by Tassy Schrader
“No,” she said, face half-hidden in shadow. Mascara spilled down her cheeks like rivers of ink staining a clean sheet of paper. It was so different from the face he usually saw, the perfect face in the posters he couldn’t stop seeing all over town. The posters showed her face as powdered, rosy, and red-lipped, the persona she used in her life as a celebrity, the singing sensation of the nation. “I can’t go back. I can’t ever go back.”
“Of course. And who would force a girl like you to give up your life of luxury and fame to go back to work in a boxy office?” His smile gleamed in the light of a streetlamp.
“You would,” she sobbed. “I’m not living in luxury, I’m not!” The brick wall of the diner pressed against her back. She remembered eating her supper inside as if it were years ago. “I never should’ve come. I just thought that maybe you’d want a chance to act like a father for once!” Horrible memories of the sound of a key twisting in a lock rushed through the wall she’d built in her mind. She’d been caged like an animal for so many years with this man, her father who didn’t feel like a father at all. He wanted her to give up on her dreams and her talents and be just like him.
“A father knows what’s best for his daughter.” Even in the dim light he could see her eyes harden into glittering black gems. Harsh. Cold. Unforgiving.
“Since when have you ever known what’s best for me? Since when have you cared about me? You crawl back to your miserable apartment night after night and your only thought of me is to steal what I have! My fame, my fortune, my life!” Her voice broke and she crumpled with sobs.
“Come home with me, Nancy,” he said after a long pause. “Everything can go back to the way it was. You don’t need all this.” He didn’t want to think about the night he found her room empty and the window open, lacy curtains fluttering in her wake.
“No.” She looked up at the silver moon, eyes full of longing. “No, I don’t need it. I want it! I want to feel the rain on my skin, the wind in my hair, the hand of a lover in mine. I’ve always been your little fairytale princess, hidden in a tower far away from the ground, but I can’t deny what I’ve seen this year. I want to live. Not a half-life stuck in an office or your apartment. I want to risk everything and gain the world.”
“And if you lose?”
“If I lose, who cares!” She rose shakily to her feet.
“Nancy…do you know why I asked you to meet me here?” His daughter was silent. “Do you remember the nights we would eat out as a family?”
Nancy was sure her memories of those nights were completely different from his. “How could I forget? You wouldn’t even let me walk to the condiments counter by myself.”
“I was trying to protect you…” Her father shook his head. All the things he’d done wrong in his career as a parent were coming back to bite him now. He shifted one polished shoe along the pavement.
“I know,” Nancy whispered after a moment.
“I can’t protect you if you’re running off, trying to make it as a sensation. You aren’t safe out there, especially in the middle of a war!”
“I can protect myself, thank you very much,” Nancy said. “I know I can’t be a sensation now. I know there’s no more need for starlets, just for working girls to help the boys overseas.” She looked straight into his blue eyes. “I’ll bide my time and live anyway.”
She straightened, stepping forward. Her father stepped back. Somehow, he wasn’t winning this argument.
“I didn’t leave because of you,” she whispered, almost inaudibly.
“Then why did you?”
She brushed past him, red dress swishing against his leg, and placed a hand on the diner’s door handle.
“Yes?” she said without turning.
“I…” he trailed off, too afraid of saying something wrong to say anything at all.
“Don’t bother,” she said. “I’ve found myself without you.”
(“Emma and Raymond” (2022), Evelyn Vale)