She claps slow and drinks fast, eyes burning into the performer upon the stage. Another whiskey neat lands on the table unordered—“From the gentleman playing,” the waiter whispers with a smile. She nods back, slipping a dollar into his hand and focuses once more on the man’s creased forehead and callused hands. So he noticed.
She sips slowly for this one, does not clap, knowing well he’ll be finishing soon—she has seen this set too many times to try to remember. He gestures for another round as she sits still, unmoving—silent. “Well,” he struggles, unsure of where to begin after two decades of absence. She stares at him through his own empty eyes, waiting for him to continue. “How did you find me?”
His voice is more worn, coarser, than she remembered, his face more sad and alone. She shrugs: “Wasn’t hard. I’ve seen you here a few times before. Surprised you finally noticed.” He nods steadily, hunting for words that won’t hurt either of them: “It has been a while, you do look a bit different.” They drink long, filling the silence the way he had taught her to, long before she could drink and long before he could handle too. She studies his features long and hard, searching for memories that may be hiding in the creases. None come forward. Time has a funny way of erasing the past; or at least tucking it away somewhere deep.
Her calf nervously dances upon her knee, the words she had practiced now unwilling to form on her tongue. He smiles weakly, understanding the quiet: “I’m sorry, kiddo.” Still, her lips remain fixed together, her eyes penetrating his as if attempting to read his thoughts. “I shouldn’t have left you the way I did. I should have called, written, anything. But,” his thought trails off with recollections.
“But you didn’t. You didn’t care. I’m glad all these new faces around don’t know you that way. Honestly, I’m glad it’s behind you; I didn’t come here to tell you I hate you.”
He laughs low: “Yes you did. And you have every right to. You’re the reason I’m where I am now, though; the reason I sought help.” She lowers her eyes to the table, where her shaky hands form waves within her glass.
“So why didn’t you come back?” It falls out so choked by pride he almost doesn’t hear her.
“I was scared. I was ashamed.”
Emotions well up within her eyes as she stands to leave, and as he follows her action, he knows that asking her to stay won’t help. Unexpected to them both, she sinks her head into his chest as tears race down her cheeks, hugging him as she did so many years prior. “I still love you, daddy. I always have and I always will.” His voice breaks as she releases him, “I love you too, angel;” but it gets lost in translation, years of dust leaving the words intangible.
She turns and exits, leaving him there alone with the past.

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