I wished my father hadn't come to my mother's funeral. He was a distraction. I stared at her coffin, stared blankly without blinking despite the crisp breeze, and I couldn't think of her life or her death. I couldn't think of the way her perfume smelled or how firm her hugs were or the slight Madonna-esque gap between her teeth. I could only think of him.

Him. Being my father by blood, but an embarrassment by being my father.

I admit, I glanced at him as everyone gathered for my mother's final resting place. He lost weight since I saw him last. Probably the alcohol. Hunter told me the doctor claimed his liver won't last much longer. His funeral might be next.

Unless he managed to secure a new liver, which I was sure he would. The rich and famous always get what they want. Need a new organ? Here you go, Mr. Upperman, I just snatched this from the hands of a twenty-five year old woman who's spent the last ten years of her life on dialysis. Want to get rid of your children? Thrust them on your ex-fling, Mr. Upperman, even if they aren't hers and she has a thriving career of her own.

I could only remember a few times he was a real father. Once he'd taken Hunter and me to the fair. Hunter had been six then, I'd been ten. He'd gotten Hunter cotton candy and had won a stuffed unicorn for me. When we rode the Ferris Wheel, he'd told us how he had wet his pants the first time he'd gotten on one because he was so afraid of the height, and Hunter and I had almost giggled our own pants wet.

I frowned. The priest was saying things, things about my mother. I couldn't concentrate. Damn him. He was invading my thoughts. This was supposed to be Mom's time. Not his. Never was supposed to be his time.

He'd gone all out for my sixteenth birthday. "My little girl's coming of age," he claimed. He wanted to have a coming-out ball, a debutante ball.

"And what about what Carol wants, Ryan?" Mom asked.

I was so happy Dad was paying attention to me. Eagerly, I agreed. "I think that would be fabulous."

There was a lunch before the actual ball at night. One hundred of my "closest" friends came to that lunch, and I can still remember how amazing the lobster tails and butter sauce tasted. There were ponies painted light purple, my favorite color. My favorite band Marksmen took time off from their European tour to perform. And my crush, Steven Jones, had shook my hand and claimed it was the best party he'd been to all year.

The ball was even more extravagant. Four hundred more of my friends came, though I barely recognized anyone but my small circle of true close friends. The men wore Armani, the women wore Versace. The diamonds were real and the smiles were fake. The menu was a list of French and Italian and God-knows-what-other foods that had the texture of gooey rubber.

But I enjoyed every goddamn minute of that ball. My father kept me on his arm the entire time. He introduced me to people, kept referring to me as his princess. "Doesn't my princess look beautiful?" "You should hear my princess play the piano! She certainly takes after her old man with the music talent, eh?"

The good times just made the hard times even worse.

He didn't come to my high school graduation. He checked himself into rehab the night before. I didn't know until my graduation party, when he finally remembered to give his family a call. I'd never seen Mom so pissed. She'd stared at me, lips a thin white line, and said through clenched teeth, "I swear to God, Carol . . ." Then she'd stormed upstairs and hadn't reappeared for the rest of the party. I hated my father twice that day. First for abandoning me. Second for causing my mother to abandon me.

Dad was always a dark cloud hovering on the fringes of our relatively happy, single parent family. Mom, fortunately, came from a wealthy family so money wasn't an issue. She adopted Hunter after two years of being the only mother he knew – his real mom had been a Brazilian model who had shown up on Dad's doorstep twenty-four years ago and thrust his newborn son into his hands and claimed in her broken English, "Is yours. Career of me is important." Dad liked to say that while he was gazing in wonder at his son, she had fled the building, and when he looked up again she was gone. I liked to believe that he'd just stood there in a drunken haze, teetering on his feet with an infant in his arms, and she had walked away in disgust.

Mom tried to raise us normally. She bought a modest three-bedroom house in the suburbs, sent us to regular public schools. People knew who our father was, but since we grew up with our classmates, it wasn't such a big deal. Somehow Hunter and I escaped the hell that most stars' children get snagged in.

But we weren't normal. Not really. At least once a year, Dad liked to stir things up. He arrived at the house, declaring he wanted to see his beautiful daughter and handsome son. "I'm writing a song about you both," he told us. Every time. Every goddamn time. He never did. We stopped believing it eventually. But it still made us smile when he said it.

Mom would want to know how long he planned to stay. "A week," he promised. He would be crunching on an apple, or spooning yogurt into his mouth. Always eating. "Maybe the kids want to stay with me this summer."

"I'm sure they would," she said, one hand on her hip, the other on the counter. "But you never seem to want them."

He'd get mad at that. "How dare you say that in front of my children," he boomed. "How dare you imply that I don't want them."

Mom would give me a look that said, "Time to leave." I took the cue, grabbed Hunter's arm, and hurried upstairs. But we wouldn't hide in our rooms. We'd sit at the top of the staircase, my arm wrapped around him holding him close, and we'd listen.

"I'm through implying, Ryan," Mom said calmly. "I'm saying it flat out: it's obvious to me and the children that you have no time for them. You're too busy touring and partying and making millions to –"

"Don't do that," he cut her off, ten times louder as though he wanted to be heard. "Don't start bringing my career into this. I knew that when Carol was born you wanted me to give it all up. And I told you I wouldn't give it up for the world."

"Well, most children are their parents' world," Mom said smoothly. "So you followed through on that account."

"Plenty of people can be famous and have kids!" Dad screamed. Even if we'd been in our rooms, we could still hear every word. "Look at Goldie Hawn! Donald Sutherland! Jesus, Nancy, it happens."

"The Barrymores. The Hiltons. The Richies," Mom ticked off. "Those girls grew up splendidly, didn't they?"

"You took my kids away from me because you didn't want them to be fuck-ups," Dad said, his voice lower and gruff now. "I understand that. But that doesn't mean I can't ever see them!"

I never understood Dad's side of the arguments. He always jumped around, didn't make his point before leaping to another idea. It was like his brain was too scattered to focus on anything.

"I'm not saying you can't see them, Ryan." Mom sounded weary. "But you stir up so much grief every time you do. You're not stable; you drink, you shout, you neglect them –"

"I haven't been drinking! This isn't about drinking!"

"Yes, it is, Ryan! That and more! You're not fit to be a father, don't you see that? Sometimes you wear the costume well, but that's only what it is – a mask! You can wear it during the good times, but when it comes to raising moral and decent people, you rip it off like an old scab."

"You and your goddamn analogies," he cried.

"And the images still don't help you see. Ryan . . ." She sighed, tried again. "I'm not going to forbid you to see them. I'm not. I don't want a lawsuit, that'll only make things worse. But you've just got to realize that this isn't healthy. Showing up once a year, promising things, then leaving for months with no contact . . ."

"Fuck you, Nancy."

He'd storm out. Leave. And be gone for months.

Every year, this would happen. It was traumatizing. It hurt. Every time he left my heart felt like it had grown spikes and was throbbing painfully in my chest.

I stared at the coffin of the woman who had loved me enough for two parents. I felt the pain, much like that of Dad's leaving, swell in my chest again, only it was ten times worse. Twenty times. A thousand times. Finally, finally I could ignore Dad's presence and focus on the wonderful woman who was taken too early from me. From Hunter. I glanced over at him, his towering figure reassuring, and grabbed his hand. He gripped hard. His jaw clenched. He, too, had his eyes strained on the coffin. I didn't know if he'd seen Dad. I doubted it. If he did, he would've had a visible reaction.

The priest was finished. It was time to say our final goodbyes. Hunter and I approached the coffin together, hand in hand, as if we were still little kids. I was so grateful he was with me, so grateful that Brazilian model had decided to give him back to his father. His strength gave me strength.

The lid was closed. We'd requested that. We didn't want to see her face. It wasn't the face we wanted to remember; we wanted to always see her fit and healthy and glowing. Her last month had been anything but.

I didn't cry. I'd cried enough, ever since she'd been diagnosed ten months ago. I cried every day, it seemed like. Now that she was finally gone, I didn't.

Hunter sniffed. I looked over at him; his eyes were watery, but he didn't sob. I was relieved. I couldn't handle it – he was supposed to be the strong one. He was younger by four years, but he was supposed to take care of me. He always had.

We stood, staring, for a long time. Everyone else ceased to exist. Hunter squeezed my hand.

"She's gone, huh," he said, quietly, so that only we could hear.

"Yeah." I breathed in deeply.

"She was a great woman, you know."

"I do."

"She put up with so much shit. It wasn't easy raising us – it isn't easy raising kids alone, but especially when the father always butts in and makes a mess of things . . ."

"She raised us well." I wanted to cry. I didn't.

"What are we going to do without her?"

His voice didn't break or crack. It was steady and solid. I looked at him, and he looked at me. His eyes were dry now, but his skin was pale. I attempted to give what I hoped was a reassuring expression.

"Move on," I whispered. "That's how she raised us."

He squeezed my hand again. Smiled. "You're just like her," he murmured, and it was the best compliment in the world. "I wish she was my mother."

"She was," I told him, firmly, and loud enough for others to her. "She was."

We both retreated into our minds and said a private goodbye. Mine was short. I'd been saying goodbye for almost a year now. I was lucky enough to actually have verbalized it to her. I'm going to tell my kids and my kids' kids about you, and you won't be forgotten. I'll make sure of it. You'll be commemorated just like Napoleon. The Napoleon of the Clinder family.

She had smiled when I said that. Smiled big enough to reveal her gapped teeth, despite the beeping monitors and IV fluids.

She was lowered into the ground. Buried. It happened smoothly, quietly. There were tears, but they were muffled. They weren't mine.

Afterwards, Hunter and I lingered by her tombstone. Hunter's girlfriend, Moira, said she'd wait for him in the car. She sashayed away from us, beautiful and classic even in her plain black mourning dress.

Dad was nowhere in sight.

We said nothing. Minutes passed. The sun came and went behind the white fluffy clouds in the sky. The newly budding leaves rustled when the chilly breeze swept through the branches. I felt nothing. Thought of nothing.

"Ready?" Hunter asked finally.

I looked up and rested my eyes on a tree across the cemetery. Standing underneath its branches was our father. I looked away quickly, not wanting to reveal his presence to Hunter.

"Give me another minute. Go on ahead; I want to be alone with her." I felt guilty about lying. I really wanted to be alone with Dad.

He kissed my cheek, softly. "I'll be in the car."

He left, turned out of sight. I watched after him and when I looked back towards the tree, Dad was already halfway across the lawn. My eyes fell down again.

I felt him rather than saw him. He stood on the other side of her grave. I fixed my attention on the freshly packed mound.

"She was a good lady," he announced.

I swallowed. "The best," I agreed.

"You look like her, you know."

I said the same thing I'd told Hunter: "I do."

"Fortunately, you didn't get your old man's looks," he grinned. I almost smirked. He'd been named People's Sexiest Man Alive twice in five years, and he believed he deserved it.

His feet swished on the grass as he made his way to me. I still didn't look at him, but now I could see his shoes. He stood right in front of me.

"Look, Carol," he began.

Suddenly I didn't know why I was there. Why hadn't I left with Hunter? What could I possibly say to this man?

"I owe you an apology."

I whipped my head up, incredulous. "Me? You owe me an apology the least," I snapped. I took in his gaunt cheeks, his hallowed eyes, his lank hair without so much as a wince. "You owe Hunter an apology for abandoning him when you were his only family. You owe Mom an apology for making her life a living hell. You owe the world an apology for your awful pop music. You owe everyone an apology more than you owe me."

His eyes were sad, weary, but he smiled. "Yes, you're right about part of that. But Carol . . . kiddo, I owe you an apology too. I fucked up with you, and I fucked up bad. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, sorry doesn't bring back my childhood," I said, like a petulant little girl. I envisioned crossing my arms and stamping my foot would complete the picture just fine.

"You're right. It's way too late, and it's way too little."


We stood in silence. Dad looked down, dug into the grass with his toe as if he were nervous. His hands were in his pockets. His black sports coat looked way too big in the shoulders, and his pants were secured with a belt surely made for a twelve-year-old.

"Dad, you look like shit," I said in a defeated tone.

He laughed. It was dry and short. "Yeah. I know. When I heard your mother died, all those months of rehab sort of went out the window."

I hated that it still hurt me to know he was killing himself. I didn't want to care. I wanted to say, "Good riddance. Get out of my fucking life." But he was still my father, and I was still his little girl. Despite twenty-eight years of anguish, hope, and more anguish, despite his status as a world-famous sex symbol and pop star, we were still reduced to the basic, raw relationship of a father and daughter.

"You know," he said, snorting as though thinking of a joke, "I heard something the other day that really stuck with me. I was flipping through the channels, and on some talk show the host was giving advice to a couple that couldn't conceive. 'A man really learns how to be a father when he has a girl first,' the host said. 'They love their sons equally, but there is a bond between a man and his little girl that's magical. Men learn parenting from that bond.'"

I couldn't speak. There was a lump the size of a pomegranate in my throat.

He snorted again and looked off in the distance. "I guess some men just never learn how to be fathers," he muttered, sounding disgusted with himself.

I looked down. I didn't want him to see my expression. My eyes were stinging with oncoming tears. Gritting my teeth, I cursed to myself. Don't cry! You haven't cried for your mother yet today – you will not cry for him!

"Look, Carol. I'm very sorry that your mother passed away. I didn't treat her like I should have, and I think I loved her in a very . . ." He struggled to find the right words. "What I'm trying to say is that I loved her. She gave me the greatest gift a woman could ever give a man, and I didn't realize it until after her death."

I held my breath, waited for the cliché about to come. She gave me you . . .

"She gave me the children I could never, ever raise properly," he whispered, not the cliché I expected. "She gave me two people I love very, very much that aren't tainted by my fucked-up ways, two people who I'm so very proud to call my children."

I blinked. Tears streamed down my face. How I hated him then. How I loved him. How I wanted to rip his greasy hair out and bury my face in his shirt for comfort all at once.

He touched my shoulder. I didn't look up. My eyes squeezed shut, I willed the tears away. They didn't listen.

His shoes swished over the grass again. He was walking away and I made myself look up. I watched his retreating back the entire way out of the cemetery. He didn't glance back once.

I flopped onto the grass and cried. Lifting my black shirt, I buried my face in the fabric and sobbed. I cried for Mom, I cried for Dad, I cried for Hunter. Mostly I cried for myself. My heart was killing me. Surely there was something unhealthy about the stabbing pain I was experiencing. Maybe it was a heart attack.

And after nearly ten minutes of sobbing, I felt the tears subside. Taking in great gulps of air, I lowered my shirt and looked around the cemetery. The sun had come out from behind the clouds and felt hot on my back. The wet grass soaked the seat of my black pants. Concentrating on the sensations of nature soothed me and eased the pain in my chest.

I sat for another few minutes, breathing evenly and taking in the scenery. This is a nice place, Mom. A good place to rest.

Amazingly, I felt calm. Calmer than I had in days. Serene. Dad's visit hadn't worsened the pain; it had lessened it. Our encounter was another event to add to the positive list. The negative list was much longer. So many bad memories.

But he'd given me peace.

I stood up and brushed the seat of my pants. Then I headed towards the car, where Hunter and Moira waited. I felt the sun on my hair and caught a whiff of honeysuckle as I trudged along.

Mom was gone. Dad was gone. But Hunter was still here, and so was I. And I would last.