In her opinion, of the many things that seemed to make her father miserable, his inability to enjoy the moments that would bring balance to his life was the saddest.
At some point last summer, a point Chloe thought had very likely happened in the grocery store parking lot, she’d begun moving from the very comfortable position in which she’d believed everything her father did was acceptably eccentric to the much more confusing place in which she didn’t. And, standing over him now, considering him as a genuine human being, attempting to understand his methods and how the man could possibly still be sleeping with the Inn’s bedside alarm clock squawking beneath him, muted under his pillow or not, very little sleep or not, Chloe began reflecting on the year that had passed, and how appreciative she was for it.
It had all started when Dick’s Family Market, the only grocery store in Buena Vista, hired a new cashier. No one really talked about it openly, but no one argued the fact either; the new girl was cute.
Not more than cute. Not scandalously desirable. She didn’t inspire every old man in town to make needless small talk with her, to ask her where she came from, or to inappropriately comment on her creamy skin and silky brown hair. Nor did the boys shamelessly allow themselves to be caught staring at her chest while presenting her their pocket change, no matter how impressively her 22 year-old composition occupied her uniform.
She was, after all, only cute.
But it was also the kind of cute that, in the estimation of some people, could possibly be measured as perfect.
Chloe had carried their shopping bags all the way to the truck that evening before noticing her father hadn’t followed. They’d taken to small nightly shopping trips, as opposed to a weekly gathering of supplies, partly as an excuse to drive their new truck around town, but mostly just to give them something to do outside of the house. Her father had, through the more frustrating stages of his building project, viewed their home as a jobsite and a place to be escaped from.
A quick scan of the grocery store’s small parking lot found him standing in front of the new cashier, outside on her break, and revealed them just in time for Chloe to witness one of the more extraordinary of all those potentially life-harmonizing events.
The sun had just gone down.
Her father had been standing five feet in front of the girl, his back to Chloe, hands in his pockets.
Chloe couldn’t hear what was being said, but the girl was raptly listening. So much so that she hadn’t even bothered to continue smoking the cigarette that was hanging from her hand.
The girl began to smile, and then appeared to wipe a few happy tears from her face. She nodded to Chloe’s father, and the cigarette dropped to the ground.
They both looked at it meaningfully before she stepped on it.
Then, before anyone knew what was happening, including Chloe, including her father, maybe even including the new cashier, the girl walked the five feet that had separated them, stood on her tiptoes, closed her eyes, and kissed Chloe’s father so delicately and with so much purpose that the Earth itself stopped turning for an entire moment just to give everyone enough time to take a good deep breath and notice how lovely everything had suddenly become.
By the time things began moving again, Chloe’s father had already climbed into the truck behind her and was putting on his seatbelt.
The passenger side window rolled down.
“Chloe, are you coming?”
“What just happened?”
“You walked to the truck and forgot to get in.”
“I didn’t. I mean. You were talking to the girl. And then. What did you say to her?”
“I convinced her to quit smoking.”
“Chloe, could you please get in so we can go home?”
And that had been it. For the ride home, and forever after, he claimed that all he’d actually said to the girl was that cigarettes would give her wrinkles. And then he just denied everything else. He successfully turned the whole story into an unremarkable event, and refused to talk about it ever again.
In all honesty, it felt to Chloe like, despite the closure her father had expressed recently finding, regarding her mother, that he was still having trouble relaxing. That his guard was still up. That maybe, after all this time, he simply didn’t know how to let it down.
Because any other human being would have gotten into the truck and talked about nothing else. Possibly for days. Possibly about nothing else ever again. Even if she was his daughter, and talking about stuff like that was always going to be a little weird, because whatever happened that night with the new cashier had been spontaneous, and exciting, and totally unbelievable. And that’s the kind of fun and crazy stuff in life that you talk about. Because it doesn’t happen that often. And those are the rare moments that make us who we are. And sharing them with each other is the best part.
And the worst part, other than Chloe never finding out what magical combination of words and dulcet tones could possibly motivate a young woman to consecutively quit smoking and sensuously squish faces with an absolute stranger, was that she could tell it really had meant something to him.
They mysteriously went back to once a week shopping trips. Saturday mornings. When he was sure she wouldn’t be there. And, like so many other things, that was that.
Chloe grabbed a fistful of sheets and blankets and yanked them off her father, and dropped them on the floor.
She went to the window, pulled the blinds, and slid it all the way open. A rush of cold beach air filled the room, along with the sounds of the waves and the gulls.
Her father growled and hugged his squawking pillow tighter.
“We’re already late for breakfast,” she informed him.
He growled more.
“I texted Birch. Just get up and get in the shower. I’ll make coffee.” The upside of it, and the thing she was genuinely appreciative for, was that now she found it easy to recognize and seek out those happy little moments. “You like showers. You like coffee. You can no longer sleep. Get up. Get up. Get up.” Because, whether he acknowledged them or not when she pointed them out, everything, from coffee to love, was important.