I nod. “Okay,” I say. I look around the dingy waiting area—the yellow walls and painfully-trying-too-hard potted plants. “You’ll be waiting out here?”
“Yeah,” he says, softly. He’s looking in my eyes, a slight grin on his lips. It’s making me feel like he wants to kiss me, and it freaks me out. Stranger danger. Except I already know what it feels like to kiss him. I just can’t remember.
“If it takes a while, you should go wait at the car with Landon and Janette,” I say. “You know…teen pregnancy and shit.”
He smiles reassuringly.
“Okay,” I say, taking a step back. “See ya on the other side.”
I’m trying to look big and bad as I walk through the metal detectors and a guard pats me down. My legs feel shaky. I look back at Silas, who is standing with his hands in his pockets, watching me. He nods his head to urge me forward, and I feel a little surge of bravery.
“I can do this,” I say under my breath. “Just a little visit with Daddy-o.”
I am taken to a room and told to wait. Twenty odd tables are scattered throughout. The woman who was in front of me in line is sitting at a table with her head in her hands while her kids play in a corner, stacking blocks. I sit as far away from them as possible and stare at the door. Any minute my so-called father is going to walk through those doors, and I don’t even know what he looks like. What if I get it wrong? I’m thinking about leaving, just running out and telling the others that he didn’t want to see me, when suddenly he walks in. I know it’s him because his eyes immediately find me. He smiles and walks over. Walks is not the word to describe what he does. He saunters. I don’t stand up.
“Hey, Peanut,” he says. He awkwardly hugs me as I sit stiff as a board.
He slides into the seat across from me, still smiling. I can see how easy it would be to adore him. Even in his prison jumpsuit, he’s set apart. It looks all wrong—him being here with his bright white teeth and neatly combed blond hair. Janette was right. We must look just like our mother, because we don’t look anything like him. I have his mouth, I think. But not his pale skin tone. I don’t have his eyes. When I saw my picture, that’s the first thing I noticed. I have sad-looking eyes. He has laughing eyes, though he probably doesn’t have anything to laugh about. I’m lured in.
“You haven’t been here in two weeks,” he says. “I was beginning to think you girls just left me here to rot.”
I shrug off the daddy vibes I was getting a minute ago. Narcissistic prick. I can already tell how he works and I just met him. He says things with laughing eyes and a grin, but his words lash out like a whip.
“You left us destitute. The car is a problem, so it’s hard for me to drive this far. And my mother is an alcoholic. I think I’m mad at you for that, but I don’t remember.”
He stares at me for a minute, his smile frozen on his face. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” He folds his arms across the table and leans forward. He’s studying me. It makes me uncomfortable, like maybe he knows more about me than I know myself. Which is probably the case in my current situation.
“I got a phone call this morning,” he says, leaning back in his seat.
“Oh yeah? From who?”
He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter who it was from. What matters is what they told me. About you.”
I don’t offer him any information. I can’t tell if he’s baiting me.
“Is there anything you want to tell me, Charlize?”
I tilt my head. What kind of game is he playing? “No.”
He nods a little and then purses his lips together. His fingers come up in the form of a steeple under his chin while he stares across the table at me. “I was told you were caught trespassing onto someone’s property. And that there is reason to believe you’re under the influence of drugs.”
I take my time before I respond to him. Trespassing? Who would tell him I was trespassing? The tarot reader? It was her house I was in. To my knowledge, we didn’t tell anyone what had happened. We just went straight to the hotel last night, according to our notes.
So many things run through my mind. I try to sort through them all.
“Why were you on our old property, Charlie?”
My pulse begins to quicken. I stand up. “Is there anything to drink here?” I ask, spinning around in a circle. “I’m thirsty.” I spot the soda machine, but I don’t have any money on me. Just then, my father shoves his hand into his pocket and pulls out a handful of quarters. He slides them across the table.
“They let you have money here?”
He nods, eyeing me suspiciously the entire time. I grab the change and walk over to the soda machine. I insert the quarters and glance back at him. He’s not looking at me. He’s staring down at his hands folded together across the table.
I wait for my drink to plummet to the bottom, and even then, I stall another minute while I open it and take a sip. This man makes me nervous and I don’t know why. I don’t know how Charlie looked up to him like she did. I guess if I had memories of him as my father, maybe I would feel differently about him. But I don’t have memories. I can only go by what I’m seeing, and right now I see a criminal. A beady-eyed, pale excuse for a man.
I almost drop my soda. Every muscle in my body weakens with the realization. I think back to a description either me or Silas wrote in our notes. A physical description of The Shrimp. Of Cora.
“They call her The Shrimp because she has beady eyes and skin that turns ten shades of pink when she talks.”
Shit. Shit, Shit, Shit.
Brett is Cora’s father?
He’s staring at me now, probably wondering why it’s taking so long for me to make my way back to him. I head in his direction. When I reach the table, I eye him hard. Once I’m seated, I lean forward and don’t allow a single bit of my trepidation to seep through my confidence.
“Let’s play a game,” I tell him.
He raises an amused brow. “Okay.”
“Let’s pretend I’ve lost my memory. I’m a blank slate. I’m putting things together I may not have seen otherwise, in my prior adoration of you. Are you following…?”
“Not really,” he says. He looks sour. I wonder if he gets like this when people don’t fall all over themselves to please him.