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The President’s Daughter
By: P.L. Jones
Ugh…did I actually just say, “Yes Sir?” ?!
Those two words, foreign to my everyday vocabulary, have been forced from my lips, and I hate hearing them uttered in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own.
I clear my throat, wanting to cover the formal words with some other sentence…with something honest.
So, I open my mouth and begin,
“And I hope we ca-“
I stop speaking and listen to the abrupt silence from his end of the line.
This is when it dawns on me that the President of the United States of America, the man who I’m 99.9% sure is my birth father, has just hung up on me.
I don’t cry, because I’m not sad.
I don’t even frown because I’m not …um…I’m not… angry.
Wait…am I angry?
As I carefully set my Mother’s cell phone on my dresser, the sigh that involuntarily escapes my lips lets me know that more than anything, I’m tired.
I’m tired of being weighed down with the secret my dying Mother finally whispered in my ear the night before she left us.
Recalling what she’d said, the way she’d grabbed my wrist with such surprising strength…is too much and my breath catches in my throat as I try to take a deep breath.
Wishing I’d accepted that bottled water from my Aunt when I’d earlier slipped downstairs to find my Mother’s phone, I run my tongue over my chapped lips.
I always get thirsty when I’m nervously edging towards the precipice, peering down over the edge, imagining- even craving- the rash jump that will land me headfirst into something I know I shouldn’t touch.
What do you mean “shouldn’t touch”?! Some part of my mind growls, questioning my sudden cowardice.
As if in response, my fingers immediately make their way to the gold bracelet Dad gave me last year.
When we first found out about Mom, about her being sick that is, he’d given me the bracelet.
There wasn’t any formality to the event, it was like any other summer evening when I, home from school for the break, sat with my parents at their dinner table.
Mom, breathing heavily and her feet propped up in a chair, held a knowing smile on her lips as she watched my Dad hand me a small velvet box.
Inside of the box was the bracelet.
Delighted, my eyes swept over the gold, taking in the inscription of each of our names- Donny, Laura, and Amelia- inscribed side by side around the interior of the delicate bracelet.
Of course, I thought it was exquisite and that’s what I told my Dad.
Touching it now, I still think it’s exquisite.
But I also think it’s based on a lie.
It’s their fault, not Dad’s.
Now that she’s gone if I actually do this and make it public, sure any future campaign of his will be hurt by the bad press and that’s great but…it’s my Dad ‘s hurt that scares me…the humiliation he’ll feel, the questions he’ll never be able to demand she answer now that she’s gone.
Despite my wearied anger, I can feel everything inside of me slowly edging away from the cliff.
I think the jump might be too much…
He was her husband, he loved her…and on the day of her funeral I’m actually considering taking what she did- what they did and making it public?
I can’t do this to my Dad.
This time, the sigh that escapes becomes a shudder and I feel it, along with a cold shiver, run throughout my entire body.
My Dad’s voice pierces through my thoughts and at once, I’m on my feet, the anger removed from my expression.
“Yeah?” I call, moving to the doorway where he meets me.
My fifty-two year old Dad, never a pro at covering his emotions, is walking with the dejected posture of a lonely old man and from the dark circles under his eyes, I can see that he’s roughed his way through yet another sleepless night.
He opens his mouth, but I interrupt him,
“How are you holding up Daddy?”
He shrugs noncommittally and wipes his eyes,
“I’m OK,” I say, giving him, what I hope, is an encouraging smile.
Behind my smile, I feel like a fraud…just like my Mother was a fraud.
He has no idea what his own daughter’s been planning on doing.
He takes my hand and gives it a squeeze, his light blue eyes swimming in sadness as they meet mine,
“We’ll be there for each other, won’t we?”
I can’t speak, so I nod mutely.
He lets my hand drop and as soon as he does, Mom’s cell phone rings.
We both turn in the direction of the familiar sound.
“Is that hers?” He asks, absently glancing at the phone.
My heartbeat pounds in my ears,
We’re both looking at it and I hear myself ask,
“Oh, sure.” He nods, heading to the phone.
I watch him walk to her phone just like I watched that bad car accident happen at Martin Luther King Ave. and Howard Rd. last month.
I know everything must have happened quickly, otherwise the people involved would have hit their brakes…but in my mind, time slowed to a crawl and when the tow truck plowed into the minivan, the sound of the impact was like a slow roll of thunder.
My eyes focus in on Dad, slowly picking up her phone, saying hello, his voice thundering over the sound of my rapid heartbeat.
I close my eyes.
“It’s for you.”
What did you expect Amelia?
Did you expect the leader of the free world to confess right there on the phone…?
I open my eyes.
He’s holding her phone towards me, a trace of a smile on his sad face,
Biting down on my dry bottom lip, I again wish I’d accepted my Aunt’s offer of a bottled water.
Taking the phone from Dad, I refuse to resort to formality as I say,
“Amelia? I’m so sorry, I just got this new i-phone and I’m a complete klutz with the thing, now you were saying, um…you hope…?”
The way his voice trails off throws me because…it sounds way too familiar.
Of course, he never did that when he recited the speeches Mom and her staff used to write for him.
On camera, he came across as confident, capable, all wrapped up in a shiny sort of charisma that attracted our attention and pulled us into his little bubble.
But now, I hear my voice in his…
It’s right there, talking to me on the other end of the line.
I can be angry with myself, but I can’t completely write myself off because I know too much…I know how it feels to do rash things before a split second later, wishing you could take them back.
I know this…and for the life of me, I can’t hate this.
“Amelia…are you still there?” He asks.
“Yeah, but…” Now my voice is trailing off.
I glance at my Dad, standing with his hands in his pockets as he silently stares out of my bedroom window.
A morning sunbeam settles itself on his profile and that’s when it hits me…he knows.
“I don’t remember…what I was going to say.” I quietly reply, “But maybe…um, maybe someday I will.”
“OK.” He sighs and I wonder if his sighs, like mine, are sometimes followed by a cold shiver, “OK, then someday we’ll talk.”
This time we both say goodbye.
I set down my Mother’s phone with its endless lists of contacts, and I walk to my Dad, who is still staring out of the window.
I slip my hand through his arm, which seems to surprise him, and I pretend I don’t see the tears in his eyes as I say,
“We’re here for each other, aren’t we?”
Nodding, he lightly taps the bracelet that decorates my wrist,
“You know, she wanted me to give you that. She had it made.”
His words sink into my mind, my heart…and I understand.
Forgiving them may be one of the most difficult journeys I’ve ever considered making, but I know it’s a journey I’ll start.
And I’m going to start today.
-The President’s Daughter