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November 9(6)
Author: Colleen Hoover

Once my contract was canceled, we never spoke about the possibility of me acting again. We never really speak at all anymore. He’s gone from being the father who spent his entire days on set with me for a year and a half, to the father whom I see maybe once a month.

So I’ll be damned if he doesn’t finish what he was about to say. I’ve been waiting two years to hear him admit that my looks are why I no longer have a career. Until today, it’s always just been a silent assumption. We never talk about why I no longer act. We only talk about the fact that I don’t. And while he’s at it, it would also be nice to hear him admit that the fire also destroyed our relationship. He has absolutely no idea how to be a father to me now that he’s no longer my acting coach and manager.

I narrow my eyes in his direction. “Finish your sentence, Dad.”

He shakes his head, trying to dismiss the subject entirely. I arch an eyebrow, daring him to continue.

“Do you really want to do this right now?” He glances in the direction of Ben, hoping to use my pretend boyfriend as a buffer.

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

My father closes his eyes and sighs heavily. When he opens them again, he leans forward and folds his arms on the table. “You know I think you’re beautiful, Fallon. Stop twisting my words. It’s this business that has higher standards than a father does, and all we can do is accept it. In fact, I thought we had accepted it,” he says, cutting his eyes in Ben’s direction.

I bite the inside of my cheek in order to refrain from saying something I’ll regret. I’ve always known the truth. When I saw myself in the mirror for the first time in the hospital, I knew everything was over. But hearing my father admit out loud that he also thinks I should stop following my dreams is more than I was prepared for.

“Wow,” Ben mutters under his breath. “That was . . .” He looks at my father and shakes his head in disgust. “You’re her father.”

If I didn’t know better, I would say the grimace on Ben’s face is genuine, and he isn’t just acting.

“Exactly. I’m her father. Not her mother, who feeds her whatever bullshit she thinks will make her little girl feel better. New York and L.A. are filled with thousands of girls following the same dream Fallon has been following her entire life. Girls who are wildly talented. Exceptionally beautiful. Fallon knows I believe she’s got more talent than all of them put together, but she’s also realistic. Everyone has dreams, but unfortunately, she no longer has the tools it takes to achieve hers. She needs to accept that before she wastes money on a cross-country move that isn’t going to do a damn thing for her career.”

I close my eyes. Whoever said the truth hurts was being an optimist. The truth is an excruciatingly painful son of a bitch.

“Jesus,” Ben says. “You are unbelievable.”

“And you’re unrealistic,” my father replies.

I open my eyes and nudge Ben’s arm, letting him know I want out of the booth. I can’t do this anymore.

Ben fails to move. Instead, he slides his hand under the table and grips my knee, urging me to stay seated.

My leg stiffens beneath his touch, because my body is sending mixed signals to my brain. I’m pissed at my father right now. So pissed. But somehow I feel comforted by this complete stranger who is taking up for me for no apparent reason. I want to scream and I want to smile and I want to cry, but most of all, I just want something to eat. Because now I’m actually hungry and I wish I had warm salmon, dammit!

I try to relax my leg so that Ben doesn’t feel how tense I am, but he’s the first guy in a long time to actually physically touch me. It’s a little weird if I’m being honest.

“Let me ask you something, Mr. O’Neil,” Ben says. “Did Johnny Cash have a cleft palate?”

My father is quiet. I’m quiet, too, hoping there’s an actual point to Ben’s random question. He was doing so well until he started talking about country singers.

My father looks at Ben as if he’s crazy. “What in the hell does a country singer have to do with this conversation?”

“Everything,” Ben quickly replies. “And no, he didn’t have one. However, the actor who portrayed him in Walk the Line has a very prominent scar on his face. Joaquin Phoenix was actually nominated for an Academy Award for that role.”

My pulse quickens when I realize what he’s doing.

“What about Idi Amin?” Ben asks.

My father rolls his eyes, bored with this line of questioning. “What about him?”

“He didn’t have a lazy eye. However, the actor who played him—Forest Whitaker—does. Another Academy Award nominee, funny enough. And winner.”

This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone put my father in his place. And even though this entire conversation is making me uncomfortable, I’m not too uncomfortable to enjoy this rare and beautiful moment.

“Congratulations,” my father says to Ben, completely unimpressed. “You listed two successful examples out of millions of failures.”

I try not to take my father’s words personally, but it’s hard not to. I know at this point it’s become more of a power struggle between the two of them, and less about him and me. It’s just really disappointing that he’d rather win an argument against a complete stranger than defend his own daughter.

“If your daughter is as talented as you claim she is, wouldn’t you want to encourage her not to give up on her dreams? Why would you want her to see the world the way you do?”

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