“How fortunate that Emily has found such a hardworking study partner.” Jack’s voice was an interruption to the chatter of forks and spoons and four people eating dinner. He was referring to Larissa Caruso, seated to his left at the Martin dining room table. “It has certainly helped her.”
Three places at the table had been set when Colin had called wanting to know if there was enough food to feed four. He was bringing Lissie along so, with her folks out of town, the poor girl wouldn’t be obliged to eat Micky D’s that evening. When the doorbell had chimed, Emily was in the kitchen with the garlic bread. Jack’s spaghetti with meatballs was still simmering. Colin had made the introductions.
“How nice to finally meet you, dear,” Jack had gushed. Hugs and hands shaken, he had tried not to make his daughter’s friend feel as if she were under the microscope. Truth told, he was eager to meet the girl whose name he had heard so often.
“Please, for once can we not talk about school?” Emily’s voice was a discordant tone as everyone seemed to be enjoying the meal. Jack couldn’t figure why she had turned suddenly irritable. She had been happy at the prospect of having her boyfriend to dinner. Father and daughter had spent a nice, quiet day around the house, Emily content at her computer …then the two of them together on the couch watching a movie she had been wanting to see …and dinner was going off without a hitch. He wondered if perhaps another female at the table was providing too much competition for attention.
“Uh, sure, Mr. Martin,” Larissa obliged. “but I can’t take credit, really. Whatever Em does is all her own doing.” The girls exchanged looks. Was that a smirk from Larissa? Jack couldn’t tell what was up with his daughter, but she didn’t appear as grateful as she should have been.
“Are you looking towards Child Psychology, as well?” asked Jack.
“Not really. Not right now.” Larissa twirled pasta on her spoon. “I’m a liberal arts major. The class just sounded interesting, I guess.”
“You wanna see Fool’s Gold tomorrow?” Emily piped in, her question directed pointedly at her friend.
“Heard it sucks totally… oops, sorry Mr. Martin,” Lissa giggled, flashing Jack a pretty smile.
“Who says? …and who cares?” Emily turned to wink at her boyfriend. “I’m going to see Matthew McConaughey.”
“Can I come? Kate Hudson for me.” Colin stuck his tongue out, made a face at his girlfriend. While the two lovebirds shared a moment, Larissa looked Jack’s way and made like she was gagging on her finger.
“So you’re taking the class just because it sounded interesting.” Jack smiled, steering the conversation back to before they were so rudely interrupted. “How you doing?”
“Not bad. Last week’s exam, got a ninety-three.”
He almost said it… “My, what a coincidence!” To think that his daughter got the exact same odd numbered score. They would all have a smile about that …but before he could get it out, a chill ran up his spine, followed by a heavy feeling in his chest. Was it wrong of him to jump to conclusions?
“That’s quite a score,” Jack answered Larissa, but his eyes were squarely on his daughter.
“You know, I’m really not feeling very well,” Emily announced abruptly, setting her glass down and rising. “I’m sorry everyone… please excuse me,” she groaned and was up and heading towards her bedroom. Jack thought to stop her, but decided to let her go. Confused, Colin looked at Mr. Martin before following after his girlfriend. Jack assumed Colin had no way of knowing that Emily’s sudden illness was panic, a flight to escape an unbearable situation.
“Uh oh…” Larissa spoke softly, having found for herself at least one answer to her questions. “Emily showed you my test. With her name on it?”
“It appears that way.” Jack didn’t sound as flattened as he felt inside.
“She’s going to do better, I’m sure.”
His appetite gone, he pushed his plate away. “That’s good of you to stand up for her,” he said. “I know she can do much better. Unfortunately, something is preventing it from happening.”
“It’s my fault.”
“How could it be your fault?”
With her fork, Larissa moved strands of spaghetti around her plate. He waited, wondering what it was she was having difficulty saying.
“We’ve been partying it up lately. I guess I’m kind of a shitty influence. Sorry…” Larissa was apparently aware of Mr. Martin’s opinion of profanity. “I don’t want to be responsible for her getting thrown out on the street.”
“Is that what she told you?” Jack returned the hard look he was getting. “She’s not getting thrown out on the street.” He couldn’t tell if the young woman believed him.
“If she just has some more time…”
“I was under the impression you two were studying up a storm. Were you in on the lie?”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Larissa made a face that didn’t quite fit with an apology. “You know, it’s college …we girls just wanna have fun,” she smiled with a face that promised misbehavior.
“Having fun is fine, as long as my daughter keeps her grades up and stays out of trouble.”
“Depends on what staying out of trouble means,” Lissa laughed. “I’m glad my parents aren’t so strict.”
Larissa’s smile remained a playful challenge. Jack wasn’t able to share her enthusiasm. His thoughts had drifted to Emily. He wondered what story she was creating for Colin, and what excuses might she be searching for to play on her father’s sympathies. He knew one thing for sure—she wasn’t feeling easy. Unlike her friend here, Emily had no luxury to make light of this very bad behavior.
The three had made their way to the front door, Colin having returned with an air of helpless resignation. He and Larissa had thought it best to leave early, seeing as Emily was not going to be leaving her room that evening to join any possible festivities.
“So what exactly makes you think things are going to get better?” Jack asked Larissa, not too hopeful for a hopeful answer. They had stepped out on the porch to a chilly evening. There was no breeze to speak of, the traffic over on Sherman Way the gentle stirring.
“Uh, well, I guess that’s a good question,” Larissa chewed her lip. “I think Em just needs to watch her drinking…don’t get me wrong… she doesn’t drink that much… nor do I,” she batted her eyes.
Colin had his hand on Larissa’s shoulder, steering her in the direction of his tricked out Mustang. “We’d better get going.”
“No, tell me more.” Jack followed like the intrepid journalist. He could feel the blood in his veins.
“What?” Larissa replied over the shoulder being guided. “Not much to tell.”
“Wait, Colin… Tell me, Larissa…where have you and Emily been drinking?”
“You know… off-campus parties and stuff.” Her back was to Jack still. Colin had practically pushed her to the car. It occurred to Jack’s razor sharp mind that Colin knew he didn’t approve of this drinking …and getting drunk? Cursing under his breath, he couldn’t believe what had been going on. He felt betrayed, and a father had to remind himself that this was not about himself. This was about ropes, straws and camels. As Colin revved his car’s engine, Jack was headed back from where he had come, and to Emily’s window, he looked to the light. Trouble had come to visit, and it was spending the night.
Emily’s door was locked. He rapped three times, hard on his knuckles. “Emily Ann, open this door. Right now!”
He waited. The door opened slowly, a little more than a crack. He pushed it open as she ran to what she appeared to think was the safety of her bed. Emily sat stiff on the edge, still dressed in the long skirt, off-the-shoulder lace top, and thick pink socks she had worn to dinner. Jack, a menacing figure, stood over his daughter. He hated being angry with her, and wasn’t even sure where to start. She started for him.
“I wanted to tell you… I was really going to, but I just couldn’t.”
“That’s what you have to say for yourself? Is that supposed to make me feel better about your complete lack of respect for me and this house?”
Emily looked up at her father with large wet eyes. “Daddy, I’m so sorry.”
“You’re sorry you got caught.” His voice was cold. “You were perfectly willing to leave me in the dark.”
Her stomach clenched. She had no argument to make, and the tone of her father’s voice was one she had heard years ago under circumstances she had no wish to remember.
“Were you drinking? At these parties you’ve been going to?”
He could see the panic spreading across her face. “You heard me, Emily. Answer me, and don’t you dare lie about it.”
“Um… just a little. I was careful, I swear!”
“Careful? All those late nights, and I thought you were safe and studying.”
“I’m sorry.” she whispered, the air from her lungs as weak as the words spoken because she could find nothing else to say. A single tear fell on her flushed cheeks.
“I trusted you, and you betrayed that trust.”
She wiped tears from both eyes. ”I didn’t want to lie to you. I just wanted to be with my friends, and we were all drinking, but not too much. A few drinks …just a few, really!”
The college girl tried to make a case for herself, but even she could see the weakness of her defense.
Jack stood silent, his chest heavy with the weight of disappointment. He felt there was nothing worth saying beyond directing Emily to her punishment. “Get ready for bed.” The level of cool in his voice did not reflect the turmoil inside. “Take your bath. Brush your teeth. I want you in your pajamas and standing in the corner when I return.”
The pale of her face had somehow gone whiter. Her mind screamed for something to say.
“Yes,” he answered her unasked question. “You are in trouble like you haven’t been in trouble for a very long time,” he told her with words that proclaimed a stiff sentence measured.
Emily shook her head as if in denial. Her father saw fear in his precious daughter’s eyes, but hardened himself to their persuasion. “While you’re in the corner, you will think about what you’ve done, about where you live, and how I did not raise you to act in such a disgraceful manner.”
He turned and left the room, shutting her door hard behind him.