Second Chance Daughter

The Write Practice Writing Contest – Shortlisted September 2015


The cafe door swung open and shut with a cadence so regimented that it mimicked the ‘tock-tock-tock’ of a metronome. The chatter of the Sunday morning patrons merged into a drone of white noise as they ordered their no-fat, no-whip, no-sugar, half-caf, flavored lattes. Rose sat in the farthest corner opposite the entrance, her back to the door and an untouched, black filter coffee in front of her. She stared at the washed-out peach colored wall and listened steadfastly to the jingle of the bell that accompanied each door swing. She had turned up an hour early, and he was late, so for too long a time she had sat motionless among the hubbub.

Her jet black, blue-tipped hair stood out among the sea of ponytailed blondes with their yoga pants and push-up sports bras. Although it was a perfect ninety degrees outside she had worn her treasured leather jacket that had been a constant companion for a decade.

“Rose?”

She turned to find his hand, weathered and blotched with sunspots that betrayed a lifetime of working outdoors, resting on her shoulder. Just as her gaze landed on his hand he snatched it away.

“I’m sorry. I mean. Well, clearly you are Rose. Can I get you…? I mean you look like you need another?” She followed his hand as it indicated the still full cup of coffee, “Sure. Filter. Black.”

“Okay, Okay. Back in a second.”

As soon as he left, Rose moved to the other side of the table and pushed her back to the wall in an attempt to quell the overwhelming desire to flee that was taking hold. He returned with two mugs of black coffee and a paper bag tucked under his arm.

“Doughnuts. I figured the occasion warranted some sugary pastries. And who doesn’t love doughnuts? Right?”

Rose didn’t. He laid the doughnuts onto the empty bag, broke each one into bite sized pieces then popped one of them in his mouth and spoke before swallowing, “You moved seats?”

“I didn’t want to see you coming.”

“What’d you mean?”

“I mean if I were sitting here when you came in, I would have seen you coming. And I didn’t want that.”

“Oh.”

“I would have needed to greet you. And what is the appropriate greeting for this? A hug? A handshake? A gleeful “hi”?”

“I see.” He held up the corner of the paper bag to offer Rose a piece of doughnut but instead she took her first real look at his face. It was both familiar and foreign all at once. She had his eyes and unruly eyebrows. It was a doughy face full of soft lines, the opposite of the imagined hard-edged face that she had hated all these years. His words broke through her thoughts, “You’re a journalist? The Independent, right?”

“How do you… ”

“My niece helped me Google you. Sorry, I shouldn’t have done that?”

“You have a niece?”

“And two nephews through my sister and… ”

Rose clasped tighter on to the coffee mug, she wasn’t ready for talk of family so she interrupted, “I’m the assistant political editor.”

“That is great, really great. Did you start as that… the editor?”

“Oh God, no.”

“No, I don’t suppose that is a position you walk into. Have to earn your stripes, I imagine. Not a world I know anything about, I’m afraid. You know. Publishing.” Looking down at his tie he brushed off some crumbs then re-straightened it. “Or politics really. I mean I vote of course, but I try to not pay too much attention. Marge is constantly telling me I should pay closer attention, but there is always such a circus that it just puts me off. But you must love it? Well obviously, it is your life, right?”

“It’s my job. I like it. It can be exciting. But at times it can be just another desk job, you know?”

“My ‘desk’ has always been my flower beds. Marge has been trying to get me to retire, but I say as long as I can bend down I can work.”

“Where? Do you work, I mean?”

“Oh, I thought you knew. The botanical gardens. Head gardener. Your mom never told you?”

“She knew?”

“It’s where we met. Well, sort of… ”

“And you’ve been there this whole time?”

“Forty years this summer.”

“Jesus. You’ve been here, in town, this whole time. Why wouldn’t she tell me?”

“She must have had her reasons?”

A whirl of commotion caught Rose’s attention. A newly minted toddler too eager to use her underdeveloped walking skills had toppled over and brought a chair down with her. In a flash her daddy scooped up the now wailing girl as her mommy descended with a theatrical flourish of ‘magic kisses’.

“Rose?”

She turned to find his face etched with trepidation. “Sorry. You were saying?”

“I wish she had. Your mother. I wish she had told you where I was.”

Rose sat up straighter and leaned forward in her seat, “When I was clearing out Mom’s things last month, I discovered a letter. From you to her. I’d never heard your name before that. She wouldn’t tell me – no matter how often I’d asked. So in the end, I stopped asking. She said you didn’t want me, and so I shouldn’t want you.”

His eyebrows crinkled with tension. “I didn’t want you?”

“She told me that you ended it because you didn’t want children.”

“That wasn’t true, I did want children. But it was complicated.”

“She told me you didn’t want any of it – wife, family. That you were a loner.”

“A loner?”

“But your letter. It didn’t read like a loner. It read like a nice man, a gentle man. A man she’d never let me know.”

“Don’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault. It was… ”

“But you did end it with her, right? It was you, and not her?”

He paused and let out a staccato breath. “Yes. I ended it.”

“Why?”

“I had… ”

“Stop! Just… wait a… ”

“What?”

Rose flipped her glasses on top of her head and ran her fingertips along her eyebrows, down to her temples, then back along her closed eyelids to the bridge of her nose. She did this three times, and then looked at him over her fingertips, “Now I don’t know if I want to know.”

A slender woman, with her auburn hair pulled into an intricate braid that hung down over her shoulder, appeared by their table. “Dad, I can’t believe you are here.”

“Lily, what are you… ”

“Mom told me. I can’t believe you. You know she doesn’t want this.” She turned squarely to Rose, her shoulders tensed and her hands glued by her hips. “Rose, I assume.”

Rose studied the woman. She estimated her to be about half a foot taller than herself with eyes that mirrored her own but she had his nose too. She returned her focus to him, “Who is this?”

“This is Lily. My daughter. So, well, your sister.”

“She’s my age!”

“Almost, yes. Like I say. It was complicated.”

“Complicated? It doesn’t seem all that complicated to me. It seems quite clear. You picked another daughter over me!”

“No, no, it wasn’t like that.”

“Really?” Rose stood but clattered her knee off the edge of the table, which sent her crumpling back onto the seat. “Dammit!”

He started to stand to help her but Rose waved him away, “I’m fine.” She vigorously rubbed at her knee to subdue the pain and took in the father-daughter duo. “It’s Lily? Right? You knew about me?”

“Not until last week when you got in touch with my Dad. Why now, by the way? Why’d you have to stir things up now?”

He tugged on Lily’s sleeve. “Please, Lily. You’re making a scene. Sit. Please.”

Lily pulled up a seat from the neighboring table and sat an inch from her father’s elbow. He adjusted his chair slightly away from Lily. Rose could see a ripple of surprise swiftly followed by irritation cross Lily’s brow. He reached out and touched the cuff of Rose’s jacket. “I never told them about you. I was embarrassed.”

“By me?”

“No, gosh, no. I was embarrassed by me. By what I had done to your mother… and Lily’s too.”

“What did you ‘do’ exactly?”

“Well, your mother and Lily’s mother, Marge. She’s called Marge, by the way, you will love her, I mean… anyway… well, they were best friends and… ”

“Wow.” Rose sat back. “Wow. Okay.”

“I was engaged to Marge, you see… ”

“I get it. You can stop.”

“Dad”, Lily cut in, “can we just go home?”

“No, Lily. I came for a second chance.” He looked to Rose with pained eyes. “I need a second chance.”

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