Last Turnout

Lori White

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It only took three days before the sheriff knocked on the hood of the van. Darryl nudged Tess awake, then pressed a finger to her lips before she could complain.

Footsteps crunched around the van to the back. “Let’s go, Darryl. Up and at ’em. And don’t tell me the girl isn’t in there. Unless that’s your Hello Kitty backpack on the passenger seat.”

Darryl pulled his jacket on over his pajamas. “Be right with you,” he called out and threw Tess her parka.

“No way,” she said and yanked the sleeping bag over her head.

“He’ll want to see you,” Darryl whispered.

“He can see me from here,” she mumbled.

Darryl swung open the back doors and jumped out, trailed by an empty potato chip bag. A fog hung low over the lake. Bobcat Canyon was the last turnout before the campground: close enough to use the showers, but far enough to skirt the nightly fee. Darryl ran his hand through his hair. “Hey there, Sheriff.”

The sheriff peered into the van. “Come on, young lady.”

Tess inched forward like a worm, her head still hidden inside the sleeping bag. “I’ve got a cold,” she whined.

“Uh huh.” The sheriff turned back to Darryl. “We’ve been through this before. This isn’t a campsite.”

“Right.”

The sheriff led Darryl away from the van. “This isn’t safe for a young girl. Hell, it isn’t safe for you.”

“It’s only temporary,” Darryl said.

“She’s got family in town that’ll take her in until you get it together.”

“I can hear you,” Tess called out.

Darryl glanced back at his daughter. Her head was out now, her hair a towering, tangled nest. He wouldn’t put it past his mother-in-law to send the sheriff up the canyon after them. “We’ll be OK. You can tell her grandma that for me.”

“Bottom line is she needs to be in school. You’ve got a smart girl there. My Sarah says she won the all-school spelling bee.”

“She got that from her mom,” Darryl said, trying not to look surprised. Jenny was a straight-A student until she got pregnant and dropped out senior year. Something Jenny’s mother never let him forget.

“What happened to the job you had at Patterson’s?”

“Hard to do deliveries when your vehicle is doubling as your bedroom.”

The sheriff shook his head. “Look, the judge’s decision was based on her staying in school. If she misses anymore, I’ll have to make the call.”

The fog was burning off. Darryl was going to take Tess back to Blue Point, do some fishing. “She’ll be there,” he said.

The sheriff headed for his car. “Better get a move on. It’s almost seven.”

Tess was cocooned inside the bag again. “Time to hit the showers, kiddo,” Darryl said. He watched as his daughter tottered off, a towel draped around her neck, her hair like the bride of Frankenstein. When she rounded the corner, Darryl checked her backpack first, then her sleeping bag. The trophy was at the bottom, warm against the flannel, her gold name shining.

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