Like I said, I wasn’t stupid or naive, so I should’ve known when he told me he needed to swing by the bar my dad used to own and where I used to work that he was up to no good. Jared was always up to no good, and more and more frequently that no good left marks on my arms and legs. He’d learned pretty quickly that even though I constantly disappointed and let down the people that loved me, they still cared, they always cared, and they didn’t appreciate me walking around with black eyes and swollen cheeks. He hadn’t slapped me across the face again after Church, the new bouncer at the bar, followed us out to the car one night and gave a few crystal clear hints about what would happen to Jared if I showed up looking roughed-up again. Addicts were unpredictable, but they knew how to hide the things they were doing that were wrong, the things they didn’t want other people to know about. So Jared still did bad things to me; he just got more skilled at hiding the evidence, and I pushed harder at the people that cared so I didn’t have to make excuses. I could never explain why I stayed or why I thought a guy like Jared was the kind of guy I was supposed to be with. I knew why, but that didn’t mean my reasons would go over well with them because, despite everything, they cared about me, even if I knew I didn’t deserve it. The lawyer didn’t want my story … That was fine because it felt like I would be torn in half every time I was forced to tell it.
“Why would Asa hire you to represent me? He hates me.” And rightly so. I had given the gorgeous southern charmer a thousand really good reasons to loathe me in the short time we had known each other. I couldn’t imagine why he would go out of his way to help me out. He wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type, even on a good day.
The attorney lifted a gold-colored eyebrow and leaned back in his seat. He put his expensive pen down on the file in front of him and considered me through narrowed eyes. This guy had silent interrogation and intimidation down to a fine art. I felt like he could tell exactly what made me tick and exactly why I did the things I did simply by looking at me. I wasn’t used to that kind of perception from anyone, especially not from a guy that clearly came from a different kind of world than I was familiar with.
“Considering your current surroundings, shouldn’t you simply be grateful that he did?”
I bristled a little at the censure in his tone. “I’m just confused.”
“Good. That’s what I want you to tell every single person that asks you anything about what happened that night. You were confused. You didn’t understand what was happening. Your boyfriend coerced you and lied to you. You had no clue what his plans were that evening.”
I shifted in the rock-hard seat and all the chains attached to me rattled again. “That’s all true. I didn’t know what he had planned that night. I never would have gotten in the car with him if he told me he was going to rob the bar.” But I knew as soon as I recognized where we were headed, something bad was going to happen, and I did nothing to stop it … again.
I could have slid into the driver’s seat and left. It would have been so easy. I could have put the car in drive and kept going and going until I ran out of gas and ended up somewhere far away from the nightmare I was stuck in now. I could have climbed out of the car, walked inside that bar, and begged Jared to stop. I could have picked up my cell phone, called the police myself, and told them that my junkie of a boyfriend was tweaked out, owed some bad people a lot of money, and was currently trying to stick up the bar that had saved my dad’s life and that had always been a safe place.
So many good choices, so many right things I could have done, and yet all I did was sit there in the car and wait. I knew it was going to go bad. I knew someone was going to get hurt and I had done nothing. Nothing was the worst choice of them all, so of course that was the one that had settled around me like a lead blanket. I was suffocating on all the things I could do, should do, but it was the nothing that won. It was the nothing that defined me. It was the nothing that owned me, ruled me. It was the nothing that haunted me, chased me. It was the nothing that I spent my entire life trying to repent for and live beyond, but nothing always won.
Moments later, while I was still fighting through the nothing of the past and the paralyzing nothing of the current moment, I found myself facedown on the asphalt of the parking lot in front of my father’s legacy, being arrested for accessory to armed robbery and, according to the very angry cop that shoved me in the back of his patrol car, looking at anywhere from three to five years in prison if convicted.
“I told you I’m not interested in your story. Your boyfriend is in the hospital with a bullet wound but he’s already singing a pretty little tune that points the finger at you as the mastermind behind the robbery. He’s painting you as a vindictive daughter, angry that the family business was passed on to someone other than you. He’s claiming you used your relationship to manipulate him into robbing the place, to teach your father a lesson. Considering he has a five-mile-long criminal record and a history of drug-related charges, he’s not exactly credible, but then again, neither are you.”
He tapped the file in front of him with his index finger and all I could do was sigh. That file held a lifetime of poor decision making on my part. It was all laid out in black and white, every flaw, every terror, every mistake … right in front of this too-pretty man and his chilly and unwavering gaze.
I don’t think I’d ever been this exposed, this unprotected and bare, before anyone. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling and it took every last scrap of self-control I had not to squirm guiltily in my seat.
“I’ve had a few hiccups here and there, but I’ve never been in jail before now.” I sounded defensive and infantile. I didn’t understand how he wasn’t getting up and walking out of this room without looking back. I thought that was probably what I would do if I was in his shoes … not that I would ever be able to afford his shoes. The guy was the complete opposite of everything I had ever known. I don’t think my dad even owned a suit and the only time I saw him in a tie and shoes that weren’t boots was when someone was getting married or buried.
Those golden eyebrows danced upwards again and the corner of his mouth pulled down in something that would have been a frown on a less extraordinary face, but on him it looked more like a practiced expression of displeasure. I wanted to kick myself for noticing anything about him other than his credentials, considering the circumstances. He was distractingly good looking and it was annoying because I needed to focus on my impending doom, not his perfectly straight teeth and his disarmingly sharp blue eyes. “Multiple tickets issued for underage drinking, public intoxication, a recent DUI, a citation for shoplifting, a citation for trespassing, more than one basic assault charge … should I keep going?”