“I’m not a child!” I shouted at the salt-and-pepper haired man standing in my doorway. I grabbed the orange hoodie next to my pillow and whipped it into my closet. My hand slammed the closet shut and I leaned against it, crossing my arms in defiance. Dad needed to stop. Sure, there was a time that his meddling made me feel good – like when he took on Ms. Graham, my third grade teacher, who thought I’d cheated on a math test just because I was the only one who got everything right. But I was little then, and he was like some knight in shining armor who’d protect me no matter what. I wasn’t that kid anymore – and he’d never been the knight I thought he was.
“What was I supposed to do,” he yelled back. “Not answering your phone or your roommate’s text? Out somewhere by yourself. Who knows where – with a boy?”
I wanted to kill Sasha for telling him that last part, which Dad made out to be a major crime. I narrowed my eyes in a glare. “We were studying, Dad.”
“Where were you?” he demanded.
“None of your business.”
“It is my business,” he roared pacing across the room. “You’re my business. I drove three hours down from Tipton because you wouldn’t answer your phone. You can’t run off like that,” Dad dictated, taking a stand in front of Sasha’s desk. “That boy could have …”
“He didn’t do anything. We were doing homework, and we’re just friends!” I interrupted, waving him away with my hand as I marched over to the window. Outside, students passed under the lights on the walk, free to come and go as they pleased. Their fathers didn’t act like they were precious jewels everyone wanted to steal. Their fathers hadn’t lied to them their entire lives about what and who they were.
“Homework?” he bellowed. “You do homework here, on campus, so I know exactly where you are.”
I bit back fast. “I’m an adult, and this isn’t a prison – or a convent.” Silence filled the room at those words, but I let it. I knew Dad would have preferred either of those settings to the freedom of a college campus, but I’d never been a wild teen, drinking or running around. I’d never even broken curfew. I wasn’t the one being unreasonable. After a minute, I heard Dad sigh behind me. I’d won.
“Let’s start over. I was worried about you, Sweetheart. Maybe I worry too much, but when you’re missing …” He paused, but didn’t need to say more. The scene was etched into my memory more vividly that he would ever know. The Thanksgiving parade in Chicago. The beautiful woman on the float tossing out candy as she passed. The big round kid pushing me out of the way to grab everything nearby before I’d had a chance. I’d thought I’d outsmarted him, running out into the road gathering the bits further out. And the next thing I knew, I was in a forest of legs. Long legs, pumping up and down, sweeping me further and further from my dad. Jostling me between the press of ribboned pants, and black shoes, and the blare of brass. Looking up to see a giant clown face blocking out the sun high above, and the legs kept going, twisting and turning me until I was spewed from the wave of the marching band to crash into strangers. A sea of faces loomed over me. Staring. Bending toward me. More and more. Inches from my face. I could feel their breath. Inhaled their perfume. Felt their heat. Until I didn’t remember anything else. Dad told me later that I’d passed out. He said he’d been as scared as I was, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t true.
“We need to talk,” Dad said gently, bringing me back to the present. His hair now had white strands mixed through its dark, wavy mass, but the eyes were the same as they were that day. Worried. Frightened. Relieved I was okay.
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