“I know, sweetie,” he started slowly. He swallowed. How could he make her understand? “But, Izzy, Brendan is my--”
“Fine!” she barked. “Do whatever the hell you want. I don’t care.” She rolled over onto her side, facing the wall instead of him.
“Izzy, that’s not what I meant… I understand how you feel, but I need Bren--”
“Go away!” she managed over her tears, and he wanted to snatch back whatever wish he had before. More over, he wanted to snatch her up in his arms, and rock her back and forth until she stopped crying altogether, like he had when she was a baby.
He rose and moved towards her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” she cried, jerking away and wrapping her arms around her. “Just don’t! I don’t want you. I want my mom!”
He withdrew his hand, closing it and drawing it close to his chest. He watched her cry, holding his hand as if it were wounded to his chest, and cradling the hope that things wouldn’t always be this bad.
Later, when he walked downstairs, he found his peanut butter sandwich lying on the counter. Sophia was on the computer and Maria was watching tv. Uninterested in eating, he threw the sandwich in the trash and made his way to his office.
He dialed Brendan’s number and poured out vague details of the night’s events. He sighed, and listened to Brendan’s words, and exhausted he hung up the phone and leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes for a moment.
He woke up hours later, and exiting his office, found that Maria and Sophia had already been ushered to bed. He climbed the stairs, stopped briefly outside Isabella’s door, breathing deeply, but eventually just continued along the hallway to his bedroom.
He found Lisa sitting on the bed, rubbing her feet. “Hey, sleepy head. You looked so exhausted, I decided to let you sleep.” He smiled wearily. “I told you that soft couch was perfect for your office.”
“Yeah.” He sat on his side of the bed, slumping against the headboard.
“Hmm, looks like you need a massage more than I do. I swear, you’d think that since they were praising us for our commitment to the community, they’d at least let us sit down.” She sighed, shaking her head. “The ladies at the banquet missed you dearly, but when I told them you were driving Sophia to her soccer game, they were very impressed.” She smiled, but then faltered. “Stevie, you’ve only said one word since you came in here.”
He closed his eyes.
He wiped at his eyes. “Did you talk to her?”
She kissed his forehead, and then pulled him closer to her. He curled against her, resting his head on her shoulder while she ran her fingers through his hair. Time seemed to pass more slowly, but more softly, and her hands made his memories of the night less harsh.
After what seemed like forever, she whispered, “She’s just upset. She knows how much you need Brendan.”
“I didn’t… I didn’t plan any of this. It wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t my choice,” he repeated.
“So why… why should I be punished? I mean, why should I have to tell Brendan he can’t come over to the house anymore? Am I just being selfish? Am I, Lisa?”
She took a deep breath.
“I just don’t understand why she hates him so much. I don’t understand why she doesn’t want to see him anymore. He’s still the same Brendan. Nothing’s changed.”
“Oh, Stevie,” she breathed. “She doesn’t hate him. Just like she doesn’t hate Maria. And he is the same, but… things are different now. He may be the same Brendan as before, but… that was before, Stevie. She sees him differently. She sees him as someone… someone moving in on her family,” she tried to put delicately.
“What?” Stevie pulled away. “But…but Brendan’s always been a part of this family. He’s my best friend and--”
“Shhh,” she said as she put her fingers up to his lips. “Why don’t we just try to sleep?”
He nodded, but turned suddenly at the sound of a lock catching. He saw the door close, and stood up to check it out. He opened it in time to hear another door close as well. He swallowed, staring at the plaque that said, “Isabella’s Room.”
He brushed his teeth and then climbed into bed, knowing that he would talk to Brendan the next day.
“Hey, Steve-o.” Stevie opened the door, and let Brendan into the kitchen. Brendan dumped two shopping bags onto the counter.
“Hey, Brendan. What’s this?” he asked, fingering the paper bags.
“Brought you some groceries.”
“I don’t need you to buy me groceries. I’m capable of shopping.”
Brendan held up his hands, palms facing Stevie. “Hey, I know that. Just thought that… you might be missing some things,” he finished lamely.
Stevie grinned wryly. “Right.” He peeked into one of the bags. “I do, however, compliment you on your choice in chips.”
“I have great taste,” Brendan shot back as he began to put the groceries away. “So how are you doing?” he asked, head halfway in the cupboard.
Brendan pulled his head out. “No, really, Stevie. How are you doing?”
Brendan cocked his head and stared until Stevie blinked.
“Not so good.”
Brendan nodded, and then clapped him on the back, leading him over to the kitchen table. “Did you talk to her after we hung up?”
Stevie shook his head. “No, I fell asleep.”
“You fell asleep?” Brendan studied him. “Are you having problems sleeping again?” Stevie shook his head. “Stevie, you can tell me if you--”
“I’m not, okay?” he said forcefully. He rubbed the side of his face. “Yesterday was just a long day.” Brendan licked his lips and swallowed, waiting for Stevie to continue. “I didn’t tell you everything about our fight last night.”
“I figured.” Brendan shrugged.
“Izzy doesn’t… doesn’t want you coming by the house anymore. She doesn’t want to see you again.” Brendan’s jaw dropped, his eyes widening in disbelief. “She just--”
“Lisa--I mean, I think it’s because she sees you as someone moving in our family…”
Brendan coughed. “That’s ridiculous. I mean, I’m just--”
“I’ve been trying to make things easier.” Brendan blinked rapidly, then turned, facing the window. “I know this has been hard on you Stevie. You and the girls and… But this… this doesn’t just affect them. It affects me, it affects Catherine, it affects the twins. And--” his voice broke, and he swallowed. “I’ve been trying to help… to make things easier for you, but every time that I rush off, or come over here, it… it puts a strain on my relationship with Cathy.
“And.. And now you’re telling me not to come over anymore?”
“No, no!” Stevie rushed.
“It’s been a year, Stevie and…” Brendan stared at the popcorn ceiling, and Stevie looked up as well, wondering if Brendan was seeing something that he wasn’t. “I know this isn’t about me. That she doesn’t really hate me and never wants to see me again. But it still hurts to be told not to come over here, or that she doesn’t want me to come over, or that she sees me as a threat--someone moving in on her family, trying to change things.
“I didn’t… I mean, I’m not the one responsible for breaking up her family. I’m not the bad guy here.”
Stevie’s face crumpled in his hands. “I know that. I know it’s not your fault.” He looked up and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “Which is why I still want you to come over.”
Brendan closed his eyes, sighing and shook his head. “I know you don’t mean that.”
“Yes, yes, I do. I--”
Brendan stopped him. “No, I know you mean that, but… your family is so important to you. Your girls--they’re all you have. And I really think you need to focus on your relationship with Izzy. If my staying away while you talk to her makes things easier then that’s what we’ll have to do. I think…” he said slowly, “I think, by the way she asked… it’s just seeing me. I mean,” he laughed sardonically, “it’s not like she told you that you were never allowed to see me again.”
“No, only fathers are allowed to say that to their daughters; it doesn’t work the other way.” The sarcasm tasted bitter on his tongue. He reached across the table and grasped Brendan’s hand. “You’re important to me too, you know.” He squeezed. “I need you.”
“I know. And I’m here for you, day or night. You just have to call.” He smiled, and Stevie studied him for a moment. “It’s okay, Stevie. I was just caught off guard, hurt for a moment. I’m okay now.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t know how you deal with it. I mean, I have Catherine and the twins, and you…”
Stevie smiled. “I talk to Lisa.” He pulled his hand back and folded it on his lap with the other.
“Really?” he asked, surprised. Stevie nodded, and Brendan stared at him, studying his brown eyes--searching. They sat in silence until, “Blah, I need a beer.”
Stevie laughed. “I only have soda, unless you bought some at the store.”
“See?” Brendan said, wagging his finger at him. “I told you that you’d be missing things.” Stevie tossed him a soda from the fridge. “So what are the plans for Memorial Day weekend?”
Memorial Day weekend. That was next weekend. He’d forgotten, almost, but not quite completely. For years, he and the family had always tried to make their way up to the lake, for a weekend of swimming, boating, and hot dogs. Since his retirement they’d been able to visit far more often--whenever the girls were on vacation from school--and it had become somewhat of a tradition. Lisa had orchestrated the whole thing; well, Stevie had planned the first disaster, but since then, she had organized the rest, and each time had been fun and memorable.
Stevie had been tempted to forego the whole trip because of Isabella, but Brendan had convinced him that the tradition was a good thing--that he could use the vacation. Further, he had convinced Stevie that it would be good for Izzy--something stable to remind her that not everything had changed.
Brendan had even sweetened the deal by promising to take his family up to the lake as well. They could spend the weekend together, the two families, he had said, and while it had seemed like the perfect idea at the time, and had ultimately sealed Stevie’s decision to make the trip, Stevie could now only hear his daughter’s pleas from the night before echoing in his head.
Stevie shrugged. “I don’t know. Maria’s looking forward to it. Been bouncing off the walls.” He grinned, thinking about her. “But Izzy… we haven’t really talked about it, but I don’t think she’s exactly thrilled. Her friend, Sara… her mom said that Izzy could stay with them during the trip.”
“Does Izzy want to skip the trip?”
Stevie shook his head. “I don’t know. I haven’t--”
“--talked to her,” Brendan finished. “You two really need to do that, you know.”
“Have you thought about therapy? I know a guy. That might be really good for the two of you,” he offered.
Quietly, “I can fix this.”
“I know you think that, but--”
“I can fix this.” Brendan had no reply to the sound of steely resolve in Stevie’s voice.
The front door opened and the two of them stood up. Isabella walked into the kitchen, grabbing a soda, oblivious to them until she turned and reached for a glass. She sucked in a breath, staring at Brendan.
“Izzy?” Stevie asked.
“Minimum day,” she breathed, barely audible.
“I should go,” Brendan spoke up, his voice sounding so loud after her. It blared in Stevie’s ears. “Bye, Stevie.” He took a step towards him, but stopped, hesitating, before finally hugging him. He gripped Stevie’s shoulders, telling him through his touch to talk to his daughter before it was too late, before the distance was too great.
When he pulled away, Isabella was gone.
“I better go talk to her,” Stevie started. “Today wasn’t, um… a minimum day.”
Brendan nodded, saying goodbye one last time before letting himself out.
He didn’t find her in her room, but rather in his. She stood at the vanity, and he sat on the edge of the bed, watching her.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking at Mom’s makeup and perfume,” came her cool reply. He stared at her reflection, trying to see his little girl. Where had she gone?
“Do you… do you do that often?”
Her hands, closed around two glass perfume bottles, opened suddenly, and they flailed across the counter. She turned around. “You mean, ‘how often do you skip school?’”
He nodded. “Yeah. That too.”
She lifted herself up onto the counter and sat on the smooth surface. “I don’t know. I don’t exactly plan it.”
“I didn’t plan this either, Isabella,” he began. His voice already sounded wet with the onset of tears. “I didn’t choose this life. So I don’t know why you’re punishing me--”
“You, you, you! Just stop. This isn’t about you; this is about me,” she cried out. “Me,” she said, hoarsely. “You remember me, right? Your daughter.”
“Of course, I…” he struggled with his words, confused. “Izzy, I just don’t understand…”
“You never do. You just… you shut yourself off in your own little world where everything is perfect and you take Sophia to practice and Maria shopping, and you…you just want me to be this perfect little daughter and smile, but I’m not.” She slammed the palm of her hand against the countertop. “I’m not!”
“I don’t want some perfect daughter. I want you, Izzy. It’s just… you’ve changed so much. Where did my little Izzy go? We don’t--”
She screamed, throwing one of the perfume bottles against the wall behind him. He ducked, covering his head with his hands as the glass shattered and Lisa’s perfume filled his nose. His mouth opened and shut like a fish, and she began to cry.
“Of course, I’ve changed! But I’m still your daughter… I’m still your daughter.”
She cried with such force that it seemed even her sobs hurt her. He wanted to comfort her, but was rooted in place. Stuck on the floral patterned comforter, surrounded by pieces of glass and the smell of his wife’s perfume.
“I know,” was all he could manage.
“If you know then why…” She wrung her hands, and then wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt.
“Is this about Brendan?”
“No, oh God, no,” she moaned. “I mean… maybe. Maybe, yes. It’s about him. It’s about the kids at school. It’s about our neighbors.” She leaned back against the mirror, shaking. She closed her eyes. “It’s about you…it’s about me. It’s about us.”
“What about us?”
“I--I--” She swallowed, struggling to calm, and finally she stopped shaking. She wiped her eyes, then opened them. “I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered, and Stevie felt something inside him break. “I’m… I’m so afraid of losing you.”
Stevie smiled through his tears. “You aren’t going to lose me, Izzy. I’m--”
“Shut up,” she screamed, throwing another perfume bottle over his head. It exploded, and so did he, standing up. “I am. I am!”
She was hysterical and he took a step towards her. “Stop it,” he tried to reprimand sternly, but he was afraid his voice sounded as hysterical as hers. “Stop it. Don’t throw your mother’s--”
“No,” she said, pointing at him. “You stop it. Stop acting like nothing’s wrong. Stop pretending. Stop living in your own little dream world!”
He opened his mouth but nothing came out.
“Wake up. Wake up, Dad,” she screamed “I need you. We need you.”
His legs felt weak, and dumbly, he sat on the carpet, clutching the end table next to the bed. The room spun faster the louder she screamed, and it was like he was at amusement park. He was on some ride, and the whirring was in his ears, and children were screaming in delight.
“This family is falling apart. We need a father. I mean, Maria--Maria! She acts as if nothing happened. And Sophia! Sophia doesn’t talk anymore. Or hadn’t you noticed? She doesn’t say anything! And, you, Dad… I hear you. I hear you!”
“Hear me what?” he gasped. He couldn’t breathe. The spinning, the g-forces were pushing all the oxygen out of his lungs, and all he had left inside him was that constant whirring inside his head.
“I hear you…” She choked back a sob so she could continue. “I hear you talking to her. To Mom. Don’t think I don’t hear you.”
Stevie dropped his head in his hands. The lump in his throat was in full force, and he took gasping breaths, trying to suck in air. “And?” His eyes burned and his mouth felt like it was filled with cotton.
“And she’s dead!”
His fingers ran across the soft wood of the end table, finding their way to the knob of the drawer. They slipped inside, feeling the sparse contents. The drawer was more empty space than anything, but his fingers deftly found the items anyway. The cool smooth metal, and soft, worn newspaper clippings. The first article had been small, barely a blurb on page twenty three, and that had been the one he had kept--not the longer ones that recounted her accomplishments, and beloved traits. The other clippings were merely coupons to the store.
He rolled the small circle of metal between his fingers and then shut the drawer, not needing the clippings to remind him of that night. They only told one moment, and one side. He needed his own memories to delve into the other seconds of the night. He was certain it played out slower in reality, but in his mind the moments blurred and ran into one another at a sickening pace. Laughter echoed in his mind, and cries for more tortilla chips from his best friend, and the pleas from his own lips burned his tongue still. His heart lurched, wishing to take them back now, but at the time he had no clue some random man from Ohio would be barreling along the road.
He hadn’t noticed how long she’d been gone until Brendan asked where the tortilla chips were. By then they’d already arrived at his door, and things became hazy as his emotions became more heightened. His sight blurred and he could no longer taste the salt from the salsa, but the ache in his chest became more prominent. The night was spent making a series of phone calls, the dial tone a permanent ring in his ears. Brendan handled half the calls, and he was forever grateful to him. Sometimes he wished Brendan had handled it all; he wished he could pass it all off to his best friend. They were selfish moments, no doubt, but he imagined that if he could, he would without a second thought.
Those moments seemed to extend as the weeks went on, especially as he thought back to that night and having to watch his daughters’ faces as he uttered the words to break the news. Maria slept in the closet that night.
He stared across the room, at the open closet. He could still see her huddled form brushing against Lisa’s skirts.
Isabella sat in front of him, wide eyed, red faced, and quiet. His choking sobs drowned out all other sound.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally.
“I can’t lose you too.” And she wasn’t the class-ditching, grades-slipping, pot smoking, rebellious teen; she was nine and holding his hand, and staring at the Stanley Cup.
He nodded, head heavy, and eyes blinking back memories from a lifetime ago. “Is that why… is that why you’ve been so angry with me?”
Her eyes were wet and he didn’t need her to say anything, but she did. “When you talk to her, sometimes, I think I’ve already lost you. And I need you, Dad.”
I need you too, his mind replied, but that wasn’t what she needed to hear. He took in a shaky breath. “Bren-Brendan knows someone I can talk to.”
She nodded, and she lurched forward, and stupidly, he was afraid she was falling even though she was already sitting so he let out a moan of surprise when her arms gripped his sides in a haphazard hug. He held her clumsily; she felt broken in his arms. It was awkward and his back hurt, but his chest hurt more as he tried to remember the last time they had hugged. She clung to him and he was afraid the skin over her knuckles would split and bleed, and tears slipped down his face again when she finally relaxed against him, and loosened her grip.
Minutes, hours, or maybe years passed and apologetically she began, “I--I didn’t really mean what I said about Brendan.” He kissed the top of her head. “I know he’s your best friend and he’s been here for you through all of this. I just--just wanted to take something away from you. You--” her voice cracked. “You still had Mom. But I didn’t. It didn’t seem fair that you had her and your best friend too.”
“I thought that maybe it had to do with you feeling as if he was moving in--replacing her.”
She nodded against his shoulder. “Maybe that too.” She sniffed. “He’s always over trying to help out. Bringing dinner or offering to take Maria and Sophia to the zoo. He puts his feet on the coffee table. And he smiles too widely.”
Inexplicably, he began to laugh, and she joined in, shaking against him. When they quieted, they remained like that for some time. It had been a while since their silence hadn’t been angry.
“You said it hurt to see him,” he prodded.
“He asked for tortilla chips,” she said simply.
He swallowed. “I asked for them too.”
“I know. Sometimes it hurts to look at you too.” She shifted, pulling away from him. “I still love you though. I always will. Brendan too. Even if I sometimes…”
“He was supposed to bring the chips. He always brings the chips.”
“I know it wasn’t his fault. It’s just easier sometimes to think like that.” She blinked and he reached between them, grabbing her hand.
“Sometimes it’s easier to pretend I can still talk to her.”
She reached out suddenly, again, and hugged him. He smoothed the back of her hair down. “Promise me you’ll talk to me before things get this bad from now on. I‘m here for you, Izzy; I love you.”
Her promise muffled itself against his shoulder, and his shirt became a second skin, wet and warm and stuck to him.
He closed his eyes and gripped her tighter.
Loss doesn’t come with an instructional booklet. Silence the way for some, denial for others, and some speak to thin air. When reality is harsh and everything is hard, the easiest way out is often the most appealing.
Sometimes a man needs one more conversation. A little more advice, one last kiss… never quite enough, he seeks more until he finds himself talking to her every day. When love is strong sometimes it’s easy to hear her talking back.
And he continues, unaware it is these conversations, these pretendings that are driving his own daughter away. At first, jealous that her mother really is appearing, but only for her father and never for her; and then angry that he lives in his own perfect dream life while she drowns in her own nightmare; and all the while sick with the fear that she has lost her father as well. So she tries to get his attention, to draw him back into her world. She gets into arguments, skips school, and then as the months pass and nothing changes, she forgets it was all a game, and angry and upset falls into a deeper spiral.
Each fears for the other, and in the end, they save each other.
Only in the Twilight Zone?
Maybe in Michigan too.
Light glares off the water’s surface, blinding him momentarily, and his eyes water. He squints, blinking rapidly, staring at the horizon. The mountains rise along the sides of the lake, stretching and painting the sky.
A reflection flickers across the water, but then it is gone, and he is saying goodbye as the sun sinks deeper into the water, hissing slightly.
He sighs, turning. Turning towards girlish shrieks and laughter.
The flames of the fire flicker and dance as they hold their marshmallows over them. Stuffing their mouths with the gooey mess, he glances over at his best friend. His friend kisses his wife, and shares a s’more, and he smiles nevertheless, happy to see his friend enamored after all these years.
His youngest follows the twins around, crooning, pretending she is a mother already, and not a makeshift babysitter.
And he sits, eating a s’more, next to his daughter.
She’s laughing, and he thinks it’s the most beautiful sound in the world.