“Did you happen to father another daughter? I don’t know, maybe one with a crazy mother who would hold me against my will?”
His face turns white. He immediately starts to deny, turns his body away from me, and calls me crazy. But I saw the panic on his face, and I know I’m on to something.
“Did you hear the last part of my sentence or are you just focused on keeping up appearances?” He turns his head to look at me, and this time his eyes are no longer soft. “She kidnapped me,” I say. “Kept me locked in a room in her—our—old house.”
His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. I think he’s deciding what to tell me.
“She found you trespassing on her property,” he says finally. “She said you were acting irate. You had no idea where you were. She didn’t want to call the police because she’s convinced you’re doing drugs, so she kept you to help you detox. She had my permission, Charlie. She called me as soon as she found you in her house.”
“I’m not on drugs,” I tell him. “And who in their right mind would hold someone against their will?”
“Would you rather she called the police on you? You were talking crazy! And you broke into her house in the middle of the night!”
I don’t know what to believe right now. The only memory of that experience I have is in the notes I wrote to myself.
“And that girl is my half-sister? Cora?”
He stares at the tabletop, unable to meet my eyes. When he doesn’t respond, I decide to play his game. “It’s in your best interest to be honest with me. Silas and I came across a file that Clark Nash has been desperately searching for since before your trial.”
He doesn’t even flinch. His poker face is too perfect. He doesn’t ask me what file I have. He just says, “Yes. She’s your half-sister. I had an affair with her mother years ago.”
It’s like this is all happening to a character on a television show. I wonder how the real Charlie would take this. Burst into tears? Get up and run out? Punch this dude in the face? From what I’ve read of her, probably the latter.
“Wow. Oh, wow. Does my mother know?”
“Yes. She found out after we lost the house.”
What a sorry excuse for a man. First, he cheats on my mother. Impregnates another woman. Then he hides it from his wife and kids until he gets caught?
“God,” I say. “No wonder she’s an alcoholic.” I lean back in my seat and stare up at the ceiling. “You never claimed her? Does the girl know?”
“She knows,” he says.
I feel hot anger. For Charlie, for this poor girl who has to go to school with Charlie and watch her live the life she didn’t get to have, and for this whole screwed up situation.
I take a moment to gather myself while he sits in silence. I wish I could say he was wallowing in guilt, but I’m not so sure this man is capable of feeling guilt.
“Why do they live in the house I grew up in? Did you give it to them?”
This question turns him a light shade of pink. He pops his jaw as his eyes dart left to right. His voice is quieter when he speaks, so that only I can hear him. “That woman was a client of mine, Charlie. And a mistake. I broke it off with her years ago, a month before she found out she was pregnant. We came to an agreement of sorts. That I would be present financially, but nothing else. It was better for everyone that way.”
“So what you’re saying is, you bought her silence?”
“Charlie…” he says. “I made a mistake. Believe me, I’ve paid for it tenfold. She used the money I’d been sending her all those years to purchase our old house in auction. She did that just to spite me.”
So she’s vindictive. And maybe a little bit crazy. And my father is to blame for that?
Jesus. This just gets worse and worse.
“Did you do what they say you did?” I ask him. “Since we’re telling the truth, I think I have a right to know.”
His eyes dart around the room again to see who’s listening.
“Why are you asking all of these questions?” he whispers. “This isn’t like you.”
“I’m seventeen years old. I think I have the right to change.” This guy. I want to roll my eyes at him, but first I need him to give me more answers.
“Did Clark Nash put you up to this?” he asks, leaning forward with accusation in both his words and his expression. “Are you involved with Silas again?”
He’s trying to turn it around on me. He can’t get to me anymore.
“Yes, Daddy,” I say, smiling sweetly. “I’m involved with Silas again. And we’re in love and very happy. Thank you for asking.”
Veins bulge at his temples. His hands tighten into angry fists. “Charlie, you know what I think about that.”
His reaction sets me off. I stand up and my chair scoots back with a screech. “Let me tell you what I think, Dad.” I take a step away from the table and point at him. “You’ve ruined a lot of lives. You thought money could take the place of your responsibilities. Your choices drove my mother to drinking. You left your own daughters with nothing, not even a role model in their lives. Not to mention all the people you swindled money from in your company. And you blame everyone else. Because you’re a really shitty human. And an even shittier father!” I say. “I don’t know Charlie and Janette very well, but I think they deserve better.”
I turn and walk away, tossing a couple of final words over my shoulder. “Goodbye, Brett! Have a nice life!”
I’m sitting cross-legged on the hood of the car, leaning against the windshield and writing down notes when she returns. She was in there for more than an hour, so I did what she said and came to wait out here to keep an eye on our siblings. I sit up straight when I see her. I don’t ask her if she found out anything; I just wait for her to say something. She doesn’t look like she wants to be spoken to at this point.
She’s heading straight for the car. She makes brief eye contact with me as she passes me. I turn my head and watch her as she walks swiftly to the rear of the car and then back to the front again. Then to the rear. Back to the front.
Her hands are clenched in fists at her side. Janette opens the front door and steps out of the car.
“What’d the world’s greatest prison-dad have to say?”