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Ever N. Hayes

EMERGENCY EXIT

“Those who try to juggle wisdom, power and greed, drop one of the balls, every time.”

– Greg Hamerton

PROLOGUE

EMERGENCY EXIT

There are some things I’ll never forget…

My son’s first word. Mama.

Any of Michael Jordan’s signature moments. Watched every game.

The face of the girl I almost had an affair with. Never did get her name.

My last day as an American. Kind of.

And the text message that killed my wife. “I think I’m lo…”

That’s all it said.

It was cliché. The guy was drunk. The guy was lost. He was texting and driving in the pouring rain, one block from our southern Minnesota home. I think I’m lost.

The difference between life and death was four stupid words.

He was in the wrong lane. Supposedly he never even saw her. It doesn’t really matter. Sophie didn’t have a chance.

She had a seatbelt on. He didn’t. She died. He barely got a scratch on him.

He basically got away with murder. What’s five years?

My wife got “Amazing Grace.”

There are a few things I wish I could change…

My daughter’s first word. iPad.

My college major. Journalism.

Being the man I thought I was. When clearly I wasn’t.

My last day as an American. Gonna have to explain that, I know.

And my wife’s last words. “Tell him I love him.”

She wasn’t talking about me. She was talking about our son, Danny. She should have been able to tell him herself. I messed that up.

Sophie lost her life four years ago. If she hadn’t, we’d both be dead now.

PART I

ONE: (Danny) “No Answer”

Friday, November 11, 2016.
Southern Minnesota.

Danny’s pocket started buzzing again. What could possibly be so important? He shifted so he could pull his phone out and looked at the caller ID. “Loser,” it read. Again? Danny tossed it on the end table. It continued to vibrate, but he ignored it.

“Who is it?” Kate asked from the basement mini-bar, where she was grabbing them each a soda.

“Dad,” Danny answered. “Again!” he added in disgust. Leave a message already!

Lightning flashed in the window. Steady rain poured down outside.

“That’s odd,” his girlfriend replied, handing him a Dew. Danny thought so too. Since his dad had come back home five months ago, he hadn’t called Danny once. “So he’s the one who keeps calling?” Kate asked, sitting down on the couch next to him.

Danny nodded, glancing at his watch and running his other hand through his shoulder-length blond hair.

He picked the football up from his lap and tossed it in the air a few times. A roll of thunder shook the walls. Man! Glad we’re not out there. Last week’s loss in the state playoffs had a perk after all.

Kate pressed Danny a little more. “Any idea why he’s calling?”

Danny looked at her and shook his head. Where was she going with this?

“When did you talk to him last?” she asked. He was watching football highlights. Never the best time for a conversation.

“I talk to him every day,” he answered curtly.

“Sorry. Danny, please. Hey.” She placed a soft, cold hand on his forearm. “Don’t get defensive with me, okay? You know what I mean.” His posture relaxed a little and he nodded. “I’m not talking about you saying a hurried ‘bye’ as you run out the door. When did you last have an actual conversation with him?”

He shrugged, expressionless. “A few months ago, I guess.” Seriously, why was this so important to her?

“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on,” she said, leaning back with a deep sigh.

More lightning lit up the room, and the rain was coming down harder.

Danny cringed, reacting to a bone-jarring tackle on the screen. Ouch! He looked at Kate. She was still looking at him, as if waiting for a further explanation. What the heck am I supposed to say? “There’s nothing to figure out Kate. I don’t want to talk to him. That’s all.” Rain was pelting the side of the house now. A commercial came on, and he redirected his attention towards the water-streaked window. This will be fun biking home in!

She couldn’t let it go, even though it was clear he was getting upset. “Aren’t you at least curious why he’s calling? He never calls you.”

He noted the heavy accent on the “never,” but didn’t say anything. She was right. Dad NEVER calls me.

“Danny, come on. Maybe he’s trying…”

“Maybe he is, Kate. I don’t care!” Placing his can on the table just a little too hard, he saw her wince. “Trying isn’t good enough!” he snapped, instantly regretting his terse reply. He knew she was just trying to help. “Sorry… Kate, I’m sorry.” He covered her hand with his own and tried to smile. “Seriously, do we have to talk about this now? I don’t want to talk about Dad.” More thunder. “Okay?”

But she wasn’t nearly done. “Can you at least tell me what you want from him?” she asked point blank. “Honestly. Your mom told you how great he’s been to her. Right? It’s been a long time since he left, Dan. He’s been back a long time. He’s−”

“Not nearly long enough,” Danny muttered, cutting her off. I don’t want to fight about this. He stood up and walked to the window to watch the rain. Who cares that he came back? The point was he’d left. He gave up on us.

Kate held her hands up in apparent submission. “Fine. I just think you’re being a little unfair.”

That was too much. “Unfair?” he asked, spinning in disbelief to face her. Seriously? “Kate, you have no−”

“Danny, I’m not judging you,” she replied, hands up again, apologetically trying to settle him back down. She stood and moved over to him, stopping him before he could say anything else. “I get that he hurt you. I get that he messed up in a big way.” She placed her palms on his chest and paused as another bolt cut across the sky. His heart’s tempo accelerated beneath her hand. “But do you know what I would give to have one more minute, much less one more day or one more chance at a life with my dad?” She looked up at him for understanding and saw what she was saying register in his eyes. He understood.

She diffused his anger with that response. Anything he said now about his own problems would be incredibly insensitive to her. Maybe she was right.

He was about to say as much when Kate’s phone started buzzing on the table. She looked at the flashing screen. “Great. Danny, he’s calling me now.”

Okay, this definitely wasn’t normal.

“Do I answer?” she asked, picking up the phone.

He thought about saying, “Go ahead,” but his stubbornness won over. “No.” He took the phone from her and shut it off. Doesn’t he get the picture? He picked his phone up from the table and switched it off too. He’s probably just worried about the weather. Danny sat back down on the couch. I can take care of myself.

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