“Dad, where are we going?” Her voice was slightly annoyed, and a bit put off. They hadn’t walked very far, but now they were in a dead-end ally. Her dad didn’t seem like he was going to stop.
Larry squeezed her hand. “A special place. You’ll see.”
He didn’t like that she couldn’t see the door, but wasn’t able to do anything about that.
“Dad…” She pulled at his hand when he reached out to the empty wall. “What’s going on?”
As soon as he took the doorknob, Larry knew everything would be all right. He looked to Shana. “Trust me, Shana. Please. I’ll explain everything in a moment.”
“You’re being weird. You’re not usually weird.”
He smiled and relaxed when she did, too. “I’ve done plenty of weird things, Shana.”
“Yeah, but most of it is our level of weird. This is new weird.”
He opened the door further, large enough for Shana to see inside. Surprise blossomed on her face as she finally saw the door and the bar.
“Something I wanted to talk to you about. Come on.”
Shana walked in first and Larry followed her in. He closed the door behind them and looked around. He smiled when he saw Selna, then felt his heart flutter when his eyes met Jersey’s. He blushed and looked toward Mort.
“Mort! Orange soda. Two of them, please.”
Mort nodded. “Coming right up! Take a booth. I’ve got some dessert you might be interested in.”
“Dad, what are we doing in a bar?”
Larry put a hand on her shoulder and waited for Shana to meet his eyes. “Sweetie, you’re going to hear a long story today, but it starts with: this is where you were born.”
As the news sunk in, Larry led Shana to the booth. By the time they were at the booth, Shana was already full of questions. Larry held his hands up.
“Honey, let me tell you the story. Once I’m done, you can ask questions, OK?”
She slouched in her seat but was silent for a while. Finally, she nodded. “OK.”
Larry nodded and started the story of her birth.
“So, when I was born, you weren’t doing too well?”
It was her first question. Larry looked taken aback, but nodded. “I had lost my wife and unborn child about a year before all this happened. It was still hitting me pretty hard.”
“I helped you get over her?”
“No…” He signed. “There’s no getting over someone you love. You just get used to a new normal.”
“I guess I don’t really understand that.”
“It’s ok. You shouldn’t understand it. You’re too young for that kind of pain.” His voice sounded strained.
Shana heard the tone of voice and decided to change the subject. “You told me a while ago that I was adopted, but I guess I didn’t think my parents were alive.”
“Your dad is.” He sounded relieved that the line of questions had changed.
“And my biological mom died in this bar?”
“Ok.” She looked toward Mort and Selna, who were at the bar, doing a good job of minding their own business. The two had shared their stories, to help Shana understand Larry was not lying. She hadn’t needed their stories. She knew her dad wasn’t lying. He never lied. Shana looked back to Larry, to the man she had called ‘dad’ for her entire life. “Dad, what happens if I don’t like him? Or the time he lives in?”
Larry held his hands out to Shana. She took them. “You always have a life with me, Shana. Just because Bert wants to see you, doesn’t mean you have to live with him. He’s the one who said you have a choice. But you do need to give him a chance.”
“We need to tell him that you know. Then he’ll meet you here. This is neutral ground. Once he’s met you, I think it would be best if you visited him. Spring break is a month away. I think you should stay with him for the week, finish school here, then live with him for the summer. It’s less disruptive of your school life that way. If you agree, of course.”
“Do I have to decide now?”
“No, honey. You don’t.”
“Ok. Can we go home now?”
“Yes. Let me pay the bill.”
She nodded, slipped out of the booth and went to the door. Shana crossed her arms and waited for Larry. Larry went to Mort and paid his tab.
“Do you know when Bert is coming back?”
“He’s in here once a week, usually on Saturday.”
It was Friday night. “I didn’t know he came in here that often.”
“He’s anxious. When do you want to bring Shana back?”
“I want to give her some time to think. I’ll be here next Saturday. A week from tomorrow. If Shana wants to come, she’ll come. If she doesn’t, I’ll talk to Bert and we’ll try to figure something out.”
“I’ll let him know.”
A soft voice spoke in Larry’s ear.
“Hey. Mind if I’m here when she meets her dad? You might need a friend.”
Larry looked to Jersey. He swallowed hard. “I…yes. But I don’t know when that’s happening.”
“Well, can I be here next Saturday?”
“I’d like that, but I might not be able to stay long.”
“I like your company. If you don’t mind the confession, I think about you when I’ not here.”
He blushed a little and she saw it, but didn’t ask. “I like your company, too. I’ll see you Saturday.”
Larry finished paying his tab, smiled to Jersey and left with Shana.
Mort looked after Larry, then looked back to Jersey once he was gone. “Be kind with that one.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I’m never anything but. I may have a rough exterior, but I know pain, Mort. I don’t mess with hearts.”
Mort nodded, then went to other customers to help them out. When he had a free moment, he wrote a note to Bert about the meet up. He sighed. The death of the Caveman had left a bitter taste in his mouth and put him on edge. He wasn’t sure anything was wrong, but something felt off. He hoped that getting Shana to her dad and her right time would set things right.