The world as I knew it finally managed to calm down in recent months; the break has been nice. About the only excitement as of late has been Eralia quitting her old job as manager of the dirt track and starting up another management job – co-owner, even – of a motorcycle repair and performance shop.
More stability, better pay, and once we get back to summer, she’ll teach a few classes on sport riding. So far, she’s been much happier.
Funny thing is, it came as a complete surprise to the both of us. We were out doing the grocery shopping one day and out of nowhere an older guy approached us, or rather, approached Eralia. He’d recognized her from her stint as a racer and they got to talking about old times, so to speak. While they never directly interacted, they’d both been to many of the same events and races.
Supposedly he’d been a team manager for a while, but got out when the stress just got to be too much. Considering he was only ten years older than either of us but looked to be about 30, can’t say I blame him.
There was also something about how he had Eralia on a short list of riders to recruit back then, but the owners weren’t too keen on her. Middling results, relatively new to the sport and so on. Ah, she’d been so close to her breakout and never even knew it.
One topic folded onto another until he began talking about the shop he was opening up and it so happened he was looking for someone to help run the place since he didn’t want to be there 80 hours a week. Eralia’s whole body perked up, but unlike me she had patience and nerve to hear out every detail before commenting. I probably would’ve just accepted on the spot with whatever.
So there, among boxes of pasta and jars of sauce the shopping cart became a table for negotiations and hastily done math on phones. When it was all said and done, Eralia had obtained a 20% ownership in the company alongside a very solid salary. Oh, and ample vacation time, owing to the fact she was going to working more hours every week.
Already with the both of us living under roof, my savings and her old job, we were living pretty well, all things considered. Now we’d be living all that much better – hell, even without my savings we’d be fine at this point.
Two months later she said farewell to the old and introduced herself to a job she was actually excited about. Couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her bounce out of bed instead of her usual crawl from under the covers and into the shower.
Though some of that enthusiasm waned in the following weeks, she was still chipper. Happy, even.
Which got me thinking about a couple things.
Firstly, with the increased income, we could probably take an actual vacation somewhere. Going to the track during the spring and summer ate away most of our ‘fun’ budget for the year, which meant any getaways we had tended to be just for a weekend and somewhere close by.
A nice getaway could be just the thing to make her even happier.
Secondly, we’d been together for how many years and we were still just… lovers. Boyfriend and girlfriend. Granted, Lydia, Steve, and our other friends and friends-of-friends already treated us like we were married. The first time we heard that we both got all flustered and tried to downplay it, making sure to say we weren’t married, but eventually it got to the point where whenever we heard that, we’d say “Yeah, pretty much.”
Would making it official be even better?
It wasn’t as if I’d never considered marriage before, but it was always fleeting, one of those “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” moments that passed within minutes. Maybe that was why we’d never really brought it up to each other – we were fine as is without any bits of paper to declare what we already were.
Or maybe it was because I’d been so preoccupied with Laska and all her issues and Eralia never brought it up because she didn’t want to add to the drama. She’d been through quite a bit in her time with us; she’d been there for Laska and me alike. Which, of course, made me feel guilty as hell and that maybe I’d been taking her for granted a little bit.
So, with Laska relatively stable – barring her relationship with Zoe, which changed on a week-by-week basis, and her school life on the level – I was free to think about myself for a change.
If we were already practically married, what would actually being married add that we didn’t already have? I suppose it could be a sense of commitment, a way of saying “Yeah, I want to be in this for the long-haul with you.” Because, you know, sticking with someone after their daughter tried to stab you already didn’t speak volumes in that regard.
For a good long while I mulled, poured, pondered, and considered marriage in every way possible. It had to mean something important if it was on my mind so much, even if I couldn’t place the why. Of course it wasn’t lost on me how people got married only to get divorced a year later, though we’d been together long enough I didn’t foresee any issues there. That was stuff people did on a whim, on passions that flamed out a couple months later. This was the real deal.
Once I’d nailed down that yes, I did want to get married, despite not being able to come up with more than a handful of reasons, I figured it’d be best to have a chat with someone on the topic. Someone who’d be affected by my decision just as much as Eralia or myself.
A chat with my daughter.
So, one evening while Eralia was still at work and Laska was home, I steeled my resolve, marched up the stairs, and knocked gently on Laska’s door. I learned long ago that just opening her door and walking in usually lead to… awkwardness.
“Hey Laska, have a minute?”
Sounds of faint rustling and movement came through the door.
“Sure, come in,” she said after a few more long moments.
Laska was in her computer chair, turned about to face me. “What’s up?”
Right out of the gate I stumbled. Having the words in my mind was one thing, getting them out of my mouth was another. Fortunately for me, in a manner of speaking, Laska helped things along with a quirk of her brow. “Uh oh. You’re nervous about something, and you want to talk to me. This never ends well…”
“Never? There’s been a couple times it’s gone well,” I said, cracking a grin.
She gave me a wary stare. “I wonder about that.”
“You probably just don’t remember ‘cause you were too young. Or something.”
“Anyways, what I wanted to talk to you about. Is…”
Oh damn it all.
I needed to sit down for this one. Plopping down on her bed, I smoothed out a few wrinkles and basically did my best to avoid looking Laska in the eye for several seconds. Even as I began to speak I had to force myself to make eye contact, which probably made me the kid in this exchange.
“I’m-planning-on-proposing-to-Eralia.” There. I more spilled the words than spoke them, but at least I said them, and they were mostly intelligible based on Laska’s cresting brow and twitching tail.
The only sound to fill the gaping void were the creaks of Laska’s chair as she rocked back and forth a few times. She chewed on one side of her lip, studying me like she couldn’t decide if I was making some kind of stupid joke, nor did she seem especially surprised.
Chewed on her right side, left, then back to the right again, along with some wiggling from her ears. “So, what took you so long?”
I blinked one of those long, slow blinks. Not the sort of response I was expecting after that long, dramatic silence. “What?”
She spun around in her chair. “You guys have been going out since forever and living together for like, years now. Don’t people usually get married after like a year or two?”
“Well, I guess it’s because we’ve been living together so long? Maybe it’s like we were already married, or something?” I said, scratching at my cheek thoughtfully. “Never really felt like either of us had a right time to talk about it either, I guess, with everything that’s been going on these last couple years.”
Laska’s ears flattened with guilt and maybe a little embarrassment. “Y-Yeah, ha ha ha…”
“Er, didn’t mean it like that. You know I don’t blame you for anything,” I said with a short sigh. “But yeah, since she got her new job, I was thinking of taking a week’s vacation somewhere and asking her then.”
Laska perked up suddenly, not quite able to keep a grin off her face. “Oh yeah? Fancy that… Er, that’s a pretty good idea. Decided on where you want to go?”
“No clue,” I said with a chuckle, “I’ve been consumed by whether or not I want to even ask her about marriage, then how I’d ask…”
“You should, she’d love it. Besides, a nice trip away is just what you guys need! The longer, the better, you know. All that rest and relaxation and stuff.”
“…You just want the house to yourself for a while.”
She looked away innocently. “I mean, I guess that’d happen, yeah.”
I had to wonder if she was so transparent on purpose. Still, meant I got an opportunity and I wasn’t about to let it slip away.
“What, think you and Zoe will be ‘On’ again sometime soon?”
“Uh, maybe?” Laska thought for a moment before fixing me with a scowl. “Hey! It’s… complicated.”
“More like you’re making it complicated.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means… well a lot of things,” I said, holding up my hands once I realized we were barreling towards dangerous territory beyond my teasing, “But anyways – don’t give me that look – I was thinking maybe some kind of… woodsy resort or something. I may not be much of an outdoorsman, but Eralia enjoys hiking and all that.”
Laska’s petulant glare lingered on for a few more seconds, only to be replaced by a mischievous glint. “Yeah, she at least makes an attempt to keep herself in shape.”
Unconsciously – probably – my arms shifted down to cover my ‘dad gut.’ “I try to workout with her… sometimes.”
“Dad, please,” she said with a massive roll of her eyes. “After two minutes of that thing with the step you’re panting on the floor like an old man, then you give up for two weeks.”
“Not my fault she’s on the advanced program.”
“Except whenever you try to join in she switches back to the beginner disc.”
“You never noticed? I guess she didn’t want you to feel too bad about it.”
Huh. I did notice she would futz with the disc player whenever I joined her, just never thought much of it. Welp. Defeated, I hung my head. Laska gave me a comforting pat on the shoulder.
“There, there. When you’re both old I’m sure she won’t mind having to wait for you to catch up on your walker wherever you go.”
“Hey, I’m not that – look, we’re getting off topic here.”
“Anyways, trip ideas. Hotel. Woods. Good idea?”
Now it was her turn to sigh. “Dad, you’re how old?”
“What’s that have to do with anything?”
“You sound like… Me or something,” she said with a goofy smile, rocking back and forth in her chair. “I thought you had this stuff figured out by now?”
“I wish,” I said, pausing to think. “It’s less figuring it out and more learning how to guess better. I guess.”
“Oh come on, there’s plenty of things you can just know. Like Zoe: If she’s sad I know food will cheer her up.”
Spot on with Zoe, but there was one little snag in Laska’s logic. “All the time, every time?”
She opened her mouth and began to mouth a “Yes,” but had a change of heart. “Well… Usually.”
In a way, I was proud Laska picked up what I was getting at so quickly, if only because it meant I could go on a spree of fatherly wisdom.
“Exactly. Often times we just have to make… very good guesses. Though I’d probably buy her an ice cream first thing if I wanted to cheer her up. Besides, sometimes figuring things out can be fun, provided it doesn’t blow up in your face. But hey, then you’ll learn what not to do, which is probably just as important or even more so.”
A self-deprecating smile pulled the corners of her cheeks taut. “Yeah… It’d be nice if I could just fix this with sandwiches or something.”
Poor girl. At least she was getting in her romantic experience now instead of ten years later like a certain someone.
“You’ll figure it out, I’m sure. Just need to go with your gut feeling and not over think it too much.”
Her head flopped to a shoulder and a whole-body sigh left her deflated. “Easier said than done.”
“I know,” I said, running one of her ears between my fingers. The twitching made her pout at me, but at the same time she appreciated it. “So, what do you think?” I said, moving our conversation back on track yet again.
For a moment Laska was relieved, but that only meant she was able to go back on the offensive.
“Jeeze dad, just go for it. It’s like you don’t even listen to yourself sometimes.”
“Hey, I listen to myself plenty.”
“Apparently not,” said Laska, thoroughly saturated with smug.
“…How’d I raise such a snarky girl? Talking to her father like this! Oh, woe is me.”
“Would you rather I wear a frilly dress and follow you around going ‘Yes, father!’ and ‘Of course, father!’?”
Wasting no time, my mind put together a nice mental picture of Laska in a frilly, Victorian-era dress. Even gave her curls instead of her usual bobcut and some glasses because why not.
“Maybe once or twice would be nice. Hey, that could you be your Christmas gift to me.”
Stricken but undeterred, Laska shot back. “First you’d have to buy me a dress.”
“Good, Christmas is settled then. And here I was lamenting what I’d get for you – that’s a weight off my shoulders.”
Her face froze, not quite in terror, but something close to it. “…You’re joking, right?”
Aghast, Laska’s jaw dropped. “I’ll tell Eralia you’re bullying me!”
“And? She’d probably join me. It’s been a while since she messed with you.”
Eralia was just as likely to ‘protect’ Laska from people as she was to turn right around and administer some punishment of her own. Most likely she’d give me a soft scolding about me threatening Laska with a dress, then suggest they go clothes shopping right then. Laska knew it too, or knew it after she’d had time to consider what she just said.
“Anyways,” I began, much to Laska’s relief, “I’ve got my answer. Though there is one more thing I want to ask.”
A knowing sort of smile crossed her lips as I left her room.