My dad narrowed his eyes at me and it was his turn to cross his arms over his barrel-like chest as he glared at me consideringly. “Why not? He’s an adult and if he wants to sacrifice anything, including his career for the woman he cares about, that’s his choice. It’s not up to you to make it for him, Avett.”
I poked a finger at my own chest. “I don’t want to be a mistake he makes and suffers from. He’s already lost enough.” I wasn’t comfortable giving my dad Quaid’s story. It was his to tell and if he wanted my father to know the ins and outs of his childhood and his divorce he could share those details, not that I was expecting them to get any bonding time in the near future.
My dad swore softly and lumbered to his booted feet. He bent over and dropped a soft kiss on the top of my head and I felt those damn tears threatening again. “I understand where you’re coming from, Sprite, and I get that it’s coming from a good place in your too-big heart, but that’s still not your call to make. If the man wants to rearrange his life for you, that’s his choice to make, be it good or bad. You don’t get to corner the market on making risky decisions, Avett. Nothing is guaranteed, especially love, but only a coward doesn’t roll the dice and take a chance on it when it’s right there in front of them. Giving the man that has been there for you, that has shown up time and time again, the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he wants is far braver than tying yourself to all those losers that have been dragging you down for years. You were destined to fail with them, so when everything went south you knew it was inevitable.” His eyebrows lifted and a knowing grin pulled at his mouth. “Look at me and your mom, kiddo. We lost before we won but we wouldn’t have you or each other if we didn’t pony up and gamble on each other in the first place.”
I groaned. “Thanks for encouraging heartbreak and insanity, old man.” But his words settled around me and taunted me with their wisdom. I was beyond defying his good advice because I knew it was the smart thing to do and I wanted to live unfoolishly. Now I wanted to live the best life possible and be the best Avett possible and that meant no more blowing off dad’s sage wisdom and hard-earned insight.
He laughed. “Anytime. By the way, I’m meeting Zeb Fuller at the old house tomorrow. He wants to walk through it and see how much damage was done to the foundation and the outside brick. He thinks if there are enough bones left he’ll make an offer and rehab the place.”
I gaped at my dad in shock. The house looked like a total loss the last time I saw it. But he wasn’t done.
“If he offers on it I’m making him give half that money to you since the house was half yours.”
I shook my head in an automatic denial. He’d tried to do the same thing with the insurance payout but I wouldn’t let him. “No, Dad. That money is yours. My name wasn’t on the house and I want you to put all that money back into your retirement or maybe you can take Mom on a tour around the world. I haven’t done anything to deserve that kind of generosity from you.”
He swore at me again and narrowed his eyes in a way that I knew meant there was no more argument. “It’s half yours, Avett, not because you earned it or deserve it but because you are my daughter, you lived there, and you lost as much as I did. I watched you grow into a young lady that has my whole heart there. It was always as much your home as it was mine. My retirement is fine, not that it’s for you to worry about. I repaid the money I borrowed for your bail, and I haven’t seen a bill from your man, so maybe you can use the money and settle up with him once it comes … though I doubt it ever will. I don’t care what you do with the money, but if Zeb offers on the house, then that’s what’s happening. End of discussion.”
I sighed in defeat but I couldn’t deny that the idea of writing not only Quaid but also Rome a check for the actual, physical amount I owed them was tempting.
“Well, the house was a wreck so I doubt he’ll make an offer. Night, Dad.”
My dad chuckled. “You don’t know those boys like I do, Sprite. They seem to be able to breathe life into anything that needs a second chance. Come with me tomorrow when I go to meet him and you’ll see for yourself.”
Since I wasn’t spending much time on my own with the baddies still floating around, it was hang with him or at the bar all day and I still wasn’t one hundred percent ready to have a showdown with Rome. I agreed to go to the house with him and spent the next hour in front of the TV letting his words really soak in.
He and my mom had both tragedy and triumph woven throughout their story. They both had some seriously bad decisions under their belts but the best choice for both of them was to be together. Neither of them seemed to regret allowing themselves to love one another even when that love had led to terrible heartache. I cared about Quaid enough to let him go, enough to let my heart hurt as it struggled to beat through the pain I had inflicted upon it.
I could love him and knew I could easily get lost in him and in the goodness he offered. What I wasn’t sure of was if I was strong enough to weather the blizzard of the errors we were both bound to make trying to be together and the consequences that would rain down upon us. I survived my own mistakes and missteps by some kind of miracle. I didn’t want to leave Quaid’s fate and future happiness to that same kind of chance. I was the one who jumped; he was the one that stayed warm and dry. I didn’t want my love to ruin him and I was scared that’s exactly what it would do.
My dad thought the answer was right in front of me … I wasn’t so sure we were looking at the same thing.
THE NEXT DAY I was standing in the driveway of my old home staring listlessly at the charred mess of brick and wood. I couldn’t believe the beautifully restored home was nothing more than a scorched shell of its former glory. I couldn’t believe my dad had the emotional strength to tromp through the ashes with Zeb as the big, bearded contractor knocked against walls and crawled all around the debris. The entirety of my father’s earthly possessions were now nothing more than ashes that could be swept up and discarded, and when I said as much he gave me a hug and told me the things that mattered: me and Mom, his memories and experiences. Those were the things that he would be sad to lose … everything else was simply stuff.
I took a couple steps inside the front door intending to follow the men into the blackened depths and say a proper good-bye but the minute the total loss and wreckage hit me I turned around and walked back out. My dad didn’t want me out in the open by myself so when he saw the flashy Cadillac parked across the street he marched over and knocked on the door. Moments later, a sleepy-looking Hudson Wheeler was standing at my side rubbing his eyes and stifling a yawn.