I had always known that Peyton was our father's favorite. Even though we were born only eleven months apart, she somehow gained the title of Daddy's Little Princess.
Whenever he would come home from work, I'd be sitting on the couch, watching television. He'd always say to me, "Hey, Alex. Get your homework done?" When Peyton would come into the room, he'd say, "How's Daddy's Little Princess doing today?" and as she hugged him, he'd kiss the top of her head.
For his fortieth birthday when I was twelve, Mom helped Peyton and I bake him a cake, and we got to put our own special message on it. We walked into the dining room, lights dimmed, with the candles glowing over the message, Happy Birthday, Daddy!
"Thanks, Princess," he said after blowing out the candles and cutting himself a slice.
"I helped, too," I said from beside Mom.
After chewing that bite, he turned to me. "Oh, I just assumed it was all Peyton. She calls me Daddy. You call me Coach. That's how it's always been."
I went up to my room and cried. He never once let me call him Dad. Or Daddy. Since I started talking, he always corrected me. "It's Coach, Alex. Call me Coach."
He's the person that set up our lives for us. I became the sporty daughter while Peyton became the girly one. He got me started off in a Little League soccer team that he coached, and it only got worse from there, with him currently teaching gym at my high school, also being the soccer coach and girls track/field coach, both of which he made me join.
But Peyton got to try out whatever she wanted: Gymnastics, dance, ice skating. When I was younger, I asked Mom if I could try dance. She enthusiastically said sure.
"You're just going to love it," she said as she helped me put on the dance tights.
Just then, Coach walked into the room. "Where are you off to?"
"Dance class," I said with a big smile on my face.
He looked disappointed. "Alex, go change. You're not taking dance."
Mom spoke up. "Jack, she's really been looking forward to it."
He looked back at me. "You don't really want to try dance. You just think you do." He said it like he was trying to hypnotize me.
"The deposit's already paid."
"Then take Peyton instead."
I sulked to the stairway and slowly climbed the stairs back to my room as Dad called Peyton to come downstairs.
Mom quietly told him, "She's going to think you're playing favorites."
And in the most monotone voice possible, he replied, "I love both of my daughters equally." I don't even think Mom believed him.
But then The Accident happened, which made every little thing in our lives get turned on its head. Even though that was the day my sister died, I only learned one lesson: if your father's favorite is in trouble, he'll do anything to deny the fact that anything bad happened.
In this case, after the car wreck, after the police officer on the scene told my father that the driver was mostly okay but the passenger was in critical condition and probably wouldn't make it, my father was convinced that I was stupid enough to let my younger sister drive a car without a license; that nothing bad could ever happen to Peyton. That I was the one in critical condition and was about to die.
That he dropped down next to the driver's side—the car was flipped over onto the top—and even though he couldn't see the daughter in the seat, he thought he knew. "Peyton, sweetie? You're going to be fine, okay?"
"Is that your daughter's name?" the officer interrupted. He replied with a yes. I tried to interject, but I was in too much pain. "And what about the one going to the hospital? The one with the blonde hair?"
My father stood up. I could hear glass breaking under his feet. "B…Blonde hair?"
He let out an exasperated fuck before rushing over to his car and following the ambulance with Peyton's soon-to-be lifeless body.
On the first day of senior year, I wore a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants, even though it was the beginning of September and in the high eighties. I wanted to hide the majority of the scars left over from The Accident; the worst of them being one that went from my left temple, down my face and neck until branching at my left armpit, one going down my arm and ending around my wrist, and the other continued down until it met my left hip, then stopped in a swirly shape.
"Oh, Alex," Mom said as I walked into the kitchen that morning to grab a bite to eat. Since the accident a little over a month ago, I had peculiar eating habits, and Mom wanted to make sure I was eating enough. "Don't wear that. I know you're scared of the scars, but it's nice and warm today. Why don't you put on that sundress you bought at the beginning of summer?"
"Mo-o-om," I groaned, pouring some high-sugared cereal into a bowl, "I don't want to be a freak show."
"And I don't want you passing out from the heat. Please, go change."
I went back upstairs and changed into the dress she was talking about along with a pair of sandals. By the time I got back down to the kitchen, my cereal was soggy.
"You look so pretty, honey."
"Thanks," I said, putting a spoonful of mush into my mouth.
My father came in from the back door, carrying the newspaper. We were probably the only house in the neighborhood that still got one. "Alex, we're doing drills today. Go change."
I didn't respond. I was no longer talking to him. I hadn't said a word to him since the day before The Accident.
"Jack, it's the first day. Aren't you just supposed to hand out papers for the kids to get signed?"
This sounded like the day I was going to take dance all over again.
"Yes, but Alex and I are going to be running drills after school to get her in shape for soccer season. She's been slacking for the past month."
Maybe because I learned you didn't care if I died, as long as precious Peyton was okay, I thought. And my sister died. That has something to do with it, too.
A car out front honked its horn and I knew Taylor was here to pick me up. Even though insurance had covered another used car for me to drive, I was still scared to get behind the wheel, worried something awful would happen again.
"I gotta go," I told Mom, setting my dishes in the sink. I gave her a hug.
"Not until you change," Coach said.
"Goodbye," I said, ignoring my father. I grabbed my bag and opened the front door.
"Alex!" he yelled.