“Mommy, look!” I squeal, pointing to the awesome tall block tower I’ve just built.
“Yeah, baby, it’s beautiful,” she says without even looking. She’s too busy helping Daddy with his paper for work tomorrow. Sissy walks by and I squeal again, so proud of my work, wanting to show it off. She doesn’t even a glance in my direction; too busy on her phone talking to her ‘little boyfriend’. That’s what Daddy calls Cade at dinner.
Max comes over, wagging his yellow tail in happiness at my achievement. At least he’s happy with me. The phone rings. Daddy picks it up, his face tightening with worry. “Hello,” he says in a careful voice. No matter how hard he tries to hide it, he still sounds scared.
The volume is loud enough that I hear a few words from the other person’s line. “…Money now. You don’t…us…come. If you love your family…dead.” Daddy stands up straighter, looking at Mommy with worry in his eyes. She stops scribbling on his paper and slides him a blank piece. I patter over and climb up onto the bar stool at the kitchen island. My reading isn’t very good, but he doesn’t write much. Call them.
Mommy’s mouths the word ‘no’, but Daddy points angrily to her cell phone. “I need a little more time,” he tells the man on the phone line. The mystery man says something that makes Daddy even more nervous. “No, don’t come. I’ll have it by morning; I mean it this time. Where do I meet you tomorrow?” The voice gives directions to a street I’ve never heard of and hangs up on Daddy.
“I’m not calling them,” Mommy says firmly, calling Sissy down and sending her to play with me in the living room with my blocks. Sissy doesn’t play, though. Instead, she stays on her phone the whole time with ‘little boyfriend’. Mommy and Daddy yell from the kitchen. Max comes over to have me rub his tummy. He makes me giggle when leg kicks funny as I rub a certain spot.
“You have to, Millie. We don’t have a choice!” Daddy shouts.
“I’m not auctioning off my daughter just to get you out of some stupid gambling debt!” Mommy screeches, slamming her hands onto the counter. I’m surprised she hasn’t climbed over it yet, as angry as she is.
“These people aren’t playing around, Mil. You know what will happen if they come,” Daddy roars. Sissy is so distracted that I wander into the kitchen without her noticing. Mommy and Daddy are yelling so loudly that they don’t see me.
Daddy reaches for his cell phone and dials a number. Before the call goes through, Mommy walks over and smacks it out of his hand, dunking it into the dishwashing water. It bubbles a little while Daddy presses his hands hard against the counter. “They will kill us,” he growls, his fingernails digging into the vinyl countertop. “All of us.”
Mommy doesn’t say anything, just starts sinking to the floor, as she cries, “No, I won’t I won’t, I won’t, I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!”
Daddy crouches down in front of her and takes her shaking hands in his own. “We have to. He promised us she would be safe, and we’d have more than enough to pay these f*cks off,” He chides. Standing, he dials a number on Mommy’s cell phone and waits for the person to pick up. “Yes, we’ve accepted your offer. Where do we meet you?”
The voice on the line says something and Daddy hangs up, goes to my room and comes back with my favorite pink polka-dot princess backpack filled up with so much stuff that it won’t even zip up all the way. “Where are we going, Daddy?” I ask, petting Max on the top of his head. His tongue rolls out, dripping slimy Labrador drool onto our polished wooden floor. Some of it gets on my toes.
“For a ride, sweetheart,” he says, picking me up and putting me in the truck. Daddy hasn’t picked me up in a long time. I look out the car window and see Mommy walk past the kitchen window. Daddy cranks up the car just as Mommy runs outside, shouting for him to stop. He doesn’t listen. We drive for hours through the dark until we pull through a tall gate and park in a big lot in front of a large grey building.
“Out you go,” he says, hoisting me out of my car seat and taking hold of my hand as we walk through the building’s big double doors. Inside is bright and the floors are so shiny that I can see my reflection in the black and white tiles. A man with funny teeth grins at Daddy and shakes his hand.
“William,” he greets, his buck teeth sticking out over his bottom lip. “So nice to see you’ve accepted our offer. I must confess; there for a while I was worried you were bluffing.”
“Let’s not make this any longer than it needs to be,” Daddy scowls, holding his hand out.
“Not yet,” the buck-toothed man scolds. “Follow me.” He leads us through security doors and down long hallways, taking so many turns that I’m lost after the second turn. At the end of one of the long hallway, a door opens at the push of a button. Inside is a grey room with a bed, desk, toilet and sink. The sheets are grey.
“But Daddy, it’s so ugly,” I whine. “I don’t want to have a sleepover here.” It’s nothing like my perfect pink room at home. No stuffed ponies or teddy bears. No tea set on my pink play table with my dollies gathered around. No Max. No Mommy. No. “I don’t want to!” I shriek as he pulls me off his leg and sets me down inside the room.
“You have to, sweetheart. Mommy and Daddy need you to help us out on this one. You’re keeping Sissy and us safe,” he says coldly as he wipes a tear off of my hot cheek. “You’re very brave, sweetheart. See you as soon as you get out. I love you,” he says, giving me a quick peck on the cheek before stepping back to let the door close. It clicks like the lock on my room at home does when I’m in trouble. I push on it and find out that I’m locked in. This reminds me of the days when Sissy has to baby-sit. She just locks me in my room and sneaks out the back. Remembering it only makes me scream louder.
Standing on my tippy toes, I push open a slot in the middle of the door and see the buck-toothed man hand Daddy a brown envelope before they walk down the hallway, away from me. I can’t see Daddy anymore. But he’ll be back for me tomorrow. That’s what he was talking about on the phone, I guess. That he’ll see this man tomorrow? Yeah! He must be coming back to pick me up in the morning. Okay. I’m okay.
It’s really, really cold in this room, so I crawl under the soft grey sheets. Curling up facing the wall, I try to pretend I’m in my perfect little pink room at home. I miss Max. When I get locked in, he licks my fingers under the door. Every other night he usually sleeps with me and helps keep me from getting cold at night. I try to picture it now; his warm, furry body keeping me warm.
Its quiet in here. But that’s about normal. Mommy and Daddy are never home, and Sissy is always with her boyfriend. Our nanny pretty much just does what she needs to and watches TV downstairs while I play in my room. So this is really no different from home.
My eyes sting from crying, so I close them and try to go to sleep. I smile. My dreams are so happy. Instead of this cold, grey room, I’m in a big pink castle with a pet unicorn and Max. My friend from my dreams at home stops by, dressed in an all white robe with a purple belt. He’s tall and really looks like an actual King with His dark brown hair curling out of His face and a sword at his side. He sits with me on the steps leading up to the big throne and starts telling me stories about all the different kinds of animals that are in His Kingdom. “At My castle,” He says, “fluffy sheep and big, scary lions take long naps together.”
“I want to visit!” I giggle. “I want a lion.” He smiles cheerfully, picks some dust up off of the pink floor and blows on it. A miniature lion forms in his hands, roaring as loud as it can. All I hear is a tiny meow.
“You’re a lion,” he tells me, handing me the tiny cat. I cuddle it between my tiny palms as it purrs softly and nuzzles my thumb. “You don’t know it yet, but you are. Your daddy is right; you are very brave, but he doesn’t know how brave you are. My Daddy, He knows how brave you really are. He says He made you very, very special,” he tells me, tapping me lightly on my nose and making me laugh. “He sent me to tell you to be strong.
“What else did He say?”
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“Don’t worry. He’ll get you out of this place.”
I feel loved.