Word Count: 3,603
Her father reacted about the way she expected him to.
Actually, no, that wasn't true. For the first time in her life, her father had hit her. It was little more than a slap, but she was stunned enough that she didn't see Joe for a few days. She knew how he'd react, and as he'd never laid a hand on her before now she didn't want more problems between them. More than anything, it had startled her. Her mother, too. She hadn't known he was capable, but clearly this brought out the worst in him.
Despite that, she kept calm. She didn't argue with him, didn't yell. In fact, she ignored him for the most part, knowing that her mother would smooth things over if she could. There was no saying her father would get over this. It wasn't like she'd bought a car he didn't think was safe or wore a dress that he thought was too skimpy for her to go out in. This was a son-in-law and one day grandchildren.
Once the small bruise on her cheek had healed enough Joe wouldn't ask any questions about it, she took to spending as much time at Joe's as she could, always ensuring she was home by the unspoken curfew of midnight so as not to give her father ammunition to use against Joe. Time with Brenda when she had to be near home was another safe haven. She'd never felt unwelcome in her house before.
Two weeks went by where he didn't talk to her. Ships passing in the night communicated more than she did living in the same house with him during that time. If she walked into a room he was in, he left it or picked up the day's newspaper and read it, acting as if she wasn't there. She didn't think he'd hit her again, but the memory of him doing so even once was too fresh in her mind to push him into a conversation with her about anything until he was ready. Her mother had told her he'd come around eventually, perhaps not on the subject of her marriage, but just talking to her about day-to-day things as he always did.
Her mother was out, planning some event at the club that the wives were putting on. Chris had no idea what this one was, her mother stayed busy with all sorts of events and doings. She was watching a movie in the basement when he came downstairs. She assumed he'd come down for a bottle of liquor since this was where he kept his stash for the full bar they had upstairs.
When she was little and the apple of her dad's eye, she could usually be spotted sitting on the floor near the bar drawing, playing, or reading while he mixed this drink or that one for guests at the parties they had. She'd always dreamt of at least having her engagement party here if not her wedding. She knew both were out of the question now.
"Are you pregnant?"
"What?" she asked, realizing after a moment that he actually expected her to answer?
"You heard me."
"No, Dad, I'm not. I just happen to love him."
"And you're all right with that?"
"What? That he works on cars?"
"I'm fine with it," she said.
"And kids that will be different are acceptable to you?"
"You know how."
"This isn't the nineteenth century, Dad. No one cares."
"Well, they don't have to have children with him."
"Mind your smart mouth, Christine. I just want to be sure you've thought this through. He's not like us."
"You don't know anything about him."
"I know enough."
"Because he's black. That's what you're basing everything off of. The color of his skin and how it's different than yours and mine. He's a good guy, Dad. If you'd actually talk to him instead of dismissing him you'd know that."
"I don't have to talk to him to know that he's an opportunist taking advantage of your innocence."
She laughed, if only he knew how they met. "There is no advantage taking, Dad. He's not using me for money or anything. He has his own house, a nice car."
"You don't know any better."
"That's where you're wrong."
"I've a little more life experience than you do. That day at the baseball game, he couldn't keep his hands off you."
"I don't know what you're talking about. We kissed in public. God forbid. Maybe you and mom don't do that, but that doesn't make it wrong. Face it, you see him as black and that automatically makes him a bad guy to you. There are bad guys that are white, too. I dated one of them, remember. If I'd had sex with Mike you would have had more to worry about than my getting pregnant. Yet, you liked him. If I were marrying him, you'd probably tell me to look past his cheating because he'd provide for me or something."
"I couldn't have known what he was like."
"Well, maybe, just maybe you could admit that you don't know what Joe's like either. And maybe, just maybe, trust that I do."
"Your mother says you plan on finishing school."
"Taking your exams and everything so that you can work afterward?"
He still hadn't walked into her line of vision. Intentional on his part, she imagined, she knew he couldn't stand to look at her right now. Disappointing him was something she'd rarely done to this point in her life. It was a foreign thing for both of them.
"I will continue paying for your college as long as there are no children before you graduate."
"Dad. We're not getting married so I can get pregnant right away."
"And I'm telling you it's not going to happen."
"That's my offer."
"So, I can marry him?"
"I can't very well stop you. You're an adult. I doubt threatening to stop paying for your schooling would change your mind."
"I'd find student loans or something so I could finish."
"Your mother said the same thing."
"Do you accept my offer?"
"Just so I understand. You think he's bad for me and that I'll have to work that much harder the rest of my life because of what he does for a living."
"That sums it up, yes."
"So, how does cutting me off from my education if I do become pregnant in the next three years help your grandchildren? Shouldn't you want me to be able to support them since you believe Joe can't?"
"Christine, you're splitting hairs."
"Am I? I'm just wondering, Daddy. Really."
"I realize things happen and that you can't plan for everything. You are a perfect example of that."
"Wow," she said with a frown. "Thanks."
"You just came a little earlier than your mother and I planned, but there are far more reliable means to prevent such things these days. I'll count on your mother to inform you of those."
She was sure her jaw dropped to the floor just then. She by no means wanted to have that talk with her dad, so she was glad he evidently didn't either.
"We'll discuss it if it comes to that, until then we're clear on my terms."
"Yes," she said simply. It wasn't a difficult deal to make with him; she certainly had no plans on getting pregnant.
"All right then," he said and walked away.
She wasn't at all sure what she was supposed to do now. Was he still going to give her the silent treatment? She wasn't sure she could take three months of that. She turned the TV off and went upstairs to change. It was a little early to go to Joe's since he was working past dinner, but the idea of sitting alone in the house with her dad after that conversation didn't sit well with her. She supposed she should be glad he talked to her tonight, but knowing how their relationship used to be made her uncomfortable to be here now.
She stopped at a hot dog place that Mr. Dawson and Joe were both fond of and picked up some food for all of them. They were working through dinner to get a car done quickly. The customer was willing to pay extra to be sure it was done tonight. Dawson wasn't one to turn down money.
"There's my girl," Joe said, peeking out from under the hood when he heard the shop door open. She frowned a little, thinking she recognized the car. It couldn't be. Not here at Mr. Dawson's garage. There were a million Town Car's around, so she had to be mistaken.
"I brought dinner," she said, holding up the plain white bag that held the goodies the two men eyeing her currently were so fond of.
"Peppers and onions?" Dawson asked.
"For you? Of course," she said with a smile.
"She is a keeper."
"You didn't believe me until now?" Joe asked.
"Well, if she remembers how I like my beef sandwich that's pretty good."
Joe wiped his hands on a rag and gave her a quick kiss, purposely avoiding touching any more of her than he had to.
"So, what's the occasion?"
She shrugged, taking her hot dog and the fries that went with it out of the bag.
"All right," he said, recognizing her look it seemed. "You can tell me later."
"You two having a spat?"
"What?" Chris said with a laugh.
"Just wondering," Dawson said.
"No," she replied. She saw when it registered to him that she was wearing a ring and he nodded a little.
"Problems with the parents?"
"You could say that," she muttered. "My dad hasn't talked to me for two weeks."
"He'll come around eventually."
"He did tell me tonight he'd still pay for my school."
"Well, that's good," Dawson said. "Isn't it," he added when neither seemed outrageously excited.
"There were terms."
"Of course there were," Joe said. "Me as far away from you as possible?"
"Actually, no. Well, sort of," she said with a laugh, taking a sip of her pop. "No babies until I'm done with college."
"That's it," she said.
"That's not so bad," Joe said.
"I didn't think so either," Chris said.
"So, what's with the long face?" Dawson asked. "I mean, he's going to let you get married. That's what you want, right? I mean, I realize I'm not practiced in this stuff, but you gave her a ring, she's wearing the ring, the dad said yes. He's sending business our way, so he wants you gainfully employed or however that works."
"He's what?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, that's what we're working on. Joe didn't tell you?"
"No, he didn't," Chris said.
"This car tonight is a test; if we pass we'll get more business."
"I thought I recognized the car," she said. "Is there anything wrong with it?"
"Not really. Just general maintenance. Oil change. Tire rotation. It's a time thing. Evidently, no one can be without their car for very long."
"He only has a few cars that aren't issued."
"Right, I get that," Dawson said.
"I didn't know," Chris said, wondering if her father had done anything else she didn't know about. "That still doesn't mean he's going to help us out as far as a wedding goes."
"It's going to have to be a pretty quiet thing," Joe said.
"Quiet thing?" Dawson said.
"Yeah, you know, something small, probably without her dad giving her away."
"Oh," Dawson said, seeming to understand a little. "I didn't have sisters or anything, so I guess I don't get the big deal."
It was the most Chris had learned about him yet. Dawson wasn't big on talking and usually when Chris came here it was to meet Joe and they left almost right away so there wasn't much time to talk to him.
"It's okay," she said. "College is more important than a wedding anyway."
"You sure," Joe asked. "We could wait until maybe he's a little more okay with it."
"No," she said, moving to sit on his lap.
"Chris, baby, you're going to get all dirty."
"I don't care. I can wash my clothes," she said. "I don't want to wait because he'll never come around. Not really, at least not where a wedding is concerned. He won't do it."
"You don't know."
"I know my dad, Joe. He won't change his mind on this, because he wouldn't want me to think he supports my decision."
"So, what then?"
"Let's do it tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Chris, what's your rush?"
"I don't want to be in the house with him anymore. He doesn't talk to me. He looks at me as if I'm a criminal or doing something dangerous."
"Uh, baby, you do remember how we met?"
"Yes, but he doesn't know how we met. He even mentioned seeing us kiss at the Cubs game."
"What was wrong with that?"
"I don't know," she said with a shrug. "Mom says this is his Achilles' heel, that thing he just can't get past no matter how good of a guy he is."
"But why tomorrow? I don't want you marrying me because of problems at your house, Chris."
"I want to. I've wanted to since I saw you trying on my ring and I thought you were going to ask."
"I was going to."
"I know," she said, kissing him.
Dawson crumpled up the wrapper from his beef sandwich and cleared his throat lightly. "Tomorrow is a good day," he said. "Business-wise, I mean. I turned down some work to get this car done tonight so if you need a day or two off."
"See," Chris said.
"I'll be in the shop," Dawson said, leaving them alone.
"Why is it that you have every guy you met that night wrapped around your little finger?"
"Not every one! I'm sure Bleak wouldn't be nice to me."
Joe chuckled. "I suppose you're right. All right. Tomorrow. That mean you're going home now?"
"I should," she said, rubbing her cheek against his. "I don't want to. I could call my mom and tell her I'm spending the night at Brenda's."
"No, no lies."
"Well, I can't tell her I'm staying with you."
"I know. Go home, think about it, and sleep on it. In the morning if you still want to, pick out something to wear and we'll go."
"Really. We'll have a party or something this weekend. Do it at least somewhat right. Maybe your old man will come."
"I doubt it."
He kissed her hard and drew away. "Really think on it, Chris. A month from now I don't want you to regret having that kind of wedding."
"Thousands have that kind of wedding every day."
"Yeah, but those thousands aren't you and a lot of them probably never imagined the type of wedding I know you grew up dreaming of."
"It's just a wedding."
"Well, think about it. That's all I'm saying. I don't want you resenting me from the get-go."
"I won't. I wouldn't. It's my decision, and I'd rather marry you now than right before school starts again. Or next summer. This way we'll have time to figure out if I'm going to rent a place during the week or what."
"I don't like the idea of that at all."
"Me neither, but it'll give us time to figure it out."
"I'm not arguing. I want to, believe me, I do, but this is your day."
"Our day. You're getting married, too."
"I have nothing to lose."
"I don't know. You gave up a pretty lucrative job."
"About time for me to get out anyway. I'd stayed out of prison for a long time. I'm no gambler, but I know luck like that doesn't stay forever."
She kissed him hard then, arms going around him as she pressed against him. He replied in kind, touching her everywhere he could.
"I love you," she whispered, drawing away.
"Love you, too," he said. "Thank you for dinner."
"You feel better?"
"Yeah, I guess. I just hate that we're like this."
"He will come around. Maybe not to me, but to you he will. In his own way, he cares and probably thinks he's doing what's best for you."
"I know," she murmured.
"I've got to get back to work, baby, or Dawson's likely to think we're doing things we're not in here."
"I know," she whispered.
"You going to go home then?"
"I guess," she said. "You're going to be a while longer, right?"
"Yeah, and we should both get a good night's sleep if we're going to do this tomorrow."
"You think it's going to be tiring going to the courthouse?"
He chuckled, brushing away some hair from her face. "Wasn't the courthouse part I was thinking of, no."
"After the courthouse, knowing I'll have all day and all night with you. Yeah, I suspect we won't get much sleep tomorrow night."
"Hmm," she said. "I think I like the sound of that."
"Me, too, especially since it's been a while."
"I know," she whispered, sliding off his lap. "I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize. I get it. You've had your mind on your family, and I get that. I do. I know you don't want to upset him. We can't help what happened between us. It's not as if we planned it."
"I wonder what he'd think if I told him the truth of how we met."
"Chris, he's a lawyer, I don't think that's a good idea at all."
"Not that part. I could fib a bit on the details, but knowing you saved not just my life, but protected the kids."
"Nah. He wouldn't care, Chris. It's not worth it, I promise you."
"But, maybe he'd think it was, you know, fate or something."
Joe shrugged. "I believe it was. I've never met anyone like you and I know I won't again. So, yeah, God was on my side that night."
"Thank you, baby," he said, standing and giving her a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow one way or the other."
"I'll call you when I wake up."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com