The Pawn(9)

By: Skye Warren

I open my mouth, but my pleas catch in my throat. How can I ask her to come back? She’s the only one of our former staff to come at all. And she’s right that I don’t have the money to keep paying her. It’s not her fault I’m running out of options.

“Okay,” I say, my voice breaking.

“Your mother—” She makes a soft sound. “She would have been heartbroken to see this.”

I know that, and it’s the only solace I have in her death. She never had to see my father’s fall from grace. She never had to see her little girl turned into a whore. “I miss her.”

Rosita’s gaze darts to my father, almost furtive. “She was loyal,” she whispers. “Like you.”

I nod because it isn’t a secret. Everyone knew she was a doting wife and mother. A true society maven, friends with everybody and the picture of grace. I always dreamed of being like her one day, but I know that with the visit I made earlier, my life will be irrevocably changed.

“Be careful,” Rosita finally adds with a pat to my hand. She takes one final glance at my father. “Mr. Moore is waiting in the back parlor.”

My heart thuds.

Uncle Landon has been my father’s friend and financial advisor for years. They played golf and the stock market. But even as close as he was, he never would have been invited to the back parlor. That was only for family, which is why the lumpy, comfortable couch wasn’t worth anything.

I paste on an expression of nonchalance. “I’ll speak to him when I’m done here.”

Without another word, Rosita shows herself out. Steady beeps fill the space she left behind, clinical reminders of my father’s tenuous hold on life.

Swallowing hard, I take his hand. This hand rocked me to sleep and tossed a softball. Now it seems cold and frail. I can feel every vein beneath the paper skin.

Tears rise up, but I fight them back. “Oh, Daddy.”

I really need my biggest supporter right now. I need someone to tell me everything will be all right. There’s no one left to do that. The only thing that will help now is a phone call from one of the city’s crime lords. A rich man with money enough to buy a woman for the night.

His eyelids are shot through with blue-green veins. They open slowly, revealing the flat gaze he’s had ever since the conviction. “Avery?”

“I’m here. Do you need anything? Are you hungry?”

He closes his eyes again. “I’m tired.”

He’s asleep most of the time. “I know, Daddy.”

“You’re a good girl,” he says faintly, his eyelids fluttering.

My throat feels thick. “Thank you,” I whisper.

“My little jumping jack.”

His voice fades to nothing by the end, but I know what he said. He used to call me that when I was little, boundless as little girls can be. He taught me chess to help me focus. And then he found time to play a game with me every week, no matter what. He worked nights and weekends, but he always made time to sit across the chessboard from me.

In the beeping quiet that follows, I know he’s asleep again. I only get a few minutes with him a day. The rest of the time the medicine keeps him under, but without it he’s in intense pain. He has always been a man of vitality, of action. Multiple broken bones and a harrowing night in the dark alley where they left him aged him twenty years. This is all he has left—the security of this room and the pain medicine. I can’t take those away.

“Everything will be okay,” I say out loud because I have to believe that. I have to believe that I’m doing this for a reason. Have to believe that it will be enough.

There’s no one left to save us except me.

Chapter Three

I have three memories of my mother, and one of them takes place in the back parlor. She was a beautiful debutante, the perfect society wife. Only in the privacy of the back parlor did she ever sit on the floor to play Candy Land with me.

My footsteps echo in the hallway, made empty by my desperate need for money. Darkened rectangles decorate the wooden floor, patches where a rug or piece of furniture sat for a decade or two. Between the sale of our furniture and cashing in my college fund, I’ve kept us afloat for another month, but that will run out soon. The nurse who visits my father once a day, the doctor who replenishes his supply of pain medication. They all want money, both for their expertise and to keep their stories out of the city’s gossip chain. What’s left of my father’s dignity is worth that much.

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