Just Like Fire
The year I turned 42 was also the year we lost my mother. My father soon followed her, just as he always had in life.
They had been inseparable through everything – demanding careers, the loss of my brother, all of my problems – for almost 45 years. And now, not even death could keep them apart for long.
I was shattered. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without Cecilia. I could only hope to get 45 years by her side as well.
I tried to keep it together for the girls who were also grieving.
Freya took it the hardest, of course.
She had known them for much longer than Grace, and had always been close with her grandparents. And she was already dealing with a lot.
At least something good came out of it. Samuel came over to comfort her, although things were a little awkward between them at first.
But their life-long friendship won in the end, and it actually seemed like they finally made up.
I don’t know if they ever discussed that fateful evening a few years ago, when he revealed his true feelings, but I was glad that she at least had the comfort of a friend.
Samuel always had a gift for cheering Freya up. It didn’t take long before he dramatically pretended to lose his balance, pushed her over and fell to the floor, flailing wildly, as they both laughed.
He would always do whatever it took to see her smile again.
I was happy that she had Samuel in her life. He was a good kid.
Very different from his older brother, Charlie. Whenever I felt challenged by my girls, I reminded myself that it could be much worse.
Charlie had been getting into all sorts of trouble for years, but it all came to a head a few months ago. He had been arrested at a rave while playing a gig with his band, and they found drugs on him.
Colten and Kailani had done their best, bailing him out and begging him to change before it was too late. But it was no use, Charlie had walked out in anger and they hadn’t heard from him since.
He hadn’t always been like that. Although he’d never exactly been the teacher’s pet, Charlie had still been a good big brother to Samuel, and he had often included Freya as well. Charlie and one of his band mates had even accompanied her to get her first tattoo when she turned 18, for moral support.
I knew Colten and Kailani often blamed that particular band mate, Calvin or Caleb or something, for always getting Charlie in trouble.
I had no idea if he was really the one to blame, though. Charlie had always been pretty wild. But I’d only met the band mate once and for some reason he gave me the creeps.
I was secretly relieved that Charlie wasn’t around anymore. I knew Freya had always found his oddly coloured eyes and rebellious attitude fascinating and I didn’t want her to get involved in whatever he was doing.
So compared to Colten and Kailani, I had it easy as a parent. But even though Freya was ridiculously talented, she still struggled with her self-worth. Confidence, she had. She knew exactly what she was capable of. But she was insecure when it came to other things, as if she couldn’t quite believe that people really liked her. She was popular among her team mates, but her only true friend seemed to be Samuel.
No matter what I did, Freya felt like the odd one out in the family. I tried to treat the girls the same, obviously allowing for the fact that Grace was only 9 and Freya had just turned 19, but it often felt like I couldn’t quite reach her.
She was, of course, under a lot of pressure. She had applied for several sports-related scholarships, and was constantly either training or studying.
Other parents with teenage girls mostly worried about stuff like drinking or going out with boys. Freya was extremely anti-alcohol – which was understandable, considering my past and the effect it had on her childhood. She also had some rather severe opinions on dating, it seemed.
“Hey monkey, I heard you come in. How was your date?”
“Hi dad. Movie was good, the guy wasn’t too interesting. Don’t think I’ll see him again.”
“Oh? Was he a bad kisser?”
“Ew, dad. And I wouldn’t know, I’m not gonna just kiss whoever. I’m saving that for the right person.”
“How do you know if someone is the right person without even kissing them? I mean, what if they’re really terrible at it? Like, all teeth and slobber and…”
“Seriously, dad? I’m not gonna have this discussion, especially not with you of all people!”
“That’s too bad, I might learn something new.”
“I doubt that. Sleeping with someone must be like saying hello for you.”
“Ouch, noted. I’m not saying you should… test drive all your dates. But I still think there’s a valid middle ground between being a prude and being, well, me.”
“I’ll just know when it’s right, OK? Like, I’m waiting for that… spark. Goodnight, dad.”
I wanted to tell her that “spark” wasn’t really what she should be looking for, kissing or no kissing. Katherine and I definitely had spark, hell, we had an inferno that almost consumed us both. What we didn’t have was compatibility. And love. But I also knew better than to reopen that old wound. Freya could be very sensitive about her mother and me.
Still, I was a little hurt that I had apparently done so badly as a father that Freya seemed determined to always do the complete opposite of what I had done.
I knew that she had been let down by the way her mother and I had handled things. Well, I guess I was the one fucking up the most. But I’d tried to make up for it, showering both of my girls with love and affection.
And Freya loved back hard. Just like Katherine, she poured her passion into everything she did, whether it was her studies, sports, or her love for us. She was especially loyal and protective towards Grace, the only member of the family who could never make her angry.
Despite her sassiness, we were pretty close, but Freya’s constant need for love and reassurance was like a void that could never be filled, no matter what I did. I had also, more than once, heard her referring to herself as a ‘mistake’.
I blamed myself for that. Yes, I probably made a mistake sleeping with Katherine in the first place. But Freya? My funny, fierce, loving daughter? She could never be a mistake. But I couldn’t seem to make her believe it.
As expected, she was offered every single scholarship she had applied for. I was ridiculously proud of her hard work, but she was more preoccupied with the fact that she could only accept a place on a single sports team.
“How can I pick just one sport, dad? It’s like they’re asking me if I’d rather lose an arm or a leg!”
“I know, monkey. But you can’t spend all your time playing football while also spending all your time playing basket, you’re not a time traveller. And you need to study as well, sometimes.”
“But how can I ever choose? Should I just flip a coin?”
“Well, your grandma Cora was on the Foxbury football team, if that helps.”
She looked at her shelves of trophies and ribbons. One trophy stuck out – my grandfather Don’s bodybuilding trophy for winning Mr. Solar System. My mother had insisted that Freya should have it, to keep it in the family.
“I guess it’s kind of a family tradition, then. Football it is.”
The Foxbury campus held a lot of memories for me. Many of them good, quite a few… mixed. I couldn’t quite believe that it had been almost 20 years since I graduated. And now my daughter was going to university.
After we got Freya’s stuff settled in her room, I found myself dragging out the goodbyes for an embarrassingly long time. I hadn’t anticipated how hard it was to let my little girl go.
“I love you, monkey. Take care of yourself. And have a good semester, and call me if you need anything…”
“I will, dad. Oh, before I forget, any particular areas I should avoid?”
“Avoid? What do you mean by that?”
“Well, I was conceived around here, right? I’d prefer to avoid going anywhere near the scene of the crime, as it were, even if it has been twenty years.”
Cecilia immediately burst out laughing.
I was lost for words. But Freya just smiled and gave me another hug.
“I’m just messing with you, dad. Love you.”
I held on to her just a few seconds longer, and then she walked away, off to explore the campus.
My dear wife had finally stopped laughing at me, and for a moment we just watched Freya leave.
“I can’t help but worry about her, Cecilia.”
“I know, darling. But she’ll be fine, I promise.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because you are her father and you made it. No matter what she’s going to face in life, she has your strength.”
I kissed my wife, the love of my life, the one who always believed in me.
“I hope you’re right. Now let’s go home, I need to make sure Gracie hasn’t suddenly grown up as well.”
“I’m not ready for another goodbye just yet.”
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