It's Tuesday, and that means a look back on something I've created from years gone by. I thought I'd open with the only story I've ever made a lick of money from so far ($3.90). That is, of course, the short story I released on Noisetrade about a year and a half ago: "Would You Still Love Me?" Here's a short little synopsis:
Now for the story. Enjoy!
“If I was bald and ugly, would you still love me?”
It was Mallory. She had looked up from the floor of the office, where she sat coloring with a collection of markers. Her auburn hair fell across her shoulders, and a pink ribbon was pinned just above her forehead.
Jason glanced at his beautiful six year-old daughter, smiling at the remark. “Of course I would. You know that.”
“For real?” Mallory said, her face skeptical. “What if I had warts and a face that looked like a monster and huge claws that looked like scissors?” She emphasized each of her comments by scrunching up her face and trying to look menacing.
Jason laughed in spite of himself. Oh, Mal, he thought. My lovely, silly little daughter. You have the same overactive imagination that I do.
“This isn’t funny, Daddy!” The little girl folded her arms across her chest and began to pout. “I’m being serious.”
“So am I,” Jason said, setting aside the laptop and getting up from his writing desk. He walked over and sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor beside Mallory. He brushed her hair gently and looked her in the eyes. “I will always love you no matter what you do, no matter what you look like. You’re my little girl, and you always will be.”
Mallory smiled. “What if I became a princess? And I lived in a big castle far away and could never see you or grandma or grandpa ever again? And you couldn’t come to see me or call me or anything. Would you still love me?”
“Yes, I would,” Jason said, smiling again. “Even if you were the most stuck-up, bratty princess in the entire world, I would still love you.”
Mallory smiled back. “You really mean it? Even if I was horrible and angry all the time and threw you out of the castle when you tried to visit?”
Jason nodded, his smile deepening. “Even if you did that.”
Suddenly Mallory threw her arms around her father and hugged him with all her might. “You’re great,” she said, then she gave him a kiss on the cheek and lay back down to start coloring again.
“What are you drawing?”
She held up the drawing for him to see, which held three stick figures, holding hands. The one in the middle was considerably shorter. “That’s you, and that’s me,” Mallory began, pointing at the figure on the left and the one in the middle. “And that’s Mommy.”
Jason froze, staring at the picture. “Mallory, it’s…” It had only been a year since she had...since his wife had passed away. The wound was still deep. “It’s very good.”
“I miss her,” Mallory said, setting down the picture and finishing the coloring. The sky wasn’t quite finished yet, half of the expanse still white, while the other half was a pale blue.
Jason felt his eyes start to water, and he got to his feet, wiping at them. “I know, Mally. We all do.” He went back to his desk, sat and began to write again, trying to not to think about what his mind refused to release.
“When will I see her again?” Mallory said quietly, still coloring, though more slowly, her strokes wavering in their determination.
“When we go to heaven, we’ll see her again Mally.”
“But when will that be? I want to see her now.”
Jason felt tears drop to the keys of his laptop. “We can’t see her right now, Mally, you have to wait.”
The room fell silent. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
Jason went over to his daughter again, closing the laptop. He wouldn’t get any writing down now. “I’m not angry, Mal...I’m just...sad.” He sat down next to his daughter and kissed her head. She put down her drawing and climbed into his arms. Then she started to cry. It was a quiet sniffle at first, then a sob, then a silent stream of tears.
“Mal,” Jason said, cradling his daughter. “If I was angry at you, like, really angry at you, yelling and screaming, and I wouldn’t stop, would you still love me?”
“Of course, Daddy. Just because you do something wrong, doesn’t mean you’re not still my daddy.”
Jason kissed her on the head again. “Exactly. Always remember, Mally, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, you will always be my daughter. You will always be my little girl, and nothing you or me or anyone else does will ever change that.
“I will still love you, always.”
Seven Years Later
Jason parked the car in the driveway and pulled the key out of the ignition, sighing. His whole body ached, but he forced himself to get out of the vehicle and stretch. Another day, another dollar, Jason thought as he walked up the sidewalk to the front door of the house. He had spent another day digging ditches. It was grueling, strenuous work, especially in the July heat, but it put food on the table and let them keep their house. So he did it. For her.
Jason took the mail from the mailbox near the front door--bills and junk mail, most likely--and stuffed it in his pocket. Then, unlocking the door, he went inside, taking off his work boots almost as soon as he entered. The socks came next--they were pretty dirty after a day’s work--and then up the stairs he went, getting ready to jump in the shower. He stopped in his office to drop off the mail so he could sort through them later, and saw, as he did every day, the pile of rejection letters that stood in a crumpled heap next to his writing desk. Three hundred different envelopes. That was how many times he had gotten rejected in the last eight years. He kept them there to fuel his determination, to remind himself that no matter how many times he failed, he would keep going. And he would. He would keep writing. He had a good feeling, a feeling that he was close. Just a bit more, and he would finally reach the goal he had been stumbling towards for so long.
Whistling to himself, he stripped and deposited his dirty clothes in the hamper, and then made his way to the bathroom. The shower felt good. It always did, coming home after a day of work. As if he was getting a fresh start, a chance to sit down at his desk and try again. A new opportunity.
After he dressed in clean clothes and got himself a roast beef sandwich, Jason made his way to his office to read through the mail. Maybe a letter had come. Maybe he would finally get an offer. He saw the clock as he entered the room: 3:00 PM. Mallory would be home anytime now.
He set down the sandwich and picked up the first envelope. Something about a credit card offer. Junk. Next two, junk, junk. And then…he froze. It was the letter. The letter he had been waiting for. He had sent his latest novel to every publisher he could think of, but what was in his hands right now was the one that counted the most. This was from one of the big publishing companies--Island Books. If they published his work, would get him enough notoriety to start making a living off of his writing. He wouldn’t have to dig ditches anymore. He could do what he loved to do, what he knew he was meant to do, and get paid for it.
He opened the letter. And, almost at once, he was disappointed for the three hundred and first time. Thank you for considering us, the letter read. But unfortunately, we don’t have a place for this kind of book on our line right now. He scanned the pages, his hope melting with every word. Too odd… interesting concept, but poorly executed…
No! he thought, pushing the letter away in frustration. No, this isn’t how it was supposed to happen! I could feel it, I knew that this was the one. But...it looked like he had been wrong. Again.
With a sigh, he placed the envelope in the pile. He picked up the next letter in the bunch, ready to sort through the rest of the bills and the junk mail. Four more envelopes. The first three were bills, but then...there it was again. Another letter. Another publisher, Red Moon Books. Not quite as recognizable as the last, but still a big company. His hope returned. Could this be the one?
Please, God… he prayed. Please, let this be the one.
He opened it with shaking hands. Another rejection. Another failure. He threw it across the room. I was so close. Why does this keep happening to me? I thought I had this one!His questions and thoughts fell away in the silence. No one was answering him, not even God.
Usually, this was the point when he would resolutely shake his head, sigh, then flip open his laptop and start writing again, determined to keep trying. But...what was the point? He had failed so many times… Why did he keep going back, if only to fail again? Maybe hewasn’t supposed to be a writer. Maybe he had heard wrong, all those years ago, when he was a young man, ready to face the world. Maybe God had had a different plan for him, and he had missed it.
He put his face in his hands and just sat there, defeated. That was it. He had blew it. God had planned differently for his life, and since he hadn’t listened, he was stuck here, digging ditches, forever. The realization hit him like a wave. He hadn’t trained himself to do anything else, he had been so sure that he was meant to be a writer. I’m a failure…
“Dad?” Mallory stood in the doorway, her face concerned. “Are you okay?”
Jason looked up and smiled, a half-hearted smile that he knew would look fake. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just another rejection letter, that’s all.”
Mallory gave him a look, her auburn hair bobbing behind her in a ponytail. “You’re a horrible liar, Dad. I wouldn’t recommend you ever considering ‘con artist’ as a career choice.”
Jason chuckled. “I can never getting anything past you, can I Mally?”
Mallory gave him another look. “Please don’t call me Mally. It sounds like a baby name.” She was so much like her mother. That same serious expression in her eyes, that same look about her face. Even her hair seemed to be just like Natalie’s. It was like a mini-version of his wife was standing in front of him. In some ways, that made the pain hurt less. He could at least still have this piece of her.
“Sorry, sorry,” Jason said, holding up his hands. “No baby names, I know. How was school?”
“Oh no,” she said, walking in and shaking her head. She dropped her backpack on the floor and went over to the desk. “You’re not changing the subject. What’s wrong, Dad?”
Jason sighed. “Mal…” He didn’t know where to start. How could he tell his daughter that he may have heard wrong? She was his most avid supporter, eagerly reading anything he wrote. Just like Natalie used to. “What if I’m not supposed to be a writer?” She gave him another look, but he held up a hand. “Just hear me out. What if God had something else in store for me, and I missed it? What if I made the wrong choice? And...what if I’m stuck here now, digging ditches, for the rest of my life. Would…” He looked down. “Mal, what if I can’t help you pay for college, what if we lose the house…” The thought was almost unbearable--this was the house he and Natalie had picked out, so many years ago. It was their dream home, she had told him. They would grow old together here. “What if I ruined everything?”
He looked at her again, tears in his eyes. “Would you still love me?”
“Don’t even ask me that, Dad,” Mal said. “You know what the answer will be.”
Asking each other that question had become almost a game throughout the years. They would say the most ridiculous things, and then ask if the other would still love them. The answer was always yes. But...Jason was still worried. What if he had followed a fool’s dream, a dream that his friends had told him wasn’t possible? You could never support yourself as a writer, they had said. You had to get a real job. Natalie and his parents had been the people who kept him going. And now Mallory, his own daughter, was the only real support he had anymore.
“Look at me, Dad,” Mallory said, her eyes fierce. “You are an amazing writer. You have a gift, and don’t you dare give up now. You’ve gotten so far. Your work is way better than it was when you started, and you can only get even better. Just keep at it.”
“But what if I’m not supposed to?” Jason snapped. “What if God had a different idea?”
“Dad, God doesn’t give people gifts unless he wants them to use them. He doesn’t give you a desire like the one you have and then make them choose a completely different career. You taught me that.”
Jason stared at his beautiful, intelligent daughter. She was thirteen, thirteen, and she was giving him a lecture. And she was right. He knew he wanted to be a writer. He knew he was good at it, and that was where God wanted him. But why is it taking so long? Why does it seem like every door has closed?
“You’re right,” he said, shaking his head. “Lord help me, you’re right.” He reached for his laptop and opened it up. I have to keep trying. For her.
“There you go,” Mallory said. She leaned down and kissed her father on the cheek. “I love you, Dad. Good luck.” She turned away and headed towards the door. She stopped to grab her backpack, but as she did so, she pulled something out. A white envelope. Jason saw it out of his peripheral vision, and glanced at her. “Oh,” she said, turning towards him again. “By the way, you forgot one when you grabbed the mail.” She handed him the envelope.
The return address read, Island Books. The first publisher, the big company that had rejected his latest novel. What in the world? he thought, staring at it. Why would they be sending me another one?
Mallory looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. “Open it. Let’s see what you got.”
Jason opened the envelope.
Inside was a letter, not pertaining his most recent project, but the one before it. The one that he had sent Island sample chapters for, and then the whole manuscript when they had asked for it, but then had never heard anything back from the publisher. He tore open the envelope, and stared with awe and shock at the words he read.
I am happy to tell you...offer you a book deal...I would like to speak with you...I absolutely loved this novel, and I think it can get better…
A letter from one of the editors at Island. A letter offering him a book deal.
Jason leapt up from his chair and cried out in absolute joy. Mallory jumped back, startled. “I got it, Mal,” he told her, giving her a crushing hug. “This is it, this is it!”
“Awesome...Dad…” she told him through gasps. “Can you...let me go?”
He did so, looking sheepish. “Sorry.” He showed her the letter and she read it quickly.
Mallory looked at him and smiled. “I told you so. Now, get on the phone and call the editor. I’m gonna go get some food.” She started to leave, but stopped. “And, Dad, as soon as you’re done talking with him, go back to writing. You’ve got some work to do.”
Jason smiled and nodded as his daughter left the room. Then, after she was gone, he locked his door. He didn’t want to be disturbed. He loved Mal, but she could be nosy sometimes. But he didn’t call the editor, not yet.
First he got to his knees and started praying, thanking God for everything He had done for him.
Four Years Later
Jason closed the laptop and looked up at his daughter, smiling. He had been working on the last novel of a trilogy, the first two of which had already been published. The project was getting close to completion now, he could almost see the finish line on the horizon. The past four years had been good to Mallory and him. Now that Jason had a steady income, he had been able to quit his old job digging ditches and become a writer full-time. It was tiring, busy work, but it was what he loved to do. And he was happy.
Mallory, it seemed, was not. Her face was pale and her fingers trembled as she closed the door to Jason’s office. It was decidedly un-Mallory. The seventeen year-old girl didn’t get fazed by much. Jason’s smile faded. This was serious.
“What is it?” he asked. “Mal, don’t give me that look, what’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer. Silently, she stepped over to the empty chair next to his desk, her spot whenever she came in to bug him while he was working. She sat and looked him in the eye. He looked back, and saw tears glistening therein.
“Dad…” she finally said, her voice shaky. “Remember that game we used to play when I was younger, the one where would ask each other the question: ‘would you still love me?’”
Jason nodded, wondering where this was going.
“Well, what if I made a mistake. A really big mistake, and there was no way I could fix it. I just had to face the consequences. Would...would you still love me?”
“You know I would. What is this about, Mal?” He leaned in close and took her hand.
“Dad…I don’t know how to say this.” She glanced down. “I’m pregnant.”
The news washed over him like a wave, threatening to knock him from his seat with the weight of it. “You’re...you’re pregnant,” he repeated, staring in disbelief.
“It was an accident. It was never supposed to happen this way...one time…” her words were interlaced with sob, and she trembled even more. “I’m so sorry, Dad…”
He didn’t know what to say. This was the kind of thing that happened to other people. Not to you. Not to your daughter, his daughter, his perfect, beautiful daughter. The daughter that he had taught from birth to always do the right thing, even when people were pressuring you to do otherwise. Mallory should have known better, she shouldn’t have… Jason stopped himself. This wasn’t the time to get angry. Mallory was beating up herself enough over this. Now was the time to love her.
“Did Robby...make you?” Jason said, referring to her boyfriend of two years. He hoped to God that Robby hadn’t. Jason wasn’t sure what he’d do if he found out that…
“No, no,” Mallory shook her head. “No, he didn’t force me. We...both messed up.” She buried her face into her father’s shoulder. “Dad, I’m so sorry… I knew it was wrong, but…”
“It’s alright,” Jason said, brushing his hand along her hair. “I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this together.”
Mallory cried. For a long while, they just sat there. They wouldn’t abort the baby, they knew better than that. Two wrongs didn’t make a right. But Mallory’s life would effectively be put on hold. Senior year was just around the corner, but Mallory wouldn’t be able to go through her last year of school the same way she had the first three. Everything would change.
“Dad…” Mallory said after a long while. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m, I’m so sorry--”
“I would,” Jason said, interrupting her.
“What?” she asked, glancing up at him with tear-streaked eyes.
“You asked me if I would still love you, even if you had made a huge mistake. Yes, you did make a mistake. But I would still love you, I do still love you. I’ve told you it before, Mally. Nothing you ever do, no mistake you make will ever make me stop loving you. Ever.” He took her face in his hands. “Don’t you ever forget that. We will get through this together. And everything will be okay. You will be an amazing mother, just like your mother was. I know your mom is looking down on you right now and she is so proud… You are a beautiful, talented, amazing young woman, and God and I both know it. We are going to grab God’s hand, and we are going to walk through this together, Mal. You and me.
“Don’t listen to anyone but the Lord, Mal. Don’t listen to the lies that the Devil’s trying to put in your mind right now. You are worth it. God has a plan for your life. And He loves you unconditionally…” Jason stood and reached out his hand for his daughter. “So, let’s do this, you and me. Together. We’re going to walk through this fire, alright?”
Mallory nodded, resolved.
And so, father and daughter went forward, facing whatever life would throw at them. Together. And Natalie, wife and mother, looked down from heaven and smiled.