“Hi, Dad.” Andy stared into a pair of eyes identical to hers in more ways than just the shade of larkspur and hooded lids. They matched her discomfort too. “Can I come in?”
He shrugged and walked away from the open door to his condo. Andy walked into his Florida home for the first time, closing the door behind her as she tried to rein in her curiosity. Driving up to the complex, walking through the grounds and lobby, riding up the designer scented elevator, she had been amazed by the glamor and upkeep of the property. The inside of her father’s apartment, however, suited more with his lifelong philosophy.
There was something called minimalism and then there was how Allen Tybalt lived.
Growing up with an austere man such as Allen had been challenging every step of the way. His job had their family moving a lot. Even though he was always away for on-site projects, Andy and her mother had to keep accompanying him to new cities every couple of years because Allen insisted that they live as a unit.
Allen had been a power plant engineer, the best in his field apparently. He earned a sack full of salary every month but never allowed Andy’s mother to decorate their myriad of residence as she wanted. Whenever her mother proposed the idea to buy something for their home, Allen would insist the venture unnecessary since they would have to move again anyway. That a family subjected to as many location transfers as theirs be unencumbered by possessions was perfectly logical so her mother never argued. Besides, few people won an argument with Allen.
It was just as well because Andy’s mother died in a road accident when Andy was just twelve years old so she doubted her mother would have gotten much time to enjoy a fully decorated home.
“You have a nice setup here, Dad,” Andy now said, looking around. “Suits you.” Actually, upon closer look, the furniture did appear to be very vogue even if sparse. “I’m not sure how easy it will be to pack the Zeng Fanzhi painting if you decide to move,” she added, staring at the article in question hanging over the long blue crushed velvet couch.
“I hide the money behind that. Besides, I won’t be needing it where I’m going next,” Allen grumbled.
Most daughters would probably protest their only living parent talk about their demise. Having already buried one parent just before being sentenced for life to boarding school by the said living parent, Andy did not feel as inclined to be blue about death. “I guess, old age does not accommodate moving around the country as much.”
Allen spared her hostile tone a severe frown but did not deign to comment. Instead, he fought to school his features into civility and offered her hospitality. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll get you a drink. What will you have?”
“A cold beer will be welcome,” she replied, sitting down near the open duct of the AC, flapping the neck of her plaid shirt when his back was turned. It had been hot as hades outside and all it took for her to break into perspiration was a brisk walk from the parking lot to the building. “Will this take long? Your lawyer insisted it was urgent that I visit.”
“You could say that,” Allen answered over his shoulders as he dug out two bottles of longnecks out of the fridge and popped their caps on the edge of the island.
“Well, I hope you didn’t make me take that plane ride for nothing.”
Allen walked over silently, not breaking eye contacts even though she was throwing daggers at him. He calmly handed her the drink, then turned his back to take his own seat opposite her. He burrowed his bottom into the cushion until he was comfortable and then looked at her again. “It’s not ‘nothing’.”
Andy noticed how he reclined, his back rested in a curve the sofa pillow because of his long torso, his long legs crossed with the left ankle booted and resting on his right knee as a telltale sign of his left-sided dominance, his right arm rested on the back of the sofa as his left hand cradled the beer. She would say her father was imitating her but it was probably the other way around. She hated that she had genetically picked up so many of his traits.
“So what is it? I have a flight back to New York in three hours.”
“You’re leaving that early?”
Was that disappointment? Nah. His annual visit to her school hardly ever exceeded more than an hour, he would be utterly oblivious to expect any more from her. “I’m meeting a client tomorrow morning. you understand the importance of work. Gotta have my priorities straight, right?”
Allen took a slow sip as though calculating his response. “I guess I deserve that, Andrea,” he finally said. “And since you have such a tight schedule, I’ll get right to it. I had Cohen call you in to discuss my will.”
“An e-mail would have sufficed.”
“I wanted to see you.”
Andy snorted. “There’s always a first time for everything.”
“I have been calling you for over a year.”
“And I have had the pleasure of ignoring those calls just as you must’ve had while ignoring my reaching out to you from my spartan cell in boarding school.” She wondered if she looked as red as he did at the moment because keeping cool around her father was becoming an issue.
“That boarding school is one of the best academies in the country.”
“Good thing I paid you back every penny once I got myself a job or else you would hold me to it, wouldn’t you?”
Allen looked suddenly haggard. “You’re not going to make it easy, are you?”
“Make what easy? Accepting your guilt money? You’re more than welcome to donate your properties to whatever charity you prefer. At least it has a chance of being appreciated that way.”
“Andrea, my entire life’s work has been for your benefit.”
“Sounds like you have discovered humor in your old age because the last thing about your career was about me. I lost my entire childhood because I had to keep changing friends because of you.”
“I was trying to protect you and your mom by keeping you two close.”
“Yeah? And how did that work out for you? Mom was never happy with the way we lived, packing and unpacking boxes every other year, never burying any roots. At least death made her stationary.”
“Don’t you dare talk about your mother’s death in that tone.”
“Oh, I dare. I dare very much. What do you care anyway? Protect us. Hah! Was that what you were doing when you shipped me off to school the week after Mom died?”
Allen averted his eyes. “It was better that way. I realized you were safer living away from me after all.”
“So you do everything for the benefit of the family you could never make time for, is it,” she scoffed.
“My work required-”
“Yes, yes. The work card. Use the importance of your work to justify your gaping absence in our lives, for not being available to watch Mom take her dying breath in the hospital, for me keeping caged away from the love of a family for the rest of my life. Do you know I can’t bring myself to hold a relationship for longer than a few months because I’m afraid it might get serious and I might fail the way you failed us?”
“What does it matter if you are sorry? What would it change now?”
“I just want a little time with you.”
“Why? Because you’re dying?”
Allen looked at her with shock. “You know I have cancer?”
The breath left her body as though he had knocked her out cold. “What?”
“You know I have cancer?” he repeated.
“No. Cancer? No.”
“Leukemia. Last stage.”
Andy sat back pressing against the velvet. She wished she would melt away. As long as he was living, she could resent him with relish. Knowing she had at least one parent made her feel tethered to this world somehow even if she never managed to feel as though she quite belonged anywhere. Death was an inevitable part of life. However, now she had to prepare herself for his death and the sense of loss was more than she had anticipated. She did not think she could hate him any more than she did but this was just one more way how unfair he had been to her. “You’re going to play the cancer card on me now?”
His smile was rueful. “You should be happy.”
“Well, there’s something else. Something even bigger but I think I can tell you now.”
“Bigger than cancer?” Andy asked, skepticism flowing out of her pores.
“Yup. Brace yourself, honey.”
It was the first time her father had called her using a term of endearment but okay, she’d bite.
“All those times I was ‘on-site’ on work projects? I was really sent on government missions.”
“Government missions?” she repeated after him weakly.
Allen nodded, his superb built suddenly looking even more enormous. “I’ve been a secret operative for the CIA most of my life.”
Ah, Hell! He always did have an excuse for everything.
~ Zaireen Sultana Lupa, work-in-progress for something