It was still warm later that night, and so after supper was done, I took myself outside. The sun had sunk below the horizon, but it was not yet completely dark. I sat on the steps of the back patio, facing west so I could watch the last hints of daylight turn from lavender to purple to black.
I love this time of the night.
I sat there for quite some time, long enough so that the stars began to appear, long enough so that I had to hug my arms to my body to ward off the chill. I hadn’t brought a shawl. I suppose I hadn’t thought I’d be sitting outside for so long. I was just about to head back inside when I heard someone approaching.
It was my father, on his way home from his greenhouse. He was holding a lantern, and his hands were dirty. Something about the sight of him made me feel like a child again. He was a big bear of a man, and even before he’d married Eloise, back when he didn’t seem to know what to say to his own children, he’d always made me feel safe. He was my father, and he would protect me. He didn’t need to say it, I just knew.
“You’re out late,” he said, sitting beside me. He set his lantern down and brushed his hands against his work trousers, shaking off the loose dirt.
“Just thinking,” I replied.
He nodded, then leaned his elbows on his thighs and looked out at the sky. “Any shooting stars tonight?”
I shook my head even though he wasn’t facing me. “No.”
“Do you need one?”
I smiled to myself. He was asking if I had any wishes to be made. We used to wish on stars together all the time when I was small, but somehow we’d got out of the habit.
“No,” I said. I was feeling introspective, thinking about Charles and wondering what it meant that I’d spent the whole of the afternoon with him and now could not wait to see him again tomorrow. But I didn’t feel as if I needed any wishes granted. At least, not yet.
“I always have wishes,” he remarked.
“You do?” I turned to him, my head tilting to the side as I took in his profile. I know that he’d been terribly unhappy before he’d met my current mother, but that was all well behind him. If ever a man had a happy and fulfilled life, it was he.
“What do you wish for?” I asked.
“The health and happiness of my children, first and foremost.”
“That doesn’t count,” I said, feeling myself smile.
“Oh, you don’t think so?” He looked at me, and there was more than a hint of amusement in his eyes. “I assure you, it’s the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last before I lay myself down to sleep.”
“I have five children, Amanda, and every one of them is healthy and strong. And as far as I know, you’re all happy. It’s probably dumb luck that you’ve all turned out so well, but I’m not going to tempt any fates by wishing for something else.”
I thought about that for a moment. It had never occurred to me to wish for something I already had. “Is it scary being a parent?” I asked.
“The most terrifying thing in the world.”
I don’t know what I thought he might say, but it wasn’t that. But then I realized—he was speaking to me as an adult. I don’t know if he’d ever really done so before. He was still my father, and I was still his daughter, but I’d crossed some mysterious threshold.
It was thrilling and sad at the same time.
We sat together for a few minutes more, pointing out constellations and not saying anything of import. And then, just when I was about to head back inside, he said, “Your mother said that you had a gentleman caller this afternoon.”
“And four of his female cousins,” I quipped.
He looked over at me with arched brows, a silent scolding for making light of the topic.
“Yes,” I said. “I did.”
“Did you like him?”
“Yes.” I felt myself grow a bit light, as if my insides had gone fizzy. “I did.”
He digested that, then said, “I’m going to have to get a very large stick.”