The Good Father Online - Diane Chamberlain

1

Travis

Raleigh, North Carolina

October 2011

It was nine-forty when I woke up in the back of the van. Nine-forty! What if Erin had already left the coffee shop by the time we got there? What if she’s not there? That sentence kept running through my head as I got Bella up and moving. She’d had a dream about her stuffed lamb and wanted to tell me the whole thing, but all I could think about while I changed her into the cleanest clothes I had for her was, What if she’s not there?

On the phone yesterday, Roy had told me I was making the smart choice. “You can get rich doing this, bro,” he’d said.

I thought of the gold watch he wore. The red Mustang he drove. “I don’t care about getting rich,” I’d answered. “I just want enough money to keep me and Bella fed till I get a real job.” I felt smarmy just talking to him on the phone. The dude was a total cretin.

“You feel that way right now,” he said, “but wait till you get a taste of easy money.”

“Look,” I said, “just tell me where to meet you and when.”

“We’ll come to you about eleven tomorrow night,” he said. “You still hanging in the same place? The lot by the Target?”

“Yeah.”

“Just make sure you’ve got enough gas to get us to the Virginia border and back,” he said, and then he was gone from the line.

So, now I’d have all day to freak out about my decision and, if things went according to my plan, I wouldn’t have Bella with me. My chest tightened at the thought. I wasn’t sure I could do this. Erin was a good woman, though. I could tell. Plus, Bella knew her and liked her. The only thing was, she might be too good. The kind of person who’d call the cops on me. I just had to trust her not to.

My hands shook as I scratched a note on the back of a gas receipt and stuck it in Bella’s pants pocket, sneaking it in there so Bella wouldn’t ask me about it or try to pull it out. I remembered the tremor in my mother’s hands. “A fine tremor,” the doctor had called it and he’d said it was harmless and barely noticeable. Mine wasn’t so fine. I could hardly help Bella get her socks straight on her feet.

“I’m hungry, Daddy,” she said as she pulled on her shoes.

I opened some Tic Tacs and shook a couple into her hand. “We’ll get breakfast in a minute,” I said, as she popped the Tic Tacs into her mouth.

I pictured Erin finding the note. She would find it, wouldn’t she? If she didn’t, then what? I thought of all the things that could go wrong and my head hurt like a bitch. First things first, I told myself. First I had to get to JumpStart before Erin left or else the whole plan was going to cave in.

“I got to go potty,” Bella said.

“Yeah, baby, me too.” I ran a comb through her dark hair, which I really should have tried to wash in the Target restroom last night like I did once already this week. Last night, though, washing her hair had been the furthest thing from my mind. She needed a haircut, too, but it wasn’t like I’d thought of bringing scissors with me when we left Carolina Beach. Her bangs were almost long enough to put behind her ears now, and I tried that, but as soon as she hopped out of the van, her hair fell into her face again. Poor kid. She looked like an orphan nobody cared about. I prayed to God she didn’t become one tonight.

I held her hand as we walked toward the coffee shop.

“You’re hurting my hand, Daddy,” she said, and I realized I was holding on to her way too tight. How could I do this to my baby girl? I couldn’t even prepare her for what was going to happen. Bella, I’m sorry. I hoped she was so young that she’d never remember this. Never think of it as the day her daddy abandoned her.

Wildflowers filled the grassy strip of land next to the coffee shop and I had a sudden idea. They were nothing but weeds, but they’d do. “Look, Bella.” I pointed toward them. “Let’s pick some of these for Miss Erin.” We stepped onto the lawn and began picking the flowers and I hoped Bella’s bladder could hold