I step up and rap sharply on the door.

“Alizeh, is that you?” my dad’s voice calls from inside. “Give me one minute.”

There’s the sound of a loud flush, and then some shuffling footsteps. Oh gross. My dad was just on the toilet. Well, it happens. Sure enough, Mike opens the door still hitching up his pants, and he looks worse for the wear. He’s wearing a wifebeater, and it only highlights how out of shape he is. His huge belly protrudes against the white fabric, and the waistband of his shorts is invisible because it’s hidden beneath that enormous stomach. As usual, he’s sweaty and red-faced, and he pulls me in for a mighty hug. There’s the stench of beer on his breath.

“You don’t have to be at work?” I ask, grimacing a little when I step into the trailer. My dad is a messy guy, but it’s especially bad when you only have two hundred square feet of living space. There are pizza boxes strewn about, as well as empty beer bottles and dirty laundry. A beetle slowly trundles by on the linoleum floor. The place is gross.

“No,” he chortles happily, closing the door. “Sorry about the mess, Ali. You know how it is. I need to find a woman, and then I’ll be living high on the hog.”

I shake my head. I doubt any woman would give him the time of day because what does Mike have to offer? A big fat zero.

I sigh and take out my wallet.

“How much do you need?” comes my flat question.

Mike pretends to look shocked.

“Now, why do you think I’m asking for money?” he says in a fake-outraged voice. “I didn’t call you here to beg for cash.”

I merely shake my head.

“How much?” is my question.

I half expect my dad to ask for all of it, but he actually sits down on the saggy couch and pats the seat next to him. I sit down gingerly, wondering how many diseases are embedded in the sofa cushions. A disgusted shiver runs down my spine.

“Now, Ali,” he says. “Don’t be like that. Don’t look down on your beloved father because I’m not in Dads and Daughters anymore. Yes, I made a mistake and I admit that, okay? But it was a moment of weakness. I needed money, and I decided to talk to that reporter, which was wrong. But she was so sneaky and conniving!”

Of course, he’s trying to blame his actions on someone else, but I’m not hearing it.

“Dad,” I say in a tight voice. “You were ready to sell out the club for money. You did sell out the club. It’s just that the higher-ups at the Lodge found out sooner rather than later, and were able to kill the story.”

Mike sniffles, as if he’s the one who was wronged.

“And whose fault was that? It’s not like the story was actually going to do anything. Everyone in the community already knows about Dads and Daughters.”

I squint at him.

“Mike, there’s a big difference between suspecting that something exists, and having a witness testify to that fact. You were going on the record! Yes, there are lots of rumors about Dads and Daughters, but that’s just it: they’re rumors, just like there are rumors about how the bogeyman lives in the old Carroll Mansion, and how the Elk family is the product of inbreeding. They’re just rumors! You were the one who was going to substantiate them.”

Mike turns nasty then.

“Yeah, but I was doing it for you, Alizeh. I was providing for you as a single parent, and I had to do what I had to do,” he snarls. “You’ve never appreciated me. You’re so spoiled, even more so ever since you joined the club. Always with your nose up in the air. Your mother would absolutely hate you, I know.”

I draw back, shocked. How can he even mention Angela during this spat?

“Please don’t talk about my mother that way,” I say in a frigid voice.

But Mike’s on a roll because he knows he’s pushed one of my buttons.

“You know what Angela would say about the life you lead, Ali? She’d be horrified. She’d say that you’re a slut and a whore, pimping out your body to all those truckers every night. She’d say that you’ve been branded by the devil, and that you wear his mark on your forehead. She’d say you’re no daughter of hers anymore; you’re the child of sin and filth.”

I draw back, tears springing to my eyes.

“What?” I ask, jumping up. My knees feel weak and I literally stagger from this verbal assault. “How can you say this? We haven’t even talked for months! You don’t know me.”

Mike has an evil look on his face, and his eyes narrow until they’re nothing more than slits.

“Oh yes, Alizeh. I know you. You’re evil mixed with scum, and even your presence here makes my skin crawl. You need to be fixed.” With that, my dad calls out. “Now! She’s here.”

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