The prison is not what I expected. And what was I expecting exactly? Something dark and rotting, set across a backdrop of grey skies and barren land? I don’t remember what I look like, but I do remember what a prison should look like. I laugh as I climb out of the car and smooth out my clothes. The red brick is bright against the blue sky. There are flowers growing along the grass, dancing a little when the breeze hits them. The only thing ugly about this setting is the barbed wire that runs across the top of the fence.
“This doesn’t look so bad,” I say.
Silas, who gets out behind me, raises an eyebrow. “You’re not the one locked in there.”
I feel warmth rise to my cheeks. I may not know who I am, but I do know that was an extremely stupid thing to say. “Yeah,” I say. “I guess Charlie is an asshole.”
He laughs and grabs my hand before I can protest. I glance back at the car where Janette and Landon are watching us through the side windows. They look like sad little puppies. “You should stay with them,” I say. “Teen pregnancy is a thing.”
He snickers. “Are you kidding me? Did you not see how they fought the whole way here?”
“Sexual tension,” I sing, as I swing open the door to the main reception area.
It smells like sweat. I crinkle my nose as I walk up to the window. A woman stands in front of me, a child tugging on each of her hands. She swears at them before barking her name at the receptionist and passing them her ID.
Shit. How old did you even have to be to visit someone in this place? I fumble for my driver’s license and wait my turn. Silas squeezes my hand and I turn to smile weakly at him.
“Next,” a voice calls. I step up to the window and tell a stern-faced woman who it is I’m here to see.
“Are you on the list?” she asks. I nod. The letters indicated that I had been to visit my father several times since he was incarcerated.
“What about him?” She nods toward Silas who produces his driver’s license.
She pushes back his ID and shakes her head. “He ain’t on the list.”
“Oh,” I say. It takes her a few minutes to get everything into the computer, and then she hands me a visitor’s badge.
“Leave your bag with your friend,” she says. “He can wait out here.”
I feel like screaming. I don’t want to go in there alone and talk to some man who’s supposed to be my father. Silas has his shit together. I want him to come with me.
“I don’t know that I can do this,” I say. “I don’t even know what to ask him.”
He grabs both of my shoulders and bends his head to look me in the eyes.
“Charlie, based on his manipulative letters, this guy seems like kind of an asshole. Don’t buy into his charm. Get answers and get out, okay?”
I nod. “Okay,” I say. I look around the dingy waiting area—the yellow walls and painfully-trying-too-hard potted plants. “You’ll be waiting out here?”
“Yeah,” he says, softly. He’s looking in my eyes, a slight grin on his lips. It’s making me feel like he wants to kiss me, and it freaks me out. Stranger danger. Except I already know what it feels like to kiss him. I just can’t remember.
“If it takes a while, you should go wait at the car with Landon and Janette,” I say. “You know…teen pregnancy and shit.”
He smiles reassuringly.
“Okay,” I say, taking a step back. “See ya on the other side.”
I’m trying to look big and bad as I walk through the metal detectors and a guard pats me down. My legs feel shaky. I look back at Silas, who is standing with his hands in his pockets, watching me. He nods his head to urge me forward, and I feel a little surge of bravery.
“I can do this,” I say under my breath. “Just a little visit with Daddy-o.”
I am taken to a room and told to wait. Twenty odd tables are scattered throughout. The woman who was in front of me in line is sitting at a table with her head in her hands while her kids play in a corner, stacking blocks. I sit as far away from them as possible and stare at the door. Any minute my so-called father is going to walk through those doors, and I don’t even know what he looks like. What if I get it wrong? I’m thinking about leaving, just running out and telling the others that he didn’t want to see me, when suddenly he walks in. I know it’s him because his eyes immediately find me. He smiles and walks over. Walks is not the word to describe what he does. He saunters. I don’t stand up.
“Hey, Peanut,” he says. He awkwardly hugs me as I sit stiff as a board.