Better (Too Good series)
Author:Walden, S.

“I want to take my daughter home.”

 

“She is home.”

 

“This isn’t her home,” Mr. Miller growled. “Cadence, let’s go.”

 

Cadence opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn’t form the words. Just like that, in an instant, she’d become a mute. She shook her head.

 

“Cadence, this is a bad place. This man here?” He pointed to Mark. “He’s a bad man. A child molester. And he’s going to jail.”

 

Cadence continued shaking her head. Open your mouth and say something! she screamed inside.

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mark said. “And she’s not a child.”

 

Mr. Miller ignored him. “Cadence. This man used you.”

 

“I never used her,” Mark countered.

 

“He took advantage of you because you’re young.”

 

“I never took advantage of her.”

 

Mr. Miller continued to address his daughter. “It’s not your fault. He made you think he loved you—”

 

“I’m standing right here, you son of a bitch!” Mark roared. “Stop feeding her these lies!”

 

“They’re not lies!” Mr. Miller yelled. He finally looked at Mark for the first time since walking into the apartment. “You used my daughter!”

 

“I love her! I take care of her! And what do you do? You sock her in the eye!”

 

Mr. Miller lunged at Mark, grabbing his throat and forcing him to the ground. Cadence gasped.

 

Do something. Say something. Cadence, say something! She watched in horror at the twisting limbs, recoiling at the grunts and groans of two men trying to beat the shit out of each other. Jab to the face. A clumsy dance around the coffee table. Fist in the abdomen. Moans. Another lunge. Shattering glass. Cut lip. Two cut lips. Punch to the chest. Cry of pain.

 

“Stop it,” she barely whispered.

 

The fight continued into the dining room.

 

“Stop it.” Her voice was coming back. Stronger. “Stop it,” she demanded with authority.

 

Hands to the throat once more.

 

“I’ll fucking kill you!” Mr. Miller shouted.

 

Mark punched his face. Mr. Miller reared back and clutched his eye.

 

“STOP IT!” Cadence screamed.

 

And then she remembered it. The bargaining chip. She felt it ache in her bruised eye, a sudden pulse of clarity, of hope.

 

“Don’t do it, Dad,” Cadence said calmly.

 

Mr. Miller’s fist was raised, ready to attack. He turned to his daughter.

 

“If you touch him, if you go to the police, I’ll have you arrested for assault,” she said.

 

Mr. Miller blinked. He stood frozen, processing the information.

 

“I took pictures of my face. I have witnesses. Ollie. Mom. I’ll tell the police you punched me in the eye. And Mom will have to tell the truth. Ollie will, too.”

 

Mr. Miller lowered his fist and stared at his daughter in disbelief.

 

Cadence continued speaking, but not as the young girl she used to be. She spoke as the young woman she now was.

 

“He did nothing wrong. He didn’t use me. He didn’t go after me because I was lonely. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t lonely, but that’s not why he fell in love with me. He fell in love with me for me. And I chose this relationship. I chose to be with him. I. Chose.” She emphasized the last words.

 

“But he manipulated you, honey,” Mr. Miller said. He sounded defeated.

 

“No,” Cadence replied. “He never did. But you did. Or at least you tried. Just now. Barging in here. Telling me Mark’s a bad man. That’s manipulation, Dad.”

 

Silence.

 

“Look what you did to me.” Cadence pointed to her face.

 

Mr. Miller averted his eyes.

 

“So what’s it gonna be? Huh, Dad?”

 

“How could you do this, Cadence?” Mr. Miller asked, facing the wall. The sound of bitter betrayal laced his words. Cadence found that funny. He felt betrayed? She was the one sporting the black eye.

 

“You give me no choice,” she said.

 

“Gracie’s parents will still notify the school.”

 

“I don’t care about Gracie’s parents. I can’t stop them from doing anything. But this? Here and now? I only care about this. And what I can do about it. And I will never speak to you again if you go to the police. But I will report assault. I will.”

 

Cadence breathed deeply, waiting for her father’s response.

 

Mr. Miller finally looked at her. The mask of betrayal on his face turned sinister, hardening his features. His next words came out a mixture of pain and pride.

 

“I’ll say nothing. But if you don’t come home with me, you’re no longer my daughter. I mean it. No car. No insurance. No financial help of any kind.” He paused. “If you don’t come home with me, you’re no longer a part of our family.”

 

Cadence thought for a moment. She felt the stinging in her eyes, and she thought it was okay to let the tears run. So she did. And she never took her eyes off her father.

 

“I am home.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cadence waited by Avery’s locker Monday morning. It felt like an eternity before her friend rounded the corner and headed towards her. She was staring at the floor as she walked. Avery never stared at the floor. She looked straight ahead with confidence.

 

“Are you mad at me?” Cadence blurted. Avery wouldn’t look at her as she opened her locker.

 

“Go away.”

 

“No.”