I laughed. “Not once.”
He nodded sagely. “Your father has that power.”
Before I could reply, there was a sudden hush, and the sound of the front door closing. I felt something drop in the pit of my stomach.
“Speak of the devil,” Davin mumbled.
I looked over as my father, Thom O’Brian, walked into the room. There was a subtle shift in the mood of the place; where it was a little relaxed and frivolous a minute ago, there was suddenly a strained formality to everyone.
He looked older. That was expected, since it had been years, but I couldn’t help but to take note of it. There was grey around his temples and he had more wrinkles than I remembered. He had also gained a few pounds, though he had never been a thin man to begin with. As his gaze turned to me, his entire face broke out in a smile. Nostalgia slammed through me; that was the dad I remembered, the smiling man who was always supportive and quick with a joke, not the violent mobster I had built up in my head.
Still, though he looked older, he was without a doubt my dad. There was something about him, something magnetic, which probably explained why he always had people hanging around him. Thom O’Brian had “the gift of gab,” as he liked to tell you, and was quick with a story and a joke when the situation demanded it. That was also part of his special talents: he was incredibly good at reading a room. I had never seen my dad get involved in an awkward situation without finding a quick way to diffuse it. People liked him, and he carried himself with the easy confidence and genuine self-assurance of someone that knew it.
But I was frozen. Despite how easy I knew it would be, and although I knew I should go to him, or at least say hello, I couldn’t do anything. The bad memories were still too thick, too real, even after so long. Seeing him again made everything fresh, the good and the bad, and those two things were inextricably linked together.
He walked into the room and stood facing me, and the tension was thick. I was suddenly terrified that he was going to throw me out, that I’d have to find some other way of keeping myself safe from Vince. I wanted to reach out to him, to apologize for everything that I said, but my feet were frozen and my lips were heavy and nothing was coming out.
And he wasn’t speaking either. I could sense the men around us begin to shift in their seats as the seconds dragged on, painfully awkward and silent. I was the center of attention and hated it, hated that I was seeing my dad for the first time in years in front of his people, and wished I could get out of there. Part of me wanted to look around for Colin, hoping that maybe he could whisk me out of there, but I didn’t. Instead, I looked back at my dad, and wondered about the years between us, and how much had changed.
We were practically strangers, I realized. Sure, we spoke on the phone maybe once or twice a year, but that was it. The last time he saw me, I was going to leave for college. I was barely 18. I couldn’t even fathom how much I had changed since then, both physically and emotionally.
“You look well,” he said softly.
Then his arms were wrapped around me and I had a stone in my throat the size of a baseball. I couldn’t let myself cry, knew there were way too many people watching, but I wanted to anyway. He held me tightly for a second, and although nothing was the same and never would be, although so much had happened and so much had changed, for a second I felt like the same naïve girl that had left home so long ago. He felt like my dad and I felt like his daughter.
I didn’t know how much I had missed that feeling.
“It’s been too long,” he said.
He pulled away and looked at me, still smiling. “Past is past. I’m just happy you’re home.”
I nodded, not able to say anything back. He looked around the room.
“Okay, assholes,” he said to the crowd, breaking the tension. “My daughter is home now, so let’s all drink and quit staring at her.”
A few men laughed and the place returned to normal, the soft buzz of conversation creating a background pattern. Dad looked back at me, a huge smile on his face.
“You look so much like your mother,” he said.
He nodded. “Spitting image.”
“You’ve gained weight.”
He laughed loudly. “Yes I have, and nobody around here has the balls to tell me it to my face.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Over my dad’s shoulder, I noticed Colin leaning against the counter watching us with a soft smile. There was something strange in his expression that I couldn’t place. He caught my eye and nodded to me, his smiling turning more genuine. I gave him a little nod back, but was quickly whisked away by Dad, apparently to be paraded around to the guys and introduced to everyone.