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Hey, Kee-Kee,” Dad said, pushing open the door. I flipped the channel and didn’t look up. I heard his briefcase drop and saw him take off his coat from the corner of my eye.
“How are you?” he asked.
He stepped closer and put his arm on my shoulder. I shrugged him off and changed the channel.
“How was school?”
He sighed a little, then headed into the kitchen.
“Chicken okay for tonight?”
“I don’t eat meat, Dad,” I reminded him for the sixtieth time, shaking my head, and kicked up my feet.
For the third time that month, I walked in to see him dishing out tomato chunks onto a noodle-heaped plate.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. I just spaced out and got chicken. He placed my dish in front of me and turned to take his dead carcass from the oven.
“Don’t worry about it,” I mumbled. I dug in quickly, eating as much as I could without choking.
“Do you want something to drink?” he asked.
“I have water,” I replied, mouth stuffed.
“There’s Pepsi in the fridge.”
“I don’t drink soda, Dad.”
“Oh, right.” He gave me a tight smile and lifted his knife. I scraped the remaining watery sauce from the side of the bowl with a piece of bread, swallowing it with the water and stood.
“Can I be excused?”
“We just started, Catie.”
He looked up, his cheeks swollen with chicken, his fork poised with another piece. He raised his eyebrows, shrugged and nodded.
“I made dessert, if you want,” he added as I walked away.
“I’m not hungry.”
“7th Heaven” repeats were on. It really was a horrible show. Anyone who could believe that someone could afford to have seven kids with the father being a pastor was really pushing it. I clicked it on as the mother hugged her oldest son, sappy violins playing in the background. I clicked again.
“Kee-Kee?” Dad said, walking in. I turned up the volume.
“Kee-Kee?” he repeated.
“Do you want to help in the shop?”
I rolled my eyes. The “shop” was his closet-sized workroom where he made gnomes and animals from clay. He had taught me how to make them ten years ago, and hadn’t gotten it through his head that I was over helping.
“I’m watching this.”
“Well, it’s finished now, isn’t it?”
He had a point - the credits streamed across the screen.
“I like the next one,” I replied. As he sat next to me, the sofa sagged and I scooted over to the edge.
“Can I join you then?”
“If you want.” I kept flipping the channel. He hated it when I did that, but he didn’t even flinch as I skipped through 260 in less than 30 seconds.
“Can’t find anything good, huh?” he chuckled. I shrugged.
“It’s all junk anyway.”
“Well, do you want to play a game? Monopoly?”
“Not really.” I settled on MTV and turned it up.
“Actually, Catie, can you turn it down?” He turned to face me and I continued to stare at the screen. I flipped it a couple of notches lower. He reached across the coffee table and switched it off. I glared at him.
“Dad, I was watching!”
“Catie, will you just talk to me for a second?”
“I am talking to you. What do you want to talk about so badly?” I grabbed for the remote again, but he was faster.
“What did you do today?”
“I went to school, Dad. What else would I do?”
“Okay, and how was school?”
“I already told you! It was fine!”
His face seemed to settle as though all the muscles had gotten tired. He looked like a kicked puppy. I crossed my arms.
“Honey, is there something you’re mad about?”
“No, Dad, will you just back off?”
“Okay.” He kept looking at me, his brown eyes pathetically wide.
“Can I have the remote back?” I asked quickly.
“Actually, no, Catie. TV’s off tonight.” He stood up, unplugged the television, and stuffed the remote in his pocket. I sat on the couch, slammed my head back on the cushion and kicked the coffee table. He was so immature.
I headed for my room and blasted The Ramones until the picture frames shook. I ignored him the first time he knocked. If he wanted to play dirty, I could too. I spread my homework across the bed and pretended to be doing it, but the music was too loud, even for me. My bed vibrated with the bass and I let the music swallow me. I wondered if when he was a teenager, he would blast Elvis or something until his parents got mad. He probably never got them mad. He was straight as a damn razor.
He knocked again and I threw a pillow over my face. I heard a click and the door opened. He stomped in, threw the switch to my stereo and stood, red-faced, over the bed.
“I don’t normally use your key,” he yelled, “but I felt that since the neighbors called to complain, it would be impolite to keep that music blaring!”
“Fine,” I shrugged. If it buffed his ego to play drill sergeant, I wasn’t giving him any pleasure in it. I flipped open a binder and propped it up on my chest so he couldn’t see my face and waited for him to continue yelling. I heard him take a few breaths as though he were going to start again, but he just walked out.
Wednesday morning I woke up and thought: Mom’s house tomorrow. I was late and stumbled down the stairs without brushing my hair or teeth, and got a bagel from the kitchen. Dad left me a plate of eggs, but I didn’t have time. I locked the door and ran to the bus stop.
Might as well have slept through it for all I did at school. Alissa said something about me looking like I had gotten in a fight with a cat.
“Just my dad,” I smirked. She rolled her eyes and passed me her math homework.
“What was it this time?”
“He wanted to play Monopoly,” I moaned. She gave me a half smile and shrugged.
“Is it really that bad?”
“He’s like a five-year-old, Liss.”
“I don’t know. He seems nice.”
“You don’t have to live with him,” I snapped.
“Call me from your mom’s,” she said. “I hate talking to you when you’re in a bad mood.” I nodded, gave her a real smile, and passed back the worksheet.
The networks must have been really poor if all they could afford were stupid sitcom reruns. The pastor father on “7th Heaven” counseled his younger daughter on her first date. The last scene showed them hugging with the same sappy violins playing in the background. I almost puked.
“Hey, Kee-Kee,” Dad said. I clicked channels again and didn’t say anything.
“I got eggplant and tofu for a stir-fry,” he called from the hallway. I stuck my tongue out at the screen.
“You like that, right?” He peeked in and I nodded.
“Rice is okay?”
I nodded again. He loosened his tie, glanced at the screen, and checked his watch.
“One more hour and it goes off, okay, Catie? You watch too much of that junk,” he mumbled, and walked out.
An hour was two more shows, but nothing was even worth watching, so I clicked off the TV and headed to my room. Dad caught me on the way, his hands covered in tofu juice.
“Can you give me a hand, Kee-Kee? I need to finish chopping.”
“I have homework, Dad.”
He grabbed a towel and began wiping his palms.
“Why didn’t you do that instead of watching TV?”
He crossed his arms and his eyes met mine. I didn’t blink.
“Fine. Dinner will be in an hour,” he said briskly.
“And, Dad, can you quit calling me Kee-Kee? I’m 14.”
I slammed open the door to my room and grabbed the phone.
“Hey, Lissa,” I said.
“Hey, Cate. What’s up?”
“Nothing. You done bio yet?”
“No, have you?”
“I’m doing it now. I can’t figure out half of it.”
I reached for my textbook and flipped it open. “Just osmosis. It’s not so bad.”
“Whatever. I’ll do it tomorrow. What are you doing?”
“Avoiding my dad.”
Alissa sighed in the receiver. “Give him a break, already.”
“Oh, shut up, Liss.”
“Look, Catie, I know that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve only met your dad like 600 times and spent like 50 weekends at your house, so maybe I have some idea. Your dad is a nice guy, Cate. He lets you do whatever you want; he’s always buying you stuff, driving you places-”
“So he has a fat wallet, so what?”
“Yeah, but he goes out of his way to do stuff for you. Maybe this isn’t my place but-”
“Yeah, it isn’t.”
“Okay.” She paused. “Okay. It just sucks to see you in such a crappy mood, is all. You were like a zombie today.”
“I woke up late,” I answered quickly.
“Look, I have to finish this bio sheet. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Dad called me for dinner and I practiced speed eating again. I figured I could finish an entire plate in less than three minutes, no problem. Dad looked up as I scraped the rest of the rice and gave a short smile.
“So you like it okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I picked up the plate, dropped it in the sink and twisted the faucet. “I have homework,” I told him, and headed up to my room.
I flipped through my CDs, turned on “London Calling” and flopped on my bed. I was only like two songs into the CD when I heard him knock. And it wasn’t even that loud.
“I’m turning it down!” I yelled, jamming the knob. He knocked again.
“Catie, can you just open the door?”
“Dad, I’m doing homework!” I watched the door and waited. Finally, the shadow under the frame moved and I heard his footsteps on the stairs. I turned it back up.
Over the drumbeat, I caught the third ring of the phone.
“Catie?” It was Alissa.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No, really, I don’t know what’s up with you guys. I shouldn’t have said that. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. He just drives me nuts.”
“Yeah, it sounds like it.”
“Whatever. I’m going to my mom’s tomorrow. It-” I heard a knock and paused.
“Just a sec, Alissa. He must want to yell at me again.” I put down the phone, turned the player off, and opened the door.
“I turned it off,” I told him before he could open his mouth.
“I know, Cate. I just wanted to see if you wanted that dessert I made last night. It’s still good.”
I looked at him and sighed. “I’m on the phone with Alissa.”
“Okay.” He stood there, like a prepubescent boy with wilting flowers in his hand, and nodded. I watched him make his way down the stairs and shut the door.
“Alissa? Sorry about that. What were you saying?”
“What did he want?”
“I dunno. He made dessert or something.”
“I dunno. He just did. I guess we used to do that all the time.” Of course, I realized. Wednesday was cake night.
“Oh, yeah, I remember that. How come you never do that anymore?”
“Come on, Alissa. I’m not about to come home and bake with my dad anymore.”
“Well, do what you want. I still like cake,” she laughed.
“Yeah, I guess. But that was like, a while ago. I remember in sixth grade I would never eat dinner on Wednesday because we’d just make cake. Huge cakes too, we’d use four bowls just for the batter. “
“My dad would never let me do that,” Alissa sighed. Her dad was a major health freak. They practically ate wheat-germ sandwiches for dinner.
“Yeah, really. I guess he never read those nutrition magazines. There’d be, like, chocolate all over the place. One time,” I laughed, remembering the batter-covered cabinets, “we even had an eating contest. I think I won because he was going to be sick. Or maybe it was the other way around.”
“That’s really gross. I haven’t had an eating contest since I was four.”
“Well, whatever, he’s my dad,” I said quickly. “I mean, it’s just a dumb thing we did. I think it was his ‘being a good dad after divorce deal,’ you know. He probably felt guilty about the whole thing.”
“Well, I guess, but that sucks that it had to happen. I’m sure he felt really weird about it.”
“Yeah, probably. But he could’ve not done it, you know, it’s not like it had to happen.”
“Catie, don’t be ridiculous! I mean, yeah, it really sucks, but they fought all the time. You used to come to my house just to hide from them!”
“That’s not true,” I said a little too loudly. “I mean, I liked to hang out with you.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. Just, you know, I don’t really think it would’ve been much better,” she said quietly.
“Yeah, I guess.” I paused and began fiddling with the little clay ponies. Dad had made them for my fifth birthday and put matching pink bridles and reins out of yarn. I galloped one around.
“You still there?” Alissa asked.
“Yeah. Sorry. You’re right. I was just thinking, you know, they did used to scream at each other like every ten minutes,” I said. “Like that one time when they were arguing over that stupid lamp. No one even cared about it, and Mom would flip out because it was too bright or something. I dunno. They were just not made for each other. He’s kind of a doormat, though.”
“Well, whatever. He’s a nice doormat,” Alissa laughed.
I snorted and started twisting the phone cord into loops.
“Okay, this is getting a little cheesy. I should probably start my homework.”
“Okay. Me, too.”
“Yeah, okay. See you tomorrow.”
I hung up and untangled the cord. I glanced at my bio book again, then my English reading and tapped my chair.
He sat at the kitchen table, the paper open, a cup of coffee by his arm.
“Uh, is there any of that dessert left?” He paused a second, then went to the fridge.
“You still like chocolate, right?”
I looked at the half-oval mess with thick brown frosting and swallowed.
“You made it from a mix?”
“No. I, you know, did it from scratch.” The frosting was sliding to the left and looked a little dry.
“Okay, I guess I’ll have it.”
He nodded and turned to slice it.
He looked at the plate, and winced at the half-falling-apart slice smushed on the edge.
“Jeez, you really can’t do it without my help, huh?”
He looked surprised, then managed a quick laugh. “I guess not. I was never the one who was good at this stuff.”
“I remember. Weren’t you the one who always burned everything?” This was a blatant lie and we knew it - I used to turn the oven up to 500 degrees since I was sure it would cook faster that way.
“That’s right, I always forget that little detail,” he said, grinning. I sat at the table while he cut himself a piece and poured the milk. We ate quietly, and I tried not to go too fast. I was about to get up and check the shows, but something stopped me.
“Yeah, Kee- Cate?”
“Do you, you know, want to play Monopoly or something?” He stopped eating and looked up.
“It’s alright, Caitlin. You can watch TV if you’re that bored.”
I laughed quickly but stopped.
“No, really. Come on, I’ll get the set.”
He looked at me carefully, as if to check that I wasn’t kidding, and nodded.
“Okay. But I get to be the shoe,” he said slowly. I rolled my eyes.
“You’re always the stupid shoe, Dad. Fine. I’ll be the battleship.”
“That’s fitting,” he said, smiling. I stopped, considered, and smiled back.
“Yeah, well.” And went to get the game.