A deep chuckle rumbled from behind me and all I wanted to do was turn around and throw my arms around my dad. The judge grunted and made a “go on with it” gesture with his hand.
“As for her permanent residence, Ms. Walker has and still does keep a room at her father, Mr. Brighton Walker’s, home here in Denver. Once we agree to a reasonable bail amount”—Quaid shot the other attorney a hard look that made the man scowl—“Mr. Walker is going to pay it and take his daughter home. He has also given his assurances that his daughter will be present and willing to participate in her own case as well as the case the State is building against Jared Dalton. While Ms. Walker may not have ties to the community, her father has them in spades and I believe him when he says he will make sure Avett is present and accounted for as we move forward.”
I held my breath. It felt like an eternity passed as the judge returned his attention to the file in front of him and then once again lifted his gaze and let it settle somewhere over the top of my head.
When he looked back at me I stiffened my spine and tried to make my expression look as innocent as I possibly could. That was a challenge because I sure as hell didn’t feel very innocent. Quaid’s elbow rubbed against mine again and I realized it hadn’t been a mistake the first time. He was letting me know I wasn’t alone in this, that my fate wasn’t in my own hands. It was barely a touch, barely a connection, but that little bit of pressure, that tiny brush, hit me harder and more deeply than any full embrace I had ever been wrapped up in.
“Ms. Walker.” I jolted when the judge addressed me directly. I blinked at him a little stupidly and gulped before I spoke so I didn’t sound like a bullfrog croaking.
“Yes, Your Honor?”
“Your counsel is trying to make light of the charges you’re facing, but I need you to understand they are serious and that the State has every intention of pursuing its case against you.”
I nodded, and when Quaid nudged me, I cleared my throat again. “I understand.”
“You seem to be a young woman with a bad habit of ignoring the law. The court doesn’t appreciate that attitude but also recognizes that you are young enough to learn from your litany of mistakes. I agree with your attorney that the amount of bail requested by the State is unreasonable considering the circumstances and your prior history.” He looked over my head again and I actually felt the air shift along with my dad as he moved on the bench behind me. “Young lady, I also hope you appreciate how influential it has been to know you have a strong support system in place to keep you from making any more foolish decisions as you await your preliminary hearing. The court agrees to release the defendant on bail in the amount of $150,000. The defendant is being released on the grounds she remains at the permanent address of the home of Brighton Walker until the court proceedings are concluded.”
I wilted. I couldn’t help it. My knees folded and relief blindsided me so strongly I couldn’t stand up under the weight of it. Quaid’s strong arm was around my waist before I fell all the way into him and he gave my hip a little squeeze before setting me back on my feet.
I sucked in a breath and tilted my chin up at the judge as he said my name again.
“Yes, Your Honor?” There was a tremor in my voice but I didn’t bother to try and hide it.
“My advice to you is to wise up. Stay away from anyone else involved in the situation that landed you here and start using your head.”
It was good advice. People always had good advice for me, if only I was wired to take it.
This time around I was determined not to let my father down, so I nodded. “Thank you, Your Honor.”
Quaid put his hand on my arm and turned me so that I was facing him. “Your dad is going to post bail and then pick you up from the jail. It’s going to take the rest of the afternoon to process you out. I’ll give you a couple days to settle in at your dad’s and get your head on straight, then we need to have a strategy meeting. The State is going to have a plea bargain on my desk sometime this week and I need to know where we’re going with all of this.”
I scowled at him and shook his hand off my arm. “I’m not taking a plea bargain, Counselor. I’m not guilty.”
He heaved a sigh at me and gave me a look like I was being ridiculous. Before he could say anything else, a man, large enough to block out the rest of the room, was between us. I was pulled into a barrel chest with my face buried in a beard that was as much of a legend in Denver as the man that wore it.
I never wanted to hug my dad so badly in my life. As soon as his tree-trunk-like arms folded around me, I couldn’t hold it together anymore. Tears started leaking through my closed lids and my lashes weren’t strong enough to stem the flow. My shoulders shook and my cuffed hands curled desperately into his faded Harley-Davidson shirt.
“I’m so sorry, Daddy.” I wasn’t sure how the words made it out over the lump in my throat as one of his massive paws curled around the back of my head and pulled me closer.
“I know you are, Sprite, but we gotta get to a place where you don’t have to be sorry like this any more.”
“I know.” I breathed the words out and pulled away as someone cleared their throat. My dad dropped his hand onto my shoulder as the bailiff inclined his head towards the doors that led to the prisoner holding area.
“You can have her back in a bit, sir. But right now she has to come with me.”
My dad practically growled at the man, which made him fall back a step. He released me after giving my shoulder a squeeze and a kiss on the top of my head. I let the bailiff take my arm and peeked around my dad’s broad frame so I could see my mom. She could only meet my eyes for a moment and when she did I saw the heartbreak and disappointment clouding her gaze.
“Thanks for coming, Mom. I’m so sorry for all of this.” The bailiff started to guide me away as Quaid ushered my dad back to the part of the courtroom reserved for the families and audience.
“Saying you’re sorry and actually being sorry are two very different things, Avett.” She got to her feet as my dad reached for her hand with a hard look on his face. She shook her head at me, and even though I could barely hear her because she spoke as they were calling the case after mine, her words hit their mark.
“Sorry” rolled off my tongue so easily and frequently that the words hardly held any meaning anymore. This time around I needed to actually be sorry for what I had done, even if what I had done was nothing. I had a lot to prove, a lot to make up for, and my track record for doing the right thing was shit. I didn’t want my mom to barely be able to look at me. I didn’t want my father to have to borrow against his retirement to bail me out of jail. Saying sorry wasn’t enough; this time around, I was actually going to have to change.