Breathing heavily, I couldn’t get out of my current shocked state. Out of everyone in this town, Dakota’s brother was the person my father decided to talk to after his short trip. For what? What could they possibly be talking about? Were they talking my relationship with Dakota? Or was it something else?
“Don’t turn the car off.” I ordered Dakota when his hand floated to the key. I wanted it to remain in the ignition. “We’re not leaving this car.”
“The hell we are.”
“No, Dakota. We’re not. Have you forgotten that my dad doesn’t like you?”
His eyes gleamed in bemusement. “You don’t like him. I think I can live without his approval.”
I touched his wrist before his hand went back up to the keys. “We should leave. Intervening into their conversation won’t end well.”
“I wasn’t going to intervene.”
“We’re not watching them either.” My body went ridged when he flicked the key in the ignition, letting the engine cut off, and glided his thumb over the horn. “Don’t do it, Dakota.”
He flashed a dimple. “I wasn’t going to.” He left it at that and twisted the keys, then drove back on to the street and off the shoulder of the road.
The sight of seeing my father with Dion whirled in my thoughts for the rest of the day and into the night. What were they discussing? Did my father ask to talk with him or was it Dion who contacted him?
When I first met Dakota, his dislike toward my father had to do with the case that put his dad in jail. My father and his law firm helped put Dakota’s dad behind bars, something I didn’t know until weeks after moving here. Regardless of his unpleasant relationship with his own father, I knew this made Dakota not like my father for what he did.
“What did your dad do to get himself in jail?” I asked Dakota one afternoon at lunch. It was just the two of us on the football field, eating the meatless Monday meal we were served from the cafeteria.
“That was random.” Dakota choked on his water, closing the bottle by putting the cap back on. “Um, he got charged for one count of first degree manslaughter, attempted murder, and arson.”
“He...caused a fire?” I asked. “The one that left burn marks on your mom?”
“Yeah, that fire. To this day, my dad pleads his innocence. He doesn’t claim he started the fire. He says that he was nowhere near my aunt’s house, but your dad found evidence to trace it back to him.” Dakota pulled on the brim of his blue hat, blocking out the sun. “The scenario they painted in court said that, after a heated fight with my mother, he followed her to my aunt’s house and lit the place on fire. My mom survived that night and said she saw his truck speed off. My aunt didn’t make though so my mother was the only eyewitness.”
“Did you think he did it?”
“My dad’s not a good person, but I don’t believe he did it. However, I can’t say I’m one hundred percent certain either. I was really young and hardly remember that night.” Dakota murmured. “I do recall the fight. They had nasty arguments in the past, but nothing as bad as this one. There was something inherently evil about how he was that night.”
I didn’t ask what the fight was about. I could put two and two together, given that Pierson had told me a bit about Dakota’s parents relationship before. Another reason as to why Dakota despised my father was because of the town rumor that my father had an affair with Dakota’s mother.
It was before Evelyn was in the picture, meaning it must’ve been when he started taking many trips to California when I was eight. He was married to my mother still at the time and lived with us. He took business trips often, being a nationally recognized prosecutor. My mother didn’t question these long visits to different states.
“Why do you say this fight was worse?” I asked. “Was it because this time it was violent?”
“He got violent a lot of the time. That wasn’t something new. When he got angry, no one was safe. Every time the screaming started, Diana and I would share the hallway closet until things quieted down. Dion would go days without coming home so he didn’t have to hear it.”
“I would try to step in, thinking I could stop the shouting if they saw me,” Dakota admitted to me, “but it only redirected the violence to me instead of my mother.”
I pushed up his hat enough to make eye contact. While running my hand over the curve of his neck, I said, “I’m sorry you went through that. I can’t say I relate. My parents had their occasional fights, but hands never went up. The worst that could happen would be if my mom picked up a lamp and threw it against a wall.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Dakota plucked at the blades of grass, examining the handful and then letting the wind blow it away. “By the way, before I forget, I talked to Dion yesterday.”
“Yeah, I saw him at my mom’s house and I broke my silence with him so we could talk.”
I was no longer slouching. Hearing that straightened my posture, putting me on high alert. “Did you tell him that we saw him with my dad?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“And? What did he say?”
“He was asking for the files your dad had on my father from the fire. My mom never requested copies. Dion wanted to see what they had collected.” Dakota untwisted his water bottle and took a swig. It made sense as to why Dion would go to my father. He was, after all, the one who lead the case to imprison Ethan Ridgewood for the murder of Dakota’s aunt and for starting a fire, leaving gruesome burn marks on Dona Ridgewood. Dona had hired my father as her lawyer.
Dakota cleared his throat. “Apparently my dad wants to appeal his case to a higher court.”
“That’s good.” I hesitated. “Right? You don’t look happy. You said you don’t think he did it in the first place.”
“I said I didn’t believe it, but wasn’t certain.” He reiterated. “Just because he didn’t do it doesn’t mean I want him back in my life. That’s why I don’t pick up his calls from the state penitentiary or see him on visitation days. Diana always went to visit him a lot and—”
“Diana visited him a lot.”
“How often do you think she saw him?”
“Every single visitation day. Dion would drive her there until she learned how to drive. The last time she talked to him was about a week before...before she died.” Dakota answered. “Why do you ask?”
“Your sister talked to him, even the week of her death. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to speak with him? Maybe he knows some stuff we don’t know about the week leading up to Diana’s suicide.”
“I don’t think she would’ve told him anything.”
“But you also don’t know for sure.” I offered. “It wouldn’t hurt to try.”
“I’m not visiting him.” Dakota spat, picking up his tray and getting off the grass. I got my belongings and followed after him. “I’m not speaking to him, Silvia.”
“He could have valuable knowledge.”
“You convinced me to destroy Segg,” he said softly, “but you’re not going to get me to see my father. That’s a definite no. It isn’t up for discussion.”
“What if he knows why Diana took her own life? What if he knows who Ophelia’s dad is?” I whispered.
Dakota stopped dead in his tracks, spinning around to face me. “That’s a big if.”
“I know it is. It’s a huge if, trapped in a void of possibility. It’s better to know than to not know though.” I took one single step forward to where he was standing. “I’m not saying you have to speak with him in person. Call him if that makes it easier. After you find out, you don’t have to speak to him ever again.”
Dakota let out a drawn out sigh and rubbed his eyes. “I’ll call him. But if he doesn’t tell in the first ten minutes, I’m hanging up.”
“That’s something at least.” I said, but not sounding as satisfied as I should’ve been, but pleased enough to stop pestering him about it. The bell, signaling the end of lunch, echoed from the large speakers. Extending his hand out to me, I took it and we strolled back into the hallways of Crescent High.
“If I’m calling my dad, that means you have to something I want you to do.” Dakota proclaimed.
“Oh, is that so?” I laughed. “What do you want?”
He flickered his gaze to me, mischievously. “Stay the night with me this weekend.”
“How is that supposed to work? Your mom hates my family.”
“I’m not staying at my mom’s house this weekend. I persuaded Dion to stay at my mom’s house for two days.” Before I could ask, he explained, “He owes me a favor anyway. Having the apartment to myself for a weekend was my only condition to forgive him.”
“That’s fantastic and all, but I don’t think my dad would be okay with me staying at your place.” We stopped at the dumpsters in the cafeteria, leaving our trays on the side and heading to the science building. “I could say I’m at Ronnie’s place though.”
“You think they’d believe you?”
I shrugged. “Hopefully.”
That night, Dakota called me, telling me about his talk with his father. Turned out, he hinted that he important information he wanted to share with his son. But there was a catch. Dakota had to get the information in person.
“You’re coming with me,” he said in a feeble voice. I’d never heard Dakota sound so nervous. “There’s no way I’m going in there without you.”
I smiled in the darkness of my room. “Of course, I’ll be there.”
The day was set. This weekend we would be heading to the prison that was holding the one and only, Ethan Ridgewood.