I felt the heat behind me as I walked away. I was halfway across the street when the windows exploded and the glass shattered.
I bought diapers, bottles, and formula from the nearby convenient store and hosed Max off in the restroom the best I could. It took me ten minutes to figure out how to put on the diaper.
Preppy saw the flames from my mom’s trailer and pulled up behind the gas station.
He took us home.
He sang to her made up, profanity laced, lullabies.
Max gulped down a bottle so quick she would pause to choke, and my heart skipped out of my chest every time she did it, but then she would keep going.
I was so nervous. I was a single guy in my early twenties who’d never so much as been in the same room as a newborn before. I’d never even spent more than a couple of hours with the same woman.
And suddenly, I had this baby girl to raise. It was the first time in my life that I can say I was truly terrified.
I talked to her again and hummed some Zeppelin to her until she fell asleep on my chest.
I covered us both up with a blanket and watched the fan spin around until I saw lights flashing through my front windows.
Blue and red.
“It turns out the convenient store had some pretty decent surveillance. Since I walked away without seeking help and I made no attempt to douse the fire or save my mom, they arrested me. Charged me with manslaughter and put me away.
Max got sent to foster care right away since they couldn’t find Tricia. They wouldn’t release the baby to Preppy because he was a felon himself, not to mention he didn’t have a legit job on record, anyway. Grace was in Georgia, getting treatment for her first fight with her cancer at the time.
“Do you know what ever happened to Tricia?”
“No, but if she’s smart, she’ll never show her fucking face in this town again.” King sighed. “They took her from me. I was her dad for only three hours, and they were the three best hours of my fucking life. And they fucking took her from me.”
“You’re still her dad,” I offered.
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to be,” King said. “While I was away, I did everything I could. Filed papers. Hired lawyers. But it got me nowhere.”
“Is there anything else you can do?” I asked. “There has to be. This can’t be it.”
“There are two options left, at least two that I know of. The first one is a long shot.” King flashed a sad smile. “But there’s this guy, a big shot judge. A dirty fucking politician. Bear has ties to him through the MC. The senator thinks he can make him see things my way and rule for custody in my favor.”
“So what are you waiting for? Do that!” I shouted excitedly.
“It will cost me about a mil,” King said flatly, killing my growing enthusiasm.
“Shit,” I cursed. “A mil? As in a million dollars?”
King laughed. “Yes, Pup, as in one million green-backed American fucking dollars.”
“Do you have that kind of money?” I asked.
“I did,” King said. “I don’t anymore. We sunk everything into getting the granny operation going. Even if I sold the house, it needs work, and that costs even more money. And the market sucks right now, so even if I sold it I wouldn’t be able to come up with even half that.”
“And if you do get custody, you need a home to bring her to,” I added.
“Yeah, I’ve imagined building her a tree house in the big oak by the garage and turning my studio into her room, move my tattoo shit into the garage apartment.”
“Then, where would Bear go?” I asked.
“Home! Bear has a room at his pop’s place and a room at the clubhouse. He just likes to take up all the rent-free space he can.” King laughed.
“I am so, so sorry, about all of it,” I said, tears spilling out onto my cheeks. He wiped them away with the pad of his thumb.
“Don’t be sorry, Pup. I’ll never be the good guy in the story. I let my mom burn to death. I lost my daughter because of who I am and the things I’ve done. That shit’s on me. That’s my cross to carry.”
The deep need to help reunite King with his daughter dictated my decision-making. I took a deep breath and grabbed his hands, folding them onto my lap.
“What do we need to do next?”
“Yeah.” I let the word sink in. “We.”
“WE don’t need to do anything. I’ll figure something out.”
“But wait. You said there was a second option.”