Gail had finished her dinner, but, like always, her father still had food on his plate. She always got a head start as he never had everything ready when he thought he did.
“Can I be excused, Daddy?”
“Don’t you want to stay and talk?”
“That’s not very nice. You don’t have to stay. You can go, if you’d rather.”
Gail got up and danced out of the room. Her father took the last few bites of his rice and stood up himself. He put Gail’s plate on top of his own and put them both in the sink. There were a lot of leftovers. It’s hard to cook for two. There are plenty of options for singles and families, but not so many for pairs. Especially when one of them is only eight.
He dumped the rice and vegetables in an empty spaghetti sauce jar and wrapped the chicken in foil before putting it all in the fridge. “Are you done with your milk?” he called.
He picked up the pink cup and the other dishes and brought them all to the sink. He turned on the water, looked to his right and turned the water off again. He emptied the dish drainer. Then, he turned the water back on.
After the dishes were washed and the dish drainer was full again, he joined his daughter in the living room. She was sitting on the floor with some dolls. He couldn’t decide if she was reenacting a scene from a movie or making something up. “Did you do your homework?”
“Yes, Daddy. I always do it in aftercare.”
“I know. What kind of dad would I be if I didn’t check?”
He sat on the couch and looked around him. He moved some of the cushions. Then, he saw the remote on the armchair. “Do you want to watch TV?”
He stood up and picked up the remote. He walked back to the couch and sat down. He turned on the TV and hit the guide button. “I wish it were baseball season,” he muttered.
“Nothing. I was just saying I wish baseball were on. There’s always something to watch during baseball season.”
He decided on Duckling TV and put the remote down on the cushion next to him. It was a commercial. “What are you playing?”
“Nothing. Just playing.”
When Gail’s father heard Michelle’s voice say, “Welcome back,” from the TV, he smiled, but continued looking at Gail.
Gail, however, put her dolls down and looked up at the TV. “Daddy?”
“Why did you put this on? Can we watch something else? This is for babies.”
“But you used to love this. We’d watch every night.”
“Yeah, when I was a baby.”
“Well, what do you want to watch? Something more grown up? You are such a big girl after all.”
“I just put it on for you. Would you rather read or just play with your dolls?”
“That’s fine.” She picked up her dolls again and went back to her skit.
Her father didn’t touch the remote. He sat and watched her play. “Are you going to turn it off, Daddy?”
“Do you want me to? I like the background noise.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
He left the TV on and continued watching Gail play. He’d had a daughter for eight years, but still couldn’t understand playing with dolls. After a while, his attention wandered and he found himself looking at the TV. Callie and Ducky were singing about brushing teeth. He chuckled softly to himself. “Are you sure you don’t want the TV?”
“I’m sure, Daddy.”
He picked up the remote and turned off the TV. “Can I play with you?”
“What are you playing?” He got down on the floor next to his daughter.
“Katie and Charlene are going to a big ball. They’re getting all dressed up and they’re gonna ride their horses to the ball and then dance.”
“Where do you get this stuff?”
“Gram got them for me.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“It’s not important. I’ve never been to a ball and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either. Where did you learn about them?”
Gail kept playing while her dad sat next to her. After a while, he stood up. “Where are you going, Daddy?”
“It hurts my back to sit on the floor like that. Besides, it’s getting close to bed time.” He sat back on the couch. Gail put her dolls on the coffee table and climbed on the couch next to her father. He put his arm around her and she put her head on his chest. “It really is time for bed.”
“Just a little longer, please?”
There was no way he could say no when Gail snuggled like that. “Just a few more minutes. But don’t complain about being tired in the morning.”
They sat for a few more minutes. Gail’s father took his arm back and said, “OK, it really is time. Go get washed up. I’ll be up to tuck you in in a minute.”
Gail slid off the couch and walked up the stairs. He listened for the toilet flush and the running water in the sink. He sang the Alphabet Song to himself. The water always ran longer, but he sang it anyway. Then he waited another two minutes and the water started running again. He smiled. Gail was always careful to brush for two minutes.
He walked slowly up the stairs and got to the top just as Gail was opening the bathroom door. He let her go first and followed her into her bedroom. “Daddy, I need to get changed!”
“I know. Oh.” he went back out of the room and stood on the landing at the top of the stairs.
“Okay,” she called.
He went back into the room. She was already in bed. He walked over and kissed her forehead. She gave him a hug. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
“Sleep well, too, Daddy.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, too, Daddy.”
He turned off the light and opened the door. He stepped out, and she said, “Daddy?”
He put his head back in, “What is it, sweetie?”
“What are we doing tomorrow?”
“You have school and I have to work.”
“Are we doing anything after?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Love you. Good night.”
He closed her door and walked back downstairs. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. He went back to the living room and sat in the armchair. After feeling around for a minute, he saw the remote on the couch. He got up, got the remote and sat back in the armchair. He turned on the TV. He checked the networks, but there was nothing interesting on. So, he hit the guide button and began scrolling through.
After scrolling through all the stations, he wound up back on Duckling TV. Michelle was inviting the kids to do a relaxing stretch. “Hi there, Michelle,” he said as he put the remote down. He leaned his head back and slowly drank his water.