A soft sniffle broke through Olly's weighty thoughts as he walked with Nina away from Jamin. He looked down at his daughter's lowered head. In the corner of his eye, he noticed a gloved hand reach quickly and silently up to wipe something from her eyes. Nina was crying. His heart sank as he realized what he'd just done.
Why hadn't he even considered Nina's thoughts and desires during his exchange with her young friend back there? Did she think she was in love with this young man? Why hadn't Nina or Monica told him about Jamin? Why was Nina meeting with him in the streets after dark? Was their rendezvous really as innocent as they'd both claimed? He was not prepared for a teenage daughter! He was still very numb to the idea of Nina being sixteen years old. She was only a little girl in his mind, in his heart.
What would Monica be saying right now if she'd been privy to his calloused response toward the polite young man? He could see the disgust in her eyes now, and hear the criticism she would be hurling at him for not caring any more about his daughter's feelings. She was one to talk.
He could hear Monica's incriminating words from not even an hour ago proclaiming the severity of his absence. With fresh conviction, they came ringing back to his ears, and his heart sank deeper. Should he be keeping these two young hearts apart? Was he replacing his absence in Nina's life with anarchy? Did protecting Nina have to look this way?
Olly had already severed fellowship with his wife this night. He didn't want to lose his daughter as well!
Coming to an abrupt stop, Olly turned toward Nina and looked gently into her eyes. “Were his words truth?” he asked her before he lost his nerve.
Trying to look strong, she nodded, “Yes, Daddy.” There was no deceit in her face.
“And you feel the same way about him that he does about you?”
She nodded, hope growing.
For good measure, and to lighten the mood, he asked with a twinkle in his eye, “And you really are sixteen? That's not just in my imagination?”
She managed a small laugh, and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Daddy, I really am a big girl now–believe it or not–and yes, I like him very much. Will you just give him a second chance before he rides away and I may never see him again?”
Now he felt like crying, but he gave a slight nod, and looked behind them to where Jamin and his ride were clodding away. “Young man!” he called.
The clip-clop of the horse's hooves paused on the hard surface of the street, and Jamin's head spun in their direction. “Sir?” came the uncertain reply.
“I…may have spoken a bit in haste. If the two of you would like a few more minutes together, perhaps you could walk my daughter home. I will meet you there.”
Still looking at Jamin, Olly squeezed Nina's hand, which was still in his, then turned–head whirling–and started home. Before he rounded the corner of the street, he turned to look back at them once more, and smiled–just a little bit–when he saw Nina running toward Jamin's glowing face.
There wasn't much to compare in this world to the joys of young love.