Natalie

The closer we got to my father's place, the more nervous I got. What would he say, when I would show up with my husband? The years before I hadn't even brought along any of my friends, introducing them to my parents. Back then when they had still lived together. Somehow they had never been actually happy. I had already seen them fight back then. But despite their obvious differences, their marriage 'survived' for 20 years after all. After that it had ended. My dad had moved out, for he couldn't bear my mom's dominant nature any longer. I had followed him shortly after. They had gotten divorced and the shared house had been sold. How former love could turn into such hatred, I didn't understand that to this day. But they didn't have anything to say to each other anymore after the divorce. They had moved far away from each other, so they couldn't run into the other by accident. Both had found new partners again quite soon. However those relationships had broken apart soon as well. Why I had even engaged in the adventure of marriage at all, after all I had been through with my parents, was a mystery to myself, too. But maybe that was the reason, after all, for why I had done it. I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that there was still something like eternal love and faithfulness, just like was engraved in my wedding ring.

"What're you thinking about?"

Ruggedly startled out of my daydreams, I turned my head to Seth. "How my dad will react when we show up at his place," I replied truthfully.

"You're worried about that he might not like me?" Seth asked with a frown.

I ran my eyes over him and sighed internally then. I already knew now what my conservative father would say to my husband's outfit. As always, Seth was wearing dark jeans and a uni-colored long-sleeved band shirt with some colorful printing on it. Nothing you would wear when you first meet your new father-in-law to impress him.

"What is it?" He seemed to have noticed my gaze and looked down on himself. "You think I'm not 'fine' enough for your father?"

Sarcasm was swinging inside his tone and I rolled my eyes. "My dad's a little… conservative and also a little… special," I begann cautiously. "He works at an insurance company," I added, so he would have a better image of my dad.

"Oh." Seth raised his eyebrows. "I see."

I took a deep breath and leaned back. "Maybe I'll tell you a little bit about my parents," I suggested to kill some time.

"Okay." Seth nodded and then concentrated back on the traffic.

"So…," I began. "… my dad's name is Gregory, he's 51 years old and works as an insurance salesman. My mum's name is Anna and she's 46 years old. She works as a cashier at Walmart. My parents married back then, when I was on the way." Seth only nodded, didn't say anything, though.

"I don't have any brothers or sisters. Somehow it just never happened," I continued. "When I was a child, I always wished I had a brother or a sister. Maybe that's the reason why Lucy and I are so close. We weren't just neighbors, but also both only children."

"I couldn't imagine to have grown up alone," Seth put in. "Warren and I didn't always get along with each other that well and I think there were moments where he wanted to kill me…" He stopped and laughed quietly. "But we wouldn't have wanted to be without each other either. Especially now that we're older, we appreciate one another."

"And now of all times Lucy and he move away," I murmured.

"Yeah." Seth gave a quiet sigh. "I'll miss him."

I put my hand on his, which was resting on the wheel, and squeezed it slightly. "We have each other now, haven't we?" I asked hopefully.

Seth looked at me and smiled. "Yeah, we have each other now," he assured.

'You will arrive in 200 m. Your destination is to your right side,' the satnav declared.

I took a deep breath and kneaded my icy cold hands. "We're there," I said and waited until Seth found a parking space along the street, before I got out with legs like jelly.

Seth looked up the high building we had stopped in front of. "Your dad lives in a skyscraper?" he asked in surprise.

I nodded. "He doesn't need so much space for himself. That's why he bought himself an apartment in this building."

Seth looked around. "Nice neighborhood," he said impressed.

"Yeah, it's the little better address of Santa Barbara. The ocean is nearby. Maybe we can go there later. It's beautiful by the water and this time of the year there's hardly anyone around the beach."

"You have your swimsuit with you?" Seth asked with a smirk.

"Though it's warmer than in Big Bear Lake, it's still too cold," I replied and smiled. "But let's get upstairs now. Maybe he isn't even home and we drove here for nothing."

"We'll see," Seth said, reading the names next to the door. "Ah, there it is… Palmer." He pushed the bell button, before I could change my mind.

"Maybe he's at work," I suggested, when nobody opened.

"It's January the 1st," Seth said smirking. "Nobody works today." He pushed the bell again.

My heart started pounding wildly, when a familiar voice came out of the speaker. "Yes, who is it?"

"D-Daddy?" I said with a trembling voice. "It's me… Natalie."

The door was opened and Seth and I quickly stepped inside the building. The elevator was already waiting for us and we got in. When the doors closed, I leaned against the elevator's wall with a quiet groan.

"You're all right?" Seth asked and looked at me in worry.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied. "I'm just a little nervous. Last time I saw my dad was three months ago." Seth grabbed for my hand and held it, until we reached the floor my dad's apartment was on. He was already waiting for us at the door and smiled, when he saw me.

"Natalie! What a surprise!" he said and embraced me as a greeting.

"Happy new year, Daddy!" I said, after he had released me again. I saw his questioning look turning to Seth, who was also eyeballing him curiously.

"Seth Mastersen," Seth introduced himself then and grabbed for my father's hand.

"Come on in!" My dad opened the door a bit more and allowed us in. "Do you care for some coffee or tea or something alcoholic?" he asked, after he had led us into the living room.

Though I would have liked something alcoholic, which maybe would have soothed my tense nerves, I chose the more harmless drink. "I'd like some coffee," I said quickly and beckoned Seth to sit down.

"Me, too, if that's all right," Seth put in and sat down in a chair.

"It's nice to meet one of Natalie's friends after all that time," my dad said, after he had put down the coffee in front of us and sat down as well.

I froze in my grab for the cup of coffee and drew my hand back again. It was time to tell my dad about his mistake. Nervously I cleared my throat. "Dad… Seth is not… my friend," I drawled. "He is…" I stopped and swiftly grabbed for the cup after all and took a sip, before I continued. "… my… my… husband," I finished the sentence.

For a moment it was so silent in the room that you could have heard a pin drop. Seth had his head lowered. Probably because he couldn't bear my father's distressed shocked face. I was sitting there and nervously chewed on my lower lip, while I looked at my father in fear. "Daddy, please say something!" I begged him, as I couldn't bear the silence any longer.

"Are you pregnant?"

It wasn't the question I had expected, but I was glad he reacted at all. I slowly shook my head. "No," I said with a slightly shaking voice.

"Since when are you married?" was the next question.

"We married on the 25th of December," Seth interfered now. "In Big Bear Lake. My parents have a vacation home there."

Even without my dad saying anything, I knew the unsaid question with his look about why he hadn't been at the wedding.

"Does your mother know?"

I shook my head, suppressing my tears only barely. I had thought to be doing the right thing with not inviting the two. But now I regretted my decision, for I could tell how sad and disappointed my father was about it. "It… it was a spontaneous decision… to… to marry," I stammered.

He lifted his head and looked at me with a confused face. "You never mentioned a boyfriend, when we talked on the phone."

I pondered about when I had last called him. It was just before I had travelled to Big Bear Lake. I couldn't have told him about Seth, for I hadn't even known him yet back then. I cleared my throat. "I told you that Lucy was about to marry, didn't I?" I began hesitantly.

He nodded. "Yes, you told me about it. And also that you wanted to go to Big Bear Lake." He looked at me questioningly. "Though you didn't tell me that you would marry there as well."

I couldn't hold it back any longer. I jumped up and paced to and fro in the living room. "I didn't know that myself back then," I exclaimed and threw a quick look at Seth, who returned it with a helpless one. I could practically see how uneasy he felt in this conversation. "Warren, Lucy's husband, is Seth's brother," I explained to my dad. "We first met in Big Bear Lake," I continued quickly, before he could cut me off. "It was love at first sight. And that's why we decided to make it legal and marry."

"You only know each other for a month?" my dad exclaimed in disbelief.

I nodded shyly. "Exactly 32 days," I specified, after I had recalculated.

"Wow!" He rolled his eyes. "You're fast. I got to hand that to you. Not even I was so quickly ready to marry back then. It took me almost half a year, until I was sure that I wanted to marry your mom."

"You didn't want to, you had to," I corrected him. "Grandpa practically 'held a pistol to your head'" I repeated what my mom had told me back then.

"Yes, whatever." My dad made a gruff wave of his hand. "But experience taught me that it's better to wait a little longer, before you jump into a relationship that's supposed to last longer. Something like that can only end up a disaster!"

Ouch! That hurt. I had assumed that my dad wouldn't be all that excited about my announcement about how I had gotten married. But that he already practically saw Seth and me getting divorced hurt somehow, though. "I think we should go now," I said and looked at Seth. "We want to go visit mom as well."

"Well, she will be just as excited about your news as I am," my dad said and sarcastically rolled his eyes.

"Was nice to meet you, Mr Palmer," Seth said and reached out his hand towards my dad.

"Is that a tattoo?" he exclaimed, as he saw what was revealed under Seth's ridden up sleeve.

"Yeah, it's a tattoo," I said hastily, before Seth could even open his mouth. "And guess what, he doesn't just have one, he also makes them." Sullenly I lifted my head. "Seth is a tattoo artist. He owns his own tattoo shop in L.A."

"You can actually earn money with that?" my dad asked skeptically.

Great! I thought frustratedly. Now there was the next topic I would have wanted to avoid. Money! "Enough to live from it," I said quickly. "Don't worry, your daughter won't end up in the streets. Besides, I make some money as well."

"And with what? With that miserable book store?" My dad shook his head. "I wish you would have taken my offer back then to get a solid education as an insurance saleswoman." He did a deep sigh. "Look at your mother. She never learned anything and has to do temporary jobs now. You want to end up like that, too?"

I felt something starting to seethe inside me. "Oh yeah? And why's that?" I couldn't believe that he started with that topic again. "She was 19 when you impregnated her! She was still at school then! What was she supposed to do? She had a little baby to take care of."

He shrugged. "She could have accepted some help. But she was too stubborn for that."

"Clearly not from you," I snapped at him. "You were too busy with your work!"

"I suggested to hire a nanny back then," he said with a shrug. "But she wanted in no case to allow someone else to take care of you."

I was still thankful to my mother that she had stayed at home and hadn't left me to a nanny. "You didn't even care who raised your daughter! Main thing you didn't have to take care of it!" I heard someone clear his throat and turned to Seth. "What?" I asked gruffly.

"Let's go," he said, looking at me insistently. "We need to keep going."

I tried to calm my pulse again by taking a few deep breaths. "Take care, Daddy," I said tiredly and allowed him to hug me again. I was frustrated and disappointed by how the conversation had gone. But I should have known it would end up in this. My dad and I always argued, especially when he mentioned my mom and then also attacked her. On the phone it was easier with just hanging up then.

"You treat her well! Or else you're going to have to handle me!"

It was the last thing I heard, before I left the apartment with Seth. "He'll sure treat me better than you treated your wife," I murmured, before I stepped into the elevator with Seth. "Thanks for your great support!" I exclaimed sarcastically, as we were on our way downstairs.

"What was I supposed to say?" He raised his arms and let them fall down again. "I felt like that was a very personal thing between you and your dad. Why should I interfere there?"

"You usually have the gift of gab, though." I moved a strand of hair behind my ear, sighing. "My dad and I have a quite complicated relationship," I said quietly. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to drag you into it."

"It's okay." Seth nodded and opened the door to the car. "Are we gonna drive on to your mother now?" he asked.

"You're sure that you want to handle that today as well?" I asked skeptically.

"Is she like your father?" he asked.

I shook my head. "No, quite the opposite. She'll welcome you to the family with open arms. She's got a weakness for tall handsome dark-haired men with tattoos," I answered with a smirk.

"Why did she marry your dad then?" Seth asked smirking and raised his eyebrows.

I couldn't help but laugh, although I actually felt really bad for the encounter with my dad had ended up in a fiasco once again. "Okay, let's go," I said and watched Seth type in the new address into the satnav and took off then.