As I joined the line filing out of my last class for Friday, I saw Lucy leaning against the opposite wall waiting for me. How did she always do that? How could she get out of her class earlier than me? One of Lucy's many mysteries. Out in the hallway I noticed the guy in front of me checking Lucy out. That made me smile, Lucy was always worth checking out. We had uniforms we were supposed to wear, but Lucy made sure the white long sleeve T-shirts and black jeans she wore were as tight as she could get: I’m not going to let these uniforms classify me. Her fantastic body was clear to anyone. Dark hair down to below her shoulders, coal black eyes, clear bone white complexion. Her looks would stop any guy to take a peek.
When she saw me she moved towards the back door that headed to the parking lot, grabbing my arm as we moved out into the sunlight. Immediately we started talking about the day's finals. We had two classes together, honors trigonometry and honors physics. I was always happy I had Lucy in those two classes, they were the hardest ones I had by far. We'd discussed those finals already after each class, so now we were going through the rest of them. We each had the same literature class with the same teacher, but at different times. So mostly we talked about the big essay she wanted us to write.
"I think I did OK", she said. "I used most of the Greek stuff we talked about. That was my favorite all semester. Did you do Shakespeare?
"Yea, and it came out pretty easily. Hopefully Ms. Hartley doesn't look at my essay and think I was just skimming through."
"Oh yeah, I'm sure that's what she'll think" she mocked, shaking her head. "Uh, was there a single test or essay all semester long with the name Travis Page on it that didn't get an A+, with a nice little note from her written across the top of the page?"
"She was alone, right? Do you think she saw you?"
"No, I'm pretty sure she didn't. When I noticed her I scuttled across the street. But I remember leaning back against the building and watching her for a little while. I always liked her, it made me more curious why she was just sitting there. And yea, she was alone, which made me a little sad."
"Bullshit. You were trying to figure out a way to ask her out. She'd probably say yes. And if you really felt sad you should have talked to her."
I punched Lucy in the shoulder and she drew back her fist as if she was going to retaliate, laughing at me the whole time. Someone from the crowd around us yelled, "go ahead Lucy, deck him!"
Now we were heading through the parking lot to my truck. Typical day in Flagstaff, clear blue sky, a little cool, gorgeous. Lucy always rode with me to school and back. Her parents were, well, odd, and didn't think she was ready to drive, even though most of us in Senior class had been driving for two years now. We changed the subject and started talking about what movie we wanted to go to that night. School was basically over. We had classes Monday and Tuesday, but since finals were done, there was nothing to study for. Graduation practice on Wednesday, nothing on Thursday and then the ceremony in the Dome at the University Friday night. Tonight we'd hang out in the old Downtown.
As we neared my truck Lucy stopped, grabbing my arm.
"Travis, is that your dad?"
I jerked my head towards the truck and sure enough saw a man leaning on the hood who looked very much like the father I hadn't seen in six years. I stopped and Lucy stopped with me, squeezing my shoulder. He hadn't noticed us and I took a minute to stare. Then I turned towards Lucy. "This is way bizarre. I don't know what to think."
"Come on, let's just walk over there. It's your dad Trav." Lucy knew the history of my family really well, she understood why this was freaking me out.
We headed for the car and pretty soon he noticed me. I looked out at him and he had a little bit of an embarrassed smile on his face. When I was about 10 feet from the car he said "hey Travis.
"You look great kid." And then he looked towards Lucy.
"This is Lucy," I said.
He reached out his hand and Lucy shook it. Then she turned to me and said, "Look, I'll find someone else to give me a ride today. I'll call you later."
"No, Lucy, please", my newly rediscovered father said, "I'll just be a minute. Don't go.
Just a minute? Where did he have to rush off to? Lucy told me later that was exactly what she was thinking.
Lucy had already moved to the other side of my truck, but after my dad's insistence, she just waited there.
He turned to me and said "I just got in town. I wanted to be here for this. I really want to go to your graduation, but, only if it's OK with you."
I was figuring in my head, and came up with 47. He was 41 when he left, and now, six years later he looked quite different. I thought he must've put on at least 50 pounds, he had a beard I'd never seen, and overall he looked more than six years older.
"In town? Where have you been for the past, hmmm, six years?
"I've been working on a couple oil rigs in the gulf, living in Beaumont Texas. Pretty awful place compared with the paradise that is Flagstaff.” He was ignoring the personal part of the question, and I was really relieved, I'd spoken before I thought.
I looked away for a minute, Lucy had turned towards me. I remembered in sixth grade, one day my sister and I heard our parents arguing in the dining room. We had never really heard this before, we didn't know what was going on. But the jest of it I know now, after years of thinking it through, was basically my mother told him to leave. I remember him, with nothing in his hands, walking from the dining room through the family room to the door. He opened it to leave, then stopped and went over to us. He hugged and kissed each one of us and then stood back looking at the son and daughter he was leaving. "Remember, I love you guys."
Now here I was looking at the man I hadn't seen since then. "Yes, I'd like that."
He let out a big smile and I thought his face completely changed. I knew what I said was responsible for that. He kinda pulled himself out of that euphoria and nodded his head toward Lucy. "Girlfriend?"
"No, my best friend. You don't remember her?"
He turned towards her again, and then when he turned back recognition was in his face. "Of course, long curly hair, freckles by the billions" he said with a big smile.
I smiled back. "Well, the curls are pretty much gone, and she only has freckles on her belly now, as far as I know."
"Belly?" My dad said with a little drama.
"We're on the swim team together, Dad."
"Well, I knew you were on the team. You and your buddies won the freestyle relay at State this year."
I was completely surprised he knew this. And he read my face.
"I know I wasn't here, but I was keeping track of you and your sister every way I could. I still have good friends here, and they would tell me what was going on at school, especially about you on the swim team. And I still talk to your mother. Did you know that?"
I didn't answer, but no, I didn't know that.
"He changed the subject, "I like the truck. You always liked my pickup."
When my mom & sister went with me to look for a car, she had told me he had sent her money for me to buy something. About the only time she ever mentioned him.
He looked back at Lucy, patiently leaning against the truck looking away from us. "You should get going. I didn't want to make a ruckus, but I'm really looking forward to next Friday."
"I'm glad you're going to be there."
He closed the three feet between us and gave me a hug. I had mixed feelings for a second but then it was just so natural, I wanted it so badly. I wrapped my arms around him tightly and I felt the tears on my cheeks. He broke it off quickly and walked away without looking back. I thought maybe I noticed his eyes welling up also. "I’ll see you Friday night”, he mumbled.
As he passed the truck he said something to Lucy, squeezed her shoulder, and then moved on. Lucy walked around back to me and could see what kind of state I was in. She put her arms around me, hugged me tightly and started whispering in my ear. "I'm here. Whatever you need, I'm here dude."
When we finally parted she said, "come on, let's go." She grabbed my keys and headed for the driver side. Nothing unusual there, she drove us as much as I did. Her parents had no idea she'd gone through the licensing process, with me and my mom teaching her to drive.
As we headed to her house she asked what I wanted to do."We can do whatever you want. You want to sleep and cry all weekend? You want me to fix you all your meals for a week? Whatever you want . . ."
I was pretty much straightened out now and decided I was going to put off anymore thinking about why my dad had been absent for the past six years. In an age of email why hadn't he contacted me at all. To me and my sister he had been a ghost. Certainly when he first left we were both broken up, we talked about it and cried about it all the time. I tried to be the big brother and I assured her everything would be OK, and hugged her when she cried. But usually that just meant tears for me too.
But, in the past few years I rarely thought of him. He was gone. I never expected to see him again. Now, here he was. He was going to be at graduation. Mom wouldn't be happy about that, and I wondered how my sister would react. She'd pretty much grown to hate him for his absence. But I couldn’t help being exciting that my Dad was going to be at my Graduation.
"I don't want to just hang out. I want to go places, do things. Hike around the Snowbowl, let's go walk the trails at Wupatki, and some of those trails around Walnut Canyon we've been talking about. Let's ride our bike around Lake Mary. Dinner in a different restaurant downtown each night this weekend. Let's do stuff Lucy, not just sit around and talk about how pathetic I am."
"You just saw your dad for the first time in what, six, seven years? You cried a little, but basically you handled it better than 99% of good looking teenage righteous people would. You hugged him, then you hugged me, and now we’re talking in a mostly sensible, best friends logical manner. I see no chance of you going hip-hop crazy at any moment! I don't think once in the 12 years we've known each other, you've ever seemed pathetic.”
I loved when she talked to me in that crazy language; the attitude, the putting odd words together, the total nutty sounding paragraphs epitomized most everything I loved about her. What would life have been like the last few years without Lucy.
"So, you drop me off at my house, then you go home. You talk to your mom, you talk to your sister, and you change out of that silly uniform. Come get me around five, we'll go downtown and eat, maybe a movie, go to Barney's and hang out and talk as much as you want. Tomorrow we'll spend the whole day out of town, hiking, exploring, just you and me. No one else, no other complications. Just you and me and the Northern Arizona landscape."
There's a reason, amongst all the great friends I have, I recognize Lucille Darco as my best friend.
"That sounds great," I sighed.