The house was dark when Scarlet entered through the door, and quiet enough that she felt the need to tiptoe her way around. So she did. Closing the door, she felt her way into the dimly lit living room, where her nose picked up the bitter scent of smoke and her ears tuned in to a soft sound of snoring.
It was rare that she could catch him in such a mundane activity, and the fact that he was sleeping soothed the knot of dread in her stomach. They didn’t have to talk. Not yet.
She walked around the couch to find his gaunt frame nestled in its lap, unkempt hair in his face, clothes disheveled and an open notebook in his arms, some worn pages crumpled by the hug. Work kept him up for days, and only work could force rest onto him. It was so typical of him to let work rule his life.
He hadn’t even taken his glasses off.
Scarlet knelt down next to his head and slid them from his face with practiced stealth. She had done this many times over the years living with him. Nicholas never looked after himself. It was a wonder how he ever made it through the days before she came around.
She folded the glasses up and placed them on top of the jagged stack of books he’d left next to the full ashtray. Then she arranged the book stack into a neat column, knowing he’d be cursing a string if he roused and knocked them over in his groggy shamble.
Turning back to him, Scarlet let a small smile onto her lips as she brushed the knotted dark locks from his face. He was at least cleanly shaven today. She often asked herself what she saw in him. He was a slop, insensitive and apathetic. He wasn’t particularly handsome, and was out of shape enough that she wouldn’t trust him with a grocery bag. And yet everything about him she found dear.
He was scowling in his sleep, the dark circles under his eyes contrasting his pasty skin. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was running on coffee and cigarettes alone the past few days she hadn’t dropped by. He was a mess without her. Perhaps that was why…
Scarlet traced the bone of his cheek, lost in the shadows shading his face.
She felt entitled…
His grunt startled her and she yanked back her hand as if he’d burnt her. The few seconds that he stirred, she held her breath in prayer, her pulse thrumming her ears, and was relieved when he didn’t wake.
This was stupid. She shook her head and clambered to her feet to leave.
“Not gonna even say bye?” His gruff voice froze her at the threshold, but she willed her heart to shush.
“You were sleeping.”
She turned back to find him getting up to stretch.
“My bad.” Nicholas ran a hand through his hair, yawning, and rounded the couch to tower over her. Too close. She could smell his breath fanning down at her, like smoke, sweet pungent heaven. Her mind was shutting down, her eyelids threatened to close and it was only by sheer will that they remained open to challenge his languid gaze. Damn him! He knew too well how much he affected her. And damn her. She was too stubborn to back away.
“So where do you wanna go for dinner?” He muttered in his lazy voice, the drawl in it lulling her mind further into reverie before she caught herself.
“Excuse me?” Did she sound pissed? She hoped she did. “You called me here to talk.”
His brow quirked a confused look for a moment before he replied, “No, I didn’t.”
“Yes you did! No, no, I’m staying right here.” She shoved away the hand that he placed behind her hip to guide her back inside. “You said it was important.”
“This is important. Or is spending time with your dad not important to you anymore? That’s cold, you brat.” There was a smirk on his face as he crossed his arms and leant against the doorway. The kind of teasing smirk that told her he wasn’t taking this seriously.
Her jaw set into a defiant clench, she curled her hands into fists by her sides. “Don’t act like nothing happened between us!”
Nicholas frowned; though Scarlet wanted to tell herself he was merely squinting without his glasses. The look of anger he directed at her hurt, but at least she’d wiped him clean of mirth for the night.
“Nothing happened between us,” he all but grated the words out and turned away, but she stood in his track.
“Something did and you’re just too damn cowardly to accept it!”
He audibly growled, and she could see the cogwheels turning in his head, no doubt thinking of a way out. And he’d hurt her if he must.
“Right in this house. Right on this floor! We—”
“Well too bloody bad, I don’t remember shite to save my life. Sure you didn’t just delude yourself as you rode some other poor, unfortunate bloke?”
There it was. She felt the tears beginning to form a glaze over her vision, and she cursed herself for letting him wound her so easily. It hurt. It hurt so much that he denied that night, denied her every chance he got. That he scorned her for sleeping with Garry even when he knew she only did it because she found them similar. And they weren’t even all that similar! She was just that desperate.
Nicholas saw whatever face she was making, and had the decency to look guilty, his expression softening. “Scarlet, I’m bored of this childish squabble. Let’s just put all of this behind us.”
The nerve of this man! “Childish? Childish!? Says the grown man who can’t even admit he loves me.”
“Well, that’s mighty presumptuous of you,” he snorted with toxic humor, “but I suppose as daughter—”
“No, no! Don’t you dare pull that paternal bullshite, you coward!”
Her head was spinning from all the rushing blood. They were both running on the spur of the moment. It was only a matter of time before one of them said something that couldn’t be taken back, and she had a terrible feeling that she would come out of this more crippled than before. Damn him for calling her over. Damn her for thinking he’d finally own up to it.
She jabbed him on the chest and found a smidge of satisfaction when he winced from it. “You never saw me as your daughter.”
“Oh, boo-freaking-hoo, like you ever wanted me to be your father!” Nicholas was shouting now, hand waving around in an angry fit. He rarely ever shouted. He was losing his temper with her. “Acting like a bloody martyr. If you’re so courageous, I’d like to see you renounce the family name. Yeah, go get another family to adopt you, then come back and I’ll indulge your little crush as much as you like. Until then – no, do not interrupt me – Until then, you and I are child and parent. You’d do well to banish those silly delusions and stop getting on my nerves. You fancy yourself the special little snowflake in my life, don’t you? Well, news flash my dear, you’re only still around because your petty antics weren’t worth my time, and oh are you making it increasingly difficult to see them that way. I am not a patient man, love. Test me any further and I will disown you myself!”
Her heart quivered violently at the threat, and she knew he’d honor his words to save his own hide if shoved hard enough. He won. Scarlet was exhausted, her tears spilling. He knew why she didn’t dare leave the family. If he was scared, then damn it she was allowed to be afraid, too. What if things between them didn’t work out? What if he became bored of her, like he became bored of so many other things? What then? They would no longer be a family, nothing to tie them together.
She’d lose him forever.
Scarlet let her shoulders slump as she wiped her cheeks and brushed past him. “Go wherever you want for dinner. I’m not coming.”
“You still don’t think you did anything wrong, do you?”
His words halted her steps in the corridor, but she didn’t turn around. Scarlet tried to push down the stone in her throat as she wracked her brain for a comeback, but found that she no longer cared about being right. If she admitted to being wrong, would he at least talk about it with her?
“Suit yourself. Come back when you’ve calmed down. I still want that dinner.”
Footsteps walked away from her, and she knew they were heading back to his study. The notion infuriated her. He grew bored of everything but his work.
“Oh and, stop seeing that Garret boy.”
Her heart jumped at that. This wasn’t the first time Garry’s name came up in their conversation, but Nicholas had never been the one to start the topic. It was always her, to rub the relationship in his face and perhaps elicit some form of jealousy. It never worked though, because she was just deluding herself after all.
Scarlet turned around to find him halfway up the stairs, his face obscured to her by the darkness. “Are you telling me that as a father?” Or are you jealous after all? She swallowed those last words, chiding herself for even forming them in her head.
“…I’m talking as a person who knows he’s trouble.”
She was finally left alone, and her tears bled anew as she hung her head. “I hate you.” A whispered lie.
Her phone started ringing then. It was Garry.
Maybe he could turn that lie into truth.