A Toast to Loneliness

The door opened just as Hugo Smith finished putting away the dinner dishes. He turned and looked over his shoulder to see his teenage daughter, Joan, go clicking by in heels, her skirt too short for a sixteen-year-old. She had gone out with way too much make-up again. He'd tried to explain to her a few months ago, right after she had moved in with him, that he didn't think the way she made herself up was appropriate. For his effort he had earned a snort and an eye-roll.

"Where have you been, Joan?" he asked as he took out a glass and closed the cabinet.

"At Ward's," she replied as she passed, not even slowing down.

"It's getting kind of late," he said. "You should have called. I had a place set for you–"

She ignored him and vanished down the hall. Moments later he heard the door to her room slam. He sighed to himself. Ever since she had begun dating that boy, she had been coming home later and later, disappearing for hours without calling, and speaking to him less than ever. His refrigerator was full of half-meals, left over from the dinners he'd cooked for them both, only to have Joan waltz in two hours late.

Shaking his head, Hugo opened the freezer and transferred a few ice cubes to his glass before opening a small bottle and pouring a measure of dark gold liquid over them.

He supposed he shouldn't blame himself for the way Joan acted, but he couldn't help feeling it was through a fault of his own that she didn't listen. He hadn't spent much time with her, admittedly. Only recently, over the summer, had she come to live with him while her mother pursed a career overseas. Even then, he worked long hours, and couldn't be around as much as he wanted to.

He looked glumly down at his glass. He'd tried getting involved with her life, tried being supportive even when he felt some doubts about how good this 'Ward' boy was for her. When she began staying out late without telling him he tried masking his worry and being reasonable. Once or twice he'd tried switching gears and yelling, to make her see how worried it made him.

None of it seemed to work; Joan would merely ignore him or scream back, calling him a drunken heathen or a mean old man. Never mind that the occasional after-dinner nightcap was the only alcohol he touched these days. He'd learned his lesson about trying to drown his sorrows the hard way in his younger years. Alcohol hadn't brought Brian back, and eventually he'd stopped trying. Rather than comfort, it tended to take him to cold, dark places.

Being a father had never even been part of his plans. It had been a single stupid night, a single mistake made out of heartache. But despite that he'd tried his best. He always mailed his support check promptly on the first of the month. He'd never forgotten to send a gift on Joan's birthday, and would call on holidays. When he'd found out her mother, Louisa, had gotten the overseas job offer, he'd rushed out to buy the supplies to fix up the guest room for Joan. Just because he hadn't planned to be a father, he wanted to believe he could be a good one. If being a good father could make up for the time he'd spent not being a good friend and partner, he'd do anything.

Instead he'd ended up with this. A life that still mocked his regret and mistakes, and a daughter who hated him for reasons he didn't understand.

When he thought about it that way, Hugo wondered if he could really be begrudged a drink or two.

"Oh Brian," he murmured to himself. "I miss you."

Then he waited, as if, if he listened closely enough, maybe this time someone would answer.

After a moment he simply raised his glass to the empty room, to the silence…to the person who should have been there.

-- End --


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