Retaking her seat, she smiled. “So, what are we talking about?”
A little later, when the visitation was over, Clear gave him yet another hug. Turning to me, he asked, “Can I get a hug, baby?”
I noticed the plea in Clear’s tearing eyes. I gave him a hug, wordlessly accepting his kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you, angel,” he said with a smile. “Come see me again soon.”
Clear sniffled as we were repeatedly buzzed through one door after another. It wasn’t until we were back in the parking lot that I felt like I could take a real breath. The place had always made me feel suffocated and confined.
When we finally drove out of the gates, the knot in my stomach loosened. It never got easier to go there. Had never been the norm for me the way it was for Clear.
She fell asleep on the drive home, which was quite typical. The visits exhausted her more than she liked to admit. The silence gave me a chance to think on all Michael had said.
He was right about Ricky; the little shit-stain didn’t seem to have the patience or self-control to carry out this crap. But people changed, didn’t they? He’d only been a teenager when he first came crashing into my life. He’d be twenty-nine now. Possibly more mature. Possibly more in control of himself.
For me, it seemed far too much of a coincidence that he’d be hanging around Redwater at the same time as I being … what was the right term for it? Taunted? Targeted? Toyed with? Ricky had done all three of those things to me once before. I was pretty sure he was now doing them again.
When we eventually pulled up outside Clear’s house, I gently shook her awake. “Mom, you’re home.”
With a slight jerk, she lifted her head. “Sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
“Do you want to come inside?”
“No, thanks.” I wanted to get home and shower. Wanted to wash off the feel and scents of the prison. Besides … “I have work to do. This story won’t write itself.”
She smiled. “Then get writing it.” She sighed. “You know, it hits me hard sometimes when I think that I’ll never get to do normal things with your dad like eat a meal with him, watch TV with him, take you on a picnic, or even ever be alone with him. I don’t regret marrying him, but I wish things were different.” She squeezed my hand. “Thank you for coming with me. I know you find it hard. I can understand why. But he needs us, Kensey. If he didn’t have us, he’d have no one. And I think that would kill him.” With that, Clear hopped out of the car.
I waited until she was safely inside the house before I drove off. Unlike her, I wasn’t so sure it would kill Michael to be without us, but he probably did need us in his way. We were his biggest link to the outside world. We were his chance at having some sort of normality.
It honestly was difficult not to feel a modicum of sympathy for someone who couldn’t enjoy the simple freedom that I had right then. Who had no real rights, who were disallowed such a simple thing as choice, who woke up each day knowing it could be the day that someone told them their death had been scheduled. He’d told me once how the guards did cruel stuff like wake people with news that they would face their doom that day … only to then later laugh that it was a ‘joke.’ I wasn’t sure if, in their place, I’d keep my sanity.
Maybe it made me a shitty person that I could feel a dot of sympathy for Michael; maybe it just made me human. I didn’t know. But I’d long ago come to terms with it, just as I’d long ago come to terms with the fact that I cared for the little boy he’d once been. The boy who’d had his innocence stripped from him and been subjected to the kind of abuse that sickened and devastated me. It was—
My eyelids flickered as red and blue lights flashed in my rearview mirror. Fuck. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see that Joshua Buchanan was behind the wheel, gesturing for me to pull over. It wasn’t the first time he’d done it. Wouldn’t be the last. He never issued any fines or tried charging me with anything. It seemed that he just did it to simply amuse himself.
I flashed my emergency lights to signal that I’d pull over, but I waited until we reached a well-lit, very public street. Joshua parked behind me, lights still flashing, and climbed out of the car. He slowly strode my way, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
I lowered my window and gave him a breezy smile. “Officer Buchanan.” The guy would love it if I did what he wanted—rant, rave, and resist. Which was why I always played along, calm as ever, even as I imagined slamming him in the gut with his own baton. Karma had better be the bitch she was rumored to be, because he needed a serious ass-kicking.
Expression dark and resentful, he stared down at me. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Because you’re a shithead of epic proportions, enjoy abusing your position of power, and probably bully people to compensate for having a tiny dick, I wanted to say. Instead, I simply replied, “No.”
“License and registration.”
As always, I wordlessly dug them out of my glove compartment and handed them over. As always, he took his time checking them over.
Finally, he handed them back to me. “Do you know how fast you were driving?”
“Forty miles per hour.” Which wasn’t over the speed limit.
“You’re positive of that?”
“I’m very road conscious.”
He leaned forward, and his nostrils flared. “Have you been drinking?”
I frowned. “No.”
“I smell alcohol on your breath. Step out of the car, please.”
“What?” This was new. “You have to be kidding.”
“Step out of the car.”
Ass-licking shit-stain. Apparently, he was working off-script today. Grinding my teeth, I hopped out of the car, reminding myself he wasn’t worth jail time.
“I’m going to need you to take a breathalyzer test,” he told me.
Wordlessly, I cooperated with his request, unwilling to do anything that would give him an excuse to charge me with something. Inside, I seethed, wondering if I should invest in a voodoo doll. I’d heard they sometimes worked.
“Well, it seems you’ve passed the test,” he said, mock surprised. We both knew this was just a game to him. “Still, I’m very sure I smelled alcohol in your car. You don’t mind if I conduct a search of your vehicle, do you?”
Yes, I absolutely did mind. Who wouldn’t? “I don’t consent to a search of my private property.” Which meant that if he did find anything he considered contraband, it would be attained through an illegal search.
He clenched his jaw and advanced on me, backing me against the car. It killed me not to knee the jerk in the balls and shove him away from me, but it was killing Joshua more that I didn’t rise to the provocation—that gave me the strength to stay cool and composed.
As he stared directly into my eyes, his own blazed with anger. And I knew why. Because each time he looked into the same mismatched eyes that his father had possessed, Joshua was reminded that Maxwell cheated on Joshua’s mother and betrayed his entire family. I understood Joshua’s anger. I just didn’t agree with how he chose to vent it.
“There’ll come a day when I catch you on something, and then I’ll be on your ass like a shot.”
It genuinely confused me that he didn’t make up some bullshit charge. It was like he enjoyed abusing his power, but he wouldn’t go beyond a certain point—like he had a code, and he wouldn’t break it even for me. Maybe he got the code from his uncle Donald, who could have easily planted drugs at my mother’s house during his raids but never did.