Phil tried to remember what it was like when he went off to college, 25 years ago. He tried to remember what that state school looked like. Nothing like this campus, he assured himself.
PHIL (5:43pm): Finishing up here. You around later?
“Oh, look who’s staring into the screen now?” Holly stared at her father, who leaned against the outside of the McHarris Dormitory, smoking a cigarette. There were still a few parents left, standing outside the other dorms, but most had come and gone earlier in the afternoon. One of the mothers was shamelessly crying in front of her self conscious son, who patted her on the back.
Get a grip, Phil thought to himself.
“What are you thinking about?” Holly stared at him, trying to smile, but with a little twitch in the corner of her mouth.
“This is your moment, sweetie.” He tried to look around her but she pushed her face in front of her wandering eyes. A flashback to an old game. The one where she crawled on his lap when he tried to watch the game and stuck her face in front of his. Him pretending he couldn’t see her, which only made her giggle until she finally screamed to pay attention to her.
“Don’t try to deflect, Dad.”
“I’m thinking about how much money it cost to put up that building over there. Look at the detail.”
“You think I should drop out?”
He laughed to himself without making a sound. “You want to walk me to the truck?”
His phone buzzed again.
MIKE (5:47pm): Shut. I’m gonna have to rain check. Forgot wife has me going to a pet meeting.
MIKE (5:47pm): PTA meeting.
“You know if I kept looking at my phone right now you’d go off on a 15-minute lecture.”
“I’m still trying to figure out how this thing works. Where’s the cord? Where are these words coming from?”
“Do you want to drive around into the town? We could do one last dinner?”
Phil thought about how sad that dinner would have been. One last dinner with the daughter before he made the five-hour drive back. As if they hadn’t had enough time to say what was on their minds at breakfast, or the drive up, or as they unpacked her boxes.
“Don’t you have some orientation in a few minutes?”
“Whatever, Dad. I’m sure they’ll kick me out if I don’t attend.”
She rolled her eyes, but for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long, it wasn’t about something he’d done. Or didn’t do. It was nice being on her team for once.
“Go to the damn orientation. I don’t want you fucking off, here.”
Now she was rolling her eyes at him.
“Anyway, Mike wants to buy me a beer when I get back to town. I suppose I’m owed a victory celebration.”
“Fine. I’ll call you later.”
“Don’t. It’s your first night. Go have fun. If you feel like it, you can give me a call tomorrow.”
She gave him a hug before he was ready. All he could do was look over her shoulder and try to memorize the moment. She squeezed tighter and asked, “Do you have any fatherly advice?”
“Well,” he wasn’t expecting to deliver any. “Hold onto your drink. Make sure nobody slips anything into it.”
“I’m not 21 yet, Daddy.”
“Yeah, and I’m not an idiot. Just be safe.”
“Okay.” She pulled away and forced a smile, until he finally got in his truck.
“Go to that orientation.”
Phil pulled out of the parking lot, and watched her in the mirror, waving back at him. He beeped his horn twice, which made one of the students turn around while he was walking past the parking lot. It was a beautiful campus, but too big. He had to stop when he lost where he was. Holly might actually get in the truck and go home if she caught him looking lost.
He had to pull out the map, then remembered that he hadn’t responded to Mike.
PHIL (6:11pm): Not a problem. Remember those meetings. Might look for a spot to do a little fishing.
He drove east, with the sunset at his back. He wouldn’t be off the interstate quick enough to make use of the fishing pole in the bed of his truck. He thought about picking up the phone to call Ernie, but put it away and kept on driving.
The five hours went by with him in a trance. He wondered if he’d been lost in his own thoughts, or just hadn’t thought of anything. The town was so quiet at 11pm on a Sunday. Some of it was comforting, the way the twenty-year-old signs in gas stations had aged to a dingy yellow. He stayed in his truck for five minutes after he pulled into his driveway. It felt like the summer had only started a few weeks ago, and now here he was, waiting for the leaves to change and to get buried under a pile of snow. There might be three feet of the stuff when Holly came back for the winter break.
Phil walked in through the back door and poured himself a drink. He was tired, but didn’t know how to go to sleep, thinking about his daughter, halfway to the next time zone. The small house seemed bigger than ever before and he walked over to Holly’s room to see it as she’d left it. He might clean up some of the debris that she’d left behind as they rushed her out earlier that morning. No, he thought to himself. He’s bound to move something or lose a precious artifact that she’d crucify him over when she came back for winter break. He closed Holly’s door so she couldn’t accuse him of invading her space. Then he went into the living room, and turned on the television. ESPN was replaying a women’s college softball game. It didn’t matter. He just wanted some noise while he climbed into the left side of his queen sized bed. He almost kissed the framed picture of Florence on the nightstand.
About the author:Ian Scott McCormick is a writer out of Brooklyn, NY. His other stories can be found at ianscottmccormick.com.