Summary: Now Sasha sat in front of him and he considered her resemblance to him. Years after the documentary airs, it's still affecting them.
The finale of my Kelly/Toby series of: What the Kids Are Watching, Breakdown, Fancy New Flenderson and Small Steps
Brief series summary (copied from FNF): In a nutshell, the past segments have dealt with Season 4 Toby and his bizarre behavior. Instead of him just turning creepy, he was having some sort of breakdown and was hospitalized. While in the hospital, Kelly took care of him in her own special Kelly way, bringing him food and US magazine and they begin, slowly, to become really good friends and then starting a romantic relationship. When the documentary airs, Sasha sees part of it and watches her dad being treated so poorly (and realizing that his sadness is in part because of this).
So, this may be a little confusing, but for this fic series what we saw in Season 4 ended at Did I Stutter? and these events happen about a year after that. So no Costa Rica trip, no broken neck, no Holly Flax and Ryan is still living the life in NY. Oh and also, since this was before we knew about the seminary revelation, Toby is at least part Jewish.
This takes place a few years after the last fic, Small Steps, which ended with Toby and Kelly engaged.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story was a long time coming. Hope you enjoy it. Would love to hear from you. And yes, I do want to keep on writing this series.
“Come in,” Sasha mumbled into her pillow, into one of her stuffed animals that she was way too old for but still kept on her bed. She wasn’t sure how anyone could have heard her response, but the door opened and her dad asked if she wanted to take a walk.
“A walk?” she asked, lifting her head. He didn’t sound mad at her, which was good, but that was a terrible idea. “It’s freezing.”
“So bring your jacket. We’ll go to that place that makes the hot chocolate you like.”
“I don’t want to,” she said. She rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ll apologize to Kelly and...”
“Come on,” he said, his voice soft, but firm. “I think we need to talk.”
She frowned, but grabbed her jacket off her desk chair and followed her dad outside.
The sky was dark even though it was only like three in the afternoon and she stuffed her hands in her pockets to warm them. Neither of them said anything as they walked to the cafe. She wasn’t sure she liked the silence; it made her think that he was angrier at her than he let on.
“Dad,” she finally said and when she spoke she could see her breath. “I don’t hate Kelly.”
Her dad nodded. “I know you don’t. We’ll talk more when we get to the cafe, okay?”
“Okay,” she said and they continued walking.
Sasha grabbed seats for them while Toby waited in the long line. He watched his daughter read the laminated menu on the table before picking up a newspaper someone had left behind.
Sasha had always been a reader. Reading was something that both he and his ex-wife loved and they had taken turns reading with Sasha from the time she was a baby. Before too long she was reading on her own.
He wondered if Sasha remembered that. Remembered Goodnight Moon and Where the Sidewalk Ends. He hoped she did. He hoped that she had good memories of childhood, of being cherished and loved, even with the divorce.
He did not have the best memories of his own childhood. What he remembered was anger and yelling, parents and lawyers and courthouses and that his sister Shannon was always crying and acting out because she was young and he tried to keep her quiet, believing that if they were both quiet his parents wouldn’t be so upset. As a child, he believed this was the only way to protect his family.
He ordered some herbal tea for himself and hot chocolate with extra whipped cream for Sasha and a few oatmeal cookies. He paid for his order and walked over to his daughter.
She looked up from the newspaper. “Thank you.”
When he was younger, he worried about very adult things. Worried about his mother and father and his sister and himself, worried about saying the wrong thing, worried that the smallest thing could set someone off. It was tough work, trying to keep everything in balance, trying to keep something as fragile as his parents’ marriage and his family from falling apart.
Was that how his daughter felt? Did she think the smallest thing would destroy him? Did she think she needed to protect him?
When the waitress came by with their steaming drinks and small plate of cookies, he told his daughter to be careful, that her drink was hot.
She rolled her eyes at him and he couldn’t help but smile at her, because at that moment he could pretend that they were just an ordinary overprotective father and dismissive teenage daughter.
Even though they weren’t.
“So...” he began and wondered what to say next.
Had she always been a worrier? She didn’t know, but she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t worry at least a little bit. She worried when her parents got divorced although she was too young then to verbalize what was bothering her. She worried when her dad went away on what her mother and stepfather called a fun vacation, but which she knew, even then, was a lie.
She worried about her dad when she saw the documentary on television even after he tried to reassure her that he was fine, happy. Even when her mother tried to reassure her the same.
But her mother didn’t really believe that.
Sasha occasionally eavesdropped. She liked to hide behind the couch. She knew it wasn’t right but if she didn’t eavesdrop she wouldn’t have learned terms like “nervous breakdown” and “clinical depression”; she wouldn’t have learned about Kelly. She wouldn’t have learned that her mother worried too.
One day her mom’s sister, Sasha’s Aunt Sara, was over and Sara and her mother sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating some biscotti which was this kind of gross, dry cookie that Sasha hated. Sasha hadn’t planned to eavesdrop that day, really she hadn’t, had only been thinking about finishing her book for school when she heard Aunt Sara ask, “Refresh my memory. Which one is Kelly again?”
Sasha crawled behind the couch.
“The one who sits in back with him. The Indian girl.”
“He’s dating her?” Aunt Sara asked. In a voice that was much higher than her usual octave, she shrieked, “Ryan!”
Sasha’s mom laughed. “That’s her. I shouldn’t laugh though. She’s a very nice young woman. And she dotes on him. He brought her to the soccer game yesterday.”
“Was that weird?”
“A little. But she seems to genuinely like Sasha so I guess that’s what’s important.”
“It’s serious then?”
Sasha’s mom sighed. “He mentioned their anniversary. So yeah. I guess so.”
“Huh. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be well enough to be starting something.”
“I don’t know,” Sasha’s mom said. “He looks great. Younger. So if that’s her doing...”
“That’s good, Carrie.”
“I guess. I just...you saw her on the documentary. She was so boy-crazy and flighty. So self-absorbed.”
“Maybe she’s changed.”
“Maybe,” Sasha’s mom said. “Do you want another cookie or I should put them away?”
“I’m done. Have you seen my behind?”
Her voice, to Sasha’s ears, sounded tight somehow, as she asked, “Is it weird that I still worry about him? I mean I know I shouldn’t but...”
“Of course not. You two have been through a lot and this latest episode of his sounds like it was a doozy.”
“I just wonder about her. Kelly. I mean does she know what she’s in for? He wasn’t exactly the easiest person to live with.”
“That being said...he wasn’t the hardest person to love either.”
Now Aunt Sara was the one to sigh. “I know that too.”
“I can’t help but worry.” Sasha’s mother stood up and Sasha tucked her feet under making sure she wasn’t visible from her hiding spot. “If she leaves, I think it’ll just kill him.”
That wasn’t the story Sasha told when he asked her if she worried. It took her awhile to say anything; she was too busy swirling a spoon into her hot chocolate, methodically mixing in the mound of whipped cream.
Finally, just as he was starting to lose hope that she would answer him, she looked up at him and said, “Yeah. Sometimes. Not as much anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry that you worry. Your mother and I tried to prevent that.”
“I know,” she said. “I remember you guys talking to me. And Kelly too.”
“Kelly?” he asked. He picked up his cup of tea, trying to hide his surprise. When had this happened? The Italian restaurant, so many years ago? Sasha had asked to speak to Kelly privately and Kelly had never disclosed what they had talked about.
“Yeah. Remember that time when she came over and watched a movie with us?”
“Little Mermaid,” he said.
He and Kelly had just gotten engaged and they decided to have a movie day with Sasha, so she and Kelly could hang out and get more comfortable with each other. Kelly had come up with a great day, involving Disney movies and popcorn and ice cream and hair braiding and manicures and everything was going according to plan until he got sick.
He wanted to hang out with them, the two most important people in his life, had struggled to ignore the fatigue and the bad headache, before giving up and heading to bed. Apparently he had missed out on more than a root beer float and sparkly nail polish.
“And so Kelly and I were watching the movie and she was talking about how much she loved it and how it was so romantic and that she used to want to be a mermaid like Ariel because she was cute and had a lot of sisters too and Ariel got to have all these cute animal friends and sing songs and then marry the man of her dreams.”
Toby laughed. He shouldn’t have; this was serious. Sasha grinned a little bit too before saying,
“Do you remember Chelsea?”
Chelsea was the daughter of his ex-sister-in-law. She was two years older than Sasha.
“So Chelsea thinks she knows everything. Just because Aunt Sara let her watch the show about your work. And she told me that Kelly was madly in love with Ryan and that if Ryan tried to get her back she would date him again because she loved him the most. So I asked Kelly if you were the man of her dreams. Or if Ryan was.”
Chelsea was just a kid. Just a kid who watched something on TV. Still he felt this incredible wave of anger spreading throughout his body as he thought of her saying things like that to Sasha. These weren’t fictional characters, these were real people. This was her cousin’s family.
He gripped his mug tightly and asked, “What did Kelly say?”
“She said that you were totally the man of her dreams. She said that she loved you so much that if she were a mermaid like Ariel was and loved being a mermaid and if the only way to marry you was to stop being a mermaid she would give it up. She said Ryan was a stupid boy and he was gross and mean and short.”
His grip on the mug loosened slightly. “Did you believe her?”
That night after the movie was over and Sasha was back at her mother’s, Kelly slipped into bed with him, cool against his fevered skin. “You’re warm,” she whispered.
“I know,” he said. “You shouldn’t be here. I don’t want to get you sick.”
“Don’t care,” she said. “I had fun today. Your daughter is made of all kinds of awesome, you know.”
“Yes,” he said before his eyes closed.
Kelly often talked about how much she and Sasha had bonded that day. And then, after the wedding and the honeymoon and about a year of wedded bliss and then nine exhilarating months, and many, many hours of labor, a perfect little girl was placed in his arms and Kelly said, “I want to call her Ariel. Like the mermaid.”
“Ariel,” he repeated softly, gazing at his newborn daughter. “Ariel.”
Yeah. That would work.
“Ariel Rihanna,” Kelly said. “Because Rihanna’s so strong and beautiful and awesome.”
“Yes,” he said tearing his gaze away from Ariel Rihanna to look at his gorgeous wife. “Perfect.”
“I’m pretty sure I believed her then,” Sasha said now, reaching for a cookie. “But I really believed her at your wedding.”
Sasha didn’t cry at first at her dad and Kelly’s wedding even though other people did. She didn’t cry as she walked down the aisle; she was too busy feeling pretty and so grown up with her flower girl dress in the palest pink color, her matching shoes with a little heel and she was even wearing make up. And not watermelon lip gloss that made her lips soft and shiny, but real pink lipstick and light pink blush and even the slightest bit of shadow on her eyelids.
She didn’t cry during the vows and didn’t cry when they were pronounced man and wife. She didn’t cry during their first dance because when she heard the opening lyrics (“Oh, why you look so sad? Tears are in your eyes...”) she was too bothered by what seemed to be making light of her dad and what he had been through. It wasn’t until she listened to the rest of the song (“Won't let nobody hurt you, I'll stand by you. Take me into your darkest hour, and I'll never desert you...”) that she got the point of the song. And it touched her, but she didn’t cry.
She didn’t cry at the party because she was too busy with Christina and Kelly’s sisters even though they were older and seemed kind of bored with the whole thing.
Sasha wasn’t bored at all. She danced with her dad and her old babysitter Jim and Pam and Andy and Lacy and while she was doing some dance with Christina she pointed out Michael as “the jerk who’s mean to my dad.” She had once referred to Michael as an asshole to Christina, but only when she knew no one else would hear her. Sasha thought of her earlier promise to Kelly at the Italian restaurant. If Michael came to the wedding, Sasha swore then, she would kick him.
Sasha knew she couldn’t do that here, not with her dad and her aunt and other relatives around. She didn’t want to get in trouble at her dad’s wedding.
“I’ll do it,” Christina said because she wasn’t a flower girl and it wasn’t her dad’s wedding.
Before Sasha could stop her she walked over to where Michael was talking to a woman. Sasha watched in awe as Christina pretended to trip and grab a nearby table to steady herself, arms flailing. Her leg jerked landing a swift kick to the back of Michael’s leg.
Michael shrieked like a girl and Christina apologized repeatedly before backing away. When she got to Sasha, Sasha hugged her friend and thanked her.
Christina shrugged. “Your dad’s always been cool to me.”
Christina went to get a second piece of cake as a reward and Sasha went to the restroom. The toilet paper, Sasha noticed, was pink and she wondered if that was a coincidence or if Kelly had requested it specifically for her special day.
The bathroom door opened while she was still in the stall. She heard one woman say, “So what do you think of the festivities?”
“Everything’s beautiful,” another woman said. “Kelly’s ideas are so original, Phyllis.”
Phyllis, Sasha thought to herself. The woman with the glasses who worked with Kelly and her dad.
“Of course they are,” Phyllis said. “But don’t you think it’s kind of...sudden. I mean, no one even knew they were dating. And to have the wedding so quickly. You don’t think she’s...you know...in the family way? With child?”
Sasha tried not to breathe. She didn’t think Kelly was pregnant. They would have told her she was going to have a brother or sister. Right?
“Of course not,” the other woman said. “And it’s not that sudden. She and Toby have been together for awhile. They were just more private about it than...we would have expected her to be.”
“We all knew about you and Jim...”
Okay. So the other woman must be Pam.
“It just seems so strange to me,” Phyllis continued. “I can’t imagine what those two would offer each other. I mean she’s so young and immature and he just seems so gloomy.”
Sasha was considering opening the door to the stall and defending Kelly and her dad, but Pam did it first. “I don’t know,” Pam said. “In some ways, Kelly’s grown up a lot these last few years. And Toby’s changed a lot too.”
“I guess you’re right,” Phyllis said after a few quiet seconds. “I have known that man for a very long time and I’ve never seen him look as happy as he looks today. It’s as if he’s a completely different person.”
He is, Sasha said to herself once they left and she was all alone. She couldn’t explain it, but her eyes began to tear up just a bit and she was crying. She grabbed the scratchy pink toilet paper and blew her nose.
Her dad was happy now. Which meant he wouldn’t be sad again and wouldn’t have to go away again.
And Kelly was happy too. Which meant that she wasn’t going to leave her dad which, her mother said, would just kill him.
Sasha hiccuped and balled her pink tissue in the trash. She opened the stall door and realized instantly why she had started crying. She didn’t feel worried anymore.
Walking across the dance floor she was spotted by Lacy who shouted out, “Girlfriend! There you are! Come dance with me!” and Sasha joined her and Andy who yelled, “Let’s do a mosh pit! And we can put you, darling Sashster, in the middle of it, and we can call it a Sash Pit.”
Sasha had no idea what Andy was talking about but still she laughed, tears pretty much forgotten, and danced, copying Lacy’s moves. She spun around, noticing her dad and Kelly sitting together, talking softly. The two of them were just beaming at each other and Sasha found herself smiling as well, a huge weight she hadn’t known she was carrying lifted off her ten-year-old shoulders.
No more worrying.
Sasha wasn’t the only one who worried.
He was definitely a worrier. And if he were being completely honest, he would have to admit that there was a second where he even worried at his own wedding. Worried that any moment during the ceremony or reception an alarm clock would ring and he would find himself awake from a very pleasurable and vivid dream, in bed, alone, unloved.
Toby forgot his silly worries when he got a lump in his throat at his first sighting of Sasha in her flower girl dress; when he felt lightheaded at his first glance at Kelly, walking down the aisle in her wedding dress, which was sleeveless and flowing. He wasn’t worried as he said his vows, enunciating like he never had before, or as he kissed his bride. No worries, just one of the happiest days of his life.
It was funny, because some of his favorite memories at the reception were of dancing. He was not a natural dancer, neither confident nor graceful, and at their first dance, the “I’ll Stand by You” song, he wasn’t his most relaxed. Even at his own wedding, he still wasn’t that comfortable with being the center of attention and maybe he was imagining it but he thought he could feel the puzzled stares of several of his coworkers, many of them unaware of his and Kelly’s relationship until they had the Save-the-Dates in their hands.
But the more he danced the more relaxed he became. He remembered having fun dancing with his beautiful daughter and twirling her around making her giggle. And he remembered another dance with Kelly. He didn’t remember what song it was; it was some slow song, nothing as laden with meaning as their first dance.
Other couples were dancing around them, but he didn’t take much notice of them. He was more relaxed now, less self-conscious. He held his wife (his wife!) tightly, breathing in the scent of her floral perfume, and she leaned in close and whispered, “Kelly Flenderson.” And she whispered it again and again, her breath tickling his ear.
“Yes,” he whispered back and leaned in and kissed her. “My wife,” he said to her then, his voice full of shock and wonder and pure joy. “My wife.”
“Hell yes,” she responded. A grin spread across her face, She stroked his cheek and he closed his eyes. “My husband,” she breathed. “My ridiculously awesome husband.”
“Did you ever think this could happen, Kel?” he asked. He didn’t know what he meant by “this” exactly; the wedding perhaps. No. Not just the wedding. Them. Did she ever imagine that they would end up together?
Kelly nodded. “Yep. Because when two people are as fabulous as we are, it’s only a matter of time before they get together. That’s how it always works.”
He laughed and as they continued dancing she told him all the fun things she couldn’t wait to do in Costa Rica (they were leaving tomorrow) and she was going to take tons of pictures to make everyone back here in Scranton super jealous. And this was definitely the best wedding party ever rivaling some that she read about in InStyle and seen on E!.
My wife, he thought to himself. My ridiculously awesome wife.
“I’m not like,” Sasha said, “anxious all the time or anything. I mean things aren’t really weird now like they were before.”
Her dad looked up from his tea. “What do you mean?”
She told him that before she was aware of the documentary people she knew would ask about him. Which was weird.
His mouth set in a thin line as he processed this new information.
“Like my babysitters and teachers,” she continued. “They’d watch the documentary and the next morning ask me if you were okay. And I’d always say yes, because I was a lot younger then and didn’t know things. But it was weird, because I didn’t know they even knew you.”
“God Sasha,” he said. “I had no idea.”
She blinked really fast. She wasn’t going to cry. Not here in front of all these strangers at some coffeehouse. She wasn’t a baby. “And after I found out about the movie being filmed at your work I understood why people were asking so many nosy questions, but it was still weird. Like they’d ask me about people you work with, like Jim and Pam, and I barely even know her. And once some teacher gave me some card with some doctor’s name on it and...”
“What?” her dad asked. He sounded kind of angry. “What kind of doctor? What teacher?”
Sasha sipped her cocoa, now cold. She told him some stupid teacher at her school - not even one of her teachers - had said she had seen Sasha’s father on TV and he seemed like a nice guy, but a little down and here was the name of someone who could help. And, if he were interested, she could also offer the name of a nice, friendly church.
“I told her you mostly went to temple, but she didn’t seem to hear me,” Sasha said.
She told her mother all about that nosy teacher and showed her the doctor’s business card. Sasha’s mom had rolled her eyes and torn up the card into little pieces and made a call to the school and had yelled and then she put Sasha’s stepfather on the phone and he yelled and after that teachers stopped questioning her about her dad.
Which was good.
The documentary was over now. Had been for awhile although it was still shown occasionally on a local channel and it was all on the internet. Sometimes even now when Sasha met someone new they would stare at her for a little bit wondering if her slightly sleepy eyes reminded them of someone they knew or they’d repeat the last name Flenderson to themselves, wondering why it sounded so familiar.
Sasha did resemble him. Was resembling him more the older she got. And she was getting older; she wasn’t a little girl anymore. Now she was thirteen, a teenager, and she had his freckles, his smile when she was feeling uncomfortable or shy (her normal smile was more like sunshine and that was all Carrie), and his eyes, slightly hooded and sleepy, although, thank goodness, hers were nowhere as droopy as his were.
He could easily imagine someone very familiar with the documentary series recognizing Sasha as his daughter.
His younger daughter didn’t resemble him quite as much. Ariel definitely took after Kelly. Wavy dark hair and features and coloring just like her mother. Ariel was like Kelly in other ways too; she was a little goofball always making faces and being silly. She loved being the center of attention.
Because he was a worrier he had watched Sasha around her half-sister. He had made it a point, from the very beginning, to stress that he would always love Sasha so much and would always have time for her. And he reiterated how special she was to him not only because she was his oldest child, but simply because she was Sasha.
Sasha seemed to be fine around Ariel and Ariel from the very beginning had adored her older sister. She followed Sasha around and shared her dolls and blocks with her and often cried when Sasha left to go back to her mom’s place.
“I love Ari,” Sasha announced one morning as he drove her back to her mom’s house. “But it’s weird to think she’s my sister.”
“Why’s that?” he asked gently. “Is it because you’re a lot older than her?”
“No,” Sasha said. “It’s cause she doesn’t look like us at all.”
She wasn’t the only one who thought that. When Kelly was on maternity leave, Toby brought in photos of the new baby to work.
Everyone oohed and aahed over her and the photos got passed around faster than Toby could keep track of them so with his luck it wasn’t too surprising that one photo ended up in Michael’s hands.
“She’s beautiful,” Michael said and it sounded so genuine that Toby could only offer a grateful, hushed, “Thank you” although he probably should have known better.
“Thank God she doesn’t look like you at all,” Michael said, handing him back the photo. “Who’s the real father? Anyone you know or is Kelly keeping her babydaddy a secret?”
Feeling dazed, he could hear a few coworkers scolding Michael, could hear a few shouting that this constituted harassment, followed by Michael swearing it wasn’t his fault the kid didn’t look anything like Toby and obviously wasn’t his. It wasn’t his fault that he was the only one brave enough to say what everyone else was thinking.
“Give me the picture!” someone yelled and Toby numbly thrust out the picture of him cradling Ariel to the open hand in front of him. Andy’s. Andy stared at the baby photo, eyebrows knitted in deep concentration. He stared at it, then at Toby, for a very long time until Toby felt even more uncomfortable.
“I can definitely see it,” Andy said after loudly clearing his throat. “Around the eyes and the shape of the mouth. No question. I hereby pronounce this child to be clearly sired by Toby Flenderson.” Andy nodded to himself and handed the photo back to Toby.
So that was that.
There was another photo taken by Kelly just a few months ago. It was of Toby, Sasha and Ariel on the couch. Toby was reading with Ari on his lap and Sasha on one side of them. Both girls were staring intently at the book and were wearing identical expressions of concentration on their faces. Blonde, teenaged Sasha and her dark-haired toddler sister both had mouths that curled up in the exact same way. The shapes of their faces looked especially similar when their chins were both tilted toward him and the book.
“I can see it now,” Sasha said after scrutinizing the photo. He had already pointed out the chins, the mouths. Sasha asked to keep the picture.
Now Sasha sat in front of him and he considered her resemblance to him. Not innocuous things like face shape or freckles; this time he studied the worry on her face, the bit lip, the pale complexion splotched pink with emotion. He thought of the ways she resembled him personality-wise as well. Sasha was a pretty, bright and athletic girl with lots of friends but still got nervous stomachaches thinking about tests or mean girls in her class. She worried about him, his happiness and well-being in a way that gave him such deja vu with the way he had once worried over his own parents.
I’m sorry, he thought, as he put his hand over hers. You are so much like me and I’m so sorry.
Earlier that day she hadn’t been anxious at all. It was cold and gray outside and she sat at the kitchen table with her book she was reading for her Honors English class. Ari sat next to her, coloring and singing to herself.
Her dad and Kelly were there too, discussing things like what to do for dinner tonight and something Lacy had done and Kelly was talking a lot, but Sasha sort of tuned her out so she could concentrate.
Not that she didn’t like Kelly. Sasha liked Kelly a lot. She was pretty and fun and generous. Sometimes she could be sort of silly and loud, but Sasha just learned to tune her out or move to another room if she wanted quiet.
Now Kelly was just pleasant background noise as Sasha read, stopping only to occasionally admire her sister’s artwork.
“Oh!” Kelly shrieked so loudly that Sasha had to put her book down. “Toby! I forgot to tell you! This is so crazy. I heard from the documentary people. They want to do some kind of follow up with everyone. I guess it’s been like five years since they stopped filming and want to just see what’s up with everyone. I guess they’ll talk to everyone like even the real boring people like Oscar or whoever but they’re especially interested in us because we got married and have a kid and are going to have another and are awesome and everything.”
Sasha stared at her dad, anticipating some kind of reaction. He just said, “Huh.”
“And I totally told them that I’d talk to you about it, but it could be lots of fun. I know they still show the documentary at night every once in awhile and I think it would be kind of cool to tell everyone how fantastic life is for us now.”
Kelly kept talking, almost squealing, and her dad wasn’t really saying anything and Ari just kept coloring and singing her little songs and Sasha couldn’t stand it anymore.
“No!” she yelled.
Kelly stopped mid-sentence and looked at her. “No what?”
“No,” Sasha said. “No more documentary. That show was horrible and it was just people making fun of my dad over and over again and no one caring at all and everyone knew about it and you shouldn’t do it again.” She stood up and glared at her stepmother. Her voice, when she spoke, was low, angry. “Do you want him to get sad again? Do you want him to go away again?”
“Sasha,” her dad said softly.
“No!” she repeated. “Don’t make him do it.”
She felt disgusted then, wondering how her stepmother could be so clueless about certain things. “You’re supposed to make things better for him, Kelly. Not worse. If you make him do this, I’ll hate you.”
On the verge of furious tears, she grabbed her book and stomped out of the kitchen into her bedroom where she slammed the door, thinking that maybe she had misjudged Kelly after all.
Ariel started crying as soon as Sasha slammed her bedroom door. Kelly stood frozen in place, a stricken look on her face, so Toby walked over to his daughter and picked her up.
“Come on,” he cooed to her. “Come on, my little eggplant.”
He didn’t quite remember when it had started, but somewhere along the way they had discovered that one surefire way to turn Ariel’s sobs into giggles was to call her by silly food names. “She’s going to end up on Top Chef someday,” Kelly predicted.
“Little asparagus,” he said as she pressed her damp face into his neck. “My little kumquat.”
When he heard her begin to laugh, he carried her over to Kelly. “Kel,” he said.
Kelly’s eyes were huge when she looked at him. “I...I didn’t think. I just thought it might be fun. I wasn’t doing it to be mean or...”
“I know,” he said. Ariel began squirming in his arms so he set her down so she could go back to her artwork. “I’ll talk to Sasha. We’ll go for a walk or something.”
“She hates me,” Kelly wailed before her eyes welled up too. “I think she’s such an awesome kid and she hates me now.”
“No she doesn’t,” he murmured. “And we’ll talk later about everything, okay?”
“Okay,” Kelly said. Toby? You know...you know I would never, ever do anything to hurt you or make you sad or upset, right?”
“I know,” he said to his wife before kissing her lightly.
She made a noise then, a loud sniffly sound, and she asked, “And you know how much I love you, right?”
Of course he knew. He knew this beautiful woman in a sparkly pink maternity top staring up at him with tears streaming down her face loved him as much as he loved her.
The Toby Flenderson of a few years ago, the one shown in the documentary, would have questioned her love, her devotion, would have questioned his own worthiness, would have questioned what someone like her was doing with someone like him.
He didn’t do that much anymore. Which was more than enough proof that Kelly had, in so many ways, made everything so much better for him.
“I know,” he repeated, before he kissed her again and headed for his oldest daughter’s room.
Sasha had seen parts of the documentary. Not the time when she was little and had been unprepared and had cried for her dad. No, she saw it again fairly recently because she was curious and even though she knew it would be better for her if she forgot that it existed because her dad was so happy now, she couldn’t help herself. She was too curious. She thought maybe it might be easier to watch now that she was older.
She watched it on a laptop at Christina’s house, away from her mom and stepdad, her dad and Kelly.
She fast forwarded most of it, because she found Jim and Pam sort of boring and Dwight was annoying and seeing Michael’s face just made her want to hit something. She only wanted to watch her dad.
Her poor dad. Her dad looked worn out and grey and his clothes didn’t fit. He sat sad and he walked sad and he talked sad and no one else really talked to him or smiled at him and Michael was mean to him, just as she expected, and then Jim was even a little mean to him, which she hadn’t been expecting, and no one ever stuck up for her dad really and as she watched, she felt her eyes stinging with tears, but kept her voice steady when she felt Christina’s hand on her shoulder asking if she was okay.
The next time she was at Christina’s, she concentrated on the parts that featured her stepmother. And it was sort of hard to watch Kelly too. It wasn’t just that she was loud and silly, but she was kind of selfish and mean too. Not to her dad although sometimes she wasn’t particularly nice to him either, but just in general. Sasha watched the way she was with Ryan too, the way she followed him around and talked about marriage and babies and how much she was in love with him and Sasha decided right then never ever to watch the documentary again.
And she made a vow right then to do her best to make sure Ariel never saw the video. That she never found out that her dad and her mom had ever been different people.
Her dad, even now after all that had happened today, was completely different than he was on the video. He smiled a lot more, had more energy and didn’t look tired. He was happy.
Kelly was completely different too. She still pretty much looked and dressed the same as she did on the documentary, but she was so nice and sometimes bought Sasha little gifts like a locket and silver nail polish for no reason. And she loved Sasha’s father a lot.
Like a lot. She was always doing things for him, like telling him what shirt looked good with what pants and baking him cookies and hugging and kissing him and although it was kind of embarrassing for Sasha to witness she was still relieved that Kelly loved her dad so much.
She loved it when her stupid know-it-all cousin was wrong.
“If you let those people film you again,” she told her dad now, “the same thing will happen. People will be mean to you and no one will care because they’ll be too busy filming you and you’ll get sad again and have to go away. And you can’t. Ari’s still little and Kelly’s going to have a baby soon and you can’t go away.”
“Sasha,” her dad said, “I didn’t go away just because of the documentary. I mean I guess being filmed all day every day at work didn’t help, but I can’t put all the blame on that.”
“Then what was it?” she asked and her voice was shaky. Despite that and the expression of unease on her father’s suddenly exhausted face, she pressed on. “What made you need to go away?"
How do you answer a question like that? She wasn’t a little kid; she was smart and perceptive and any pat answer would probably not satisfy her. But still he feared being too honest with her. Any discussion about genetics and brain chemistry could have her fearful of her own future. He could point to a horrible divorce, but he didn’t blame Carrie for his problems and he certainly didn’t want Sasha to do that. He could talk about how awful work was, but he still worked there so what did that say about him?
“Sasha,” he said but was cut off when the loud boom of thunder reverberated throughout the cafe causing several patrons to look up from their pastries and newspapers in surprise. More thunder was followed by what sounded like the beginning of a downpour.
“It’s raining,” Sasha said.
“I know,” he said.
She frowned. “And we walked here.”
Another stupid decision of his. She had wanted to stay home; he had insisted. No, but they had had a good, needed conversation, something that might not have been possible if they had been home with Kelly and Ari. He would not regret them coming.
Although he would regret not having the foresight to bring their umbrellas.
“I’ll call Kelly,” he said reaching for his cell. But Kelly was pregnant, almost due, and it was hard for her to drive. And with this weather he didn’t want to risk anything happening to her or their unborn son.
Yep. Son. They were having a boy. Justin Edward. Justin for Timberlake and Bieber. Edward for the “sexiest vampire ever.”
“We can walk,” Sasha said. “It’s not that far.”
He frowned. She was right, but still he racked his brain thinking of anyone who could pick them up.
“Come on,” she said impatiently. “Let’s go. I just want to get it over with.”
“Okay,” he said standing up. “But you have to promise me that the second we get home you’ll take a hot shower and then change into warm, dry clothes.”
“Whatever,” she said and she sounded like a normal teenage girl without a care in the world.
Which was far from true.
“Sasha,” he said. “I’ll talk to Kelly about the documentary interviews. I don’t know if I’ll do it. I’ll have to consider a lot of things including your feelings, but whatever happens I want you to know that things are so different now, okay? I’m so different now and what happened then won’t happen now. I promise.”
She looked away from him. “I know you’re different. And I want you to stay that way.”
He didn’t know what to say so he smiled at her and handed her his jacket. It was warmer than hers and had a hood so she put it on and the two of them exited the cafe into the cold rain. He put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him for warmth. This was exactly the way it should be, he thought to himself as they walked.
A father protecting and shielding his daughter from the cruel, cruel world.
Instead of the other way around.
Steph is the author of 37 other stories.
This story is part of the series, What the Kids Are Watching. The previous story in the series is Small Steps.