The parking lot was more vacant than he expected. He only got a two second glimpse down the parking lot strip before having his view obscured by a group of trees. However, it was just enough to see that only three more cars had checked in since his last drive down that road. It was his third trip that day down Fairgrounds Road but somehow, Clifford couldn’t mustard the courage to drive in and park, much less go inside the building.
He turned his blinker light on as he made a right turn into the bus station across the street. He pulled into an empty parking spot that conveniently had a great vantage point to the parking lot he dreaded to park in. The door to his 89 Pontiac Firebird let out a rusty squeak as Clifford stepped out to light his cigarette. With the car still running, he stuck his upper body through the open window on the driver side to change the radio station. He let out more smoke than he wanted inside the car before finally deciding on a station. Although he was an avid smoker, he never liked the smell of cigarettes consuming the inside of his car. He would tell others it was because he hated the smell of smoke in his car but deep inside it was because he wanted a reason to justify that he wasn’t addicted to smoking, or addicted to anything for that matter.
He looked at the time. The outdated green neon lights read 5:32 PM. He let out a cloud of smoke before turning his attention towards the parking lot across the street. The side of the building read “Lemon Springs Rehabilitation”. Out by the front entrance were a couple of ladies taking a smoke break as well. One was an elderly women, who reminded him of his sixth grade teacher. “Mrs. Phillips” he thought as he chuckled, “Man I hated that bitch”. The other woman that was with her was much younger and much prettier too. She was short, with long blonde hair. Her hair was so long it reached her waist line where it touched the top of her green short shorts.
For a split second he wondered what she could possibly be in there for. He didn’t start obsessively drinking until his late twenties.
“What could she be possibly going through that she needs to get high for?” he thought.
He flicked his cigarette towards the opposite direction and sat back inside his car. The door let out a long squeak again.
He sat quietly, staring into nowhere, contemplating what to do, when the picture on his dashboard caught his eye. It was his daughter Lily. She was maybe two or three at the time. He had recently found that picture in an old wallet of his. She was now ten. Since the moment he first laid eyes on her in the hospital, he fell absolutely in love with her. That was his own blood and family and he never felt so proud. From that day on, his heart belonged to her.
Up until recently, he had been to every soccer game of hers, he even did some small side jobs as a painter on the weekends in order to provide her with her uniform and sporting equipment. He still remembers the time she was upset because it was towards the end of the season and she had yet to score one goal.
“Baby it’ll be okay” he assured her as he hugged her. “It takes practice” he told her.
“But with who daddy? I don’t have anyone to practice with.” She told him. He could hear the heartache in her voice. The next day he decided to take the day off of work and practice with her that whole day. He still remembered how happy she was when she scored her first goal. She ran up to him and thanked him. That is his favorite memory of hers.
He stepped out the car again and lit another cigarette while reminiscing his daughter. The door squeaked again. “Note to self “he thought, “remember to get WD-40 on the way home”.
His daughter came into his mind again. He sighed.
“I need to do this for Lily”
He let his head hang low as he took another puff of his cigarette.
Across the street he could see a van pull up. It drove towards the end of the parking lot and made a u-turn. It then parked along the side of the curb in front of the building, as a group of patients stepped into the van.
He watched the van pull out onto the road as the guy on the passenger side let his arm rest on top of the open window.
“I wonder what thats about” he thought.
“Just a bunch of fucking addicts… I ain’t like that” he assured himself.
He began drinking heavily in his late twenties, or was it his mid twenties. The origin of his drinking always changed depending on how he felt.
When he found out his wife was pregnant with Lily, she acted distant with him at first. Not like how new parents are suppose to act. He paid it no mind as he blamed it on the hormones. As soon as Lily was born it all changed, they both were in love with her and for awhile it was almost as if they were the perfect family.
He asked his best friend Roy to be her Godfather. Him and Roy went back as far as middle school. They both met in Mrs. Phillips class one day when she assigned them as partners in a class project. Since then, they hit it off and did everything together.
When he first met Roy, Roy was a shy short guy with an unusual quirk; whenever he spoke to someone, or was nervous, he tend to to blink a lot for no reason. That and his curly red hair made him an easy target to bully which Clifford had to intervene a few times to defend him from the other classmates all through out middle school. Once in high school though, he had a growth spurt and tried out for the football team. That was the confidence he needed and his quirk began to gradually disappear.
Then on a humid, rainy night in June a few years ago, he received the phone call that would make him spiral out of control and into a drinking binge. His best friend Roy had been in an accident and unfortunately didn’t make it. His wife at the time was hysterical and couldn’t comprehend what was going on. She began to become isolated and no matter how much nice things Clifford bought her or took her out to luxurious places that he could barely afford, she still never went back to the same old jolly self she once was; so full of life.
That was the beginning of the destruction in their marriage.
Clifford began to become isolated too. He no longer went out to any family events, instead, he would stay at home and when that wasn’t enough, he would rent a motel room and drink until he would passed out. For the following two weeks, work wasn’t a priority anymore to him. He would just disappear for days.
Finally one day, he gathered the strength to pick himself up and practically begged his boss not to fire him. Understanding his great loss, his boss decided to give him a second chance but that didn’t stop him from drinking.
His drinking had decreased for the time being but it didn’t take long for him to start again.
There in his hand, Clifford held the picture of his baby girl, the apple to his eye. But no matter how much Clifford loved Lilly, tucked her in her bed, practiced soccer with her; in the end, she would never be his.
Clifford eyes became watery the more he thought about her and the urge to drink quickly increased. He looked up towards the rehab, almost as if he was expecting a sign, a sign everything would be alright, a sign that told him he is meant to check into rehabilitation tonight. Nothing.
He let out a deep sigh as he put the car in reverse. He pulled out the parking lot and headed home.
By this time the sun was beginning to set. He turned his beams on as he headed down the road. Memories of Lily kept playing in his head, like the times she would make him laugh because of how silly she was, or the nights he stayed up late taking care of her because she was sick, but still something felt off. As Lily got older, Clifford always felt as if Lily was too good to be true, but maybe it was. Maybe it was her long, curly, red hair that made him think she wasn’t his, after all both him and his wife had dark brown hair. Or maybe it was this quirk she began having two years prior, a quirk so familiar, that when she spoke to new company she would blink obsessively. But Clifford brushed it off.
It wasn’t until the night Clifford left the house and began his night of binging; the night his wife got so drunk, she began revealing the truth about Roys accident.
“Hey Tim, just give me the same bottle of scotch please”. He ordered the guy at the liquor’s drive through window. Tim appeared back shortly with the bottle wrapped inside the brown paper bag. Clifford handed him the cash. They exchanged items and Clifford got back on route.
“Clifford open your eyes!” He remembered his wife shouting at him. “All these years! … Has it not been obvious to you?!” She shouted as she waved her hands around. “Lily is not and never will be your daughter! Roy is her real father.” The memory itself stabbed him and the pain was as excruciating as the night he first heard those words. And just as things weren’t atrocious enough, she hit him with another cold fact: “I can not believe how stupid you are! Roy didn’t lose control and pass away in an accident. He killed himself you idiot! He crashed into the tree on purpose. He couldn’t live with the fact that he could never raise Lily as his daughter. To her, he is only her Godfather. He couldn’t live with that. He couldn’t live with the fact he betrayed you.”
That scene played over and over in his head. “Roy is her real father, Roy is her real father…”
He had arrived to his motel room. It only took him about eight steps from his car to the door but in his head the door was not near enough.
“Roy is her real father. Lily will never be your daughter” he kept playing in his head.
He force the bottle open and didn’t even care enough to pour in a glass. He raised the bottle to his lips and began drinking. The more gulps he took, the less he could hear his wife’s voice in his head. Until finally, he was once again sitting down at his daughter Lily’s soccer game. She had just scored her first goal.