Triple Beat-nook
Author:Mari Carr

Dani sat on the edge of the hard metal chair, wishing she were anywhere but here. She clasped her hands together in her lap tightly, surprised by how cold they were. It wasn’t particularly cool in the prison visiting room. In fact, it was muggy, humid. None of that heat penetrated the chill that had taken up residence in her bones, ever since she’d heard her father had requested to see her.

The social worker and Mrs. Lewis had assured her the decision was hers, but Dani knew better. Knew there would be hell to pay if she ignored this summons, even if it was wrapped up in a pretty bow of lies. The social worker had bought into her dad’s concerned-father act, falling hook, line and sinker for his it-was-the-alcohol and I-love-my-daughter bullshit.

She watched the small bead of sweat that trickled from Dad’s receding hairline and along his stubbled jaw.

“You know I got four years.” His voice was low, almost a whisper.

She nodded, forcing herself to hold his gaze. She had learned that it was never wise to look afraid in front of her father. He preyed on fear, took pleasure in provoking terror in weaker souls.

“But I’m going to be out in two.”

Dani knew that as well. The lawyer had tried to explain something about time served and the judge suspending part of the sentence. None of it made sense. When she’d heard the four-year sentencing, her only thought had been that’s not long enough. Then she found out it would be two years and she’d had to excuse herself to go to the bathroom to throw up.

“You’re going to pay for that, Dani.”

She glanced over her shoulder, hoping the others had heard, but they’d begun their own conversation, giving Dani only a cursory glance from time to time.

She started to rise. “I have to go.”

“Sit down.”

Dani froze, unable to move. Finally her legs made the decision for her as they gave way and she fell back to the chair heavily.

“I’m going to play the game in here, do what I have to do. And when time is up, I’m getting out, and you and I are going to finish what we started. You won’t get away from me again. Understand?”

She didn’t reply, nor did she try to leave. Fear permeated every crevice, every pore in her body, until she felt as if she were drowning in it, the emotion holding her in place.

“Answer me, girl.”

“I understand.” Her voice sounded wooden, well-rehearsed. She knew how to respond in such a way that would provoke no further anger. It was a skill she’d had to learn to survive, especially in the last five or six years as her father’s alcoholism had destroyed every bit of humanity he possessed.

Once upon a time, when she’d been a foolish little girl, there had been several brief moments of hope when her dad would do something that made her think things would get better, that they could be a normal family. He’d taken her to McDonald’s for her seventh birthday and gotten her a Happy Meal and a hot fudge sundae. Once, when she had the flu back in second grade, he’d sat beside her bed and sung her a silly little song that made her laugh.

But those small kindnesses had been few and far between. She was older and wiser now. All her childish dreams had been reduced to ashes, leaving her alone and helpless, captive to a cruel man.

“No one will keep you from me. Not that fucking neighbor or social services. Not the foster family they’ve got you with or the law. Nobody. You’re mine. And you always will be.”

***

She’d never told anyone about that conversation. Not the social worker, the police, nor even Mama Lewis. She had been too embarrassed, too ashamed, too frightened. Looking back, she knew those had been the wrong emotions. The fifteen-year-old girl was now a twenty-nine-year-old woman who understood what she should have felt was anger.

Her father had always been a drunken asshole. She couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t tipped the bottle up until it was empty, then started slinging the insults and fists, smacking her and her mom around. When her mother passed away, Dani had only been twelve, and she remembered standing at the funeral thinking, this is it. I’m on my own.

And for three years, she had been. She’d thrown herself into her schoolwork and joined every damn club the school system offered. She volunteered anywhere and everywhere someone would let her because it kept her out of the house and away from him.

Her dad didn’t seem to mind—or maybe he hadn’t noticed—her absence. When she was home, she shut herself in her room, putting on her headphones, losing herself in music while living a very silent life.

Occasionally she’d slip up and put herself in the path of her father when he was wasted. He’d yell or hit and she’d work harder to find new ways to disappear.

By the time she turned fifteen, she’d already started the countdown, living for the day when she was eighteen and could get the hell out.

Unfortunately, hormones had kicked in. She’d gotten boobs and for the first time in her life, her father started to actually see her. In a way that made her skin crawl.

Dani forced herself to focus on the road, to blink back the tears forming as she recalled the night he’d broken into her room and crawled into bed with her.

***

She wasn’t sure what had woken her up, but as soon as she opened her eyes, she realized she wasn’t in bed alone. The strong smell of whiskey told her exactly who was with her.