Benjamin Cunningham sat at the dinner table and stared at the empty chair across from him. The smell of the honey roasted ham, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob, that he cooked for his daughter Lydia, sat there in the middle of the table.
He ran his fingers through his faded dark brown hair and checked his cell phone to see if she had called. The time on his phone read, 5:45 pm, dinner was always at 5:30. Lydia knew this and just because it was summer didn’t mean Benjamin’s rules changed.
He dialed her number but it went straight to voicemail. Just as Benjamin was about to cut the ham for himself to eat, he heard the back door open. His daughter ran in from the kitchen and stopped in the doorway. “I know I’m late, she held her hands up in surrender, I lost track of time while I was in a bookstore.”
“That’s no excuse to be late for diner, please sit down.” He said sternly. Lydia sighed and sat down next to him. The sounds of forks scrapping against the plates and chewing filled the silence between them. “I wish mom were here.” She muttered thinking he wouldn’t hear her, he did and it was a stab in the chest.
Benjamin looked up from his plate and into Lydia’s eyes. They mirrored her mother’s. Everything about Lydia reminded him of his wife. After she died, it hurt to even look at Lydia. He had to remind himself that Lydia and Maryann were not the same even though their mannerisms were identical.
He was about to reach over and place his hand on top of Lydia’s when his cellphone rang. He looked down at the case on his belt and hit the ignore button without seeing who was calling. “Lydia, sweetie I know that…” He started, *BUZZ BUZZ*
Lydia rolled her eyes and got up from the table, “Just answer it already. It’s always an important phone call, right?” Benjamin winced when he heard the sound of Lydia’s plate being thrown into the sink followed by the back door slamming. He sighed and answered his phone.
“Hello?” “Benjamin Cunningham?” “Speaking.” “Confirm this by giving your CDC badge number.” He was a little taken back by the request and had to rack his brain for the 14 digit number. “13278294653BMC” He said unsure of a few in the middle
“Confirmed. Sorry for the extra steps Benjamin, some stuff is going on here in Houston. We need you here asap. I’m sending a private jet to pick you up around 9 from Forest Hills Airport.” "Okay, can I ask why?” “It’s better if you don’t. Everything will be explained to when once you and your partner arrive here.”
“He’s my assistant, not my partner.” Benjamin groaned. “Right, sorry. Oh and Benjamin just between you and I, tell your daughter to be careful and try to keep her at home.” “Robert what exactly are we dealing with here?”
“I have no idea, but hopefully you will.” Benjamin felt a cold shiver travel down his back. He could feel how scared Robert was through the phone; his voice wavered as if he had been crying.
He questioned whether or not he should even go. He didn’t want to leave Lydia alone, but with the closest relatives being almost 5 hours away, Benjamin didn’t have a choice. He cleaned up the dishes and cleared the table, which gave him time to decide how he was going to tell Lydia about him leaving soon.
He checked his watch, it was five minutes till seven and Robert scheduled the jet to pick him up around 9. Benjamin walked out the back door and found Lydia sitting on the swing set he built for her when she was 5. He walked up behind her started pushing her the way he did when she was younger.
Lydia glanced over her shoulder and smiled, “You’re going to pull something old man.” He laughed and sat down on the swing next to her, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
They both sat there lightly swinging back and forth. The crickets and bugs played a beautiful melody for the two of them. Lydia broke the silence by planting her feet on the ground. Gravel scrapped against the bottom of her sneakers, “You’re leaving aren’t you.” She muttered.
Benjamin looked down at the ground instead of looking at her. He didn’t know what hurt worse, the fact that she didn’t sound surprised or the fact that she knew right away. “Yeah, sweetie I am. They need me in Houston for something big.” “Do you ever get scared?” she asked quietly.
He nodded, “It’s scary to come face to face with these diseases but it’s worth it when I can help people. Something about this feels different.” He admitted to her. Lydia got up from the swing, walked in front him, reached out and gave him a long hug.
“I love you dad, please be safe.”She murmured into his shoulder Benjamin tightened his grip around her, not wanting to let go. Lydia wasn’t a very emotional person. He told her he loved her all the time but every time she said it she followed it up by calling him pops or old man, Benjamin knew she meant it either way.
“I love you too, I will, He pulled away and looked at her, do me a favor and don’t leave the house too much. I know it’s summer and you want to hang out with your friends but I would feel better knowing you’re safe while I’m away.” Lydia nodded,
“Okay I promise, I’ll stay in, watch Netflix and paint.” “Thank you.” he said relieved.