“What are your kids’ names? How old are they?” Misty asked as she took a bite of her cheeseburger.
Dad had been driving without stopping except for a few quick bathroom breaks and fast food drive-throughs, so he was making good time.
“Oh, uh, Kyle and Ella. Seventeen and sixteen,” he took a sip of his soda.
“Wow,” she stared at an orchard out the window. “I was with Frank since I was sixteen.”
“Yeah… your daughter’s age.”
The image of me living a life like hers flashed into his mind and haunted him.
“Why did you stay with him? He was abusive, right?”
“I didn’t have any choice. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I had no money,” she sipped her orange soda. “He took care of me.”
“Where were your parents?”
“Dad left when I was five. Mom’s been in an institution since I was like, twelve.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“I had an early puberty so I had no trouble faking my age. I worked at whatever jobs I could get under the table, but it was tough… When I met Frank, my life went from hell straight to heaven, I mean, money-wise. But I was basically his sex slave.” She put her feet up on the seat, and hugged her legs.
She suddenly looked like a tiny kitten abandoned in a cardboard box on the side of the street.
When they arrived at the destination, he asked for the location of her friend’s house. However, he didn’t get any response.
After a pause, she said, “I don’t know anyone here.”
“What? But you said—”
“I know. I was embarrassed I didn’t have any place to go. So I lied…”
Despite being taken care of by a man for the past ten years, she was a grown adult now. She should have had no problem starting a brand-new life on her own in a new town.
However, Dad had butterflies in his stomach, fearing she could get herself into some kind of trouble again. She was abandoned at a young age and grew up in chaos. She was under the care of a powerful man for ten years. And now he was gone.
Nonetheless, that was not his problem. She wasn’t his responsibility.
“Thanks for taking me with you. I actually enjoyed the road trip. Never done it before, so…”
Strangely enough, Dad couldn’t deny how nice it was to have a companion for the drive also.
“Did you want to ride with me a little longer?”
As soon as those words departed his lips, he seriously doubted himself. It was as if his words had minds of their own.
Why did I say that? Out of pity? He suffered, trying to analyze his own motives without any success.
“Maybe we can come up with another plan on the road.”
She nodded, hot tears welling in her eyes. “I’ll change my name. I’ll keep a low profile. I’d do anything for you,” she smiled, as her tears streamed down her cheeks.
As he looked at her sleeping face in the passenger seat, he was lost in thought.
What did he plan on doing with her? He certainly had no intention of ruining his family by leaving them. Did he think having a mistress in that small town would go completely unnoticed? No. And besides, that wasn’t what he wanted at all.
As if Dad were her favorite uncle, Misty just chatted away and laughed with him like she was having the time of her life. She looked so happy, like an orphan who finally got adopted into a nice family. They slept in the truck’s sleeping compartment together, but that was all they did; just sleep. It seemed Misty finally realized and respected Dad’s loyalty to Mom. Maybe she was just lonely. Maybe she just needed a friend.
Dad talked a lot, too. More than he’d ever done in all the years combined of his marriage. He even talked about us—discussing random things like family vacations. He included the details too, like how I always dreamt of becoming a Disney princess since our trip to Disneyland, and how we had three flat tires in a row when we went to Idaho for my uncle’s wedding, and other little gems. It had been a while since he felt comfortable chatting like that. He thought it was sort of strange.
Dad decided to put Misty up in a hotel in the next town while they figured out the details.
Just when he checked her in and took her to her room, he received a call from his boss. He got the news that they were letting him go. There was no reason or explanation given by his boss, who sounded extremely agitated on the other end of the line.
“It must have been because of Frank’s guys. How could I not even think of that? Of course they saw my plate,” he paced in the hotel room. “They now know where I work. What are they going to find out next? Where I live?”
“Your company wouldn’t give that out, would it?”
He squeezed his chin nervously.
“Maybe it wasn’t Frank’s guys. Maybe it was just because you were late getting back. Who knows?” said Misty.
“I doubt it. He sounded very strange. Like, he’d been threatened or something.”
“They couldn’t have seen the plate. We were already driving off when they were running toward us. I don’t remember them having the eyesight of hawks. Unless they took a picture of it and zoomed in to see it.”
He looked at her. Sure, that sounded just like something they’d do. He sighed. “I don’t even know how I’m going to explain this to my wife. She’ll ask why I got fired.”
“Then don’t tell her. Big deal,” she approached him and put her arms around his waist. “You tell her you’re going on the road as usual, and instead, just come here and spend time with me. Which is way more fun, obviously.” She cocked her head like she just realized the amazing convenience and genius of her suggestion. “Wow, that’s actually an awesome idea. Perfect!”
“No, I can’t. I can’t do that to her.”
Misty’s expression suddenly changed, and she took her hands off his waist. “Is she controlling?”
“She sounds like a control freak. She has millions of dollars but won’t share a cent with you. Who would make you work if they had millions to burn? What are you, her slave or something?”
“No!” Dad argued as his face twisted into a grimace. “Of course not! It’s not like that at all.”
Misty began to pace the room. “You know we can always use that hacker again to get your money. So she’ll learn a lesson for treating you like crap. Bitch.”
“What?” he turned to her, looking horrified. One second she was like an abandoned kitten and the next, she was the evil ice queen. Was it all an act? Did she get him again, not once, but twice?
Suddenly he was terrified as he realized something—she could certainly hire that hacker again to steal all the money for herself if she wanted to. He couldn’t report her to the police, because then she’d surely tell them about their affair and how they collaborated to kill Frank, and arranged for the hacker to steal money from his own wife to cover up the murder.
He had to do something about her, and that was for sure, but for now, he had to return home before Mom began to worry about his whereabouts and called his boss.