Brad looked up from the file sitting on his desk to see Andy in the doorway, shuffling on his feet as he stared at the ground, “Can I help you?”
“Um,” green eyes looked up before flashing back down, “I brought my gym clothes.”
Brad arched up an eyebrow before sitting back and looking over to where Chrystal was on the ground drawing, “I actually had an alternative, if you didn’t want to dress down.”
Andy stood straighter at that, “Wh-what?”
“Well, I’m having some problems with babysitters, and I really can’t ask her mother... she doesn’t care much, and I don’t trust her to take care of Chrysta,” he looked over at Andy, “So I had the idea, maybe you’d look after her during my classes? I’d be willing to give you credit. Looking after a kid is plenty exauhsting, you feel like you’ve run a marathon. That seems good enough for credit.”
“Me?” Andy pointed at himself, then looked over at Chrystal, “I-I’m not all that good with... you know, kids.”
“Chrysta,” she raised her head, big brown eyes stopping on Brad, “Andy might look after you while I’m busy from now on. Will you give him trouble like your other sitters?”
“Wait, what?” Andy seemed startled, “What did she do?”
“Is he nice?” Chrystal asked, standing up and staring at Andy.
“Sure,” Brad smiled, “Go find out.”
“No, no, no, don’t find out!” Andy shot his hands up as Chrystal ran over and wrapped her arms around his knees, looking up at him.
“Are you nice?”
“I n-no! I don’t like kids! Tell him to pick someone else!”
A little pout pulled down Chrysta’s lips, “I think you’re nice. Not like the other ladies. The other ladies were mean to dada, and mean to me like momma is.”
Andy ground his teeth together, looking away, “I’m really not good with kids, coach. Wh-what do I do with her?”
Brad shrugged, “You learn,” he stood up and stepped back, pushing his chair in before walking around the desk, “Chrysta is easy to deal with, I promise. If she likes you, you’re golden, but if not she’s a little devil.”
“A little devil how?”
Brad squatted down to be eye level with his daughter, “Sweetie, what did you do to the third lady?”
Chrystal pulled at the fabric of her shirt, pouting, “Glue.”
“What did you do with the glue?”
“I put it in her coffee.”
Andy squeaked, his face pale, and Brad reached out to pat Chrystal’s head, “Good girl.”
“The third sitter I hired stole from the apartment,” Brad explained, standing up, “I didn’t know. I thought at first it was Chrystal, but that didn’t make any sense. She poured glue in her coffee and her lips stuck together. When I was loking for her phone in her bag to help her I found about three hundred dollars I’d been saving for Chrystal. Needless to say I fired her and filed a bit of a complaint.”
“A bit?” Andy arched an eyebrow and Brad chuckled.
“We’ve been through quite a few sitters,” Brad said, “None worked out,” he watched Chrystal run over to where her coloring book was, and she plopped down, picking up her toy dragon, “I think maybe it’s because of her mother. She doesn’t seem to like... women, because of her mother.”
“What’s wrong with her mother?”
Brad tapped the toe of his shoe against the ground before answering, “When she gave birth, the very second she could leave the hospital, she left Chrysta there. I didn’t even know about her, so I just got a call in the middle of the night asking me to come pick up my daughter. The bitch didn’t even name her, she just... let the doctors take her and disappeared. So I took her, and I’ve had her ever since.”
“There’s gotta be more than that,” Andy countered, “I mean, that’s really messed up, but-.”
“Court ordered joint custody at first,” Brad interupted, “So we handed her off every once in a while, but whenever she gave Chrysta back she’d be dehydrated, hungry, crying, so I decided to ignore court ruling and stopped letting her take Chrystal. When she was a bit older I had to start following the custody rules, but the bitch kept sending Chrysta back with... painted nails, heavy make up, it was disgusting. She would treat my child like a barbie doll then toss her aside like she was a rag. That kind of neglect really screws people up,” his voice choked, but he didn’t meet Andy’s eye, “I don’t want Chrystal to grow up like that. No one should have to grow up like that.”
Andy rubbed his arm, watching Chrystal, “So... whenever her mom takes her, she just... ignores her? Then why have a kid? How did it even happen? Did you even love her mom?”
Brad was quiet, his eyes were glaring, but there was pain, “No,” he replied, “and she didn’t love me back. It didn’t happen on purpose, I didn’t even know until I got that call, but... I don’t regret it. How can I? I was in a dark place, I’ve done terrible things, but... when something so amazing comes of it, despite all odds... it’s hard to regret it. I still do, I regret most of the things I’ve done, but I can’t bring myself to regret her. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“That...,” Andy kept his eyes away, “That’s kind of sappy,” he said finally, “I heard rumors about you, all the time. I heard things like... you screwed the coach’s daughter and forced her into abortion, using it as blackmail to get on the team-.”
“Lies,” Brad interrupted, “I never slept with her, I never got her pregnant, and I may have been a bad person, but I would have never forced abortion. The reason I got on the team was because my uncle paid the coach extra. I was shit at the damn game, I trained ten times harder than anyone else because I had no skill with it. But I never... that part was a lie.”
“Oh,” Andy nodded, “Well, if it means anything, I never believed it, so...,” he looked up, “There’s probably a lot of rumors about you that aren’t true.”
Brad shrugged, “It really depends who you ask,” he mumbled, “and it’s inapropriate talk between student and teacher. About Chrystal-.”
“I’ll look after her,” Andy assured, “If it gets me out of dressing down and PE, I’ll do it. Who knows, I may end up enjoying it, being a baby sitter. As long as she doesn’t pour glue in my coffee.”
“Do you drink coffee?”
“Then you’re good.”
No one had ever comofrted him like that... not since his parents at least. Three years ago in that horrid accident on the highway, his parents sitting with him in the back, his aunt and uncle in the front driving. Since their deaths, Andy had been neglected and harassed by his cousin, who had been forced to take him in at eighteen.
Instead of being protected, loved, comforted, he was left to mourn alone while his cousin sat back and blamed him for everything. If he cried, his cousin would scream, claiming Andy had no right to feel pain, as if he hadn’t lost both of his parents, and his baby sister.
Bullies weren’t the problem, it was his cousin that kept him from dressing down for PE, creating dark bruises and scrapes that Andy is terrified of people seeing. What would they say? Or do? Would they even care?
Andy never expected Brad Richardson to be the one to follow him and comfort him whle he cried. He’d heard a lot from his cousin, horrid, dark things, but he really never believed them. His father always said never to take the initial assumptions about someone to heart, because it was likely they were wrong. He would tell Andy to give people second chances, look deeper than skin for their true intentions, so that’s what Andy did.
He didn’t care what his cousin told him about Brad, or about anyone, he didn’t believe any of it. He didn’t care about his cousins opinions, he’d been raised by a good man who believed in second chances, so Andy was determined to make his own opinions on Brad Richardson, and everyone else around him.
Turns out he’d been right. Brad proved that by comforting him, letting him cry instead of screaming at him to shut up. That single act of kindness, after three years of abuse, neglect, and harassment, was enough to warm his heart, effecting him in such a strong way that all he wanted to do was stay near the person who helped him, the one person who had shown him kindness in so long.
People would call it foolish, a childish affection that would go away in no time, but Andy wasn’t stupid, he’d been through enough to know better than to trust whoever was kind. Brad was different. When he was comforting Andy, it felt more like he was taking comfort than giving it, like looking after people in pain gave him some kind of meaning or atonement.
That was why Andy wanted to be near Brad, why he had decided to follow behind him when he noticed him walking down the street with Chrystal on his shoulders. So he followed them, all the way to the store, hiding behind aisles and watching as Chrystal grabbed things from the shelves and dropped them into the basket Brad held.
It was nice to watch. Andy always heard that Brad was a cruel, selfish human, but seeing him treat his daughter so sweetly gave him a warm feeling, his lips pulling into a smile as he took a step back, knocking over a rack of chips and jumping as he tried to set it back up, blushing horribly as people stared at him.
He froze and stood up, spinning around with several bags of chips hugged to his chest, eyes wide and blush getting deeper when he spotted Brad watching him with both eyebrows up, “Um...,” he thrust his hand out, holding a bag of chips for Brad, “W-want one?”
Brad smirked, and Chrystal leaned over his head, reaching for the chips, “Did you come for something specific, or are you just here to be clumsy?”
Andy’s face got a bit hot as he sputtered and tried to put the chips back on their display rack, “I-I c-came here cuz, um, I wanted something, snack, I wanted a snack!”
“Silly,” Chrystal piped up, and Brad chuckled as Andy pouted at her.
“So I wanted a snack, does that make me silly?”
“Yes,” Chrystal said seriously, and Andy mumbled to himself as he set the last bag up.
“What are you here for then?”
“Dinner!” Chrystal answered, kicking her little feet, “Dada’s making sghetti!”
Andy smiled, looking at Brad, “You cook?”
It was Brad’s turn to blush now, and he covered his mouth with a hand, coughing, “Yea. I taught myself, I figured home cooked meals would be healthier for Chrysta than take out,” he offered Andy a small smile, “Care to join? If you’re gonna be watching Chrysta, you might as well know how to cook for her.”
“Uh, sure,” Andy nodded, and Brad turned, letting him follow as he finished his grocery shopping.
By the time Andy left Brad’s apartment it was nearly ten, but he insisted on going alone, saying goodbye and leaving the building. It was dark, the moon was high in the sky, but the lights were on in the single storied house, so it was impossible for Andy to sneak in.
The second he closed the door, a hand curled around his upper arm, and he was thrown across the room, his back slamming against the wall, making a few photos fall off their hooks. Andy hissed and reached up to the sting at the back of his head, pulling his hand in front of his face to see the red of his blood staining his fingers before looking up, wincing when he saw his cousin.
His blonde hair was shaved into a short buzz cut that nearly left him bald, his face was as thin as his hooked nose, and his pale blue eyes were piercing and filled with poison as he sneered. He wore a wife beater, and his jeans sagged down nearly below his waist, and he smelt heavily of axe cologne. Disgusting.
“Where the fuck have you been?” he snarled, and Andy winced, kicking himself back as his cousin walked closer, “I told you to get back at four, didn’t I? I hate being ignored, faggot,” Andy frowned and looked down, holding the back of his head as his cousin stopped in front of him, squatting down and grabbing him by his throat, “I aked you a god damn question!”
“I was taking a walk-.”
“For six fucking hours? I could’ve been hanging out with friends, but I was stuck here waiting for your stupid ass!”
“Not like you were worried.”
“No, you’re right,” the smile was cruel, “I just hate it when you’re doing what you want. You think you deserve that kind of freedom when you’re the one who killed my parents? Both our parents?”
Andy winced, sealing his lips before whispering, “I’m sorry.”
“Shut the hell up!” a fist was thrown into his stomach, and he jolted against the wall, coughing as his cousin stood, pulling him up by his hair before throwing him into the living room, “You don’t have any right to apologize! Just shut up and take your punishment!”
Andy shivered as he sat up and watched his cousin slip the belt from his waist, snapping it before rearing back his arm and pinching his eyes closed as he swung the belt. The momentum and the leather easily cut into Andy’s skin as it hit him, and he curled into a tight ball on the ground, not crying or making any noise at all as his cousin continued the assault.
It led late into the night, and didn’t stop until around one in the morning. It hurt to move, but with his cousin asleep on the couch, snoring away, it gave him the time he needed to drag his body back into his bedroom, locking the door before slipping onto his bed, sniffing and leaving his wounds to clot as he completely lost consciousness.