Daniel's Darkness

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Taryn is a happy, outdoor-loving thirteen-year-old with a gentle, loving father. But her tranquil life is turned upside down when her father dies, leaving her alone with her drug-dependent mother,
who squanders the little that they have and moves them to a rough neighborhood outside of Chicago. To make matters worse, Taryn's mom hooks up with her drug dealer, who moves right in and begins
abusing Taryn. Things can't get much worse for her. Or can they?

When Taryn meets Daniel, her new neighbor that moved in across the street, his enormous body is bandaged from head to toe and he's recovering from an ambush that nearly killed him. Taryn should
probably stay away, but she's drawn to the qualities of him that remind her of her father. But the better she gets to know Daniel, the more she sees that he's not only very different from her
loving father, he's also carrying a terrifying darkness inside of him.

With Taryn's home situation quickly deteriorating, can she somehow trust Daniel's darkness to save her or will it consume her as well?

Submitted: June 11, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 11, 2018



Daniel’s Darkness
By Dwayne Gill
Other Books By Dwayne Gill:
Cane’s Detour
Written By Blood Series
Written By Blood Part One: Cane---Coming this summer 
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This one’s dedicated to my wife Andi.  Thank you, honey, for your tireless support and belief in me.
I know Daniel’s your favorite, so here’s to you.
Daniel’s Darkness
By Dwayne Gill
All Monsters Aren’t Created Equal….
Taryn reached out, smacked the snooze button on her alarm clock for the fourth time, and rebelliously pulled the covers over her head, as if the alarm itself had a vendetta to keep her from sleep. It was 7:06, she knew without having to glance at the clock; she snoozed the same way each morning. Taryn had to be out of bed by 7:10 or Gary would come wake her, like she needed any extra motivation to leave. School was her only escape from this house he ruled. She only dreaded the weekends that imprisoned her with nothing to do except hide and daydream of Monday morning.
Taryn tumbled out of bed, threw on the clothes she picked out the night before, rolled on some deodorant, and brushed her teeth; by then it was 7:18. She prided herself on being able to walk out the door on most mornings by 7:20, so she was on fire today. 
Most thirteen-year-old girls would want more time in the mornings to prepare themselves for the critical eyes of the boys, and even the girls with whom they competed, but Taryn was different. She refused to wear makeup and didn't have long hair like most girls. She cut her hair three years ago; now it barely fell even with her ears. Some kids made fun of her appearance; she not only looked like a boy but dressed like one too. Worn, faded jeans and oversized t-shirts comprised her daily wardrobe. She dressed this way out of necessity; her mother and Gary hadn't bought her new clothes in years. She'd been recycling the same outfits week after week, retiring an article of clothing only after it had an excessive number of holes. The oversized shirts weren't even hers; they were her father's, and those she wore only to school for fear she'd tear or stain them. She had washed and dried them many times to shrink them to a reasonable size though they still looked like dresses on her. Taryn’s dad was a big man; she was glad he had preferred his shirts tight-fitting. He liked graphic tees honoring his favorite bands: Metallica, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, among others. These shirts earned Taryn some strange looks at school, but she didn’t care. Though her dad’s smell had long worn off, the shirts were all she had left of him. 
Taryn was a pretty girl. She had dark brown hair that three years ago, at full length, fell to the small of her back. She had soft features, high cheekbones, and light green eyes. Her face beamed when she smiled, which admittedly wasn't often these days. For the past three years, Taryn had survived rather than lived. Although she'd become an expert at disguising her pain with a bright smile, she suffered inside. Taryn went through the motions of living, existing in this world, but she didn't enjoy a single minute.
Her life hadn’t always been this way. In fact, Taryn used to feel happy all the time. She would wake up every morning without having to hit the snooze button, eager to begin the day. Taryn usually woke up to the smell of breakfast cooking. She could almost sense the aroma of bacon, pancakes, biscuits, and eggs slithering under her closed bedroom door and up to her nostrils, hypnotizing her out of bed and into the kitchen, where her large, goofy, adorable father would welcome her. "Good morning, Worm," he'd greet her as she stumbled in. "Worm" had been his nickname for her for as long as she could remember. He'd wait until she looked at him, and if she wasn't smiling, he'd lumber toward her, lift her in the air, and spin her around. For most girls turning ten it would've been invasive and annoying, but to Taryn her dad's positive energy and goofy ways were irresistible. He was never in a bad mood, even during the worst times in that home, times that her drug-addicted mother made more difficult. He let none of it affect his demeanor, at least in Taryn's presence. 
Taryn was her father's world. He loved her more than anything else in his life and was not ashamed of it. "You're the only thing that matters," he'd say when Anna, Taryn's mother, would be on one of her binges. Anna became addicted to prescription painkillers when Taryn was only three years old and refused help. Anna thwarted every attempt by Taryn's father to intervene and eventually found someone local to supply her habit, which only grew worse.  Her drug use expanded to street drugs, including meth, and Anna spent a lot of time away from home, doing favors for dealers to get them. Anna’s behavior deteriorated. Taryn was so terrified of her mother she'd hide in her room when her dad wasn't home. When he was there, he'd shield her from her mother's outbursts and sarcasm, and if her behavior became too severe, he'd take Taryn on long walks and shopping trips. Her father had a way of transforming the worst situation into a beautiful one; no matter how thick Taryn's frown was, he could turn it into a smile with his boyish jokes and shenanigans.
Her dad worked odd hours as a hospital orderly, but whenever he wasn't working, they were spending time together. They played lots of sports: baseball, basketball, even football, in their big backyard. It was there that Taryn grew to love games and the outdoors. In the beginning, she took part to mimic her father, but as time went on, she developed a passion of her own. Her father would tell her in jest that she was the son he never had, due to her love for all things outdoors. Taryn never considered whether her passion for sports directly resulted from her father’s direction or if she would've grown to love them, anyway. It didn't matter; it had been three years since she'd thrown a football with him or played catch, yet she still daydreamed of those things every day.
Ben, Taryn's father, died in a car accident three years ago on his way to work. He had worked the overnight shift, and Taryn remembered the last words they exchanged, the last hugs, and the final tousle he gave her hair as he exited. That night was like any other, except he'd never return home. She still remembered his eyes as he left; there was nothing unusual about them, which was what made them so unforgettable. They were full of love, those big blues that lit up every time he looked at his beloved daughter. She saw those eyes daily, on the best and worst days, eyes she now missed so much.  Taryn longed to feel safe again. Even though Ben was as soft as a teddy bear around his daughter, he could be as fierce as a bull for Taryn.
Three years. Taryn could hardly believe she endured that long. Her mother was a wreck after her father's funeral, though Taryn figured it was more because of the financial hardship that her mother realized she'd be facing alone. Ben had left behind a $100,000 life insurance policy, so Anna bought a new car, paid off part of the mortgage, and squandered the rest supporting her drug habit, which grew worse. Six months later, the bank repossessed their family home, forcing them to rent a cheap house in a lousy neighborhood outside of Chicago.
Anna was out of money and desperate, so she accepted help from her drug dealer, who set her up with a roommate. That's how Gary entered the picture. He controlled both from day one, and once Anna realized she had no other place to go and would have no way to support her habit, Gary owned her. He kept the drugs flowing in, and Anna became worse every day. Anna now slept most days away, only emerging from her bedroom to eat and party with Gary. Taryn wondered how Gary benefitted from this arrangement; Anna could offer nothing. Her mom, once pretty as a model, was now pale and sickly. Taryn saw photos of her mom with thick, blonde, wavy hair and stunning blue eyes; now she was wrinkled and gray, her hair a matted mess, her eyes hollow and lifeless. 
For the past two-and-a-half years Taryn remained trapped in a house with a junkie mom and a sleazy drug dealer, and no one was there to save her. No one to lift her and spin her, no one to look at her and tell her it would be okay. No one to tell her, "I love you."
Taryn eased her bedroom door shut behind her and tried to tiptoe down the hall. She was halfway to the front door when Gary passed by it and glimpsed her out of the corner of his eye. Taryn's heart dropped. Gary was an imposing man, broad and fierce, the opposite of her deceased father. While her dad had possessed a happy nature, Gary displayed the opposite; violence informed everything he did. He had long, wiry brown hair that hung past his shoulders. His face was dirty and pockmarked, undoubtedly the result of many years of drug abuse. His eyes were dull green and menacing. He stopped when he glimpsed Taryn and backed up a step, then turned and leaned against the wall to wait for her.
Taryn tried not to make eye contact as she approached. Most of the time she could duck under or around him when he stood in her path, and he'd allow her to continue. Some days, though, he seemed determined to antagonize her; it was like he could sense Taryn's hatred and became intoxicated by it. It was one of those days. As Taryn tried to veer left of his position, he sidestepped to his right, then to his left, blocking every attempt to pass. Taryn surrendered and said, "What do you want, Gary?"
Gary was having none of her attitude. He liked to remind her who was in charge and took every opportunity to exert his authority. Before Taryn could react, his right hand gripped her throat and pressed her against the wall. Taryn could feel the pressure in her head and ears change. She flushed, and her face folded in pain.  Gary smiled.
"You don't talk to me that way, dike," he hissed in her ear. He called her that almost daily. Taryn was defiant, despite the pain.  She refused to speak or make eye contact, so Gary gripped harder, put his knee on her upper thigh, and pushed. She could feel his kneecap pressing against her bone.
"I said don't have that attitude with me. Do you understand?" Though Taryn would love to rebel, to drive him mad with her defiance, she knew this was a losing battle; she lost it almost daily. She tried to nod her head up and down, not that she thought herself capable of actual movement, but at least he could feel her trying to comply. Gary waited an extra second or two and released her. Taryn gasped for air and doubled over, resting her hands on her knees to regain her composure.
“Wear a scarf today. It’s cold outside,” said Gary, and he walked away. 
Taryn limped back to her room to retrieve a scarf before leaving for school though she didn’t have one that matched her oversized black Aerosmith t-shirt. Scarves don’t go with t-shirts anyway, she thought. She had to wear one though; if anyone noticed the marks on her neck, it would only invite more problems into her already complicated and miserable life. 
Taryn would often cry after an encounter with Gary like this one, but today she only felt numb. Maybe the clashes had become so frequent, so familiar, that she was getting stronger. Yeah, right, she thought. There’s nothing strong about me. She felt helpless. Gary would never stop hurting her, and even if he ceased to beat her physically, he would still be a terrible person. He cared only for himself; he liked it there because he had a place to stay and the location of the house. It was nestled in a dirty, low-grade part of town, the sort of area drugheads and homeless people flocked. The place that no parent should move their child to, yet Anna allowed her child to walk through this dangerous neighborhood every day.
In the beginning, Gary pretended he was a friend to Taryn until he saw how apathetic Anna was. Once he realized he could treat Taryn any way he wanted, he dropped the facade, and the abuse began. It all started with awkward flirtation. He'd play with Taryn's hair and tousle it, similar to the way her father would. It was the look on his face that was most disturbing, the hungry eyes and toothy grin. The flirtation escalated into Gary rubbing her shoulders, and she rejected his advances. It all came to a head one night when Taryn had enough and shouted, "Get away from me you perv!" That was the first time Gary hit her, a backhand across the left side of her face. She gasped with shock; no one had ever struck her, not even her mother. Taryn reacted by spitting at him, spraying him across his eyes. Gary grabbed her by the hair, wound several locks around his left hand, and yanked downward, causing Taryn's head to tilt at a painful angle. Taryn could feel every follicle on her head burning. Gary punched her three times in the face though he was careful not to strike her nose or eyes. He bloodied her mouth and left a bruise on her left cheek and forehead. She groaned in pain, her hair still on fire, but Gary held tight. 
"If you ever disrespect me again, I'll kill you." He released her and she dropped to the floor where he stood over her. "And you'd better say you fell if anyone asks." It would be the first of many days that Taryn would have to cover bruises and scratches. She had become a pro.
It also wasn't the last time Gary threatened her; he was paranoid, at first, of her telling a teacher at her school what was happening at home. He'd sometimes accuse her of doing so and would hurt her even worse. Taryn had initially considered confiding in someone; she wasn't the type of girl that just stood by and did nothing while a stranger abused her. However, Gary's paranoia and his repeated promises always kept her off-balance and afraid to say anything, and after enough time passed, she thought no one would believe her. Gary's repeated and thorough description of what her life would be like in a foster home was enough to deter her from seeking help. No one can help me, she thought almost daily. 
After the incident with Gary, Taryn locked herself in her room and cut off her hair. She figured he couldn’t tousle or pull hair that wasn’t there. This is my daddy’s hair. When Gary saw her short hair the next day, he reacted like she had expected and hit her again. Then began the pattern of violence and intimidation that would span almost three years. It also inspired him to call her his favorite nickname, “dike.” 
If her dad were here, he would take care of this situation. Taryn could even feel a small tinge of girlish excitement at the thought of what he would do to Gary. Her father would never allow him to lay a finger on her. If he did, Ben would tear him to pieces. It was a beautiful thought, but Ben was never coming back. She was stuck with Gary.
Daniel rolled out of bed and onto the dirty hardwood floor, landing much harder than he expected. His aching body screamed in agony, but he lifted himself up and into a sitting position. What day is it? He wondered. Who cares. He’d been lying in that bed for almost three days now, only struggling to get up to use the bathroom and eat and drink. His friend Calvin came by twice a day to bring him food, check on him, and to offer Daniel drugs for his pain, which he refused each time. 
“Suit yourself, big guy,” Calvin would say. “Most people pay to have this stuff, and they don’t even hurt.” 
Daniel did hurt. As he sat on the bed and tried to work out the soreness in various parts of his body, he recalled the injuries that nearly killed him. Three broken ribs, a concussion, three head lacerations, fourteen knife wounds ranging from his upper left shoulder, though just a glancing blow to his right calf. Who the hell stabs someone in the calf? He thought. The other twelve knife wounds were mostly on his forearms from blocking the blows, but three had found their way past his massive arms to his stomach and chest. These three were problematic; two had plunged far enough to cause internal bleeding. The other wounds were mostly just annoyances, bruising caused by punches and kicks. He'd shaken off those sorts of things many other times.
If not for Calvin, Daniel would be dead. His internal bleeding would have been his undoing without professional treatment. Calvin had plenty of connections and found someone to treat Daniel without him having to visit a hospital. 
"I'd rather die," Daniel had said. 
Calvin knew it wasn't just stubbornness that kept him away from the hospital.
"You entering a hospital would guarantee your death," Calvin said in response. 
And it was true. If Daniel hadn't disappeared, he would've died an even worse death, likely before blood loss killed him.
"A vet?" Daniel asked as Calvin wheeled him into the veterinary clinic.
“If you’re a good boy, you’ll get a treat,” said Calvin.
The veterinarian was their only option, but he wasn’t a typical animal doctor. He worked for lots of shady people and had worked alongside an actual doctor for years, patching up those same shady folks. He had seen everything. 
“You’ll be good as new,” he said. 
Daniel woke up, surprised by the job the old vet had done.
“Here you go. It’s the cone of shame. So you don’t lick your wounds and infect them,” Calvin said, holding out a plastic cone that dogs sometimes wear following a procedure. 
Daniel was fortunate to have Calvin as a friend. Though Calvin was a shady character and involved with dangerous people, he had shown loyalty to Daniel and had put his own life on the line several times. Calvin had found his way out of the criminal underworld, with Daniel's help, and carved his own path. Daniel had left that world himself before meeting Calvin, albeit under different circumstances.  Daniel was on his own personal crusade when he stumbled across Calvin, who had valuable information to share concerning the people whom Daniel was hunting. They mutually benefited from one another in the beginning but later developed a natural trust and friendship. Calvin limited his contact with the dangerous men of his past now; he only provided them with information for the right price.
Calvin brought Daniel to the house he was occupying now to rest and recuperate. It was in a shabby part of town, somewhere outside Chicago. 
"No one will look for you here. Trust me; no one wants to be here." Calvin was right; most normal people steered clear of this area, but even ones up to no good wanted nothing to do with this drug-infested rat-hole.
Daniel was healing, but to be honest, he wasn't in any hurry to recover. Calvin didn't care if he stayed there as long as he kept out of trouble.
"Don't bother anyone here. It's all I ask. It'll make my day a little harder if you cause a scene here." 
Daniel had no desire to cause a scene and would prefer to remain unnoticed. He liked the solitude; he knew no one and had nowhere to be. Daniel needed the break; he had been going at a fast pace for too long, and it had caught up with him. Maybe he'd ask Calvin to bring him a book.
Today, though, he wanted to go outside. The front porch was still in decent condition. 
“It offers a picturesque view of the drug deals and homeless urinating,” Calvin had said. 
Daniel only wanted fresh air; the inside of the worn-down house had become suffocating after a few days. He felt like he was risking illness by breathing the filthy air. 
Daniel stumbled to the front of the darkened house and opened the front door, the sun hitting his face for the first time in days. He threw up his right arm to cover his stinging eyes, felt for the screen door with his left hand, opened it, and stepped onto the porch. He stood inhaling the fresh air and enjoying the warmth of the sunlight for several minutes before trying to move any farther. His eyes adjusted to the brightness, so he looked around him.
Calvin was right; this neighborhood was nasty. The first house he noticed was the one across the street, but, most of the homes looked the same. The one across from him was puke-green, narrow and ill kept. It had a front yard about as wide as a two-car driveway before running into the street, and there were no trees or shrubs anywhere. Old appliances and rotted chairs littered the front porch. The other houses only differed in color from the green one; most of them had the same layout, the work of a bored contractor trying to finish the row of houses as quickly as possible. He realized that his house looked the same, minus the clutter on the porch. There was a small front yard, and the neighbors to the right and left of him were uncomfortably close. 
He looked around the porch and saw a small wooden table and three chairs to his left; the chairs seemed too brittle to hold his massive body. To his right were four old tires, stacked on top of one another. He grabbed at the one on top, but when his arm burned with pain, he let it fall. Determined, he slid the top tire off the pile, stood it up, then wheeled it to a spot behind the wooden table against the wall of the porch. He repeated this with a second tire and stacked it on the first. This will have to do. He sat down on the tires and leaned back against the house. Perfect.
Taryn was on the street, approaching her house, returning home from school, when she saw a strange man across the street sitting on his porch, leaning back against the wall. Dad… her heart fluttered for a moment, but she came to her senses. It was only momentary shock. The man on the porch wasn't her dad, but he was big like him. Wait, no, he’s way bigger. The more she studied him, the larger he looked. He appeared to be sleeping. Taryn wondered who this stranger was; she didn't know many people that lived on her street, nor did she want to, but she had seen no one in the house across from hers since Mr. Henry died. He lived there for years but died a year ago, to Taryn’s despair. A friendly man, he would sit on his porch in the afternoons and smoke his pipe. He would wave Taryn over sometimes, and they’d talk, though his mind was failing him. He’d talk about his son, a man Taryn had never seen, like he was always on his way over to visit. Taryn sometimes wondered if his son was even alive, but then she saw him the day after Mr. Henry died. He was a big man, much like the one sitting on the porch across the street at this moment. Taryn had felt sorrow for Mr. Henry when she realized that he had a son after all, albeit one that never visited his suffering father. Though Taryn didn’t know Mr. Henry well, she liked visiting him. He was her only escape from Gary on some afternoons. 
Taryn wondered if the man across the street was Mr. Henry’s son. Maybe he’s moving into his dad’s house. Taryn hoped so.  She’d love to have another neighbor to visit, someone to delay her going home in the afternoons, even for a few minutes. She figured if Mr. Henry was kind, his son might be too. 
Taryn faced an unknown outcome across the street and weighed it against the certainty of what awaited her inside. She glanced once again in the big man’s direction. He’s so scary. But then she looked at her front door, the one she dreaded entering, and thought, Still not as scary as what’s inside. 
Daniel couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the kid walking toward the porch. She froze when they made eye contact. The kid looked frightened, waiting for his reaction. Daniel’s expression never changed, but his mind was whirring. He realized now it was a girl; she looked like a boy from far away. He studied her curiously. Would she still approach? She gave him a forced grin and moved toward him again. 
"You lost?" Daniel asked. Taryn halted, alarmed by his deep voice. She was now close enough to see how massive the man was. Definitely not Mr. Henry's son.  He was bald and had strips of gauze on his head, along with bandages on his arms. He wore a t-shirt that looked big enough to hold six of her, but it somehow seemed just big enough for him. Taryn had seen football players on television that weighed over three hundred pounds and basketball players who were over seven feet tall, but she had seen no one of this stature in person. This guy looked more massive than any football player and taller than any basketball player she had ever seen. Maybe they look bigger in person, she thought. He didn't have the manufactured muscles of a bodybuilder but somehow seemed stronger than one. He looked immovable. Taryn saw the way his arms strained against the fabric of his sleeves. It almost looked like something was alive inside the way it billowed underneath when his arms moved. Taryn was admittedly apprehensive approaching this strange man, and she still had no good reason to be here.
Taryn looked the man in the eyes and smiled as she climbed the steps; she wanted to appear as unthreatening as possible although the thought amused her. Like this behemoth would ever feel threatened by me. Daniel looked fascinated as Taryn stepped onto the porch, shocked that she had completed her journey there. She extended her hand to shake his. "My name's Taryn. I live across the street in that green house."
“Daniel,” he said as he released her hand. 
“You live here?” 
Daniel shook his head. “Just staying here for a few days.” 
Taryn was studying him. "What happened to your head and arms?" she asked, referring to all the bandages and gauzes.
"I fell." 
Taryn rolled her eyes like she had heard the excuse a million times. I’ve used that one myself.
Silence fell between them. Taryn picked up a chair, moved it to the opposite side of the table, and sat down. Daniel still had an amused look. He didn’t know what to make of the girl. 
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Taryn offered. 
“Sorry, kid. No coffee machine here.”
“We have one at home. I’ll go fix us some!” 
Before Daniel could protest, she slid off her chair and shot across the street to her house.
Daniel watched her approach her front door and pause before entering. It looks like I found a friend. Daniel didn't mind kids, not anymore. He made the mistake of underestimating a kid once before, and he wouldn't do it again. He liked Taryn's spirit, anyway. She earned his respect by walking all the way over to him and climbing the porch steps despite her fear. 
Daniel had been abnormally large all of his life; at every stage of development, he was always the biggest in the room. People teased and avoided him all his life, so when a person showed the ability to see beyond his sheer size, he respected it.
Taryn snuck into her house and entered her bedroom. Gary and her mom were locked in theirs, so as long as she remained quiet, they wouldn't wake up. She reached under her bed and pulled out a shoebox; inside were various items that belonged to her father: his watch, his favorite baseball cap, even old gloves he used to wear. She removed two small containers from the box and slid it back under the bed. One contained vanilla caramel creamer, her dad's favorite; the other was decaffeinated coffee, her preferred drink. Taryn had preserved both in airtight containers after her dad died, and this would be her first use since. She had no idea what she had been saving them for, besides the sentimental value, but this seemed like a worthy occasion. She was excited to make a new friend, even if he was scary and mysterious. And although he appeared dangerous, she doubted he posed any threat to her.
She prepared Daniel's cup of coffee the same way she used to make her dad's: three teaspoons of sugar and a healthy scoop of vanilla caramel creamer. Her dad loved the way she fixed his coffee although she now suspected that perhaps he wanted to make her feel special. Either way, he always seemed to savor every sip as they sat on the back patio and drank together. 
Tears filled her eyes as she stirred Daniel's coffee. It had been three years since she last prepared a cup this way. How she wished she were bringing this mug of coffee to her father on their peaceful patio where they'd talk and giggle and watch birds and squirrels play in the yard. Neither of them had a care in the world that could overshadow the joy of those moments. 
Taryn fixed her cup of decaf, grabbed Daniel’s, and headed out. She had to set one cup down on a nearby lamp-stand to open the front door, but she managed. She hooked the front door with the toe of her shoe as she exited, giving it a sharp enough tug for it to click closed, and was on her way. Daniel hadn’t moved and was smiling as she returned. She set his coffee down on the table in front of him and sat down on her rickety chair, cradling her coffee in her hands like a seasoned coffee drinker. It wouldn’t take long to cool in this weather, and she liked hers hot. 
"Thanks, Taryn," said Daniel. 
Taryn nodded. She looked anxious, Daniel thought. He figured maybe she was waiting for him to take a sip, so he did. The coffee tasted weird; he tried his best not to change his expression, but his taste buds were protesting. After he swallowed, he realized she had put flavoring in his coffee. I didn’t tell her how I took it, he thought.
“Did you put candy in my coffee?” he asked, smiling. 
Taryn returned the smile. "It's vanilla caramel," she admitted.
“It’s candy,” he joked again.
“I fixed it how my dad liked it. I should’ve asked you.”
“Nah, kid, it’s okay. Anything warm is great.” Daniel didn’t want her feeling bad. "It's growing on me." It was true; he was three sips in now, and each sip was a little more tolerable.
Daniel wondered how a kid like her ended up in a neighborhood like this. He figured her parents might be the explanation. He saw a man's face peek around the curtain of the window next to Taryn’s front door. “Is that your dad?” He motioned toward the house.
Taryn looked over her shoulder. She had a disgusted look. “No. That’s Gary.”
Daniel noticed her deflated look; whoever Gary was, it was clear she didn’t like him. Daniel started to ask a question, but the kid looked agitated. 
"I've gotta go,” she said. She took her coffee cup and ran down the steps. 
"Hey! You want your coffee cup?" Daniel shouted at her.
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. “You can keep it.” She scurried away and disappeared into her front door. 
Daniel couldn’t shake the bad feeling. Something about the entire encounter seemed off. I think she’s scared. 
Calvin arrived with Daniel’s dinner at 7:00 p.m., a steak and salad from a family-owned diner. "You found your way out here to the porch, I see."
“I felt smothered. It stinks in there.”
“Have you smelled yourself, big guy? It might be you." Calvin smiled, but he meant it. Daniel needed a shower. He hadn't bathed for days. 
“Believe me, I can’t wait to get this stink off,” said Daniel. 
Daniel and Calvin ate at the porch table and talked a while. Calvin knew the neighborhood well, so Daniel asked about his neighbors across the street.
“Gary Connelly. He’s lived there several years now,” said Calvin. “He’s a real piece of work, that guy.” He was digging steak out of his teeth with a toothpick as he talked. 
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Daniel.
“Low-life dealer. He’s just sleazy. Likes to get vulnerable women addicted and take advantage of them.” Calvin smacked on a piece of stray steak and swallowed. “There’s a woman that lives there. Anna, I believe. He screwed her up.”
“What about the girl there?” asked Daniel. 
Calvin looked confused. “Girl? I don’t know any girl that lives there.” He paused, going after another stubborn piece of steak with his toothpick. “No child belongs in this neighborhood. And no child, under any circumstances, deserves to live in the same house as Gary Connelly.”
Daniel was waiting on the porch the next afternoon when he saw Taryn walking down the street, returning home from school. She saw him and waved, and he beckoned her over.
“How about another cup of coffee?” he asked. Her smile faded into a frown, and she looked embarrassed. Daniel realized that she likely got in trouble yesterday. 
"Sorry, Taryn. No coffee. It's okay; I can't drink that candy crap, anyway." He saw a renewed smile form as she sat down.
“Gary didn’t like me taking a coffee cup out of the house,” Taryn said.
“Does he mind you sitting over here with a stranger?”
“He doesn’t care about that. He’d rather me be out of the house, anyway.” 
 Daniel saw the fear in her eyes, the way she looked down as she spoke. He imagined that at one time this vibrant young girl probably had little or nothing to fear, a time before Gary. "Where's your real dad at?" 
Taryn looked down and said nothing, but he could feel the sadness emanating from her. He’d hit a soft spot.
“My dad died three years ago. Car accident,” she said. She was holding back tears.
Daniel looked at the green shack and remembered Gary’s face in the window. Calvin’s words echoed in his head: No child deserves to live in the same house as Gary Connelly. He wondered how many times this kid had, in the past three years, been able to talk to anyone about her loss, her pain. He needed to offer her something, anything. 
“I know what it’s like to lose someone close to you.” He was telling the truth. His loss had sent him spiraling out of control. A spiral that sent him on a violent rampage, the same one that resulted in him being near death. “They take a piece of you with them. To the grave.”
Daniel’s words seemed ominous and hit home with Taryn. She had never spoken to anyone about her father's passing; she had cried herself to sleep so many nights and struggled through even more days, fighting, resisting the current of sadness that tried to pull her under. If she succumbed to her depression for even a moment, she would never return. 
But she had tried to hold back her tears long enough, so she let them flow, not caring that Daniel saw or what he might think. She was tired of trying to be strong. The tires rubbed together, and Daniel emitted a low grunt, but she didn't look up. She buried her head in her hands and blocked everything out. Moments later she felt a massive hand come to rest on her left shoulder. No one had touched her affectionately, much less a man, since her father died. It felt good; for the first time in three years, she felt a connection to someone else.
 Daniel sat at the table on the porch every day, only going inside to use the restroom and to sleep at night. Often, he'd see Gary come out of the green house, but he never saw Anna. Gary would get into his beat-up car and drive away, returning hours later with bags of groceries, and other times he would carry duffle bags into the house. Daniel figured there were drugs in those bags.
Daniel had dealt with plenty of men like Gary. In fact, Daniel had seen all types of criminals in his lifetime. A criminal boss took him in when he was just a teenager, and though he wasn't directly involved in any of the illegal activity until he was older, he witnessed many things. Daniel had done his share of wrong in his life but had never hurt innocent people, especially children. This Gary fellow didn't care about Taryn or Anna; he was just using them to conduct business and was likely abusing Anna, and maybe Taryn.  He could see it in the man's walk, his demeanor. Daniel wondered if Gary would ever come over to introduce himself, maybe try to score a drug deal with him. Maybe Gary wouldn't take kindly to Daniel's dismissive attitude, and perhaps he'd even feel good about his chances of overpowering a bandaged man. That’d be too easy, Daniel thought. 
Every day that week, Taryn came by after school and sat with Daniel. Calvin brought over a coffee machine, sugar, and some creamer. He couldn't find any vanilla caramel, so Daniel had to settle for regular creamer. 
"Yuck! What is this crap?" Taryn exclaimed after taking her first sip. 
“What’s wrong with it?” Daniel asked, smiling.
“It’s real coffee!” 
“Has a bite to it, right?” Daniel hadn’t known she only drank decaf. 
Taryn didn’t mind the different creamer; she wasn't prepared for the caffeine rush. The effort meant a lot to her, though she picked at him the first time she saw his coffee maker. 
“What sort of old contraption is that? It takes twenty minutes to make a cup of coffee!”
Daniel didn’t even know what a Keurig was until she explained. 
“All I have to do is press a button, and mine pours me a cup. It’s so much easier.”
“That’s not real coffee then. Real coffee you can hear brew. You hear it churning, and it smells oh so good.”
Taryn couldn't argue with that. Her dad had a real coffee maker when she was younger, and she remembered the lovely aroma in the mornings.
They sat at the table every afternoon until dusk. Gary didn’t allow her out after dark, and Taryn didn't want to risk Gary asking questions, though he’d never been interested in what she did after school. 
Taryn and Daniel hadn’t talked about anything too meaningful, mostly sports and school. Daniel was interested in her softball aspirations. 
"You play softball, kid?" he asked one day.
“I haven’t played since my dad died. We used to play all the time.”
"You should play for your school if you have skill," Daniel said.
"Oh, I have skill! I used to be the best in my grade."
“Well, there ya go. Don’t let that talent go to waste.” Daniel leaned back. He was feeling better. 
Taryn noticed the wounds on his arm healing. “So… you ever gonna tell me what happened to you? Or are you just gonna keep saying you fell?”
Daniel paused for a second. Taryn was half-joking, but what she was asking was opening a door she had no business peering into. 
“You’re better off not knowing certain things about me, kid.” 
She frowned. “Are you a bad guy, Daniel?”
Daniel studied her. He didn't know what she meant by that, so he tried to put himself in her shoes. A massive man with bruises and cuts on him is staying at a shack in a trashy neighborhood. What’s she supposed to think? 
“I’m not a bad guy like Gary. But I’m not a good guy.”
Taryn looked more relieved than disturbed at Daniel’s casual revelation; that he knew more about Gary than she realized was ignored or didn’t register. How bad must this Gary be? Daniel had never pried, but maybe he should. He'd be leaving here sooner than later. How could he go without knowing the extent of the situation? He leaned forward and put his arms on the table. 
“Taryn, I need to know about Gary. Does he hurt you?”
Taryn flushed and lowered her head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Daniel knew this was his only shot. "Taryn, look." He waited until she looked back at him. "You've suffered alone long enough. You lost your dad and had to live with a strange man for years. Look where you live…" Daniel waved his arm about, prompting her to look around at the neighborhood. "This is no place for a girl like you to be." Taryn tried to look away again, but Daniel caught her eyes and stopped her. "You're a good kid, Taryn. You have a good heart. When I leave here, you won't have anyone to talk to again. So talk."
And she did. She explained everything. Taryn told him about her dad, their remarkable relationship, even how Daniel reminded her of him, at least from a distance. She talked about the car accident and the aftermath, how they ended up moving from their beautiful home to their current house and how Gary had pushed his way into their lives. There were breaks in her voice as she described Gary's abuse; she even showed Daniel some fresh bruises on her shoulders he left last night. Taryn was always afraid of listeners' reaction to her story. Her daily struggles had become so routine they lost their shock value to her. She worried that if she ever told someone, like now, the person would look at her and say something like, "you gotta be tough," or "that's life."
But here, in this moment with Daniel, a robust and dangerous man she knew had likely seen a lot of violence, she saw in his eyes something she didn't expect: empathy. His expression changed from sorrow to anger several times, and he would shift in his seat occasionally. Talking about this now, after three years of hiding, lying, and running, was liberating to Taryn. Daniel was right. She'd lose him sooner than later, and she'd be alone again. Taryn needed this if only for the emotional release. She made sure she left out no detail and struggled to recount all the countless times Gary had hurt her physically and emotionally. "He loves to call me dike. Because of my hair, and because of the way I dress." Daniel's eyes would narrow, and she could see the anger roiling underneath his skin.
Taryn felt a little guilty piling all this on Daniel; it wasn’t his problem. She stopped at one point and said, “You’ve heard enough. I don’t want to upset you.” 
He looked at her, eyes filled with anger, and said, “I want to know about every scratch. Every bruise.”
So she finished. She sat there for what must’ve been hours, recalling everything her memory allowed her to extract. Then she leaned back in her chair and exhaled, wondering what was next.
Daniel also wondered what to do with the information. He had almost asked her at one point why she'd never reported anything, but then his childhood memories came flooding back. He had grown up in foster homes all of his life. If she were to alert someone, her fate would be the same. The system wasn’t friendly to kids in neighborhoods like this one.
They both sat in silence for a while. Daniel didn’t quite know what to say. He knew whatever he said would sound weak and useless, like trying to comfort someone with useless clichés and platitudes. However, they both shared one thing in common.
“We’re more similar than you think, Taryn.” She looked up, relieved that he broke the silence. 
"We both lost someone dear to us. It left big holes in both of us. Kind of left us trapped, in a way."
Taryn understood. Her father's death had sentenced her to a life with an uncaring junkie mother who moved them to hell and invited a monster to join them. 
"You have done nothing to deserve any of this suffering, Taryn." 
Daniel's words echoed in her head. It seemed like something her father would have said had he been in that seat.
"Who'd you lose, Daniel?" Taryn said in a shaky, tear-filled voice. It was a logical question given what he'd disclosed earlier.
“I lost someone that reminds me a lot of you,” he said. 
“Your daughter?”
“No. But it was someone that didn’t deserve the pain she experienced.” 
Taryn sensed guilt behind the statement but decided she had pried enough. She was too emotional right now to offer him any comfort. She lifted her watery eyes and met Daniel’s gaze. “Let’s leave. Let’s get out of here. Just you and me. You're running from something already. I know you are. And my life couldn't possibly be any worse if I left. Let's go." 
Daniel felt flattered by her offer, and it reminded him even more of the girl he had lost. She too was feisty and loveable and had won his heart. Daniel would've done anything for that girl; he would’ve given his life for her. But, he had failed her, and she was dead because of him. He wouldn't let that happen again. He leaned forward and laid both of his hands on the table. Taryn reached her hands out and placed them on his, and Daniel squeezed. She undoubtedly was hoping for Daniel to reply to her request.
“Taryn. You’re trapped. But your prison has four walls. It’s defined. My prison…it expands much farther. Your prison is not a product of your own doing. Mine is. There’s nowhere I can go to be free.”
Taryn shook her head. “We can have each other...”
Daniel never eased his grip. “There’s a darkness around me, in me, Taryn. A darkness you want no part of. You deserve better. You deserve better than that green house, this trashy neighborhood, Gary, your mom, and even me.”
It was Thursday when Taryn left Daniel's porch, crying. Daniel knew he was doing the right thing, but it was hard to turn her away. She seemed to have understood his reasoning but wasn't accepting the outcome. Friday afternoon she came by and visited, as usual, but she seemed distant. Resigned came to Daniel’s mind. They drank coffee and talked about sports, but it wasn’t the same. Is she turning into me? If not now, it was inevitable. Daniel couldn’t watch her go down this road. He had to do something. He was working on a plan but didn’t want to tell her anything until he had it all figured out. As Taryn was leaving, she said, “Gary’s having poker night tonight. Yay for me. Bunch of drunk, high pieces of human trash all over the house."
“You could always hang out here,” said Daniel.
“I can’t. Gary won’t let me out after dark.” She walked home without her usual energy. 
And that was that. Calvin came by that night, as always, and brought Daniel dinner. “You sure about this plan, big guy?” he said.
“Positive. The girl deserves better.”
Calvin didn't ask many questions; that was one thing Daniel loved about him. Calvin looked across the street. There were cars lined up along that side of the road. They could hear the loud thumping of bass coming from the house. Calvin would've normally cracked a joke about it, but tonight he knew better. He looked at Daniel and frowned. 
"All you had to do was lay low and heal."
“I feel much better,” Daniel said. All of his wounds were healing, and the soreness had subsided. 
“Call me when you’re ready. My number is the only one stored in contacts.” Calvin gave him a phone and left, and Daniel waited.
Friday nights were terrible for Taryn, but once a month Gary kicked it up a notch. The last Friday of every month was poker night, and Gary would invite all his drug-dealing buddies over to play card games and drink and do whatever else. Taryn always barricaded herself in her room on those nights, and she wished right now she could go hang out with Daniel on his porch. It was impossible to sleep through these parties; the music was so loud she could barely hear herself think. She had been lying in her bed with her pillow smashed over her head for hours now. It was 9:30. Five hours to go. The party could rage all night long, but the music usually stopped around 3 a.m. 
She jumped when she heard rapping on her door. It was loud, obnoxious. She ignored it the first two times, hoping that whatever drunk had wandered down the hall would go away, but on the third round of knocking she also heard a voice. Gary. Her heart sank; she didn't know what to do. He never cared about her or what she was doing on poker nights. As long as she was home, he left her alone. What could he want? She debated ignoring him, maybe pretending she was asleep, but she knew it wouldn't work. Even if he believed her, he’d still be just as upset. You wake up when I knock, dike. But if she opened the door, what would he do? Would he beat her? Maybe he was so doped up and drunk this time he'd do even worse. She tried to imagine what Daniel would do. Daniel wouldn’t be afraid. She was tired of being scared all the time. If Daniel wouldn't do anything to help her, maybe she did need to get tougher. She couldn't cower from Gary all her life. What kind of life would that be?
She gathered herself, walked over to the door, and opened it. Gary was standing in the doorway with the vilest grin she had ever seen. He almost looked possessed.
“Come on in here, dike. One of the boys wants to see you.” Taryn thought about resisting, about being strong, but that look on his face, it was too much. I’m nothing, Taryn thought. Gary walked ahead and looked over his shoulder, expecting her to follow, and she did. She thought she was walking toward safety; would Gary want to rough her up in front of his friends?
Empty beer bottles, wet napkins, and paper plates littered the living room. It smelled disgusting, like a room full of greasy mechanics. There were people everywhere. Half-naked women with men draped over them were lounging on the couch and love seat, men were sitting on the two recliners, and a host of others leaned against the walls or sat on the floor. One guy lay sprawled out underneath the bar that separated the living room and kitchen, passed out already. Taryn saw her mom sitting on the couch; she was on the middle cushion, mostly exposed and flanked by two men who were groping her. Anna seemed to look directly at her as she entered the room, but Taryn realized she was only looking through her. Anna wasn't really there. She never was.
The men's faces lit up as Taryn entered the room, and Gary threw his arms into the air like a touchdown signal. They cheered and whistled at Taryn; the sound of hormone-driven, drunken men caused her to backpedal. 
Gary turned to her, grabbed her right wrist, and pulled her forward. "John wanted to see you, babe." 
He had never referred to her as “babe” before, but she would've preferred “dike.” Hearing him call her this made her nauseous. A tall, thin, nasty-looking man stepped forward with a wild look in his eyes. Taryn couldn't go anywhere; Gary was still gripping her wrist.
"Wow, you're a woman now! You are smoking hot!" said John. 
Taryn wanted to vomit. He walked closer and wrapped his arms around her. Taryn felt his hand move down her back and screamed. John leaned in to kiss her neck, and she bit his cheek. She locked and held; once her grip failed, they'd kill her, so she tried to hold on as long as possible. These could be my last moments, she thought. John screamed in agony and tried to pull away, but Taryn wouldn't relent. Gary, seeing what was happening, released her wrist and punched her in the back of the head.
Taryn saw stars and was too weak to maintain her bite. She released John and stumbled forward, groggy. Gary was furious; his eyes seemed to be glowing red. The rest of the room filled with mixed reactions; some looked shocked, some were laughing, and others weren't even paying attention. Taryn must get out of this house, or she'd die. Her head was throbbing already, but she willed the pain away. Gary moved toward her again, and she was sure he would throw another punch. She stepped forward and met him mid-stride on his off-foot, crowding him so he couldn't get as much leverage on his next blow. It startled him enough to make him pause, allowing Taryn a brief opening. She thrust her right knee into his crotch with all her might; she had never invested that much physical effort into anything before. Taryn expected him to shake it off and come right back at her, but instead, he doubled over in pain and was letting out balloon-like puffs of air and gagging.
Taryn made her move. Without looking at the others, she darted toward the front door and exited, almost falling as she tried to run down the steps of the front porch. She was still shaken up from Gary's punch. She gained her footing and ran forward. Although her vision was blurry, she knew the general direction of Daniel's porch. She stumbled forward, fell, then rolled back over into a crouch, trying to get up again. She was breathing hard; every sound echoed through her head. She was about to stand again when she felt herself levitate. In one fluid motion, all the stress on her limbs vanished, and she relaxed. She felt her body rise and lie horizontally. Someone’s saving me. 
“Dad?” she heard herself mumble. Taryn could feel the muscles in his arms cradling her, the hardness of his stomach and chest; she felt safe for the first time in years. 
"He won't hurt you again." 
It didn't sound like her father. She looked to her left, and even though his image was blurry, she knew it was Daniel.
Daniel carried her into the house and laid her on the couch. Although he hated to put her on the dirty piece of furniture, it would have to do for now. He'd seen enough concussions to know she had one, so while he was furious, he wasn't as worried about her immediate condition. He told her to stay awake, took out his phone, and called Calvin. 
"Come now, please." He hung up and went to his bedroom where he retrieved a pillow and a comforter. He walked back to the living room, covered Taryn up, and placed the pillow beneath her head. She sighed. He turned to leave and heard Taryn say something. He leaned in close and said, "What, Taryn?"
She looked serene; he thought she had been towing the line between consciousness and unconsciousness, but up close she seemed at peace. Resigned. She reached up, wrapped her arms around his thick neck, and whispered, "You saved me."
Daniel fought back old familiar emotions, reminding him of a past that never would let go of him. The girl he hadn't been able to save flashed through his mind. Taryn thought he’d already rescued her. He could still make that a reality.
She let go of his neck and her eyes filled with tears. He patted her on the head and looked at her. 
"I haven't saved you, kid. Not yet." 
He walked onto the front porch and sat on his tires.
Ten minutes later, Gary exited the house and looked around, up and down the street, then glanced over at Daniel's house. He walked toward the porch, and Daniel waited, glaring at him. Gary stepped into a pool of light on Daniel's side of the street and stopped. He looked furious, like he wanted to kill. He looked up at Daniel, or in his direction, but it was too dark for him to see onto the porch. Gary then turned back and stepped inside the green house. Daniel was no fool; he knew it was just the beginning. 
A few minutes later Gary emerged again, this time followed by four men who looked like they could handle themselves. Gary was decisive as he made a beeline toward Daniel’s porch without breaking stride. He’s got swagger with his boys behind him, thought Daniel. The five men stopped short of the porch steps but were close enough to see Daniel. They all looked surprised at his size, and Daniel could sense their apprehension. 
Gary had something to prove though; he wouldn't let anything deter him tonight. "I'm here for Taryn. I know the little dike is here."
Daniel frowned. Hearing Gary's choice of words first-hand forced him to recall all the terrible things Taryn had told him. I entered your nightmare with you, Taryn. Except I’m the boogeyman tonight.
“You should go home. These streets out here can be unforgiving,” said Daniel flatly. There’d be no jokes tonight. 
Gary smirked, and the guys behind him seemed on edge, waiting to see how he handled this challenge of authority. 
"I'm not leaving here without Taryn. Now, you seem like you can handle yourself. You also look like you're recovering from a beating. There are five of us. Do you like your odds of walking out of here alive?" The four men now flanked him, the whole group feeling more confident.
Daniel stood. All five watched as his full breadth unfolded before them. However large he looked sitting down, he was a towering monstrosity to them now.
There had been several occasions in Daniel's life that caused him to appear to those witnessing "out of control." Calvin referred to it as "hulk mode." That side of Daniel had been present since his childhood, a darkness, a rage, a wave of anger, that was always there, lurking in the background. And although it seldom triggered, Daniel seemed to lose control, not of his faculties but of his ability to keep the anger at bay. The one or ones who caused the switch to flip, they'd want to be someplace else, somewhere out of his reach. Daniel was straddling the line between the two worlds as he stood.
"You want Taryn? Come through me. Five of you. You think all five of you can get through me?" Daniel was pacing, chest out. A primal version of himself had taken over. "Someone has to ascend these steps first. So which of you tough guys want to roll the dice? Who'll be the first ‘man' up those steps?" He pointed to Gary. "Will it be you? You're tough with all your boys around you. You're good at beating up little girls too." Gary's eyes flashed with anger, but his fear paralyzed him.
Daniel pointed at each one of the other four men, one at a time. "How about you? Do you want to be the first one up? How about you? You? Or you?" 
A shamed silence fell over the men. They had been on the streets long enough to know when to fight and when to flee. Gary was angry, but not mad enough to die at the hands of this man. He wasn't confident that all five of them could defeat this guy.
Daniel wasn't done. "Tough guys, right? I bet if I were standing in the front yard in the middle of you, you'd feel differently." He walked toward the steps. The five men stepped back. By the time Daniel reached the ground, the men were already halfway to the green house. Too bad. It could’ve ended right here. 
Daniel let them leave, but he knew it wasn't over. Not for Taryn, at least. Soon, kid. Help is on the way. 
Minutes later, Calvin's SUV parked in front of the house. Calvin emerged and looked across the street; the party music was absent. "Did you mute it?" he joked, but he saw Daniel's face and realized it wasn't the time. "Where is she?" Daniel nodded at the house.
Taryn woke up lying on the backseat of a vehicle, startled. She looked to the driver’s seat and saw a strange man sitting there. She almost screamed, but the man glanced back at her and gave the universally recognized hush sign, his index finger pressed against his lips. 
He leaned forward and whispered. "Hey, kid. I'm Daniel's friend. Let's get you out of here."
Taryn frowned; this wasn't how she had envisioned this happening. "Where's Daniel?"
“Sit up and see.”
Calvin eased the SUV forward while Taryn lifted herself up to look out the window. She looked in front of her, at Daniel's house, but he wasn't on the porch. She glanced over her other shoulder and saw him. He stood in front of the door to her house, which confused her.  He looked over his shoulder and had a look in his eyes she hadn't seen before. She sensed anger, but it seemed to be something far beyond that. Something primal, untamed, like he had discovered an untapped emotion. As she held his gaze, the van continued, and she searched his eyes for anything she remembered about him. He wasn't there. Whoever this was, it wasn't the Daniel that she had sat with on the porch. His darkness. She remembered. And then she knew. 
“What is he gonna do?” 
Calvin glanced back at the girl who disrupted his neighborhood and enchanted his friend. "He's about to enter."
Taryn was putting it all together now. I want to know about every scratch. Every bruise. His darkness. He was fueling it. 
“Is he going to be okay?” Taryn asked, her only thought now what would happen to Daniel.
Calvin glanced back and smiled. "Kiddo, only one person is exiting that house tonight alive. And I'll give you a hint. Me and Daniel have dinner plans this Tuesday."
This revelation would’ve disturbed Taryn at one time in her life, before her father’s death, before living in constant fear, before Gary. Now all she could do was lie back in her seat and remember that tingling feeling she had before when she imagined her father coming to her aid, tearing Gary limb from limb. She smiled. He saved me. 
Later, when Calvin stopped for gas, Taryn got out and used the bathroom. As she climbed back in the van, she felt a bulge in her jeans pocket. She pulled out a folded piece of paper that looked torn from a notebook. She unfolded it and saw unfamiliar handwriting but knew who had written it.
I didn't lay a finger on your mother, but she's going to rehab. If you'd like to find her, ever, talk to Calvin and he can arrange it.
Gary won’t be bothering you anymore. You’re free. Calvin is a great guy. I promise you he’ll take care of you. He’ll find you a nice place to live. 
We can't give you your dad back, or the three years you've lost, but we can make sure you aren't beaten and afraid every day. You're a strong girl. I was impressed with you from the moment I first saw you. You've endured more than most girls your age would be able to.
I enjoyed our time together, and believe it or not, you helped me too. 
I’ve mostly despised the monster inside of me, but tonight my darkness set you free.
See you soon, kid.

© Copyright 2018 Dwayne Gill. All rights reserved.

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