"You'll be gone almost all week?" Ava asked astonished by what she had just been told by her father.
"It's just a little promo and you'll be staying with your mom anyway."
The family was having dinner only a week since new year's. Their vacation in Hawaii was over and everyone had gone back to school.
Ava looked up at her father sitting opposite of her. How couldn't he know? She was going to say it. He needed to know. "But you never spend time with me anymore!" She said in a quivering voice. Before she could let on how upset she was, she rose from her chair and left the dining room.
Richie looked at the empty chair, taken aback. He didn't spend time with her? What was he trying to do right now then?
He turned his head to face Sarah, a confused look on his face. What just happened? He only said he needed to go to Europe next week. The tour wasn't starting yet, it was just a week.
"I guess I should go talk to her."
Sarah nodded. "Yes, you probably should." She had a feeling about what was wrong. Even though it seemed a bit late to feel that way. They had been married for over a year now, Ava should be used to that by now.
Richie put his cutlery down and got up to walk to Ava's room.
The two boys at the table had started talking again. Sarah had never noticed them feeling unhappy about their family situation. Maybe boys took it differently.
Softly he knocked on the white painted door at the end of the hallway.
"Go away." Ava's voice said from inside the room.
"Come on Ava, we obviously need to talk about this." He knew his daughter well and could already imagine the seat she was sitting in. The chair had been one of her silly ideas, at least to him, when he had bought the house. He still didn't understand what was so comfortable about a ball shaped chair that hung safely from the ceiling. Except that it might give a surrounded feeling.
Since Ava didn't answer, he carefully opened the door. He had been right, there she sat, all cudfled up in a ball shaped chair.
"You're not supposed to come in 'til I say you can."
"You didn't answer me anymore." He took the desk chair and put it down in front of her. As he sat down, he could see tearstains on his daughter's lovely face. It stung, it hurt him.
"What's wrong?" He asked to start their conversation.
"If it's bad enough to cry about, you need to tell me." Richie tried to get an answer but didn't succeed. She obviously didn't want to talk about it. "Why do you think I dont spend enough time with you?"
"Because you don't."
Her accusing voice, almost hurt as much as seeing the tearstains, if not more.
"We spend time together." Richie defended.
"Not like we used to."
Richie frowned. "Honey, I've been married for over a year now. It's a bit late to feel jealous of Noah and Caleb."
"I'm not jealous." Ava answered annoyed.
"Is it because I adopted them?"
Almost afraid to ask, he asked anyway. "Daniel?"
"No. I love Daniel."
"Then what is it?" Richie asked clueless.
Ava's eyes filled with tears.
"You can tell me anything." He reminded her. "What are you missing?"
"When I was little."
"When you were little?" He repeated confused.
"When you were home." Ava clarified, the tears escaped from her eyes.
"I am home."
"But you're leaving again." She said accusingly.
Richie leaned back in the chair as he thought back. The last year he had been busy with his solo album, two years before that he was busy touring and writing more songs. That was all he could remember about the last few years. Music and touring. Sure Ava had been there but he couldn't remember the last time he had been home with her for an entire month. With shared custody, that wasn't even possible.
As the realisation sunk in, he got up from his chair and walked out of the room.
In his own bedroom he found a photo album, a little older than Ava was herself. He picked it up and carried it back to Ava's room.
She had moved from the chair to her bed, where she layed on her stomach, her head sunk in the pillow she was holding on to.
He sat down on the bed and stroked her back. "Honey, I wasn't leaving you." He clarified.
Ava wiped her eyes before looking up. "You still have that?" She sounded surprised.
Richie frowned. "Of course I do, it's got your whole life in it, until digital photographs took over the world." He opened it to the first page, where Ava's life had started. A blurry black and white picture. The first time they had found out about Ava. The picture was so blurry, he had pointed out with a pen where embryo Ava exactly was.
She sat up and leaned against the wall.
Richied moved on the bed until he was right next to her. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close until she laid her head on his shoulder.
"I thought we could remember all the time we had together. I can't change the tour anymore now but I'd do anything for you and if that's what you want me to do, I'll do it."
Ava didn't answer but pointed at the picture. "You really had to point me out?"
Richie chuckled, "Your mom was getting annoyed that I had to ask everytime." He paused not sure if he should continue or not. "I couldnt see Daniel either on those first pictures."
Ava smiled a little.
He hoped that made her feel less left out.
They sat together as they leafed through Ava's baby pictures. A lot had changed since then but his daughter was still just as beautiful as she was on her first day. That first day was the first day she amazed him and she had never stopped doing that.
"That's my favorite picture." Ava pointed out.
Richie smiled, "Of all of these?"
"No, just of when I was that age."
"I like it too. You really were still my baby girl then."
"I'll always be your baby girl."
"Forever." Richie confirmed. "Nothing could ever change that."
He looked at the picture. He could remember the moment but was sure Ava couldn't. "Why's that your favorite?"
"Cause you're really being a daddy there. You took the time for something moms usually do."
The words stung again but he could also understand them. She was sort of right.
Ava looked up at her dad. "I love you daddy."
He smiled at her tender words, the days that she still called him daddy seemed far away but right now it felt just like then. "I love you so much baby girl." He let go of the photo album and wrapped both arms around his daughter as he hugged and held her.
"I'm sorry." He added softly.