“What’s in the box?” Ted asked when Liz arrived after ten to pick it up. He was watching the news, as he usually did when he was at home.
She had decided on the drive over not to tell him about the briefcase. “My helmet, and that butterfly pillow I got from Midori’s aunt when I was little. I didn’t want to carry them on the bus.”
“Seemed heavier than that,” he said, looking at her closely.
“The pillow had puke on it. It was wet. Probably got the packing material wet.” Papa was too damned hard to lie to. “Look, do you want to open it? It’s not like I shipped myself a case of tequila.” She prepared herself to explain the briefcase, if she could.
Ted stood up, to show that he didn’t approve of her irritated tone. “No, thank you,” he said. He crossed the living room in four calm, measured steps. “And you don’t drink tequila, anyway,” he said as he went past her into the kitchen. He sounded a little bit disgusted.
Liz was rattled. She hadn’t realized that her father ever paid enough attention to know the details of her habit. She felt her face flush, and was still somewhat dumbstruck when he returned with a breathalyzer.
“You look tired,” he said.
“I went to an aikido class.”
“You had enough energy for that after working all day?”
“No. I’m about to fall over,” she said with a smile. “And I have to drive home yet.” She blew, and gave the testing bag back to her father.
“There’s always the spare bed. It’s snowing pretty badly, too. Margo won’t mind.”
Liz smiled slightly. “Yes she will.” Giving her father a hug and a peck on the cheek would have been fun, and deserved, but one of the unspoken tenets of their relationship had always been that she did not acknowledge Ted’s Ward Cleaver moments. “Don’t worry, Papa. My car has four wheel drive. Ondrew showed me–there’s a little button right on the shifter. I never even noticed it. So it goes fine.”
“We’re supposed to get six inches by morning. Then ice.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. She did not want to be here to endure Margo after Ted had left for work in the morning.
Ted sat back down, glancing at the television. “One more thing,” he said. His tone had a hint of you’re-in-trouble in it, but not much. “Your hair.”
“Is gone,” she replied, thankfully without laughing. She had expected him to ask.
Liz thought about it for a moment. “I’m punishing myself,” she said. The words just sprang to her mouth, but it sounded good. “If I fall again, I’ll cut off the lovelocks,” she indicated the braids in front of her ears, all that was left of her hair. “And I’ll shave it again. That way I can see how well I’m doing. If I want hair, I have to quit.” That actually sounded good. Maybe she’d really do that.
He considered for a long moment. Liz could almost see the symbolic nature of the thing being lost on him. “If this was ten years ago, I’d be a lot angrier,” he said finally. “But you’re an adult now. You should get a hat.”
“Already have one.” She picked up her box and headed for the door. Liz hesitated with her hand on the knob, with a thought of telling him about Eric and his threat.
But she couldn’t, not without telling her father about the video. Ted, whose cop buddies got together for noisy barbecues almost every weekend during the summer. Ted, whose old Ford street rod had been stolen and recovered twice, Ted whose friends sometimes still gave him shit for marrying a Japanese woman twenty-six years ago, and had made “me love you long time, so-jah” jokes to his face until he’d broken Artie Forrester’s nose and told them all to never, never again suggest that he had married a whore. Ted who had been the loudest voice when the neighborhood lobbied to close down the local triple-X peep show. Ted who had threatened to castrate Frank Wymanski after the fellow had invited a six-year-old Liz into his house for ice cream on a hot Detroit summer day, then made her take down her pants and promise not to tell her daddy. (She had told anyway; Frank Wymanski was asked less than politely by Ted and a group of twenty of his neighbors to consider moving to a different city, and was gone within the week.)
Liz could not tell Ted that she had made a pornographic movie. She had disappointed him too many times already. It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for sure. It was just as well. She could ask her new friend Charles, the lawyer from San Francisco, about it. She had offered to make him dinner after next class; his number was in her pocket.
“G’night, Papa,” she said. He raised a hand in silent reply, watching the hockey highlights.
On the way home, it occurred to her that Ted probably wouldn’t be dropping by the next day to breathalyze her, so she could pick up something. Just something small, just a taste. She knew she was getting better, because she hated herself for wanting it, and knew it was the wrong thing.
It’s that or sex, she said to herself. And a fifth was a hell of a lot safer than banging whatever stranger she could find at midnight on a Tuesday, right?
She hated herself, but it didn’t stop her, either.