Ten-year-old Lily had trouble sleeping at night, so she read her favorite fairy tale books until she got tired. But she heard a car pull up to her house and saw her father sneaking out. She had no idea what to do except tell her mother, whose expression revealed that this had happened before.
Going to sleep was usually pretty easy for Lily. She always thought about her day, what she and her friends did, what her parents did, and sleep just came. But that night was different. She just couldn’t shut her mind off and rest. She tossed and turned all several times until she got up with a huff, grabbing her teddy and deciding to go to her parents’ bedroom.
However, her hand froze on the handle. She wasn’t supposed to do that. She was ten and would be turning eleven in a few days. Running to mommy and daddy was simply not cool at her age. So, she plopped down on her bed, thinking hard.
Fortunately, it was Friday night, which meant no school tomorrow, so she chucked her teddy on the bed and went to her bookshelf, grabbing her favorite stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. Her copies had a few drawings of Disney characters. Therefore, it was like watching a movie.
She looked at her phone again in the morning and saw the evidence.
She got lost in stories about castles and slaying dragons until a random, noisy car pulled up too close to her house. She saw the headlights reflected on her ceiling and walls, and suddenly, the sound of a door rumbling open. Lily rushed out of bed to the window in time to see her father running to a pickup truck parked on the sidewalk in front of their house.
He got in, and the truck drove off. She had no idea what to do with that information. Should she wake up her mother? Somehow, she knew her father had sneaked out, so she didn’t want to tell her mother that quickly. There was probably a good explanation.
Lily returned to bed after a few minutes and picked up her book. She kept reading, although the words didn’t make sense because her thought remained on her father sneaking out in the middle of the night. Is he not coming back? she wondered at some point.
Finally, sleep overtook her, but she woke abruptly when the noisy truck pulled up again. She ran to her window, wiping her eyes and yawning. It was still dark outside, but she saw her father sneaking back into the house. She rushed to her door, thinking about confronting him but stayed behind her door.
“Oh my, we’re out of orange juice. I’m going to pop quickly to the store and come back,” Lily’s mother, Lynn, announced after serving them a big pancake breakfast, which was their Saturday tradition.
“Honey, we don’t need orange juice,” her father, Frank, grinned.
“Yes, we do,” Lynn said, putting her hands on her waist. “It wouldn’t be our Saturday breakfast without it. Besides, the store is near. I’ll be back in five minutes. Tops.”
Lily saw her mother run out of the house and smiled as her father laughed and shook his head. “Let’s wait for her, Lil,” he said, and she nodded.
“I saw you last night,” Lily said without preamble.
“What?” Frank asked curiously.
“Last night. I saw a truck pull up, and you left. You were back a few hours later, but it was still night,” Lily explained and waited for her dad to confirm.
However, Frank leaned his head to the side and pursed his lips. “Lil, I think you might’ve been dreaming. Why would I leave? I was here all night.”
“No, you left. I saw it. And I saw you come back, too,” Lily frowned.
“You didn’t, sweetie. I was asleep right by your mother the entire night,” he continued, and his clear, innocent face made her doubt it.
Had she imagined it? Perhaps she had been more sleepy than she thought. Lily wanted to ask some more, but her mother was back home.
“I’m back! Boy, that was quick! I didn’t want the pancakes to get cold,” she laughed and breathed heavily. She must have run to the store and raced to pay. Lily saw her father smiling and congratulating her, so she decided to keep quiet. The entire incident might have been a dream.
Lily was sleepy that night, so she didn’t read at all. She went to bed and fell right into a deep slumber. However, it wasn’t deep enough because the rumble of the truck woke her up. She rushed to the window and saw her father running. The young girl scrambled to find her phone but wasn’t fast enough. The truck left.
Lily snapped her fingers at the missed chance. Her father had tried convincing her he hadn’t sneaked out, but the young girl was wide awake now and had seen the truth. However, she couldn’t tell her mother if she couldn’t prove it, so she tried to stay awake to at least catch him returning. Unfortunately, she couldn’t. By the time she woke up, it was already morning. Another missed chance.
The next night, she was determined to catch her father, so she even sneaked out of her bedroom after her mother went to sleep to grab some of her leftover coffee. She rushed to her room and waited by the window with her phone in hand.
“Aha!” Lynn stood, wiping her jeans and trying to save face. “I caught you!”
Once again, the truck was there. Lily had no idea how her mother didn’t wake up. It was so loud. But she grabbed her phone, hit record, and caught the dark figure of her father running to the truck. She had to wait more hours to see him returning, but it was worth it.
She looked at her phone again in the morning and saw the evidence. Her father lied to her when she asked earlier, but the videos were proof of his sneaking. It was Monday already, and she had to get dressed for school.
“I have to leave early, darling. I have some meetings,” Lily heard her father say when she got downstairs. He waved goodbye to her and rushed out the door.
“Lil, eat fast. We’re going to be late for drop off,” Lynn called out to her, setting her cereal on the table.
“Mom, I have to show you something,” she pulled out her phone.
“Oh, don’t tell me it’s one of those TikTok dances I don’t understand,” Lynn groaned and laughed.
“No, it’s not. Mom, I saw Dad sneaking out of the house since Friday night. I could only record last night,” Lily said sadly, giving her mother the videos.
Lynn’s forehead wrinkled in concern, and her expression grew increasingly worried as the video continued. She wet her lips and wiped the sweat from her neck as if in deep thought.
“Is everything OK? Why is Dad doing that?” the young girl asked, and Lynn stared at her with the same worry for a second. But it was gone in a flash.
“Lil, your father got a second job to earn a little more money. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry,” her mother explained, patting her head in reassurance. “Everything is perfectly fine. It’s just money.”
“Oh. But are we in trouble?”
“No, no, no, dear. We have a few plans for the end of the year, and hopefully, this money will make it happen. Alright?” Lynn said. Lily’s shoulder finally eased up, and she sat to eat her breakfast. It was nothing. The entire sneaking out was nothing to worry about, the young girl thought happily.
Lynn hated lying. She and her daughter had one of the best relationships ever, and their whole was so close. Unfortunately, she had to lie to Lily about her father sneaking out, because the truth is, she had no idea he was doing it. She never heard him leave their bed or the truck or anything. But she might know why he was doing it.
In the past, Frank struggled with gambling problems. He would sometimes blow away hundreds of dollars in one night, but that all stopped when Lynn got pregnant. She put her foot down and told him to get help, or she would be divorcing him. He went to a support group and a therapist for his issues.
Everything had been great since then.
However, he was back to his old habits. That had to be the explanation for his sneaking out, but she couldn’t confront him with her daughter’s videos just like that. He would lie and try to sneak out some other way. That’s what happens with addiction. She had to catch him in the act herself.
She pretended to fall asleep that night at the time, as always, but she wasn’t. Resting was the thing on her mind. So, she felt his movement on the bed and waited until she heard the door. To his credit, he was really quiet. No wonder I didn’t notice anything the last few days, Lynn thought as she got out of bed.
This time she saw the truck and ran carefully downstairs, grabbed her car keys as the car drove off, got into her sedan, and followed. She was far from them but didn’t lose track. The truck pulled up to a house only a few blocks away from their own, and several people got out, including Frank’s old friend, Joey, whom Lynn had never liked.
They went into the garage. She had no idea who owned that house or why they were going straight to the garage, but their sneakiness at night only confirmed Lynn’s suspicions. So, she waited a few moments, parked the car, and got closer. Their voices could be heard clear as day.
“My daughter caught me the other day, but I convinced her she was dreaming. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sneak out more,” she heard Frank, and her heart fell.
“You can do it, man. We’ll be more careful. I shouldn’t reach pick you up right at home. You could walk a few houses down, and I’ll drive there,” Joey suggested, and it seemed like Frank agreed.
Lynn had had enough. It was time to catch them, so she went to the side door, twisted the knob easily, and went inside. However, in her haste to get this done, she didn’t see an obstacle right by the door and tripped, falling on her face.
“Lynn?” Joey said, surprised.
“Aha!” Lynn stood, wiping her jeans and trying to save face. “I caught you!”
She was expecting to see Frank, Joey, and whoever else was here to be sitting at a poker table or something like a gangster casino movie. However, they were all in paint-covered overalls and had paintbrushes on their hands. They all looked at her in puzzlement.
“What’s going on here?” she asked awkwardly.
“There’s no better gift than that.”
“God! Lynn, did Lily tell you? Gosh! Why did you follow me?” Frank asked, not frustrated but disappointed.
“I…thought you were gambling again!” Lynn stuttered but realized she wasn’t in the wrong. “Or hey, why were you sneaking out?”
“I was trying to surprise you and our daughter!” Frank revealed, sighing. “It’s our 15th anniversary and our daughter’s eleventh birthday in a few days. I wanted to do something special for my girls.”
“So, you’re doing….wow, all this?” Lynn asked, walking further into the garage and smiling. Joey and Frank’s other friends smiled as they explained their work.
“What do you think?” Frank asked his wife.
“It’s wonderful. I’m sorry I ruined the surprise,” Lynn said, smiling and touching her chest. Her husband’s plans floored her.
Life went on as usual once Lily’s mom assured her everything was alright between them. She never noticed her father sneaking again and slept all night because she wanted her birthday to arrive quickly.
She woke up ecstatic to be 11 and wanted to get downstairs right away. However, there was a dreamlike fairytale dress on her desk with a Post-it that read: “Put it on before going downstairs!”
She rushed to get dressed, combed her hair, and put a little glitter on her face to look even more magical. It was her dream look, so Lily rushed downstairs for her mother’s opinion. Lynn was waiting for her at the bottom step.
“Happy birthday, beautiful!” she said, and Lily saw a big tiara in her hands.
“Yes! You wouldn’t be a princess without a tiara!” her mother continued and put it on.
“This is awesome! I’m a princess, just like in my books!” Lily spun in her big, puffy dress.
But Lynn pursed her lips and scratched her chin. “You know… you’re not a princess yet,” she said conspiratorially.
“What? Why?” Lily asked, stopping mid-spin.
“A princess needs…a castle,” Lynn said, exaggerating her voice and moving her fingers. Then, she pointed at the door. Lily’s eyes widened, and she almost tripped to reach the front door.
Their garden was gone. Instead, she saw a fairy tale castle like Cinderella’s castle at Disney (only smaller and made with cardboard) with other details from her favorite stories. It was huge and glittery. There was a balcony made for a princess. It also covered every inch of their front yard.
Lily’s eyes watered at the vision, and then, her dad appeared from behind one of the castle walls. “Surprise! Happy birthday, baby!” he cheered, and she ran to his arms to cry openly on his shoulder. “Oh, sweetie. Don’t cry!”
“Thank you! Thank you!” she said through sobs. Lynn came out and joined their huddle.
Once Lily calmed down, she explored the wooden castle her dad had made, and he explained every part. She went up to the “balcony” and saluted them just like they did in “Princess Diaries.”
“Thank you for being here today,” Lily quoted the movie.
Soon, her friends showed up, all in princess dresses and tiaras. The boys wore costumes and carried fake swords. They ran and played makeshift. Her parents had also hired someone to dress like a dragon so that they could continue their fairy tale time.
It was the perfect birthday, one Lily would not forget for many years, and Lynn was happier than ever.
“Thank you for this, honey. See her that happy is exactly what I wanted for our anniversary,” Lynn told her husband that night when the party had ended.
“You gave me her on our anniversary years ago. There’s no better gift than that, but I wanted something special this year,” Frank nodded, and they fell asleep, cuddled, knowing their princess had the best day ever.
What can we learn from this story?
It’s better not to sneak around and tell your spouse the truth. Frank should’ve told Lynn he was planning something special instead of sneaking without her knowledge because he had a tricky past.
Kids are smarter and pick up on things better than you can imagine. Frank shouldn’t have underestimated her daughter or lied to her about what she saw.
Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.