Daddy's Little Girl
Four-year-old Aurora stood silently in the doorway to the lounge. In the kitchen were her parents, arguing as per usual. They didn't know she was there. It was late and she had been put to bed hours ago, but she could hear their shouting at one another from her room and had come down to investigate.
It was no surprise that her parents were arguing, they always argued. It was something that Aurora had grown used to. At first it was silent gestures, rough looks when they thought the other wasn't looking, or quiet mumbles of words that rolled off the tongue. Petty stuff. But being only a child, Aurora didn't know any different.
The one thing she did seem grateful for, and it would be something that she would look back on when she was older, was that her father never raised a hand to her mother, never in anger or frustration, and her mother had never really forced her father to do anything against his will, even if their shouting did centre around something that her father had supposedly done.
"I can't take this anymore, Jean, I'm done!" her father snapped, shoving away from the kitchen table. Aurora watched quietly from the door, her little hands clutching the doorframe as her eyes widened in surprise as her father grabbed a rucksack from the table, slung it over his shoulder and started towards the hallway leading to the front door.
"Good riddance!" Jean, Aurora's mother retorted angrily. "You were a good for nothing anyway. We're better off without you."
Aurora squeaked and run through the lounge, and collided with her father's legs as he reached the hallway.
"What the - Aurora?"
"No, Daddy, please don't leave!" Aurora cried, hugging his leg as tightly as her little arms would allow. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she brushed them away as she pressed her small face into his pants leg.
"Aurora, sweetheart," her father said, prying her carefully off of his leg and kneeling down so that he was eye-level with her.
From behind him, Aurora could see her mother watching.
"Please, Daddy," Aurora begged, her little hands balled into fists at her waist. "Mummy doesn't mean it! Tell him, mummy, tell him you don't mean it."
Jean sighed, folded her arms and looked away. She'd had enough with her husband's work schedule, and hated having to deal with the fact that he was always working away; she hated to accuse him, but sometimes she felt like he had another life that he was keeping from her, another wife, and another family. When she asked him, he was quick to deny it, and sometimes even hesitated.
It was all Jean needed to know. She couldn't stand to look at him anymore.
Aurora gasped as her mother refused to support her; fresh tears spilled down her cheeks and she looked back at her father. "You promised me you'd never leave," she cried. "Who's going to take me skating at Christmas? Or buy me ice cream after school?"
"I'm sorry, Princess," her father said. "I know I promised you the world, but sometimes promises are hard to keep. Be good for your mum, OK?" He drew her into his arms and hugged her, allowing her to cry into his shoulder. His heart broke at her silent sobs, and he wished that he could do something to take her pain away, but there was nothing he could do. "I love you, always."
Suddenly her father stood up, grabbed his suitcase and left without so much as a backwards glance. As he drove away, Aurora screamed and threw herself to the floor.
It had been two years since her daddy had left and although life had gone on for Aurora and her mother, the little girl, now six, still held onto a small flicker of hope that her daddy would come back for her one day. Since his departure from their lives, Jean had re-married, her new husband was so attentive and treated Aurora like she was his own daughter, and even though Aurora loved him dearly, he was not her daddy.
"Aurora, sweetheart, you ready to go?" Nate Randall asked. He had knocked on his step-daughter's bedroom door before opening it and peeking inside. She was sitting in the window again, clutching a storybook in her hands, whilst her labrador puppy, Spencer, lay at her feet. Nate didn't have to guess what book she had, he already knew. Sleeping Beauty. It was Aurora's favourite Disney story, and had been the inspiration for her name.
Aurora looked up from the window and nodded at her step-father. Slowly she climbed down from the window and run towards him. Spencer following along in her wake.
"Is baby ready?" Aurora asked, squeezing between her step-father's legs and stumbling into the hall. Today was the day, the day where she got to meet her new baby brother.
"He is," Nate said, taking her hand and walking her down the hall. He carefully lifted her onto his shoulders as they descended the stairs and stood at the front door. "Do you remember what to say to your mummy when you see her?"
"I love you, Mummy," Aurora said.
"Good girl," Nate said. He lifted her down from his shoulders and set her on the floor as he grabbed the handles of the duffel bag from beside the door.
Aurora gasped as she flashed back to the fateful day where her daddy had left, it had happened in this exact spot and Aurora remembered it terribly.
Nate looked up, startled. "Princess?" he said. "What is it?"
"He used to call me that," Aurora mumbled, little tears sliding down her cheeks. "My daddy, he used to call me princess. I was his little princess. His little Sleeping Beauty." She sniffled and wiped her nose in her hand. "If I was his princess and he was my prince, why did he leave me?"
Nate set the duffel bag back down and knelt in front of his step-daughter. "Then he wasn't the right prince for you," he said. He tried to sound caring, but he didn't have much care for the man that he was replacing in Jean and Aurora's lives. He hadn't wanted to replace Aurora's father, but he was the one raising her.
"Then who is?" Aurora asked.
"Someday your Prince will come, Aurora, and he will prove to you that there are many princes' in the world," Nate said. "Your daddy was just one."
Aurora stared curiously at the man that was playing her father. She did, without a doubt, love Nate for the life he had given her mother and the undivided attention she had received from him too, plus he had just given her a new baby brother to play and look after. But she couldn't help but wonder if he was somehow like her dad. "Nate?" she asked quietly, as he wiped her tears.
"Yeah," Nate replied, standing up again. He picked up the duffel bag and took her hand, leading her out to the car. He tossed the duffel into the trunk and then strapped Aurora into the booster seat behind him, careful to make sure that she was safe and secure. He then locked up the house, made sure that Spencer was in the car, and climbed into the driver’s seat.
"Are you a prince?" Aurora asked, kicking her legs and setting her storybook on her knees.
Nate looked thoughtful as he glanced at her in the rear view mirror. "I don't know," he replied. "Am I?"
Aurora thought carefully and the shook her head. "You're a king," she said.
Aurora nodded. "Because my mummy is a Queen," she said, "and every Queen needs a king."
Nate smiled. "If you say so, Princess Aurora," he teased.Aurora giggled.
"Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, seven months was a long time, but seven years, that's close to a decade," Nate Randall said as he loaded the last of his daughter's luggage into the trunk of her car and closed it with a click.
The sleek dark red Jaguar had been a gift from him and her mother for her nineteenth birthday, and today was the first time she was going to be driving it long distance.
"Yes, I'm sure," Aurora said, flipping her long dark hair over her shoulder. Her tanned skin stood out against the cold, wintery background that consumed her New Zealand home. Today was the day that she was flying the nest. Granted she had lived away from home a number of times, but never for this long. Eight weeks ago she had returned home from a seven month stay in Africa, where she had been sent on a volunteer programme to help the children, she had loved it and wanted to do more. Growing up, Aurora had always been about helping those with disadvantaged lives, and her local charity had just sponsored her to spend seven years in Europe where she could do more good for the people.
"What about Molly?" Nate asked, spotting the labrador in the back seat. "You're taking her with you?"
"I need her," Aurora said. "I rely on her too much to be without her now, besides, I tried leaving her in the kitchen and she beat me to the car."
Molly was Aurora's new support dog. After thirteen years of service to the Randall family, Spencer had succumbed to old age and died two years ago. It had been a heartbreaking time for Aurora, who was so accustom to having Spencer with her, not just for her own protection but also because Spencer was more than just her life saver. But, even though grief took years to disappear, Aurora needed a dog as soon as possible, and only a few days after Spencer's death did Nate and Jean get Molly. She was every bit like Spencer, except for the fact that she was female.
Molly was only two years old, but Aurora loved and adored her as much as she had done Spencer.
Nate chuckled and Aurora smiled as she reached through the window of her car to scratch behind her dog's ears.
"This won't be easy, you know," Nate said. "It's not like you can just jump in the car and come running back. You gotta catch a plane in between."
"I'll be fine," Aurora replied.
Nate shook his head. It was hard for him to come to terms with the idea that his eldest child was all grown up and ready to take on her own life. Especially when you considered that he had come into her life at the tender age of five. He had appeared during a difficult time in her development, and was replacing a figure that should never have been replaced in a young girl's life, but Aurora had accepted him and didn't blame him for the unfortunate event that had become of her family. Given, for many years after his arrival, she still pined after her real father, but that was understandable for a child that had doted on her dad.
Aurora smiled and shook her head. "Seriously, you're as bad as Mum," she said. "I bet if you two had your way, you'd lock me in my room for the rest of my life."
"That's not such a bad idea," Nate said, teasingly.
"Try it," Aurora said. "I'm not the little princess I once was. I'll smash the window and climb out of my tower."
Nate laughed joyfully. "And here was me thinking you were Sleeping Beauty," he said.
"Hey, even Sleeping Beauty could slay a dragon if she wanted too," Aurora said.
Nate smiled and shook his head.
"So," Aurora said, checking her watch. She didn't need to leave just yet, but she had decided to leave early knowing that if she didn't, then she wouldn't have wanted to leave at all. 'Flying the coop' was always easier said than done. "I better get going."
"Have you said your final goodbyes?" Nate said, nodding over his shoulder towards the house.
"Yeah," Aurora said. "Mum wishes me all the best, Chloe's too young to fully understand what's happening and Chase has made me promise to come home for Christmas."
Aurora smiled and nodded. She loved her family, especially her little brother and sister, and there was no way she would disappoint them if she could help it.
Drawing her gaze away from the home she had grown up in, her memory filled with images of joy and anguish, from chasing Spencer around the living room and drawing on the walls, much to mother's chagrin, to her father leaving all those years ago. Aurora sighed and looked back at the man that had stepped into her father's shoes after he had left, she owed Nate Randall everything, her life had felt so meaningless after her father had left, and that had been a pretty deep thing for a four-year-old to feel, but she had managed to push through thanks to the man standing beside her.
"You better go," Nate said. "Not that I'm kicking you out, but the longer you linger, the harder it will be for both of us."
Aurora smiled. Nate had always been able to tell when she was hesitating. But this was something that she wanted to do; she had come back from Africa full of energy and ready to go again, it was part of the reason she had pretty much fast tracked the decision to go to Europe. Her need to help others was far too great for even her to contain.
"Yeah," Aurora said, accepting the hug that Nate was in the process of wrapping her up in. "I'm going to miss you, Dad."
Nate smiled. Even though he had always seen himself as Aurora's father, he had never pushed her to call him dad, he felt that she would call him it in her own time, especially since throughout most of her childhood she was holding onto the hope that her real father would come back for her. Even though he never did.
But it didn't matter to Aurora anymore. She still loved her biological father and she loved Nate for all the help and support he had provided her growing up. But whether the main man in her life was biological or not, she had always been and would always remain, a Daddy's Little Girl.