I spent the night in Walter’s warm embrace, finding solace in his bared body alongside my own. It was the same story as it had been mostly every night since Eli had left me. I hadn’t wanted to be alone much afterwards, not whilst I was juggling depressive thoughts, and raising my babies. So we reconciled fully. He wiped my tears, whispered sweet nothings into my ear, got me my job. He helped in every way that he could.
Last night had been filled with quite a few sessions of relations between us. Though he would kiss me like I belonged to him our relationship was more like a long list of booty calls. If I had to label it I would call him my friend with benefits. Nothing more, nothing less. I couldn’t have Eli—more frustrating now that he was home with me—so I instead had Walter. It was late afternoon when I awoke from Walter whispering into my ear.
“I have to get to work, Christa…” He whispered, and I nodded still half asleep.
“Mmmm…I have to wake up anyway…have to make certain Eli’s fine with the kids…” I breathed, rubbing my sleep-filled eyes as I sat up.
“Give me a kiss?” he asked, and I obliged kissing his lips softly, before he stood from beside the bed.
“See you.” I beamed as brightly as I could, receiving a wink in return, before he was out the door.
Sitting up in bed, I slipped from inside of it. I peeled my oversized shirt from my bedroom floor, stumbling out as I slowly woke up. Doing my usual routine, I brushed my teeth, went to the toilet, and wandered downstairs.
I was shocked to find Eli holding Gabe, and Annabelle in his lap, allowing them to watch cartoons. Cooper propped against his shoulder, Hope on Cooper’s lap. He seemed almost happy for a moment, but I could still see the somewhat haunted glaze in his hues.
“How were they?” I asked, and all the kids stared at me.
“Morning mama!” They all said together.
“They were fine.” Eli insisted before turning his head back to the television, “I gave them cereal, and fed the dog.”
“Come here my sweet ones, don’t I get a hug?” I mused, and they all fled Eli’s lap to give me hugs. He didn’t seem to mind, standing up he watched as I hugged each of the children in turn.
“Daddy? Now that you live with us does that mean we will see you every single day?” I knew of all our children Gabe had always been the most anxious to meet his father. After all I had always informed him that he carried on his father’s exact name, and that was so special to me.
Eli forced his hands into his jean pockets and nodded his head, “I suppose it does.”
“YAY!” All of them cheered, not just Gabe, and raced back to hug Eli.
I saw him stiffen, and tense, but he didn’t shove them away. I knew that he had the urge to from the look on his face, but he knew they were children. They would never harm him.
Vivid images flickered beneath the lids of my eyes; sweat pooling on my skin and severe whispers of memories clouded my head so deeply I struggled to stay asleep. My brow furrowed, and I felt a hand against my side. It felt real, and it shook me from my night terrors. Sitting bolt upright, I instinctively reached my hand down to test in the darkness, looking for a grip, which I found in seconds. The hand was real.
I jerked slightly, and panted.
“Daddy…”a soft female voice I assumed was Annabelle’s broke the silence in my room. I reached between my thighs ( uncertain through the sweat that soaked me whether I had wet the bed or not ) and was relieved to find my pants dry.
“W-What are you doing in here…?” I wasn’t used to being called such a name just yet, by these unfamiliar spawn I had helped Belle conceive. They seemed intent on using the name however, and I wouldn’t stop them. They were three years old after all, they couldn’t understand my reluctance, only that I hadn’t been present for several years of their lives.
“I can’t sleep…I had a nightmare.” My eyes finally came into focus, and I saw that she was clinging tightly to her teddy bear, her rounded orbs peering into mine helplessly.
She was my daughter…I hadn’t been here, but I knew instantly I couldn’t just send her away. “It’s alright. I get them too.” I told her as softly as I could, my hand moving to rub at my eyes.
“Can I sleep with you, daddy? I don’t want to bother mommy, and Uncle Walter…I think they are fighting in her room…” She insisted, and I felt a heated flush take root on my cheeks.
She had a man in her room? I didn’t know who Walter was, but I could guess that she wasn’t ‘fighting’ with him like Annabelle thought. I nodded my head, “Come on.” I prayed I wouldn’t have a bedwetting incident this evening now that I was allowing her to sleep beside me. I was still leery about touch, but I kept reminding myself that the children were innocent. They wouldn’t ever harm me.
She needed no more of an invitation, before she crawled onto my bed, nuzzling against me she pressed her face into the side of my neck. “Thank you, Daddy…” She whispered, and I felt my heart skip a beat. The feeling was familiar. It was a memory, and I knew that it had to be an old one, but once more it was a flicker. A sensation, like something I had once known was familiar, but now felt so foreign.
Had I held my sister this way? So protective, and close? Was that why a warm body pressed tightly against my own felt so familiar? Though I had been violated more times than I could count in the asylum I had never been held, and comforted afterwards. When the men, or women were through using me I was left to my own devices to clean myself up. This kind of touch didn’t cause me distress. It actually felt comforting.
I shivered slightly as her cold hands moved to rest on my bared upper half, and she giggled slightly. “You are so warm…”
“I was till you put your hands there.” I teased her, receiving another giggle; before I instinctively reached down, gripping her small fists in my hands, I cupped them, and blew warm air onto them softly. She watched in fascination, and I felt her small hands warming up.
“Better?” I asked her.
“Yes Daddy.” Her hands moved back to my chest, ( her bear tucked under her arm ) and I wrapped an limb softly around her waist, tugging her closer until she was clad against my form. “Can I ask you something?”
I made a quiet noise, “Mmm?”
“Do you love me?” She asked in a small voice, I almost didn’t hear her.
The question sent shockwaves through my system. What had Belle told them about me I wondered? Had she said that I went away because I was sick, and needed help? Had she said that I was their father, and nothing else? If only I knew. “Course I do.” Was all I could manage.
She didn’t seem satisfied with that answer, and tried to interrogate me further, “Then why did you leave us?” I was beginning to realize between her, and Gabe I was going to be explaining myself quite a bit.
“Because I had to. I didn’t want to.” I settled on a simple answer, since I didn’t really know at the time whether I had wanted to leave, or not. I remember loathing the asylum from the moment I set foot in it, but one thing I realized I couldn’t differentiate between was how voluntarily I went in, and whether, or not I had or hadn’t hurt my sister.
“Oh. Are you back to stay? Or will you leave us again?” Her questions were starting to get to me. Deeply beneath my skin. Even if I didn’t remember things, I knew in my heart that I would never want a child of mine to believe I wouldn’t want them because I remembered things about not having a father. About having a mother that didn’t care. I had flickers of taking care of my sister. Making certain she was happy. What had happened between those innocent moments, and the time I had lost?
“I won’t leave you. I promise, Annabelle. How about this…I am going to call you Anya from now on. Alright? You are going to be my special girl. Just you. And you can come sleep in my bed whenever you can’t sleep, or have a nightmare alright? I will be here for you, from now on. I won’t go back to the bad place. Never again.” I whispered, and stroked her cheek. She had a wide smile on her lips, and nodded her head.
“Okay, Daddy. I trust you.” She breathed out, and I knew I couldn’t break my word now. I couldn’t let me daughter think I hated her. Neither of my daughters come to that.
“Sleep now Anya. I will be here in the morning.” I promised, and within moments she was out again like a light. I on the other hand struggled to fall back to sleep, and when I finally did I wasn’t ( for the first night ) plagued with nightmares, but something equally as bemusing.