I examined my image one more time in my full-length mirror. Neatly coifed hair. Pressed, collared shirt and business jacket. Straight pencil skirt and run-free pantyhose. Pretty, but professional heels. I added a layer of carefully applied, dark red lip stick for a finishing touch.
At least on the outside. I tried to still my trembling nerves. Daddy would be there today to cast his vote on whether or not to approve my proposal.
I cast a glance toward the family photo on my bedside table. Daddy, standing tall and strong, hair windblown, skin tan from the sun, white but slightly crooked teeth. Me, still a gawky and awkward teenager, not yet sure of herself. And Annabeth, dainty and pretty as always, golden hair carelessly pouring over her shoulders, eyes and smile bright.
I was his favorite once. I remembered how he would catch me up in his arms when I ran to him after he arrived home from work and call me his “little Caitie-did.” His employees would have laughed to see how their big boss man settled on a doll-sized, red-and-white checked picnic blanket to have a tea party with his oldest daughter.
Try as I might, I couldn’t remember times like that after Annabeth was born. I remembered bringing a straight-A report card to him and him hugging me. But I also remembered Annabeth playing her first piano solo and watching the beaming tears run down his face. I didn’t think he had ever looked at me like that.
I turned away from the photo and snatched my keys off the dresser. Enough of the past. I had a presentation to think about.
The board room was full of a hushed silence as we waited for Daddy’s answer. His chin rested on the back of one hand, while he absently twirled a pen with the other.
I had done well. My presentation had been crisp and polished, hitting the appropriate emotional notes at the right times and ending with a perfect summary of the benefits to adding an organic line of products to our company. The decision was still split, however—mostly due to several board members who believed what we had done in the past was good enough and changes were unnecessary.
Daddy hesitated another long moment. Then . . . “I vote no,” he said quietly.
“What?” I didn’t intend to say the word out loud, but it came out anyway. The other board members vacated the room quickly, seeming to want to avoid being caught in the middle of a father/daughter conflict.
As soon as they were gone, I spoke again. “Why? Why would you vote no? It’s a good plan, a smart plan, one that will be good for us.”
“Will it, Caitlin? Tell me why you want it so badly.”
“Because . . . .” But I was unable to think of another reason beyond the ones I had already listed.
“Exactly.” He rose from his chair. “You’re right—it’s a good plan. But there’s no heart in it.”
I lowered my head, fighting tears of frustration.
“I’ll see you tonight, at Annabeth’s concert,” he said.
Of course you will, I thought bitterly as he shut the door behind him.
Something about Annabeth was off tonight. I sat on the sofa in her living room, holding her two-year-old daughter, Sophie, as she fluttered nervously from one end of the room to the other, cleaning up the clutter. Finally, I asked her what was wrong.
“It’s Nick.” Her husband. “I’m not sure he’s going to come tonight.”
“Why not?” Nick came to all of her concerts—we all did. It was expected. And besides, he had always seemed to love her music, just like Daddy did.
“He—I—” Suddenly, she was crying, and I didn’t know what to do. “We’ve been arguing, and I just don’t know if he’ll want to come anymore.”
“Well . . . it’s just one concert,” I said, trying to be comforting.
“But it’s not!” She almost wailed the words, and in my lap, little Sophie began to whimper. I bounced her up and down nervously. “I told him he had to come tonight, that if he didn’t, I’d know he didn’t want to be with me anymore.”
“Annie . . . .” I reverted to her childhood nickname. “That’s crazy. Why would you do that?”
“I—I don’t know.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
“Listen, I’m sure he’ll come. Why don’t you go on upstairs and get ready? I’ll keep an eye on Sophie.”
“All—all right.” Her breath still came in shuddering gasps, but she did as I said.
A few minutes later, I heard her cell phone begin to ring and realized she’d left it on the coffee table in front of me. “Annabeth—” I started to call, but then I heard the water running and figured she must be in the shower. I checked the phone. It was Nick.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Annie?” He sounded breathless. “Annie, I’m sorry, I—”
“No, it’s Caitlin. Sorry. Annabeth’s upstairs.”
“Oh. I—” Now he was flustered. “Well, can you tell her I called? And that I’m so sorry, there was an emergency at work, and I’m not going to be able to make it tonight? But I’ll see her afterward?”
“Sure. I’ll tell her.”
We said our goodbyes, and I settled down to play with Sophie while waiting for Annabeth. A few minutes before we needed to leave for the concert, a knock came at the front door and Daddy let himself in.
“How’s Annabeth?” were his first words.
“A little nervous.”
His gaze landed on Sophie, and his eyes lit up. “How’s my little girl?” he asked, holding his arms out to her. She giggled and ran to meet him. He swept her into his arms and tickled her tummy, making her laugh outrageously.
Something twisted inside me. I had given him everything I could think of, my obedience, my good grades, my hard work, but still, “there was no heart in it.” Annabeth had made him laugh at her jokes, cry at her music, and more than that, she had given him a grandchild he adored. How could I ever hope to compete with that?
“Daddy?” Her voice floated down the stairs.
She came into view, wearing a floor-length formal black gown and looking beautiful as always. Daddy smiled.
Hardly knowing what I was doing, I reached behind me for her cell phone. A few quick taps later, I had deleted the record of Nick’s call from her recent calls.
She saw me holding her phone. “Did I—get any calls while I was upstairs?”
“No,” I said. “Sorry.”
Annabeth made it partway through her third song before her hands began to shake and she paused for a moment too long before the expected crescendo of the piece. I could see her chest heaving as she struggled to breathe. Then, with a stifled cry, she rose from the piano bench and fled the stage.
As I glanced sideways, I saw Daddy’s brow furrow in concern, Annabeth’s pain reflected in his eyes. I couldn’t find any sense of satisfaction, though. Only a moment later, he was on his feet.
“Let’s go, Caitlin. We need to find out what’s wrong.”
“You go. I’ll wait here—we don’t want too many people converging on her all at once.”
Something about my tone must have given me away, because he turned, stared at me. “Caitlin. What did you do?”
“Me? Nothing! I swear.”
His gaze was long. Searching. “I’m going to Annabeth now.”
Then he walked away, making his way through the crowded aisles. I watched him go, feeling empty.
It wasn’t my fault. Annabeth shouldn’t have given that ultimatum. Nick should have called again. How was I to know it would affect Annabeth like this?
It wasn’t my fault.