Vacation-Part Eleven

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Farnsworth Manor

7:30 PM

"Hey," Jenna walked down the garden path. Dad sat on a bench beside the lake. "I got back an hour ago and I've been packing—managed to get everything into my suitcase."

"Everything?" Dad raised an eyebrow.

"Well it was a bit of a squeeze—Mom and I had to sit on it to get it to close while Emily zipped it up. Mom told me you'd be here. What are you doing?"

"Not much—just watching the swans— and thinking."

"Mind if I sit here too?"

Dad patted the space next to him and Jenna sat down. For a few moments they sat in silence—Jenna looked at the swans as they floated leisurely around the lake. The sun was beginning to set—streaks of pink and orange filled the sky.

"Are you looking forward to starting High School on Tuesday?" Dad asked.

"I guess so," Jenna said. "It'll be nice, you know—to get to see my friends again but part of me is going to miss all of this too."

"Yeah I know just what you mean, munchkin." There was a pause. "So—Did you have a good time with Geoff and his friends?"

Jenna nodded. "It was fun. There was a little incident but after that things were okay. We had milkshakes again and then he walked me home."

"What kind of incident?"

"We got separated in Madame Tussaud's and I ended up in the Chamber of Horrors,' Jenna said. "It was okay, though—I stayed calm and I found the others—well they found me really but at least I didn't lose it this time."

For a moment Dad was silent, his eyes looking down into her own. Finally he spoke. "Jenna—that's fantastic. I'm so proud of you."

"Dad come on—it's really not that big of a deal."

"Not that big of a deal?" Dad said. "Do you realize that just a week or two ago that kind of situation would've sent you into a full-blown panic attack? Don't discount yourself, Jenna—you faced your fears and kept control of your emotions—you've taken a big step."

"Yeah," Jenna said. "I guess I did, huh?"

Dad smiled. "Well I said that you were stronger than you knew." The smile faded suddenly. "I'm just sorry about what you had to go through to figure that out."

"It wasn't your fault, though." Jenna told him. Dad looked away from her, not saying anything. "It really wasn't."

His voice was low. "Wasn't it?"

"No—of course it wasn't—I don't even know how you can think that."

Dad ran both hands through his hair. "Jenna—when you were little you used to have nightmares about monsters in your bedroom. Do you remember that?"

"I remember," Jenna said. "You would take me all around my room and the house and show me that there were no monsters hiding anywhere."

"Yeah," Dad said. "And then when you got older you found out that not all monsters were imaginary—monsters like Gary Johnston and his brother Dennis, Rudolpho Necci—"

Jenna shivered, the memories washing over her. "I know."

Dad's hand clenched into a fist. "That's when you found out that I couldn't always protect you."

"Dad you did protect me though," Jenna said. "All those times, you and Mom both—you saved my life. I mean if it hadn't been for you I just don't know what—" she shivered slightly, not wanting to think about the what-ifs.

"But you were still hurt." Dad said. "And this last time—I thought that keeping you in the dark about our careers would protect you and it turned out to be the thing that hurt you the most."

"You did what you thought was best—I know that."

"Jenna, just listen," Dad told her. "I had a very hard childhood growing up with my Uncle— the Colonel—after my parents and my grandmother died."

"I know 've told me before, but I still don't see—"

"It might seem at times that I'm a little overprotective," Dad said. "If I have been it's just because I want to spare you all of that— I don't want you to grow up like me."

"But I haven't grown up like you."

Dad took her hands. "I know you're healing," he said. "And I'm happy for you, munchkin, I really am, but I just wish that it hadn't been necessary to begin with. I'm a federal agent— and so far I've done a lousy job of protecting my own child—"

"Don't say that," Jenna said, but dad kept talking.

"—and I still worry—I worry that even after you heal you'll still have scars that won't go away." Dad took a deep breath. "Do you know that if it was within my power I would erase all of that and take away your pain forever?"

"You can't," Jenna said. "Dad—we can't change the things that happened in the past. You know that."

"Well what about the future? You're growing up so fast—there are going to be times when your mother and I won't be there to protect you."

"I guess I'll have to learn more about how to protect myself," Jenna looked over at her Dad. "Can you help me with that?" Dad was silent. Jenna could feel tears welling up in her eyes and she tried to hold them back. "Please?"

"Yes," Dad squeezed her hands. "I can help you with that."

"Thanks Dad—I think that —ouch!" Jenna cried out at a sudden stinging pain on her forehead.

Dad's expression was filled with concern. "What's wrong?"

"Darn mosquitoes," Jenna pulled her hands away from his and scratched furiously at the top of her head—already she could feel a welt starting to form. "It's probably the perfume I'm wearing and now I'll have a mark on the first day of school and everyone will think it's a pimple or a—Dad!" His shoulders were shaking up and down with silent laughter. "Dad this isn't funny—it really isn't—"

Dad shook his head. "Not it's not—it really isn't that—" He looked at her as she was still scratching and suddenly he burst out laughing again. The laughter was contagious— soon Jenna found herself laughing too.

"Oh I need to stop—I don't even know what's so funny," Jenna finally managed to gasp out, wiping at the corner of her eyes. Tears again, she thought—but not sad ones this time.

"Neither do I," Dad admitted. "But it's good to laugh—and it's good to hear you laugh." He ruffled her hair as they both stood. "Let's get inside, huh? Before your mother and Emily decide to send out a search party."

The End—Sort of but not really…