My hand reached up, far from my small frame, and the ground was unstable. I grasped my father’s hand—all rough and covered in callouses. I couldn’t have been sure that he was there, my eyes had been cast down at the ladybug crawling across my shoe, but I knew he was. I had all my trust in those hands.
“How come all the ladybugs are red?” I said, hanging onto his hand. I made sure the ladybug didn’t slide off my shoe.
“They’re not, Sweets.” My dad smiled down at my blonde hair that would eventually turn brown come adolescence. “There are yellow ones too. You’ve just got to look for them.”
“There are?” I looked up then. My brown eyes, too big for my face, searched into my father’s for the answers because even at that age I knew he had all of them.
“Yep, you’ve just gotta keep an eye out.” He kept walking, one hand in his pocket and the other one wrapped around my tiny fingers. We walked, in that field that seemed to stretch forever.
And then he stopped me and crouched to my level. Placing his hands over my eyes, he said to me, “You wanna see something else? Only the most special people can see them.” My toothy grin stretched to my ears and I pulled on his hands, desperate to see what only the most special people could. He moved his hands away and in front of me was a purple flower. It leaned left then right, caught by the warm wind. It was attached to a vine leading to a whole bush of purple flowers.
I stared at it with widened eyes, much too big for my face, and said finally, “What’s it called?”
“A lilac. They grow near the bush and blossom with each other,” He said, brushing a strand of stray hair behind my ear.
“Like a home?”
“Like a home.”
I smiled and sauntered up to it, my dad following close behind. He gently took the stem in his fingers and raised it to my nose. My nose buried in the purple petals, I inhaled deeply.
“Can we have some at home?” I said, tugging on his hand.
“Course we can Sweets, but you’ve gotta promise never to pick them or snap their stems just because you want to hold onto them after they’ve grown.”
I stared, confused.
“I’ll explain, when you’re older,” He winked and took me up in those fortress-like arms of his.
* * *
It had been too long. So I stopped the car and I jumped out and slipped my keys in my pocket. I brushed my hair behind my ear and gazed up at the house with the small windows and screen door that banged too loud when it closed. It was quiet, like it always was, and I saw my mom’s puzzle light bleeding through the curtains. The breeze, faint but there, floated over me and I inhaled deeply. The familiar scent made my eyes water.
In the house I hugged my mother and helped her with her puzzle before stepping out on the back porch. I could still picture the day my father built it, in the rain and without even a jacket on. I saw his grey head, sitting in his favorite camp chair, looking out over the field. It was bigger now, cut down a few hundred yards in the back.
“You came home.”
He turned to look at me, seeing the little girl with the blonde hair and brown eyes too big for her face, and instead of saying all the things I never gave him the chance to say or baiting a shouting match so fierce that that vein in his head bulged, I asked if we could take a walk. He nodded, both of us softened by the passage of time.
We passed the bushes of lilacs, all grown out and wild. Neither of us said anything as we inhaled, eyes closed because we knew the path. Through the field, all flattened and matted now, we walked. We talked about everything but what was going on in our lives, even though I had to tell him about the new addition to my tiny window-box flower garden. He looked down at the yellow ladybug tattooed on the inside of my wrist.
“I still haven’t seen one.”
“You’re not looking, Sweets.”
He laughed and took my hand. It was bigger and his felt smaller and he didn’t seem so tall now but his eyes held every answer still, all brown and shining. “Let’s walk, okay.” So we did, through that field that seemed to stretch forever.
Kinsey Oliver is a Maine native and a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire. She loves all things outdoors; hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding with friends and family. This is her first published work.