To Catch a Cheat: Episode #8

In episode #7, Carter went out on a “date” with Kenneth and found herself feeling something for him, a feeling that made her want to lead him into her apartment for a little up close and personal time, but one of them got a conscious and tried to slow down the attraction. FYI. It wasn’t Carter.

In this episode, Carter and her father enjoy an early morning fishing expedition, but it’s Carter that gets caught on the hook when her father reels her in with news she didn’t see coming.

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Saturday, April 9

At about three in the morning, my alarm went off, and I politely threw it across the room. I didn’t believe in getting up when there was still a speck of dark in the sky, but it was my dad, and even for him, I would forgo a belief once or twice.

I got out of bed and dragged myself to the bathroom. After a quick shower, tooth brushing, and facial cleansing, I dressed in a pair of dingy jeans and an old, black t-shirt that read, I’m busy right now. Come back later, and I’ll ignore you then. My dad would get a kick out it.

As I pulled my hair through my O’s cap and slipped my glasses on, I thought about my mother, probably at home right now, feeling put out because the alarm went off and Dad rolled out of bed and disturbed her sleep. She would be just the type of person to get pissed by that and yet still not even realize that Dad waking her up paled in comparison to her cheating ways and her new need to be divorced from him.

“She is such a fruit cake,” I said to my reflection. It was an act from God that I hadn’t grown up manic-depressive. As a kid, I would have never thought that other kids might have normal, happy lives because I had to walk a tight rope just in hopes of having a good weekend. They were always good or bad. Never in between.
Bad included being dragged with Mother to motels for her trysts and heading to the grocery stores or malls or bookstores to accidentally on purpose bump into the men she slept with or to perhaps find a new one to add to her resume under “Work Experience.”

Good included fishing with my dad. Mom never went. Not necessary to think hard on what she was doing instead. Dad and I would get up about three-thirty and dress. I would sit in the kitchen while he made these sugar balls. I think they were just made with dough and sugar, but I used to eat them like they were going out of style. Dad used to playfully smack my hands, telling me, “Well, they work on you, darling. Now let’s save some and see if the fish chomp on them, too.”

I knew Dad wouldn’t be at my place for a few hours, but I was always delegated as F.B.O., food and beverage officer for our fishing excursions, which meant I fried chicken, packed sandwiches and chips, and placed beers, sodas, and bottled water in a cooler. I also had to buy batteries for the radio Daddy always brought with us. I told him the music would scare the fish away and besides, he could easily bring his MP3 player if he needed music, but he swore that listening to The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin, letting their soulful tones settle over the water, was a sure-fire way of getting a cooler full of fish. So far, he hadn’t been wrong; I was kind enough to let him think his theory was true.

After frying the chicken, I made us egg and sausage sandwiches for breakfast. I was almost finished stuffing the last Miller pony and Corona into the cooler when the phone rang. It was nearing five-thirty. I knew I was up, but I instantly caught attitude with someone calling that early. Someone had better died or be about to have died, I thought.

“Hello,” I replied in as nice a tone as I could muster with my attitude.

“Hey Sunshine,” Vince said, laughing. “Is it early enough for you?”

I grinned. “Shut up, Vince. Why in the hell are you calling me this early?”

“Just wanted to say I hope you have a good day with your dad and to tell him hey from me.”

“You are too special.”

“Well, I also wanted to quiet any anxiety you may have had about your mom and the divorce thing.”

I sighed. “As we both know, my mother needs severe medical attention for her lack of brain. Anyway, I decided I’m just not gonna think about her. I’m gonna go and hang out with my dad like we normally do.”

“I feel ya.”

The doorbell rang. I raced to the door and opened it.

“Hey Daddy,” I said, gushing like a schoolgirl.

“How’s Daddy’s little girl?”

No matter how old I get, I could never get enough of my daddy’s love. In just a few words, I went from a neurotic, self-conscious crazy chick to a girl of six with pigtails and a big smile on my face.

We hugged, and I sunk into the cushion of his growing belly. I patted it and said, “Maybe you don’t need no chicken today, Dad.”

“The hell I don’t.”

I could hear Vince laughing on the phone.

“Dad, Vince told me to tell you hi.” I placed the phone by one of Dad’s ears. “He’s on the phone.”

Dad took the phone and said, “Boy, when you gonna make an honest woman out of my babygirl?”

“Daddy,” I yelled as I tried to take the phone from him.

I ran to the cordless phone that sat on the end table beside the sofa.

“Sir,” I heard Vince say, “your daughter isn’t ready to be tied to a good man.”

Dad looked at me and grinned. “She’s as smart as a whip’s lashing, but ain’t got much sense when it comes to men.”

I tilted my head and gave Dad my, now come on look.

“Well, I know she’s on another line,” Vince said. “I can hear her breathing, so I’ll have to call and discuss this with you one-on-one, Mr. Devlin.”

“Y’all are not going to be discussing me without me being there,” I stated.

“Good deal,” Dad said to Vince, completely ignoring me.

“Have a good time, you two. Catch a lot. I need more of your fried fish, Mr. Devlin. I don’t know what you do to it, but it sings in my mouth.”

I laughed. “Look at you…it sings in your mouth, huh? Go on somewhere. I’ll talk to you later.”

Dad and I hung up, and before he could say anything, I said, “Come on and help me with the food and stuff. No more of this trying to get me married. And to Vince, no less.”

Dad followed me into the kitchen. “What’s wrong with Vince? You’d be hard pressed trying to find a man as good.”

“And what do you know about finding good men, Dad?”

He tried to speak and began stuttering.

I chuckled. “Just grab this cooler, Dad. I got the food and batteries. Oh, check this out.” I let him read my t-shirt.

He shook his head and laughed. “You are a mess, girl,” he said.

“I get it from your side of the family.”

“Get on here.”

I giggled and followed him to the door.

He placed the cooler on the floor and opened the door. Before letting me pass, he turned to me. All joking was gone from his face when he said, “It’s good to have someone in your life that truly loves you.”

My throat became tight, but I smiled and responded, “I know, Daddy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

I hugged him lightly and kissed his cheek. “And I want the same for you.”

His eyes grew misty for about a split second and then cleared up.

“Let’s catch us some fish.”

I looked into my big, strong daddy’s eyes and saw sadness. I never hated my mother more than at that moment.

“Let’s,” I said.

|||||

Cloudless sky. Green grass. Blue water. Yellow, hot sun. Fishing rod in hand. There was almost nothing as perfect as that. Dad and I sat back in our foldable chairs and stared at our six rods in the water. We had found sticks with sling-shot Y’s to them and dug them deep in the moist sand. After our lines were in the water, we perched the rods on the sticks and sat back to eat our egg and sausage sandwiches.

“This is nice,” Dad said. He finished his sandwich and wiped his mouth with the napkin in his hand. “I like that we do this every month, just the two of us.”

“I do, too,” I said.

No matter the weather, Dad and I were either in Baltimore or somewhere in Maryland fishing, or we were setting up small weekend outings in nearby states to go fly fishing or ice fishing.

The first time we went fishing, I was five years old. I had a small, pink fishing rod. Dad and I sang songs all the way to the lake, but Mother sat in the front seat with her arms crossed and her face twisted up in a nasty-looking pout. Dad and I did a good job of ignoring her. That is, until we got to the water. After about an hour, Mother’s bitching and complaining about bug bites and how country folks fish pissed Dad off enough that he quietly packed everything, took me by the hand and went back to the car. Mother practically had to leap into the car as it was moving. I had never seen Dad so quiet, so still; he simmered. I always waited, wondering when or if Dad would ever boil over Mother and her crazy, disrespecting ass.

“So how are things going for you, baby?” Dad asked.

I pulled a Miller pony from the cooler. Dad slapped his knee and laughed.

“Remember your first drinking experience?” he asked.

I nodded. “I probably shouldn’t, but yeah, I do.”

I was six. Dad had dropped Mother off at the grocery store, and we sat out in the parking lot and waited for her. On a whim, Dad drove to a nearby liquor store and bought two, eight-packs of Miller ponies. He put a pack beside me and my little leg, fat-knees self, and a pack beside him.

“Take one,” he said. He nodded toward them.

I took one and tried to open it. He reached over to take the bottle and I pulled away.

“I got it,” I said. I used the bottom of my dress to twist the top off. My first sip was nasty. That I remembered. I also remembered that somehow this felt wrong, but I was with my daddy so that made it okay.

By the time Mother made it out the store, I had drunk four ponies and was floating on some nauseating cloud. Dad had hidden the evidence, and Mother didn’t pay that much attention to me anyway. She did want to know why I was so quiet.

Dad said it was because I was being such a good girl. By the time we made it home, my stomach was burning something fierce. As Mother stepped out the car, I turned toward her back and vomited until all the Miller ponies stampeded onto Mother’s dress. Needless to say, Mother beat my ass senseless, more for the vomit than for the drinking. Later that night, Dad came to my bedroom and said, “You’ll never drink again, will you?”

I should have been pissed at my Dad and I probably was, a little bit, but I shook my head and said, “No way. That mess got me beat.”

Though I’d like to say that I held on to those childhood convictions, I couldn’t. I wasn’t a lush by any stretch of the imagination; however, I did have a few more drinking incidences that I was not proud of.

“Giving alcohol to a child,” I said. “Now you know you was wrong for that.”

“I was with you,” Dad said. “I knew you were going to be okay.”

I smiled. “Man, Mother beat my ass off that day.”

“Mmm.”

Dad’s smile had waned. I saw him look out over the water.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” I asked. I leaned over and patted his leg. “You’ve been pretty quiet this morning, and you just zoomed away from me.”

I sat and waited for Dad to talk. He rubbed his hands together before getting up and checking each of his reels, then mine. As he slacked the line a bit on my last reel, he said, “I had ulterior motives for wanting you out here with me today.”

“Do tell,” I said. I sat forward in my chair.

Dad stood for a while holding my reel. Each second that ticked by unnerved me. My dad brought me to one of my favorite places to talk to me. Things like that happened in movies and books, and usually when something bad was wrong.

I stood, but didn’t move toward him.

“What’s going on, Daddy?” I asked, my voice fragile and small. “You’re not sick, are you?”

He shook his head no. “I’m too damn stubborn to get sick. You know that.”

I pressed my palm against his back. “Then what, Daddy. Just tell me.”

Dad took a breath and said quickly, “I’m divorcing your mother.”

My hand dropped beside me. I tried to take mental snapshots. My dad’s calm voice. The warmth of his back through his t-shirt. The water, the sky, the trees, the grass. Nothing connected within me.

“What?” I whispered.

Dad turned around, looked at me, and said, “You can’t be surprised by this, babygirl.”

And I wasn’t. Well, okay, I was. Mother wanting to divorce Dad? Got it. Dad wanting to divorce Mother? Not so much. I don’t recall ever seeing a glitch in my dad’s love for my mother. But then, I had placed him on a pedestal as the good guy, and Mother was the evil villain.

I reared my head back and laughed. I laughed from the soles of my Adidas to the top of my O’s cap. I leaned forward and grabbed at my side.

“Ow,” I cried and laughed at the same time. The catch in my side was killing me, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Baby,” Dad said, “have you lost it?”

I coughed and after a while, settled down. “As much as everyone else.” I didn’t tell him that he was going to beat Mother to the punch, and to me, that was deliciously evil. Of course, I acknowledged that I probably needed psychiatric help for thinking so ill of my mother, but one had to appreciate the irony of all this.

I sat in my seat and waited until Dad did the same before asking, “Why?”

“The divorce?”

“Yeah.”

“She doesn’t love me no more,” he said simply, “and she hasn’t loved me for a long time.”

“That’s because she’s stupid, Daddy.”

He raised his hand. “Now, don’t be speaking bad of your mother. She gave birth to you.”

“But you raised me,” I added.

“That’s neither here nor there, baby. That’s your mother. Just because I realized that I can’t do this to myself anymore doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship with your mother.”

I had long ago given up on having a real relationship with my mother. I loved that my dad saw hope in a situation that had none.

“I hope you know that you are a great man,” I said. “Mother has her own demons to deal with, and whatever she feels or doesn’t feel for you doesn’t make you a bad person because of it.”

Dad grinned. “Thanks, Dr. Devlin.”

I laughed.

“I mean it, Dad. I can’t tell you about all the women and men who come in for counseling after realizing their relationships are over. Many of them are devastated and place blame solely on themselves. I never wanted you to be hurt like that.”

“I’ll admit,” Dad began before grabbing a pony from the cooler, “what your mom did, has been doing all these years, hurts me to the core. Our wedding vows were forever.”

“I know.”

“But I can never forgive her for what she did to you.”

“To me? What she do to me?”

“I know you were her flunky.”

I lowered my gaze to the ground. A trail of ants was marching toward bread morsels I had dropped from breakfast.

“I’m not mad at you,” Dad said. “You were a child for Christ’s sake. You’re mother was supposed to protect you and instead you’re protecting her and I don’t even want to know, how many men she’d been with. How could I ever forgive her after something like that?”

“But you had,” I whispered. “For years, Dad.”

He sipped from his beer before saying, “I guess that was the stubbornness in me. I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong.”

I looked over and took in my father’s thick brown fingers holding the beer bottle so tightly I winced as I waited for the bottle to shatter.

“Dad,” I began, but faltered. I cleared my throat and opened my mouth to talk again. Instead, a huge sob escaped, and I began crying. Hard. Snotty cries for my dad and how strong he was. Mother because she couldn’t make Dad and me be enough for her. Me because I didn’t know what to do, say, think, or feel about all of this and because even though divorce was probably a good thing for everyone involved, the dismantling of our family still felt like a tragic event.

Dad knelt before me and pulled me into his arms.

“Shh, baby,” he said. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

And though my dad never made a promise he couldn’t keep, I couldn’t trust him on this. I could only hold on tight and hope not to fall off the ride we three were about to be put on.

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