Visiting her father was the only time she dressed down for a public event. Minimal make-up. Doing her best to wear casual forgettable clothes, jeans that were not skin tight, presentable, but older screen printed tee, flats – it felt a little unnatural like she was slipping into some unfamiliar person’s skin and maybe she was. The person Lore pretended to be on most days would not be caught dead in this outfit, but she owned it. Then again the person Lore really was didn’t like it either. Maybe she just didn’t like what it represented, what this particular outfit meant, but at the same time, she wouldn’t be getting rid of it. She quashed the urge to add a baseball cap and sunglasses, that was cliche and pathetic. Keys dangling from her finger tips, she made her way out to her dark cherry red coup with pearl racing stripes darting delicately down the sides. She buckled in, turned the country station up full blast, and sang along with Kelly Clarkson as she sped down the interstate towards the Gillian Kent Penitentiary.
Having left her little gem of a car in the parking lot, she made her way through the checkpoints to the visitor center being perfectly polite and just slightly cool to the wardens. They could look all they wanted, but she wasn’t here to charm anyone. The man she’d come to visit had enough charm for anyone and everyone. Warden Kilbourne passed her in, recognizing her from her previous visits, and she knew he’d keep the less familiar away from her. She was glad to know that there was a solidly good man on the staff who may not like her father, as he was slippery as an eel and twice as charming, but Kilbourne knew Lorelai didn’t have to come – was uncomfortable coming, and did so anyway, so he’d quietly distract anyone who looked to give her trouble. His kids were currently obsessed with pirates so she’d brought down some costume jewelry and fake gems and gold in a little treasure chest.
“Ms. Duke.” Kilbourne said as he processed her purse. “Pleasure to see you again.”
“Kilbourne,” she said with a soft smile, the hints of her southern accent colored her voice, “How are your kids?”
He smiled and shook his head. “Still driving their mother and I up the wall about learning how to sail and talking back to teachers. Thanks for asking, Ms. Duke.”
“Well, it isn’t a ship, but I thought they might like this. I couldn’t resist.” She raised a small plastic treasure chest onto the security belt. At Kilbourne’s slightly disapproving look she continued. “The gift receipt is in the bag, and it cost me less than ten dollars. I solemnly swear I am not trying to bribe a warden and I will comply with all required security checks and measures. But it’s been four years, Kilbourne, I think we count as friends. And I like your kids, for all I’ve never met them.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Kilbourne’s mouth. “They’ll get a kick out of it.” He tucked the chest away behind the desk after checking to make sure it contained exactly what she said it did. “You’re ready to go through, Ms. Duke.”
“Thanks Kilbourne.” She walked confidently into the visitor’s center, sat at her usual table, and waited for them to bring out her father. Well, they said prison was supposed to age you, and as always, her father was the exception to the rule. He seemed ignorant of the cuffs on his wrists, the nasty shade of prison orange he was wearing, and the presence of the guard behind his shoulder as anything more than a good buddy who happened to follow him around. Her dad could, and did, make friends everywhere. In fact, with a lack of women’s boyfriends or husbands to piss off, he was probably doing better than he had outside of prison in that regard.
“How’s my princess?”
She couldn’t help it, she smiled. “Kicking royal ass in national poker tournaments. How’s the king doing?”
“Oh same old same old,” he said as they sat down. “What’s new in the world of competitive poker?”
And Lore took out the magazine spread and a couple of the photographs that she’d found floating around the internet and talked to her dad about poker, social currents, celebrities, and men. No, no one was good enough for her yet. Yes, she did date that loser from Monte Carlo, but only to convince him to sell her his car. She flattered her dad, yes he was looking good. No, she didn’t see any new scars. She thought the silver at his temples made him look rakish.
“How’s your brother? Been a couple months since he came down.”
“I don’t know. We haven’t talked in awhile what with the travel and the inconsistent cell reception.”
He chuckled. Inconsistent cell reception meant laying low after trouble. Which was a fairly standard answer for most of Leon’s life. But still. “You should call your brother. It’s sad when I know more about my wandering kids than they do about each other.”
“You’re our safe drop, dad. Now tell me if the food has gotten any better or have you actually incited the threatened food fight?”
Dad was all funny stories and humor. She’d listened, asked him what he’d like in his next care package, and told him about the last club she’d liked before mentioning the harder information. “I’m going to head out to Las Vegas. Been thinking about it for awhile and as I’m angling for the international tournament I want to get into some new neighborhoods. See how the city of lights suits me.”
“They’ll suit you right down to the ground, baby girl. You make me proud.”
“Thanks Dad. It does mean I won’t be in driving distance for a bit. Might be a year or so before I stop back in.”
“You follow what stars you need to follow. Send me updates as often as you can. And call your brother.”
“Will do. Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, Lorelai.”
It was only when she was walking back to her car, that she let herself feel the slight sadness and let down. He’d never burden his princess with any of his problems or let her know about any of his schemes. He’d be bright and fun and charming. He loved her. She knew he did, in part because he wouldn’t burden her. But oh how it hurt that he’d only ask her brother for contraband or tell him about cons gone wrong or right inside.
All the same, she knew that her visits entertained and brought a wonderful taste of the wild wild world of gambling. He’d tell stories about his gorgeous princess breaking hearts and winning fortunes at the poker tables and ride that story into yet more friends and contacts. Sometimes she wondered if trouble was going to come looking for her once it finished serving time and mention her dad’s stories as the reason why, but she didn’t think it was likely. People liked her dad and so people would leave his little girl alone.
She swung into her car and dropped the top. She turned on popular radio and headed back out onto the highway. By the time the wind and drive got done with her, the hurt would have faded to the background and she could remember her irrepressible dad organizing prison menu changes with a fond smile. You know what. She could always have her things sent from the hotel to wherever she ended up in Vegas. They had services for that. When the interchange came up, she turned west toward the city of gamblers. Why wait?
The wonderful ring of thieves robbed me again. I need to attach my first lines more securely.