Leon sat in his room. The sun landed, warm, on his bed. He held his hands together, so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. He was holding back from compulsing.
Ain’t gonna tap, he thought. Gonna stop doin’ that. All’s I got is some nervousness. It’ll go away if I wait a minute.
His therapist had been working with him, teaching Leon that anxiety wouldn’t kill him. It was just uncomfortable. His body shook, sweat collected on his forehead and upper lip. He even concentrated on holding his eyes still. The blinking could become a ritual, too.
After ten minutes his anxiety lessened until it dropped off completely. Now his body shook from joy, from victory. He wiped the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his shirt.
Well, what do ya’ know. I done it.
For a short moment he entertained the thought that if he could only beat his disorder, then maybe Misty would accept him as her father. He swiped that idea away, trying to keep himself from hoping.
He walked past the table, the light switch, the door lock. The urge to tap, flip on and off and check overtook him. His brain told him that bad things would happen if he didn’t submit to his compulsion.
Alls it is is uncomfortable. It’ll pass. It can’t hurt me. He reminded himself of the therapist’s words and walked out of his room, feeling strong.
The kitchen was full of the rich smell of coffee. He poured himself a mug-full and drank it, black.
“Hey, Leon!” yelled Stella. “Where is ya?”
“I’m in the kitchen,” he answered.
“Somebody’s here to see ya’.”
“Okay. I’ll be right there.”
He couldn’t think of who it would be. His kids, the three that visited, would have called first. The therapist only came on certain days. There would have been no one else.
The collar of his flannel shirt was tucked into itself. His jeans were far too baggy. Bristly whiskers dotted his chin. These were the things that never occurred to him unless someone came to visit. There was no time to fix them.
I’m such a pig, he thought. Ain’t no thing. It’ll be fine.
He walked into the living room. A woman sat in a chair, looking out the window. Her hair was blonde. Not white blonde or golden blonde. More of an ash blonde. It reminded Leon of his ex-wife’s hair. She turned and looked at him.
“Hello. I’m Leon,” he said. “Do you want to shake hands with me?”
“Sure,” she said, taking his hand. “How are you?”
“I’m pretty darn good. How about you?”
A silence thickened between them. She looked right at him, into his eyes. He couldn’t bare to connect.
“Can I get you a cold glass of water?” he asked.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“We keep the water in the fridge all the time. Keeps it nice and chilly.” Anxiety spread from his sternum to his arms, legs, head. It was getting harder for him to breathe. “I can get some. It’ll just take a second.”
“No, thanks.” She stood. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Just a little nervous.”
“What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”
“I’m Misty, dad.”
“Misty? My little girl?” His nerves released a little, relieving him a small bit.
“Well, I’m not a little girl anymore.” She smiled.
“I thought you weren’t never gonna come. You never wrote me back.”
“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”
“Sit down. You wanna talk for a few minutes?”
She sat. They talked. Leon, about his therapy and the others who lived in the home. Misty, about her job. Every few minutes he tapped on his knee, but it wasn’t extreme. Just a small tap. Perhaps more out of a force of habit than anxiety.
“Goll, Misty, I ain’t see you in so long. You’re all growed up now.”
“I know. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to come see you.”
“That’s okay. Ain’t such a fun place to visit.” He sniffed. “Sure is better’n the mental hospital, though.”
“It was wrong of us to put you there.”
“Naw. It was all your mother could do. I never made things easy on her, you know.”
She sighed. Looked at the floor.
“Listen, I need to apologize…”
“Nope,” he interrupted. “Don’t think you gotta do that.”
“I do, dad.” She sighed. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”
“Well, I wasn’t the kind of dad you kids needed anyhow.”
“Anyway, I need you to know that I do love you.”
Leon’s eyes turned red. He had no control over the tears. A quiet sniffle turned into a gasping cry.
“I’m sorry, you ain’t gotta look at a old man doin’ this,” he said, embarrassed by his emotion.
“It’s okay, dad.”
“You done made me too happy. Ain’t used to such a happy feeling.” Leon looked at his daughter, a long, wide, deep smile across his face. His eyes crinkled at the corners, forehead wrinkled.
“That’s the smile, dad.”
“That’s really you, isn’t it? That’s really your smile.”
He laughed, not expecting the goodness of her hug.