“Do you think tomorrow will be okay?” Jenna shifted her weight constantly between her feet. “I mean we haven’t spent too much time on it, but…”
“We’ll be absolutely fine! Don’t stress about it,” Casey reassured her. Casey had always been good at calming Jenna down. It was something about the tone of her voice, soothing. “Henry’s relationship with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn have been covered in as much detail as we can do in a ten-minute presentation.”
“You’re right.” Jenna switched her printer on. “In that case, let’s print the handouts.”
They both sat in satisfied silence, watching the printer churn out page after page of black-inked words and coloured pictures. After a few minutes the reverie was broken. “I am sorry, Casey. I never hated you, not really. I’ve missed you, I just didn’t know how much until yesterday.”
“I’ve missed you too. It’s okay.”
Jenna grabbed both of Casey’s hands. “No it’s not. It really isn’t! You are my friend. I should be happy for you and your achievements, not envious and full of hatred!”
“The past six months, you haven’t been yourself. You’ve been dealing with a lot.”
“You’re too nice, Casey. Stop trying to make excuses for me.”
Her friend rolled her eyes. “I’m just stating the obvious, Jenna.”
“Just hear me out, Casey,” Jenna pleaded. Smiling, her best friend mimed zipping her lips.
Jenna continued. “I was even jealous of your looks.” Casey flushed scarlet. Jenna carried on, resolutely, “How could I have become so warped? My dad said that you were a brains and beauty, and that I was plainer than he would have liked…” Her voice trailed off and silence was resumed for half a minute.
“Well I am definitely both!” Casey eventually joked, “but then so are you.” This time, it was Jenna’s turn to blush.
“Er…thanks,” she replied awkwardly.
“Gosh, you really need to learn how to take a compliment!” They both laughed. It was true. Jenna was known for reacting to compliments like she had received the harshest of criticisms. Jenna sobered quickly.
“Then why did my dad say it?”
Casey touched her comfortingly on the shoulder. “You’ll have to ask your dad about that,” she advised.
“I will,” she resolved. “About that and other things. And not tomorrow. Today.”
The clocked chimed at four ‘o’ clock. Jenna sat halfway up the stairs, hugging her knees. Casey had left just over an hour ago. David and her father should have finished their bonding session by now. He should return any minute.
Sure enough, footsteps from outside became more pronounced, followed by the rustling of plastic bags and the inserting of a key in the front door lock. It was just her father. That was good. They needed to bond too. He entered, spying his daughter immediately and gently placed two shopping bags down on hallway floor.
“Hi Jenna,” Robert smiled sheepishly.
“Hi Dad.” Curiosity filled Jenna and she trotted down the steps. “What have you got there?”
He stepped backwards, gesturing at the bags. “Why don’t you have a look?”
His daughter inspected their contents closely. Chicken breasts, condensed cream of mushroom soup, onions, mushrooms, various herbs and spices, rice, green beans and salad items. She looked at him quizzically. “What, do you want me to cook?”
He laughed. “No, you’ve been doing enough of that lately.” The relief on Jenna’s face was apparent. “Besides, it’s my turn to cook for you. And I want to.” Jenna was happy. Chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce was one of her favourite dishes and her dad was brilliant in the kitchen. Robert’s eyes scanned the hallway for Casey’s coat and shoes. “Have you finished preparing for your talk tomorrow?”
“Yep. We’re as ready as we can be.”
“That’s good.” He picked up the bags and carried them to the kitchen. “Well you just put your feet up.”
Jenna steeled her resolve. “Dad?”
“Can we talk today?” The words began to spill out of her. “I mean, I’ve finished my presentation, and I still need a lot of answers. I can’t wait for tomorrow. It has to be done now. Right now.”
Robert’s muscles tensed slightly. “Have you finished you other work?”
“Yep. We don’t get as much now, since it’s near the holidays.”
“I thought as much. We’ll have to talk in the kitchen though as I prepare dinner.”
“That’s okay. I’ll do the salad.”
Robert concentrated hard, chopping the onions and mushrooms into even slices. Jenna watched him, smiling. It had been half a year since he attempted to cook anything decent. “I hope you’re not too rusty!”
“A master chef doesn’t just lose his ability. It’s all coming back to me,” he joked.
Her tone became grave. “Why did mum leave?”
“She just upped and left. She met someone else and wanted a life with him.”
A life? “But she had one here. With us!”
“We weren’t what she wanted.” The words reverberated in her chest.
“She didn’t…love us?”
“I’m sure she did, at first, but she wanted more.”
“But she might come back! She might be going through a mid-life crisis,” Jenna replied too optimistically. “You hear about people having them all the time!”
“She’s not returning, Jenna.”
“But how can you say that?”
Robert put the knife down and slowly turned to face his daughter. “She left me a letter.”
Jenna looked incredulous. It was the first she had ever heard of it. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to hurt you. Jenna…” he inhaled deeply, composing himself. “Your mother was pregnant when she left…with another man’s baby. They’ve gone together to Australia.”
Halfway across the world. Without me. “But I’m her child too!” Grief threatened to envelop her. She bravely fought back the tears, rummaging through the bags to find the salad items in a blissful distraction.
“I know, it’s cruel. I just didn’t want you to think too badly of her. I didn’t even know she was having an affair!”
Jenna washed the cucumber and tomatoes under the sink tap “Was she unhappy?”
“I didn’t think so. She must have hidden it very well. She left no forwarding address.” He added the onions and mushrooms to the frying pan already sizzling with the chicken breast.
That was all that Jenna could handle about her mother right now. She did not want to breakdown again. She attempted to change the topic to something slightly less hurtful.
“Don’t you think I’m pretty?”
“Of course I do! You are truly beautiful!”
“All the things you have said to me about my looks. You really hurt me and dented my confidence.”
“I’m sorry.” His words, became slower and more deliberate. “You just look so alike to your mother that your face constantly reminded me of her. It was easier to direct my anger towards you.”
“So I was an easy target?”
Robert swallowed. “Yes. And I won’t do it again,” he declared solemnly. “It’s just the two of us now. We need to be there for each other.”
Robert added the condensed cream of mushroom soup to the pan and turned took the rice off of the stove.
“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes and you can tell me all about your history presentation. Do you want to prepare the table?”
Excitement flooded Jenna. It had been a long time since they had dined together at the table. She began to walk towards the dining room.
“Jenz,” her favourite nickname used only by her dad. “Your best will always be good enough for me.”
Jenna felt insanely happy.
“Can we dine without the television on?”
“Of course”, laughed Robert. “I’ve seen enough of that infernal box to last me a lifetime! Besides we have so much to catch up on…”
The history presentation was quite successful, all things considered. They were ranked second in the year for it. Two of their classmates Boris and Richard had done an impressively thorough job and deserved the first place they were awarded. Jenna was elated. In fact, coming second had never felt so good!
It was home time. Jenna and Casey strolled out of school together and were mortified to find both their fathers waiting at the school gate. They hadn’t been collected in years! The parents brandished tickets, joy radiating on their faces. Embarrassment transformed to excited curiosity as both kids hurtled towards them snatching the documents to read their contents. Four plane tickets to Turkey.
It promised to be a marvellously memorable summer holiday.
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION (comments section below)…
- Is talking therapeutic?
- Should you be happy with just trying your best?
- Is forgiveness easy?
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