An empty and spent candy wrapper danced along the pier on the soft cool breeze that scalloped the lake’s surface. The sun hung low and orange in the late afternoon western sky.
Summer was over, and Sheridan Park was deserted save for a few workers already starting to prepare the camp for winter, and a few stragglers who couldn’t bear to let go of their dreams and return to a normal life. Not yet. Not quite.
“Get your things, Clarissa.” Charlie stood at the head of the walkway, cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth. “It’s time to go home.”
The girl leaned forward into the wind, toes on the edge of the platform, daring gravity to pull her into the water below. She was nineteen, and she could do anything, including defy the laws of nature, it seemed.
It had always been that way for her, like the time she rode her bicycle along the gutters of their house, all the way around. Charlie had no idea how she got up there, or how she kept from falling. Mae said it was because no one ever told her it wasn’t possible, so she just assumed it was.
That may have been true. But in the end, she couldn’t figure a way down and called out for Charlie. He had been there waiting under a tree, where the girl couldn’t see him.
He had climbed up, carried her down on a ladder, then went back for the bike.
“Clarissa.” Charlie flicked his smoke into the water and stepped onto the pier. His footsteps echoed off the shore like memories, and he felt time slipping away as he drew near to the young woman still standing with her back to him.
“Honey,” he said when he was just a couple feet away. He placed a hand on her shoulder, tugged at her to turn toward him. She stood rigid. “C’mon, sweetheart, it’s time to leave. Your mother and Carl are waiting in the car. School starts in the morning.”
“Then you better get them home,” Clarissa said. She pulled away from his grip, hard, and he feared she might fall into the lake. She didn’t.
Charlie frowned and studied the back of his daughter’s head. Loss and confusion and embarrassment swirled in his belly, spilled into his heart, welled up in his throat. Were those tears in his eyes?
“You’re coming with us,” he said, voice flat and thick.
Finally, Clarissa turned to face her father. She smirked, just a little, when she saw the emotions clawing at his face. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore. I’m a grown woman.”
Charlie stared at her for a few moments, looking for a hint of his little girl. “But how will you get home?”.
“I’m not coming home. I’m going back to campus.”
She just looked at him with a steely gaze. Charlie couldn’t figure out why she was angry with him, but she clearly was.
“Well, how are you going to get to campus, then?”
“My ride will be here in a little while.” She turned to face the water again, this time hunching her shoulders forward. She was finished with their conversation.
Charlie stared at her back for a few seconds, then turned and walked toward the parking lot. He lit another cigarette.
It was almost dark when Clarissa stepped out onto the service road. She had stood leaning against the boulder at the entrance to the parking lot for over an hour.
Her ride never showed.
She would just have to walk back to campus. No one had told her she couldn’t.
Up ahead, a cigarette glowed in the blackness under a canopy of ancient cedar trees.
Clarissa could already smell his Old Spice. She kept walking.
Charlie stepped out of the shadows, crushed the cigarette into the tarmac with the toe of his boot.
“Nice night for a stroll,” he said. “I sure could use a little company.” He fell in beside her.
Father and daughter walked in silence toward an unwritten future.