I woke up in a black hole and gasped. It was so dark I couldn’t see anything, but a sliver of light came from the side opposite me. I was afraid to move. It was so dark I couldn’t tell black space from the walls. I stretched my hand out in front of me and slapped around. Empty space. I crawled forward toward the light, following the yellow sliver until I came face to face with the oval hole in the wall barely wider than my shoulders. Afraid of what was on the other side, I carefully stuck one finger through the hole. Nothing. Just light. I slid my hand through the hole.
“Keep your hands inside!” someone snapped. The bite in their tone served as a warning. I pulled my hand back inside and perched on my hands and knees at one side of the hole. I made out a bucket in the middle of the empty black hole. And I remembered.
My cellmates scared me, so I wanted to be alone. Kailee, be careful what you wish for. You might get it. They dumped me in here. At first, I passed the time by belting out the lyrics to every Taylor Swift song I knew. Then I ran through cheers until I was exhausted. They wouldn’t let me out. I sat with my back almost touching the wall, but I never slouched. The stench of this room told me it had been a while since it saw a good cleaning. I didn’t want my hair to touch the wall, and I damn sure wasn’t going to sleep on this dirty floor. But I dozed off at some point. I slept in this filth.
Where was Abe? I thought he would come if he couldn’t find my dad. Did he think I burned the mosque? How long had it been since we talked?
“Scoot away from the door. I’m openin’ it up.”
I looked up at the wall illuminated by the sliver of light and quickly surveyed the other three. I didn’t see a door, but I heard the wall start to slide so I jumped into the black emptiness.
The door opened to the light, the hallway, the cells—my dad. Before I got locked in the black hole, I thought I never wanted to see that hallway again. Nothing could be worse. Wrong. The black hole was way worse. But my daddy was here! They wouldn’t keep me much longer now. It wouldn’t be long until I never had to look at that hallway again.
My dad held his arms out, and I ran to him like a little girl. He closed me in a hug. “Sweetheart, how did you get put in solitary confinement?”
I cried. “Daddy, it was horrible. They locked me in a cage with scary freaks. I tied my shirt around my neck like a noose and told them I was going to kill myself if they didn’t get me out of there. I wanted a cell to myself, because I’m not like the other people here. And they locked me in the black hole.”
He tussled my hair. “You probably shouldn’t have done that. We’ll get you out of here though.”
The irony was that the strangest part of this situation wasn’t that I still wore the jailbird costume standing in front of a black hole in a hallway full of caged people. But that my dad hugged me like a real dad. And I was the daughter, not the housemate or the caretaker. That hadn’t happened since I was three—since Mom left.
“An officer is going to take us to your arraignment. Jackson and your friend Abrahem will meet us there.”
“The hearing to see how much bail will be set at, but I’ll get you out. Don’t worry.”
Great. I’m going to a courtroom in a cop car dressed in prison stripes. That doesn’t look remotely guilty or anything. And Abe is going to see me like this? In dreads and stripes? At least he knew I didn’t do it, or he wouldn’t have come.
A cop led me into the courtroom by the chain on my cuffs. My dad was in front of us. He knew where we we’re going. They had cuffed my feet too, so I half shuffled, half hopped to a long wooden table. Dad pulled out a chair beside his, and I sat down. Across from the table was an identical wood table a young woman with long dark hair sat at.
Like my dad promised, Jackson and Abrahem sat on the very first bench behind us. Abe looked ragged. God, what else has happened? Did he ever find Mirriam? I hope he’s okay.
The bailiff announced “The State of Texas versus Kailee Hill.” Wow. The whole state was against me? I was one girl.
“Does the defendant care to hear the charges?” the judge asked.
“That’s quite all right,” my dad said.
“How do you plea?”
“Not guil—” I started.
My dad held his hand out to silence me. “Not guilty,” he said.
The judge looked to the opposite table. “What do the people recommend for bail?”
The woman at the other table stood. “Your honor, Kailee Hill is a little rich girl with access to a small fortune and a perfectly valid passport. Given the seriousness of this crime, we ask that she remain in detention until verdict.”
My dad chuckled as he stood. “Your honor, I think Ms. Abbott is trying to make a name for herself. Should she be convicted, this would be my daughter’s first offense. The state doesn’t even have any physical evidence. This is absurd. She’s not keeping my daughter caged like an animal so she can be on the news for trying a defense attorney’s daughter—”
Ms. Abbott turned and glared at my father. “She’s a little rich kid with too much spare time on her hands. This was a hate crime, and maybe in a farm town like Killeen you tolerate this kind of thing, but in the state’s capitol terrorism of any kind is taken very seriously. As for a lack of evidence, a witness puts her within a mile of the burning mosque and relayed the exact plate number of her pale pink convertible. How do you think we found her? As for it being her first offense, that’s because previous victims didn’t complain.”
Previous victims? What was she talking about? I didn’t burn down a mosque. I had never been in trouble in my life. The guys from the pool hall? She knew I attacked a guy with a pool stick? But then why would I burn down a mosque if I attacked a guy for calling Abe a sand nigger? I shook my head, trying to clear the thoughts. This was all too much. I couldn’t breathe.
Her eyes grew wide as her jaw clenched and her glare grew harder. “Don’t shake your head at me like you’re some innocent little school girl. Sweethearts don’t put evidence of a hate crime on their Facebook.”
Evidence of a hate crime on my Facebook? I hung my head when it hit me. Abe’s garage door. Farrah got me good. That would come up.
The judge looked to my dad. “I tend to agree with the prosecution that your daughter has unlimited resources.”
“So hold her passport,” my dad said.
“This is a hate crime and a terroristic act. No one else would be released before trial, and she’s not getting it any easier because her dad is a hot shot lawyer in my courtroom.”
“No. You’re making an example of an attorney’s daughter. She’s not a flight risk and you both know it, but it will look real good on TV for the little rich girl to find herself in the county. If you hold my daughter in that cage, I’ll petition for a recusal.”
The judge laughed. “And you’ll be told I made a fair and legal decision. She’s not getting it any harder. She’s just not getting it any easier. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, counselor. Now let’s set a court date, because I don’t intend to be late for lunch.”
The arguments went on for a while. My dad wanted me out of solitary. Prosecution had no objection. I was only there to protect myself. My dad wanted a court date in the next week or so. The judge wasn’t available. Prosecution needed more time.
My dad laughed. “I’m not giving you weeks to go on a fishing expedition. You either have something or you don’t.” He looked from Ms. Abbott to the judge. “As for the lack of court availability, would you be willing to transfer the docket to someone who has the time? Because if you’re not setting bail, it’s ridiculous to let her rot in the county until someone has time to try the case, especially with the gross lack of evidence the prosecution admits to.”
“I did not say that!” Abbott shot.
My dad shrugged. “Someone with a case they think they’re going to win is usually in a hurry to get it done.”
The judge cackled. “This is going to be fun. I tell you what. I’ll have my clerk adjust my schedule.”
“Appreciate it, Joe,” my dad said.
A few more words were said, but they buzzed past my head. Tears slipped down my cheeks now. I would go back to the cage either to be bounced between hardened criminals or thrown back in the hole. I would wait there until someone had time to try me for a hate crime and domestic terrorism. I gave a little laugh, and my dad shot me a warning look. The irony. My brother went to Afghanistan to fight terrorism, and I was the terrorist. Jackson, I guess you could have stayed home.
“Sounds like we’re done.” The judge slapped the gavel off his desk.
Dad was helping me stand up, when Abe jumped the wooden banister between us and collapsed into me, tightening his arms around me. I rocked back at the impact of his contact, but he caught my weight and held me up. In a courtroom full of people, he kissed me.
I kind of hated letting him kiss me when I was so disgusting, but the feel of his body against me and his arms around me took away some of the sting of everything that had happened. So I let myself melt into him.
Click-click. The sound caught him as off guard as it had me. Abe pulled away from me, and I looked up. My dad held his iPhone sideways in front of us. Abe kept an arm around me but looked at my dad with raised brows.
Dad grinned and turned to face Ms. Abbott. “Does that look like a girl who hates Muslims to you?”
Her mouth dropped. “Your honor, I want a gag order.”
The judge took the final step off his platform and turned to her. “There is a seat at Austin Land and Cattle with my name on it. You’ll have to submit a brief.”
“Your honor, I’ll need proper time to review that and prepare my answer,” my dad said.
“Forty-eight hours.” The judge went out a door in the back of the room.
My dad grinned wider. “That’s ample.”