“What are you doing for Christmas?” Scott asks me, folding dough over and over again then kneading it. I sit beside him on a stool, laptop in front of me.
Darkness is drowning the small shop. The only light on is the one in the kitchen above us, but everywhere else I look, it’s hard to make out what object is what. The once alive and bright Christmas lights hang lifeless around the room, and in the darkness, I can’t even tell where the fake Christmas tree is set up in the dining area. It looks as if the Christmas spirit has fallen asleep with the night that has risen, but Scott’s question reminds me that The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is in less than a week.
I shrug. “I usually don’t do anything, but this year…” I debate telling him about my dad. I’ve been toying with the idea of giving him a surprise visit since Thanksgiving. Instead, I shake my head and say, “I don’t know.”
He looks to me curiously, his hands completely buried in the dough. “Not the same this year?”
“Yeah, I, well, on Thanksgiving we talked and I kind of regretted not going there to spend the day with my dad.” Scott’s expression saddens slightly. “I haven’t seen him in…. Wow, about two years.” Now he looks downright sympathetic. I’m just scolding myself that two years has felt like a year at most, and that time is flying by without me even thinking about him.
“Well how far away does he live?” Scott’s focus goes back to the dough. It’s becoming stiffer.
His blond eyebrows furrow. He almost looks disappointed in me. “Go see him, then.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“No, we… Ah, I don’t know how to explain it.” I review in my head what he already knows versus what he doesn’t. “After my mom died our relationship kind of went into the gutter. We only talk two or three times a year, it’d be weird to just show up.”
He withdraws his hands and grabs a towel to remove the excess dough that is sticking to his fingers. “It’s your dad, Mitch.”
I sigh and don’t answer, deciding to concentrate on the flyer design. The list of the flavors of pastries he’s serving is sprawled in front of me. I decide to sort them into categories and begin retyping them into columns. “Tomorrow I’ll be requesting an ad in the paper, so we really have to decide on a date.”
He ignores me, still thinking about my estranged father. “Why won’t you go see him?”
I take a glimpse of him, shake my head again, and go back to the computer. “I already told you. It’d be too weird. For both of us.” He doesn’t answer, and I know he’s waiting for a better response than that. I sigh. “We wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”
“Mitch.” I stay silent, but he continues anyway. “Are you nervous?”
I know I shouldn’t lie, but it seems like the best option right now. My brain is fighting about it, so instead of answering immediately, I look down at the clothes I’m wearing. Jeans and my Target shirt, the nametag still pinned on. I came straight from work, and I’ve already been here for three hours. It’s getting late and when it gets late, I’m willing to spill my guts. I don’t want to do that to Scott.
I take too long to answer apparently because Scott’s hand is on my knee and pulling me to face him. “Mitch,” he keeps using my name, and it’s in the way parents discipline little children. “I know it’s probably pretty hard to go back to your childhood home and see your dad.”
My eyes avert from his face back to my lap.
“But, no matter how nervous you are, you must know deep down that he would appreciate nothing more from his son, right?”
My heart sinks thinking of the last time I saw my dad. I had been down there because I was especially missing my mom and owed a visit to her grave. It was a boring weekend with nothing to do anyway, so I drove the four hours and spent a long time talking to a patch of grass and a headstone.
I had figured my dad wouldn’t mind a visit as well. I talked to him for about an hour, told him I had to go, and watched him wave to me from the rearview mirror. If I try hard enough, I can see him standing in a plaid shirt at the end of our gravel driveway, waving, frowning, and then turning back inside. That was the last time I saw him, and that was two summers ago.
“Look, Mitch, I know I’ve never met the guy, and I know you’re not super close with him, but I, in my honest opinion, think that you’ll regret it for a very long time if you don’t go see him.”
I consider it. “I guess my mom could use a visit,” I say, finally glancing up to find a confused face meeting mine. Then he realizes. We can still visit people when they’re dead, it’s just less entertaining.
“Oh.” He clears his throat. “Yeah, go visit your mom and Dad. Christmas is next week. They would both appreciate it.”
I don’t say anything, barely convinced this is a good idea. Scott lets the topic slip into silence until I decide to break it. “Scott,” it comes out hoarse and it makes me cringe, “I don’t think I can do it.”
“See your dad?” I nod. He leans against the counter, no longer facing me, but staring at the large mixer. I can almost see the gears turning in his head. “Tell me about him.”
I had expected him to ask me why I couldn’t or why I was so nervous, but he didn’t. He asked about me about my dad in general. I make myself think back to my younger days, something I try to avoid, and say the first things that come to mind. “It’s like he lost his voice when my mom died. I, I remember him...” I smile. “I remember him laughing all the time and goofing around with me. He was always this really sensitive, just really… really silly guy. Then when my mom died he closed up, barely talked to me, barely raised me even. Don’t get me wrong: he wasn’t a great dad to begin with. He’d joke around with me, but when it came down to it, he didn’t care about what I was doing in school or anything like that. My mom would just tell him when I got an A, he’d smile, but that would be it. He cared even less when she was gone. But I do have good memories of him. I just wish…. I don’t know. I wish his job had meant less to him.”
“But he was a hard-worker?”
“Oh, God, yeah. He worked all the time. Good at his job, at least from what I know.”
“What does he do for a living?”
I shrug. “It’s a factory job, I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what your dad does?” I feel like I should be offended, but the way he said it was more surprised than judgemental, so I let it slide.
“I think he makes plastic covers and stuff.”
Scott nods. “Mitch.” I look to up to his eyes since he’s facing me again. “You have a lot to say about your dad. Why don’t you have anything to say to him?”
“Because I feel like I don’t know him.” I turn back to the computer screen, but can feel Scott moving around me. Suddenly, his arms are wrapped around me and his chin is resting on my shoulder. I freeze. I don’t think we’ve ever made this much contact except for that one time we cuddled on my floor. My heart gets the memo and picks up its pace.
“Tell you what,” he speaks softly. “If you wait until December 26th, I will drive there with you, I’ll make us a late Christmas ham, I’ll do all the talking for you. As long as you’re there visiting your dad, I will do anything I can to help.”
If he’s using his touch as a way to get me to agree, it’s working. Plus that delicious scent of dough surrounding me. Dang, he’s good.
“You’d do that for me?” I ask quietly.
He pauses, and it makes me anxious. “Mitch, can I be honest with you?”
“Yeah,” I answer, almost a squeak because of the emotions pumping through my veins at a million miles per minute.
“I think I’d do anything for you.”