Winter wind swept through the old café parking lot, proof that my ex-wife had arrived. The extra chill faded when I saw Beka’s sunny smile. Bundled in blue from head to shoe, she ran to me, arms open wide.
“Beka!” I caught her in a hug. We tussled and played on the clean side of the snow heaped along the edge of the lot. Her eight-year-old enthusiasm eased the fatigue of a job I hated and a family situation I couldn’t control.
As we played in the snow, our weekly date, she happily shared her adventures at school, between making snow angles in the clean patches I cleared for her.
“C-cold.” She chattered soon, holding up a wet mitten for inspection. “Vewy cold.”
I fumbled in my coat pockets for the extra pair I’d picked up at the dollar clearance bin. It was the wrong shade of blue, but they were dry. Beka patiently held her hands out, waiting while I replaced the wet ones with dry ones. I kissed the tip of her cold nose and traded her wet hat for my damp scarf.
She beamed up at me. “Hot cocoa?” But the question was asked with a hand half-way to her mouth and her eyes following the half-made snowman a few feet away.
“When we’re finished.”
Her angelic smile froze in my mind.
When spring breezed through, I was surprised by a thirteen-year-old Beka dressed in flowers from head to toe.
“Daddy!” She skipped towards me, with arms wide open, pausing for a twirl to show of a shimmery skirt over patterned tights.
“Dance class?” I caught her as she wobbled.
Her flushed face was aglow with excitement. “Yeah! I got the part, Daddy, I got the part. I’m gonna be a princess!”
“Really?” I offered my arm as we walked towards the old café. The lighted words flickered and faded as the door chimed overhead at our entrance.
“Mmmhmm. You gonna come?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“No milkshake? It's hot.”
“I like cocoa.”
I laughed. “Extra whipped cream?”
Her smile shimmered through my mind.
I was surprised again, a few years later, when an eighteen-year-old version presented itself to me in pristine perfection. There were no blue mittens and no bright flowers, a simple cotton T-shirt, tucked into hard-working blue jeans, her sneakers were too white—a sign that she’d scrubbed them the night before.
“Ready to go?”
The soon-to-be college student shook her head, solemnly.
“You’ll have fun. You’ll love it.”
“I’ll miss you. I’ll hate it.”
I hugged her under the summer sun as she cried into my shirt. “Beka-”
“It’s so far away.” She hiccupped. “I see you every week and now I won’t.”
“Then let’s just make today extra special to last you until break.”
Her hand fisted in my shirt. “Didn’t Mom tell you? You helped me decide. I’m going to go on the exchange program after all. I won’t be coming home for break.”
Her teary smile was burned into my mind.
The rest of the years blurred by again and when I saw this adult version of Beka, it was somehow a reflection of me. She was taller than I remembered and a little paler around the edges. Her eyes sparkled like the fancy rock stuck on her engagement ring as she strode up the sidewalk, puffs of air visible in the cool autumn air.
“Daddy!” She waved when she caught sight of me and I only had time to brace myself before she was running—in high-heeled boots.
“Beka.” I had to take a step back anyway, to absorb the impact. Her arms were much stronger around me than I could ever recall.
She held me at arm’s length as I used to do to her, sparkling eyes taking in every inch of my face. She hugged me tight again. “Daddy, I missed you.” She pressed a kiss to my cold cheek.
"You’re freezing!” She pulled away, a slight frown marring her pretty face. “Why didn’t you wait inside?”
“And miss this?” I held up her hand, with the ring at eyelevel.
She blushed and pulled it away, unwinding the fancy scarf from her neck and draping it around mine. “There’s plenty of time for that. I don’t have anywhere to go today.”
“Really?” I felt her mittened hand slip into my old, wrinkled one.
“Yeah. Today’s just for us.”
Her smile was every color of autumn.
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