We sat there for a short moment in silence. My father just staring off into the distance with the sun turning his face into light and dark, shadow and bright. On anyone else, the harsh light would have been too much, but on my father, it only emphasized his best features. It made him look like someone on the black and white cover of a magazine. I gave him a quick nod to show I’d go along with his request, and he hopped off the trunk.
“C'mon, Bets. Got something to show you.” My father walked around the corner of the house, and I jumped off the car to follow. When I rounded the corner, I saw him standing next to a shining red bike. My feet stopped so quickly they made a scuffling sound in the gravel of the driveway, and my father laughed at my open-mouthed surprise.
I’d wanted a bike for years, but never even had a used one. In Texas, my mother said I was too small, and in Kansas we lived on the base and she said that I didn’t need one because everything was so close. Part of me had hoped that the move to California coupled with starting high school might mean a used yard sale find in my future. I’d never dreamed of a new bike.
I took a step closer and ran my fingers along the smooth shining chrome handlebars and then the top of the red frame. I looked my father in the eyes and the smile on his face made mine grow even bigger.
“How did you..? Does Mom..?”
My father laughed again. “She wasn’t sure at first, but I convinced her you’d need one if you’re going to find a job while I’m away.”
My world spun. For the last two years, I’d wanted a job more than I’d wanted a bike even. The chance to take on responsibility of my own, to have a part of my life that wasn’t school or home, and of course money in my pocket that didn’t depend on a please and thank you to my mother.
“A job? You don’t mean it.” My father smiled and nodded, then sized up the basket that hung from the handle bars.
“Seems like that basket would be able to carry a fair amount. Might want to stop by Johnson’s Grocery tomorrow morning. I may have overheard Mr. Johnson saying yesterday that his last delivery boy left in a rush after he got caught swiping sodas, and that he might be interested in hiring a responsible young lady like yourself.”
My only possible reaction was to push the bike aside so I could get to my father and throw both arms around his neck. I squealed a thank you, and he hugged me until my feet were lifted off the ground. But the feel of my father’s arms around me somehow reminded me that the bike and the job were a going away present, given to cheer me up (and help me to keep my mother’s chin up) while my father was away. I hugged him harder and whispered “I love you, Daddy” in his ear.
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