“I’m not putting on that stupid mask.” Jennifer’s voice took on a shrill tone.
“But, sweetheart,” Patrick attempted to calm her. “You said last week that this is what you wanted to wear this year for Halloween.”
“It’s not the right one,” Jennifer bemoaned. “It doesn’t look anything like the one in the movie.”
Patrick sighed. This was not what he wanted after spending hours searching for this particular mask. It was a very popular item and he’d gone from store to store for the last two weeks before finally finding it in a little shop in Frederick. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to reason with her once more.
“They’re never quite like the ones in the movies, hon. Those are made special for that movie while these are mass produced.” He fingered the rubber of the elongated white mask. “But it’s a pretty good reproduction.”
“I’m not wearing it. And you can’t make me.”
“Honey, no one is trying to make you. . .”
“That’s all right, Buttons,” Leah interjected. “If you don’t want to wear it, I’ll fix you up in something else.”
“He hates me,” Jennifer screamed. “I hate it here. I wish we’d never left Charleston. I wish you’d never married. I wish you two had never met.” The young girl ran from the room and up the stairs. Patrick sat stunned.
“Leah, I. . .”
“You shouldn’t have pushed,” Leah stated flatly.
“I did not push.”
Leah moved over to her husband and put her arms around him. “She’s eleven. You’re frustrated.” She smiled sadly. “You pushed.” Then, before he could argue. “And she’s not angry about the mask. That’s just an excuse. It’s been building up for the past month.”
“What are you talking about?” Patrick tried to absorb this sudden change in conversation.
Leah stroked Patrick’s face. “She got a letter from her best friend last month. From Charleston.”
After a moment, a light dawned in Patrick’s head.
“I pushed, huh?”
“Uh-huh,” Leah nodded.
Patrick sighed. He’d been so busy with work, looking for this mask and everything else, he’d missed the sadness in his step daughter. He felt like such a jerk.
“Do you know what was in the letter?”
“I don’t go reading my daughter’s mail,” Leah said defensively. But a wicked little smile stretched across her lips. “But if it happens to fall open when I’m doing the laundry. . .”
Leah sighed. “Amanda told her that she and Julia went to the new mall.”
Patrick thought about this for a moment. Raising his eyebrows and shrugging his shoulders, he looked at Leah somewhat perplexed at how this news should bother Jennifer.
“Julia,” explained his wife. “Is Amanda’s new friend. She must have mentioned her about ten times in the letter. They go everywhere together.”
“Like Jennifer and Amanda used to,” Patrick caught on. “Oh, baby. I’m sorry. I. . .”
“Could not have known.” Leah lovingly kissed her husband’s head. “I better go up and calm her down.”
Leah made to leave, when Patrick grabbed her hand. “Let me.”
“Patrick, I don’t think. . .”
“Leah,” Patrick said softly. “You can’t be the intermediary between us for the rest of our lives. We’re either going to have to get along or not. But it’s gotta be us. Okay?” Leah looked from Patrick to the stairs. Then back. “I know she’s you’re baby girl. I promise, it’ll be okay.” With a look of anguish born from many years as just the two of them, Leah nodded.
Patrick moved up the stairs and down the hall to Jennifer’s room. He could hear soft sobbing through the slightly opened door.
“Knock knock, kiddo,” Patrick softly called. He heard Jennifer stifle a sniffle.
Taking this as an okay to enter, Patrick entered the room and gently sat on the edge of the bed. He reached over and softly brushed Jennifer’s golden locks aside.
“So much like your mother’s,” he commented. When Jennifer turned and looked up at him, he continued. “Look, kiddo, I’m sorry. You don’t have to wear that stupid mask. What say we can the costume and just head out to Baskin-Robbins?”
“Really?” Jennifer asked, another sniffle catching on her words.
“Sure.” After a brief pause, Jennifer wiped away her tears and sat up. Putting her arms tentatively around him, she hugged Patrick.
“I’m sorry about what I said. I. . .”
“It’s okay, kiddo. I love you.” Then, with a hint of mischief in his voice, he whispered. “So what do you say? Rocky road?”
“Ewwwww,” squealed Jennifer. “I want vanilla.”
“Ewwwww,” Patrick said in mock teasing.
Getting up the two laughed as they headed downstairs to tell Leah of the new change in plans. The mask lay on the floor in Jennifer’s room, unworn but having fulfilled a deeper purpose.