The sound of voices awoke Cadence from her slumber. Drowsily, she sat up in bed, the sheets falling away from her thin shoulders. As consciousness crept over her, she grinned widely.
It was Christmas, and Santa was here. She could feel it.
Quickly swinging her feet over the bedside, she hopped out from under the covers and made her way into Mommy’s bedroom.
Mommy was not in bed.
Trotting into the hallway once more, she followed the voices towards the living room. They were louder now, and she flinched as a male voice reached her ears.
“SHE’S MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”
“SHE HASN’T BEEN YOUR DAUGHTER IN A LONG TIME, ASSHOLE. NOT SINCE SHE WAS FIVE. NOT SINCE WHAT YOU DID TO HER!”
Cadence had no clue what they were talking about.
“Please, Mariam. I just want to do something nice. It’s her sixteenth birthday. I’m sober now. I would never want to hurt her. Prison changed me.”
Confusion flashed through Cadence’s mind. Sixteenth birthday? She was only seven.
“You have got to be joking. What you did…. it was unforgivable. You messed her up mentally much worse than you could have imagined in your wildest dreams. Besides, do you think I’m stupid? Or blind? You’re not sober. I doubt you ever even tried. Never in a million years will I ever let you near her again. Leave. I’m calling the police.”
Silence. Then he said, “Fine. I just wanted to be a father again.”
Mommy scoffed, and Cadence heard heavy steps coming towards the hallway. Before she could turn around and run back to her room, a man exited the living room. A large man with a white beard and a red suit.
His disoriented eyes met Cadence’s scared ones, and a startled look came into them. The look quickly turned sinister as his gaze swept up and down her body, making her shudder in discomfort.
“You’ve grown up nicely.”
Frozen in place, all she could do was cringe.
The man walked up to her, closing the distance in two strides and grabbed her shoulders, a smirk evident under his thick, knotted beard. He roughly pulled her towards him, manually burying her face in his shoulder.
“Very nicely indeed.” He said, stroking her hair with one hand as his other hand went lower and lower…
“Step away from her.”
Two feet away stood Mommy, voice shaking with emotion, but finger steady over the trigger of a Beretta.
The man let go of Cadence, but kept a tight grip on her wrist.
“You’re not actually going to shoot me, are you? You don’t have the guts. Now, here’s what’s going to happen-”
“I can be a dead shot when I want to be, Jude. Now let go of her. ”
“- I’m taking her with me, and- ”
The man collapsed, bringing his daughter down with him. As she lay on his red coat, she could still smell the scent of liquor entangled in his beard. It was now mixed with the smell of iron.
Quickly, her mother pulled her up, and hugged her.
“Erin? Are you okay, honey?”
Releasing her from the embrace, the woman stared into her daughter’s blank eyes. As feeling inched back into them, realization dawned on Mariam.
“You’re not Erin are you?”
“I’m not Erin. And I’m not Cadence either. My name is Rhea. You haven’t met me before. Don’t worry, Erin is safe. She won’t remember any of this.”
Mariam paused for a minute before taking her by the hand and leading the girl back to her room. Sitting her down on the bed, she hesitated before asking-“Could….could I talk to Erin? Just for a minute? Just to see how she is?”
Rhea regarded her coldly.
“My job is to keep her safe from trauma. She would not be able to handle this. Besides, you know that’s not how our condition works, ‘mother’ “
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