He tossed the old-fashioned glass bottle from hand to hand as they waited in line. It made her nervous; she couldn’t help but fear that he’d drop it. Swiftly back and forth through the air it went, constantly in danger of shattering and completely at his mercy.
It was one of the dingier gas stations around. It was almost depressing to think that this place was some people's life, that people came here to work every day and probably had no reason to hope for anything better. They probably didn’t even care; that was the really sad thing. What if I end up like this, Maisie thought. What if one day I find that I’ve settled for something so far from what I’d hoped for, and what if I don’t even care anymore? What if, what if, what if. What if Dad really did keep her at home, never let her pursue the education she wanted, never let her see more of the world than this tiny, banged-up little Texas county? She had little reason to hope at this point. They had hardly spoken since his ultimatum a few days before. He might have been okay with a technical school, or a Bible ministry college or something. But that wasn’t what she wanted, and what she wanted he didn’t understand. He’d say, what’s the point of going to some hoity toity place where they teach you about rejected ideas from hundreds of years ago? Why spend four years of effort and hard-earned money on some meaningless, snobby-sounding degree that doesn’t guarantee you profitable, respectable work? He hadn’t even let her make her case, just angrily told her, “no” and stormed out, inexplicably angry at her. It drove her crazy, the things he’d said and the reasons he’d given. They went around and around in her mind, back and forth like the cream soda bottle, and equally old-fashioned. No matter how many times she heard them she could find no sense in them and they frustrated her beyond expression. Back and forth, back and forth. She couldn’t make them stop ringing in her head as she stood there, couldn’t take her eyes off the stupid bottle. She wanted to smash them, wanted to make him pay attention and listen, make him see. Why couldn’t he see? He was almost acting as if he was…scared? Yes, scared. But why? What did he have to be scared of about this?
Ding! went the cash register and startled her, snapping her out of it. He paid and handed her the soda. They got in the car, a few minutes passed in the silence that was now normal for them. She couldn’t take that silence anymore.
“You’re all I’ve got, you know.” He didn’t even look at her when he said it. Just kept staring at the road, his face as hard to read as ever. But there was a touch of something in his voice that implied it had been difficult to say. “You’re all I’ve got, but…I want you to be happy more than anything.”
Maisie suddenly felt like a little girl again, one who’s just realized that she hurt someone she loves so much and she just wants to make it all better so that they can go on loving each other like they had before, kissing and laughing and reading bedtime stories.
“Maybe I could look for some schools closer to home,” she replied quietly. Nothing more was said. She realized she hadn’t even opened the cream soda yet. At the next stoplight she shyly asked him to open it for her like he’d always used to. It was their old favorite, after all.