A small book fell to the floor as Frank lifted the newspaper from the table beside his armchair. Curious he picked it up and studied the deep maroon dyed leather cover and its fine stitching, he ran his fingers gingerly over the engraved Chinese symbol on its face.
Of course he had recognised the book as soon as he saw it hit the floor. He had bought it himself as a gift for his daughter Suzy many years ago on a business trip to China and he knew the symbol represented 'love'. But now, after years of it being secreted away on its duty as Suzy's diary, it seemed somehow very different to the item he had purchased from a young girl on the street in some village he could no longer remember the name of. That girl was a similar age to what Suzy was back then and that alone had been the deciding factor in choosing it as a gift for his only daughter. Frank recalled that his son Tim, at nine years old, had been much easier to buy for; a cheap CD player and a pair of dueling Kung-fu puppets fitted the bill perfectly.
Suzy also got a CD player but puppets didn't seem right for a twelve year old girl. The book, with its exquisite hand crafted cover had seemed perfect for his darling little girl - even though it cost twice as much as Timmy's puppets and CD player together. Such a beautiful book would be wasted on Tim. He'd just sneer at it and toss it aside, never to be glanced at again. Suzy on the other hand was more inclined to appreciate the amount of thought and love that had gone into choosing this gift, yet alone the workmanship. As was proven upon presenting the gifts to his children when they met him at the airport with their mother.
Timmy had been rapturous toward the CD player; he had been begging for one for months. He was a little upset he didn't get any CD's to play on it during the car trip home but kept himself amused with the puppets for the full hour long trip.
Suzy had thanked her father politely for the CD player but absolutely gushed over the book. She held it like it was a priceless artefact and all the way home she studied and caressed its cover, occasionally looking up to ask questions about where it was bought and titbits about the seller. Frank recalled how she smiled from ear to ear as he described the girl and then her delight when he said he had a photo of the girl on his camera. She was practically bouncing out of her skin as Frank scanned through a hundred or more photos to show her the solitary image from the two inch screen on the back of his camera.
As soon as they were home Suzy vanished upstairs to the study to download the photos from the camera’s memory and print the image of the Chinese girl.
Frank remembered his wife, Polly, catching him grinning like the Cheshire Cat as he watched Suzy race up the stairs, "You look pleased with yourself" she remarked with a smile. Fortunately the gifts he had chosen for her were also well received; a full Gongfu tea set and a bottle of her favourite perfume - so, he thought, he had every right to be pleased with himself.
Returning his focus to the book Frank found himself fondling the small jade toggle that slipped through a pair of leather straps, holding the book closed. What had Suzy written in this diary? What stories could be inside? Secrets that maybe he never knew about his daughter and maybe never should. He sat down on the armchair and troubled over these questions for several minutes as he continued rolling the jade around on his finger tips. Finally he slipped the toggle out of the loops and opened the cover. It was such a splendid looking book. The back cover folded over the pages and formed an inner cover. Under this Frank found the photo of the young Chinese girl. He smiled and quietly thanked her for bringing so much joy to Suzy's life - and, by result, his.
He read the first page, It seemed harmless enough; Suzy wrote beautifully, as if she was writing to the girl in the photo, whom she had named Ying. She thanked her for passing the book to her father and spoke of destiny and ancient worlds coming together. They were both now somehow interconnected. "How cute," Frank chuckled.
As he thumbed through the pages he read snippets of Suzy's life; who her friends were, who she didn't like and why. The books, films and music she liked. All the usual things one expects to find in a twelve year old girls diary. Frank laughed especially at how Suzy described the skiing holiday the family went on that year. Suzy really struggled with skiing lessons but Frank was proud of her for sticking with it. Even though, on the first two days, she fell over more than she actually skied. By the end of the week, however, she had pretty much mastered it and was keen to take on the harder runs.
Frank moved on a dozen or so pages. Suzy was in her early teens now. He could tell without even looking at the date. She spoke of bras, shoes, boys, hatred of her parents for not letting her go camping with her friends - on a weekend away with some older kids who had only just got their driver’s licenses, Frank recalled. He was shocked to learn that being denied from going to a Marilyn Manson concert was apparently enough for her to contemplate suicide. Thank god she got over that!
On the next page, Frank found the thing he didn't really want to know but in the back of his head had expected to find at some point after opening the diary; Suzy's first sexual encounter. Unfortunately it was with the one boyfriend of Suzy's that Frank had liked the least, that shitty little punk Kane. At sixteen - two years older than Suzy - the boy had piercings in his nose, lip and eyebrow, not to mention the umpteen he had in his ear lobes. He had long black moppy hair that fortunately covered most of these horrific looking things. Frank swore the boy was a mute as the only noises that he seemed to make were grunts. Anyway, this lowlife had had his hands on his little girl's still developing breasts and had even had the gall to try to put them down her panties. To make matters worse this happened upstairs in this very house. Thankfully Suzy had pushed him away. Frank turned to the next page and found that eventually Kane gave up chasing Suzy for easier prey - which of course broke her heart.
Frank was furious, but at the same time, proud of his daughter nonetheless. He thumbed on and found that Suzy soon recovered and even moved on from her Marilyn Manson phase to more cheerful musical tastes and seemingly nicer boys... who still wanted to get into her pants - something every father fears as they were all once teenage boys and know what goes on in their dirty little minds - but at least they treated her respectfully and just as importantly showed respect to Frank and Polly.
It was then that a second thing that would shake Frank's emotions dropped to the floor. Something far more shattering than the knowledge of his daughter's love-life.
This solitary object, a simple white crushed flower, reduced Frank to tears as soon as his eyes had sighted it. He dropped his head into his hands and sobbed.
Slowly he wiped back the tears, bent down and picked up the flower. He cradled it gently, delicately and tenderly as if it were a living creature of splendid beauty and grace. His heart heavy he recalled how Suzy had carefully removed this one flower from her mother's wreath and clutched it to her chest. She was sixteen years old and at a time when she needed her mother more than ever before in her life. That had been a tough time in Frank's life as well. For a full year he had struggled with grief and torment at the sudden loss of his beloved wife. She had left for work, like any other morning but on that fateful morning a truck had changed lanes on the freeway without noticing Polly's car and she was slammed into a concrete barrier before she even had time to react.
Four tormaltrous years later, Frank sits in an armchair and stares off toward the mantelpiece where a portrait of his wife looks across the room at him. "I miss you Pol. I love you."
He was not sure how long he had been sitting there staring at the photo, clutching Suzy's diary and holding that lily in the palm of his hand when he became aware of someone beside him. He looked up to find Suzy. She rested her hand on his shoulder and he reached up and gave her the lily. She moved beside him, crouched down and embraced her father. They cried together.
Finally Frank whispered, "Sorry Suzy, I read your diary".
"That's alright Dad." Suzy responds, "I found it last night and forgot to put it away."
"Still, I shouldn't have read it" Frank apologised.
"Really, it's OK Dad. That stuff was years ago. Besides, that diary was the best present I had ever received", Suzy replies. "From anyone." she adds.
Frank smiled, "I'm glad you told that punk, Kane where to go", and they laughed together.