Ella and I separate near her house after a long afternoon of looking back in my past. By the time I reach my dad's house I'm emotionally drained. I bite my lower lip and take a deep breath before unlocking the front door.
Dad isn't in the living room or the kitchen. The furniture that mom and I left seven years ago is still in the living room. The same black couch and T.V. stand. The same picture frames and even the same shells that dad and I found on the beach one fall afternoon so many years ago. I walk over to the black oak coffee table and pick up a picture of me when I was seven, smiling at the camera shyly.
"That's my favorite picture of you," dad says from behind me and I put the picture down. "You were so happy that day."
I turn back and look at him. "You took me to your favorite spot in Pueblo, by the caves."
Dad smiles and waves the barbecue tongs that he is holding at me. "You got here just in time," he goes out onto the deck again. "I'm making dinner out here, come join me."
I walk out cautiously and see that the deck is refurnished with a large glass table and a massive green umbrella. On the other side of the deck is a stainless steel barbecue. Dad is flipping a burger when I walk over to the stairs leading down to the grassy backyard. I sit down and put my elbows on my knees, resting my chin in my right hand.
"You know Aly," dad says, sitting down beside me, "when your mom told me she wanted you to come down here to stay with me, I was expecting someone angrier."
I don't say anything, but my mind is overloading with shock and surprise.
"I know you're mom isn't the best at bringing up problems in her life," he says looking up at the avocado trees, "but she loves you and she does what she does for you. Even if sometimes it seems selfish."
"Mom didn't want me to come down here, you asked her to bring me."
Dad sighs and puts an arm around my shoulder. "I see," he squeezes my shoulder as I start feeling frustrated. "How much has she told you?"
"Dad?" I look at him and he isn't smiling anymore.
"I see," he says again and removes his hand. He looks down at our feet as I look to him for answers. "I don't know where to start."
"How about," I say quietly, "the day you left us?"
He sighs. "I told you," he looks at me intently, "I didn't leave you."
"Mom said you did."
"Your mother said a lot of things," he says. "Not everything was true."
"Why would she send me here now?" I ask, anger building in my chest. "Why weren't you there when we needed you?"
"Dad, I left so many things behind to escape the memory of you and her fighting, of you leaving us." Tears accompany my anger and I rub them away quickly. "I had to watch other kids in Toronto grow up with their moms and their dads, while you did god knows what over--"
"Maybe you should hear the truth behind our arguments, behind your mother's decision, before you judge me," dad says sternly and the shock of his anger leaves me mute. "I tried Aly. I tried so hard to find you, to get you away from it all."
Salted wind blows over us and my hair tickles my bare neck.
"But she was good. Your mother made sure that I couldn't find you two," dad says, his voice leveling out. "I didn't want you to go through her medical stages, through her deteriorating health." I shake my head with confusion. "For god's sake Aly, you were ten! What child needs to see their mother like that?"
"Dad, what are you talking about?"
A sharp silent erupts between us and dad simply stares at me. In my minds eye I see mom's thinning form over the years after we left. When I was twelve I noticed that she was gaining weight again until she looked healthier than ever before. She was happier too, taking me out shopping instead of sleeping after work every day. I remember seeing the glow that my mom once had when I was a kid slowly coming back. But lately, she'd been losing weight again. She'd started sleeping more at the beginning of my junior year and barely took me out for our usual lunches and shopping dates.
"I can't believe," dad says, not removing his eyes from me, "I can't believe she hasn't told you."
"Told me what?" Now I'm scared. Why is my life becoming such a complex maze of lies and secrets?
"Oh Julie," dad finally looks away from me, shaking his head.
"Dad," I say slowly. "Why were you and mom fighting? Why were you always drinking and coming home late?" I take a heavy breath, preparing myself. "Why did mom decide to leave you?"
Dad is quiet for a moment, thinking over my questions. "Alycia," he says and my back straightens. Dad never uses my full name. "You're mom and I fought because I wanted her to get medical help near Pueblo instead of Toronto," he says. "I didn't want to take you out of here," he looks at me, "after all, this was your home. You had everything here."
"Medical help?" I already know what he is going to say, but I want to hear him say it.
"Yes Aly," he answers, "medical help. Your mother," he gets up and walks over to the barbecue to check on the burgers and to avoid looking at me. I watch him relax his shoulders as he finally releases the burden he's been carrying for what felt like a lifetime. "Your mother had cancer back then Aly, lymphoma cancer and I have a feeling that you being back here now isn't a coincidence."