“Dad?” she asks.
“Hi Pumpkin,” I say into the cellphone. “Did you get home from school okay?”
“Yeah,” she responds.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I don’t like coming home to an empty house,” she replies.
“Why?” I ask as I sit up in bed. “Did anyone follow you?”
“No,” she chuckles. “I just like when you’re here when I get home, that’s all.”
“You’re sure? The doors were locked and everything was the way you left it, right?” I ask, still worried.
“Yeah, Dad. Everything was exactly the same. Everything’s fine,” she reassures. “I’m just lonely.”
“I know,” I say sadly as I rest my head against the headboard. I stretch my legs back out and study the black socks on my feet. “I wish I didn’t have to leave you there alone. At least I only have to go to these meetings for one week out of the month.” I listen to her silence.
“Today’s Mom’s birthday,” she says quietly.
I listen to her sniff. I press my lips together to try to stop myself from crying. “I know,” I whisper. We sit in silence for several minutes. “When I get home, how about I take you out for a big ice cream cone?” I suggest.
“I’m not a little girl anymore, Dad,” she reminds softly.
“Not physically, but even when you’re sixty,” I say, “you’ll still be my little girl.”
She chuckles, “Dad.”
I envision her rolling her eyes and tease, “Does that mean you don’t want the ice cream?”
“No. I still want the ice cream,” she pouts.
“Good.” I listen to her breathe. “Did you get any letters today?”
“Yeah,” she says. I can hear her smile as she informs me, “The Colorado School of Minds is offering a full ride and so is the local University.”
“That’s fabulous,” I begin to pace the hotel room. “You called Colorado to accept, right?”
She hesitates and says, “No. I was thinking of accepting the local one.”
I stop pacing and ask, “Why?”
“It doesn’t matter what school I go to,” she says.
I wait in silence for her explanation. She doesn’t continue.
“You’re going to Colorado,” I insist. “It’s the smart choice.”
“I know…I just…” she takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to leave you alone. It’s only been a few month since…”
I stop pacing again and say, “I love you too, Pumpkin, but you need to do this.” I step out on the balcony and look across the city. “Mom…dying…shouldn’t change your mind about going. I’ll be sad that you’re not at home, but I’ve got enough frequent flyer miles saved up to see you every couple of weekends. Besides, the local school is a few hours from home. You’ll still need to live on campus and I’ll see you just as seldom.”
“I guess,” she says. “Can I wait to call them until you get home.”
“Sure, Pumpkin,” I say as I sit on the edge of the bed.
We sit listening to each other again and then she asks, “Did you use the galoshes I packed?”
I look toward the door to see a white towel spread across the floor with a pair of dripping black boots on top. “How’d you know it rained?”
“I checked on my phone this morning,” she says. “The forecast called for it, so I checked a couple of times between classes to see if you would get caught in it.”
“You did that?” I ask.
“I always check the weather,” she admits, “a couple of times a day when you’re gone.”
“When did you start doing that?” I ask with curiosity.
“I always have,” she replies.
“You have?” I ask.
“Sure. Before I had the phone, I’d check on the Internet. If I can figure out what shoes and clothes you’re wearing, I can imagine myself there with you.” I hear her smile again, “Like today, I imagined I was walking beside you, holding your hand and your black galoshes would jump into the puddle right alongside my orange ones.”
“Just like when you were a kid,” I smile with a tear in my eye.
“Love ya, Dad,” she says.
“I love you too, Pumpkin. I’ll see you tomorrow night and we’ll have that ice cream cone.”
“Hope it rains,” she says.
“Me too,” I chuckle as I brush the tears away.