John wove his way around cars and pedestrians, trying to find an available parking space next to a car free from dents that didn’t have its bumper over the yellow parking space lines.
“I’ll drop you off here, Malina,” he said, eyeing a parking space on his left.
“Thanks, Daddy,” his daughter said climbing out of the SUV slowly. “I’ll be super quick.”
John waited at a stop sign, his patience straining as people ambled in front of the car with carts full of food and appliances, as if it was the end of the world or a record-breaking snowfall was expected to arrive in mere minutes. Elainia rested a gentle hand on her husband’s shoulder, calming him with a gentle touch and drawing a smile. She stroked his tense muscles as he drove past the green Subaru that had claimed his desired parking space, silently counting off the available parking spaces next to angled and dented cars.
Minutes later John found a suitable parking space to wait directly adjacent to the entrance and exit doors.
“Malina didn’t look well; what is she getting again,” he asked, lowering the volume of Mat Kearney’s weathered voice filtering through the speakers.
His wife sighed slightly, shrugging, tracing the length of his arm with her fingertips to hold his hand.
“She just needs to pick up some things to help her get through this four-hour car ride without feeling completely uncomfortable.”
“Meaning, she’s in pain.”
Why was his baby girl in pain? Just the idea of her being uncomfortable pushed his mind toward action.
“Elainia, what are you saying–in simple terms?” He was trying not to show his frustration, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to solve this problem if he didn’t know what it was.
“Our little girl is growing up,” she said, looking in her husband’s eyes, “and her body is changing, and she just needs to get some pain relievers to deal with those very normal monthly changes.” Elainia patted the back of his hand as if that answer should suffice. But John was having trouble. He was silent for a moment, confused by his wife’s pleonasm until the words slowly began to form pictures in his mind.
Elainia patted the back of his hand again.
John shot out of the car, his wife calling after him.
“I forgot I needed something!” His response carried, drawing people’s attention.
As he rushed across the parking lot, he wondered how had he not realized this day was coming. He had created an emergency evacuation plan from their home in the case of a hurricane, a tornado, a terrorist, a fire, even a flood, but he’d left them exposed to the dangers that preferred to prey upon a beautiful daughter.
He felt like a madman racing through the doors, past the elderly gentleman in his blue vest and a cordial greeting that was muffled by his internal hysteria. It had been some time since John had set foot in a store known for having everything, including a ton of customers clogging lines like curly hair in a drain. He searched the store quickly for signs, walking quickly around full carts and meandering bodies, feeling as if he was still in the parking lot.
The array of camouflage print, hanging vests, and racks of weaponry drew him.
“I need a scary gun, now,” John said to the young man behind the counter. “That one, maybe…”
The young man looked uncertain. John pulled out his wallet, removing his credit card and driver’s license. He forced a smile onto his face.
“Don’t worry,” he said, feeling the corner of his mouth twitch. “I’m not crazy, I just have a teenage daughter I need to protect from sad, empty souls who would try to steal her innocence and make us grandparents this year.”
John’s head whipped around to find his daughter staring at him, a small box of painkillers and her phone in her hands.
“Is everything okay? I saw you run past me.” It was obvious she was worried. And that was understandable given how often he ran nowadays, particularly within stores.
“Yeah, baby,” he said forcing a laugh, as he slid his cards toward the young man. He mouthed the words “big gun” to the worker, who was staring at Malina, confirming John’s suspicions, before turning his own attention back to his daughter.
“Daddy, what are you doing?”
He pondered how to communicate his concerns to his daughter without sounding accusatory or making her fearful.
“Well, I just realized that there just comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to own a weapon and protect his family.” He added a light laugh to make his statement sound more convincing. The worker placed a handgun on the counter.
John looked up. The young man was still staring at his daughter.
“Bigger,” he said. He could feel himself glowering now.
“Daddy you don’t even believe grandpa should have a gun and he goes hunting every year,” Malina said, a puzzled look on her face.
It was true. He was vehemently opposed to his father-in-law hunting and having guns in his house, which had caused many an argument.
“But now, all of the sudden, it’s the time in your life that you need to own a weapon to protect me ‘from someone stealing my innocence and making you a grandfather this year?'”
She’d heard everything. John felt the heat rising to his face, but he was unashamed.
“Yes,” he said simply, returning his attention to the young man who had placed a gun that ran almost the length of the counter between them.
“This is better,” John said to himself, nodding. He could imagine stopping potential boyfriends in their tracks with this. They wouldn’t even make it to the porch.
“Hey…my name’s Eric,” the young man moved toward the end of the counter to talk to Malina. John started to reach for the gun.
“Not interested,” Malina shot back, raising an index finger in the young man’s direction. Instead, she turned her attention to her father.
“Daddy, I understand you’re concerned,” she said, “placing a hand on his arm. “And I would be too, if you and mom hadn’t raised me well enough to not be swayed by the Erics of the world.”
The young man gave a snort as he moved to pretend to organize ammunition and not overhear their conversation.
“You have always told me I’m beautiful, smart, funny, and that I can achieve almost anything–except for playing the tuba; you didn’t believe that was going to work out for me.”
“I never said you couldn’t play the tuba,” John interjected, “I simply said you’d have to do a lot of practicing to not sound like an elephant suffering from a case of bronchitis.”
“Yes, yes, exactly,” Malina said, holding her hands up. “You’ve told me these things all of my life so I believe you and I don’t need to, or even want to, hear them from someone else who isn’t willing to back those words up with years of action. So, you don’t have to worry.”
Malina rolled her eyes and looped her arm through her father’s.
“Trust yourself, daddy. You’ve done, and you’re doing a good job.”
John looked at his daughter and nodded.
“Okay, let’s head back to the car,” he said, grabbing his cards. “I’m sure your mother is probably wondering where I went.”
“No, not really, I called her when I saw you,” Malina said holding up her phone. “You’ve been on speaker phone the whole time.”
John’s face fell.
“See y’all in a little bit,” Elainia teased over the phone.
“I’m sure you’re glad you married someone so stable,” John called.
John wrapped his arm around his daughter and escorted her toward the cash register.
“Yeah, and if we’re late, you know grandpa won’t be happy with us,” Malina said. He’s probably killed something special for tonight’s dinner.”
John made a disgusted face. “Let’s not even think about it.”
“Wait until I tell grandpa that you almost bought a gun today and that he can now welcome you into the family with both arms,” Malina said with a laugh. She sounded just like her mother.
“That offer is tempting, but not a word to grandpa,” John said.
Malina laughed again.
“Okay, but I bet you mom has already called him and he’s already beaming with pride,” she said. “He’ll probably invite you out to go hunting tomorrow.”
John stopped in his tracks and shook his head at the linoleum floor, feeling sure his daughter was right. He would never live this moment down.
Malina urged him toward the front with a gentle push, leaning into his side as they walked, even though she no longer quite fit like she used to when she was little.
She scanned the painkillers at the self-checkout kiosk.
“I’m glad you’re willing to protect me, Daddy,” she said with a small smile and a shrug. “You set the bar pretty high…in a lot of ways.”