An Evening Smoke

The smoke ring drifted into the twilight sky.  From his rocker on the front porch, Frank watched it float, open then evaporate into the deepening twilight.  Watching he pondered the state of his life, his home.  Marie had barely spoken with him since the afternoon before.  Each time he looked at his daughter, her red eyes, her bruised cheek averted his eyes.  Shame filled him.

How had things come to this?  Wasn’t it his duty to care for her, to discipline her, even at seventeen?  And how could she behave so?  She’d always been a good girl.  His pride and joy.

Frank held the warm pipe bowl in his hand, watched it glow red with his breath.  The past six weeks, close to two months now, joy, it seemed, had left his home.  Even when it was quiet, calm like now, a tension filled it.  Elizabeth’s unhappiness touched them all.  His anger touched them all.  His hope had been that she’d move on, look beyond Peter.  Peter.  The date with the Kelly boy had seemed a turning point.  Well, that was true.  Lies, lies do not lead to good ends.  Elizabeth knew better, even if Peter didn’t.

Truth was, however, Frank knew Peter, knew him well enough to believe he was a good young man, honorable like his father.  How, then, could this have happened? 

Frank took a puff of the pipe.  Peter was also a young man in love with his daughter, as she was in love with him.  That was self-evident.  John Sturhman he knew to be an honest man, a friend who cared about others enough to come—as a friend—and tell him the truth.  Few people would.

Frank took another long pull on the pipe.  Still, all in all, he should not have lost his temper.  Just thinking of the bruise on Elizabeth’s face filled him with remorse.  She’d accepted his apology; still, she was heartbroken.  Would things ever again be right between them?  He couldn’t begin to see how. 

Another smoke ring wafted into the air.  It was then he saw the car turn from the Christiansen’s lane.  It crossed over the bridge then turned up the lane towards him.  Frank shielded his eyes from the headlights.  It stopped at his gate; Frank looked at his pipe.

    

Frank Beehmer was barely visible sitting in his rocker on the front porch when Tom and Peter Christiansen drove up the lane.  His shadow blended perfectly with the twilight. 

When Tom’s car stopped, Frank took a deep breath, stood, and walked slowly to the front step.  His anger of the day before was gone, not his resolve.  His stomach tightened at the possibility of further confrontation.  His talk with Tom in the field had not been satisfactory; yet, he had hopped it might salvage their friendship.  Now, he wasn’t sure.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, he met the approaching men.  “Tom,” he said in the darkness.

“Frank,” the other man responded.  “We came to talk.”

“I said about all I had to say yesterday, Tom.  I don’t know what else we need to talk about.”

“I would agree if . . . well, there are some things you should know, facts that might shed new light on things.  That’s why we’re here.”

“Dad,” Peter interrupted.  “It’s mine to say.” 

He waited for his father’s nod then turned to Elizabeth’s father.  “First,” he said, “I owe you an apology for what I said yesterday.  I should not have responded as I did, and I’m sorry.” 

He waited, watched as Frank studied his pipe. 

“Apology accepted,” Frank said, planting his brown eyes on Peter.  But that doesn’t mean . . .”

“Please, let me finish.”  Peter’s tone was polite yet calmly commanding.  Like a finely honed knife, it cut through the tension precisely as intended.  He took a deep breath. 

“I do understand why you’ve forbidden me to see Elizabeth—now.  What you need to know is,” he paused for emphasis, “Mr. Beehmer, I didn’t take advantage of Liz at the class picnic.  Mr. Zachery did catch someone behind the bathhouse, but it wasn’t us.  I wouldn’t do that ever, especially not to the girl I plan to marry.” 

 “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?  You got her to lie about your date to the fair.”

“Call Mr. Zachery,” Peter said then continued, “I was wrong to arrange a date behind your back, wrong to make Liz lie to you,” his eyes held, “and I’m sorry.  I just really wanted to see her.”  His eyes finished his argument.

“I’ve already talked with Luke Zachery,” his father interjected. 

Surprised, Peter turned to his father.  

“He didn’t say who it was, but he assured me it wasn’t our children, Frank.” 

A heavy pause ensued. 

The man with the pipe blinked, gazed towards the road below them.

“If we must wait till she’s old enough to marry without your consent, then we will,” Peter added. “But I’m asking you to reconsider, please.  I love your daughter, I wouldn’t hurt her for the world.”

Feeling they had done all they could do, Tom touched Peter’s shoulder. “Come on, Son.”

Peter hesitated then turned away.

“Wait.” 

Frank cleared his throat, took a step their way. 

“Liz is my greatest joy.  All I’ve ever wanted was what’s best for her.  We’ve had such a hard go of things these past years . . . maybe I’ve gotten hard, too.  That doesn’t make it right.”

His eyes held Peter’s.  “I’m not proud of what I did yesterday.  I’ve apologized to her.  Now . . .” He studied his pipe.  “I only want her happy, to be loved by someone man enough to take care of her.”

Peter seized the opportunity.  “Then we want the same thing.  I do love your daughter.”

Frank nodded.  “Yes, I saw that clearly yesterday.  You were right to come to her defense.  Maybe I owe you an apology, as well.” 

“No . . .” 

“Yes, I do.  And, I should have had more faith in Liz.”  For the first time in days, Frank relaxed.  “Will you give me your word, you’ll wait, give yourselves some time before you take such a serious step.  A year at least, after you’ve graduated.”

Peter slowly nodded.  “If that’s your condition.”

“It is.”

Frank smiled, extended his hand.

“We have your blessing then?”

“You do.” 

Peter shook the offered hand.  “Thank you, sir.  I promise I’ll keep my word.  And I will take care of her.”

“You better.  Now, if you can wait a minute, I’ll get her.”

Peter grinned.  “I can wait.”

Frank disappeared inside.

“You want me to hang around?”  Tom’s twinkling eyes betrayed his serious expression.  He grinned, turned away.

“Dad.”

Tom glanced back. 

“Thanks.”

With a wave he was gone. 

The screen door banged.  Peter turned and caught her.  Elizabeth was in his arms once more. 

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