“You ate all the pizza?” My father’s face creased in on itself.

“There were only two slices left. Order another one.” He looked hurt but made no move towards the phone.

“Okay, fine. I’ll order another one and you can have it fresh and hot.” He brightened instantly at the thought of fresh pizza, pulling his phone out of his pocket to capture a selfie of himself in happy mode. When I had asked about it, he told me that he hadn’t smiled much in prison and that he liked to catch the smiles to assure himself that he could still be happy. I turned away and picked up the phone.

“…yeah, large; with pepperoni, jalapenos, and pineapple… yeah this is Olivia. Hi Tony. 45 minutes? Great. Thanks.

Tony liked me, and if I was honest with myself, which I rarely was, I liked him too. I stubbed my cigarette out, watching my father smile into his phone and snap away. He’d been home for all of four days and he must have taken at least two hundred photos of himself. He looked over his phone and frowned at the small pile of crushed butts in my thrift store ashtray.

“You know — ”

“Nope.” I cut him off. “We’re not talking about my smoking, or my crappy apartment, my loser job, or my lack of a boyfriend.” His face fell, but I couldn’t stop myself. “If we’re not talking about your theft and corruption and prison time, then we’re not talking about my ugly stuff. Okay?”

He stood in the middle of the shabby room, shoulders slumped and looked at his slippers. Dammit — I’d done it again!

“I’m sorry Dad.” I got up and held out my arms. He stepped into them and I enclosed his frail body with arms strong from physical work at the garden center. I held him gently. “I love you and I’m glad you’re home and nothing else matters,” I whispered into his neck. I felt tears drop to my shoulder. “It’s okay Dad. We’re okay.” I was running on bullshit. It wasn’t going to be okay and we both knew it — he was dying, and I was nearly dead inside. I pushed back from him and took his face in my hands. The strong, happy father who had ushered me through a privileged childhood was gone. In his place stood a pale ghost who had lost everything — a threadbare man who had landed me in this rundown life.

“Hey! I’m seeing Tony, the guy that owns the pizza place, tomorrow night.” His face lit through his tears. “I think he likes me.” I led him to the bathroom. “You need a shower.”

He paused at the threshold. “Livey, I’m so…”

“No more apologies.” I smoothed his rumpled hair. “We move on. That’s what you always say, right?”

“Right.” He tried a small smile and stepped into the bathroom, closing the door. I picked up the phone and dialed.

“Tony? It’s Olivia. What are you doing tomorrow night?”

Claudia Brooke

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