twenty - eight
“I don’t know if this is a good idea anymore . . .” I mumbled, staring up at the huge building. It was massive, probably five stories, all lined with a bleak gray brick. There were tens of hundreds of windows, all tinted black, leaving so much to imagine about what was occurring within. Not to mention all the armed officers patrolling the area - or the barbed wire fences that made me cringe.
Frankton County Jail was impressive.
And my grandfather was there?
“You can do this Cleo,” Ezra placed a comforting hand on my thigh. He slowly rubbed it down to my knee, where his thumb softly stroked my kneecap.
“How are you feeling?” Kieran asked, his blue eyes flashing to Ezra’s for a single moment.
“Nervous . . . stressed . . . tired . . . a little hungry.”
I forced a smile onto my face, willing for my hands to stop shaking.
“What are you hungry for?” Kieran murmured, running his nose along my neck. He abruptly nipped at my shoulder, making me yelp in surprise. His arms around my waist tightened as the limited space in the car prevented my escape.
Pulling into a parking spot, Ezra huffed with annoyance. “Keep it in your pants, Kieran. You really want to turn her on and then send her into a room full of guys?”
Removing his soft lips from my neck, Kieran chuckled. “I’m just making sure she’s comfortable.”
“What about you, Kieran? Are you comfortable?” I smirked at him, turning my head as much as I could to meet his gaze. Something underneath my legs told me he wasn’t.
“God, Kieran, you’ve corrupted her.”
Kieran suddenly grasped my lips with his, kissing me for just a single moment before pulling away. Against my lips, he murmured, “In the best way possible.”
Ezra clicked the car off and we all got out onto the parking lot.
Time to find out if my grandfather was just as much of a sleazebag as my mother.
Tucking a straight of my black locks behind my left ear, I attempted to smother down the frizz springing up onto my head. I had attempted to straighten it yesterday night, but in the entire week that I’ve been back from the hospital, for the second time, it has been straight chaos.
“Do I look like I grew up as a foster kid?” I asked while straightening my shirt. It was a soft heather green, complimenting my eyes nicely. Kieran sent me a look and I immediately realized what I said. “No-no, I mean - do I look like fraz-you know how foster kids tend to look? Like the stereotype - I don’t look like that - I mean - do I look fine?” God, after not being able to talk for days my brain was really making up for it now.
Ezra squeezed my hand, grasping my chin in his other hand to tilt my face towards his. “You look beautiful.” He whispered.
“Okay - okay - okay -”
Kieran suddenly cut me off, taking my free hand and clasping it roughly.
I took a deep breath, willing for my nerves to go down.
A police officer emerged from one of the back doors, and we all jumped up from the waiting room couch.
“Y’all here for Bankole Bahar?” He asked, a silver clipboard in hand.
I shot my gaze up to Ezra, because I had no idea if that was my grandfather. He told me his name was Banner, and I figured that was a nickname, but I couldn’t be sure. People name their kids anything these days.
It seemed that Ezra was unsure, but he gulped hesitantly.
After a moment, he stuttered, “Yes-uh, yes that’s him.”
The cop raised an eyebrow but only commanded us to follow him.
Quickly, I turned back to them, catching both of their stares immediately.
“Do you mind if I go by myself?”
Their eyes widen for a split second before nodding. I didn’t mean to hurt them if I did, but I needed to meet my grandfather on my own. This was a personal matter, and though I did want the boys involved, I wanted our first meeting to be special to just me. Nevermind it was in a county jail.
“We’ll be here,” Ezra smiled.
Taking a deep breath, I followed the officer down the hall.
The yellow-aged tile underneath me clacked in tune with my flats, and it made the short walk all the more stressful. The inside of the prison was just as grim as the outside, with nothing but the faint sound of prisoners to be heard. There was the occasional shout, accompanied with a metal clang; never once was their complete silence. It made me shiver.
The officer led me through some office cubicles, thankfully avoiding any jail sectors, but I don’t think he was allowed to take me near those.
After a short walk he opened up a metal door, letting me walk in first. It was a visiting room, with a plexiglass walk dividing the area in two. There were multiple sections of plexiglass divided into individual spaces with plastic gray walls. There was another person there, clinging onto the phone as she spoke with a man on the other side, who was clutching the phone just as desperately.
“Sit in space three,” The officer ordered, and I just realized now that the spots were numbered.
I followed his direction and took a seat in that space, staring directly through the plexiglass. Looking to the left, there was a single door, most likely leading to the jail sectors and cells. A single officer was stationed outside the door, watching the man who was still talking with the woman.
I risked a glance behind me to see that the officer who led me here was now standing a few feet behind me, no doubt watching me from afar.
The lone door on the other side suddenly sprung open. There was the sound of multiple feet shuffling on the worn tile before my breath caught in my throat.
He was probably in his late fifties, but despite the graying in his hair, he didn’t look like it. His bronze skin was darker than mine, more worn, and definitely had more tattoos. His graying hair was buzzed, all of his hairs in neat rows on the top of his head. His body was true to his age, and despite him having tree trunks for arms, he had a little bulge on his belly. He glanced around the visiting room before his hazel eyes locked onto mine.
His cheek held a lone tattoo of a rose, and for a brief moment, I allowed myself to think nicely of my mother.
He sat down in the seat across from mine.
The room was quiet, even from the other couple, as we just stared.
I grabbed the phone first, and placed it against my ear expectantly. He followed, and once again, we said nothing.
“You look so much like ’er.” He breathed, smiling softly. Earlier, that thought would have disgusted me, but I can’t help but grin in return. My family was real - my family was here.
“Do I really?” I asked. My hands grew clammy under the plastic phone, but I held on nonetheless.
Nodding, his eye roamed onto my dark strand and dark complexion.
“You ’ave her hair, her s’skin, but you ’ave my eyes. When I look at you, I see me, ’nd I like that you did’t lose a part of me to that fucker.”
My eyes widened, for I didn’t expect him to say that so suddenly. Not that I minded.
“S’sorry,” He murmured.
“It’s fine. I’m glad I look like you more and not my sperm donor.”
Don’t dwell on it, I told myself, then you can’t freak out about it.
“How old ’r you?”
“Sixteen, but I turn seventeen soon.”
Composing himself, he let his eyes go momentarily glassy.
“She were your age when I seen her last.”
Ignoring his dialect, or just plain wrong grammar, I thought about it.
My mother had me when she was sixteen - that’s crazy. I could never imagine being a mother, nevermind a forced one.
“She never let me meet ’ya.” He continued.
“I know - she gave me up almost immediately after my birth.” I looked down, clenching my free hand intensely.
“What did s’she name ’ya?”
My mouth momentarily hung open as I realized he didn’t even know my name. Of course he wouldn’t - but now I feel stupid for not telling him. I couldn’t assume that he knew my name - it’s not like he had contact with me or my mother.
“Cleo.” He whispered. “Is beautiful. ‘Course, if I had say, I woulda’ named you somethin’ better.”
“Lily, I think.” I shot him a look that made him explain. Motioning to the tattoo on his cheek, he said, “I have a thin’ for flowers. I do love our ’eritage, but flowers, well they’re beautiful when they bloom.” He nodded at me, and made me think of my mother, Alana Rose. “S’she was as bright as a rose, but like flowers, when they’re plucked, they die. And I’m afraid she was ripped from the ground too early.”
Silence was bestowed upon us.
“I’m s’sorry,” He said, “I should’n’ say stuff - “
I cut him off. “It’s fine, really.”
“In a way, you’re still a flower, but I see that no one’s been able to pluck you.”
Someone definitely got really fucking close.
“S’so, I do go by Banner, but you’re family, ’nd that name ’s for friends. You can ’all me الجد.”
“الجد” He repeated.
“Look, pal, I didn’t exactly grow up in an Arabic household as I was meant to -”
It was his turn to cut me off. Chuckling, he said, “It means grandfather. Just call me grandfather.”
Looking into his hazel orbs, I laughed in return. “Grandfather.” The word felt rough on my tongue. “It feels weird.”
Faintly smiling, he said, “Well not like any of this is normal.”
Humorlessly, I chuckled again.
Grandfather. Not half bad.