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The last time I saw my dad, it was a Friday. I was five and fresh out of kindergarten. He had held my hand tightly, as we walked out of the large oak doors in the school building.
Autumn always was my favorite season. The sweaters, multi-colored leaves that looked like they were on the verge of burning, the same leaves that allowed me to jump into big leaf piles. I still don’t understand the appeal of them; you just get itchy and brittle leaves all down your shirt and leave you itching for hours.
As my dad held my hand and skipped along with me and my legs, covered in glow-in-the-dark tights, I talked and talked. Words would never stop coming out of my mouth. Incessant chatter was the only chatter I knew. I spoke about how Robbie smeared part of his popsicle stick on my nose, laughed and called it a *********. With a proud smile on my face, I showed him the light pink tint on my nose and also told him how I’d used my conscience- a new word i’d learned- to decide not to fight him. He gave me that warm smile, that melted mom and always made me feel warm on the inside and picked me up.
“It’s good that you didn’t fight him Ria, or he wouldn’t have any teeth left.”
I’d laughed, pounded my chest proudly and readily agreed with him. Soon, we traveled into the woods that connected with my neighborhood. After a few minutes of leaves being crunched underfoot by sandals and princess Ariel sneakers, we entered onto the paved trail, which wasn’t much better, since nobody bothered cleaning the pathway from all the shed leaves. I was about to continue with my captivating tale of how i’d escaped the clutches of Marissa, my best friend who also loved to torture me with tickles until I was sobbing with laughter, until I felt my dad’s hand slip away from mine. His muscles tensed as his green eyes; wary and alert, searched around the woods.
“Daddy?” I frowned, the story wasn’t over yet! My father simply put a finger on his lips, and by the way his eyes narrowed and the firm set to his jaw, I knew to listen. Any trace of kindness was stripped from his face, and the only thing I saw there reminiscent of him were the laugh lines around his eyes and the tilt to his mouth.
“Ria. Run home. Don’t look back, no matter what you hear, okay?” A attempted half smile which looked remarkably like a grimace curled across his lips as I nodded feebly, black curls bouncing in their pigtails.
“I’ll come back home soon, I promise.” That little grimace appeared on his lips again as he shoved me forward. My lower lip wobbled, but I wouldn’t cry, I didn’t. With many stumbles, I ran down the path, and unlike what many people would’ve done, I didn’t look back. I didn’t turn my head even a millimeter when the screams sounded.
When I finally arrived at the familiar evergreen door that currently served as the door to my house, I rung the bell furiously until it was opened by a lady with dark, curly hair and gray eyes I called my mother. She smiled and ushered me inside, that smile dissapearing as she drunk in my disheveled appearance. Running through the forest at five years old with sheer terror would not leave a child unscathed. Her long, thin hands fingered my hair, wincing at the severe tangles. They even brushed against the small scrapes on my face and hands.
“Come on Ri, let’s get you cleaned up.”
After I was dressed and seated at the table with a piece of buttered toast, I spoke up quietly.
“Daddy said he would be back.” My mother smiled sadly, and stroked my damp hair that smelled like my dad’s stolen shampoo. Something brimmed in the corner of her eyes but a few blinks and a smile covered them up as she enveloped me in a hug.
“Of course he will Ria. Of course he will.”
My father lied to me.