This is deeply personal. Feel free to ignore it.
Forgive me this. I don’t know any other way to cope but through writing.
He looks at you across the table and wiggles his eyebrows.
You straighten a little, clutching your fingers tight about your crayon. It’s cerulean, your favorite, and you will wear it down to a nub before you think of moving on to another color, but right now you don’t care about that even a tiny bit. Biting your lip, you watch him, trying hard not to hope: but aha! He does it again, those white fuzzy caterpillars above his gaze pumping like pistons. Grinning over his coffee cup, he motions to the kitchen door and nods.
In your pajamas still, you drop the crayon, heave yourself down from your chair, and race out across the chilled driveway before he can change his mind. When you reach the shed in the backyard, the door is coarse and rough under your fingers—it takes all your strength to fling it open. But you manage, and not moments later you proudly deposit the tackle box on the newspaper in front of him, creasing the crossword. At the stove over a skillet of eggs your grandmother shakes her head, scowling, but he—Granddaddy—reaches out his chambray arm and wraps it around you. He drags you into the side of him, his chuckle buzzing through you, and along your temple his lips scratch before he kisses you there too.
“That’s my girl.”
He loves to fish, Granddaddy does, and you love to go with him, not because you particularly like the sport but because he occasionally lets you drive the boat. (Only years later will you learn that this is a hugely incredible privilege. “He’s only loved one thing more than that boat in his whole life,” Mom mutters as the men who responded to the Craigslist ad hitch it to their trailer, “and that’s you, Ash.”) In your small, eager hands the wheel is alive, and he tucks his knuckles up under your wrists to guide you left, right over the brick-brown shine of the river. You love to go with him because his tackle box is full of glittery lures, fake lizards and crabs and frogs every color of the rainbow, and he pretends not to notice when you pilfer a few and take them to the corner of the boat to play with them, marching them in wibbly lines across your knees.
You love to go with him because, if you’re good—if you’re quiet and still and you don’t scare away the fish—he sometimes puts his pole down. He rubs his hands together. He squints at you in the noontime glare spangling off the water, little beads of sweat glittering like jewels on his glasses. Your sign for him is smile: his top teeth are missing and you love the way his upper lip puffs and wobbles when he talks, and you perform that gesture over and over, pleading, until he stands up and opens his arms.
You run into them. He is a small man, skinny and knobby and wrinkled all over, but he is also strong and has no problem swinging you up. In midair he spins you, tucking your back to his chest, your head to his chin. Hooking his elbows in your underarms, he lifts you over the boat’s edge and dips you next into the river up to your knees. The current sucks at you, thick between your toes, cold and surging, but with him you’re safe and never scared and you throw your arms high. Into the soft heat and slow grime along the nape of your neck he presses another kiss, smiling, and as ever you feel the bright glow of his love for you on your skin.
“That’s my girl.”