I wake up to the strong smell of vodka, a smell that's haunted me for years. A smell that's becoming all too common again. Dammit... Mom's been... troubled lately. I never expected her to give up drinking as easily as she pretended. I knew there would be relapses. I knew it would never just go away. I never expected her to relapse as often as she does, though. She goes without for a few weeks and then she just gives in. 

Even drunk, my mom's still a great mom. She stands up for me and provides for me, but she needs to get away from the stuff completely. She's just... It's not even a personality thing, she just can't survive drinking so much for so many years. I know it's destroying her inside. 

Liina stirs beside me and sits up almost immediately. "Again?" she mutters, taking a quick sniff of the air around her. Living with me, she's almost as sensitive to the sauce as I am. It doesn't help that my room is directly adjacent to the kitchen, her favorite spot to drink. "Yeah, again..." I say softly, keeping turned away from her. Last night's still fresh in my mind, and I almost feel embarrassed to face Liina after my breakdown. 

She lays back down next to me and wraps her arms around my waist, pressing her naked breasts against my back. Sometimes we sleep together naked when one of us feels vulnerable, though this was the first time for me. I don't know why we do it. Something is just so comforting about being skin to skin with someone you love. "Let's go talk to her." I want to so bad, but I always obsess about doing more harm than good.

"No isn't an option," she adds, sitting up and getting dressed. I reluctantly stand and do the same. This is so nerve-wrecking... We head out into the kitchen together, my gait noticeably more feeble. Liina used to be so shy around Mom, but now she goes right up to her and takes the bottle away, pouring it down the sink in the same confident manner I always did. "You know as well as I do that you don't need it." Luckily, we got to it before she really drank any.

We sit down at the breakfast table, directly across from her. "What happened with Carmela's dad?"  A look of intense pain crosses her face. Inside, I feel like a child. I want to stop the line of questioning immediately to keep that look from ever crossing her face again. I turn to Liina, silently begging her to give up on this. "You deserve to know," she says simply, setting her sights straight ahead. Mom is chewing her lip like she always does when she's thinking.  

"Carmela, I want you to promise me one thing," she says softly. "Y-yes?" I hate myself right now. I'm causing my mother pain, and I sound so vulnerable... I'm so much stronger than this... "Promise you won't hate me?" The question surprises me. "I could never." "Promise me." "I promise, Mom." She thinks for a moment more. "I didn't leave him... He left us because of my drinking. He wanted so badly to take you with him, but I wouldn't let him. I hid you from him because I was scared I would never see you again..."

The realizations hit me like a crushing wave. Everything I believed true until now was a lie. Dad... Where are you? "Mom..." She can take the pressure no longer and begins to cry. "I'm so sorry, Carmela.  In trying to protect myself, I robbed you of a father... Every time you would ask about him, I would feel so guilty... He told me the day he left that he was taking you, and I just... I couldn't let that happen... And I've been hiding you from him ever since." I don't know what to think. I'm furious, but I also know my mother probably wouldn't have survived without me.

"D-did he try to look for me?" I begin to ask the questions I've held so dear to my heart. "Yes... He never stopped looking. At first, I hid you to keep him from taking you. Then it was to keep you from finding out." He was looking... He didn't just leave. Everything starts to take it's toll, and before long, I'm crying too.  Liina grips my hand tightly. The action brings me back into this dream of a reality. "Where is he?" She asks the unspoken question for me. She is so amazing...

Mom stands up abruptly and begins to search through her mail, hands shaking. "I have his address somewhere..." she states absentmindedly. My tears and anger towards my mom starts to subside as I realize what everything means. It's been ten years, and I'm going to be able to see my dad. He's probably nothing like I remember. I wonder how he'll look... Sound... Act... I always tried not to think about him, but now that I am, I realize how much I've missed him. 

I remember how he used to pick me up when my feet were tired. I remember him always holding me tight when I was scared. I remember how he read to me every night, come hell or high-water. I remember how everything was made into a game, and not a single thing seemed boring.

My mom, with those same shaky hands, slides a piece of paper with an address scrawled on it. A street I recognize. All these years, and he's been twenty minutes away. "Why couldn't he find me if he was so close?" "He used to try and wait outside for you... I threatened to call the cops on him.  He came to the door so many times... I refused to let him in... I'm so sorry, Carmela... I just couldn't... I didn't want you to know... Especially after I've been trying to clean up... I wanted to make it all go away." 

My anger flourishes, but with Liina's presence, I contain myself. My mother couldn't have made it without me. I tell myself that over and over and it helps. No matter what she did, she's my mom and she's been protecting me since I was a baby. Everything turned out the exact opposite way than I thought it had been. I need to think... I stand abruptly and walk to my room, shutting the door behind me.

Liina enters moments later, silently. She knows me well enough that I just want to sit. I do not feel like talking with anyone. Maybe at someone, to vent, but I'm not interested in a conversation. "I can't believe she would do this," I start, knowing if there's anyone who will listen, it's Liina. "I want to be mad at her. I know it wasn't right, she knows it wasn't right. I'm mad at the outcome, but I'm not angry with her at all... It doesn't make any sense." 

"It makes perfect sense," Liina says, sensing when the right time to speak is, "You love her and you know she did what she needed to survive. You don't want her to be in pain. She didn't do it with malice. There are so many reasons not to be mad at her directly. You feel exactly as you should." We sit silently for several moments. "But a more pressing issue..." she continues, "is your father."

"I want to see him," I say with no thought on the matter. I know what I want. "I want to see him today." My mood brightens while saying it. I get to see him. "D-do you want me to come with you?" She turns away abruptly and retracts her question, giving me no time to answer, "Forget I said anything. This is for you to get to know your father again. I shouldn't be there." "You give yourself too little credit. There was no question in my mind that you were coming with me." "B-but this is for you you and your dad to reconnect..." "He can't know me without knowing you."

She turns red like she always does and looks straight down, embarrassed. "You're part of who I am, Liina." "D-does he even know that you're... you know..." "Probably not. But he needs to know sometime, and I don't see why not now. I mean, I'll probably go in and talk to him first, but I want him to meet you." 

I hear a knock on my door. "Come in," I say, almost with regret. Of course it's my mother, whom I'm not sure how I feel towards currently. She opens the door, but does not come in. "I can drive you to your dad's," she says softly, "if you want." "I'd like that." "I assume you're coming too, Liina?" She nods in response. "I'll keep you company in the car until Carmela wants you," Mom muses, understanding my intent automatically. "Thanks, Mom."

We all pile into the car, Liina and I sitting together in the back seat. I feel so excited... The trip to his house seems like a blur, the only thing standing out being Liina's firm grip on my hand. How amazing can one woman be? It sounds terrible to say, but the second we reach my dad's house, all thoughts of Liina leave. I'm shaking because I'm so nervous. Liina gives me a final squeeze before I let myself out of the car and walk up to that seemingly impenetrable door. 

I take a deep breath. And another. And yet another still. I decide that standing here breathing is not helping me. I feebly raise my hand and ring the doorbells. The seconds feel like minutes as I wait for the door to open. My heart's beating out of my chest and I'm finding it so hard to swallow. After so much anticipation, after so much physical and mental turmoil, after those seconds that felt like minutes, the door opens.

After ten years, I see my father standing before me. He's relatively young, considering my age, and tall. I always remembered he was tall. And his hair. I have his black, tousled hair. I stand there shaking visibly for a moment and I wonder if he recognizes me. I feel so stupid with nothing to say. We both stand speechless, dumbstruck, until I finally find my tongue. "Dad?"

The tears start coming after my utterance of those words. From both of us. I leap the foot between us and hug him as hard as I can. Ten years of anguish and longing ends here. I have my dad back.

After the best cry I've had in my entire life, I'm quickly invited inside. The house is modest, cozy, almost. The walls are covered with family photos, many of them are of me. The others are him, a woman, and a young girl whom I've never seen. Could I have a sister I've never met? I feel a sudden burn of rage inside me. My mother has kept me from meeting the rest of my family. The anger subsides as I sit on his couch, with the gravity of the situation at hand.

My father notices me looking at the pictures. "That's my wife, Helene, and my other daughter... your half-sister... Her name's Seren." "Seren..." I say the name slowly. It sounds so foreign... My sister... "How old is she?" I ask, sudden questions welling up in me. "Seven." I smile. That's such a sweet age. "What kind of things does she like?" I ask the question, but Dad doesn't answer. "You'll meet her later. I have questions for you."

I knew the inevitable questions would start. I nod. "What do you want to do for a living?" he asks, starting with the basics. "I'm still not sure. I think I'd like to be a counselor or a therapist." "You have to get into a good school to be successful in that field." "Yeah," I say, remembering how Liina pushes me to do my best, "My grades are very good. I'm a straight A student, really. My motivation is pretty low, though." 

The questioning continues like you'd expect. 'What have you been up to?' 'Do you still like...?'  Then we get to a more serious question, which I ask. "Are you mad at Mom for keeping you away?" He thinks for a long moment. "Mad isn't the way to put it... It was more than frustrating, not being able to see you. I know she's not well, but it crossed a line. Though, I don't think she could have lived without you, looking back." "That's kind of how I feel. I just found out this morning, so everything's so fresh to me."

We sit in silence for a long moment. "You're 18, yes?" "Yes..." I say slowly, wondering where he was going. "Have you been dating anyone special? I mean, I know 18 is when things start to get serious." I smile internally. Now is as good a time as ever. "Yeah, actually. Tell you what, I'll be right back; I'm just going out and coming back in." He nods in approval as I run out the door to get Liina. 

I open the car door and usher Liina out. "Text me when you want me to come get you; I'm going home for now," my mom says to me as I drag Liina inside. I can't think of a better way to do this off hand, so I simply lead her to where my father still sits on the couch. Dad begins to ask who she is, but I shush him. I stand next to Liina and wrap an arm around her waist. "This is my special 

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