Dad and I make our way to the cemetery for our monthly ritual of visiting Mom’s grave. I often come here alone, but he doesn’t know that. It’s comforting being there, nothing but the silence and my thoughts to ground me.
Sometimes, I worry about Dad. He’s still grieving all these years later, refusing to love again. It’s admirable, in a way, his dedication to the one and only woman he’s ever loved. He says he’s content with me and his work, and while I know it’s true, I still can’t help but worry.
“He’s a big boy,” Phoenix says directly into my mind, where he’s currently residing, allowing us to carry a conversation without freaking out Dad or the other riders on the bus. “If he was unhappy, he’d let you know.”
Phoenix is right, of course. Dad has no problem telling me exactly how it is. As a longstanding businessman, he’s constantly working with difficult clients who try to twist his words around. He’s adopted a no-nonsense attitude and a direct communication style. If he was was upset or unhappy, he’d tell me…
Kinda like how he freaks out at me every time a guild Hunter finds me. It’s why I haven’t told him about the other day’s run-in. I’m safe and alive—a little bruised but breathing—and that’s all that matters. Why needlessly worry him when he’s already got so much on his plate?
“Sam, you should at least tell him something happened,” Phoenix chides in my mind. “I’m still worried about how hard you said you hit your head.”
“No,” I think back at him. “Then he’ll freak out and go on a tirade about my safety for at least an hour and a half.”
“That’s what parents do! They worry!”
I scowl, choosing to ignore him in favor of staring out the window.
“Sorry I’ve been so busy, Sammy Girl,” Dad says, and I look over at him. “Ricky’s been counting on me to help while he’s away on business…I just didn’t realize how many accounts he manages.”
“It’s cool,” I tell him. “You’ve got your own thing going. I’ve got mine.”
“Working weekends at my sister’s club isn’t a thing, pumpkin. I’m worried that I leave you alone too much since you graduated high school.”
“Nah. I just catch up on reading and stuff.” I shrug. “I’m at the range often, too.”
“Your mother would be so proud of your progress. You’re getting really good.”
I beam at him, remembering the last time we had a father-daughter day, he came to the archery range with me and I showed him my badass skills. It’s a tradition in my mother’s family for the women to learn how to shoot with a bow. Mom and I used to practice together before the diagnosis…then cancer took her.
When we reach our stop, Dad and I get off the bus and walk arm-in-arm, his foot and hip pressed up against the side of mine, moving in-sync and wobbling like a three-footed goober monster into the graveyard. Entering the grounds used to be the hardest part of coming here, but now that I’ve come to accept the reality of Mom’s passing, it’s not so bad. Being here is soothing for Dad and me, spending our visits remembering her life, not dwelling on her death. I miss her with a fierceness that could break my heart to pieces, but I let it hold me together instead.
I think Dad does the same thing.
When we get there, I lay on her grave like I normally do, and Dad settles down beside me. We lay with her, staring up at the clouds passing overhead. It’s a nice day out, which is rare in Seattle. Normally, it’s gray skies and even darker clouds, but today, they are fluffy and white, the sky a soft baby blue. A gentle breeze blows the grass, and it tickles my skin.
“So,” I drawl, arms folded behind my head, “what story are we going to tell today?”
Dad purses his lips, linking his fingers over his stomach as he thinks. “Well, we could tell her about how you tripped on stage at graduation—we haven’t shared that one yet.”
“You can tell them you hit your head on a dumpster,” Phoenix offers offhandedly, still merged with my mind.
“You’re not funny!” I snap at them both. In my mind, I think the middle finger at Phoenix, and his chill amps up, letting me know he’s displeased. He’s nearly giving me a brain freeze.
Dad laughs. “Too late now. She’s heard me say it.”
“You’re so mean to me,” I whine. “Why am I cursed with such a bratty father?”
Phoenix snorts. “Says the biggest brat I know.”
“Me? A brat? No, no, no.” Dad grins. “I like to consider myself educated in the fine art of Fatherhood.”
“Mhm,” I hum, but I’m fighting a smile.
“So, shall we give her the details?”
“Might as well.”
As Dad launches into the story about how I stepped on my too-long robe when crossing the stage, my heels slipping on the slick surface, bringing me crashing to my knees in front of my entire graduating class and their families, I close my eyes and let his voice lull me into a false sense of security.