Phoenix gathered her things and prepared to return to Willow Creek. John sat on the sofa staring into the stale air. She had never seen him so broken. Her heart mourned the motherless man. Comforting words were scarce; this experience was new. Nothing she could say would make him feel better, but laughter was the best medicine. Hopefully, it worked—at least a little.
“You know, dad, now that you don’t have to pay child support, maybe you can get that stove replaced.”
His chest jerked a bit from the chuckle that didn’t make it out of his mouth. “I guess you’re right.”
Seeing his drooped shoulders and lifeless eyes broke her heart. No amount of laughter or distraction would help. He simply needed to live through it. The news caught Phoenix off guard. A general feeling of sadness covered her at first, but after the initial shock wore off, gratefulness replaced the sadness. She only knew the elder Phoenix for a short amount of time, but she was grateful to have met her and spend the short time with her. The inspiration she received from her was priceless. Her life would never be the same because of it. That was a reason to rejoice and not be sad. But, she recognized the situation was different for John. Losing one’s mother… Why, that was a scenario she hoped would play out in the extremely distant future.
He crumbled under the weight of his own tears, sobbing uncontrollably. “It’s not fair! I didn’t have enough time! She stole my time! She stole my entire life!”
Who? Mary? What happened? How could her mother be blamed for this? Knowing they had their issues, and respecting their mutual disdain for each other, Phoenix did not enjoy her parents bad mouthing each other. Mary had more practice in the art of deception and rarely said anything negative about, well, anyone. John, on the other hand, had not quite mastered that skill, and Phoenix didn’t want to hear it.
“I think I should go. Are you going to be ok by yourself?”
“I’m sorry, darling. I-I don’t know what came over me. Don’t worry about me. I will be all right.”
Phoenix arose and headed for the door in conflict. Despite wanting to protect her mother’s honor, going home felt like choosing her over John. He needed someone in his corner, and not just for this rotten season of his life. “Dad?”
“Yes, darling,” he said, still wiping his face.
“I could stay with you, really. I don’t have to live at mom’s house all the time. Or, at all. I don’t think you should be alone.”
He swatted at her. “Don’t be silly. I just need a few days to get myself together. I will be sorted very soon, I assure you. Don’t you worry about me.”
“Cross my heart and hope to… I promise.”
She sighed in resignation, hoping he hadn’t suddenly become skilled in Mary’s art. “Fine. But, I want you to promise me something else.”
The suggestion teetered on the edge of inappropriate, but she had to make it for she had been thinking of it for a long time. “I want you to try Simder.”
His eyes narrowed in confusion. “Simder? The dating app?”
“Yes,” she sang nervously. “I think you need more people in your life… A woman, specifically.”
He snorted. “You sound like Susie.”
She chuckled nervously. “I may or may not have consulted with her previously. Here! Check it out. It’s so easy. Just create a profile so people can see you, and then go to the matches. If you like what you see, swipe to the right. If not, swipe to the left. If you both swiped right on each other, you can communicate!”
“Swipe left, right, what? This is so confusing.”
“Nooooo, dad! It’s the simplest thing! Here, give me your phone.”
“What are you doing?”
“Downloading the app for you! Gosh! How are you so old already?”
“Hey, just because I don’t use apps doesn’t mean I’m old.”
“Yeah, it kinda does… Wait, you don’t have Simbook?? Oh, dad. I’ve got to do some triage before I go. You should order us some lunch.”