This is an excerpt from an in-progress short story. Check out the rest of it on The Prose.
Hausen agreed to meet Dalla’s father the next day, and before he knew it he was on a flight home and sitting in a dingy coffee shop on the edge of Freemont and Martin Luther King Boulevard. He took a table in a dimly lit corner and ordered a coffee strong and black. When Dalla’s father trundled through the door, Hausen’s eyes narrowed and his stomach dropped toward the floor. He stood up and stretched his hand out towards the old man.
“It’s good to see you again,” he muttered, shaking the man’s hand. It was clear the death of his daughter was taking it’s toll on Ray. He had lost weight and the bags were hanging low and dark beneath his eyes. “I wish it was under better circumstances, though.”
Ray gave him a hollow, vacant stare.
“I never thought I’d see you again, especially not in a place like this.”
The older man looked around the old coffee shop and the disdain was heavy in his voice. Hausen held a hand out towards the sticky booth and both men slid down into their seats, one across from the other. The waitress came by and took Ray’s order.
“I’m not here to mince words with you,” Ray said as soon as the girl was gone. Hausen heard the whir of the grinder as the girl ground up a fresh round of beans. “I need your help and I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
“Ray,” Hausen started, looking down at the steaming cup that he held between both hands.
“No,” Ray interjected, cutting him off. “Let me say my piece and then you can have your say.”
Hausen went silent and stared up at Ray.
“Dalla wasn’t perfect, I know that. She had her ups and her downs. Now, maybe that’s my fault, maybe it was her mother’s, who knows? But I tried with that girl and I loved her more than I loved myself.”
“Ray,” Hausen started again. He knew where this was going.
“No, no. Just let me have my say, Haus.”
Hausen let him go on.
“Now whatever Dalla’s failings were, she was better with you. Her mother and I could see that from day one. She stood up straighter, she walked taller. There was something in you that really touched something in her, and once that was gone we lost her for good and for all. She went back to the drugs, to the drinking. God only knows what else she was getting up to and for how long after you left her. She really drowned, Haus, and you weren’t there to save her.”
The old man stopped here and gave Hausen a long, cool stare. Hausen’s stomach began to roll violently as the anger rose up in him. He looked away as his knuckles went white around the coffee cup. Ray went on.
“I don’t know what happened between you and Dalla, but I know you should have been there for her. You should have stood up for her. What happened, Hausen? Why am I putting my daughter in the ground while you’re sitting here sipping coffee?”
Just then, the young waitress returned and set a freshly steamed cup down in front of Ray. Both men remained grimly silent and she creeped away awkwardly, feeling the tension of it all. It took everything Hausen had in him not to get up and walk away.
“It’s not that simple, Ray,” he said after a long while. “It was never that simple. Nothing with Dalla ever was. You have to know that.”
Ray just stared at him. Hausen went on.
“She cheated on me. Did you know that? I came home and found her in bed with another man. Our bed. The bed we shared together. The one she told me that she loved me in. She was off her face on god knows what and I came home to find one of my best friends rutting at her like some kind of animal. Do you know how that felt, Ray? Seeing the woman I loved like that? There’s no coming back from that. There’s no staying. What else could I do?”
“You could have talked to her. You two could have worked it out. You could have taken her to rehab, anything,” Ray snapped at him, his voice full of emotion. “There must have been something.”
“There was nothing,” Hausen snapped back at the aging man irritatedly. Hadn’t he run it over in his head again and again? There had been no coming back from that. “She was a user, Ray. She used drugs, she used people. She used me and she used you too. There was nothing for her but getting her way. That’s just the way it was and it was never going to change.”
“No,” Ray said again, shaking his head. “No. There’s always a way when you truly care for someone. She’s dead, Haus. She’s dead and it’s because you weren’t there for her.”
Hausen had had enough. He stood up from the table suddenly, spilling what was left of his coffee across the table. Without speaking he shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out the crinkled face of a five dollar bill. He slammed it onto the table and began to walk away. Before he reached the door of the coffee shop he stopped and turned back towards the stunned face of Ray.
“I did everything I could, Ray. Everything. And if you think I’m not hurting just as badly as you are right now then you don’t know a damn thing about love.”
With that, he threw open the door and stalked off into the bustle of the city, leaving the old man sitting shocked and alone in the dingy booth.