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This is a sequel to "Mother's Day." Read that first
Daddy's Little Girl
"Miss Parker! You've got to help me!"
Miss Parker dropped the report she had been reading, all attention focused on the panicked voice on the phone.
"Debbie, calm down and tell me what's wrong."
"It's my dad! He wants to take me shopping for school clothes!"
Parker released the breath she had been holding and smiled slightly. "And you're concerned about what he'll pick out for you." It was a statement, not a question.
"Last week he bought some new sheets for my bed. Miss Parker, they have 'The Little Mermaid' characters on them," the girl responded with disgust in her voice. "He still thinks I'm a little kid! He'll want to get little girl looking stuff, and I'll be the laughing stock of my whole school," she moaned.
Miss Parker took a moment to make sure that the girl wouldn't hear the amusement in her voice. She knew that laughter would not be appreciated at this point. "Tell you what, Debbie, I'll try to talk with him...offer to take you shopping this weekend."
"Oh, would you really? That would be so great...if he'll agree to it," Debbie responded.
"I think I can probably talk him into it...remind him about how crowded the stores are and how much he hates that..." she paused as another idea occurred to her. "And you can get him started thinking before I even talk to him," Parker told her.
"How? I'll do anything to get out of shopping with him...threaten to run away... fix the car so it won't run...slip something in his dinner to make him sick...just a little bit, not really sick or anything..."
"Nothing that drastic, sweetheart," Parker cut in, not bothering to hide her laughter this time. "Just give him a call and tell him..."
A couple of hours later, Parker walked into the tech room and up to Broots' station before he even noticed her presence. Standing in front of him, she could tell that his focus was someplace other than this room. He was leaning his chair back on two legs and gazing upwards towards the ceiling.
"Trying to locate Jarod telepathically?" she barked, sarcasm evident.
Broots jumped, his chair sliding out from under him and dumping him unceremoniously in a heap at her feet.
"Miss Parker! I didn't hear you come in!"
"Obviously, since you were apparently off in space somewhere."
"Actually...I was thinking about something...wondering about...something...about...how to ask you...about...something..." the technician stammered as he righted his chair and climbed back into it, looking anywhere except at his boss's face.
"Awww, Broots. Were you going to ask me to the prom?"
That question earned her a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare.
"Prom?" he finally managed to whisper weakly. "I never went to the prom. I couldn't even get up the nerve to ask a normal girl, much less...I mean, who would have...with me, I mean...YOU certainly wouldn't have...even if I could have..."
"Broots," she hissed, effectively cutting off his nervous chatter, "I seriously doubt you were still lamenting your lack of a date to the senior prom."
"Oh...no..." he looked up at her. "Actually, I was thinking about a phone call I just got from Debbie."
"How is the little rug rat?" Parker asked, trying to sound unconcerned.
Broots, though, heard the affection in her voice and smiled slightly. "Not so little anymore, I'm afraid," he sighed. "Used to be, she would talk to me about anything. We could curl up on the sofa with popcorn and hot chocolate and she would talk to me about what was going on with her. Now...I just don't know anymore. She called and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. I told her yes, that I always had time for her. She just sighed and said 'never mind' that it was female stuff and I wouldn't understand anyway." He looked up a Parker, his face a picture of concern. "I would do anything in the world for that little girl, but I just don't know what TO do. I've never understood women and I have no idea how to guide her through all this...stuff..."
Parker pulled a chair up and sat down next to him. "Listen to me. You are doing the most important thing you can do for her. You let her know that you love her and that you're always there for her, no matter what. She knows that she is the most important part of your life."
"Yes, but I feel like I'm failing her by not being able to take care of the other stuff...you know, the female stuff."
"Broots, that's not your failure, that's her mother's failure. You are a great father, but there are some things that you are just not biologically or psychologically able to understand and help her through," she told him.
"I hate to impose on you, Miss Parker, but I was wondering if maybe you'd be able to talk to her...find out what's bothering her," he asked, his concern and sincerity overriding his normal fear of the woman in front of him.
"Actually, I think I'd enjoy that. I was thinking about doing some shopping this weekend; maybe she'd like to come with me. Isn't it about time for her to be getting some new clothes for school?" she asked, her face a picture of innocence.
"Yeah...we were planning to go looking this weekend. The stores will be madhouses, though, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to deal with that," he told her, his look hopeful.
"Broots, I work at the Centre. I think I can deal with a bunch of bargain hunting soccer moms," she reassured him.
"Maybe if you could help her with the...girl stuff...you know...the...um...," his face was turning so red it almost glowed and Parker resisted the temptation to make him finish the thought.
"You mean her underwear?"
"Umm...yeah...that stuff...if you could help her with that, I can get the rest of her school clothes," he finished with a gulp.
"Isn't it kind of silly to make two trips? Why don't I just take care of all of it? You can have some time to yourself, and she and I will get to spend some time together taking care of..." She stopped and looked around, her voice dropping to a mere whisper, "girl things."
"If you're sure you want to," Broots told her, "I would really appreciate it. Of course, I'll have to make sure it's all right with Debbie. I think she was really looking forward to me taking her."
Parker took a deep breath to suppress a laugh. "If you'd like, I'll give her a call and talk to her about it."
So it was that a few minutes later, Parker picked up the phone in her office and dialed a number.
"Parker here. Operation Ladies Day is a go."
After listening to Debbie's delighted chatter for a few more minutes, she hung up the phone with a smile on her face. She was surprised to realize that she was looking forward to the day as much as the girl was.
Saturday morning at the mall, though, she wondered if she had lost her mind. Even at opening time, the streets were congested. The parking lot wasn't any better, everyone racing for the spots closest to the entries. Inside the mall itself, Parker could suddenly think of a hundred other places she would rather be: the dentist...the gynecologist...a T-board...
She looked down at the girl beside her and sighed. Debbie's face was glowing as she watched the hustle and bustle going on around them. Parker straightened her shoulders, sternly informing herself that she would make sure the girl had a good time, no matter what. It would not be a repeat of her own childhood, when daddy's assistant or secretary or lackey of some sort had impatiently drug her through the store, making the necessary purchases with no consideration of her desires.
With a deep breath and a forced smile, she guided Debbie into the writhing mob.
A few hours later, they both collapsed in relief on a miraculously vacant bench near the mall food court. Debbie had a new wardrobe that pleased her and wouldn't cause her father to have a heart attack...well, at least not a big one. Miss Parker had managed to steer her away from most of the outfits that Broots would not approve of. She had, though, given in on one particular midriff baring T-shirt and a pair of tight, black leather pants. After all, Debbie was growing up and her father needed to get used to the idea.
Parker sent the young woman off to procure soft drinks and sat back, rolling her shoulders slightly to ease the discomfort caused by carrying so many bags. She was tired, but a good kind of tired...the kind of tired you get when you really enjoy yourself. She had even let Debbie talk her into buying a T-shirt that she would probably never wear. She had to admit, though, that she found something appealing about the big yellow smiley face shirt...probably the bullet hole in it's forehead.
She smiled as she saw the girl heading back towards her. Debbie was chatting amiably with another girl her age while a couple of boys followed close behind them, one balancing a tray full of sodas. The girl certainly was growing up. If the black leather pants didn't give Broots heart failure, the teenaged boys certainly would.
When the group arrived back at the bench, Debbie proudly performed introductions.
"This is my friend, Miss Parker," she announced, imbuing the name with the dignity and respect it deserved. "Miss Parker, this is Janie, Rick, and Josh," she continued, indicating the trio following her.
Miss Parker favored Janie with a slight smile before turning an icy gaze on the two boys. As Josh or Rick proceeded to stammer a polite greeting, Rick or Josh or whoever the other one was proceeded to drop the tray, sending cups and ice and soda flying every which way and people scrambling to avoid the mess.
Once the mess was cleaned up and the two boys dispatched for replacement drinks, Debbie and Janie sat down, excitedly discussing their new wardrobe purchases. Parker listened contentedly to their conversation. She knew that she wasn't the best judge of 'normalcy' where children were concerned, but in her opinion, Debbie was a pretty normal young woman...though just a little bit smarter than the rest...and prettier, of course...
"No...let's do it over at your house instead," she heard Debbie comment. The words themselves weren't unusual, but the tone in which they were said caught Parker's attention. She thought a moment. They had been discussing their new clothes...modeling them for one another. Why would Debbie not want Janie to come to her house? She continued to ponder the question as the two boys returned with drinks and joined in the conversation about classes and teachers for the upcoming school year.
After Janie's mother came to collect her, Parker directed the two boys to follow them to the car with their bags. Once everything was properly stowed, Miss Parker devoted her attention to exiting the parking area.
"Are you embarrassed by your father, Debbie?" she asked, not really liking the conclusion she had reached but unable to arrive at any other.
"Embarrassed?" the girl asked with a puzzled frown. "No...not really... I mean, he is a bit of a..."
"Geek," Parker supplied.
"Yeah...sometimes...but he's all right. Sandy Wilson, one of my friends...now her mother is embarrassing. She tries to be one of us. She dresses like us and always wants us to 'hang out' with her. She's always talking about how much she just loves the Backstreet Boys and can't wait to go to one of their concerts with us."
"That's bad, I take it," Parker asked with a small grin.
"That's gross!" Debbie corrected. "Parents are supposed to be parents. We complain about them and roll our eyes about how out of touch they are, but that's the way they're supposed to be."
"But don't ever tell my dad I said that," the girl warned.
"My lips are sealed."
Debbie nodded, satisfied with the promise. "So...why did you ask if he embarrasses me?" she asked, turning a serious face to Miss Parker.
"At the mall, when you and Janie were talking about showing off your new clothes, it sounded like you really didn't want her to come over to your house."
"I didn't say that," Debbie protested softly.
Parker threw her a look that said what she thought of that comment.
"Okay...maybe I did say that...sort of...but it's not because of my dad. She's met my dad...she thinks he's funny."
There were a few moments of silence while Debbie chewed her lip. "It's my bedroom."
"Yeah. You've seen it."
"Yes...it's very..." Parker found herself searching for the right word.
"Pink?" Debbie offered.
"Is that a word?" Parker asked.
"How would you describe it?"
"It's...sweet," Parker finished lamely.
"Yeah...sweet...for a three year old."
"Your dad worked very hard to make your room just right for you," Parker reminded her sternly.
"I know. And it was perfect...but I've outgrown all that stuff. Now, I feel like I'm going to go into a diabetic coma every time I look at it. I would absolutely die if any of my friends saw it."
Even with Debbie's tendency towards the over-dramatic,
Parker had to admit that her bedroom was a bit young for
her. As a teenager, her tastes had changed since her
arrival in Broots' home.
With a sigh and a quick glance in the rearview mirror, Parker cut across several lanes of traffic and executed a screeching left turn. Long familiar with her companion's driving habits, Debbie just hung on and kept her mouth shut.
Pulling into the parking lot of the Linens and Things store, Miss Parker was relieved to see that it was at least somewhat quieter than the mall had been. She parked the car and got out, waiting for Debbie to join her.
She was somewhat puzzled at the girl's slow response. "Is there somewhere else you wanted to look?"
"Miss Parker...when I said that about my room, I didn't mean for you to..." she shrugged, nodding in the direction of the store.
Parker raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to finish.
"I mean...I know that you spent way more money than my dad gave you on school clothes..."
She paused and looked at the older woman. Parker nodded.
"So...I don't want you to feel like you have to..."
"To buy your affections?" Parker finished for her.
"Right," Debbie agreed. "I don't expect you to buy me things all the time."
"I know you don't, and that's part of why I like doing it," Parker told her. She reached over and turned the girl, looking her straight in the eyes. "I have a whole lot of people in my life who want things from me...expect certain things from me. You are the only person in my life right now who accepts me as I am, warts and all. Just by being who you are, you make my life a little brighter, and I want to do the same for you, Sweetheart. I know that there will be things in your life that I won't be able to help you with, but I want to do what I can."
She watched the emotions play across the young woman's face. "But my dad...he won't like that you've spent so much money on me..."
"And you think he'd mention that to me?" Parker asked. "In case you haven't noticed, your dad is terrified of me."
"Yeah, I've noticed that," Debbie replied with a smile.
"Besides, I've spent more on a pair of shoes than I've spent on you today."
"Really," Parker assured her, putting an arm around her and directing her across the lot and into the store.
Several hours later, Broots returned home to find his daughter and his boss laughing gaily as they carried boxes up to the attic.
"Dad! You have got to see what we did in my room," Debbie told him excitedly, grabbing his arm and pulling him down the hall. Inside the room, he stopped and stared. Debbie looked up at him expectantly.
He looked over to Parker, seeking a clue as to how he should respond. She smiled at him innocently and prompted, "It's pretty cool, isn't it?"
"Yeah...cool..." he echoed weakly.
A glance at Debbie told him this was the correct response.
"Can I invite Janie and Sherri over?" she asked. "We need to decided what we're going to wear the first day of school."
"Sure," her dad answered, still in shock.
As she bounded down the stairs to call her friends, Broots continued to look around the room in amazement. Where once pink ruffles had dominated, black and teal now ruled, with an occasional splash of silver to brighten things. On the walls, posters of strange boys had replaced the kittens and bunnies that he had helped her hang in days past.
Long past, he realized with a sigh.
"She's growing up, isn't she?" he whispered softly.
"Yes, she is," Parker replied. "It's one of those things that kids do."
He turned to her, a desperate look on his face. "I'm not ready for this. I don't know how to deal with all this new stuff." He indicated the posters on the wall. "I don't know the difference between The Backstreet Boys and N* Sync," he moaned.
"It's all right," Miss Parker reassured him, a small smile on her face.
He brightened suddenly. "I know...I'll research...find out what kids her age are interested in...the music and stuff...take them to concerts...if I can be hip enough..."
Parker cut him off with a hand over his mouth.
"Don't you dare, Broots. Don't try to be her friend. She doesn't need you to be her friend." She hurried on when she saw the hurt expression on his face. "She has lots of friends. She has Janie and Sherri...she even has me, for what that's worth. And there are hundreds more people out there who may be fortunate enough to someday be her friends. But there is no one else in this whole world that can be her father, Broots. That's a job that only you can do."
She looked at him hard. "You are the one who will yell at her to turn the radio down. You are the one she will tell she hates when you ground her for staying out past her curfew or when you won't let her go out because it's a school night or when you won't let her go to a party because there's no adult chaperone or because her grades aren't good enough..."
"Gee...you make it sound like so much fun," Broots interrupted softly, sitting down on the bed and dropping his head in his hands.
Miss Parker pulled a chair over to sit in front of him. Gently, she took his hand in hers and used the other to lift his chin so to look him in the eyes.
"You are also the one that she will race home to, to show the 'A' on the big term paper. You are the one that she will run to, shrieking with excitement, when she gets accepted to the college of her choice. You are the one that she will be searching the crowd for when she accepts her diploma. You are the one who will someday escort her down the church aisle and say 'I do' when the minister asks 'Who gives this woman to be married?' And you are the one who will be grinning like an idiot when she says 'Daddy, I'd like you to meet your first grandchild.' You are her father, Broots, and she is incredibly lucky to have you."
They both sat there a moment, neither ashamed of the tears rolling down their cheeks.
Finally, Broots broke the silence. "Thank you, Miss Parker. I guess the rewards do far outweigh the costs."
She nodded. "You've got a great kid there, Broots. Just don't forget it."
"And we've got a great friend in you, Miss Parker."
"We?" she asked. "I'm Debbie's friend, I'm your boss, mister," she reminded him, standing up pushing the chair back under the desk.
"Right," he agreed. "And Debbie is lucky to have such a great friend," he acknowledged with a smile. "I know she can't be my little girl forever and I'm glad that she has you to help her through the transition."
She smiled back at him. "I'm always happy to help. She's good for me, too," she told him. After glancing quickly out the bedroom door, she decided to let him in on one more little secret.
"By the way...there is a part of her that will always be your little girl." At his puzzled look, she walked over to the bed and flipped up the edge of the new, deep teal comforter. From the sheets underneath, the smiling faces of Flounder, Sebastian, and Ariel, the Little Mermaid herself greeted Broots.
Dedicated to Daddys everywhere. No matter how old we get, In our hearts we'll always be 'Daddy's little girl'.