Miles Ryan Fisher grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and currently lives in Washington, D.C. He works as Editor-in-Chief of Italian America® magazine. In his free time, he enjoys playing in an adult baseball league and coaching little league.
The Missing One Percent
“But Dad, we really shouldn’t go in the ocean when it’s about to storm like this,” Abby said.
“I know, I know,” her dad replied. “But we’ll be quick. I promise. Then we’ll come back and unpack the car.” He looked over to Ryan and raised his eyebrows.
“Fuck it, you know I’m in!” she exclaimed.
“Hey, watch it around your dad. I don’t care how old you are, you’ll always be too young for that language … and most of the other stuff you do.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d made a comment of the sort. After twenty-two years of Abby and eighteen years of Ryan, he knew just how independent his daughters had grown to be. And he was well aware that Abby was responsible, always responsible. Beneath her long, straight dark brown hair, she was the conscientious one. The judicious one.
Ryan, however, Ryan and her defiant light brown curls were quite the opposite. Ryan flung herself into the world in a way that made demands of it. She would not be afraid. She would not be careful. And she would not care what anyone thought about her. Attitude. Ryan and her attitude. He loved that about her. She was her own person and wholly unapologetic about it. He also loved remaining oblivious to the many things she’d done by the age of eighteen.
“It’ll be fine,” he said, saying this of course to Abby.
“Abby, don’t be such a vagina.”
“Oh come on, Dad! You know I’m right!”
“Still …” He looked back over to Abby and shook his head, rolled his eyes. She laughed. She always laughed when he did that over Ryan, like it was a little joke between them that Ryan had yet to catch onto—or care to catch onto.
“Okay fine,” Abby said. “Let’s go.” She turned to Ryan. “But if you get struck by lightning, I’m not gonna save you.”
“If I get struck by lightning I’ll be such a bitch about it you’ll wish it’d struck you.”
“God I hope you know I’ve done the best I could, Danny,” he said to nobody in particular. He was able to say it joking now. Unlike before. Unlike back when those words—or that one word alone—made his eyes grow watery and his face tighten. He would’ve never spoken her name so casually. Danny. Daniela. Instead, when it first happened, he’d only refer to her as “your mom” in front of the girls. Only in private would he speak to her as conversationally as he had for so many years – first as his girlfriend, then as his fiancé, then as his wife. Then as the mother of Abby and Ryan. But eleven years had passed, and as they passed he never stopped counting them.
Abby and Ryan looked at each other without his noticing. “Okay,” Abby said, “I’ve got to go put on my swimsuit.”
“I gotta go up, too,” Ryan added. “I wanna put my new bikini on.”
“Can’t you just wear a one piece, Ry?” her dad asked.
“Yeah right, Dad. I don’t even own a one piece.”
He shook his head. “Alright. Make it fast.”
As the girls collected themselves, he stood outside feeling the wind usher in an overcast sky. In just a few weeks Abby would be leaving for a job on the West Coast, and right before that Ryan would be leaving for college. He was so excited for them. He was so proud of them. And although such thoughts would always arrive carrying Danny’s ghost, he’d learned to focus on what would be instead of what could’ve been—and especially instead of what should’ve been.
“Ya’ ready Dad?” Ryan hopped off the stairs.
“I’m pretty sure I was the one waiting.”
“Aren’t you used to it by now?” She strode down the driveway leaving her dad and Abby to catch up. She turned her head and grinned at her dad. “Come oooon!”
They dove headfirst into the warmth of a frothy ocean, letting it soak through them until the downpour started, reminding them of Abby’s initial warning as they raced back to the house.
“I’m so glad we stayed back to unpack the car, Ab,” Ryan said the moment they returned to the house. “Such a better idea than living life.”
“But there weren’t any guys on the beach that you could show yourself off to.”
“Have fun on the West Coast, Ab.”
“Have fun doing everything but growing up, Ry.”
“How about we have a wonderful week together, girls?” their dad asked. “You know, one where you don’t bicker with each other?”
Ryan dried her hair with a towel and grinned. “You know that’s not gonna happen, Dad.”
“Just … let’s unpack the car.”
Once they dried themselves off, they started unpacking the car in the open garage while watching the rainstorm continue to pound the pale cement driveway. They took out the boogie boards, the umbrellas, the crab net. The beach chairs, their bags, some games.
“Dad, what’s in that box?” Abby pointed to a little brown box tucked so far back in the car trunk she knew it was one of the first things he’d packed.
“You’ll see, Ab,” he said, reaching for it.
“Let’s see now!” Ryan exclaimed.
“You’re not old enough to see now! You’ll be old enough in a week.”
“Oh come on, Dad,” Ryan said.
“It’s a surprise.”
“You know how I am about surprises.”
“And you know how I am about surprises.”
Ryan scoffed. She knew how he was about surprises, especially when it involved those that showed her and Abby that he was thinking about them even when they weren’t aware of it.
They settled in, unfolding into their Outer Banks house that would hold the memories of their summer trip. Ever since the girls could remember, even faint memories of when their mom was still alive, they’d traveled to the coastline of North Carolina for a week every summer. And in spite of the bickering that Abby and Ryan always seemed to bring with them, by the last couple days they were wishing for another week.
Through the first few days the winds continued whipping the dunes and the sea oats swayed without appearing bothered. At high time the sand burned from a sun that had no place to go but down. And once it grew weary, it descended, easing into a calmer, gentler sun while the cool air of the night crept in until it was chilly.
They were well accustomed to this sweeping shift of Outer Banks weather and planned their days and nights and attire accordingly. The days slid into midweek without being noticed, and after the Wednesday sun cooled, they found themselves back at that house for a late lunch.
“Hey Dad,” Abby said, “Ry and I are gonna take a walk into town to look at some shops. Wanna come?”
“You go ahead. I’m just going to hang here and read a bit.” He looked at them and gave a mischievous smile. “Then once I know you’re gone, that’s when things will get crazy.”
“Yeah right, Dad,” Ryan said.
“Just be back in time for dinner, okay?”
A few minutes after the girls left, their dad strolled to the edge of the driveway and peered down the street until they fully disappeared. Once they were out of sight, he went back inside and straight upstairs to the kitchen. He took out a beer out of the fridge before going into his upstairs bedroom where he grabbed his journal along with the box of cigarettes that he’d tucked in the back of his bottom dresser drawer. He opened the sliding door attached to his bedroom, breathing in the smell of the air from the oceanside deck. He sat down on one of the knotty, slatted wooden chairs that matched the deck and slid a cigarette out of the pack he’d brought from home. His little habit, the only one he was selfish about and adamant on keeping from the girls. Well, keeping from Abby at least. If she ever found out, she’d lecture him as if she were his parent. Ryan, on the other hand, Ryan would probably join him.
He took a drag, staring into the cigarette. The only real vice he indulged in at the time he first met Danny. Now he was back at it. He watched the smoke meander off the lit end and pictured a set of brown eyes, the ones that held such spirit for the life that his cigarettes tried to steal away. He could hear her voice reprimanding him in that likable way of hers. “How could you do that to the person I … adore?” she’d say of his smoking. She always left time for that last word as if that last word had the potential to change. Adore. Love. Can’t live without. Those words evolved quickly. Almost as quickly as they’d left.
Though those words left, she hadn’t. Not to him. He imagined what’d it’d be like to sit here with a drink and without his journal or his cigarettes. He and Danny enjoying a moment of silence between them before talking about future plans now that the girls would both be gone. What would they do with all their free time? Maybe he’d coach a baseball team of boys who loved to slide, maybe she’d teach story-writing to some girls who loved to dream. Where would they travel? What would they do with all their weekends of just them again?
But these were just imaginings, possessions of his mind that he held onto in spite of feeling he’d been robbed of them--they’d been robbed of them. Fragments of her that could never be put back together.
Meanwhile, Abby and Ryan continued on their path away from him to explore the quaint little shops in town, the kind that were draped in soft whites and pastels and had shutters beside their windows. The late afternoon sun was falling yet it still brought a fierce sweat to Ryan’s forehead.
“Let’s go into Plum Crazy,” Abby said.
“No, Farmer’s Daughter.”
“Ry, they’re right next to each other. We have time to do both, you know.”
“Well maybe I want to go into Farmer’s Daughter first. You. Know.” Ryan veered off toward the store that sat to the left of Plum Crazy.
Of course we’d have to go to your store first, Abby thought. “God I don’t know how any guys put up with you. I think Dad’s the only one who can.”
They searched through the store, Ryan checking out cute clothing that she could wear across her new college campus. After twenty minutes Abby was through. “Hey Ry, you almost done?”
“No, Ab, I’m not. Can’t you just be patient for once?”
“Well I’m gonna go to Plum Crazy. Come over when you’re done trying on every single skimpy thing in the store.”
Abby skipped the short distance over to Plum Crazy, by far her favorite store. So many handmade things. Knitted blankets. Artsy crafts. Unique jewelry. Each piece of work something you wouldn’t find anywhere else. She introduced herself to the storeperson, remarking that her family came to the Outer Banks every summer and how she’d make sure to visit this store.
Ryan finally walked in, a bag in hand that Abby knew held contents she shouldn’t show their dad. After just five minutes Ryan said, “I’m not gonna buy anything in this store. Can we go?”
“Whatever, Ry. I’m gonna stay here until I’m done.”
“Fine. I’ll be out by the bay then.”
“God Dad is gonna be happy to get rid of you.” Immediately after saying those words, Abby’s voice lost its life and her irritation trailed off. Ryan looked at her and knew.
“Us, Ab. Rid of us.” Ryan’s hazel eyes softened, making them far less piercing than they had the potential to be. To see Ryan so gentle yet so protective of their dad never ceased to make the distance between her and Abby dissipate.
“Let’s go,” Abby said.
They strolled out to the bay’s walkway made of those familiar knotty dark brown boards that curled directly behind the stores. The sun started to set, and they couldn’t help but think—each in their own way—that it mirrored the end of something beautiful. They leaned against the wooden railing and felt its roughness that could at times bring splinters.
“You think … you think Dad’s gonna be alright?”
“I don’t know, Ry. I don’t know how he’s gonna be once we’re gone. I mean, I’m sure he’ll be lonely. But I’m sure he won’t complain about it.”
“Maybe he should start dating someone. You think he’d actually do that?”
“Who, Dad? When he hasn’t been with anyone all these years?”
“Maybe he has and we just don’t know it.”
“I … you think we should talk about it with him?”
“I’ve been thinking about that ever since I took the job.”
“I want him to be happy. But I guess … I just want to make sure he’ll be okay.”
Abby wrapped her arms around Ryan as Ryan’s face wrinkled. “It’ll be okay, Ry. He’ll be okay.” Her squeeze tightened. “We’ll all be okay.”
While Abby and Ryan were perusing the stores and then talking about the empty home their dad would be facing in just three weeks, he sat on the deck writing. Having smoked his cigarette and swallowed half of his beer, he’d opened his leather-covered journal and flipped three-quarters of the way through it until he reached the next blank page waiting to be filled. He thought about the first day when he and Abby and Ryan sprinted over the dunes, past the sea oats and into the warm ocean that knew a rainstorm was soon to arrive. And then it poured. And poured. And poured. Washing them back past the sea oats, back over the dunes, back to the house. It reminded him of a memory years ago, years before the girls existed, during the first week of the many he and Danny would spend in the Outer Banks.
His old college friends knew immediately once he told them he was bringing a girl on what had become their annual tradition: one week in the Outer Banks. Of all of them, he would’ve been the last to bring someone else. Though it’d been a few years, they still remembered the girl that he dated through college. Or better yet, he wouldn’t let them forget. So when he told them that he’d invited a girl, they all arrived knowing they were meeting someone who wasn’t just anyone.
He remembered one particular day from that first week, a day when the sky was overcast and the sand kicked up in the wind. The storm clouds closed in quickly, and the whole group gathered the umbrellas, the beach chairs, their bags, and hurried back to the house. And once it started, it started mid-storm. The rain plunged into the earth, its large, heavy drops splattering so hard that several little drops sprouted from them. He and Danny stood by the deck’s sliding doors and watched the storm soak the outside with no sign of relenting. He looked over to her and smiled that mischievous smile of his.
“Let’s go,” was all she said. And that was all she had to say.
I guess that day was kind of like the movies, Danny, he wrote in his journal. Only it didn’t feel that way. What it felt like was that I was truly living--that we were truly living. I think that was the first moment my friends really saw the spirit you had. For life. For living it. I think that’s the first moment they realized you and I would be inseparable.
He continued writing about that memory from years ago before transitioning into the memory from just a few days ago. You would’ve loved it so much, Danny. Not just running into that ocean, but watching our girls run into that ocean. To see the passion they have for life. I try to live in the moment with them, I really do. But you know that’s hard for me. You know it’s more than hard for me. I can’t help thinking about what they’ve missed out on by not having you here. They’ve missed out on having a mom to teach them all the things daughters need to know. But I think more so, they missed out on seeing us together. They’ve missed out on the understanding it would’ve instilled in them. I tell them stories, but that’s not enough. All that’s really left is inside that box. I hope that maybe it’s not my words that will help them understand our love. Maybe it’s yours.
He closed his journal. Another entry about her, to her. Maybe she was somewhere watching, listening.
He put the journal back in his dresser along with his cigarettes and lit the charcoal grill for dinner—and to erase any scent of cigarette smoke from his body.
After dinner he and the girls drifted onto the deck and sat down on the wooden chairs, positioning them in a slightly curved way so they could see each other while also facing in the direction of an ocean they could hear, but not see. They rested their drinks on the wide chair arms, the dad soothed by his whiskey and the girls—even Ryan—fueled by their vodka tonics. The wind began to swoop in, once again transforming a blazing day into a chilly night.
“So what are you two thinking for tonight?” he asked. “Are you going to Kelly’s again? Or some other bar?”
“Oh I don’t know,” Abby said while Ryan shrugged. “We haven’t really figured it out yet.”
“Haven’t figured it out yet?” His head fell lax. “You can tell me. You know I really don’t mind.” Then he added, “Not at this point at least.”
“Seriously,” Abby said. “We don’t have anything in mind.”
He looked to Ryan who sat surprisingly mum. “You girls …” He shook his head, smiling.
“Dad, we …,” Abby looked to Ryan, “we kind of wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Talk to me about something? About what?”
“We wanted to talk about what’s gonna happen with you once we leave.”
“What’s going to happen with me?”
“Yeah, what’s gonna happen with you. It’s the first time you’ll really be by yourself.”
“To be honest, between having you two home for the summer and getting Ry ready for college, I haven’t thought much about it.”
“That’s kind of the problem, Dad. Do you ever think about it?”
“About having more free time? Well–”
“About seeing someone new.”
He gave Abby a tired look.
“And we’re not trying to be disrespectful of Mom. You know we love her. It’s just that, have you been seeing anybody? Because if you have, you can tell us. We’re alright hearing it.”
“Yeah, Dad. I’d … we’d be fine with it,” Ryan added.
A seriousness came over his face. “If I were seeing somebody, I wouldn’t hide that from you. I’d tell you even if it would be difficult for you to hear.”
Silence passed through the breeze for a moment. Not one of them reached for their drinks.
“Well we think that …,” Abby started.
Ryan jumped in. “You should start dating, Dad.”
He gave a half laugh, something that Ryan certainly wouldn’t let slide.
“What, Dad. It’s been eleven years.”
“I know, Ry. A long time, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m--we—that’s what we’re saying.”
He looked to the ground. “It doesn’t feel like that though. It’ll never feel as long as it’s been.”
“We know,” Abby said. “We know, Dad. We just want you to … we don’t want you to always be alone from now on.”
“We went through high school watching single moms throw themselves at you. And you never did anything about it,” Ryan added.
“They weren’t throwing themselves at me.”
“Uh, yeah they were, and you know it. Just because Mom’s been gone doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of being happy. Don’t be alone for our benefit.” Ryan paused in a moment that blanketed her ever-present flames. “All I’m … you deserve to have someone special again, Dad.”
He gave a half-shy, half-sentimental smile after Ryan said this. Because Ryan didn’t think anybody deserved anything. Had Abby said it, he would’ve been touched. But Ryan, she had the ability to say the same words as Abby and have them strike. “I know,” he said.
He felt his heart turn over. He looked at his girls. They were so grown up now. How did the time pass, he thought. After Danny died he’d spent all of his time focused on the girls, on raising the girls. The only times he focused on his own well-being were the times he wrote in his journal. They were so little when she died. And now here they are, no longer needing him like they used to and still caring for him as if they did. “You know how much I’ve loved telling you about your mom? What she was like? How full of spirit she was?” The corner of his one eye teared, and he squinted. “How much she loved you?”
“We know,” Abby said.
“She …” He shook his head, his voice now lost to him. He mouthed, “She would be so proud of you.” He pointed downwards. “For this. For checking on me. She would be so proud of you.”
“It’s okay, Da ….” But Abby couldn’t make it through her words. Her stomach collapsed. And beside her Ryan had no words at all.
“I know that your mom would want me to be happy. But she wouldn’t tell me to find someone new. Because she’d know better than that. She’d know that after she died there’d never be anyone else for me.” He looked to his girls. “Ever again.”
They could see it embedded in his face—a consuming love, one that took him down with it.
“You know,” he continued, “one time—and this was before you were both born, before your mom and I were even married—we were taking a walk one night. I was holding her hand, and she looked to me and said, ‘Can I ask you a question? What is it about me that makes you so sure?’ And it wasn’t that she questioned how I felt about her. She knew how I felt. She just wanted to know how I knew how I felt.”
“So what’d you say?” asked Ryan. “You told her there would never be anyone else?”
“I told her about another girl.”
“You … what?” Abby stammered. “Why? What other girl?”
“Joey. She was a girl … my girlfriend through college. We broke up a few years before I met your mom.”
“Why would you tell mom about another girl,” Ryan said.
“Especially when she asked you a question like that,” Abby added.
“Your mom already knew about her. But she didn’t know just how close Joey and I were. She didn’t know that we’d once lived together. And she didn’t know just how much I thought of Joey. So I told her all about Joey. How thoughtful she was. How deep her heart was. How perfect of a person she really was—and would always be. That she is the most perfect person I’d ever met.”
“You told mom that? Dad, you seriou–”
“Let me finish, Ry. I told her these things, but I told her that in spite of it, there was still something missing. Something inside me. What I had with Joey, it was close. It was ninety-nine percent close. But it wasn’t a hundred. Something was still missing. And then I said to your mom,” his voice descended into something very kind and gentle yet direct, “I looked into her eyes and I said, ‘I walked away just for the chance of finding that missing one percent. And I did that knowing that I may never find it. That I may never have found … you.’ And I’ll never forget the way your mom looked back at me with those eyes of hers that always seemed to flutter. They were standing still for the very first time. She looked at me and said, ‘I’m the missing one.’ And all I could do was nod my head because I couldn’t find any words that could describe that missing one percent. Which is why I had to use the other ninety-nine instead.”
Abby and Ryan sat there, trapped in their chairs. Abby bent over, using the bottom part of her summer dress to wipe her eyes. She clutched a balled up napkin that was useless and disintegrating. Ryan stared at her glass. She picked it up to take a drink but instead held it halfway and stared through it. Her tears were as quiet as they’d ever been. It was perhaps the first time in her life that her thoughts couldn’t find their way out.
“So …,” he restarted.
“There never will be anyone else,” Abby said. He shook his head a delicate no. “Only mom. There was only mom. And this whole time you’ve known. You’ve known that for the rest of your life you’ll be …”
“Alone,” he said. He looked to the girls and such regret came over him. They don’t know her, he thought. They don’t really remember her. Oh Danny I wish they did. I wish they could have just one day with you. Just one day that they would truly remember. “The truth is,” he said. “I’d feel more alone by being with someone else.”
A breeze swept through, causing them to shiver at the coolness that cut into the air. The house rocked ever so gently beneath the stars starting to appear, the cool night creeping in.
“I have something for you girls. I was going to wait until the end of the week, but I guess now would be the right time for you to see—”
“What’s inside the box,” Ryan said.
“Unless, of course, you two have plans tonight …”
“What’s inside the box,” she repeated.
He smiled. “Go to the kitchen table.”
He set the box down on the table that Abby sat at and Ryan sat on.
“So what’s in it?” Ryan asked.
“Can you let me open it first?” He reached into his pocket for his keys and took one to the box. He forced it along the tape that held together the opening. “This box has every card, every note, anything meaningful that your mom and I ever wrote to each other. A lot of them are from before either of you were born.” When he lifted the box’s flaps an assortment of cards and messages and notes sat piled in a colorful mixture.
Abby and Ryan gazed down at the contents. Their parents. Their mom. Her handwriting. Her thoughts. Ryan’s body tingled, making her shiver. She could finally … this was her mom. She looked to her dad. “You wouldn’t have ever stopped looking for Mom. Even if you never found her.”
“Not even if all it ever amounted to was just a glimpse.”
“Of that missing one percent,” Abby added.
He nodded. “And this,” he pointed to the box, “is what it looks like.”
The girls sifted through the box and read messages aloud. Some that made them laugh, others that made them cry. And he wondered if what he was seeing was actually his own glimpse of how it would look on the day they’d uncover his journal.