emma was nine and her parents were protective. “stay where we can see you,” they’d say when she played outside.
her friends rode the bus home from school and had keys to their houses; very self-sufficient at such a young age. but emma only rode the bus when her mother was home to receive her. otherwise, a babysitter picked her up from school. a babysitter.
emma didn’t much mind her lack of freedom. being so young, she hardly sensed it was held beyond her reach. nor did she mind seeming so childish in comparison to her peers and their advanced responsibilities. she was comfortable and safe in the warm web of love her parents had spun for her.
what emma did mind was her father’s increased absence lately. he was important at work now; a senior director, her mother told her once. emma didn’t know what senior directors were, but she assumed they had to leave their daughters and sons behind for important meetings and big projects.
her father used to come to tea. that was a special occasion. she would prepare it specifically to his liking and create an audience of dolls, bears, and an assortment of stuffed animals to witness the event. she dressed in an old princess costume made of taffeta and magic. and when her father wanted coffee instead of tea, she could change it with a wave of the wand she carried in her right hand.
but he didn’t come to tea anymore. she was growing up and they were growing apart. her afternoon tea parties had reduced in frequency and magnitude, usually involving only a few close bear friends.
her father wasn’t just too busy for emma. he was also too busy for mother sometimes. emma heard them talking in raised voices once, ending in her mother crying softly and his father consoling her after a moment’s hesitation. emma guessed that senior directors had to leave their wives behind from time to time too, but the next day there were at least flowers.
emma wanted to play outside today, but the weather quickly grew dismal. “but it’s just grey, momma.”
“if it doesn’t rain, emma, you can go out and play.”
but it rained. quietly. like a slow, sad tune played on the piano. emma watched it from the picture window in the living room for some time. she placed a finger against the glass and made it dodge the rivulets of water that coursed down the pane. she resolved to warm herself with the comfort of a tea party and as she left the room, her mother tracked her departure with sympathetic eyes.
fifteen minutes later, as emma had places set and all of her guests were in attendance, she heard her father come in the front door. soft voices from the kitchen, keys on the counter, light laughter — she heard all this as she paused mid-pour, teapot in hand, face lowered, eyes slightly raised toward her bedroom door. the soft voices ceased and she continued filling her guests’ cups.
“to our health,” she toasted her guests, mimicking a phrase she’d heard on tv.
behind her, father’s confident footsteps coming down the hallway. he would pass the door and head into his bedroom for a nap before dinner. she paused again, cup halfway to her mouth as she listened to his advance: closer, closer, passing emma’s door and into his bedroom. she brought the cup to her lips and sipped.
three gentle taps on her door, as soft as the rain outside.
she turned around to see her father in her doorway, handsome in his tie.
“is there room for one more? i know i’m late… i’m sorry.”
she stood up gracefully despite her lack of royal gown.
“yes!” she beamed, unable to hide her smile and glistening eyes.
outside, the rain stopped. although the clouds didn’t disperse immediately, the day took a beautiful turn as it slipped into twilight with poise. because when it rains, it never rains for long.