I returned home from a long, tiring week at work to find her playing one of her DDR games, and realized that my daughter was no longer a little girl.
Like many girls who take dance lessons, she had started with ballet. At three years old, it was already clear that she had an aptitude for moving in time with music, and no one was surprised when she started begging to take other dance classes. She performed in tap and jazz and several other forms of dance, and ultimately joined a competitive dance team. While she never made it to the "top" of the team to always dance in the front-center position, her talent was definitely noticed by anyone who watched for even just ten seconds.
I had missed watching her performances, and was already thankful that she was home for the holidays, her first time home since she had started at a university on the other side of the country. But perhaps it was the several months of not seeing her perform which made me realize that she was truly a woman.
Tied back in a ponytail, her hair bounced joyously as she stared intently at the screen, watching the arrows slowly siding up the side as if those arrows somehow held the true answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She had evidently been playing DDR for quite some time, as her well-loved Hello Kitty t-shirt was sweat-stained and sticking to her torso in a way which cause the "imprint" of her bra to be quite prominent and which also drew my eyes to her chest.
It was the way her breasts moved – mesmerizing, enticing, tempting, seducing – which made me realize that my little girl had truly grown into a woman.
She certainly must have heard me come home, but she paid me no attention, her powerful legs moving rapidly, mostly exposed thanks to the white shorts. Her sweat caused the shorts to stick to her as well, clearly displaying the curves encased within and emphasizing the fact that she wore a not-so-modest panty.
And still she danced, not acknowledging me at all, not even giving a hint that she knew of my presence on the planet. She maintained the rhythm through the motion of her arms, essentially acting as her own metronome as her legs moved fluidly with well-practiced ease to a song I had not heard since the morning she left for the university.
My eyes could not stop moving. They were constantly caressing her, drinking her in. While I had seen her body move and bounce in such ways before, this time those movements and bounces took on a much stronger importance. It was as if I was seeing this young woman for the very first time and finding that I was instantly attracted to her.
She seemed to jump particularly high in the air, and when she landed with her bare feet apart upon the dance pad, they only stayed there for the space of a heartbeat, for she jumped up and down again, cheering herself for successfully completing that song. Her vertical movements again brought her femininity to the foreground of my consciousness mind, and her femininity was accompanied by a new realization which seized my mind and refused to relinquish its firm grasp:
My daughter was now a legal adult.
"Daddy! You're home!"
She had finally seen me watching her, and her voice shook me from my thoughts – on a conscious level, at least. Subconsciously, I was still coming to terms with the fact that the child I had helped to create was truly a woman. Had I missed watching her grow up, even as I had watched her grow up?
Rounding the sofa, my daughter hugged me tightly and then kissed my cheek, just as she had done since about the time she could walk. Yet this simple, mundane act, this ritual we had performed for so many years, held far greater significance this time. This time, I was very much aware of the two soft swells pressing against me, of the subtle press of her fingertips across my upper back, of the curves of her body as my arms wrapped around her waist.
She suddenly released me and practically jumped away from me as if I was evil crafted into the form of a person. "I'm sweaty!" she suddenly seemed to realize. "I shouldn't be sweating on your suit, Daddy. I'll go shower now."
I shook my head and smiled. "It's okay, baby girl," I said, instantly regretting those words because she clearly was no longer a baby girl. She clearly was no longer a girl. But I watched nonetheless as she shut down the game console and the TV and slid the dance pad out of the way before hurrying upstairs.
...yet I could still feel her womanly body against me.
"Yes, baby girl?"
"You've been looking at me strangely all evening. What's going on? Is something wrong?"
Something was very wrong indeed. Specifically, my subconscious mind was wrong in focusing on the young woman across from me as "available."
I sighed softly and shook my head. "I'm okay," I tried to assure her. Yet it was far from the truth. For the previous few hours, my eyes saw double: They saw what was truly before me, and they also saw this very same young woman – my daughter – wearing sweat-clinging clothing which emphasized her feminine curves as she danced for a game. For the previous few hours, my body remembered the feel of her body against me as we hugged. For the previous few hours, my ears kept hearing Daddy! You're home!, even when she clearly was not saying anything.
She set down her fork, concern clearly emblazoned in her eyes, and reached across the table to take my hand in hers. While certainly unintentional, her touch was electrifying.
"Daddy..." she prompted, and suddenly all the other sounds of the restaurant ceased to exist. In fact, everything outside the confines of our booth suddenly disappeared from my consciousness, forcing me to focus upon the mirrored eyes before me.
I tried to move my hand away, but it would not budge. I tried to open my mouth in protest, but my subconscious mind had apparently shut down my motor functions. I could only suffer from my daughter's touch, and I was forced to suffer in silence.
"Daddy, you're trembling..."
I was not aware of it. I could only focus upon the hand, and the arm to which it was connected, and the shoulder, and the torso, and the neck, and the face, and the eyes so full of concern and love...
"Are you sick?"
Without question, I was sick. Only a man sick in the head could possibly contemplate a desire for his own daughter.
"Was it something you ate?"
At those words, I suddenly envisioned her laying before the fireplace at the winter cabin, displaying her full nudity for me, her thighs parted, her desire already seeping from her body as I bent forward to taste her...
I was suddenly able to draw my hand away and close my eyes as I leaned back in the booth. "I'm okay," I attempted to assure her. Yet even with my eyes closed, I could still see her upon the floor, naked, giving herself to me, ready for my oral attentions...
"Let's go home," she said with concern clearly evident in her voice. "You've been working far too much for these past few years since the divorce, and maybe it's finally catching up to you."
I sighed, opening my eyes again. At last, the sights and sounds of the busy restaurant began to permeate my senses again. "I'm okay," I said again for what seemed like the millionth time. Reaching for the glass of water, I suddenly realized that my mouth was as dry as the Arizona desert in June. I was aware of the rapid beat of my heart, and it seemed to be pounding so hard within my chest that I wondered if my daughter would notice a slight flutter of my shirt if she looked intensely.
Actually, she was looking intensely at me, but not at my chest. She was studying me, pondering what she was seeing, trying to determine what it meant. I finally set the glass down, devoid of all but a few ice cubes as my eyes met mine once again.
"I love you, you know," I said softly, almost uncertain why I had said it at that particular moment.
"I know, Daddy." She tilted her head, the same way she usually did when she did not understand something. "And I love you. I always have."
"Even despite my old age?"
That utterance completely shocked me, and her eyes widened for a moment. Then she relaxed and smiled.
"I understand now," my baby girl noted aloud. "You just realized that I'm a woman, didn't you?"
The way she said it was not accusatory. It was not full of pity. It was said with genuine curiosity.
...and it was said with a hint of something more.
We were both silent for a long time, simply looking into mirrored eyes, until I finally broke the silence. "I realized it when I came home from the office today," I admitted at last. "Even though I've seen you dance for almost your entire life, even though I've seen you in more revealing outfits in your performances, somehow, today, when you were playing DDR when I came home..."
The waitress came by to check on us, and my baby girl shooed her away rather quickly.
"I know that you haven't been seeing anyone," my daughter said softly, her voice almost lost in the general din of the Friday night crowd. "You must be lonely. You saw me and somehow realized that I'm a possible companion for you, right?"
Again, it was not accusatory, nor was there pity in her voice. There was simply a genuine concern.
...and a genuine love.
"Let's go," she said. "I'll drive."
I honestly do not remember the ride home, other than the vague memory of sitting in the passenger seat of my own car. But I clearly remember standing in the living room and hugging my daughter tightly as tears streamed down my face, my body reacting to her presence as my conscious mind filled with shame and my heart tried to leap into her chest.
Yet, she was not repulsed. My daughter was not sickened or frightened by the fact that her own father desired her as a woman. She was not concerned that the one person who had always tried to be the strong shoulder of her life was sobbing upon her and clutching her with the desperation of a nearly-drowned swimmer. In fact, she was squeezing me just as firmly, threatening to never let me go.
And just the fact that she was not trying to push me away, either physically or emotionally, made me realize that perhaps, just perhaps, she was the woman fate had deemed was the perfect match for me.