Eli slammed the door and slid down the wall. His hands were still shaking. His bloody knuckles made him sick. He smacked his head on the wall. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” He should have never punched out that asshole—even though he had it coming. He really had it coming.
The entire night had been a huge mistake. Eli should have not gone out with his friends. He should have headed straight home, and just spent the night with his family. “I’m so fucked,” he whispered. Eight years down, and he was so fucking close!
“Daddy,” Bailee shouted and she ran and wrapped her tiny arms around him. “Daddy home!”
He held her tight, his body still shaking. If Sam saw him, she would flip her lid on him in a heart beat. “Yeah, I’m home. Go play.” He patted her diapered bottom. He didn’t ask why she was still up. It was way past her bedtime, and right now he wasn’t going to care.
The door to his bedroom open and Sam wiped her eyes. “Bailee, why are you—Eli?”
He kissed his daughter’s cheek. “Bedtime, princess. Daddy will come in and tuck you in soon, okay?”
She gave him her best puppy-eye pout. “I don’t wanna.”
“I know, but my little girl needs her rest. Go.” Again he patted her behind and she went toward her bedroom.
Eli clutched his hands and shook them. His entire body still trembled.
“Eli?” Sam’s voice was filled with concern.
He finally had the courage to look to her in the eye. The tears were a non-stop stream down his face. “I fucked up.”
She came to him and knelt. “What? How?”
He covered his face, and sobbed. She had to have noticed the blood on his knuckles, but she didn’t say anything. “Eli, baby, talk to me.”
“We were at the bar, and this guy started talking shit around us and he would not stop. I…” Eli slammed his head against the wall and cried. “I got into it with him. I decked him and then there was this fight. I am so sorry, Sam.”
Sam took his hands. “Come on, let’s at least get your hands looked at.”
With Sam’s guidance, Eli followed her into their Master Bathroom. He leaned against the counter as she bandaged each hand, taking care to remove his bent wedding ring on his left hand. “Two years, all I needed to do was get through two more years.”
“They won’t come looking for you.”
“Nathan and Leroy are cops, Sam. All the guys I was with were cops! And if that asshole wants to push charges, he could. I could be arrested any second for violating my parole!” Shit. His heart hadn’t stopped pounding. “Even just being in that bar fight has me violating my parole. I’m fucked, Sam.”
“Take a breather.” Sam kissed his worried mouth. Eli couldn’t. Sam finished up bandaging his hands, and helped him undress out of his work clothes, even tossing his hat off of his head. After, Sam led Eli out of the restroom and sat him on the bed.
“I don’t want to go back,” Eli sobbed into his bandaged hand.
He didn’t believe her. Eli knew, in his heart, knew that he was going back. He didn’t have the kind of luck that got him out of shit. His father-in-law would gloat. “What if your dad shows up? If he sees me…”
“Let me worry about him.” She pushed him down on the bed. “Right now, you need to sleep. Rest, baby. Everything is going to be fine.”
Eli woke in the morning still shaken about the events from the night before. He hoped Sam was right. He hoped that no one would care that he was in a brawl. He hoped that Janet wouldn’t spring a surprise visit. And he really hoped that Grant didn’t pop by with his girlfriend.
Eli could smell breakfast and then the bed shook with two of his favorite people jumping on the bed. “Wake up, Daddy!” Bailee shouted.
“Come on, Daddy! You promised we could do Void Critter Go!” Derek shouted.
Together they ranted, “Wake up, wake up, wake up!”
“I’m awake,” he laughed and pulled down both kids. His hands were sore, but that didn’t stop him from tickling both his little monsters.
When they stopped, Derek asked, “What happened to your hands, Dad?”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“But you all bandaged up!” Bailee observed. “Did you get huwt?”
“I’m okay. I am.” He climbed out of bed and quickly put on one of his white tank tops that was on the floor. “Let’s go see what Mommy made for us.” He lifted Bailee onto his shoulders and followed Derek out of the room. For the first time, he smiled. Maybe things would be okay. Maybe Sam was right.
They all froze when the buzzer on the door sounded. Or maybe his luck wasn’t all that great.
Derek answered, “Hellooooooo.”
“Derek,” Eli warned.
“This is San Myshuno Police Department. Is a Elijah Ryder home?”
Eli wanted to scream. Derek stared over at him. “Uh, Grandpa?” Derek asked through the com. There was no mistake at the sound of Grant’s voice.
Sam had heard too, and was staring at the door. She patted Derek’s shoulder. “Why don’t you and your sister go play.”
“But why is Grandpa acting weird?” Derek asked.
Sam and Eli met each others gazes. Both of them knew exactly why he was acting like the professional he was, and Derek hated Grant for it.
“Just do what Mom says, Derek.” Eli said and placed Bailee on the floor.
When the kids were in Derek’s room, Sam pushed the release for Grant to come up. Eli’s heart raced and a cold shiver ran down his spine. He pulled Sam into his arms and quickly kiss her.
“I could run. I could go down the fire escape, Sam.”
“Eli, no. He would chase you, and he would hunt you down.” She wiped his tears. “Let’s just hear what he has to say, okay?”
Eli hugged his wife and cried into her arms. “I’m sorry.”
There was a knock on the door, and Sam answered it. Eli stepped back. “Sam. May we come in?”
We? Who else was with Grant? Sam opened the door despite Eli’s silent protest of shaking his head. They couldn’t do anything if they were told no, right? But Sam wasn’t going to stop Grant from doing his job. Eli knew this.
Grant and Janet entered the apartment. Eli’s gut wrenched. It was official then. He definitely broke his parole, and there was no getting out of this. Grant met Eli’s eyes. “You know why I’m here?”
Another cold shiver ran down his spine. Eli swallowed that hard lump that formed in the back of his throat. He barely got out the words. “Yes, sir.”
“Dad, can’t you at least give him the day to say goodbye to his kids?” Sam asked, crying now.
“I wish I could, Sammy. Hell, I’d much rather sweep this one under the rug.”
“Then why don’t you?” Sam asked almost at a yell.
Grant glanced over to Janet and then back to Eli who pulled Sam into his arms. She was sobbing on his shoulder. “I wish I could, for both of you. I really wish this was a simple bar brawl. But, Elijah, that young man, he’s a State Senator’s son.”
Eli felt his knees wobble, and it was Sam that held him up. “What?” he heard him say, but didn’t actually feel as if he was even in his body any more. Like he was no where near this shit storm.
Grant cleared his throat. “It’s bad, Eli. The DA was called last night from the Senator at the hospital, then a judge. I’ve been up half the night trying to get the Senator to see reason, but it’s not happening. The Senator is pressing charges, and I can’t stop him. There’s just too many witnesses, and half of them are cops.”
“It was a brawl, Daddy.” Sam cried. “What kind of charges are we talking about?”
It was Janet that handed him the paperwork. “I’m sorry, Elijah,” she said.
He slowly opened the papers, and dropped to his knees. Aggravated assault. Attempted murder. “At-att-attempted m-murder? It was a bar fight,” he sobbed. “A fucking bar fight. Grant…you’ve got to believe me…I didn’t—he just—fuck.”
“And that’s why I’ve called in some friends,” Grant said, reaching down and helping Eli up. “I’ll be damned if I let that charge stick, son. I called a lawyer, and he’s agreed to meet you at the station. Just don’t say another word, okay? I am not testifying against you if I don’t have to.”
“Can he at least say goodbye to the kids, Dad?” Sam cried.
“Of course. I’ll give you a few minutes to say your goodbyes, Eli.” Grant stared at Eli, and his face soften. And if Eli wasn’t mistaken he noticed the water near the man’s eyes. “Eli, I am sorry.”
Eli gave a slight nod to Grant and headed to Derek’s bedroom. He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he knew this would be the hardest thing he had to do—say goodbye to his kids. Would he ever see them outside the prison walls again? How much would he miss of their lives?
The kids were standing in the middle of the room, Derek was crying, and Bailee looked to be on the verge. Shit. Did they hear? Was Derek eavesdropping in on his and Grant’s conversation? Knowing Derek, that was exactly what had occurred. Damn his curiosity. Eli knelt beside his kids. “Hey, there. Why’re you crying?”
Derek sniffled. “Grandpa’s taking you away, and it’s not pretend…is it?”
Eli shook his head. So, he had heard. “No. It’s real. I did a very bad thing last night, Derek. I broke the law, and Grandpa’s here to help me. I promise.”
“Is he going to arrest you?”
“Why’d you break the law!” Derek shouted. “You’re not supposed to do that. You’re a good guy. You’re…you’re daddy.”
Eli tried to smile, but couldn’t. He pulled both his kids in his arms, and hugged them. “I love you two so much.” He pulled away, wiped both of their tears away. “You behave and listen to mommy, okay?”
“What about my birthday?” Derek cried harder. “Will you be here for my birthday?”
Eli shook his head, his heart breaking. “I don’t think so, bud. I wish I could, but I did a real bad thing. I want you two to have fun for me though. You two listen to mommy, and be extra good while I’m gone. Okay? Derek, you’ve got to take care of your sister. Do that for me. You’re the man of the house now.”
“How long will you be gone?” Derek sniffled.
“I don’t know. But, just remember, no matter what, I love you two more than anything. And when I do get back, and I will return, I promise to never, ever leave you two again.”
Bailee finally cried, and yelled at him. “Don’ go, Daddy! I don’ wan’ you to go!”
“I don’t want to either, Princess, but I have to. I love you so much.”
With one final hug for each of his kids, and a kiss to each of them he left the room.
He hugged and kissed Sam the moment he spotted her. When would he get the chance to kiss her again? “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she cried and wiped his tears. “Be safe.”
“I will. You’re going to be alright, right?”
“I will. And we’ll visit you, where ever you land.”
Another kiss and as Eli’s entire heart shattered for the loss of his perfect family and life, he pulled away.
He went to Grant, “Promise me, you’ll take care of them?”
“You know I will, son.”
That was good enough for Eli. He gave a nod to Grant, and turned. He kept his gaze down. He wished Sam didn’t have to see this.
Grant spoke the words that Eli was all too familiar with. “Elijah Ryder, you are under arrest. Anything you say…” Eli broke into a sob, and continued to listen.
Over a decade ago, the words were stone cold from the same man, but now, even Grant was choking on his own words. How did Eli get to this point?