By Maryse Meijer
Daddy comes over on Thursdays. My husband and son are out watching movies where people blow each other up. They have burgers afterward and buf- falo wings and milkshakes and they talk about TV shows and girls and the latest bloody video game. At least that’s what I imagine they do. No way do they imagine what I am doing, sitting here at the kitchen table doing my math homework as Daddy microwaves the mac and cheese he brought over. We have three hours together and in these three hours I am twelve years old and my daddy is the most wonderful man in the world.
On craigslist I post the photo from my work website, the one with my hair scraped back in a ponytail, expos- ing my shiny forehead, my thin lips, my arms bursting from the sleeves of my blue blouse. Daughter seeks Father is all I write as a caption. In response I receive an avalanche of cell-phone numbers, chat invitations, and penis pics lifted from porn sites.
I delete all the emails except for Richard’s: Sweetheart, please call home. I sit for a moment hunched in my cubicle, sweating, before lifting the receiver and dialing his number.
Daddy? I whisper, hand up to cover my mouth so no one walking by can see it moving.
He doesn’t skip a beat. Sweetheart! he says. Did you see the photo? I ask.
Of course, he says.
I’m not better in person, I warn. You’re perfect, he assures me.
I’m married, I tell him. I have a kid. No problem, he insists.
I chew the inside of my cheek. There’s not going to be any sex, I say.
Absolutely not! he agrees.
I wait for him to say something creepy or disgusting, but he doesn’t. We make arrangements to meet at McDonald’s for dinner on Thursday.
Don’t kill me, I say, and he laughs.
Oh sweetheart, he says. What on earth?
I’m early. I don’t know what Daddy looks like and every time the door swings open my head jerks like a ball on a string. I convince myself I’m going to be stood up and that it will be better anyway if I am. But at seven on the dot he enters and he looks straight at me and waves.
Our usual, sweetheart? he says, loud enough for other people to hear, and I nod. He brings a tray of chicken nugget combos to my table. He kisses my cheek. The food steams in our hands as we look at each other; he seems about twenty, twenty-two, with chinos frayed at the bottoms and red hair and glasses and biceps as skinny as my wrist. Maybe someday he will be good- looking.
Extra barbecue sauce, just the way you like, he says, gesturing to my nuggets. I smile and take a bite. He asks me about school and I ask him about work and he is as interested in how I’m doing in gym class as I am in the stocks he’s trading at the office; we slip into our new roles as easily as knives into butter.
I almost forgot, he says. He reaches into the pocket of his jacket and pulls out a CD with a Christmas bow stuck on it. Just a little something, he adds, and hands it to me. I unstick the bow and turn the CD over in my hands: Britney Spears. I bounce, once, and my left butt cheek, which doesn’t quite fit on the plastic chair, bangs on the edge of the seat.
Oh Daddy, I say, touched because I k now he went into a store and asked what would be the right thing to get for his little girl, and he paid for it with his own money and put it in his pocket and found the gaudy bow to go with it and then brought it all the way here, to me, because he k new he would like me and already wanted to give me something, and this makes me want to give everything I have to him in return.
Apart from Thursday nights—and it’s always Thurs- days, always nights—we don’t communicate, except by email. Sometimes he’ll send me a note just to say, Have a great day!! or he’ll tell me what plans he has for dinner: Working late need a treat pizza sound good??? or he’ll hint at imagined happenings in my little-girl life: Don’t forget dentist today xoxoxoxo!! and Good luck on the history quiz I know you’ll do awesome!!!! I write back in equally breathless terms to report the results of the history quiz or the number of cavities rotting my teeth or to squeal over the impending pizza feast. These exchanges give me a high so intense my chest muscles spasm and when my boss calls and says to bring her such-and-such a document I hit print and out comes an email from Daddy, not the work document, and I giggle into my hand and hit print again.
He always arrives exactly fifteen minutes after my hus- band and son leave. I sit on the couch with the televi- sion on while he fumbles with the keys and the empty banged-up briefcase he always brings. Sweetheart! he says when he enters, and I yelp Daddy! and if I was maybe ten or twenty or, okay, thirty pounds lighter, I might run toward him, but as it is I wait on the couch for him to come over and k iss my hair. I’ll pour him a soda on the rocks and he’ll pour me some milk and we touch glasses and smile. If my husband calls I stand by the back door with my head down and say Uh-huh, yes, fine, all right, see you soon, no, nothing for me, thanks, I’m enjoying the leftovers, have fun, love you.
Excerpted from Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer. Copyright © Maryse Meijer, 2016. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.