“So what do you want to write about, sweetie?” says dad, as he pulls a sheet of 8 ½ x 11 out of his desk drawer and slides it into the carriage of an old Underwood typewriter. Amy drags a dining room chair across the hardwood floor of the den and pulls it up next to her dad. In the next room dishes talk back in the sink as mom cleans up from dinner. It’s after 7:00 and outside the streetlights have just come on. The den’s large window has turned an indigo blue as the last vestige of daylight gives up to the night.
“I don’t know, dad – what should we write about?” She tucks a loose strand of her blonde hair behind an ear and looks up at her father, blue eyes expectant and bright. Her dad’s rarely home this early from work and when he is he’s usually too tired to do anything with her. Having him help her write this story for class is a treat that Amy’s been looking forward to all day.
“It’s your story, hon’, I’m just typing it out for you. I’m not going to do your homework. Ms. McAlister wouldn’t like that, now would she?” says dad, good-naturedly.
“I suppose not,” says Amy. She’s picked up a pencil from her father’s desk and begins chewing on it in thought, her brow furrowed. She looks so grown up like that, dad thinks. He smiles, but his emotions are mixed. One day she’ll be off to university, maybe in another city. He doesn’t want to let her go but he knows the day will come. It’s silly to think about all that now, when she’s only ten. Still though…
“I know,” says Amy, excitedly, “let’s write about a big castle in a faraway land!” She looks up at her father for approval.
“Sure, why not. Should we begin on a dark and stormy night?”
Just then, mom walks in from the kitchen carrying a tray with a cup of tea and a glass of milk on it. She sets it down on the desk. “How’s it coming, you two?” she asks. “I don’t hear any typing going on yet.”
“We’re brainstorming still,” says Amy. Both mom and dad laugh at this. It’s amazing the things kids come out with at that age.
“Well don’t take all night. You got to 8:30 and then it’s time for your bath.” She tussles Amy’s hair and gives dad a wink before leaving them to their work.
“So what do you think,” asks Dad, “start with a dark and stormy night then?”
“No, that’s depressing. Let’s make it a sunny Saturday morning. It’ll have a little girl in it at home in the castle watching cartoons. She can be a princess.”
Dad smiles, “Sure. Do you want to include any of your friends in the story? In all good stories usually the main character has a friend or two, right?”
“Hmmm…” says Amy. “Maybe Melisa from class can be in it.” She seems reluctant.
“Okay. Maybe you want to include a boy, too? How about Todd?”
Amy looks up at her father, her eyes wide. “How do you know about Todd?”
“Honey, you’ve written his name about a hundred times on the inside of your school notebook.”
“Oh,” she says, her cheeks turning a bright pink. She looks down at the floor. Suddenly the room feels very small, and warm. Maybe getting dad to help wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“It’s okay to like a boy, you know. No harm in that, right?” He stirs his tea and takes a sip, watching her think it over. He’s trying hard to be nonchalant about it, keep it light. He doesn’t want to scare her off from talking about it, about Todd.
Finally, Amy looks up at her father and says, in a small voice, “But what if he doesn’t like me?”
“Now what would make you think that, hon’?”
“There’s this girl Rachael. She’s on the girls swim team. Todd always sits with her in the lunchroom. He never talks to me.” She doesn’t look at her father but stares out at the night sky.
“That doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you. Maybe he’s shy. Boys often stay away from the girls they like because they don’t know how to talk to them. So they ignore them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like them. Get me?”
“I suppose,” she says, uncertain. They sit quietly for a moment. Just as her father is deciding whether to prompt her further or wait, she continues, “It’s just that Rachael’s so pretty. All the boys like her. They don’t talk to me except to make fun of me.” Her eyes begin to tear up.
“Come here, sweetie,” says dad, who reaches down and pulls her onto his lap. She hugs him tight, burying her face into his shoulder to hide her tears. “It’s okay, hon’, everybody goes through this sort of stuff at your age. It’s just a part of growing up.”
“I hate it,” Amy says through his shirt, squeezing him tighter. “I hate them all. They’re all so mean.”
“Oh come on now, you’re too young to hate anyone.” He pulls her from him and kisses her forehead, then wipes her damp cheeks.
“How about this,” he starts. “Let’s write a story about a beautiful princess who lives in a magnificent castle and has pearls and rubies and diamonds and long flowing pink gowns made of silk. And her entire kingdom worships her because she’s so kind and sweet.”
Amy looks up at her dad. She smiles, and with a slight sniffle, says, “And let’s make the castle have a scary, dark dungeon underground with snakes and mice, where we can keep that fucking bitch Rachael shackled in chains for all of eternity!”
“Atta girl,” says dad with a laugh. He begins to type, “There was a magnificent castle with a scary and dark dungeon in a land ruled by a beautiful princess named Amy….”
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