Authors: Adrienne Giordano
“Are we going in or what?” Frankie asked.
She nodded, but didn’t budge. “I hate this place.”
“Does anyone like it?”
The check-in desk sat a few feet in front of them. Lucie signed her name, waited for Frankie to do the same and the guard waved them to the x-ray belt.
Another day in paradise
. She slipped off her jacket and shoes and placed them on the belt. Early on, she had learned to leave her purse in the car rather than subject herself to strangers rifling through her belongings.
She stepped through the screening machine, waited for the
nod and took her jacket. Apparently, she had no hidden weapons or bombs on her person. She hummed a Jimmy Buffett song. Too bad she couldn’t pretend she was at the airport going through security on her way to a tropical vacation.
This was her life. No other way to slice it.
The visitor’s center was a cement-walled gymnasium painted a dull gray. She stood silent as the stale air wrapped around her. The first time she came here, she had cried. Sobbed actually. No matter what age, a girl never wanted to see her daddy in a pair of orange prison scrubs.
Hate. This. Place.
Square and round tables of various sizes cluttered the room, and Lucie searched for her father, who sat at one of the corner tables. The good table.
Zen moment, Zen moment, Zen moment
. All she wanted was to get through this without an argument. He glanced over and held his hand up in greeting.
His peppered gray hair had been buzzed and the severity of it accentuated his cheekbones. He’d lost twenty pounds in prison and the leanness of his face made his broad nose appear wider. His body may have been fit, but the gaunt look didn’t suit him.
She grabbed Frankie’s sleeve and tugged. “There he is.”
“And we’re off,” he cracked.
She should have given him a smack for being a wise guy, but he’d sat through enough of these visits to know they often went wildly askew.
“Hi, Dad,” she said.
Frankie pulled a chair for her and her father stood, offered a brief smile and gestured for her to sit. Physical contact was prohibited, so the three of them stared at each other. Wasn’t this fun? Lucie finally moved to her chair. The men followed.
Two armed guards stood watch. Lucie recognized one of them from her previous visits. He gave her a slight pivot of his head and she did the same. Greeting the prison guards couldn’t hurt.
She turned to her father. “Mom sends her love.”
“I talked to her this morning. She all right?”
Aside from her husband being in prison?
“She’s fine. She’s been helping me with the dog accessories. I think it keeps her busy.”
“Right.” He turned his attention to Frankie. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m good.” That Frankie. Mr. Chatty.
“Uh-huh.” Her father flipped his gaze back to her. “This poop scooping thing has to stop. Joey told me all about it and you’re done. You hear? I didn’t put you through four years at Notre Dame for you to shovel dog crap and get the damn animals kidnapped.”
Hello? Had she missed the opening bell? Not even a warm-up before the fight? Joey had warned her he’d made the calculated decision to tell their father about the dognappings. His theory was, if the diamond belonged to their father, he’d somehow let Joey know it was hidden in her things and might be what the dognappers were after. Unfortunately, her father hadn’t done that, which Joey assumed meant he didn’t know diddly about the diamond.
As usual, her father’s refusal to acknowledge her working her butt off to get through college and grad school irritated her. His money may have paid for it, and she still hadn’t reconciled herself to the idea of being put through school with money earned illegally, but she had done the work and managed top honors. All to prove that she could be more than a criminal’s daughter. “Joey shouldn’t have said anything. Besides, it has nothing to do with me. The police said it’s probably a dognapping ring.”
If she took the diamond out of the picture, it
be the dognapping ring.
Frankie leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. “Joey and I are doing the walks with her. She’ll be fine.”
If Dad had a hair’s worth of knowledge about the diamonds, he wasn’t letting on. Maybe Joey was right. And wasn’t that the equivalent of swallowing antifreeze?
“What’s this garbage about you two breaking up again?”
“Don’t start, Dad.”
“You need to get your head examined. Why won’t you marry him? How many times are you gonna make him ask?”
Lucie sucked in a breath. How humiliating that he should bring up the one time that Frankie asked her to marry him in front of both their families. He’d surprised her with it and, in her blindsided state, she hadn’t known what to do. “Dad, I’m not talking about this now.”
“He’s good for you. He’ll take care of you.”
Frankie shifted in his seat, and she thought she would die right there. “Can we not talk about Frankie like he’s not here? This is inappropriate.”
That probably wasn’t the right thing to say, because Dad’s face turned a scary shade of red. Maybe even purple. “Don’t you tell me what’s inappropriate. Did you forget who you’re talking to?”
Frankie cleared his throat. “Joe, everything is good. Luce and I are on a break.”
Her father poked a finger at him. “I should crack you one. You gotta control this.”
“Dad, it’s not your business.” The hammering inside Lucie’s skull set her eyeballs throbbing. She couldn’t do this. Couldn’t sit here and have her father, inmate number 3-5-7-9-2-4, lecture her. The man was in prison and
dared to lecture
She shot out of her chair and the screeching of the metal legs caused a vibrating buzz against her leg. “Visit is over.”
“Sit down,” her father said.
“I will not. I’m done here.” She looked at Frankie. “You can stay if you’d like. I’ll be outside.”
He reached for her hand. “Luce—”
“I won’t sit here and have him yell at me. Not when
can walk out of here.”
Frankie watched Lucie make a beeline to the door. Being in a room with these two was like visiting a snake pit. He faced Joe. “That went well.”
Joe held his hands wide. “I don’t understand.”
Did he think he was the only one? Joe Rizzo was as thick skulled as they came. Frankie had always been respectful to him but never held back when it came to offering his opinion. Joe didn’t like weaklings, and Frankie always made sure to shoot straight with him. Particularly if the situation involved Lucie. “I don’t understand either but with all due respect, yelling at her won’t help. You know your daughter. If you push, she’ll push back. I’m giving her space. She’s trying to survive here, Joe. I figure if I give her time to sort out what’s going on with her career, she’ll be happy and then we can work on our relationship.”
“Or, she could marry you and she won’t have to worry about the career. My wife was pregnant at Lucie’s age.”
Maybe Joe was deaf in addition to being thick skulled? His solution was to get married. And what a rotten reason for someone to get married. These old-school guys were impossible.
“I don’t want her to marry me because I can support her. I want her because I love her. All this other stuff will work itself out. Give her some room.”
Joe slouched back in his chair. Relinquishing control had to be brutal for him. Being locked up didn’t help. Not when the people in his life came and went and he had nothing to say about it. “I know you’re worried, but I’ll take care of her. Whether we’re broken up or not, I’ll take care of her.”
There weren’t many things Frankie knew for sure, but that was one of them. It didn’t matter what it took, he’d make sure Lucie stayed safe.
Joe nodded. “I know you will, but her life would be easier if she got married.”
Frankie laughed. “You’re a pisser, Joe.” He stood. “I gotta go.”
“I put the word out. Anyone touches my daughter, there’s gonna be problems. You check in with me about this dognapping business. I want to be updated. Don’t screw with me on this.”
As if he’d dare? “If anything happens, I’ll make sure you know.”
How he’d do that without upsetting Lucie, he had no idea.
He stepped into the waiting area and found her reading a copy of the prison newsletter. “Anything good?”
She slapped the paper on the side table and stood. “Family picnic next week. Can we go home now?”
“These visits are always fun.”
After pushing through the door, she stopped on the outside landing. “Am I wrong?”
He shrugged. “You push his buttons, he pushes yours. When he asked about us getting married, you could have said we’re talking about it. He would have been satisfied. Instead, you blew your stack.”
“So, it’s my fault?”
“No. It’s his fault. Definitely. You need to be prepared, though, or it’ll always wind up this way and everyone loses.”
And I land in the middle
“I won’t give in.”
“You don’t have to. He’s locked up. Just say what’ll make him happy and he’ll leave you alone.”
“You want me to lie?”
“I want you to spin. Spinning will buy you time and save me grief.”
She leaned against the steel railing and crossed her arms. When the sun lit her blue eyes and made them twinkle, Frankie sucked in a breath. He loved her. She terrorized him, but he loved her.
“Spin,” she said, clearly calculating the merits.
“We’ll try that.”
“Perfect. Let’s go home.”
* * *
The next morning, Lucie figured the dead-last thing Frankie wanted to do before work was drive her downtown for her dog duties. As always, he smiled and pressed on.
They walked the half-block to Otis’s house because, with the magic of the Frankie Factor, they found a spot on the same street. Parking spaces, like women, just appeared for him.
“You don’t have to walk with me. I’ll be fine.”
He grinned. “I want to walk with you. It’ll force you to spend time with me.”
Looking at him, that beautiful face, the dark hair, it hurt in a way that carved out a piece of her. Plus, she’d been thinking about the colossal disaster of the visit with her father and how Frankie fell into the drama. He deserved better.
“I never apologized about the visit with my dad. He shouldn’t have cornered you.”
Frankie shrugged. “He didn’t corner me. You’re the one he wanted answers from. I was collateral damage.”
“Still; it’s none of his business.”
“What’s your point?”
She laughed. “It makes me realize that no matter how old I get, he’s still trying to control everything.”
“He’s your dad. Him trying to control you will never change.”
“Unless I change it.”
They reached the driveway and Lucie moved to the garage, pressed in the code.
“I’ll wait here,” Frankie said.
Two minutes later, she came out with Otis leaping around, all too ready to start his walk. Frankie stood in the middle of the driveway, his eyes closed and his head tilted to the clear blue sky. He looked…peaceful.
“I love this time of year,” he said without looking at her.
Spring meant the start of a new baseball season and she knew it brought mixed emotions for him. He loved the excitement of getting outside, playing on his rec team, watching the games, but at the same time, he mourned the loss of his dream.
“You okay?” Lucie asked while Otis sniffed around her foot. The rhinestone collar she made him twinkled in the sunlight and she wondered if she should have Ro double-check it for real diamonds. She bit down. No. That one had been checked already. All fakes.
Frankie finally looked at her, his eyes a little distant. “Are we going to make it through this break?”
After shifting the leash to the other side, she reached for his hand. “I want to.”
“How do we fix it then? It seems like you want me to give up my life. I won’t do that.”
“I don’t want you to give up your life. I want it to not interfere with our relationship. I’ve worked hard to get beyond being Joe Rizzo’s daughter. I want more than that. You don’t mind people gossiping about your family. I do. And I want you to defend me to your parents. You never say anything when they bug me about getting married. And you also told your dad about the dognappings when I specifically asked you not to.”
“Hey, if he can keep you from getting hurt, I’d do it again. The other stuff? Not defending you? On the big stuff, I defend you. Arguing with them about when we’re getting married is pointless. Nothing will change. I ignore them.” He blew air through his teeth. “Regardless, I’m not turning my back on my family.”
They’d been over this a hundred times. With the way her heart craved him, it was worth making it a hundred and one. “Don’t you remember that feeling you had when you first figured out what your dad did for a living?”