I put my hands on the sink, looking at my dad’s dark gray eyes in the mirror. Things had been tough since I’d come home. There was a tension there, a lingering cloud that hovered over us, and I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to fix things with the most important person in my whole world. I knew a lot of his unease came from the fact my mother still wasn’t happy with me, and when she wasn’t happy Brite wasn’t happy. I didn’t know how to make things better with her either and that meant I did nothing. Doing nothing was always the action that seemed to hurt the worst and, even knowing that, I still found myself doing it over and over again.
“Thanks, Dad. How does the hair look?” The tightly coiled bun had taken more time than I’d spent on my hair in all my twenty-two years. Generally, I let the loose and wavy strands do their own thing. I was all about no-fuss-no-muss.
“Pretty, all of it is pretty. You can’t even see the pink from the front.” He was trying to be reassuring but I could tell he was nervous by the tense set of his broad shoulders and the downturn of his mouth within the forest of his beard.
“Good. I’ll remember not to turn around in front of the judge. Thanks again for the classy duds.” I pulled at the front of the lacy, cream-colored, three-quarter-sleeved, knee-length dress he had actually been the one to pick out for me. It was cute and totally conservative enough when I paired it with black leggings and ankle boots. It wasn’t something that made me look like a mom or like some high-class chick I would never, ever be. It was an outfit that made me look like a twenty-two-year-old that should, theoretically, have her shit together. So that’s who I was determined to be, even if it felt like I couldn’t have my shit less together if I tried.
“I’m happy to help you out, Sprite. Always have been.” His frown went deeper into his fuzzy face as his salt-and-pepper eyebrows slanted down over his eyes. “Your mom, too.”
There it was. The Darcy-sized elephant in the room that had been hovering between us since he bailed me out of jail … or longer. Things had never been particularly easy between me and my mother. I blew out a breath and turned to face him. I leaned back against the sink and met his solemn gaze.
“I don’t know what to say to her, Dad. She isn’t you. She doesn’t forgive the way you do.” When I started my downward spiral, when I went from being a simple yet defiant party girl to the girl determined to ruin everything good in her life, my mom didn’t understand and she watched me fall with little sympathy or compassion. Granted, she didn’t have the whole story but I wanted her to love me enough to forgive me and excuse me anyway. Instead, she forced enough space between the two of us that my guilt and the blame I fostered from the night I learned how tragic doing nothing could be had plenty of room to flourish and grow.
“You have so much of your mom in you, Sprite. I think you’re both too stubborn and hardheaded to see it though. She loves you. She will always love you and support you just like I do. She had to find her way just like you did, kiddo. Darce wants more for her baby girl. She doesn’t want to see you waste your time on loser after loser like she did, and she doesn’t want you tied to a no-named bar. We both know you have so much more to offer. Those aren’t bad things to want for your kid.”
I sighed and stiffened my spine. “I’ll convince Mom I’m innocent and have learned my lesson after I convince a judge. Deal?” He looked at me until I squirmed under his intent gaze. “Dad, I promise I will figure out a way to work on things with Mom. I’ve let things go for far too long and it’s gotten me nowhere good.”
Finally, after a beat, a grin that transformed him from surly, grumpy biker badass into a warm, kind, and much more Santa-esque badass broke across his face. “I know you will, Sprite. I have faith in you … always. And you might’ve let go but we’re your parents. We’ve been holding on tight since the beginning.”
I pushed off the sink and nervously tugged at the hem of my dress. “Thanks, Dad. Let’s do this thing.” Quaid seemed so sure the charges would be dismissed, but he never forgot to remind me that we could take the plea deal, that ninety days in jail was a much better option than three years. I was nervous, but there was something about Quaid Jackson, something about the way he handled himself, something about the way he handled me, that gave me unbridled confidence that the situation would go the way he guided it. I honestly believed the man would get the charges dropped, and if he didn’t, then I had full confidence he could unleash that dangerous grin and wicked charm of his on a jury and bend them to his will.
My dad moved out of the doorway and followed me down the hall towards the front of the house. I grabbed my purse and was pulling the front door open when my father’s heavy hand landed on my shoulder. I turned to look at him in question and was relieved to see his grin was still in place.
“Avett, you need to understand how I got to a place where I learned how to forgive. The main reason I can hang in there until someone that’s lost finds their way is because I was a man, not too long ago, that needed that kind of forgiveness and needed someone to show me the way. All the choices we make, good and bad, have a lesson in them. I think it’s time you quit letting those lessons go over your head, Sprite.”
The lessons weren’t going over my head. They were hitting me right in the heart, right in my very soul, and I deserved all of them. Those lessons reminded me every single day what kind of person I was; they reinforced the fact that when you were a bad person, bad things happened to you, and I knew I deserved them all. Every lesson I learned, I held close and let prick at me with sharp barbs over and over again.
My dad pulled the door closed behind him and we walked down the front steps of the beautifully restored two-story Italianate brick home that my dad had lived in since his split with my mom. It was home, as much as the bar had always been, and I loved it and the Curtis Park neighborhood it was located in. We were walking towards his red truck when he stopped by my side and waved at someone across the street. I squinted against the sun to see who he was waving at, but all I got was a flash of rust-colored hair and an arm full of brightly inked tattoos as it disappeared into the driver’s side of a beautiful old Cadillac. The guy moved quick and his car sounded loud and mean when he started it. That wasn’t a show Caddy; that was a Caddy with some balls and well-maintained guts.