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Kissing My Dad’s Friend
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It started as a game…
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“Maggie! You’re going to be late. You can’t afford to be late during your first few weeks. It will reflect badly on your father.”
I glare at my reflection in the bedroom mirror as I finish tugging my brown mess of waves into a high ponytail. It’s the best I’ll be able to muster at this hour of the morning. Over my shoulder, a shelf full of stuffed animals watches me balefully, as if judging.
I get it. I’d judge me too, if I were them. 23 years old and here I am, still living in my childhood bedroom—a bedroom that has not been updated since I left to live in the NYU dorms downtown, then a dingy shared apartment with ten other students. That was five years ago. Now, freshly finished with my nursing degree, I’m back in this trap. Back in a life I never wanted to live.
Worst of all, I’m supposed to be grateful for it all.
“Maggie!” My mother’s voice sharpens in warning. I recognize that tone. It’s the I’m not going to warn you again voice.
“I’m coming!” I cinch my scrubs tight and grab my purse, hurrying toward the stairs. We live in an honest to goodness Upper West Side brownstone, the kind of house that nobody who hasn’t lived here for generations could afford anymore. Luckily, thanks to my father’s job running one of the best hospitals in the city, we can afford to pay the crazy high property taxes.
But, according to him anyway, he can’t afford to pay that, my med school tuition bills, and rent for me somewhere on my own. So here I am, back at home, working my debt off to my parents in a different way. By taking a nursing gig at Dad’s hospital, right under his nose, where he can keep an eye on me.
I barely make it to the bottom of the staircase before he’s glaring at me, studying everything from my sneakers to the scrubs I chose, a cute pair with bright pink stripes.
“Those look frivolous,” he comments, before he sniffs and turns back to the kitchen. Apparently the rest of me passes inspection, at least for the moment. “How much of my money did you waste on those,” he adds over his shoulder, as my mother passes him a cup of his coffee. The same kind she prepares every morning, just the way he likes it: black, no milk or sugar.
Like his soul, I always joke. But only where he can’t hear me.
“I didn’t,” I respond, crossing my arms. “It was a present from Julia.” One of my nursing school friends, and a former roommate back when I still lived downtown, near school. Our apartment building was a rat hole, the bedroom I shared with her a constant mess, not to mention plagued by a never-ending stream of infestations—everything from bed bugs to cockroaches. Yet I still preferred it to my current room.
That should tell you something.
“Julia. The one with the hair?” Dad squints into his coffee suspiciously, the same way he does every morning. As if Mom might have somehow messed up the order.
Over his shoulder, Mom fires me a semi-apologetic glance. Not that she’d ever stand up to him on my behalf or anything. In this house, Dad makes the rules, and the rest of us leap to follow them.
“The redhead, you mean? Yes, that’s her,” I grumble, shouldering past him to pour my own cup. To be honest, it stings a little, the reminder of my friends. I haven’t seen any of them in months. Because they’re all off doing what I wish I could be doing. Julia took a position straight out of nursing school with Doctors Without Borders, and a handful of our other roommates followed her shortly thereafter. They sent me some photos from their placements the other night. I sent back a sad selfie in my childhood bedroom.
Then I stayed up halfway through the night, scrolling through their social media feeds. Drinking in every detail I could.
It’s not the travel I envy, though that would be fun too, of course. It’s the fact that they’re doing something. They’re helping the people who really need it most. Not like me, stuck here serving all the same rich old clientele I’ve watched my dad kowtow to for his entire adult life.
“Are you coming?” Dad barks, before I’ve even had a chance to finish downing my coffee. I grab a to-go mug before I grab my jacket from the kitchen counter. It’s getting colder outside, finally, though even the fall bite in the air—normally my favorite season of the year—hasn’t improved my gloomy mood.
Just appease him for now, I can practically hear my mother saying, despite the fact that she says nothing for now. She just leans in to kiss my father’s cheek and then mine as we parade past. But she’s given me the talk enough times by now that I have it memorized. After your school tuition debt is paid back, then you can decide what you want to do. Where you want to live and work.