Cara knocked a tiny white pill into her hand and set the bottle on the bathroom counter, watching the little circle roll around in her palm. One pill. Only one. If she had nightmares inside of her, she was going to have to face them. The whoosh of a stream flowed from the faucet as she filled her little paper Dixie cup and tossed the pill onto her tongue. It was sweet – she didn’t think pills were supposed to have a taste. She sucked down the water and swallowed before she had the chance to chicken out. There, it was done. It was inside her. She was officially medicated, like every other crazy person. She looked at herself in the mirror, those circles under her eyes, draining the color out of her dry skin. It was a good thing she wasn’t in the middle of shooting a movie. They’d never let her on the set looking this askew.
The lock, the chain, and the deadbolt were all secure. She followed her nightly routine of turning on all her lamps, opening her closet door and pulling the string in there as well. She cinched the blinds after checking the balcony for intruders. Nothing she could see lurking in the shadows. That didn’t mean the Giant wasn’t there. Seeing wasn’t believing.
She slipped under the covers with a glance at the door to make sure all the locks were still secure. Her daddy’s picture was on her nightstand. She looked into his handsome face, those deep brown eyes that had watched over her for twelve wonderful years. She fumbled at the locket hanging from her neck and clicked it open to see her mom and daddy in there, on either side, smiling at her from so long ago, when she was a toddler. This was how she always wanted to remember them. Young. Alive.
Eyes shut, but all the light came through as yellows and reds beneath her lids. She was going to do it tonight. She was going to sleep, hopefully for the whole night. The release took her, doors opening in black and white, beckoning her through them and into the world of dreams, from which she’d hidden since the real world changed.
Click. Before she could even process the miniscule sound, she was on her feet, standing on the discarded comforter she’d thrown to the floor, baseball bat in hand. The bat had been under the bed – she’d kept it there since she’d convinced her mother to bring it from the house. She didn’t remember going for it. She stood in the middle of that room, more awake than ever, searching for the source of the click. One of the ten light bulbs she had going had burned out. Panting, gasping for breath. Skin flushed. She was naked. No, she was in her nightgown. Just a bulb. Locks secure. Blinds untouched. She was alone. Just a bulb. She dropped the bat and covered her face, breathing through her fingers. She had to get some sleep that night. She prayed for it, so worn out she would snap at the next sound. Dear God, let me fall asleep.
Bat beside her in the bed, Cara under the covers, heart pounding. It would make sense that she could sleep better with the lights off, but she had to be able to see. Everything. She’d rather pass out from fatigue than be helpless. Pillows fluffed. Picture on the nightstand. Locket. Deep breath. Eyes shut.
Cara was at school and not wearing any clothes. Her clothes were in the locker room, if she could get to them. Everyone watched her, but nobody said a word. Just looking at her body, thinking about her body, wanting it. Lusting for it. Finally someone laughed, and they all laughed.
And then there he was. Standing at the end of the hallway. “Daddy?” she called, and he nodded, beckoning with a finger, and stepped into a classroom. She ran past all the stranger stares, and when she got to the doorway, he was still there. Her daddy was still there and she wasn’t naked anymore.
“Daddy!” Her voice sounded so small as he knelt down and she fell into his arms. He was so strong and safe and perfect. She didn’t ever need another thing as long as she didn’t have to let go.
His face looked different. Cara touched his forehead, where the bullet had sliced into him, and there was a scar. So it did happen. He was shot, and he was still alive. Just like she knew. Nobody believed her, and sometimes she didn’t believe it herself, but her daddy was here, and he’d survived. She touched the scar and still wanted to cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what, Angel?”
“That man killed you because of me.”
He hugged her again, and she knew he wasn’t mad. He kissed her cheek. “Cara, shh, it’s OK. Everything’s fine.”
“I lied about you.”
“Angel.” He put his hand on her cheek, so warm, so wonderful.
“I said I was blindfolded. So I wouldn’t have to tell them I saw everything. Because it’s my fault.”
“No, don’t you understand?” He grinned at her with a secretive glow, as he had that night at the restaurant, the last dinner they ever had together, when he told her the thing about him that nobody else knew. “I’m not dead!” She knew he wasn’t. She could feel him, smell him. But she’d seen him shudder against the refrigerator. She’d smelled the smoke from the pistol that had made that scar. “I had to let him think I was. I had to let everyone think I was. It was the only way to protect you.”
He kissed her again, and every press of his lips was energy, life that she’d lost now feeding back into her. “Daddy, please don’t leave me!”
Footsteps in the hallway. He shut the door and braced her shoulders, filling her with hope and dread. “I have to. For now. It’s the only way.”
“When are you coming back?” He just looked at her. Didn’t speak. “Daddy?” She jolted, losing her balance and stumbling to the floor as he faded into nothing. “Daddy!” She scrambled for where he’d been, and she was naked again, naked and cold, and the door was open and everyone was watching her.
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