art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Shane D. Rhinewald
At ten, Darcy considered her father the center of the universe, a constant like one of Newton's laws. She had just learned about basic physics in science class the day she returned home to find out that he had gone into the stars to seek other fortunes.
"He'll come back, right?" Darcy asked when she finally found the words, blinking through salty tears. Her teacher had said that gravity drew things together and figured it would do the same for them again. She whispered, "Earth needs the sun to orbit just like we need him to circle, right?"
Her mother pulled her close. "The sun? He ain't a star, darlin'. That man's a cheat, a liar, and a drunkard. He ain't nothing but a black hole."
"You didn't love him enough," Darcy whispered. She craned her neck to look at her mother. "It's your fault."
Seven years to the day after he had left, Darcy's father returned, none the richer but a little grayer, a little thinner.
"See," Darcy said to her mother the day she received his first video call. "Gravity. No matter how much you wanted him to stay away, even you couldn't stop it. That's just how the universe works."
"Gravity ain't always a good thing, darlin', and the universe ain't all just physics. Remember that."
Darcy took things slow with her father at first--a lunch here, a dinner there. Soon, her emotional walls folded, and with them gone, the friction holding their relationship back weakened. In a month, they reached terminal velocity, despite her mother's protests.
One night they went to the park to stare at the stars. Darcy felt ten again as her father cradled her in his arms and told her about all the places he'd been throughout the Milky Way.
"Why'd you come home?" she whispered, almost asleep.