July 6th, 2008
Laska popped open the entry door, eager as could be – until I told her we were waiting for someone.
“What? Why? Who’re we waiting for?”
“A friend of mine,” I replied, casting another glance around for the missing Eralia.
There was a twinkle of curiosity in Laska’s eyes, along with something slightly accusatory. I was pretty sure she knew I wasn’t talking about Lydia or Steve.
“It’s a surprise, oh, and it’s someone you already know,” I said, ruffling her hair and ears.
“Dad!” She pulled away and scowled at me for a moment, patting down her hair. I just smirked at her.
Wish I knew what was keeping Eralia. I even told her to come a bit early specifically to avoid this little situation. Laska wandered around idly for probably a minute, maybe two, before her curiosity got the better of her. She meandered over to me and just stared up at me until I gave in with a sigh.
“C’mon, why don’t you wanna tell me? I thought we didn’t keep secrets!”
Had to admit, she’d gotten very good – probably worked on that cute-face of hers in the mirror in her spare time.
“It’s not really a secret. I just don’t want to ruin the surprise,” I said, crossing my arms across my chest.
Now she just pouted at me. “How much longer are we gonna have to wait? I’m hungry.”
“Not too much longer,” I said, then checked on the time yet again. I wanted to call to check on her in case something had happened, but she wasn’t really that late yet. Just kind of felt like I’d been waiting an eternity even though it’d really only been a few minutes.
“Can’t we get a table while we wait?”
Huh. Actually hadn’t thought of that. Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea, but I didn’t want Eralia to have to look for us inside. The other detail was that I’d rather see what Laska’s first reaction would be before we went inside, just in case things went badly.
Fortunately I was spared that choice as I spotted a familiar truck turning into the parking lot. “We could, but it’d be rude considering they just got here,” I said, pointing out the late arrival.
Laska watched with interest as Eralia drove around looking for a spot, her tail dancing about excitedly. But, soon as she saw who hopped out it came to a standstill.
“Who’s that?” She asked, tilting her head slightly.
“Remember the lady from the dirt bike track?”
Laska looked from me to Eralia and back again with a puzzle expression – until revelation swept across her face. “Really?! What’s she doing here?”
Eralia had spotted us and waved, then began to jog over. “You’ll see,” I said, waving back.
For now Laska was bustling with curiosity and excitement, which was probably the best reaction I could’ve hoped for. I began to think that things might not be so bad after all.
“Hey, sorry I’m late,” Eralia said as she came bounding up, her un-buttoned flannel over-shirt fluttering behind her. “Got a call from work and had to take care something before I left.”
“Oh, no problem. We weren’t waiting too long.”
Eralia moved in to kiss me, but quickly thought better of it – but not quick enough. The glance from Laska just dripped suspicion. Very quickly my previous thoughts reversed themselves.
“Hey Laska, remember me?” Eralia asked cheerfully, bending over to near eye-level with Laska.
There was a pause before Laska replied, during which she seemed to consider things carefully. “Yeah, you’re uh, Eralia right? From the place with the bikes? What’re you doing here?”
“Right,” Eralia said with a nod. “And, well, your dad invited me to have lunch with you two.”
Laska studied both of us in turn. “I didn’t know you two were friends now…”
Eralia and I shared a troubled glance.
“Wait,” Laska trailed off, brows furrowed in thought. “Does this mean…”
I swallowed hard, preparing myself for the inevitable.
“…we’re going to go ride dirt bikes again today?!” Laska chirped, holding balling up her paws into fists in front of her, tail swishing to and fro.
Already my heart was buckling under these rapid swings. “…Yeah, sure,” I said hesitantly. Today was going to wind up costing me more than I’d thought.
“Yay! I can’t wait! C’mon, let’s eat quick!” Laska shouted, then bolted inside the restaurant. Which left me alone with Eralia for the moment.
“You didn’t tell her anything? Seriously?”
I scratched at my cheek. “Well, you know, I wanted to wait until you got here before I said anything.”
A long, deep sigh escaped her. “This is going to get ugly,” she said with a frown.
Not exactly the most comforting words she could’ve said. “I hope not,” I replied, pulling open the door for her.
Inside Laska was practically bursting with excitement, but something seemed a little off. If I had to place it, it’d be that she was too excited. Like she was forcing herself.
The hostess took us to our seats, a quiet little booth in the corner. Just the thing we’d need in case Laska took poorly to our little secret. I slipped into the booth after Laska as the hostess handed out the menus and took our drink order.
For a brief moment I wondered if we looked like a couple and their child going out to eat. The notion made me smile and made something inside me flutter, but I had to remind myself not to get carried away. That’d be a long ways off – especially considering we weren’t even technically dating yet.
“So what’re you gonna get?” I asked, glancing at Laska.
She gave a very long ‘hmmm’ while flipping through the menu’s pages. “Maybe the salmon?”
“You always get the salmon. Sure you don’t want to try something else?”
“But it’s good! What if I don’t like something else?”
“You’ll never know if you don’t try,” I said, paging through my own menu. “Why not this? It’s shrimp and pasta. You like shrimp, don’t you?”
Laska peeked over at what I was tapping on the page. “I like salmon more,” she said dismissively, returning her attention to the picture of the salmon in question.
“How do you even know that if you haven’t tried it?”
“’Cause I do…”
I could only sigh in exasperation. From across the table Eralia was flashing me a toothy grin. “What?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said quickly, taking refuge behind her menu.
Right. Well, for the time being things were going smoothly. Couldn’t really ask for much more. A few minutes of idle chatter later, Eralia and I figured out what we wanted. Waitress took our orders, Laska got her salmon – despite my insistent she try something new – and then we found ourselves with only one thing to talk about. Just, I wasn’t sure how to begin.
“I can’t wait to ride the bikes around again, they’re so much fun!”
Okay, so that was two things. Somehow I’d already forgotten Laska decided we were going to the dirt track today.
“Looking forward to it that much?” Eralia asked, folding her paws together atop the table.
“Yeah! Though I dunno why dad didn’t want to tell me we were going today.”
“Why indeed,” Eralia said rather pointedly, quirking an eyebrow. “Still, weren’t you scared at all? You did have a nasty little crash if I remember right.”
“I wasn’t scared at all! All that stuff I had to wear made it so it barely hurt!”
“Yup! That’s why everyone has to wear it,” Eralia said with a chuckle.
“I hope I go even faster this time! I wanna be as fast as you two were!”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be much faster your second time on the dirt. Why, I bet that if you keep at it you’ll be just as fast as I am in no time!”
Eralia was all smiles, tossing a quick wink my way. Laska snapped her attention squarely onto me, looking very serious all of a sudden.
“Can we go every day?!”
“Awwww, how come?”
“Because it’s too far away and I’m not made of money,” I said in my most parent-like tone.
“But don’t friends let each other do stuff for free?” Laska offered in rebuttal, indicating towards Eralia with far too much eyebrow wiggling and head nodding. One day she’d learn subtlety. One day.
“She still has a business to run, wouldn’t be fair if she let us go there for free.”
“Oh,” Laska said, visibly deflating. But she wasn’t accepting defeat, not yet anyways.
Just as I thought she was about to try something new on me, she instead focused her efforts and pleaded her case to Eralia. I just gave her a shrug and wry grin, intent on letting her deal with my daughter for a few minutes. It was nice watching them talk, or rather, watching Laska try to bargain freebies out of Eralia.
While they were conducting negotiations, Eralia’s paw and my hand wandered close together. It was just a little, innocent touch: Her paw pad rubbed across the top of my finger, not even my whole hand. In that same instant Laska pressed up tightly against me. I was willing to think it was just a coincidence, but that idea was shot down immediately when Laska copied the action and shifted her paw to rest atop my other hand.
Any sense of good vibes I’d had until that point vanished. She didn’t say anything, but she knew. Hell, she probably knew from the start and just did her best to believe the lie she was telling herself. Eralia saw it, too. All things considered, this was probably the best moment to bring up our relationship.
“Hey, Laska,” I began.
“I – we – have something to talk to you about.”
“Huh? What about?” Laska said, sporting what had to be one of the fakest smiles I’ve ever seen.
“About Eralia and I.”
“Haha, what do you mean? You’re just friends, right? What’s to talk about? Right?”
This was going to be worse than I thought. Laska’s gaze wandered between us over and over before settling on me. Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “Right?”
In just a short time everything had gone from laughter and smiles to… this. Every heart beat grew heavier. Taking in a deep breath, I began as evenly as I could manage. The moment of truth had arrived.
“Eralia and I have been… dating, a little bit,” I said with a weak smile. I took up Eralia’s paw in my hand and gave it a squeeze. “And we’d like to start seeing each other much more often. That means she’ll be around our house pretty often, and we’ll be doing things together.”
“Right,” Eralia added. “That means we’ll be around each other quite a bit, Laska, so we want to make sure you’re okay with it.”
Neither of us said anything further, opting to give Laska some time to process things. So many complicated expressions crossed her face in such a short time: Disbelief, shock, anger, confusion, despair, pain. Her mouth quivered, she slumped back in her seat away from me.
Finally, she spoke up, having found a voice for the chaos in her mind. “Why?”
The pain in her lone word pierced me to the core. To make matters worse her question was so abstract, I didn’t have the slightest clue where to begin. Every quick, easy answer I could think of just made the kind of relationship I wanted with Eralia seem cheap, carnal. Sure sex and intimacy were involved, even large parts of it, but what I desired was so much more.
“Sometimes,” I started, mostly as a stalling tactic to try and marshal my thoughts into some kind of order, “Men and women want to be together as more than just friends – they want to be something deeper, they want to be lovers.”
It was pretty foolish of me to hope Laska could be pacified with that. If anything, what I said put her further on edge.
“Don’t you love me?” Laska asked, her voice a broken whisper. There was no doubt about it. She was terrified.
“Of course I love you!” I said, dropping Eralia’s paw to wrap Laska in a hug. “Why would you ever think I wouldn’t?”
I was having flashbacks to the incident with Amanda. Awful, terrible flashbacks. I was resolved, absolutely determined to not let this end the same way. Not just for my sake, but Laska’s as well.
“Then why?!” Laska buried herself against my chest, wrapping her small arms around me as tight as she could manage. “Why do you need her when you have me?!”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Eralia’s ears prick up for a moment before they drooped. She seemed to focus on some random point on the table, lost in thought. I found it strange she wasn’t really paying attention to either of us, but it wasn’t exactly an easy moment for her – or any of us.
“You’ll always be my special little girl,” I said softly, stroking her hair and ears. “You’ll always have the biggest place in my heart, I promise.”
Eralia looked over at me, and I mouthed a silent ‘Sorry’ to her. A little grin appeared on her face for an instant, so at least I knew she wasn’t feeling slighted by what I said. One small victory so far.
“But,” I continued, “The love I have for you can’t… make me whole.”
By now I was expecting Laska to start crying something fierce, but her tears never came. She just nuzzled deep into me, as if she could hide away from the world in my arms. “I don’t get it! I don’t I don’t I don’t!”
“I don’t really understand it either,” I said with a bit of chuckle, then sighed. “It’s just one of those things you feel more than you know.”
Laska didn’t say much of anything for a while, so I just kept her close, running my fingers through her hair and across her ears. Across the table, Eralia had yet to breathe a word. I couldn’t figure out if she was getting cold paws about moving ahead with this or what. Actually, she looked to be in as much need of a hug as Laska.
Minutes passed in stillness, but then when I tried to back away from Laska, she just scooted forward and followed me along. “What did I do wrong?” she asked, barely audible.
“Wrong? You haven’t done anything wrong,” I said, knitting my brows together.
“Then why?!” Laska blurt out, pulling herself apart from me. What little remained of her composure was crumbling away. “I, I must’ve done something wrong, o-otherwise…”
How I longed to be able to peer into that mind of hers. Maybe then I’d be able to say just the exact right thing. Instead I had to stumble around and pray I didn’t fuck it up. Cupping her chin, I did my absolute best to put as much sincerity and honesty as possible into my next words. “I will say it as many times as it takes: I love you. I love you so much it hurts me like you wouldn’t believe when I see you get upset or sad and I just want to do something, anything, to put a smile on your face. Just, sometimes – or a lot of times – I don’t know what to do. All I can say is that you don’t have anything to blame yourself for. I mean, I can’t even imagine why you think you’ve done something wrong.”
A few drops trailed down her cheeks and she shifted, nuzzling into my hand with her cheek. “I’m scared…”
“There’s nothing to be scared of, sweetie. I’ll always be here for you.”
With that I finally got a smile out of her, even if it seemed awfully lonely. “I think I get it a little… I just need to try harder.”
“I’m glad, but what do you mean by try harder?”
Laska took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her cheeks and shook her head. “I love you dad.”
I wanted to ask her what she meant, but figured she’d remain elusive. I really did wish I could read her mind sometimes. “Love you too,” I said, kissing her forehead.
Inwardly I was jumping for joy, thinking this was just the break I needed. Laska had finally accepted Eralia – another woman. With the Laska mostly placated, I turned my attention to Eralia. She was looking was looking so pitiable and forlorn all by herself, I just had to give her a hug. I wrapped my arms around her tenderly, only to receive a titan’s grip around my waist.
“You’re so sweet, but you have no idea,” she whispered in my ear, practically squeezed the air from my lungs with her crushing embrace.
No idea about what? Seemed Laska wasn’t the only cryptic one around here. Before I could ask her what she meant, I noticed Laska wasn’t entirely happy. In fact, she was decidedly unhappy. Angry, even. I was a fucking idiot.
When I switched seats again, I was expecting the worst. A tantrum, tears, another breakdown. To my surprise, the only thing Laska did was press up against me so tightly that she about pushed me straight out of my seat, all while glaring at Eralia. So that’s what she was angry about. I figured there would be some jealousy, but her mood had switched gears so fast. A terrified wreck on the verge of tears to an exceptionally peeved girl in just seconds.
My earlier celebration had proved premature. Laska never did answer the question, leaving me with little choice but to ask again. I really should’ve made sure I got an answer before I hugged Eralia. “So, are you okay with Eralia being around?”
And yet, when she turned to me her expression softened. I never would have thought she could be so mercurial. “Do I really have a choice?”
“Of course you do, Laska. It may be my house, but it’s our home. I won’t force you to accept someone into your home if you’re not okay with it.”
“…our home,” she repeated quietly, then lowered her gaze.
I glanced at Eralia; she was on the edge of her seat as much as I was. This was really it. The whole thing was made even more nerve-wracking by Laska’s prolonged silence, but there was no way I was going to try and rush an answer out of her.
She looked up at me, wearing the most forlorn smile I’d ever seen. “…I guess,” Laska said solemnly, turning down and away from me.
She may have agreed, but it still felt so much like she was dead-set against the idea. Had she simply agreed for my sake? I couldn’t tell.
“Thanks,” Eralia said, appearing as if some of the weight on her shoulders had been lifted.
Laska looked up with her eyes, but said nothing as she returned to her sulkiness.
About that time, as the rush of emotions began to level out, I became aware of the tiny fact that this had all unfolded in a restaurant. I caught a few eyes, but they quickly looked away. Too late to be embarrassed about it now, I suppose. And, just as I was thinking it was a good thing our server never showed up while we were having our talk, she appeared.
Her troubled, forced smile made it painfully obvious she’d kept away out of consideration. Though as a token of sympathy or courtesy, she’d brought with her a sampler tray of various appetizers that I hadn’t ordered. Supposedly it was a ‘special’ included for free. Well, if there was ever a need for comfort food, it’d be now.
“Want any?” I asked, pushing the basket over towards Laska after plucking a mozzarella stick off.
She glanced up and eyed it for a moment, the tip of her tail twitching. Again she looked away without saying a word.
“You sure? It’s pretty good,” I said after taking the noisiest bite possible.
Eralia followed along, making a show of eating complete with the most hilariously overdone ‘Mmmm’ sound effect I’d ever heard. “Sho good!”
Still got the silent treatment from Laska, but her tail was in full swing.
“Well, just more for us then… We’ll just have to eat it all!”
“Wait!” Laska’s grumpy façade vanished, if only for a moment. “I want some!”
She snatched up a chicken strip and chomped on that, but then a rather curious thing happened. When Laska reached for another strip, Eralia went for the same item. Laska’s expression soured and she made for a cheese stick instead. Then it happened again, they both reached for the same thing, though a shared glance with Eralia confirmed she’d done it on purpose – and again Laska went for something else.
“Oh, trying a little of everything?” Eralia asked. She was steadfastly ignored.
So that’s how it was going to be. I knew Laska wasn’t happy, but to outright ignore someone? She was angry, yes, but that wasn’t how I raised her at all. I could feel myself getting worked up, the same old tinges of resentment and impatience that up until now I’d been able to keep completely suppressed.
It took all my inner will to stop my emotions. Deep breaths. I had to look at this rationally, give myself a sense of perspective. All things considered, this was a massive positive shift for both myself and Laska. Could I fault her for acting childish? No, not when she’d already made what had to be an extremely difficult concession for her.
Another deep breath. Yes, things were looking up. So, instead of leaning down to warn her about her behavior, I just pat her head. Though I did flick her ear a little, just to get a reaction out of her.
She scowled, then went back nibbling on her appetizer. So, of course, I tweaked her ear again.
Immediately she gasped and then launched herself at me, going straight for my ears with her paws, though she wound up just kind of rubbing them all over my face. “How do you like it!”
“You’ll have to do better than that!” I shot back, going for her exposed tummy. “You’re open!”
My fingers found their marks and it was all over for the poor girl. She was no match, and fell backwards into the booth, thrashing and giggling all the while.
“D-dahahad! St, stahahp!”
“What’s the magic word?”
“Hmm, good enough, I suppose…”
She lay gasping, taking a breather to recover from her most trying ordeal. Eralia was grinning like an idiot, a grin which I shared with her.
As Laska finally righted herself, I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. The best way to get her to accept Eralia would be time and patience. Oh, and showing her that just because there was someone else in my life didn’t mean I’d ignore her. That was probably the most important thing I realized.
For a short while, at least, Laska was in a mostly positive mood. Short while meaning about 30 seconds until I tried to have a conversation with Eralia and then it was all scowls and grumpiness. Through the rest of our lunch Laska made absolutely sure some part of her was always touching me, even while we ate.
It was a bit unsettling to have my daughter chew on every bite while giving Eralia the evil-eye; the continued silent treatment wasn’t helping much either. The entire time I had to fight down my desire to scold her for how she was acting.
Aside from getting a kind-of positive response out of Laska, there was something else I took away the whole fiasco as well: If Eralia was willing to put up with all this after knowing me for such a short time, it really made me feel that she was something truly special. And felt the same about me.
Out in the parking lot, I lured Laska into the car in the hopes of having a word with my date in some kind of privacy.
“I’m so sorry for how Laska behaved today,” I said, doing my best to keep an eye on Laska while still giving Eralia the attention she deserved. I just knew if I took my eyes off her for a minute she’d use her tricks to eavesdrop on us. “She’s normally… well, not that way.”
“I know,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest and kicking at the ground with a paw. “She can be a real sweetheart when she wants to be… just like her father,” she added with a wink and a sly grin.
Despite all the things we’d already done and said, that comment got me to blush. Just a little, though.
“Still,” I began, doing my best to hide my embarrassed, much to her amusement. “I’m surprised you’re willing to put up with how she’s treating you. Hell, if I were you, I probably would’ve left soon as I got the silent treatment.”
A bitter, distant smile crossed her lips and she looked down at her paw before responding. “Yeah, it’s kind of irritating, I’ll admit, but I think things will turn out for the better. Besides…” she trailed off, glancing over her shoulder at Laska.
She thought hard for a few seconds, then shook her head. “Ah, nothing.”
“It must be something if you were going to say it.”
Now it was her turn to be embarrassed. “Really, nothing.”
“C’mon,” I prodded, taking hold of one of her paws and giving it a squeeze, complete with my best ‘hurt’ expression – complete with a little lip quiver. “I thought we weren’t going to have any secrets…”
She just rolled her eyes at me. “Now you’re pushing it. Don’t worry about it, okay? Girls need some secrets, you know.”
I figured trying to pry further would just tick her off, so I begrudgingly dropped the act and let it go. “Alright, alright. Anyways, when do you want to get together again?”
“Hmm, I’m going to be kind of busy for the next couple days. How about I come over Thursday or Friday?”
“Sure, sounds good. Let me know whichever day works best for you, or maybe both?”
Eralia nodded, smiling with her eyes. “It’s a date, then.”
As I was still holding her paw, she found it the perfect opportunity to pull me in and wrap me up in a warm, fluffy hug and we shared a short, little kiss.
“Can’t wait,” I said as we split apart. With a wave we departed, though as I turned back towards the car the warm fuzzy feeling I had was swept away. If looks could kill, Laska would’ve made Eralia explode on the spot.
Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so eager to see Eralia again so soon.