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Excerpt from Shades of Gray by Andy Holloman

He reserved his Sunday nights for the most important person in his life—his six-year-old daughter Lucy. These nights were referred to as the Sabbath and he always observed. On more than one occasion, he had mentioned his Sunday night dinners with Lucy were the source of good luck for the upcoming week. Tonight, however, would end any further mention of the delight he took in these evenings.

Lucy had always chosen the location for their dates, and, the familiar ching-ching-ching-ching rattle of dollar bills being exchanged for golden tokens falling from the change dispensers rang in John’s ears. The clanging of bells from the game machines and the flashing lights reminded him of Las Vegas. They were, however, quite far from Sin City as they slipped into a booth at the Chuckie Cheese in Raleigh, North Carolina. Parents hurried past them, chasing small children. Older children stuffed chains of small white tickets into the counting machine so they could collect a prize worth ten cents after spending ten dollars to collect the tickets from games of skill like pinball, skeeball, whack-a-mole, and pop-a-shot. No doubt casino owners the world over would sell their soul for similar odds.

She reached across the table and pulled on his sleeve.

“Daddy? Are you thinking about what kind of pizza to get?”

He sighed. “I’m not thinking about anything except how perfect a little girl you are. You pick the pizza tonight.”

“Well I want a pizza with double cheese and nothing else on it like that gross stuff that you like.” She smiled and studied the menu. As if she would order anything else.

He removed his glasses and pushed his thinning blonde hair back from his eyes. He wiped the lens clean with his tie.

“Daddy, Nana told me that I should help you watch what you eat so you don’t get any fatter.”

“Hmmm, so my mom told you that?”

“Yes, but she said it was for your own good and that when I told you this, you would understand. She told me that you used to be a skinnier and that wherever you went, pretty ladies would always smile at you.”
“I will tell her Daddy. You don’t have to worry. But she did say that now you look more like you are sixty instead of forty-four.”“Seems like I better have a little chat with your Nana. She needs to understand that I’ve been working hard to be a good dad and take care of my business and that maybe it is OK to let other things slip a little.”

“Wow! Now I know that I need to talk to my mom.”

“Daddy, you don’t …’

“It’s OK sweetie, your nana is just looking out for me. I know she just wants me to take care of myself so I can take care of you.”

She looked up at him from the menu, dark eyes twinkling. “Daddy, when are we going on another big boat trip? You remember how you said that we could go again and Wanda and Tonya could go with us? When can we go again?”

He shook his head, leaned forward and took her small hand in his.

“Sweetie, you’ve been asking me the same question three times a day since Wanda and I got back from the last one a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if we are going to go again right away.”

“I just have to wait and see if it’s necessary to go again, sweetie. Wanda and I got a lot of work done on the last trip, so we probably won’t go

again.” She pulled her hand away and sat back against the seat, turned her head to the side and crossed her arms.

“You said I could go again, Daddy! Remember, you did! It’s not fair.”

“What’s not fair, Lucy?”

“You and Wanda didn’t even take me and Tonya last time.”

“Look, I know how much you like Tonya but you don’t have to be on a cruise ship to have fun playing with her. We can meet her at a park, or McDonald’s or some other place to play.” He watched her uncross her arms and put her hands back on the table. She didn’t reach for his hand.

She spoke without looking up. “Daddy, umm, do you think that you could marry Wanda?” He closed his eyes and tilted his head to the ceiling,  smiling. “If you and Wanda got married then I could have a mommy and Tonya would be my sister.” She gave him a pleading smile. John was used to the question. He called it the “mommy test.” It was not a difficult test to pass. Lucy’s only requirements were: She had to like the potential mommy and the candidate had to be female.

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