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“Isn’t this nice?” asked Chris. Kayla looked at him, disgust etched on every feature.
“Look at the stars,” Chris tried again. “Aren’t they beautiful?” The disgusted look remained. Kayla didn’t even look up.
“I love the forest at this time,” he said, undeterred. “Not quite night yet, but definitely not day anymore. The woods are swarming with wildlife. It’s especially fun when you have your fire going, and you know the rest of the evening is just you and your favourite daughter, with nothing to do but make hot cocoa and roast some marshmallows.” He pulled out a bag of marshmallows and waved it in front of Kayla.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not five anymore, dad. And I’m your only daughter,” she said, her voice flat.
“Com’on, Kayla, this was supposed to be fun. Are you really not enjoying this? Not even a little bit?”
“Hmm, let’s see. Not quite night yet means I can’t go to sleep. Not day anymore means it’s cold and all I want to do is curl up in my sleeping bag. The wildlife in the woods are mostly bugs, and they’re eating me alive. And the reason we have nothing to do for the rest of the evening is that you worked me like a slave all day. So, no, dad. I’m not enjoying this. Not even a little bit.”
“At least you’re listening to what I’m saying,” Chris gave her a big, toothy grin.
“Ugh. You’re the worst, dad.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Nothing bugs you. Everything is always peachy and perfect. Nothing bad is ever happening in the world. Do you even see what’s happening in front of you?”
“And what’s that, pray tell,” Chris said. His voice tense, contained, suggesting that she’s treading on thin ice. She ignored the warning.
“Do you even miss her?”
“Yeah, my mom. Your wife.”
“Of course I miss her.”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Kayla muttered under her breath. Chris sighed.
“Look,” he said, “all I wanted to do was have a little quality time with you. You know, a father-daughter thing”.
“Well, maybe you are over it, but I’m not. I don’t understand how you can be so happy.” Her voice rose steadily.
“There’s a difference between smiling and being happy,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper as if to counteract her rising volume.
“Why do you keep smiling then? What’s the point?”
“The point is I can’t fall apart. I have you to take care of.”
“Oh, don’t you put this one on me. I didn’t ask you to put on a brave face,” Kayla said. “In fact, I think it’s degrading to mom, that you never even cried.”
“I told you, it doesn’t mean I didn’t care about her, or that I don’t miss her.”
“Yes, you told me. But you don’t look like you miss her. You’re already going on camping trips, and you went back to work like two days after she was gone. You moved on.”
“I did not.”
“Well, it sure looks like you did,” she belaboured the point.
“Yes, you said.”
Kayla growled in frustration. “It’s like you’re a robot. I have a robot for a dad. That’s great.”
“What is it that you want from me, exactly?”
“To show some emotion. I’m not saying fall apart. I’m not saying sink into depression and don’t get out of bed. All I’m saying—”
“Don’t you see that's precisely what will happen?” he cut her off. “If I show any emotion, it'll be all of it. Once the dam is broken, there’s no putting it back. If I break, I'll fall apart, and I can’t do that right now.” His voice cracked. He stopped and closed his eyes. He took several deep breaths.
She watched him. The fire flickered shadows across his familiar face. In the firelight, she saw the tiredness, the sadness, the fear. She felt her tummy drop. Suddenly, she was a little girl, seeing her dad being human. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her face. She sniffed. He opened his eyes, examining her. For a moment, their eyes locked.
She smiled through the tears, “How about some marshmallows, then?” He opened the bag.
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