Some writers plagiarize, others borrow freely, and all are inspired by the work of others. I recently rewatched a favorite scene from The Sopranos (Season 1) when Tony is taking his daughter Meadow to visit colleges. They have a heart-to-heart in the car. She’s on to her dad and his real line of business, but he won’t admit it. Later in the episode,, while she’s meeting with the admissions folks, Tony’s murdering a rival.
That scene stuck with me, for the tension and dynamic between father and daughter, and it inspired me to write a scene in STASH where Jude, a single father and restaurant owner/drug dealer, is driving his daughter to college. He’s a man of contradictions, and right now he’s conflicted because he thinks he’s made a lot of mistakes as a parent. Here’s part of that scene:
Jude watched Dana appear from behind the gas station and walk back to the van, her gait lacking its usual athletic grace.
“It was gross,” she said. “I couldn’t even go in, so I peed on the ground behind the back of the building.”
“Hope you didn’t squat in any poison ivy.”
“It’s just packed dirt and a bunch of tires.”
Jude finished filling the tank and they got back on the road.
“How was your run this morning? Do I detect a limp?”
“My first mile was okay, but then my knee started to hurt again. I’ve been emailing back and forth with the trainer and she’s going to do some tests when I’m up there.”
“All that trail running this summer probably didn’t help.”
“Dad, it’s cross country. You’re supposed to be running on trails.”
Instead of Jude’s Lexus, they’d taken the restaurant’s van, a commercial Ford 150. They needed the van because Dana couldn’t leave for college without her snow globes, desk chair, the standing lamp with the shade her friends on the track team had autographed, a mini-fridge, two trunks of clothing, television, three boxes of books and notebooks, the new laptop and who knows what else.
“I got you tea,” Jude said, pointing to the cups in the holders.
“I wanted a grande chai latte.”
“Very funny. Be thankful for the tea, the coffee’s like burnt toast.” Even with three packs of sugar and two creams it tasted bitter and stale, filtering through his stomach like spent motor oil.
Last night at Gull he had thrown a party for Dana, which lasted well past the usual 2 a.m. closing time. His daughter had worked in his restaurants longer than any of Jude’s regular employees, folding napkins when she was just four years old, arranging flower vases and filling sugar bowls at age ten, setting tables at thirteen. Throughout her senior year and over this past summer, she worked Saturday nights to earn spending money for college. Jude gave her the option and Dana chose bussing tables over the more glamorous and visible hostess position. She didn’t like to dress up and didn’t seek the limelight, but everyone at Gull was friends with her—boss’s daughter or not—and the party rocked, especially after the dining room stopped serving and Jude hung the sign on the door that said closed for a private party. Many of his staff used the open bar as a free ticket to get hammered, but not Dana. Not his good girl. Not his runner.
It pleased him to see so many people show affection and good wishes for his daughter. A few friends from school came as well—other girls on the track team that he warned the bartender not to serve. No boys. As far as Jude knew, Dana had never had a boyfriend, although last year she’d hung around with this big kid Sean for a month or so before the boy’s father was transferred to a new job in another state. Other than that, nobody. He hoped she would have told him if there had been anyone.
Jude had always encouraged her to be open about her feelings; he never hesitated to answer her questions, even the tough ones. He reminded her to say no to drugs, counseled her to be careful and mature about sex—when her time came, that is. He helped her with homework, he went to her track meets. He operated from instinct rather than expertise and wondered how many ways he must have failed. Many, he was afraid.
The challenges never ended, even with years of experience. Like now, driving on the Northway to send his daughter off to college, trying to articulate what he needed to say.
“I just want to remind you that you’re going to have a lot of freedom in college. I know you’ll make wise choices, but there can be a lot of distractions, too. I don’t want to hear you’ve become the poster child for campus party girls.”
The eye roll response. “I already have a lot of freedom.”
“You’ll be exposed to a new group of friends. I know what it’s like going to college. There’s lots of drinking, drugs are available.”
“There’s drinking and drugs everywhere, Dad. I’ve even seen them around Gull.”
“Who? What have you seen?”
“I’m not naming names.”
“No, you don’t need to.”
“Although who’s that guy Aaron?”
“You met Aaron?”
“At the party. Well, in the kitchen anyway. He was standing in the doorway eating.”
“Did he know who you were—I mean, my daughter?”
“I don’t think so, but who is he?”
“A new produce supplier,” Jude said, the first thing that came to his mind.
Aaron’s presence at Gull last night was Jude’s fault because one of the well-wishers at Dana’s party had been Brandon Marks, a regular customer at Gull and personal client of Jude’s who phoned him the afternoon of the party and asked for more than Jude had in stock. He had to call Aaron to drive it down. Jude let him grab something to eat in the kitchen before heading back but didn’t invite him to join the party.
Dana said, “He asked me if I wanted to smoke a bowl.”
Jude slapped the steering wheel. “See, this is exactly the kind of situation you need to watch out for. A guy with a bad offer.”
“He seemed harmless enough.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Don’t let anyone pressure you to change your good judgment.”
“Dad, have we had this conversation like fifty times already?”
“That’s because I don’t know if you’re listening. I’m not saying you should turn down a beer at a party, but you don’t have to be one of those students who gets roaring drunk and passes out. You don’t have to be the pothead. There are plenty of other people to play that role. You can nurse a drink along, you can still have a good time.”
“Have you ever seen me drunk?”
He hadn’t. She was an athlete, always training. He doubted she’d ever gotten high. His daughter hadn’t inherited her mother’s deadly weakness for excess.
Yet he pressed on with his mission. “You’re going to meet other boys and you’ll be attracted to them.”
“Not that they’ll be attracted to me back.”
“Don’t fool yourself. You’re a beautiful young woman and like I said, you’re going to meet new people from all over the country. It’s going to be very different from high school.”
She made her ‘yeah right’ face, the one that made him feel as if she were pointing to her eye and saying, ‘Hello? Have you seen this?’
He was sorry for the mark on her face and how it had shaped her life. A darkened eye that was the first impression she made on anyone. How many people had assumed he was beating her. How often did she answer the same questions, hear the same stupid jokes. She shouldered it, mostly with dignity, although in January she was scheduled to have surgery to shut off the veins feeding it and the doctors said the color should fade and swelling go down.
“You remember how babies get made, right?” he said. “You know to be safe.”
“I’m just saying—be prepared, use your head. Don’t rush into things.”
“Why aren’t you reminding me to hand my research papers in on time?”
He turned and smiled at her. “Because I know you will.”
“Well, trust me, I’m not rushing into anything.”
“I just want you to remember that you can tell me anything. There’s nothing you need to hide from me.”
“Like the same way you don’t need to hide anything from me?”
Her comment came from nowhere. He didn’t answer.
“At least with me out of the house you can bring your girlfriends home now. You do, don’t you—try to hide them from me?”
She held her chin up when she said it, as if challenging him, but still her cheeks flushed.
She went on before he could respond. “You did it when I was little and you still do it today. You think I don’t see women coming in the restaurant asking for you? Do I ask where you’ve been all night when you stay out? Why shouldn’t I hide things from you if you’re going to hide them from me?”
It’s true, he never brought women home. His last overnight woman had been Gwen, years ago. Technically she had been at his house as a babysitter, at least until he got home and they ended up on the couch. He remembered Dana coming downstairs and waking them, asking Gwen: Are you going to be my new Mommy? He’ll never forget his daughter’s face at that moment—as if she’d been thrashing in deep water about to drown and help finally had arrived. From mortal despair to sweet salvation. A look he never wanted to see again.
It wouldn’t have been right to bring women home, having Dana get to know them and start thinking, wondering, yearning: Will this one be my new mom? Because none of them were going to be.
“I never brought anyone home because I wanted to protect you. I didn’t want you thinking that a woman friend of mine was going to be your new mother.”
“Who said I wanted a new mother? I’ve managed pretty well without one.”
“It was different when you were younger. It would have been a natural reaction on your part.”
Jude passed a double tractor trailer on a long uphill, flooring the gas pedal to give the van momentum. He said, “Do you know who I saw recently? Her name is Gwen, you probably don’t remember her but she used to work for me at the Patriot and she would help you with your homework sometimes.”
“I think I remember her. Why?”
“Nothing, just thought I’d mention it. She came in the restaurant, it reminded me of when you were little.”
“Are you going out with her or something?”
“No, nothing like that,” Jude said. Then added, “You see, I’m not trying to hide anything, it’s just that adults have personal lives, too, separate from their children.”
“If we’re not going to talk about your personal life, then why should we talk about mine? I’m an adult now, too. I’m eighteen.” As if to emphasize her right to privacy, she put in her music earbuds and turned her gaze out the window. Conversation over.
Maybe he had pressed her too hard. Another parenting mishap. He waited a few seconds, then said, “I don’t have anyone I want to bring home. The house is going to be very quiet without you around.” Quiet without the daughter he had not wanted, yet the one he’d gotten anyway, the one who’d helped him stay in control of his life.
Want more? The Kindle version of STASH is on sale for only $5.99. Check it out. However, a new version of the paper copy is apparently selling for $954.80! I don’t get it–a signed original?