When Jessica was seven, her father walked out of the house and never returned.
She stood by the door, her hands pressed against the cold glass, her breath fogging her view of that large world beyond. She was certain that if she waited long enough, if she looked hard enough, if she was a good enough little girl… He would be there. She longed to see his tattered brown briefcase, his work-worn smile. She wanted to see him wave again, like he used to, with just the slightest of twitches in his upraised hand and a sparkle in his eyes she could see even across the lawn.
She wanted to hear him laugh.
She wanted to see him smile so kindly at her when she asked him why the world existed as it did. She wanted to see him again, hug him again, cry on his shoulder again…
But no matter how long she waited, no matter how many years passed, her father never returned.
She watched for him still, her faith as strong as a disbeliever turned religious. She knew that she just wasn’t looking hard enough. Her father was down that street, inside that café, across that stadium… Everywhere she was, her father was. He was waiting for her to find him.
He was waiting, for her.
* * * *
“Jess…” his voice struggled to free itself from his throat but came out as a groan. “Jess…” The second time was barely better.
She stood by the window, staring out at the postcard lawn with its twinkling snow and feathers of bunny prints. The wind was soft, but still it found the strength to howl quietly against their house. She could feel the impact of the air against the windowpane, struggling to claw its way inside and turn her body as cold as her heart felt right at that moment.
No one was down the street, and no one had been for three hours.
She needed him. Why wasn’t he there? She loved her father and he left. She wanted him back. It wasn’t fair… It wasn’t fair…
“Jess, just… give it up…” Rowan groaned into his pillow.
For six years he had been with Jessica. Every morning on the anniversary of her father’s disappearance, she waited five hours instead of the normal two, and she looked four times as hard when she went into the city.
He had tried to tell her he wasn’t coming back.
But Jessica refused to listen. She told them she was her daddy’s girl. She told them he loved her. She told them they could never understand what it was like every night…
“He always rocked me to sleep and read me stories. He kissed me goodnight when I got afraid during the night…” Her broken whisper was barely louder than the muted wind from outside, but the way her voice cracked and trembled under the power of her words betrayed her intense need. The litany fell from her lips like it did every year, and like always she waited for her prayer to be answered.
Every year she stood there.
Rowan shifted on the bed, his body so comfortingly encased in cozy blankets and fluffy pillows that he didn’t want to leave. Already he could feel the chill of the air against his bare arms, the way the cold from outside seeped through their shoddy window and pressed frost-laden kisses against his exposed skin. His face always felt the coldest in the morning, especially around his right eye.
But that was the way it had been for years, ever since that accident…
* * * *
It was during the same year that Jessica’s father left her when nine-year-old Rowan was walking through city alone. No one remembered why no one was there with him, just that he was alone with nobody to hold his hand and lead him through the streets. The sky was dark, Rowan says, but many claim it was the middle of the day. Rowan says it was raining and he was cold, so cold, but others think it was so sunny that they recall being burned. Rowan says he was on 12th street but others protest it was 11th.
The story changed each year, individual by individual, detail by detail, until the tale of Rowan’s accident became nothing more than a gossiped half-truth of a time long ago and a boy now long dead.
Rowan refused to acknowledge the others with his story, for he was certain he was right. Much like how Jessica insisted her father would return seventeen years later, Rowan knew he was right and everyone else was mistaken.
So it was on 12th Street at night in the cold, hard rain when nine-year-old Rowan was walking down the street alone. He was humming a tune he liked very much. He was forgetting the words and inserting his own. He was singing off-key and listening to his echoing footsteps and the voices reaching back to him from alleyways as he passed.