About a quarter mile down the road Todd remarked, “Maybe if you lost some weight you wouldn‘t be so hot.” Melissa glared at him, “Fuck you, Dad.” Lighting a cigarette, which he passed to her, Todd said, “What’ve I told you? Don’t call me Dad. I don’t wanna get blamed for all this,”gesturing at her. Melissa took the smoke with a smarmy thank you, and Todd replied with his own blunt welcome while sparking another stick.
For a moment they cruised in peace, however, Melissa eventually wanted the radio on to break the building awkward. Todd allowed it, though he did his best not to feel the crackling in his skull when she tuned in to a local pop station. Melissa smiled when he grimaced, The Blank Angels belting out their latest auto-tuned rendition of an Aretha Franklin classic, spiced ever so subtly -- ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me, MR. WALL STREET! YEAH BITCH! RESPECT THIS SH(a brief silence in place of syllables, lest someone know what was meant to be said). Melissa tried to bring up how she felt about the radio always being censored except her Dad barely heard a word. At least, not until she tuned to a quieter channel.
“You can’t let people have too free expression. They might think they’re entitled to it,” Todd said, chaining another smoke, happy to hear Melissa chuckle at his sarcasm. Melissa sucked her stick down to the filter before tossing it away. She knew better than to ask her Dad for another too soon. However, she couldn’t help not wanting to hear another lecture (the kindest word for her father‘s usual rants). When she let him know Todd sighed, “Fair enough.” He smiled over at her, “I know you know what I know. Ya know?” Melissa tried not to grin, the bad joke a long standing pacifier between
“Mom asked about you,” Melissa said. Todd swore at a passing motorist trying to lane rape in front of them. Melissa repeated herself. Todd asked, “What about?” Playing with a growing hole in the knee of her jeans, Melissa said, “She
wanted to know when you were coming home.” Todd lifted a rock’s glass out of a cup holder between the seats. Sipping
the whiskey, a small puddle for a fistful of ice to chill, he said, “I have begun thinking about it.” For an instant, which she soon regretted, Melissa sat up straight before Todd added, “But not much.” As she sank down, he lit her another cigarette.
They passed a movie theater, and Melissa crossed her fingers. Todd mentioned the death of American cinema, and she knew they wouldn’t be going. Noticing her sullen expression, he tuned the radio back to the pop station. She saw a friend in a car in the opposite lane and ducked down before anyone saw her. Once Todd turned down an avenue, headed away from her friend, Melissa said, “Are we going to stop somewhere?” Todd glanced at the fuel gauge, “Maybe. Is there anywhere you’d like to go?” Chewing her lower lip, Melissa asked, never expecting a yes, “That diner on Golf?” Todd nodded, seeming to agree, however, he asked, “Are you hungry?” Melissa frowned, “Not really.” Knowing better than usual, Todd said, “If you want to stop, we can have a seat somewhere.”
The waitress frowned at the sight of a fifteen year old smoking. But that was one of the things Melissa loved about her father: He knew how to tell people to mind their own “fucking business,” which also meant, according to his logic, that the situation should be made more reprehensible. To such an end, when no one seemed to be looking, he slipped some whiskey in her coke as well as his own. No more than two shots, though she didn’t have that much soda left.
“How’s school?” he asked, when their assortment of appetizers arrived. (The two rarely had what could be called square meals together.) Melissa nibbled on some fries, trying to figure a way not to answer, before saying, “It sucks but that’s a part of it.” She hoped Todd would say something other than, “Indeed,” however, that was all she got; Yet another predictable response, one so common it didn’t even feel like an answer, more like a belch or a cough.
She decided to change the topic, “How’s work?” He looked like something sour had gone down his throat and was trying to make its way back up out his mouth, “You see that commercial with the cats, for the sandwich place?” She nodded, a
half smile spreading, “That was you?” He mashed a smoke into the ashtray, “No, I’ve got to come up with something to beat it… for their competitor.” Melissa stirred marinara with a cheese stick, “Oh… I don’t care for them.”
Todd nodded slowly, “Me neither.”
They never asked for the check. The waitress slapped it down on her way past, caring for other tables. Todd forked over a generous tip claiming it would make her feel bad. Melissa didn’t agree, although Todd made it seem sensible. After all, they planned to be back sometime.
The ride back to her Mom’s passed quietly. When the car pulled into the driveway Todd said, “Here we are.” Melissa clenched her jaw, “Indeed.” Putting the car in park, Todd placed a hand on her shoulder, “Tell your mother I don’t blame her.” Melissa tried to smile, but it came off fake,“I’ll try.” His thumb rubbing her arm, Todd said, “I love you. You know that.” It sounded like a hopeful statement though it felt like a command. Having enjoyed herself (or else the whiskey was just melting her hostility), Melissa replied, “I know.”
She left the car. He watched her go to the door, making sure she got in okay. She waved to him from the front steps once the door was open, and he pulled away.
Inside, her Mom asked, “How was it?”
Melissa said, “The usual,” and nothing more.