"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I know how and the wisdom to know the difference," Carlie whispered and opened her eyes. She gazed blankly through the windshield of her blue, two-door Pontiac Sunfire as she turned the keys, shutting off the car's engine. Carlie slipped the keys out of the ignition and stashed them in her overly large purse, finally taking her eyes off the tree-lined street before her.
She pushed open the car door and slung her purse over her right shoulder before rising out of her seat and exiting the low car. The insistent beeping that accompanied her departure quickly got on her short nerves so she slammed the door, unmindful of the louder noise she'd just caused in the quiet neighborhood. But she made no move to step away from the curb.
Carlie stood looking down the front walk of her father's house, wondering for the millionth time why she had bothered to come. She already knew how this was going to turn out. She always knew what he was going to say and how he was going to react. And yet, here she was meeting with him anyway.
Sweat accumulated on the cool palms of her hands and Carlie hastily wiped them on the rough denim fabric of her knee-length skirt. She might as well get this over with.
Her low heels clicked on the cement walk as she started towards the door, her pace fast as usual despite her apprehension. All too soon she was at the door. Carlie depressed the doorbell with a steady finger and distantly heard the chime within followed by heavy footsteps approaching the door. Seconds later, the deadbolt slipped back with an audible click and the door swung open, revealing her father.
He opened the screen door, smiling, his brown eyes studying her as they always did.
Carlie stepped into his hug, still divided after all these years about her feelings for the man, her father. She walked inside when he moved out of the doorway and pushed the door shut behind her. "How have you been?" she asked, making small talk to avoid her true reason for coming for the time being.
"Pretty good. We've been busy this summer. Lots of camping on the weekends; you know the drill," he responded and ran and hand through his graying black hair. "You want something to drink?" he inquired as he walked into the kitchen.
"No, I can only stay for a moment. I just needed to stop by," Carlie replied and followed him. She moved a stack of mail off a barstool and set it on the counter before sitting down. "How'd Kevin do this last semester?"
"He did great. He made the baseball team but still kept his grades up. We're really proud of him," her father said and pulled a can of beer out of the fridge. He motioned towards her with the can, silently asking if she wanted one.
Carlie shook her head and fought the desire to cry. His last sentence had cut her to the core. He was always doing that, praising her half brother and ignoring her own significant accomplishments. She could count the number of times he'd said he was proud of her on one hand and still have three fingers to spare.
"So what's the occasion?" he asked, disrupting her thoughts.
Carlie blinked and focused on him. He had good reason to ask that; she hardly stopped by if she could avoid it. And now, this was her last chance to back out, to bypass this conversation indefinitely. She really didn't want to get him into one of his infamous one-sided 'conversations' that to this day always left her crying, but she couldn't give this up. They had to have this out or she didn't know if she'd ever have peace or be truly happy.
"I'm getting married," Carlie said without any beating around the bush.
She could tell he was stunned, "When?"
"The beginning of August," she replied.
"That's less than a month from now. Why am I just hearing about this now? I thought we'd gotten past all the secrets," his voice was already starting to take on that petulant, condescending tone that she hated.
Carlie took a deep breath. She'd seen this coming and it had haunted her every single day since she'd accepted Matt's proposal last summer. Part of her thought that maybe she should've told her father, but the other part of her resisted that impulse. Why should she tell him? What had he done to deserve such happy news? Carlie had come to realize since graduating four years earlier that her father was bad for her. There was just no getting around that.
Of course that was a self-made realization as she'd never gone to seek professional help as her father had so callously suggested years before, but that hadn't stopped her from seeing what should've been long obvious. It wasn't always nice to point fingers, but sometimes it was justified, and this was one of those times. Her father had a lot of blame to shoulder.
Finding someone to love had been hard for Carlie, and because of that Matt would forever be a blessing beyond belief. Until two years ago, Carlie had never had a boyfriend. It was just too hard to show and receive affection for her. She'd wanted to have a boyfriend and had tried to find one throughout college and grad school, but it had never worked out. Intimacy frightened her. She had trouble getting close to people for no reason she could understand. Distance and aloofness were her life and she hated every moment of it. It wasn't until later that she'd discovered the source of her social ineptness—a childhood trauma long forgotten. A trauma her father caused, and one for which she didn't think she'd ever forgive him. Who in their right mind could be so cruel to a child?
Now, she had to be strong and resist the temptation to cave in to her father like she always did. She was a successful, grown woman, about to be married and happy for the first time in a long time. She couldn't let him ruin this for her. "You may have claimed the secrets were done, but that was just another lie. You've lied to me my whole life," Carlie whispered, suddenly wishing she'd allowed Matt to come with her after all even if she didn't want her father to ever know her fiancé.
"What are you talking about? Is this your mother talking again? When are you going to grow up?"
Carlie felt fifteen again. This is how all those old conversations started; they always had to do with her mother. She shook her head and glanced at her hands for a moment before returning her eyes to his face. And there she saw his square-tipped nose, the one thing that had the amazing ability to lighten her mood when her father got like this. It was the nose that gave her back her voice, "I am grown up, dad. I'm twenty-seven years old and I have a life of my own! This has nothing to do with mom."
"Then why hide your wedding from me? How are we supposed to be a family and understand each other if you don't tell me how you feel?" he pushed on unfazed.
Carlie blew out a long breath. "I'm telling you how I feel now; I don't trust you. You've lied to me and are still lying to me, and I hid the wedding from you because I honestly don't want you there. I want to enjoy my wedding and not be terrified that you and mom are going to start fighting or that you'll haul off and start yelling at me. I'm old enough to make my own choices, and I'm making them," she cried in a rush and got off the stool, her purse clutched in her hands.
"I'm your father, Carlie," he protested, setting his unopened beer on the counter and starting towards her.
Carlie held out her hand, stopping him. "That may be true, but you've never given me anything. You don't act like a father; you don't care what I do or how I'm doing. You never ask if I need anything. That's not a father, and the older I get, the more I realize that never really had a father."
"So I'm just supposed to stand by and let you walk out of our lives?"
"There's no 'our' in this. It's you I don't want in my life, not Kevin. He's my brother and I love him," Carlie clarified. She wasn't going to let him lump Kevin in with him like he always did and give her a guilt trip. She knew she wasn't wrong in this.
"This is all you mother talking. You're going to regret destroying our relationship someday, Carlie," he warned.
Carlie laughed, unable to stop herself. "Our relationship? You were never there for me, dad, what relationship is there to destroy? I just don't want you at my wedding. I want to be happy for once."
"Then who's going to walk you down the aisle and give you away?" he asked, and Carlie knew he was going to get to this.
"See, I told you. This is all about her. She's been trying to take you from me since we divorced," he immediately jumped on it.
Carlie shook her head. "You gave me to her. You never wanted me except for when it benefited you or hurt her. I wasn't worth it to you," Carlie countered and stepped back towards the door. "I came here to tell you in person I was getting married, and I did so before the wedding because I can't help but love you on some level, but I don't want you at the wedding."
He opened his mouth to talk, but she pressed on.
"I don't want any more excuses, dad. I'm done," Carlie added and turned away from him. She hurried across the short distance to the door and let herself out before breaking into a run and throwing herself into the car. Only after she'd pulled away from the curb did she start to cry. Carlie would never understand why she felt so guilty for finally telling her father how she felt. He'd hurt her so much and deserved everything she'd said to him, but for some crazy, unknown reason, Carlie always felt like she had to please him. She still couldn't believe she'd made it through that conversation without giving in and letting him come, but she'd done it. She truly had grown up and taken her life as her own. Now she had to put her past behind her, but she wouldn't have to do it alone. Carlie had Matt for that. She smiled at that thought, happy that she'd finally found someone to love, someone willing to help her