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Denver had found himself too old rather suddenly. As if his body aged without him knowing.
It took him a while to notice. It wasn’t the gray hair; that had gone when he was still spry enough to clamber up to the top of the roof and do things like clean out the drain pipe or install insulation. Nor was it when he found himself standing solemnly in rooms, desperately attempting to catch onto the thought process that brought him in there in the first place. He continually reminded himself that he had always been this way.
What really did it was when he was decided, for a reason he still has yet to come understand, to plunge his hand into the water pump of his 1964 motor engine Chris Craft cruiser he had spent the last five years restoring. The tip of his index finger had been immediately sliced through, sending it flying, deep into the hull of the boat.
He stumbled around for a moment, alarmed as to the throbbing feeling he was experiencing, and then found himself lying down before the fainting took him first.
As he lay, wedged between the lifebuoy and a bag of extra blankets, he realized his age.
He had bought the boat for a few reasons. With work slowing down in the last decade, he had found himself with too much time on his hands. He had always had hobbies, but this wasn’t just for fun, it had become his mission to get the 28 foot monstrosity onto the water. Once it was out there for him to cruise around on in the New England waters, he’d be happy. And the the last reason was because it was made the same year he had been. He liked things like that. As they had a kinship.
When he was young, on a farm in Pennsylvania, all the old men surrounding him had missing fingers or toes. Those were the lucky ones.
He remembered coming across a wrinkly man with a white scraggly beard in a black flat cap who’d lost a hand during his fisherman days and a foot to diabetes.
Never had he imagined himself becoming one of these men. He believed them to be careless. Their mistakes worn on their body. And if there was one thing Denver knew himself to be, it was careful.
Why did his pants have so many pockets? There was no godly reason for his pants to have so many pockets. Especially now when all he needed was phone that was hidden in one of them.
He knew it had been his choice to be alone for an incident such as this one. He’d been alone for years now, but it felt almost annoying to him as he pressed his bloody hand into his chest to tamp down the bleeding from his finger while simultaneously groping around for his phone.
Like striking gold, he produced his phone and with great mental energy, he forced himself to press each number thoroughly.
In the end they weren’t able to reattach his finger tip and he was never able to regain the nerves. It felt like there was a hole in every pocket he slipped his hand into. Nor was he ever able to get used to the empty feeling.
So with time, the hole grew.
And it kept on growing, so the hole wasn’t just there when he was shoving his hand into pockets, but it was when he was having breakfast, while he did the dishes, when he arrived home late from work. And always, always… when he was going to bed.
Millie found herself to be old when her first child was born. It was a week after her thirtieth birthday.
She had spent the previous nine months terrified of being a mother. Scared of her lack of patience and worried for her daughter and what may happen to her throughout her life.
But when Angela was born, a calm washed through her and never left. Motherhood came easier to her. Easier than it had her own mother and it was hard not to compare. They were both single moms, although Angela’s baby’s father was involved and a dedicated co-parent. She hadn’t met her own father. Since she was two when he left she couldn’t remember him and therefore decided he didn’t count in her life.
That was until she had Angela and suddenly frustrations she had held onto for years slipped away.
It surprised her when she sent him the email. Even as she was typing it and especially when she hit send.
Millie’s mom didn’t understand where the sudden interest had come from, but her mother didn’t push it. Instead her mom tracked down the email address from his cousin who had kept in touch over the years.
The email was sent on Angela’s first birthday. Millie regretted it for the week that followed when there was no reply.
If she had sent only a few years earlier she would’ve been filled with shame being the first one to reach out. But now there was no shame, only shock and nerves.
She had played over their meeting a million times in her head. How embracing him would feel. Whether she would be angry or just happy to see him. It was hard to know because since she began to think about it she hadn’t given herself the chance to experience emotions in regards to it. She only knew that she had to do it.
She fantasized about him apologizing, with a sweet look on his aged face. She only remembered him as a weathered young man. She hoped he had softened from the guilt of not seeing her grow up – from not even knowing her.
He responded a week later. Millie had been proud of herself for not obsessively checking her email in the interim.
It was a two line response
It’s nice to see your name in my inbox.
When and where?
There was no name at the bottom. Only an ominous Best with a comma. As if he couldn’t decide between signing his name or writing Dad and gave up before deciding.
Millie picked a diner off the highway. Her mom had found out where he lived now and it was almost exactly halfway between the two of them. Anyway, she preferred somewhere vague like off the highway. Not that she was scared of him but she’d rather him not know what town he lived in, nor how close they really did live to one another.
She wasn’t ready to invite him into her life.
It’s February and the snow fell all night long.
In the morning, plows made their way down the highway first before heading out into the towns.
Pat’s diner, being off exit 12, was plowed early and therefore was still able to open.
People came regardless of the snow.
Half the red leather booth’s were filled by the time Denver arrived. He kicked the snow off his boots and sat down in a booth near the door.
He ordered coffee, but no food, then watched the snow fall, slowly covering the freshly cleared parking lot.
A bright red, Mini Cooper swerved into the lot. Denver shook his head at its speed. He watched it circle the lot until settling into a corner spot in the back. A woman, as petite as the car she drove, stepped out and onto patch of black ice. Denver gasped as Millie clutched the side of her car to keep from her bum colliding with the ground.
Planting her feet under her, she takes a deep breath and slowly walks towards the diner.
“Sit anywhere,” calls the waitress shooting past Millie as she enters.
Millie picks the first booth, two rows down from Denver. She saw him watch her enter.
“It’s really coming down out there,” she says quietly enough it could have been to no one. But Denver caught it.
“Yeah.” He clears his throat. “I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed that little thing made it through the snow.”
The red Mini Cooper was already being piled on by white flurries.
Millie laughs. “She’s been through worse.”
“She must be used to the weather.”
“Exactly, yeah.” Millie smiles, pulling off her knit beanie her mother had made her the year prior.
Denver felt his hands sweating onto the menu he grasped tightly. Looking down, the words suddenly turned to gibberish.
“You ever been here before?” Millie calls over to Denver.
“Um, no. I haven’t.”
“The pancakes are the best.”
“I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes.”
“If you’re gonna have ‘em this is the place to do it.”
“I take pancakes very seriously.”
Denver chuckles. He drops his menu and brushes the sweat from his palms.
“Any other menu suggestions?”
Millie scooches out of her booth and approaches Denver. Hovering over him and the menu she scans it until stopping at a line.
“The BLT, if you eat meat.”
Denver nods, examining the suggestion, “thanks.”
Millie turned to go back to her own booth.
“Are you eating alone?” Denver calls out to her.
“I’m waiting on someone,” she says, turning back.
“Me too.” He smiles. “You could join me.”
“While we wait I mean” he adds.
The noise of the diner suddenly fills the space between them.
She lifts her coat and jacket from her own booth and plops them down on the one across from Denver.
Flaming red, curly hair whipped past them, then suddenly reappears. “I take your order yet?” The waitress shouts while balancing two trays on one hand with ease.
“No” They spoke in unison.
“I’ll have chocolate pancakes and water.” Millie hands over her menu.
“Pancakes too… Chocolate.”
“Good choice.” Millie smiles.
The waitress gave a slight nod then zoomed off.
Denver takes a long sip of his coffee, his lips making an awkward smacking sound against the cup.
He lowers the cup down and pushes it further in front of him then fiddles with the stack of napkins in the center of the table. He does all of this with his eyes on his hands, knowing Millie is watching him.
“Who are you waiting on?” He asks steadily.
She did not pause, “my father.”
“Oh. No kidding.”
“I’m waiting for my daughter.”
A glass of water clinks down in front of Millie, the red hair gone already in a flurry.
The two watch one other. Denver studies Millie’s worn leather hand bag with a heavy assortment of key chains tethered to the zipper. While Millie examines Denver’s face. Tracing the wrinkles to his thick eyebrows and green eyes. She had green eyes too.
“Why Pat’s diner?” Denver asks.
She shrugs. “I’ve come for years. Its on the way to work… I like breaks when I drive, even if it’s just to work.”
“Where do you work?”
“I’m a paralegal.” She takes a sip of the water and dabs her lips with a napkin.
“Wow.” Denver knew a paralegal from the boat dock. A young man restoring an old 22 foot Catalina sailboat a few slips down from Denver’s boat. They chatted occasionally and Denver thought him to be very sensible. Much more than Denver had ever been in his 20s.
“It’s more boring than interesting.”
Denver shrugs. “One person’s boring is another’s interesting.”
“I don’t know if emails and contracts count for that.”
“I actually started back up recently.” Millie takes a pause, gazing out the window. “I took a year off to have a baby.”
A baby. Adults had babies. She couldn’t be an adult, Denver thought to himself. But she clearly was, she had a job and a car and a husband. Did she have a husband?
“You and your husband-or partner.” Denver clears his throat. “You must be busy.”
“No husband… or partner.” Millie can hear her stomach lurching. “Just me.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. It was my choice.”
Denver nods, “that’s good. It’s hard to make those choices.”
“Yes.” Millie says louder than she had intended.
“I didn’t raise my daughter.” Denver wants desperately to look away, but his eyes stay fixated on Millie. Looking for any type of reaction. A flitter of the eye or arc of her brow. But she remains expressionless.
“Appears to happen more frequently than you’d think.” Millie laughs, but Denver doesn’t. His brow furrows. She softens, “how come?”
“I wanted to… but I was no good at it.” He looks to his shoes for solace. “My wife knew, she wanted to protect our daughter. At the time I thought she was right.”
“Hard to say, but I regret it.”
“Good.” She smiles lightly at him.
Denver instinctively swipes the sweat forming on his forehead. He doesn’t know how weak he looks. “Do you love your father?”
Millie wasn’t expecting something so outrageous. So inappropriate. So infuriating. She doesn’t want to give in, but her anger lasted only moments as she watches his eyes close tightly. As she sees prepare for the worst, prepare for what he deserves. “Yes,” she says evenly.
A deep sigh releases from Denvers mouth. “I love my daughter so much. I do.”
Two plates plop down in front of them. The red hair waitress disappears.
Millie feels sick from the sight of the pancakes oozing with maple syrup.
“They always put the syrup on.” Millie whispers for only herself, but Denver hears her.
“It looks good.”
“I lost my appetite.” She can’t stand it anymore and so she grabs her things and launches out of the table, “I guess he’s not coming.”
Tears form in Denver’s eyes. “I hope you are able to see him”
She stops in her tracks.
“He wants to see you and the baby.” He continues, “speaking from experience.”
“If he really did he would’ve come.”
She cannot look back, she can’t bear it. And so she doesn’t. She leaves.
The radio plays Christmas music and she cries along the way home.
But when she finally gets home and hugs her mom and holds Angela tight, she knows she’s fine. She’s okay.
Denver doesn’t go home. He drives to his boat and sits on the water. He cries more than he ever had before. But he knows that it was always going to happen this way. Whether he wanted it to or not.