How do you prepare for justice to flip your world upside down?
Not even my father’s overpriced army of attorneys can save him from his fate.
My destiny is still unwritten, and for the first time in my life, in my hands.
Acid churns in my stomach as my gaze darts around the courtroom. The satisfied expressions on each juror’s face wouldn’t be so smug if they knew the true extent of my father’s crimes.
Throughout the trial, I played my part of the adoring, naive daughter raised by her overprotective, but loving father. The naive part wasn’t a stretch.
There’s nothing more I can do for him.
It’s time to escape.
Without listening to the rest of the judge’s instructions or the last-ditch pleas to set aside the verdict by my father’s lead attorney, I slip through the swinging wooden gate, careful to guide it closed, so it doesn’t bang against the railing and draw attention my way.
I keep walking, my rubber heeled shoes whisper-soft over the hardwood floor.
Head up, eyes focused anywhere but on the gawking members of the press, law enforcement, and spectators filling the courtroom.
I push open the heavy wooden door and quicken my steps.
It’s within my grasp if I don’t hesitate. Don’t wait. Don’t get caught.
Last night in a final meeting with my father and his attorneys in a cramped, jail conference room, my father made me promise him two things if he was convicted: first, I’d put myself under my uncle’s protection—which meant obeying all his orders. Second, I’d never come visit him in prison.
The second one hurt, but I understood his reasoning.
To my father’s face, I agreed to both. Deep down, with every fiber of my soul, my resolve is strong—I’m done with this life.
For once, I want to pursue my dreams. Not be told what to do or what is expected of me. Put my safety and security in the hands of my uncle? No way. I don’t trust him. I don’t need a crystal ball to know he’ll hand me over to the man who has asked my father several times for my hand in marriage.
“Mallory, where are you going?” my uncle calls out, stopping me at the bottom of the marble stairway.
So close to my getaway.
You want to be an actress? Here’s your chance.
I manufacture a few fake tears. “I can’t believe it,” I whisper, yanking out a tissue to dab at my eyes. “I have to go home.”
If my uncle were capable of sympathy, that might be what I see shining in his eyes. “It’s late. You shouldn’t be alone. Come home with me.”
What’s a polite way to say, nope, not happening?
I’m saved from inventing an excuse by a man in a black suit, gripping my uncle’s arm. “Sir, you need to come with us.”
Oh God. The government has their conviction. My father’s headed to prison. They’re still hunting down the whole family.
I meet my uncle’s eyes, and he subtly lifts his chin, telling me to escape.
While two men in suits handcuff my uncle and recite the Miranda warning I now know by heart, I back away.
Slowly, I slip into the crowd of reporters, keeping my head down, until I push through the courthouse door. Fresh, cold air is a welcome slap in the face.
Running down the street, I search for a cab. One stops ahead of me and a man climbs out. Before he can shut the door, I grab it and throw myself inside, ignoring the broken pieces of vinyl that snag my pantyhose.
“Times Square, please.” The government seized my father’s Manhattan penthouse months ago. But our family home in Bright Point remains untouched. For now.
The cab jerks to a stop at the curb, and I toss some money at the driver. He thanks me profusely as I scoot out of the car.
It’s almost dark now. Neon lights cast by the myriad of signs shimmer against the wet pavement.
Frigid air stings my cheeks as I trudge through the crush of tourists and jostle my way into the subway, a system I familiarized myself with during the trial. Twenty-one stops later, I exit, find my car and drive home.
No one’s waiting outside the gate, so I drive right up to the house.
Last night, I’d packed a bag, just in case.
Had the verdict gone the other way, I didn’t want my father to know my plans, so my bag remains hidden upstairs in my closet.
The house greets me with cold silence as I enter the foyer and kick off my heels.
I jog down the hallway to my father’s office, my feet sliding over marble tiles. Inside, I shut the heavy wooden door behind me and lean against it, closing my eyes and allowing my toes to sink into the thick carpet for a few seconds.
To finance this new chapter of my life and keep myself safe, I’ll need money. Fortunately, I’d memorized the combination to my father’s safe years ago.
I’d just never dared to take anything from it until now.
The family portrait that hides the wall safe seems sadder than ever as I move it aside.
After several deep breaths to calm my shaky hands, I dial the combination with painfully slow turns of the knob.
My breathing stops as the lock clicks and I swing open the door, praying there’s as much money as I remember inside.
I scoop up everything in sight and dump as much as I can in my oversized purse. The rest, I carry in my arms upstairs. I drag a small suitcase from my closet and line the inside with stacks of cash. The bag I’d already packed has to be rearranged. I divide the money and clothes between the two.
On the way downstairs, I hesitate. My mother’s portrait hangs in the foyer, and I wish I could take it with me. In my purse, I have a smaller framed photo of the two of us from when I was little.
“Please watch over me,” I whisper as I stare up at the painting. “Let me escape this life. I want to make you proud.”
If I stay, there will be no future for me that doesn’t include being married off to one of my father’s men. Something I don’t think my mother would have wanted for me.
Something I definitely don’t want for myself.
I sweep one last glance over the house, before hurrying out the front door.
Life as I know it, is over.
“California, here I come.”