NINETY-ONE, 2.0

Pat paced  the room, tapping the jacket whenever he passed it, but not putting it on. He let the carpet seep through his toes with each step, and ran his hands down his pant legs to wipe down the sweat. Being indoors this long was not a feeling he was accustomed to.

Once he stopped to adjust the cuff links at his wrists, but, having only done it once before, he quickly gave up and continued pacing.  His beard, six months’ grown, was rough to the touch when he combed his fingers through, but only once did they snag.

“Gonna tell me to shave. She’s gonna say it, and then what can I do?” When he uttered this, he didn’t expect a response.  But there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?”

“Daddy, it’s me.” Her voice was muffled and shaking, nervous.

Pat opened the door a crack, barely an inch, enough to make eye contact. He blinked two, three times, before speaking, allowing her face to come into focus. “What is it?”

“Daddy, are you okay? It’s almost time, and you look, well, I thought you were going to shave?”

“I know, Susan, I’m working on it.”

“We only have a few minutes, so just, I don’t know, just get dressed.” She offered a half-smile, “I’m glad you came.”Then she turned away from the door.

Pat opened it a little wider. “Hey, tell your uncle, er, tell Alex to come in, okay?

“Alex?”

“Yeah. It’s, it’s okay, just, I need to speak to him.”

“Dad, it’s just one day. Remember that.”

He closed the door, then continued pacing. Twice more around the room, then he stopped by the mirror. He looked at himself, then over the shoulder of his reflection.  Almost conversationally, he began to speak to himself, growing in volume as his throat stretched to allow more confidence through.

“Just one day, that’s a laugh. The day she was born was just one day. The day I got married was just one day. When I left her mother, it was just one day that became ‘just’ a lifetime. Then it was just a betrayal. Her betrayal, to be sure, but I see now the blame that’s settled on me and I don’t question it.  Years apart, and I never chased after her, and she never came to chase me. Not once. Not until last week.  Her daughter, her ‘precious little girl’, is getting married and wants her father here. Sixteen years since the ‘precious little girl’ has laid eyes on me, and I’m supposed to walk her down the aisle like a lifetime’s worth of living hasn’t already been expired? What little she knows, this ‘precious’ one, about the life she could have had. The heartache, the loss, the loneliness. Her mother may have made the right choice in leaving me, but Susan never needs to know why. That it was my own undoing, my own lack of acceptance in the truth. There was a responsibility I wasn’t ready to face. An unwillingness to proceed with caution towards building a life together, of working hard at the same goals, of helping each other through rough times and difficult things to pass. Emotions always ran high, and –”

More knocking. It would be Alex, but Pat held on his own gaze a moment longer, focusing on his eyes above his bushy beard.

“She’s right, though, I do need to shave.”

Alex entered, his face clean and red. He slurred a greeting to Pat. Pat stepped into his shoes, and said, “She wants me to shave.  I’ve no reason to shave. It’s just a day, right?”

“Yer askin’ me?” Alex glared up at Pat, took a long pull from his flask.

“What is it you need to be so drunk for, here? It ain’t your daughter getting married. Ain’t your ex-wife telling you how to behave, accusin’ you of things you never did.”

“No, it ain’t. But that don’t mean I haven’t been feeling that tension. Everyone has. It’s in the air. It’s your girl’s big day, and all anyone wants to talk about is how you come up out of the clear blue of nothing looking like you’ve spent a lifetime in the mountains. Why’d you call me in here?”

Pat stared at Alex, then looked into the mirror. “He’s just like them. I hear the judgment in his voice, and see it in his eyes. No matter how drunk the man, there’s still a thought in his mind that’s true to his soul. He acts as though he’s innocent, that nothing in his actions helped to cause the strife he speaks of, but all he needs to do is think back and remember just how and why she left me.  And what his involvement was.” He turned to Alex, held out his arms. “Cuff links.”

Alex shook his head, “You never did grow up proper.” He adjusted Pat’s cuff links, helped him tighten his tie and fold down his collar. Then he wrapped the jacket around Pat’s shoulders. Alex took out a comb and ran it across his head, then through Pat’s beard.  It was unexpected, to Pat, but he then looked in the mirror and was impressed at his new appearance.  He’d broken his promise not to shave, but there could not be an argument made that he didn’t at least try to prepare for the wedding.

They left together, and Pat walked his daughter down the aisle and nodded a brief hello to his ex-wife. After the ceremony, Pat ignored her when she walked by holding Alex’s hands. Still, after all these years. Maybe they’d be a proper set of role models for his daughter and her new husband.

Susan waved to Pat when he left, and he waved back. Maybe, one day soon, he’d find her to say hello again.  But for now, he had to return his suit and get his clothes back.

There was a tent under a bridge awaiting its’ homeowner.

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