Only we would get turned on by William Shakespeare.
“Oh! This is for you.” She handed me a letter from Gabby, started toward the car, and paused, looking back to me. “He looked a little sad, didn’t he?” she asked, frowning toward the bar. “Do you think you can check on him?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Thanks.” With that, she walked away.
I fell even more for her in that small moment. She thought Henry didn’t care about her whereabouts, about her at all, yet she was still concerned about his well-being.
“Henry?” I asked, walking up to the bar.
He looked nothing like he did during school hours. He was wearing a gray polo that was wrinkled, and his hair was all over the place. His green eyes looked up at me, and at first, he looked surprised to see me standing next to him. Slowly, his face relaxed.
“Dan, hey. What are you doing here?”
I slid onto the stool next to him, inviting myself to chat even though he didn’t look like he was in a talking mood. His hands were gripped around a glass of whiskey. His scent was buried in tobacco. For a moment, I inhaled the scent, letting it remind me of my father.
“I’m in the band, Romeo’s Quest. How are you?”
He looked up at me with perplexed eyes and laughed. “Do you want the professional reply or the truth?”
I waved down the bartender and ordered us both another whiskey. When I got them, I slid it to Henry. “Whichever one you want to share.”
He paused and rubbed his thumb on the rim of the glass. “I’m fine,” he lied. His eyes were heavy. He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks, months even. “That was the professional answer.”
“And the truth?” I questioned, feeling bad for the guy.
“The truth is…I’m falling apart.” He took a long swallow from his drink. “My daughter died a few months ago.”
I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
“I wasn’t there for her or Ashlyn all their lives.” He looked down at his glass, his head hanging in shame. “After Kim left me to move to Chicago, I mentally checked out. I hadn’t checked back in until August. And by that point, it was at my daughter’s funeral.” He choked on the final words and wiped his hands across his face.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say a thing. My hand still rested against his shoulder. I could feel his body shaking from his nerves as he continued speaking. “And now Ashlyn’s here. I feel like I have a shot at connecting with her, but I don’t try. I hardly know anything about her. Her likes, her dislikes. I don’t even know how to start a relationship with my own daughter.”
I ran my hands over my mouth before I placed one hand around my glass of whiskey. Bringing it to my lips, I took a swallow. “That’s a tough situation.”
He turned toward me, his eyes red from emotion, and he laughed. “I should have just told you the professional reply, but it seems that the whiskey is getting the best of me.”
“Where’s Ashlyn now?” I asked, knowing yet wondering what his reply would be.
“I don’t know.” His head hung low. “I don’t ask her to check in with me, because what right do I have? It would be kind of ass**le of me to start playing the father card when I never was a father.”
“I think she would want you to though.” He arched an eyebrow at my comment. “I lost my father a few months ago. Our relationship wasn’t always perfect, but it was good. Yet if I had a chance, I would try more. I should’ve played the son card a little more. You missed an opportunity to connect with Gabby. Don’t miss one with Ashlyn.”
He nodded slowly, taking in my words and thoughts. I stood up from my chair and started walking over to the stage.
I turned back to him. “Yeah?”
His eyebrows furrowed and he frowned. “How did you know her name? Gabby’s?”
My heart landed in my throat as I stared at the sad man. My mind went on speed, racing faster and faster, searching for an excuse. “You mentioned it.”
His drunken eyes fell heavy. He was searching his mind for our conversation. “Oh. Right. Of course,” he muttered.
I sighed heavily. “She seems to be really into music, Henry. In class, Ryan and she are always talking about it. And books—she loves books.”
“Books and music.” He gave me a sad grin, “That’s a good starting ground, eh?”
“The best.” I nodded, stuffing my hands into my pockets.
Randy walked over to me and slammed his hands on my shoulders. “Where’s the lady?” he shouted, making my face go pale.
“Oh? Is your girlfriend here?” Henry asked, sitting up and looking around.
“Yes,” Randy replied.
“No!” I shouted. Randy arched an eyebrow at me and I pushed down on his shoulder. “Henry, it was good seeing you. Stick around for the show!” I said as I guided a confused Randy away.
“What the hell was that?” he fussed.
“Ashlyn’s father,” I whispered.
“Already meeting the parents?” he smirked, shoving me in the shoulder.
“No,” I hissed. Randy looked at my sudden shift in character and waited for me to explain. My hand brushed against my temple and I frowned. “That’s my boss.”
“Ohhh, I see.”
I nodded. “And Ashlyn is my student.” That was the line that made Randy’s jaw drop to the floor. His eyes bugged out and he listened as I explained how we didn’t know beforehand. “I know I should stop but…”