For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com

Control

by

Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 13

Everyone was silent, seeming to hold their breath as the judge read over something, her reading glasses placed precariously at the tip of her nose, her eyes, which were colorless at this distance, scanned across the pages in her hand.

Keller sat next to me, her fists clenched at her sides, face like stone, her eyes fixated on her father. We were the only folks I the audience, except, of course, the reporter who had been covering the case from the beginning. Looking back around, I saw Al sitting next to his lawyer, hands chained together then to his body with a belly chain. I guess they didn't want a repeat of the preliminary hearing. We could see mainly the back of his head, and just a slice of his profile. He looked bored, his attention also seeming to wander all over the courtroom.

Finally the judge spoke, garnering all attention. "Mr. Mitchum, I have read over the Investigative Pre-Sentencing Repot, and to be perfectly honest with you, I've made my decisions based on your level of cooperation, or in this case, lack there of. I do not believe you have any remorse for the crimes which were committed, nor do I believe you wish to be rehabilitated. Therefore, without further ado, Albert Winchell Mitchum, you are being accused of second degree murder in the heat of passion. How do you plead?"

"Guilty." Al said, standing next to his lawyer.

"I sentence you to ten years to life for this crime." Al did not move, did not respond, and neither did Keller. The judge continued. "You are being accused of sexual assault on a child, victim over the age of fifteen, in a position of trust, how do you plead?"

"Guilty."

"I sentence you to ten years to life for this crime, to run consecutively with your first sentence. You are being accused of attempted first degree murder. How do you plead?"

Al took a deep breath, "Guilty." He sounded resigned. "Look judge, I'm guilty, okay? Do we have to go through all this malarkey?"

"Mr. Mitchum, I sentence you to ten years to life in a state correctional facility for this crime. You are being accused ..."

The judge's voice trailed off in my head, leaving only a few words to register, sexually assaulted a child ... under age of fifteen ... abuse ... domestic violence. On and on she went, my stomach roiling with each and every charge. My mind was whirling, a tempest of emotions, all aimed toward Keller and Parker. I glanced over at her, so badly wanting to comfort her. I knew she'd never allow it, but I wanted to. I wanted to take this girl into my arms and soothe away her pain. Keller was no child, and I sure as hell didn't see her as one, but I wished so desperately that she'd allow me in just enough to help her without regret or her feeling she owed me. I wished she'd see me as the friend I wanted to be.

I sighed, my attention returning to the proceedings before me.

"Do you understand everything I've told to you, Mr. Mitchum?"

"Yeah."

"Good luck to you, sir."

"All rise."


As I stood, my eyes were riveted to Mitchum. When the judge left, the guards, four of them, came toward him to take him away. I looked over at Keller once again, the news settling into my mind finally that Al was being sentenced to over one hundred years in prison for nearly fifteen charges, each carrying heavy sentences.

As Al was lead from the courtroom, he looked over his shoulder, meeting Keller's gaze. Time seemed to stand still in that moment, blue eyes meeting brown, silent communication passing between those who share blood. His look seemed to say so much, convey to much. It seemed to say, okay, kid. You're on your own. Take care of yourself. In the next breath, it said, you bitch. How could you do this to me? When I looked at Keller, her gaze was just as telling. Why did you do this to us? Why couldn't you be a father? Goodbye.

She watched until he was gone, then looked down. She unclenched her fists, one hand grabbing the other, entwining her fingers, holding on to herself. She sat there for a moment, then stood, turned and headed out of the courtroom.

###

Keller's eyes remained on the world outside the truck, the scenery passing us by, trees bare on the afternoon of November 5. Over the past year and some change I'd gotten to know her moods pretty well, and lord knew there were enough of them. This one was different. It caused her to be even more introverted than usual, as though she were in her own little world, lost to the rest of us.

I reached over and patted Keller's knee. She didn't react, not even the involuntary flinch that accompanied most of my touches that caught her by surprise. She just didn't react at all, as though I had never touched her. As we passed beneath a bridge, in that moment of darkness, I saw her face reflected in the passenger side window, her eyes closing for just a moment, squeezing shut, then opening.

My heart hurt, beating rapidly, painfully in my chest. I hurt for her. Today she had lost what was left of any semblance of normalcy, or chance of it. Al was gone. Forever.

Later, the there of us sat at dinner, Parker quiet, picking up on her sister's mood. Keller barely ate, instead staring off into space, her hand absently moving her fork around through the spaghetti, twirling the noodles, only to let them fall off again with a sickening plop. Eventually, she put her fork down and stood, grabbing her half-drank glass of milk, pouring out the unwanted, and putting the rinsed glass into the dishwasher. She walked past Parker and I, leaving her plate on the table. Unusual for her to leave a mess, I sighed, feeling so heavy for her.

Parker sat on the countertop, drying the pans I washed, me not liking them to go though the dishwasher. I tried at chatter with the kid, but she wasn't real interested. I knew her mind was on her big sister, but I kept trying. Suddenly the swinging door opened, and Keller peeked her head in.

"Parker," she looked at her sister. "I need to talk to you." Then she was gone. The kid hopped down, glancing up at me before she placed her dishtowel on the edge of the sink, and slowly making her way out of the room. I sighed again and continued with the few dishes that were left.

Walking out of the kitchen, I heard soft murmuring. When I glanced into the living room, I saw Keller sitting in the window seat, her back against the sill, and Parker snuggled back against her, between her older sister's legs. Keller's arms were wrapped around the kid, and she was speaking so softly into Parker's ear. The little blonde nodded, her eyes fixated on the flames dancing in the fireplace. As I was about to leave the room, giving them their privacy, I heard,

"But you've still got me, okay?"

I climbed the stairs, feeling so very old and tired with every single step. I made it to my room, and though it was only after seven in the evening, I decided to go to bed.

###

The morning cruised in bright, early, and irritatingly chipper with birds singing their little lungs out. With a groan, I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, trying to get the sun out from my paper-thin lids. No good. Another growl, and a hasty flop, I turned my back to the irritation. It was Saturday morning, for crying out loud! And it was only, I glanced over my shoulder to take in the alarm clock's red numbers, eight-fifteen in the morning.

"Damn." Rolling onto my back, I cursed my lack of being able to go back to sleep once awakened. Grumbling to myself as I got up, slipping on some flannel pants and a sweatshirt, I got the dogs up and going, and headed out. They ran past me, tags jingling as eight heavy footfalls pounded down the stairs. Thank god for good balance. Running a hand through my hair, about to follow the boys down, I noticed that the third bedroom's door was slightly ajar. Brow crinkling at the unusual position, I headed over there, and quietly pushed the door open to peek inside.

The full-sized bed was in disarray, covers spread all over the place and the smallest bit of blonde hair was sticking out on one of the pillows. Blue bear was laying on the floor with Turtle, Parker's other bed buddy.

I was confused. What the hell was the kid doing sleeping in here? Behind me I heard movement, and turned to see a sleep-tousled Keller walking across the hall toward the bathroom. She glanced over at me, dark hair piled all over her head.

"Why's Parker in there?" I hitched a thumb over my shoulder toward the third bedroom. The janitor shrugged.

"She wanted her own room."

"Oh." I watched as Keller made her way into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. "She waned her own room." With that, I headed downstairs to let the boys out.

###

"We're going where?" Blue eyes looked at me, questions in their oceanic depths.

"Beds, Baths and Beyond, thank you very much." I said, looking over my shoulder to make sure I wouldn't hit anyone as I changed lanes.

"What is that? Are we getting more paint there?"

I chuckled, thinking of the cans of pale blue and white paint sliding around the bed of the truck. "No. That, dear Keller, is where we're going to start looking for new sheets and a new comforter for Parker's new room, like we talked about." I smiled over at the kid in question, and she beamed back up at me. "What do you think of that, kiddo?" I tweaked her nose as I stopped for a stoplight. She giggled and hugged blue bear to her.

Finally getting to the store, the three of us took in all the aisles filled with cool stuff for just about every room of the house. All the extra odds and ends and knick knack-type stuff. The Mr. Beer made me smile, thinking how much Gabe would love me forever if I got that for him for Christmas.

Keller and I had sat down with Parker, wanting to know what she'd like to be staring at for the next, who knew how long. Could be days, months, or maybe, hopefully, years. The kid had said with certainty, "Clouds and sky." So be it.

Getting to the linens section of the store, we scanned the rows up on rows of sheet sets, individual sheets and pillow cases, and comforters, looking for just the right one.

"Ohh!" Parker exclaimed, pointing toward one of the displays. The comforter was pale blue with puffy white clouds bouncing all over it, and little dogs with golden halos on their heads sitting on a few. "Roy!" Parker ran over to the display to get a closer look. Keller and I swapped a look, then followed suit. We watched as the little blonde exclaimed over the colors, how soft it was, and told us in certain terms, "I want it."

I looked to Keller, bottom lip sticking out in a pout. "Can she have it, big sis?" Blue eyes narrowed, taking me in like I'd lost my mind. Sighing, she nodded and both Parker and I whooped in excitement. I found a salesperson, explaining that there was only the display of the comforter, and that we just had to have one. With a smile and wink at Parker, who was hiding behind my legs, he sauntered into the backroom, returning ten minutes later with the cloud comforter wrapped in a clear, plastic bag that zipped. I could feel small, excited fingers dig into the side of my thigh. Grimacing slightly, I took the comforter with a smile. "Thanks so much." The sales guy smiled back and walked away.

The search was on for sheets to match. Parker took hold of Keller's hand as Keller and I split up, each taking one side of the aisle. I head Keller snort, and turned to see she was holding up a set of sheets with little, cartoon airplanes all over them.

"I think you should get those, Keller." I gave her a shit-eating grin. She glanced over her shoulder at me, brow raised.

"Yeah. More like you."

"Okay." I snatched them from her hand and tossed them into the buggy I was pushing. She looked shocked, glancing into the cart to see if I had, in fact, put them in there to buy. I smiled at her, challenging her to say anything. Shaking her head, she turned back to the task at hand.

Finally, after much searching, we found the perfect set of sheets. They were white flannel with a whole rainbow of clouds dotting them. Parker fell in love with them as soon as Keller showed them to her. She grabbed the package, looking at it from every angle, and finally holding it to her small chest, a cheesy grin plastered across her face. Keller and I looked at each other, and at the same time said,

"Found em."

An hour and a whole lot of money later, we were finally headed home. Parker was beside herself as we unloaded everything, Keller ripping the tarps out of their plastic to start covering everything. As she did that, Parker and I quickly moved everything small out of the room. The kid happily gathered what she could in small arms, proudly pulling the old comforter from the bed behind her, leaving it in the hall for Tut to commandeer for his lazy ass.

"Are we ready?" I asked, walking into the room, now with only two pieces of furniture in it, the bed and dresser, both covered and shoved to the center of the tarp-covered room.

"Yep." Keller used a screwdriver to pop the metal lid off the can of blue paint, then stuck the thin, wood stir stick in to mix the colors.

"That's a pretty color," I observed, realizing that it looked much like Keller's eyes.

"Sure is." Before I knew what was happening, a paint roller was thrown at me, as well as a white painter's cap.

"Gee, thanks." Tugging the cap onto my head, I walked over to the paint tray that Keller was starting to pour paint into, and Parker was leaning over it, watching in awe as the creamy paint flowed in. "Want to help?" I asked her, finding a small paint brush. The kid grinned and nodded. "Okay. Here you go, and the paint only goes on the walls, okay? Nothing else." Parker nodded, and I steered her over to the wall where there was no windows or closet doors to contend with. I still needed to tape those off. So, as the sisters got started, so did I.

The afternoon seemed to flow on quickly, all of extremely busy, trying to get the walls covered with the first coat. Painting was always labor intensive work, but it was nice and felt good. I, for one, was thoroughly enjoying the antics of my roomies. Parker was basically covered from head to toe in blue, which I can't say really surprised me. The white of the wall was covered with small, pale blue handprints and letters. Luckily they were easily painted over.

###

Two hours later, we all retreated downstairs to get out of the fumes, which were starting to give me one hell of a headache. The room was completely painted, including the white woodwork, so I rewarded us all with strawberry/raspberry smoothies. Parker was playing with the Reddi Whip I'd loaded on top of hers.

"Do you like the color, sweetie?" I asked, sipping leisurely from my drink. The kid nodded, golden curls bouncing in time. "What do you want on your walls?" I glanced over to see Keller doodling on a pad of yellow legal paper. She brought the pen up to her mouth, very even, white teeth chewing lightly on the tip. I leaned over the table to try and get a peek. I was utterly amazed at what I saw. There was an entire landscape emerging from the page. A B-52 Bomber rode the skies, filled with clouds and even a very realistic eagle. Below there were in indiscriminate buildings and houses, the ground pocked with trees and cars.

Blue eyes looked up at me through dark bangs. I sat back, allowing my feelings to show.

"That's really good, Keller. I didn't know you could draw." She shrugged, turning her attention back to her doodle where she was finishing a fire hydrant on a street corner. "Huh. I guess we all know who will be drawing and painting the clouds on Parker's walls." The blue eyes shot up this time, meeting my own twinkling ones, which quickly took on a pout that Parker joined in on. She looked from one to the other of us.

"You're creating a monster," she said, eyeing me. I grinned big then turned to the kid.

"Tell her, Parker." With absolute clarity and seriousness, Parker said,

"Us sista's got to stick together."

Keller's eyes nearly fell out of her head, and her tongue right along with it. "What are you teaching my sister?!"

"To be assertive."

Keller sat back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest, eyes narrowed at me. "Sneaky."

"But true." Us blondes smiled sweetly at the janitor, which made her smile in turn, small, but there, charmed.

"Pest," Keller muttered as she stood, taking her drawing with her. I turned to the kid.

"Did you hear that, Parker? She called you a pest."

"I was talking about you." A soft voice said. I looked up to see blue eyes boring into me. I smirked, meeting her gaze for a moment, then she turned and left the room.

Parker and I sat in identical positions in the middle of Parker's new room's floor- legs Indian style, elbows resting on knees, chin resting in hands. We watched as Keller, who declined any help whatsoever, measured things, made little sketches on her yellow pad, and then set about to drawing on the blue walls. Soon enough puffy white clouds began to emerge, including a bright sun in the corner, smiling down upon Parker's bed. With precise touches and a brow crinkled in concentration, Keller began turning the room into a sky full of clouds and wonder.

Parker, unable to stop herself, got up and began to look around with an open mouth and awe in her eyes. It was so realistic, I could almost hear the birds singing. An idea struck me, and I hopped up, grabbing my keys and wallet, and hurried out the door.

Less than an hour later, I was unfolding a soft, green carpet across the hardwood of Parker's bedroom, at the foot of her bed. The color was that of a beautiful summer-green grass. The kid immediately laid down on it, looking up at the clouded ceiling, much like she did with the real sky.

"I have another surprise." I reached into the bag from the store, and pulled out a package of glow in the dark stars. Keller walked over to me and plucked them from my fingers.

"Thanks." She started to walk out of the room, Parker hot on her heels.

"Hey!" the kid called out, tugging on her sister's arm until an all out wrestling match ensued, them both laughing and grabbing at each other, trying to keep the stars away from the other. Of course, Keller let Parker win. With a triumphant whoop, the kid stood, package of stars held high over her head. Victorious!

"What the hell is going on here?"

All three pairs of eyes turned to see who had interrupted our fun. Ruby stood in the doorway of the room, large gold hoop earrings matching the shimmering shirt she was wearing, with matching gold shoes. My eyes widened at the ensemble.

"We were playing, thank you very much." I said, taking the stars from the kid's hands and tearing into the plastic. The older pilot walked into the room, taking it all in. She looked at everything, including the rug. "You're as bad as dad. Doesn't anyone knock anymore?" I looked at the redhead over my shoulder as I poured the plastic stars out onto the covered bed, sorting them by the four sizes.

"Why? You know me, I know you, no longer strangers." Ruby grinned, brown eyes twinkling with a light of a woman half her age. She turned to Keller. "Hey, kid." Walking over to her, she took the janitor in a bone-crushing hug, which Keller allowed! I was stunned. With a shy grin as they parted, she even withstood Ruby ruffling her hair! What's up with that? She doesn't let me touch her that way. "I'm on my way out for a run to stretch my air legs. Wanna go?"

"Yeah!" Keller's eyes lit up, and she hurried into her bedroom. Ruby looked back at me, a satisfied smile on her face. My brows drew, and I felt Parker's small arms winding themselves around my leg, her blue eyes looking shyly up at the pilot.

"I'm real proud of you, sweetie." Ruby said, her smile deepening.

"What for?"

"For what you've done with these two beautiful young women." She smiled at Parker, winking. The kid very slowly smiled back. "Good kids, both of them."

"Oh," I looked down, feeling rather shy, and brought a hand through my hair. Ruby laughed.

"Still do that, huh? You always did that as a kid when you was tired or nervous. Look wide awake to me, kiddo."

I met her gaze, me looking very sheepish and shy, turning more red by the moment.

"Ready." Keller said, coming back into the room, having changed into the flight suit I'd given her. Ruby looked her over with approving eyes.

"Come on, kid. Let's hit it." Together they walked out, Ruby looking over her shoulder. "Don't wait up." I smiled at her, waving them off.

###

"Get in, sweetie." I held the covers back for Parker, watching her scramble under the covers of her new comforter and sheets. We were surrounded by a sky of blue and clouds of white. It truly was wonderful. Keller was still out with Ruby, and I tried not to worry. I knew she was okay, but it was hard, not fully knowing where she was. "You comfy?" I asked, pulling the covers up and tucking them under the kid's chin. She nodded, big blue eyes looking up at me, worry knitting her brows. "What is it, honey?" I sat on the side of the bed next to her.

"Is Keller coming back?" she asked, her voice small.

"Oh, honey." I smiled affectionately at her. "Of course she is. Why would you say that?" Parker shrugged narrow shoulders, disrupting the warm cocoon I'd created for her. "Honey, she just went out with Ruby. She's fine, and will be back before you know it." I tweaked her nose, making her giggle. I smiled, cocking my head to the side. "You don't have anything to worry about, little one." I leaned down, rubbing my nose with hers. "I love you, kiddo." I whispered, and she smiled.

"I love you, too, Monk."

My eyes widened. "Monk, huh? Where did you hear that?"

"Jerome."

"Well, goodnight, Parker."

"Goodnight." A final kiss on the forehead, I switched on the rainbow-shaped nightlight near the door, and gently pulled the door mostly shut, leaving just a sliver. Heading into my bedroom, I dug through the other bag I'd brought home when I'd picked up the rug and glow in the dark stars for Parker. I smiled at my other purchases, hoping they'd be well receipted.

Walking to Keller's room, I flicked on the light, startled to see the array of posters she had hung up all over the place. Where had she gotten them all? There were pictures of various types of planes, mostly jets and bombers. There was the Stealth Bomber flying high, over the closet door, what appeared to be a cut out picture of the Air Force Academy's unique chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Seal of the United States of America was hung over her bed.

As I turned in a slow circle, taking it all in, seeing all the models she had put together, proudly displayed on everything that would sit still, mostly of fighter jets and really fast planes. What did it all mean? Did she want to go to the Academy? Did she want to fly jets? I didn't know. The room was kept immaculate. There wasn't anything on the floor, everything was put away, hidden from view. The dresser and bed tops were dusted and shone under the ceiling light. Even the windowsills were speckles.

Remembering why I was in there in the first place, I grabbed the large plastic bag, and went to work.

###

My eyes were getting so heavy, must stay awake. Tired, no must stay awake. Want to make sure she won't be mad .... My eyes began to flutter shut when I heard the tell tale sound of an ancient, sputtering Cadillac pull up. The engine idled for a moment, then the big, heavy door squeaked open and then shut. The car drove away, and there were footfalls up the walkway, then the squeak of the screen door opening, and finally, after a key was placed in the lock, the heavy front door swung open.

Please don't be mad, Keller. Don't be mad.

My heart began to pound as I heard booted steps upon the stairs, and a door open slightly. I figured it was probably Keller checking on Parker from the distance of it. Then, finally, making me hold my breath, she headed to her own room. The light was flicked on, then quickly off. I heard a quick intake of breath, then nothing. I figured the janitor was looking up at her decorated ceiling, the stars bright and visible from being exposed to light for many hours. The designs were a copy of the constellations in the night sky, and Keller's name written in the stars.

The light was flicked back on, and I imagined she was taking in the new comforter that covered her bed- various shades of blues and creams to compliment the new, soft rug I'd gotten. New cream-colored flannel sheets were neatly folded over the comforter with new, fluffy pillows atop it.

I had taken several liberties, but I really hoped that Keller would see the good I meant behind it. I knew that her room was indeed hers, and therefore was her own private sanctuary. I waited, wondering if she'd come in and ream me a new one. A heartbeat went by, then another, then the soft clicking of her door shutting.

Letting my held breath go, I rolled over and went to sleep, a satisfied smile on my face.

###

I heard the kitchen door swing open, and forced myself not to look at Keller as I flipped the pancake that was on the spatula. I started when I heard the scraping of a kitchen chair, then realized Parker, excited to see her big sister, had hopped up to run over to her.

"Hey, kiddo." Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Keller bend down and catch the flying Parker into a massive hug. "How are you? Do you like your new room?" Blonde curls bounced as the kid nodded.

"The stars were bright all night! Just like a sky!"

"Oh yeah? Pretty neat, huh?" Keller grinned at the nodding kid. "Come on, you. Breakfast looks ready." Blue eyes met mine, and I quickly looked away. I wasn't quite ready to face the possible wrath.

Breakfast was a quiet affair, Well, that is, quiet for me. Keller and Parker chatted, the janitor telling her baby sis all about her flight with Ruby, and all that they saw and the places they went. I listened, surprised to find that I was slightly jealous.

Finding this very disconcerting, I straightened in my chair, brows drawing at the thought. When I noted that I was being stared at by two pairs of blue eyes, I relaxed, deciding it wasn't worth the trouble thinking about something so petty and unlikely as jealousy.

"So, you had fun?" I asked. Keller nodded as she took a bite of her syrup-drowned pancakes. She chewed then answered.

"It was great."

"And you said you went to the Vineyard?" I had overheard her telling Parker something about Martha's Vineyard. Again she nodded.

"Did you know she's got a place out there? It's really cool." Keller took a long pull from her glass of milk then continued. "It's not a very big place, but she's got what she needs. It was great." Keller's eyes were lit up like twin candles, and I suddenly got a nagging feeling in my gut. I smiled though, trying to be as supportive of what I thought was in her mind as I could.

"Yeah, it's a great little place, I'm sure. Ruby has good taste." The janitor smiled and nodded, looking down at her mostly eaten breakfast.

"Yep. We're going flying later." Her voice was suddenly quiet. She looked up at me through her dark bangs. "Is that okay?" I was taken aback by the question.

"Keller, you do what you want to. I told you, you're not a prisoner here." She met my gaze for a brief moment, then nodded and stood.

"I have to get ready." Taking all of our dishes to the dishwasher, she quickly rinsed them under the faucet, then loaded them in the machine. Walking toward the door, she stopped, turning halfway around before meeting my eyes. "Thank you, Garrison. It looks really cool." I smiled, relief plowing through me.

"You're very welcome. I'm glad you like it."

"Thanks. Can I have this?" she had grabbed the newspaper from yesterday, holding it up for me to see.

"Sure."

"Thanks." She was gone.

Later in the day, once Keller had returned home, I saw that same paper lying on the dining room table, the red Sharpie used to circle possible apartments, still on the table next to it.

###

Soft hands make their way up my leg, nails giving me chills as they glide across the inside of my thigh, just barely glancing off my panties. A soft sigh escapes my lips, legs slightly spreading, wanting more, wanting the slight tickle of soft hair running across my skin.

"Yes,"

The hands continue to move, just sliding right over where I need them the most. Groaning, I try to move my hips so those hands will find my heated skin once more. Soft lips trace around my bellybutton. Even softer fingers find the waistband of my panties, slips inside, and my hips thrust to meet the touch.

"Please,"

I bite the inside of my lip, trying to keep quiet, not wanting to wake up Parker. Hot breath on my neck, making me smile as it tickles the tiny hairs there. The fingers glide inside the warmth of my wetness, coaxing another groan from me. Wetness on my face, making me flinch in surprise, but the stroking continues, my body responds to every single sensation. More wetness on my neck, then more hot breath, then fur ...

Bolting awake, I look to see Tut staring at me, big brown eyes wide with pleading. "Jesus, Tut!" I pushed him away, embarrassed and still completely, frustratingly aroused from my dream. He whined at me, doing his little tap dance with his front paws on my leg, telling me needed to pee. With a heavy sigh, I remove the hand that was down my pants, that I hadn't even realized I'd put there, and shoved the covers away.

I tiptoed over to Parker's room, pushing the door open just enough to get Roy's attention. He looked up at me, realizing what I was offering him, and shot off the bed, joining me and his brother in the hallway.

"Quiet, boys." I whispered, Tut ignoring me as he shook his body, tags rattling away. Or was that the marbles in his head? We made our way down the stairs, the house quiet as the blanket of darkness lay heavily over Warwick.

The backdoor popped open, and the dogs nearly knocked me down to race outside. Growling at them as they passed, I decided to follow. It was a beautiful night, and the cool breeze felt good. Wrapping my arms protectively around myself, I closed my eyes and brought my face up to the night sky. The cool, fresh air felt and smelled good, and I couldn't suppress the smile. However, when I opened my eyes, I was started to see a face looking out the window.

In the upstairs window, Keller stared out at the night sky, her forehead resting against the cool glass. She was in her bedroom, and I wondered what she was doing awake at such a ridiculous hour.

Looking back to my boys, I saw that Roy was squatting to take a shit while Tut sniffed around for the perfect spot. "Come on you queen. Piss already," I muttered. Doing just that, I let the dogs in ahead of me, and I headed upstairs.

Padding down the hall, the cool wood beneath my bare feet, I eyed Keller's room, the door tightly closed. I paused, turning so I stood before the solid oak, my hand raising as if to grab the knob, then I turned, ready to head back to my own warm bed when my feet wouldn't move. I glanced once again at the door. Remembering the haunted look in Keller's face, I raised my fist instead, and knocked, very softly.

For a moment I thought perhaps she'd gone to bed, but then I heard a muffled, "Yeah?"

"Can I come in?" Another pause from inside the room, then,

"Sure."

The door creaked slightly, and then I pushed it closed behind me, not wanting to wake the kid. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room, but then all the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling began to take shape, and I saw the solitary figure sitting at the window seat. She was merely a silhouette, but I knew she was looking outside.

Carefully making my way over to the window, I also looked out, seeing the backyard spread before us, and the new patch of dirt Tut had created to bury his fecal treasure.

"Are you okay?" I asked softly, looking down at the beautiful girl, her chiseled good looks turned silver from the moonlight streaming in. She nodded, but didn't look at me. "Beautiful night out, huh?"

"Yeah." Keller said, but nothing more.

"Do you want me to go?" Broad shoulders shrugged.

"Stay or go, Garrison. It's your house."

"But it's your room."

Blue eyes looked up at me. "I really like what you did in here." She nodded toward the rest of the room behind us. "At first I was kind of mad, you know, coming in here, well ...,"

"Uninvited?" I asked, a slight smile quirking up the right corner of my mouth. She looked down, a shy smile of her own, but nodded.

"But then I realized that you were doing something nice for me, so I stopped being mad. Now I just like it. It was, um, well, yeah, pretty cool."

I suddenly felt my chest fill with caring for this girl. "You're welcome, Keller." My hand reached out of its own accord and settled on her back, feeling the cool, silky strands of dark hair beneath my fingertips. "What's got you up so late?"

The air suddenly became much more stiff, along with Keller's body. I nearly took my hand back and rescinded the question, but changed my mind. Instead I began to trace small, slow circles around Keller's upper back with my palm. It didn't take long before she relaxed. Slightly.

"You can always talk to me, you know. Whether you realize it or want it, I am your friend."

"Why?" She looked up at me, pain-filled eyes.

"Because I care about you, Keller. I care so much about you and Parker. How could I live with you two, who are so wonderful, for over a year and not care? Hmm?" The janitor shrugged again.

"I don't know, and I don't get it." She sighed.

"Well, either way, you want to tell me what's got you so sad?" I sat on the window seat next to her, mindful of the space between us, save for my hand continuing to make its rounds over her back.

"I," she sighed, obviously struggling over something. There was silence as Keller got her thoughts together, I figured trying to decide what to tell me, and what not to. "There's a lot of stars out there." She nodded toward the heavens, and I followed her lead, not sure where we were going. I nodded, but said nothing. "I wonder if all those stars out there feel lost sometimes. If they feel like no other star or planet knows that one star exists."

"I don't know."

"How does a single star find its own light when there's a billion others twinkling? How does it know where to shine?"

Finally beginning to get an idea of where this could possibly be heading, I continued to rub circles on her warm t-shirt-clad back. They were beginning to get bigger and bigger until the circles nearly spread across the entire breadth of her back.

"I feel that way." The words were nearly whispered, and it took me a moment to register what had been said. I waited for more. "At one time my place in this world was as Al's blow up doll and whipping post, and as Parker's surrogate mom. Now that bastard's gone, and Parker doesn't need me anymore," I opened my mouth to protest, but she stopped me with a look. "Not like she used to. She has you now, too." Keller was silent again, her head leaning against the side of the window.

"What about flying? Don't you feel you belong in the sky?" I asked, my voice soft, my hand wandering up to Keller's thick, dark hair. It was soft on my fingers as I gently petted it. I smiled as I felt the dark head lean slightly into my hand. The smile that appeared on her face at the mention of flying warmed me.

"You say you're my friend." It was a statement, not a question.

"Most definitely."

"I never had friends before. Well, except maybe for a five year old."

"Yeah, well get used to it, bud. You've not only got me and Parker, but also Jerome. He thinks you're the greatest thing since packaged jerky. Ruby thinks the world of you. And my dad was your friend, too, Keller. Sweetie, you've got more going for you than you even realize. More people in your corner, rooting for you." I smiled down at her. "I know you feel lost, and it's only natural. For so long you weren't given a direction, and weren't even allowed the freedom to chose one. Now's your shot, Keller. I promise you on my father's grave- I'll do everything in my power to see that you and Parker come through this happy and whole. You hear me?" I looked at her with the intensity behind my words. I meant it, and I saw that she knew it.

The janitor nodded then sighed. She looked so tired.

"Come on." I stood, holding out my hand to her. Keller looked at it, then up at me, then stood, and my eyes followed her height. She took my hand, and I led her to the bed. Pulling the covers back, I indicated that she should get in with my head. She did. Only thinking it over for a moment, I quietly told her to scoot her, and she did that, too.

I didn't get in the bed, but sat on the edge, next to Keller's long body. To my utter surprise, she curled herself up, laying her head in my lap. Nearly overtaken by surprise and love, I continued to pet her hair, brushing it away from her face, wanting to see that beautiful vision.

"You look so tired." I said, nearly whispering. It just seemed wrong somehow to use a voice any louder than that, as if some sort of spell would be broken, and Keller and I would be thrust back into the light of day where she stayed in her head, and I stayed in mine. For once I felt as though she had tried to reach out to me somehow, like she actually did need someone once in a while. Even if it was merely convenience, I was glad it was me.

As I continued to stroke her hair and watch her falling further and further into peace, Keller fell asleep.

Continued...

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