She aligns her fingers on the laces like I’ve shown her since she was old enough to hold a ball and launches it back. She most certainly has her daddy’s arm.
It’s not that I want her going out for the football team or anything, but I think there are certain skills every girl should learn—if only so they’re not overly impressed when some cocky little prick comes along trying to show off. How to change a tire, throw a football, ride a horse, drive a manual transmission—how to change the oil in a car is important too.
Plus, our catches give us time to talk. To reconnect when I’ve been away for months at a time. I’ve always imagined having those chats when she’s a teenager—about drinking, smoking, screwing—will be less awkward if there’s a football between us.
“So . . . what do you think about this weddin’ business?”
She giggles as she catches. “Were you surprised? I was gonna tell you all about it last week, but Momma said to wait—she said you’d be really surprised.”
I force a smile. “Oh, I was surprised, alright.”
“I get to be the flower girl!” She practically bounces. “My dress is blue and satin, and I feel just like a princess in it. And Granny got me blue slippers to match. Momma said I can get my hair done up and I can wear lip gloss!”
Her enthusiasm loosens my lips into a more genuine grin. “That’s good, baby girl.”
Presley’s next pass is wide, and I jog to grab it as it bounces on the grass. “And this JD guy . . . you like him?”
My daughter nods. “Yeah, he’s real nice. He makes Momma all giggly.”
Giggly? Wonder if she’ll fucking giggle when I remove his head from his shoulders.
“What, ah . . . What are you gonna call him . . . if he and your momma get married?”
She holds the ball, her tiny features scrunched in contemplation. “Well, I’ll call him JD, o’course. That’s his name, silly.”
My breath comes out in a quick relieved burst, sounding like a gravelly chuckle. I catch Presley’s pass, then ask, “But you’re sure you like him?”
She stares at me for a moment.
“Do you not want me to like him, Daddy?”
Times like this never cease to amaze me. All the things we don’t say in front of children to preserve their innocence, the words we spell, the actions we hide so they don’t copy our bad habits. Like the way my father used to smoke behind the barn, out of view. But we could still smell it on him.
They don’t listen to what we say—they look at how we say it, picking up on the undercurrent of emotion like a sixth sense.
And they just know.
I don’t want to share my daughter’s affection with another man. But I also don’t want to tear her in half—make her choose between the two people she loves most in the world. It’s not her job to protect my feelings or her mother’s. It’s our job to protect hers.
And I hate myself just a little bit for the fact that she felt the need to ask.
I walk to her and kneel down so we’re eye level. “I want you to be happy, Presley—you and your momma. And I want you to tell me if the day ever comes that you’re not. But I never want you to feel that you can’t like him, or anyone, because of me. Does that make sense?”
“Will you be sad when Momma and JD get married?”
How the hell am I supposed to answer that one? Well, darling, I’m here to make sure that never happens.
I tip my hat back and deflect. “Will you?”
Her smile is shy, like she’s about to reveal a secret. “When I was little . . .”
“When was that?” I tease. “Last year?”
She pushes my shoulder playfully. “Nooo . . . when I was little . . . like five or six. I used to wish on the stars before I went to bed. After Momma tucked me in, I’d climb out, look out the window . . . and I’d wish for you to come home.”
A knot twists in my chest, tighter and tighter, until I can barely breathe past it.
“Or that you’d take me and Momma with you to DC and we’d stay there . . . forever.”
Jenny and I are good parents, I don’t doubt that . . . but it’s hard to hear that you’ve let your child down. To know they wished fervently for something that was actually in your power to give . . . but you just didn’t.
“I didn’t know you did that, Presley.” I avert my eyes and pick at the blades of grass. “Do you still wish that?”
“No.” She sighs thoughtfully. “You’re happy there. You have your office and the White House . . . and you have Jake. And Momma’s happy here. And now she has JD to keep her company.”