Today’s story is courtesy of Julia Lye. Our prompt for January continues: “Your character just moved to a new city. Where do they go first?”
He picked up on the 8th ring. She had inadvertently found herself counting them.
“Hullo?” Judging by his reserved tone, she assumed he didn’t recognize the number.
She couldn’t stop her voice wobbling when she spoke. “Dad…?”
“Jade? S’everything alright?” There was dread in his tone, but she couldn’t blame him; she hadn’t spoken to him – least of all called him – in years. “Is your mom-?”
“I flunked out. I… I couldn’t tell her.” Tears overflowed onto her cheeks. “Dad, I have nowhere left to go…” Her voice broke again, sounding annoying and pathetic in her ears. She kicked herself for even grovelling to him. Ten years. It had been ten years since the split, the divorce, and the move. He never once reached out to her. The unwelcome thought crossed her mind: will he even take me?
“Gimme one sec, I’ll cover your plane ticket. You good with economy?” He paused, thinking it over. “What city are you comin’ from?”
Jade drove home from the airport in the backseat of a cop car. Her dad’s, to be precise. Just looking at him, Tommy Price was about as stereotypical a cop as a cop could be. Thick salt and peper sideburns, a caterpillar on his upper lip, and a coffee in his hand when he pulled up outside the airport to meet her. The passenger seat, stacked with donut boxes and empty coffee cups, gave the impression his only partner was honey glazed and artery clogging.
They barely spoke the whole way to his place, save Tommy’s infrequent comments on whatever caught his eye at each stop sign and red light. Jade tried not to notice how he blew heaving sighs under his mustache and drummed his fingers on the wheel to fill their silences, louder even than the voices on the radio. She tried not to notice a lot of things, like the boarded up windows of store fronts, the caking graffiti on every available surface, the homeless loitering outside small businesses. If she had only finished her degree, she could have gone back to live with her mom and aunt in the small, rural town she knew like the back of her hand. The comfortable familiarity of that town would’ve cushioned the fall of flunking out, a town where she had spent the last 8 years, save the almost-year she spent in a too-small dorm with a food-stealing cryptid of a roommate who never attended a single class in all the time Jade knew her, and somehow never suffered for it. With a degree, Jade might have even nabbed herself a stable job and started her life in a place of her own. But here she was, fleeing to one of the biggest cities in the country and the record-holder for gang violence, after crying to a dad she hadn’t seen in years.
She sank in her seat, letting her long, dark hair fall over her face. Only nineteen ears old and already a failure.
“Jade?” her dad’s gruff voice, hesitant and unsure, called her out of the darkness threatening to consume her. “It’ll be okay… y’know? I don’t gotta tell you this ain’t the end of the world?” She watched him furrow hi brows in the reflection of the rear-view mirror, searching for the right words to console her. “Just ‘cause one thing’s over don’t mean everything is.” He smiled awkwardly in the rear view, and she forced a smile back at him. He didn’t know her true smile well enough to discern the difference.
“Yeah. I know.” She winced, unsure what next to say.
A tentative pause held the car at gunpoint, unbroken until the blast of a motorcycle engine zipped past, chased along the white line in the middle of the road by three tailgating motorcycles. Jade flew back in her seat, alarmed at the sudden commotion as she craned her neck to look out the window. A man barely older than herself flew past on his red sportbike, himself dressed all in red as his blond locks flapped in the rushing wind. By the look of him, she would have bet what little she had in her bank account that he cared more about his blond head of hair than whatever was going on here.
Tommy swore under his breath, flicking on the police lights paired with a deafening siren. Crossing hand over hand on the steering wheel, he pulled out to the middle of the road in pursuit of the biker chase.
“What are you doing? The backseat’s already occupied!” Jade cried out, barely hearing herself over the siren enmeshed with the roar of the motorcycles, but all muted beneath the blood pounding in her ears. Before he could register her words, Tommy called in the chase.
“Axel Fox sighted off 42nd and Cauther, headed west. Three pursuants on black sportbikes, suspected Ratback Fleas. Pursuing in-” A series of gunshots rang out from ahead, bringing Jade to scream and duck under her seat, holding her head between her hands. “Gunshots have been fired! I repeat, gunshots fired! Request for back-up!”
“I shouldn’t be here! Dad, please! Take me home!” Jade wailed, shutting her eyes tight.
He ignored her a moment longer, although his eyes were on the rear-view mirror. “APB on Axel Fox; red bomber jacket with a caricature of a yellow bee allergy patch on the back, red leather gloves and pants, and red hi-tops.”
“Dispatch confirmed,” answered a tinny voice over the radio.
“I have a civilian in my vehicle. Leaving it to you.”
With that, Tommy pulled out of the chase, turning onto a side street and flicking off the lights and siren before pulling up to the curb. He twisted in his seat, making sure Jade was alright. Jade was admittedly not alright.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she whispered, clenching her fists. “Please… can we just go home?”
“Do y’mean…” He hesitated, searching for the right words. “Home home, or your mom’s-?”
“I just want to sit inside and forget everything. Is that so much to ask for?”
Smiling through the rear-view, he dipped his chin in a nod. “No. Not hardly.”