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 or auth2b@hotmail.com

Control

by

Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 7

I stared out my bedroom window. I was sitting on a chair, arms wrapped around my drawn-up knees. The light of dawn was shining over the horizon, and I brought my coffee cup to my lips, watching the new day begin to burn with the sun’s intense, early morning rays. Like a wildfire, the light spread over the houses and streets. Magical golden fingers. The Midas of our day.

I glanced back over my shoulder, envying my dogs who still slept on, no clue as to the world’s horrors. They snored lightly, Roy groaning slightly in his sleep as he changed position. That bed held no safety and comfort for me this morning. I had been wakened by a nightmare in which Keller was brutally raped then murdered. My heart still beat a staccato rhythm in my chest at the memory. I could see the girl’s blue eyes, so brilliant and clear, filled with terror and pain. I never saw the culprit in my dream, but I knew who had done it.

I shivered again in the early morning air, which though chilled, couldn’t touch my heated skin. The chill was in my heart.

Hearing the girls stir, I knew it was time to get up and around to start the day. It was hard, wanting to stay in my self-imposed isolation. I could not sleep, but did not want to face the world, either. I still felt sick and beyond sad. I had no interest in facing my day, and certainly not in seeing Keller. I was afraid that I’d don a maternal, ‘ohhh, give me loves’ kind of look, and hug her and squeeze her and call her George. She didn’t need that from me, and I didn’t need to get slapped.

With a small sigh, I unfolded myself, drained the rest of my coffee, and got ready for work. The drive to the hangar from Parker’s school was quiet, as usual. I spent half the trip chewing on my lip, stealing glances at Keller, only to return my gaze to the road ahead of us as my brain whirled.

"Keller?"

"What?" She looked out the passenger window. I looked at the back of her head.

"Where’s your mom?" As if in slow motion, she turned, fixing her slightly narrowed eyes on me. She stared me down for a moment, sizing me up. By the time she answered, I felt like I was an inch tall and a year old.

"Gone."

"Oh." I nodded my understanding and snagged my lip with my bottom teeth again. "Keller?"

"What?" She sounded slightly annoyed now.

"I have a difficult question for you."

"With any luck, I’ll have an easy answer." There was no teasing in her voice. Only plentiful sarcasm and annoyance.

"Last night, uh, I saw Parker playing with her dolls again." Keller looked over at me, and I saw a flicker of fear in her eyes. "Keller?" I met her gaze. "Were you, uh, touched?" Inwardly I grimaced at my word choice, thinking it cheesy under the circumstances, but I couldn’t bring myself to use the ‘r’ word.

"Was I raped, you mean?" she said for me. Her tone was terse, eyes hard. I nodded, suddenly feeling ashamed for asking. But I felt I needed to know. I wanted to know what I needed to do or not do, say or not say. I figured the more I knew about her past, the more I could try and help her. Hard blue eyes continued looking at me. "I did what I had to do to keep that monster away from Parker." I nodded again. Wasn’t going to argue that point.

"Oh." I sat there for a second, drawing courage to ask another question. "So, you and Parker are close."

She looked at me, waiting for me to get to the point.

"Is her mother gone, too?" I bit my lip, waiting for the answer.

Again, the annoyed look. "Yes. So no, she’s not mine." She turned back to the window.

"Oh, okay," I said, relieved.

We finally reached the hangar, and I turned to my companion. "Keller, I have a flight up to New York today, which will take a good part of the day. Parker’s teacher is going to drop her off here and dad can give you guys a ride home." I took my key ring out of the ignition, and wrestled with it for a moment, finally snagging a silver key off. "Here. This is your key. I had it made yesterday."

Keller took the key from me, looking at it in her palm, where it gleamed in the early morning light. She looked over at me with something akin to surprise lighting those blue eyes for a moment, then it was gone. She nodded and got out of the truck.

###

"Oh, fuck!" My eyes squeezed shut, mouth open as my head arched back, a long, satisfied sigh traveling through me. I felt Celeste’s long, red hair brushing my inner thighs as she moved her way back up my body. She looked rather smug, as she should. This was my fourth orgasm in an hour. I had been so tightly wound up, needing to vent in anyway possible. Guess sex won out.

"Damn, baby," she purred, nibbling my neck and up to my mouth. We shared a long, languorous kiss, which was heavily laced with my own taste. She rolled off me, laying next to me on the floor of her living room. We hadn’t even made it to the bedroom, as I’d attacked her as soon as I’d been let in. I felt her eyes on me. I met her gaze. "What was that all about?" She traced a lazy trail though some beaded sweat on my stomach. I sighed, brushing sweaty locks from my eyes.

"I just really needed that." I smiled at her. "Thank you."

"Oh, it was certainly my pleasure." She grinned back. "I have to say, I’m glad I got mine first. After getting you off all those times, I’m exhausted." We both chuckled, and then enjoyed a companionable silence. Finally Celeste spoke.

"How have you been, Garrison? I haven’t seen you in a while. Thought you’d moved on." She turned onto her side, placing a hand on my stomach, looking down at me with her head on her other hand.

I trailed my fingers lightly over the veined back of that hand, and smiled up at the ceiling. "Shit, you won’t believe this." I looked at her, her own curious smile etched across full lips. I began my tale, not leaving anything out. I needed to vent, as well as find out if I was doing something wrong, and that was why Keller absolutely hated the sight of my face.

Celeste was quiet for a moment, letting it all roll throughout her mind. Suddenly she clasped my face between her finely manicured hands, and kissed me. It was a soft kiss, tender but full. When she moved away, I looked up at her, confused.

"What was that for?" Not that I hadn’t enjoyed it, I just had expected something a little more verbal.

"You are a wonderful person, Garrison Davies. Do you know that?" I shook my head, still confused. "I get all weepy eyed when I see people actually stop when an ambulance or fire truck pass by. So rare is it that people are kind to each other. And here you are, taking in these two complete strangers. And a child, to boot!"

I endured a huge hug, nearly crushing my ribs. For just a moment, I got a feeling of how poor Keller must have felt with her injuries. Finally releasing me, she calmed down and got into serious talk mode. One of the things I loved best about Celeste was that, though she was amazing in the bedroom, or living room as it were, she was also a wonderful conversationalist with a quick, logical mind. I often came to her with problems or complaints.

"Let’s talk about Keller," she said, turning over on her back and looking at me, a small crease of thought between her eyes. I nodded.

"Okay. Why does she hate me?"

"I don’t think she does," was my answer. She held a hand up to silence my immediate objections. "Think about it, Garrison. This girl has probably never had anyone to really trust. You said she has no friends, save for maybe her sister. Her mom is gone, though we have no idea when she left. Let’s say she left when Parker was born. That’s still five years that she’s been gone. Maybe she was close to her kids, and maybe not. Keller’s father is an unbelievably evil prick, who used and abused his daughters. And those carvings," she shuddered. It had been hard for me to tell her about those initials.

"You should see those two together, Celeste. I’ve never seen two sisters so close in all my life."

"They’re all the other one has." She looked into my eyes, trying to get me to understand something. "If you think about it, Keller has always taken care of this poor kid, and now here you come, a savior on a white horse. You’re able to provide for Parker and Keller, buy them things they didn’t have before. I mean, you told me about the ice cream thing. Parker had no idea what to do with it! What five year old isn’t hooked on sweets?"

"Yeah."

"You’re Santa Claus, my friend. Keller probably resents that on some level. Not only that, but the fact that she had to go straight from hell to your house."

"Thanks, bud. I appreciate it." I rolled my eyes, and Celeste took me into her arms. I rested my head on top of her stomach as she ran her fingers through my hair.

"You know what I mean, goon. The girl probably just wants to be able to finally do her own thing. She’s had a huge responsibility heaped onto her with Parker and all. Plus, having to keep all this inside for so long. The strong, too, do fall."

I sighed, nodding. With a groan of protest from both my sore body and Celeste, I stood. "I have to get going." Finding my clothing, which was scattered all around the room, I managed to pull everything on. I borrowed some deodorant, ran my fingers through my hair with some water, and was on my way.

The flight back to Warwick was uneventful and quiet for me. I did a lot of thinking, and tons of reminiscing of the last afternoon. I was so grateful to have Celeste in my life. We’d never become more than lovers, as we lived too far apart, and neither of us had a hankering for a long-distance thing. That was a shame, but the way the chips do fall.

I thought a lot about what Celeste had said regarding Keller, and it did make sense. It didn’t make it any easier, though. I’d just have to play everything by ear.

###

The hangar was dark when I got back, which wasn’t a surprise. It was almost nine o’clock, everyone else having gone home at least three hours ago. Exhausted from the long flight and really athletic sex, I made my way to the office. Imagine my surprise when I flicked on the light, and there on that ancient couch with the nearly duck taped arm, I saw the Mitchum girls at rest.

Keller slept on the edge, her back to the room, with Parker cuddled in her arms against the back of the couch, small hands tucked under a little chin. I smiled, feeling my heart swell. This quickly turned to worry when I realized they were supposed to be at home by now.

I set my things on the desk, then turned toward the girls again. There, laying face down on Keller’s hip, was the October issue for Plane and Pilot. I looked over my shoulder toward the basket that sat in the corner, filled nearly to the brim with old copies. I really needed to throw some out. Turning back to my charge, a memory struck me. A memory of a handprint on my baby in the hangar, and a dropped magazine in the doorway.

Chewing on my lip, I walked over to the pair, nearly stopping in my tracks when I saw blue eyes looking up at me. I hated it when Keller startled me. She looked down at the mag, where my gaze had been moments before, then looked up into my eyes. She looked afraid.

"That’s a great magazine," I said, nodding toward the glossy. She said nothing, nor did she move. Instead, she looked as though she were waiting for the fallout. "Come on. Let’s go home." I decided to leave my paperwork from that day’s flights for tomorrow, and get two very tired girls to bed.

Keller slowly disentangled herself from her sister and stood. She stretched, raising long arms toward the ceiling, and emitting the tiniest little squeak before carefully closing the magazine. She walked over to the basket and laid it down, then went back to the couch, roused Parker, and picked her up, murmuring softly to the five year old.

"You guys head out to the truck, Keller. I’ll follow in a sec," I whispered, so as not to wake the kid, who had fallen asleep again on her sister’s shoulder. Keller nodded and they went out the door. My gaze roamed back to the magazine basket again, and I ran a hand through my hair. With only a moment’s thought, I grabbed four issues, stuffing them into my flight suit, then headed out to the truck.

###

Keller carried Parker upstairs, and I let the boys out and fed them. I noticed that light was blinking on the answering machine, and clicked PLAY. There were some messages from dad and Gabe, then one from Detective Paul Townsend. He said he needed Keller to call him as soon as possible, and that he’d be in the office until ten. Looking at the clock, I saw that it was twenty till.

Scurrying up the stairs, I handed Keller, who was tucking Parker in, the cordless.

"Keller, Detective Paul Townsend wants you to call him. He’ll be there for a little while longer." She looked at me and slowly nodded. Leaning down to give Parker a soft kiss to the forehead, she took the phone from me with a quiet thank you, and headed into the bathroom, closing the door behind her for privacy.

I paced around in my bedroom, wondering what was happening in there. Did this have to do with Al? Undoubtedly it did. Feeling like an idiot and snoop wannabe, I headed into the master bath to start a shower. I quickly turned the water off when I thought I heard a knock on the bedroom door. Listening, I heard it again.

Keller stood on the other side, phone still in hand. She was chewing on her lip and avoiding eye contact. She sighed, then said, "I need to be at the police station in the morning. Can you still take Parker to school?" She briefly met my eyes, then looked away.

"Of course. We’ll drop her off, then head to the station."

"I can get there myself." She looked at me now, challenging me. Again. I sighed, leaning against the doorframe.

"Keller, the police station is at least fifteen miles from here. I’ll take you."

"I may be there awhile," she cautioned.

"So I get caught up on writing the great American novel. I can handle it." I gave her a smile, which was not returned. She nodded, then turned and headed into her bedroom.

###

I sat on a very hard wooden chair, my legs crossed this way, then that. Anything to get comfortable. I tried to keep myself occupied with the magazines the clerk at the front desk had so kindly provided me with. She read them during her lunch hour.

Looking at my watch again, I saw that I had been sitting there for an hour and thirty-six minutes. Sighing and running a hand through my hair, I rested my head against the wall behind me and cracked my eyes open, lazily watching people come and go.

Is it possible for a butt to go numb?

Squirming again, this time lifting myself with my hands on the arms of the chair and sliding my legs under me, I sat on them. Ahhh. Padding. Just about to become content for another ten minutes or so, the inner door opened, and Keller stepped out, followed by two suited men. They talked quietly in the hall for a few moments, then Keller was free to go. Not that she was ever a prisoner.

Upon asking the front desk clerk, I found out that Keller was there so they could get a full statement of events from her. They were working on Al’s case and gathering evidence. Hooray!

I stood as she stepped out from the swinging half gate that led to the back, separating it and the lobby. She looked ragged and haggard. Her eyes were dull, haunted, dead, her shoulders slumped.

Opening my mouth to ask if she was okay, I just as quickly snapped it shut. Something told me to keep quiet and leave her alone. She, I imagined, had just been through hell.

I drove us toward the hangar in peace, though I did stop at Burger King and bought lunch. She said nothing, but accepted the food, though she just picked at it. I wanted so badly to just grab her up in my arms and hug her and tell her it would all be okay. I hoped it would, anyway.

###

Keller smiled brightly as her little sister ran toward the truck. Parker climbed in, gave her sister a hug, then handed me a drawing. I took it, looking at it. I was stunned to see a little blonde stick figure with big, gaudy green eyes smiling from an airplane.

I looked at the kid. "Is this me?" I pointed to the green-eyed pilot. She nodded, big blue eyes looking up at me. "Ah, sweetheart, thank you." I very slowly wrapped an arm around the tiny shoulders, giving the girl a small hug. What I really wanted to do was crush her to me in a giant bear hug. I knew this was not wise, so left it at that. I was truly touched, and could not wait to get home and put the picture on the fridge.

Parker got herself settled between us, Keller snapping her seatbelt into place. I glanced over at the darker girl, knowing she’d had one hell of a day yesterday. She was looking out the windshield, her jaw muscles working. Feeling eyes on her, she looked over at me, and my breath caught. She had a look of death and jealousy on her face. Quickly her eyes left mine, and I shivered.

Once home, Keller holed herself up in their bedroom, leaving Parker in her corner to play. I snagged the daily newspaper, which had recently become an afternoon paper in Warwick. I hated that, preferring to read the paper over coffee in the morning.

So, tonight I sat next to the fire in the living room and began to read. I skimmed over the front page of bullshit politics, not caring what lies were popular this week. Sadly, Warwick’s political state was not much better than that of the country at the moment. I read along page two that old Mrs. Carter had died, and felt sad. I’d have to send her granddaughter, and my old school chum, Ashley, flowers.

My gaze scanned down the page, skimming over the police blotter. I always looked to see if anyone I knew had been arrested. That wouldn’t too far from the possible. And, I didn’t have to wait long–

Basically, I found out that Albert Henry Mitchum Jr., was in jail, being formally charged with child abuse, neglect, sexual assault on a child and incest, and second-degree murder.

My eyes bulged at the last one. What?! Reading the name again, connecting it with the address that was with the name, I read the charges again.

I put the paper down, feeling utterly sick to my stomach, confused, and afraid. What the fuck kind of monster was Al Mitchum? What had he done to those kids in the other room? They are so scared all the time. The other night, they were still at the hangar when I got back from New York because Parker was terrified of going home with dad. He wouldn’t hurt a soul! He’d hid it well, but I knew he’d been hurt by it. Like me, he only wants the best for Keller and Parker. Shit, I’d settle for a stable, normal life for them.

I stood from the couch feeling slightly shaky and unsure. The girls’ door was firmly closed, and I could hear Keller’s soft voice. I listened, realizing she was telling Parker a story of some sort. I had to smile, despite the tempest of emotions inside.

Sighing, I went on to my own room.

###

The next couple of weeks went by quickly. I had wanted to talk to Keller about the murder charge against her father, but I saw very little of he, and didn’t think it was such a good idea to ask about, anyway. She was kind of cute, actually. I’d come home when she had the day off, and see the house was a total disaster. She always had herself holed up in her room, music playing, and smelling of paint and glue at dinner.

Finally, one day, I walked by her and Parker’s bedroom and saw her masterpiece. Sitting atop the dresser, not a thing next to it, or near it, her model plane. It was finished and looked beautiful. The wood of the dresser beneath it shone brightly, almost as if to proudly highlight the work of art atop it.

Getting the silent idea, I bought Keller more models with the checks she’d give me, as well as continued to bring Plane and Pilot magazines home, leaving them either in their bathroom, on the kitchen table, or on the bed. They were always gone when I’d look, so she was getting them. We said nothing of it.

I got an idea one day. The janitor was doing her cleaning thing in the front office when I went looking for her.

"Keller." She stopped, looking over her shoulder at whomever had said her name. I walked over to her. She looked at me, waiting. Why was it that whenever I talked to her, I always felt like she was taking time out of something very important to give attention to a mere commoner? Clearing my throat so I wouldn’t laugh at my own thoughts, I concentrated on the reason I was there. "I need you to get everything done this morning. At eleven-thirty, go see Jerome in the hangar. Please."

"Okay." She looked unsure, but refused to ask, so I refused to say. I’d let Jerome fill her in on the fact that she was now going to train to be a mechanic at the garage. I was bummed to miss her reaction, for better or for worse, but I wanted her to have the surprise.

Walking into the office later that afternoon, I saw dad talking to a man in a white button-up shirt, red baseball cap pulled over his head, and what looked to be oil-stained jeans. They shook hands, and the man left, carrying a leather satchel. He smiled and nodded at me as he passed me just outside the doorway. I smiled back, then looked at dad.

"Who was that?" I asked, plopping down in one of the chairs in front of his desk. Dad was putting something in the filing cabinet behind the desk. He didn’t look at me.

"Joe Mason," he said, though his voice was very quiet.

"Okay. Great for him, but it doesn’t tell me anything." Outside I heard the sound of the Bell’s rotors starting up. No one flew that thing but dad. Even I had never had the pleasure of having full control over her. "What’s going on?"

"Joe bought the Bell."

"What!" I stood, slamming my hand on the desk. "What are you talking about? Why? You love that helicopter." Dad shrugged, still facing away. He was hiding from me.

"We got bills, Monk." He finally turned, his face stern, barring any questions from me.

"Wait, I don’t understand. We’ve always had bills, dad. What does that have to do with anything?" He looked at me, blue eyes boring into mine, begging me to understand what he was saying. After a few-minute-long silent conversation, it hit me. His words came back to me, not wanting me to worry about the hospital bills, that he had it covered. "Oh, dad," I breathed, feeling my heart break. His already had; I could see it in his eyes.

"It’s like I’ve always told you, Monk– you do what you got to do sometimes in life." I nodded solemnly, knowing that there was probably no other way, or surely dad would have found it. Instead, he gave me a reassuring smile, and I smiled back. I knew that dad was doing all this because he genuinely was a great guy, but also because of guilt. He would never allow himself peace, thinking that he should have done something to put a stop to things long ago.

There was nothing more to be said, so I got up to get the Cessna ready. When I entered into the small hallway, I saw a Plane and Pilot magazines sitting on a chair nearby. Looking around, I didn’t see the janitor anywhere. Interesting.

###

Flying didn’t hold the magic for me that day that it usually did. Up in the air, I could see the big yellow painted X where the copter used to be. I could try and lie to myself, saying that dad was off somewhere in it, but I knew that wasn’t the truth. I had such mixed feelings. It was truly a relief to know that the hospital bills were now covered, or at least mostly covered, but at what cost?

The safety and future of two innocent sisters, that’s what cost. As long as I could keep that in my mind, I’d be okay. And so would dad. Maybe someday we could get the Bell back.

I decided to check in with Jerome, and see how Keller was doing as his new apprentice. I think the janitor had been happy with my little surprise. When I saw the two of them prior to my meeting with my dad about the helicopter, I think I almost glimpsed a smile on her face. Well, that is nearly glowing for Keller. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say she almost looked happy.

I saw the dark man trying to clean some of the perma-dirt out from under his nails. He glanced up and smiled.

"Hey, Monk."

"Hey, Jer. How goes it?" I hopped up onto the tool box next to him.

"Not so bad. You?" He glanced over at me, and I knew what he was thinking about. I sighed, running a hand through my hair.

"I’m sad, Jerome." I looked out the huge, open bay doors, watching as Reggie and Gabe chatted near the pop machine outside. "I wish it didn’t have to be that way."

"Yup. I know Frank feels the same way. But, it had to happen, Garrison. Your father thinks it was worth it. You should, too." I looked up at him, head slightly cocked to the side

"Why?"

Jerome sighed, tossing the grease covered rag into a bin made especially for those. "Frank used to talk to me about that kid. How he worried about her, wondered what her story was. That sort of thing. When you called us here to tell us what was going on at the hospital, your dad looked devastated. He blames himself in part, Monk. He thinks that if he had said or done something earlier, none of this would have happened. That kid is forever changed now. Parker is still young, and her recuperative powers are still raw and raring to go. But Keller," he shook his head. "Makes me sad."

"Yeah. Me, too. So how’s she doing with these bad boys?" I nodded toward the Hercules that was parked behind me. Jerome’s dark eyes instantly lit up.

"That girl is so smart! She’s like a sponge! I tell you, I tell her something, and she’s got it. I am so impressed with her knowledge and understanding. That girl has got one hell of a future as a plane mechanic, if she wants it." Jerome’s enthusiasm made me smile.

"You know, I think she was the one who broke in here. Remember? The magazine was found in the doorway?"

"Handprint on your plane."

"Yep. That’s the one." We both grinned, realization dawning.

"Quick little shit, eh?"

"No joke. I feel better knowing who it was, though. You know, it won’t happen again kind of thing," I said, then looked around the large hangar, not seeing the janitor anywhere. "Have you seen her?"

"Nope. Not lately."

I sighed. "’Kay. I want to get out of here. See you, Jer." I smiled at him and clapped him on the shoulder. He nodded and saluted.

I wandered around the inside of the building, trying to find my . . . challenging . . . charge. She was nowhere to be seen, the magazine no longer in the hallway, and all of her cleaning supplies tucked away in the maintenance closet. Next, I headed outside. Shielding my eyes from the bright, overhead sun, which bounced off the snow-covered ground, I continued my search.

Looking in my truck and around the pop machine, I was baffled, and a smidge worried. Then something caught my eyes – a bit of color against the white of the snow. There, on the snow-cleared helicopter pad, big yellow X marks the spot, was Keller. She sat in the center, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around her shins. Her head was tucked down, chin resting on her knees.

As I got closer to her, I got a look at her eyes, which stared off into the distance. Only those blue eyes were visible as her hair acted as a near black curtain, hiding her features. The sun shone off that hair, almost blinding in the contrast of light and dark, much like Keller herself. Her gray coveralls didn’t hang off her frame quite as bad as they once did. It was the first time I really noticed just how much she was starting to fill out. Though she was still lanky, she was not so painfully thin. I could no longer use her vertebrae as a ladder.

I stopped my steps, not wanting to frighten the girl, or raise her hackles. Besides, it seemed as though this was an extremely private moment for her. She tucked her head in, forehead resting on her knees, arms coming up to cover it. She seemed to just sink into herself, her body gently rocking. Her head got lower and lower until her hair spread all around her clutched knees, a dark shawl of grief.

"Keller?" I said, my voice quiet, nearly a whisper. I thought I heard a sniffle, but would never be sure. She looked up, blue eyes full of fire. "I’m going home. Want a ride?" She turned her face away from me, resting her cheek on her knees, like her baby sister had done so many weeks ago in the bathroom. She shook her head. "Are you sure? It’s a long walk–"

"I’ll be fine," she said, the tone nearly cutting me to the quick. Swallowing, I nodded.

"Okay. Be careful." With an extremely heavy heart, I walked to my truck and drove to pick up Parker from school.

###

Dinner was a quiet affair, just me and the kid. She never asked in her own way, where her sister was, but at every noise, she looked toward the door of whatever room we were in. She missed Keller, and I’m sure had some fear that her sister had left her, or was somehow in danger.

"She’s okay, honey," I said, smiling over at her as we played a matching card game. I shuffled a deck of flash cards, words and matching pictures on each, then spread them out in rows on the carpet in front of the fire. She picked cards, smiling brightly when she got one right, and chewing on her lip in disappointment when she didn’t. Her big, blue eyes looked up at me. "Keller will be home soon. Okay?" She stared for a moment longer, almost as though she were trying to gauge the truth of my words. Finally she nodded and turned back to the game.

I looked at the clock on the mantle – eight-thirty. I was worried, regardless of what I told Parker. Finally it was bath time, then time for bed. As I was leaving Keller and Parker’s room from tucking the little blonde in, I nearly collided with her older sister.

"Keller!" I said out of surprise and relief. She looked at me, as though she were looking through me. She had the oddest look on her face – like a combination of resignation and anger. I felt as though there was a tremendous storm brewing within Keller’s breast, and I wasn’t far from the eye.

She walked past me without a word, and went to the bed. Parker had heard me, and she reached her little arms up to be swooped into a hug by Keller. The kid closed her eyes, happy to be in her big sister’s arms again, and Keller did the same. She squeezed her eyes shut, gripping the little girl in a death grip. That had to hurt, I’m sure. Parker didn’t seem to mind, just relieved at the reunion.

"You need to get some sleep, little one," Keller said, her voice soft and gentle, as it always was where Parker was concerned. She sat on the bed, gently stroking Parker’s golden locks, the little girl’s eyes finally falling shut. Keller stared at her for a long time, chewing on her bottom lip. A sadness as pure as the snow outside radiated off her. It could be felt all the way at the door, where I stood, frozen as I watched her.

Finally realizing she was being watched, Keller’s piercing gaze turned to me. The play of light and shadow mixed on her face to highlight the planes of it. The proud, defined and defiant jaw. The high cheekbones, sculpted features. The eyes, so blue and clear, filled with so much hate and despair. Those eyes were fixed on me, and I felt like I had suddenly become prey. The dark, naturally arched brows came together, forming a slight wrinkle between those magnificent eyes.

Knowing I was not wanted there, I pushed off the doorway and turned away, feeling my pulse racing in my veins. Keller instilled so much in me. She made me feel a fear I’d never known existed before. I had never been afraid of anything or anyone. Never known what it was like to watch my back, or watch everything I said or did. It was highly disconcerting.

At the same time, however, I was filled with a compassion I also had never known existed. I was terrified of the things I had seen and heard over the weeks, things that only existed in the nightmarish imaginations of filmmakers and writers. These were things that did not exist in ‘normal’ life. Things I had never given a second thought to. Things that I knew were out there, hearing about them once in a awhile in the news, but it was so far removed from me I never gave it a second thought. Had never seen the true essence of evil, until Al Mitchum. Had no idea that it really was out there, watching, waiting, warping.

A shiver ran down my spine at the thought of what Keller had endured. This realization was the only thing that had stopped me from kicking her ass over and over. When I couldn’t keep the word ungrateful out of my head, I tried to imagine, if even just for a moment, what she’d been through, seen, done, had done to her, and I could push the urge down. For another day, at least.

When I looked into those big, bright blue eyes of Parker, I knew that what I was doing was worth it. When I’d only thought that the girls were going to stay for two weeks, I told myself that I could handle Keller’s rudeness. I could handle the glares, harshly spoken words or quite simply, my being ignored. But now, now that I was offering my home to her and her sister, offering my family, money and support, what was I getting in return? Yes, I knew this was a very selfish stance to take, but I am human. All humans do whatever it is they do for a reason. Even Mother Teresa. What was my payback? Where did I get to feel good about what I was doing?

Parker.

When I could see the little flash of dimple when she’d give me one of her smiles, small, but there. The wonder and awe in her eyes as she experienced something new. Something that I was able to give her, or show her, or bring to her. Even in just being able to see Keller’s weight balance out. Able to see those dark circles under her eyes disappear because she had good food and plenty of it. She had a good night’s rest, knowing that she didn’t have to worry about who would step out of her nightmares and into her bedroom.

I sighed as I laid in bed, the swirl of thoughts roaming my brain making me dizzy. I needed to sleep. Tomorrow brought on another day. Maybe, just maybe, it would be better.

###

Tugging the covers further over my shoulders, I turned onto my side, readjusting my body in the warm bed. Feeling myself slip back into deep sleep from the interruption of cold, I smacked my lips in anticipation.

Not to happen.

An eye popped open when I felt my sleeve being tugged, and I was surprised to see who it was. Parker stood at the side of my bed, sleep-tussled hair making me smile and pop open the other eye.

"Hey, kiddo. What’s up?" I blinked a few times, trying to get the sleepys out of my eyes. Parker only continued to look at me. Her eyes held a hint of sadness, which made me curious. "You okay?" She nodded, though only slight. Glancing at the clock, I saw that my alarm would be going off in about three minutes. Turning back to Parker, I was confused. "Where’s Keller?" Usually by now the janitor was getting her sister ready for the day.

Parker only tugged at my shirt again, taking a step back. I pushed the covers off me, immediately cringing as the cold, morning air hit my bare legs. Standing, I took her little hand that she held out to me, and was led to the bathroom. Once there, she handed me a brush and turned her back to me. Getting the hint, I began to brush it, all the while trying to listen for any signs that Keller was even there. I couldn’t imagine she’d allow me to do this if she were.

Leaving Parker to her dolls so I could get ready, I made a quick search of the house, not finding Keller anywhere. I was near panic-stricken when I found a note on the kitchen table. What was written on the note was not exactly what I had been expecting.

Take her. You can offer Parker far more than I ever could. I sign her over to you. Keller Mitchum

Struck, I picked up the yellow legal pad page, reading the short message over and over before tucking it into my pocket. What the hell?

###

I tapped the steering wheel, the truck hauntingly empty as I waited to turn down the road that would lead me to the hangar. Parker was safely tucked away at school, and my mind was on her older sister. Where was she? Where had she gone? Why?

Seeing the light turn green, I put the truck in gear, but then my eyes trailed over to the left. That road would lead me somewhere else entirely. That road would lead me to hell.

I flicked my turn signal, and to a cacophony of early morning commuters’ horns, I turned left.

The streets were as I remembered them – sullen, gray and filthy. The deeper into the neighborhood I got, the more rough they got. Young people lined the streets, their mingling breath coming in bursts of white. They talked, laughed, fought, and looked to be in the middle of some very illegal business deals.

I turned onto that same street, ratty-looking houses all around me. The furniture, torn and dirty, that lined the porches and sometimes dirt yards. The weeds, not nearly gone from the recent snow, which was now almost all melted. Curtains half closed over windows, giving them the appearance of sleepy eyes looking out at me.

The flocks of teenagers had disappeared, so now the street looked empty and deserted. Even the birds seemed to have gone elsewhere.

Pulling the truck to the curb, I cut the engine and looked out at the house before me. Yellow police tape had been erected across the porch, though it was no longer attached on one side. The end flung loosely in the wind, whipping the wooden rail that had once held it captive. I couldn’t tell if the tape had been cut or if the weather had simply been too much for it.

The ground was hard beneath my boots, crunching hardness from the harsh temperatures of the recent night. The sun was still hiding behind clouds. It would probably snow again later. Or maybe the sadness and devastation of the street around me made it so.

I slowly made my way inside, keeping an eye out for what, I didn’t know. The living room was as I remembered, though it was bitterly cold inside. No one had lived in the house since Mitchum had been arrested nearly eight weeks ago. Urine was still the strongest of all smells that permeated the room. I looked around, mindful of all the debris of broken furniture on the floor. There was a wadded up blanket in one corner, stained and old, the thread pulling. The TV remained silent in the corner, the green/gray screen reflecting my progress through the room. Mitchum’s old recliner held court before it, the old, worn material flat in places on the cushion. It almost looked as though a ghost still remained there.

I forged my way through the rest of the small room, eyeing the old Formica-covered table for four in the corner, the aluminum sides shiny, dented in places. An empty napkin holder remained in the center, a piece of notebook paper and pencil laid at one of the places, waiting for its user to return. Making my way into the kitchen, which was basically a little nook in the larger room, I saw a frying pan sitting on the stove top. The canary yellow stove was chipped in places, one knob completely missing.

The linoleum was warped and puckered in places, years of misuse and build up of dirt in the corners. Small burn marks marred the counter’s surface, a dirty spatula lay in the canary yellow sink. Moving on, I saw the staircase near the back of the room, leading up to near darkness.

The stairs made no noise under my feet, which surprised me. I figured it would sing at least nearly as loud as mine at home did. I smiled slightly at this comparison. At the top of the stairs was a small landing, a perfect hidey hole for a non-sleepy child to spy on the TV or goings on downstairs. I could imagine Parker playing there.

The landing led to about four more stairs, then a bedroom straight ahead. The shades were drawn, thus the darkness of the upstairs. I walked in, noting an immediate change. There were two twin beds, a table between them. I saw a broken lamp on the floor, assuming it had once been on that table. The beds were unmade, as though the sleepers had been interrupted. There was more police tape, once being crisscrossed over the door, now laying limply against the shag carpet.

The room was clean and bare, well would have been without all the debris from an obvious struggle. The carpet looked as though it had been vacuumed somewhat recently, tracks still visible in out of the way places where there was little to no traffic. A single dresser with four drawers leaned against one wall, a closet directly across on the opposite wall, the beds and door lining the other two.

At the foot of one of those beds, on the floor, against the white paint, I saw splatters. Red splatters. They were low to the ground, spreading out onto the carpet in places. The leg of the bed there was chipped, pieces of the wood laying around. More police tape. I knew in my heart that’s where Keller had lain as Al beat her that final time.

Tears sprang to my eyes and throat, and I had to look away, seeing the window above the small table between the beds. Wanting some fresh air, I walked over to it, pulling the shade up. About to snap the lock open, I stopped, my eyes falling to the backyard. It was a mess. Half of the yard was dirt at one time, the other what looked to be cement. The cement was torn up, chunks scattered about, some cinderblock size. In the middle of the piles of cement were holes in the dirt. From the height of the second floor window, there looked to be one larger hole, longer than it was wide, and not very deep.

There was a lone figure next to that hole.

Scurrying down the stairs, I made my way to the sliding glass doors, slowly pushing them open. Keller’s back was to me, her arms wrapped around her body again, just as it had been at the hangar the day before. She hugged herself, body shivering in the cold.

I stepped out into the yard, looking more closely at the cement that had obviously once been a single pad over half the yard, extending from the house. An extremely large patio, maybe?

Keller made no sound, nor move to stand as I walked over to her and looked down. Her body stiffened a little, and I knew she was aware of my presence. Standing this close, I looked over the girl’s head into the hole that she sat next to, the toe of her shoe touching the exposed earth.

My attention went back to the janitor. "You know, I think you really scared your little sister this morning. Not being there." I waited a heartbeat, nothing. "What’s this?" I took the folded legal pad paper out of my pocket. I held it out to her unseeing back.

"Take her," she said, her voice rough and raw, thick with spent emotion, as though she’d been crying.

"No."

"Why?" She looked back at me, and my breath caught. She was a mess, her face pale and splotchy, eyes red-rimmed and very puffy.

"Because you’ll regret it later," I said simply, tearing the sheet in six parts. Keller sat there, looking back toward the rest of the yard, silent for a moment. Her next words were so quiet, I barely heard her.

"Why did Frank sell the helicopter?"

Oh boy. "We had some bills to pay." I kept a wary eye on Keller’s back, clad only in a sweatshirt.

"What bills?" Her voice had gained no volume, but an edge was beginning to sharpen.

"Just bills, Keller. It’s not important."

"My bills?"

"Keller–"

"Just answer the fucking question." Her entire body was stiff now, like a tightly wound spring, waiting to jump out of its box. "Tell me the truth. Did Frank sell his helicopter to pay for my hospital bills?" She looked at me now, her eyes pinning me to the spot. I knew I couldn’t lie to her. I simply nodded.

Keller lowered her head, hands closing into fists as she took several deep breaths. I watched, almost as though watching a train wreck. I knew something was going to happen, I just had no idea what. I was almost holding my breath as I saw her stand, head still hanging. She dug her nails into the palms of her hands, fingers turning white at the pressure. Her breath came out from beneath that curtain of dark in white puffs, extra hot.

She walked toward me, and I took a step back, getting my defenses up. But, instead she walked past me toward the house. I watched in warped curiosity as she stood in front of the sliding glass doors, her reflection just as dark as she was. Then to my heart-racing surprise, she raised one of those clenched fists and smashed through the door with a yell that echoed throughout the still, morning air. The sound was awful, like a desperate, dying animal, caught in a trap of life’s making. It resonated not only through the trees, making whatever birds were left take flight, but echoed off my very bones.

Not even realizing that blood poured from her cut flesh, Keller pushed through the shattered glass, a growl deep in her throat, and went inside. I stayed where I was, transfixed and terrified. Then there was another crash, and the other door was smashed as one of the aluminum kitchen chairs was thrown through it. Startled, I took a step back. I could hear Keller’s cries of pain, heart pain, as she threw things around inside. The curtains were being flung aside by flying furniture, dishware that was sent to a crashing death, and anything else she could find.

I heard her scream, "I hate you! I hate you!" Crash. "You bastard! I hate you!" Crash, crash, bang. "I fucking hate you!"

Though the entire fit lasted maybe a minute, I felt drained. I waited as once again, silence reigned. I could hear my blood pounding in my ears as I listened, for what, I didn’t know. I waited a few heartbeats, then took a few unsteady steps. Peeking inside, past the shattered glass that crunched under my feet, past the furniture that lay at odd angles around the room, I saw Keller huddled in a corner. She looked just like a child trying to hide from the world.

I looked around at the destruction of the main room and kitchen of the house. I had to be careful where I walked, broken glass and dishes everywhere. The table was turned over, and the frying pan lay in a dented heap on the floor.

Making my way over to Keller, I realized that she was crying softly, face buried in her arms. I crouched down next to her, putting a tentative hand on her shoulder. She flinched away, which made me quickly remove my hand. She buried her face deeper, the sounds of her sobs muffled by the sweatshirt, which had blood on it from her hand. On my second attempt, she didn’t flinch, but she remained stiff to my touch. I didn’t care. She needed this whether she realized it or not. Slowly, but surely, I pulled on her shoulder until she was leaning against me. She buried her face in her hands, which were against my chest, and really cried. These were gut-wrenching, full body sobs. Years of pent-up pain and frustration, loss of control in anything that happened to her or her little sister. Years of having to be an adult when she should have been in the streets playing.

I let her cry as I cried along with her, my tears falling silently down my cheeks, a silent pledge of my caring and deep understanding of her pain. I stroked her long, dark hair, feeling her body make mine vibrate with the force of her sobs.

I have no idea how long we sat there. Probably not near as long as I thought, but long enough. Finally her sobs eased into whimpers, which in time became hiccups, which disappeared altogether. We sat in silence for a long time, neither of us sure what to say, if anything needed to be said at all. Finally she broke the silence.

"Why did you tear that up?"

"Because I don’t want it. Why did you give that to me?"

"I can’t do for her what you can. You can give her food, clothes, a place to stay, all the things I can’t seem to provide. One fucking person in the world I need to provide for besides myself, and I can’t even do it. "

"Keller, all that is just material. I’m Santa Claus. You give her security, familiarity, family, love, things I could never give her."

"Yeah, but what the fuck is that love and family going to do if she’s living on the fucking streets at five years old?" She lifted her head, pulling away slightly to look at me. Her eyes were even more of a startling blue from the upset, one side of her face painted a macabre vision with blood.

"Look, Keller, you’re 18 years old. Parker’s your sister, she shouldn’t have been your responsibility in the first place–" She cut me off.

"It doesn’t matter whether she should or should not be my responsibility. The fact is, she is. And I’m failing." She turned her face to the wall, blocking me from reading her emotions. Not that I could normally anyway.

"Keller." I spoke in what I hoped was a soothing voice, tough to do when I was arguing with her. "Honey, you’re not failing. Your little sister needs you, she loves you."

"She gave that picture to you. She went to you when she skinned her knee. She goes to you when she’s hungry. She doesn’t need me." I could hear her sadness, feel it pulsing off her body as much as when she had sobbed in my arms. "She wants you."

"Oh, honey." I wanted to grab her to me, rock her against me, make her pain and hurt fall away. "She doesn’t want me. Who does she follow from room to room? Who does she watch, every time you move? Who does she sleep with and go to with her nightmares? Who does she cuddle with and snuggle up to? Keller, she needs you. You provide comfort to a girl who I don’t think has had much. She goes to me when she’s hungry because I’ve given her food in the past. She goes to you when she wants comfort and love because you’ve always provided it. Don’t stop now. I know all too well what abandonment feels like, and I won’t let her go through that from you." Keller’s eyes narrowed.

"What do you know about abandonment?"

"Plenty." We stared into each others’ eyes, trying to see if the other was lying. Finally she looked away, and pulled totally away. Getting that this was my cue, I stood. To my surprise, I felt a hand on my arm. Looking down, I saw her good one placed just below my wrist. I looked into her face again.

"Thank you, Garrison." She looked into my eyes, and I saw the truth behind those words. I smiled and nodded.

"Come on. Let’s get that hand looked at."

Continued....

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