All I Know So Far
“Good to see you, Katherine. Please, come in.”
“I’m glad you had time, Eric.”
“Of course. Gracie, say hi to Katherine.”
“Let’s sit in the dining room.”
I show her the way, knowing well how completely unnecessary it is. Not much has changed since we held Freya’s 12th birthday here a couple of months ago. There’s a knot in my stomach. Katherine had only said that we needed to talk. She promised that it wasn’t bad news, but I’m worried. She didn’t want to discuss it over the phone.
“Hi Grace! Oh, she’s gotten so big! Can I hold her?”
I study Katherine as she lavishes attention on my youngest daughter. Her smile, the usual faint glimmer of sadness in her eyes when she looks at Grace.
I clear my throat, eager to get to the point of her visit.
“I was home any way – my partner Aarav is running the clinic alone for the week while Cecilia is helping her brother move to Henford. After their mother died… even though they were divorced, her father took it hard, so Leonard is moving over there.”
“I’m sorry to hear. I spoke to Cecilia’s family briefly at your wedding, they all seemed so nice.”
“Yeah. Cecilia said she’d prefer not to have Grace there with all the chaos and grief, so we decided I should stay home.”
Katherine nods. Then she smiles at me and places her hand on the table. The ring is enormous.
“Eric… Conrad proposed. We’re getting married.”
I put my hand on hers.
“That’s great, Katherine! Congratulations, I’m happy for you both.”
I try to sound cheerful, but she and Conrad have lived together for years. She didn’t come just to tell me that, and I’m still anxious.
“Thanks… but that’s why I needed to talk to you. About Freya.”
Grace picks up on the sudden shift in mood. Katherine’s smile fades a little as she reluctantly lets my squirming daughter down.
“Katherine, is everything OK?”
“Yes, nothing’s wrong – Conrad has been offered a lead role in a television series. It’s a huge opportunity, especially this late in his career… and he wants me to move with him. To Del Sol Valley.”
I feel my breath catch in my chest.
“Oh. What about Freya?”
“Well, I don’t want to take her away from her school and everything she knows, or from you and her sister. So I was wondering… maybe she could live with you for a while?”
The relief washes over me.
“Really? I mean, of course! I would love for her to live here, are you kidding me? But – will you be OK without her?”
“I will miss her like crazy. And I’ll travel back to visit when I can, and she can visit us, of course… but I’m turning 50 soon. And Freya is almost a teenager, and as you well know, she’s a handful. I can’t keep up with her.”
“I… dammit, Eric, I would like to just be in love and enjoy life and lounge by the pool while my sexy husband serves me margaritas before I get too old. Is that too much to ask?”
I can’t help but laugh.
“I’m a horrible mother.”
“No, Katherine. You’re a great mother.”
I pull her up.
“Listen, not only did you give me our daughter, you raised her almost by yourself for years while I was completely useless. It’s only fair that I take over for a while so you can be the irresponsible one for once. And nothing would make me happier than having Freya here full time. I’ll talk to Cecilia first, of course, but I’m sure she’ll agree.”
“Thank you, Eric.”
“No, thank you.”
“Come on, Gracie! You almost got there! You just need to try again!”
Underneath her, Grace was laughing, lying flat on the ground.
“But Freya, I can’t hold on! I’m not strong like you!”
“You’ll get stronger! Try again!”
I watched the girls as Grace made another attempt across the monkey bars.
“Girls, go wash your hands, dinner’s almost ready.”
“In a minute, dad! Grace is almost across this time!”
“Hey, dinner time. That goes for you too, Miss Author. “
“It’s Mrs. to you, darling.”
“Oh, I’m aware.”
I kissed her, enjoying our brief moment alone before the girls came back inside.
The sudden hiss of boiling water hitting a stove came from the kitchen.
“Shit, the pasta.”
I stalked to the kitchen while my wife giggled and went to set the table.
Freya inhaled her food in minutes, then asked to be excused. Samuel was coming over for their usual homework routine. Cecilia let her go.
As Samuel arrived, on time as always, waving awkwardly before they went upstairs, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more between them.
Born just weeks apart, they had been friends forever, and grew especially close when Freya moved back permanently a few years ago.
Now they were 16 and still spent hours together almost every day, either here or at Kailani and Colten’s house. I wasn’t even sure Freya had other friends – apart from her various team mates, but they rarely visited.
I had barely finished helping Grace with her homework before I heard the sound of feet walking quickly down the stairs. I caught a brief glimpse of Samuel as he shut the door behind him without saying goodbye.
Worried, I went upstairs and knocked on Freya’s door.
“Freya? Samuel just left, what happened?”
“Go away, dad!“
Her voice was hoarse. I could always tell when she was trying not to cry.
“Honey, I’m coming in.”
There was no reply.
I slowly opened the door. Freya was on her bed, crying. I sat down next to her.
“Hey, monkey, talk to me. What happened, did you guys have a fight?”
She wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
I saw her glancing at the picture on her nightstand.
“Well, I think we should talk about it. Because Samuel won’t be welcome in this house if he makes my favourite monkey cry.”
The briefest of smiles flashed across her face, but then the tears continued.
“It’s so embarrassing. He… he tried to kiss me.”
Shit. I wasn’t prepared for that. I mean, I had suspected that these things were coming, but it still felt sudden. I waited for her to continue.
“And then I pushed him away and he just said sorry and left. And now I don’t know if we’re even friends anymore!”
“I’m sorry, monkey. Maybe try to talk to him tomorrow, when you’ve both calmed down a little?”
“But he wanted to kiss me, dad! If he likes me and I just want us to be friends, it’s going to ruin everything!”
I was way out of my depth. I looked at my daughter. Strong-willed, capable, sensitive. She was so like myself and yet there was a lot of Katherine in her. I didn’t know how to help her.
And so I just sat with her for a while, until she asked me to leave so she could finish her homework.
Samuel stopped visiting us. I spoke to Kailani, but we agreed to let them figure it out themselves. Still, it was hard to watch. Freya wasn’t at all her usual, fiery self.
She had always had quite the temper. I stubbornly claimed that she must have gotten it from Katherine, but I knew that my own temper had been terrible as well, at least before I learned to control it.
It wasn’t too bad when she was younger, but the older she got, the worse her tantrums had become. Like Katherine, she could be glorious in her fury if she felt that something was unfair. But after losing her friendship with Samuel, she became despondent.
Normally, I’d be happy that my teenage daughter was this easy to get along with, but Freya’s lack of snarky comebacks was worrying. She never argued with me, but she also never laughed.
She barely even smiled, except when spending time with either Grace, our boxer, Daisy, or the new cat, Turtle.
The house had felt too empty with just old Mimi left, so we had gotten them to replace Cooper and Zoe.
I knew from experience how helpful pets could be when everything seemed hard to deal with, so I was glad that Freya had bonded so quickly with Daisy, but I was still starting to get worried. Maybe she had inherited my tendency towards depressive episodes? Something needed to change.
“I’m going to bed, goodnight.”
“Freya, I know that you don’t want to talk about it, but I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine, dad. Just leave me alone.”
“OK, fine, I get that you don’t want to talk to me, but do you want to talk to your mother, then? Maybe go visit her for a while?”
She turned on me, her voice suddenly dripping with bitterness.
“Oh, so you can once again get rid of me when I’m too much trouble? Like mom did so she could be alone while fucking Conrad? Or like you did when I was little so you could fuck, well, everyone?”
For a moment, I was speechless. Shock, anger and shame were all fighting to take the lead.
“Freya, what the…”
She wiped her eyes and started turning away.
“FREYA! YOU WILL STAY THE FUCK HERE UNTIL I’M DONE TALKING TO YOU!”
She froze, her eyes wide. I had never yelled at her like that before.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. Then I spoke through gritted teeth.
“Talk to me. Now.“
For a moment, neither of us spoke. Freya glared at a spot on the floor, blinking away tears.
I took another deep breath. I felt the connection to my daughter floating in the air like a faint line, thin as a hair. One wrong move from either of us and it could snap.
My anger dissipated.
“Freya, honey, that was out of line. And so was I. I’m sorry for yelling. You need to tell me what is going on, because I am trying to help you. Why would you think I could ever want to get rid of you?”
And then, finally, she started talking. About how I had never wanted her in the first place, that she was an accident. How she had ruined my life and how no one could ever love her. Everyone just kept leaving her – me, her mother, Samuel.
I was devastated. I tried to sort through the half-truths and misunderstandings, to explain to her how loved she was. I explained that I had to let her go when she was little because I was being a terrible father, and how happy I had been when she moved back in four years ago.
I wanted to be completely honest with her. I told her how much I was struggling during the first seven years of her life. With depression, with alcohol abuse. How I had been trying to run away, not from her but from myself, from the guilt of feeling inadequate as her father.
She was quiet through it all, tears slowly rolling down her cheeks.
“Freya. I love you and Gracie more than anything. You girls are my life. And you were there first. I’m sorry that I wasn’t ready when you arrived, but that was not your fault. Your mother and I made a lot of mistakes, but you are the one thing we ever got right. I’ve done my best to catch up, to be the dad you deserve -“
I stopped, my voice breaking.
Freya stepped closer and clung to me like she was drowning. I held her tight.
“I love you, monkey. Forever and always.”
“I love you too, dad.”
I’m pissed a bit. Where’d she get that info about her fucking the nurses? She should have been too young. Katherine…? Did she overhear some grown people talk?
There’s definitely been stuff she overheard. But rumours are often worse than the truth, so Freya may think it was much worse than it was.
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Bad as it was that he got mad i also kinda mad she mouthed off like that. But my gosh that was so funny seeing both their reactions like wtf?