He reached for his cooler and pulled out a Corona. This was his Saturday evening ritual: three beers, the calming waters of Corazón Lake and the disquiet of a fading sun.
Richard Clemmons sat on a grassy incline near the edge of the water and thought about his daughter, Candice. Amber eyes and chestnut hair that landed gently on her narrow shoulders. Her aquiline nose and a smile that flashed white and disarmed him with ease. She was pretty like her mom, Allison.
Richard peered across the shadowy water and thought of rocks. He used to take Candice out here when she was a child, every Saturday evening. Just the two of them, father and daughter sharing a moment together, building memories and exchanging secrets. Richard wished Candice was here with him but only his thoughts of a lost time chose to snuggle up next to him. He took a long pull on the Corona and remembered things.
Years ago, he taught her how to skip rocks across the lake. He explained to her that you needed a flat stone and one not too large. A thin and light rock will jump across the water until the sun sets he had told her. The way she flicked her wrist with a quick and violent sideways motion. How her first few attempts had failed, the rock sank on the first bounce. They would laugh hysterically and he would needle her about throwing like a girl. She always responded “But, Daddy, I am a girl” and he would just smile and nod his head. She eventually could bounce a rock halfway across the water, she was a natural. The lake was full of stone from their many trips together.
Richard and Allison divorced when Candice was seven. It was an amicable parting of the ways. They married young and then fell out of love while still young. Neither had clamored for a reconciliation, fate had put them together but a growing indifference had untethered them. The day he officially signed the papers, was the day Richard became a weekend father.
Candice liked to stretch her legs out on the couch and put her feet in her father’s lap. A large bowl of extra buttery popcorn, two glasses of heavily iced sweet tea and a movie, usually scary, a typical Friday night. Her eyes were always glued on the screen while his eyes drifted to her more often than not. When she was frightened, she would grab his arm and dig her tiny fingernails in until she felt safe again. Richard would just grin at her, hoping she would never let go.
Their weekends together were always about having fun. Richard wasn’t as cultured and artistic as Allison was so his only duty was show his daughter a wonderful time. Her mother took her to museums, taught her how to paint and read her a poem before bedtime every night. She bonded with her daughter through teaching and molding. Richard forged a bond with movies, laughter, long walks and trips to the lake. Their lake.
When Candice reached her teens, unlike most of her friends, she still loved hanging out with dad. He showed her how to throw a baseball and she was a good student, her curve ball would bend the knees of Barry Bonds, if he happened to magically appear in their backyard. And she still put her feet in his lap on movie night.
Richard had invested his life in his daughter. He rarely dated, not from shyness or a lack of self-confidence, Candice filled that void of longing that occasionally ruptured his heart. He was young and knew he could pursue love when his daughter no longer needed him. Or when he no longer relied upon her to make him whole.
Candice had discovered the allure of boys at fifteen. Richard grudgingly watched as she giggled and batted her eyes before heading off to the mall in her ever-shrinking outfits. That spark in her eyes that had only landed on her father for years, now searched out a new heart to singe.
David Chavez. A quite and introspective young man with a military style crew-cut and mud-colored eyes and a lanky frame. Candice met him in her senior year of high school, one year ago. They skipped the infatuation stage, an easy rhythm developed between them quickly and poignantly. The stars had aligned, their blood coursed through a shared vein. She was in love for the first time in her life. They exchanged sonnets and tender embraces. Feathery kisses. Long excursions to Corazón Lake, the moon watching them in its eternal solitude as they threw rocks and constructed new memories. David would softly massage her feet as they watched a movie together, her feet resting in his lap. Candice was growing-up while Richard watched from afar, aware that he was losing his princess to the reserved boy and his smooth charm.
Richard leans back on the lush grass and glances up as the sun is overcome by its nemesis, the encroaching night. His mind drifts back to six months ago. A time of unraveling.
“Honey, how about a trip to the lake tonight? Its been awhile since we’ve hung out together.”
“Dad, I can’t. David is taking me out to dinner, his parents are meeting us there. Sorry. Maybe next week”?
“You’d rather spend time with a beaner and his family of illegals instead of your own father?”
He’ll never erase the look on her face from his memory. Her mouth twisted, gaping and frozen. Her rapidly darkening eyes that were too shocked to leak tears. Her head tilted to the left as if she didn’t hear him clearly. Her hand absently clenching and unclenching. She never said a word, she dismissed him forever with a pained and searing glance and walked out the door.
Beaner. He couldn’t unsay such a bigoted word. He wished he could have hit a rewind button. He had told her he was sorry over and over. He told her and himself that he didn’t mean it, he was just upset about losing her. He told himself that he wasn’t a racist. He was just angry and the word had slipped out, it meant nothing. Richard also knew that in 2013, people didn’t show their racism in public like they used to. They were saved for internet chat rooms or hateful whispers slung behind a persons back. Richard wondered if he harbored hate somewhere in the folds of his heart. He wondered if he was a modern-day bigot, a subtle racist.
He reread the quick exchange on his phone.
“I’m at the lake, p!ease come and talk with me, Candice.”
“Please stop texting me, dad”
Richard picks up a thin rock and sidearms his throw. The rock skips once, it arches high into the air, basking in its moment of freedom before it plunges into the tranquil water and begins its inevitable descent to the bottom.