This story is by Steven McGuire and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Paula twisted the cap back onto a half empty bottle of burgundy and placed it on top of the fridge. “I hope you kids are hungry,” she said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
“Always,” Manny said.
“Mom, this is Manny,” Nancy said, hanging up his coat in the hall.
“Paula,” she replied. She shook his hand and placed her other hand over the top. “Call me Mom.”
“We’re a little early,” Nancy said. “Manny was anxious to meet Dad. Where is he?”
Paula leaned towards the basement door. “Gene? Are you coming up?”
“I’m comin’,” he grumbled. He put his tools away and clicked the light on his work bench. His slippers scuffed across the basement floor and up the steps. As he reached the top stair, he coughed with a loose rattle.
“Dad, this is Manny.”
“Pleasure,” Manny said, extending his hand.
“Welcome to my castle,” Gene replied, shaking Manny’s hand.
“Dad, mom told you we were coming over, right?”
“She did,” Gene said, sitting in a tortured, brown recliner. He looked Manny over. “I didn’t get your last name, Manny.”
“Garcia,” Manny said.
“I thought so,” Gene said under his breath.
“Dinner’s about ready Gene,” Paula said from the kitchen. “Could you come fix the salads?”
Gene rolled back out of the chair with a moan.
“He’s a little old fashioned,” Nancy whispered to Manny.
“It’s fine,” Manny smiled.
“Dinner’s ready,” Paula said, carrying a plate of Italian bread and a tumbler of wine to the table.
They took their places at the table, Gene sitting at the head, his daughter and wife on either side. Manny sat next to Nancy.
“So, what’s your major, Manny?” Gene asked.
Gene nodded. “Getting good grades in graphic design?”
“Pretty good,” he said. “I have a 3.6.”
“Excellent,” Gene said. “Better than you, Nancy.”
“I’m getting a 3.8, dad.”
“Well, I stand corrected. I’m very proud of you. I tell people all the time how proud I am of my daughter. Always doing the right thing. Never wavering from her father’s tutelage.”
Paula rolled her eyes. “Tutelage,” she scoffed.
“Well, I’d say you both did an excellent job raising Nancy,” Manny said.
Gene slowly bobbed his head, chewing his bread and spaghetti. “Thank you,” he mumbled.
“We were your age when we had her,” Paula said. “A little younger, actually.”
“Those were different times,” Gene said. “Don’t get any ideas.”
Paula stood and picked up Nancy’s wine glass. “This is dirty. I’ll get you a new one.”
“How are they that different?” Nancy asked.
“They just were,” Gene said. “People were different back then. The whole country changed. It takes a lot longer to become an adult these days.”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “Here we go,” she said.
Gene took a drink of his water and set the glass down. “Excuse me?”
Manny picked up his glass of wine and took a small sip. He wasn’t expecting it to be so bitter. He watched as Paula put Nancy’s glass back in front of her and poured herself another glass, nearly to the top.
“I’m only saying I’m enough of an adult to make my own decisions, dad,” Nancy said. “I’m not saying that I’m planning on having a baby anytime soon.”
“There won’t be any babies any time soon,” he said.
“There’s going to come a day when I’m going to move on with my life, dad,” Nancy said. “And I’m going to need you to support me when I make that decision.”
“Support? You don’t think you have my support?” Gene laid his fork on his plate. He wiped his mouth and pushed his chair back from the table. “Thank you for a very nice dinner,” he said, looking at no one.
“I’m full,” he told Paula. “Manny, it was very nice to meet you. Now if you would excuse me.”
“Gene, please,” Paula asked him. “Would you at least have some pumpkin roll?”
“I’ll have it with coffee when I get back,” he said. He went to the door and pulled his coat off of the coat rack. He sniffed Manny’s coat.
“Do I smell grass?” he hissed. “You’ve invited a God damned pot head into my house?”
Manny sat back in his chair and looked at Nancy with resignation.
“Dad, it isn’t that big of a deal,” Nancy said calmly.
“Nancy Rose, how dare you?” Gene said, his voice soft and shaking. “How dare you?”
“How dare I what, dad?”
“You know how I feel… I have very strict rules about the type of people my daughter dates.”
Paula put her glass down. She pushed back her chair and stood, steadying herself. She pointed her chin at Gene and said, “You should go for that walk now.”
“I’m not done.”
“You are now,” Paula said.
Gene put his knit hat on and went out the front door. He slammed it shut, leaves swirling in behind him.
Paula sat back down and sighed. She rested her chin on her fist and looked at Manny. “Please forgive my husband. He was raised wrong.”
“No need,” Manny said.
The table grew silent for a moment. Nancy smelled her wine. It was grape juice.
Paula sighed. Her demeanor changed entirely. “So how far along are you?”
Manny stared at his plate. Nancy’s eyes began to well up. She closed them.
“Your father may be totally oblivious, Nance, but you should know damn well I’m not.”
“Mom,” Nancy sighed. “I was going to tell you at Thanksgiving.”
“But you wanted your dad to meet Manny first, is that it?”
“Yes,” she said. “I know this isn’t exactly the best way to go about it.”
“Mrs. Morrison, there’s something I have to say,” Manny said.
“What?” Paula said. “That you’ve knocked up my daughter? That you’ve effectively stunted her entire career?”
“That I love your daughter,” Manny said.
“How much do you love her, Manny?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you love her enough to let her go?”
“Mom,” Nancy interjected. “You don’t have the right to do that.”
“I’ll save you the trouble of trying to figure this out,” Paula said. “Your father is going to throw you to the curb if you stay with this boy. He’s also going to stop paying for school. You’ll be moving in with Manny’s family or whomever it is he lives with. And you’ll be responsible for your own education, your own income, your own car, your own insurance. Shall I continue?”
Nancy wiped her red nose on the back of her hand. “I know,” she said. She didn’t know what else could be said. She was on her own.
Paula looked at Manny. “Nancy’s father and I would be willing to pay you to leave Nancy alone. Is one thousand enough? You will not talk to her, call her, or be anywhere near her. You’ll have nothing to do with the baby. If anyone asks, we will say she was raped.”
“Ok,” Manny said softly.
“What?” Nancy coughed.
“Ok, let’s get out of here.”
“Where are you going to go?” Paula asked.
“We’re going to go into Nancy’s room, we’re going to get her belongings and we’re going to go.”
“We can’t do that,” Nancy said.
“Why not?” Manny insisted. “There’s nothing here for you. Do you want to live with these people?”
“These people are my family.”
“Were,” he said. “They were your family. I’m your family now. You’ve got me and our baby. We will love you unconditionally.”
Paula watched as Manny escorted Nancy upstairs. This was a scene that had played out in her own home about twenty-two years prior.
Nancy carried loose arm-loads of clothes down the steps to the front room while Manny met her at the front door, putting everything in the car, all the while leaving the front door open; crisp oak leaves floating in. She stood and looked at her mother who was fighting the urge to sob. She considered the silence in the space between them. She felt as cold and dry as the leaves that swirled around her in front of the door. She turned and left.
Nancy descended the stairs in front of her childhood home. Gene walked up the drive and stood in front of Manny’s car. What had happened in his absence was obvious. His look begged her to reconsider, to come give him the little girl hug she’d always obliged him with. She dodged him and walked through the flowerbed of yellow and orange mums, into the yard and around the back of Manny’s car.
“Bye, Dad,” she said. She shut the door and Manny backed out.
Gene watched as the car sputtered up the road. He walked up the steps to his castle and past his queen who was watching from the door.
“Well, Christ, shut the door,” Gene said. “You wanna heat up the whole damn state?”
“No,” Paula said, closing the door quietly. “Just trying to make it a little warmer.”