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Learning To Forgive

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Skylar Miller walked down the snowy path to the lit-up brick home. She hated her mother for making her do this. She shifted the large duffel bag to her opposite shoulder and glanced at the old SUV that sat on the side of the road behind her. Her smiling mother was waving frantically to her as she put the car into gear and drove off down the street. It was just Skylar now, in the cold and all alone.

As if on cue, the door squealed open and a giant Golden Retriever tackled her into the snow. Skylar yelled out as her back collided with the solid ground and she grunted with the impact. A tall, dark haired man walked to her, extended his wrinkled hand and laughed. Skylar glared at the man as she took his hand and he pulled her to her feet.

“Quite a welcome,” he joked, his blue eyes twinkling. Skylar wiped the snow off of her jeans and glared again. “And nice to see you too.” Her father dropped his hand and grabbed her duffel bag, leading her inside.

The sweet smell of Christmas greeted her as she stepped into the old house. It was cluttered with boxes of old Christmas decorations she faintly remembered from her childhood. Her father placed his hand onto her shoulder and smiled down at her. He led her around the boxes that covered the living room floor and down a small hall, big enough for only one person. When they finally reached a small bedroom at the end of the hall, Skylar wrinkled up her nose.

The room contained a small bed in the far corner, topped with a patched quilt and matching pillows, occupied by a dresser sitting along the opposite wall that was topped with a small, flat-screened TV and a tiny rocking chair that seemed to be meant for a toddler behind the door. A teddy bear was squished between the tiny armrests, staring at her. A few posters plastered the cream-colored walls and a small plush rug complimented the oak flooring. Skylar’s father walked to the bed, the floor creaking beneath his feet, and threw the duffel bag down.

“So do you like it?” His eyes looked hopeful, wishing she would say yes. She flashed him a fake smile.

“Yeah,” she lied, her voice croaky from lack of talking.

“Good. I figured you could decorate it yourself it you wanted. Maybe we can head down to the hardware store later and you can pick out some paint and maybe a few posters and we can work on redecorating it,” he suggested. Skylar smiled crookedly.

“Maybe. Hey, John? You know I’m here for only two weeks, right? After Christmas I’m leaving,” she informed him. He flinched when she refused to call him dad. The twinkle in his eyes disappeared and sadness replaced it.

“I know. You can call me Dad.” Skylar saw a small tear form in the corner of his eye.

“I know that.” She looked at the floor and scuffed it with her black Converse sneaker awkwardly. She jumped when her father lightly clapped his hands and rubbed them together as if he was trying to heat them.

“Well, I’ll leave you alone so you can get settled. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.” With that, he was gone. Skylar got the feeling that he was trying to make her feel guilty somehow. The thought made her stomach churn.

Skylar walked over to the bed and plopped down. She looked out of the foggy window at the sprinkling snow. She caught a glimpse of a few little kids building a snowman with their father. They were just adding the nose when a woman came to the door and rushed them into the house, the sun setting behind them. Her eyes began to get misty and she wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. If her father had stuck around, she would be able to do that kind of stuff with him. But, he had made her miss the father-daughter dances at weddings, missed the Father’s Day breakfasts at her elementary school when she was younger, missed all of her soccer games as she grew up, and made her mother struggle to afford to feed both of them with only a part-time job. He made her resent him. And now, she was sitting at his house, wishing the two weeks would soon be over and she could be happy again.

The smell of hamburgers filled her nostrils. Her stomach no longer churned but screamed of hunger. She sighed, pushed herself from the bed, and shuffled out the door. She found her father sitting at the kitchen counter, chopping tomatoes. Behind him, smoke rose from a small skillet that was placed on the stove. The smell of onions lingered in the air, making Skylar’s eyes water.

“I hope you’re hungry. I won’t eat all of this by myself.” She smiled and joined him at the counter.

“I’m starving.”

“Did you get settled in ok?”

“Yeah, just fine. Mom never told me you had a dog, John. Whose dog is that? ” Skylar asked, gesturing towards the heap of golden fur lying on the carpet in front of the couch.

“Did I tell you that I work for the animal shelter?” he asked.

“No.”

“Oh. Well, he did belong to the people down the street but they were abusing him so I went over with a couple other people from work and we took him. They told me that he would sit in the shelter until someone adopted him so I told them there was no need and that I would take him. They told me ok and he’s been my best pal ever since. His name is Rufus.” Skylar smiled at the compassionate dog. She tapped her leg gently and the dog came trotting over. She rubbed him behind his ears as her father continued to make the hamburgers.

Skylar glanced out the window at the darkening world. The sun had disappeared and the bright moon had taken its place. She couldn’t believe how long she had already been there. The small snow flakes froze their fall as the sky became a dark navy-blue. The snow on the ground still glistened under the moonlight and periodic winds rustled the leafless trees. Skylar smiled, thinking back to when she was just a child. She and her parents would sit under the trees in the backyard and watch the sunset. She never realized how much she had actually missed her father being around until now.

“What’s with you, Smiles?” her father joked.

“Nothing,” she mumbled. Her father reached up into the overhead cabinets and pulled out two plates. Her father flipped the hamburgers before setting one on each plate and placing them on the counter in front of Skylar. Without a word, he set a bottle of ketchup on the counter followed by a large jar of pickles and a slice of cheese. Skylar smiled. Her favorite toppings.

“You didn’t think I forgot did you?” he asked.

“Not a doubt in my mind,” Skylar smiled back.

“So, how’s school?” Her father asked, trying to make small talk. He took a large bite out of the hamburger.

“Good, I guess,” Skylar mumbled.

“Do you have a boyfriend yet?” he joked. Skylar glared at him and then looked back down at the hamburger that sat on her plate.

“Why do you care? It’s not like you ever cared about anything else that’s happened in my life,” Skylar exploded.

“What do you mean?”

“You left when I was little! I know the story! Mom’s told me a hundred times!”

“I was scared.”

“Of what?” Skylar demanded, “Me? Don’t you think Mom was too?”

“I know that she was, it just seemed to be the right thing to do,” he explained, his voice never rising above a whisper.

“Leaving Mom by herself to raise a baby at the age of 17? That was the right thing to do?” Skylar scoffed.

“Sky, just listen to me. Your mother was three years younger than me. When I found out she was going to have you, I didn’t know what her parents would say or how they would handle the news so I left. I regret everything and wish it could have been different.”

“Really? Then why’d you even come back when I got a little older? Why am I here now?” Skylar demanded. She was sobbing now, thinking about how much she hated him.

“Because I want to be in your life more. Your mother understands that and I hope one day you will too.” Her father remained calm as he bit into the hamburger. Skylar glared once again, wiping the tears away.

“If you wanted me in your life, you should have stayed rather than ran like a coward!”

“Hey! I tried!” he yelled. The dog perked his ears up, getting nervous when he saw his owner furious.

“You should have tried harder!” Skylar screamed. She slide the untouched hamburger to the other side of the counter. She crossed her arms before glaring up at her father again. She no longer wished he was around and realized she was happy with just her mother and herself.

“Are you hungry? You never touched your food,” he asked. Skylar’s jaw dropped. How dare he try and change the subject like nothing had happened. She felt her face turning red.

“No,” she said with an attitude.

“Alright.” With that, he pushed himself from the table and placed his dirty dishes into the sink. He walked back over and grabbed Skylar’s without saying a word. He threw the untouched hamburger into Rufus’s food bowl then placed the dishes into the sink with the others.

“Do you want to roast marshmallows? Everyone has room for at least one,” he joked. She shook her head without saying a word. The smile quickly faded from his face. “Ok, then,” he said.

Skylar watched as her father walked over to the stone fireplace and grabbed a marshmallow roster. He threw a match into the fireplace, the fire expanding to the edge of the pit, and grabbed the bag of marshmallows that were sitting on the coffee table. He motioned the bag towards Skylar as she began to stand.

“Are you sure?” he asked, one last time.

“Positive. I’m going to bed. Night.” she turned on her heels and stomped off down the hall.

She plopped down on the springy bed and glanced out the window up at the bright, twinkling stars. She thought back to the recent argument she had with her father.

“I can’t wait until Christmas when I can leave this place,” she said to herself. Exhausted and furious, she closed her eyes and drifted off into a peaceful rest.



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