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~~ Daemon ~~
I walked along the narrow dirt road. Dust kicked up around me as my heavy steps met the compacted earth. My jeans were getting covered, but it didn’t matter. I haven’t been able to wash them for weeks anyway. I wasn’t even sure what I was walking into, but I had to know the answer to a question that has haunted me for way too fucking long.
I carried her with me through every one of those nightmares they called ‘homes’. I still carry her; through every street, every fight, every drink, and every stupid whore that gives me an hour or two of her time. However, she shouldn’t be there with those women. She doesn’t belong with them. She belongs where I shelter her, in my dreams and fantasies. It’s actually quite messed up; even when I’ve imagined how it would feel to hold her, to kiss her, to have my way with every single part of her…I don’t know what she looks like. I imagine there’s blonde hair, big blue eyes, but then the rest just. isn’t. there! It’s the most frustrating thing, to fantasize about someone who you can’t see, who you don’t know, who you have no idea why you’re fantasizing about them in the first place. What’s worse? I can’t even base my image of her on how she looked when I last saw her…
…She was only six.
Sounds sick doesn’t it? Well, it is, but not in the way you think.
You see, the sick part is that I can’t get her off my mind. It’s been almost ten years and I still have this suffocating emptiness within my chest. I carry it around with this old, dirty necklace that, over the years, has kinked and tarnished and become bent out of shape. The damn thing reminds me of myself sometimes; neglected and beaten, but still carrying that essence of her within it.
I held the damn thing in my hand as I walked up to where I hoped I could still find her. Looking down at it, I clenched my hand into a fist around the necklace and then turned my hand over. My skin was dirty and my knuckles were raw from the brawl I got into the night before. I’m sure my opponent’s blood was still on my skin and I probably should have cleaned up before making my way out here, but I didn’t have time. When I woke up this morning, it was like a light had turned on in my mind. I was suddenly and completely driven by the need to come find her, to find out if she remembered me, to find out why I couldn’t shake her from the very essence of my being.
Plus, I had a promise to keep…
The rhythmic thud of my boots kept time with my breath. In, out...thud, thud… Occasionally, the long, quiet walk would be interrupted by the call of a bird, or the wind as it careened through the tree canopies in the forest that surrounded me. I was lucky enough to catch a ride down the state road, but my luck ran out at the beginning of this long, dirt strewn path. Guess the guy didn’t want to test his shocks on the many dips and holes that littered this road. Can’t say I blame him. I wondered why he took the time to pick up a dirty street kid and I was nervous that he was one of those sick bastards who like to take advantage of teenage boys.
He ended up being a decent guy. I felt bad for swiping his wallet, but a kid has to eat, you know?
I finally found my way to the driveway leading up to The Center. It wasn’t much different from the road leading up to it, just more dirt and rocks. You would think that after all of these years, they would have paved the damn thing. However, making this left turn meant something. It meant I was closer. To her…
The silence out here was deafening. I was so used to the sounds of the city; sirens, and people talking, shouting and laughing, the sounds of engines from the cars that passed and music escaping the doors of the clubs and bars. I wasn’t used to hearing…nothing. Not a damn thing, except for birds and bugs and the wind that kept blowing against me, like it was trying to knock me back from finding her. But I wouldn’t be deterred. There was something so special about this girl that I couldn’t forget her after all this time. It was about time I find out why.
When the building came in to view, I stopped suddenly. I haven’t seen this place since I watched it disappear out the back window of my mother’s car. Her friend had driven it to pick us up that day and she promised me she would bring me back to see Paige. Mom was so happy to be leaving, to be returning…to him. He ruined everything. Every fucking thing he touched was ruined and even that last promise made to me by my mom as we left this place was ruined…by him.
My fists clenched tightly as I thought about my father. The blood within my veins boiled and I could feel the throbbing through my neck and temples from the increase in my blood pressure. I wish that bastard hadn’t taken the easy way out. I wish I had been the one to put that bullet in his brain. I had to shake the thoughts of him as I approached the building, the last thing I needed when I saw her was the tainted anger he had made sure to scar me with when I was younger. I needed to get my fucking head together before showing up dirty, bruised and bloody on her doorstep.
As I approached the building, my eyes took in the large entryway doors. Still the same. Dark and ominous, the wood had weathered through the years but you could tell those doors were still solid and sound. Much like this place. I remembered when I first arrived here with my mom. She’d made me feel hopeful, like, for once, she’d made the right decision. And she had…until she decided to return to the man who would eventually destroy her. Mom was right though. I did find hope and beauty behind those doors…and it came in a cute little blonde package that annoyed the living crap out of me while, at the same time, made me smile more than I ever had in my life.
Would she remember how I hurt her? Has she forgiven me if she does?
I started walking towards those large entry doors, but then stopped when I noticed the camera tracking my path from the corner above them. That’s new. I backed away and moved to go around the building to the back yard. Knowing Paige, she would be out there soaking in the sun. Maybe I’ll find her in a tree, or sitting amongst the tall grass. Or maybe, I won’t. Do teenage girls still enjoy the activities of their youth? Maybe I should have checked the mall.
The facility is massive and I was surprised to realize just how big it was. It could have grown since I was young, or maybe I just don’t remember the specific details from my youth. But I’ll remember that back yard. It’s the place where I spent the most time with my best friend.
I reached the end of the building and looked out over the wetlands. It was just as I remembered it. The trees had grown taller and there were new trees in places they hadn’t grown before, but it was the same. The sunlight rolled along the tips of the swaying grasses and dragonflies buzzed about the marsh and fields. The branches of the trees creaked and groaned from the wind blowing through and my eyes wouldn’t stop moving to take in its beauty.
I laughed when I looked at the camphor trees and I remembered those damn climbing matches I had with Paige. I never could win against her little form. She weighed so little back then that she resembled a squirrel crawling up into the tops of the canopies. I never pointed out the reason she always won. She needed something to be proud of. I mean, really, I was better at everything else.
My eyes swung out closer to the water’s edge and, like a shot to the chest, I stood stunned and motionless. The necklace dug into my palm of my hand as my grip tightened and my heart felt like it was trying to beat its way free from my chest.
Among the grass, sat the most beautiful girl…no…young woman…I had ever seen. Her long blonde hair cascaded down behind her and the sun would glint off bits of it, making it sparkle. Her face was tilted up into the warmth of the sun and her face…god…her face. The expression on her face was one of pure contentment. There was no pain, no strife; there was no hint of wicked thoughts and she didn’t wear the inch of makeup that was now stylish with girls her age. She was pure. She was more than I could have ever imagined. It was like she was part of the sunlight itself, radiant and glowing. Seeing her again only cemented these confusing feelings I had about her. She called to me in ways that I’ve never felt before. I was drawn to her so strongly, it was as if my very soul was attempting to reach out to touch her.
My feet started moving toward her of their own accord and my cheeks hurt from the width of my smile. Paige…she’s still here…
I was half running to get to her when a hand suddenly grabbed around my arm and pulled me back.
“Why are you here and where in the hell do you think you are going?”
I ripped my arm away and turned to face the man who was speaking to me. My body went into an instant fighting stance and I was ready to tear apart anyone who got in my way.
“Buddy?!” “Oh my goodness, Buddy is that you?”
Paige’s father stood in front of me. He’d grown older and it felt off to stand taller than him now. I cringed at the sound of the nickname my mother had given me so many years ago. I didn’t want to have to answer to him, so I simply opened my hand and held out the necklace. He looked down and gasped when it confirmed that I was who he thought I was. He looked back up and smiled, but I could tell there was something else going on behind those kind eyes.
“My name is Daemon.” I let out a breath to calm down before saying, “I came to see Paige. I promised her I’d come back.”
Mr. Stone nodded his head in understanding. He reached out to grab my arm again and started pulling me towards the building. When I hesitated, he turned to me and said, “Son. I know you are here to see my daughter, but as her father, I have the right to tell you ‘no’ and you need to respect that.”
My chest constricted at the thought of not being allowed to speak to Paige. I tried to remove my arm from his grasp again, but his grip was much stronger this time. I shook my head and looked back out to see if Paige had noticed me talking to her father. She was no longer where I saw her and I wondered if she had seen me and left, or if she had simply laid down to look at the clouds and was now obscured by the grass.
“Come with me, Bud…Daemon. We’re going to get you help boy, but you need to listen to me if you don’t want to go to jail for trespassing.”
My head shot back to Mr. Stone and my heart tightened a little bit that he would threaten me. He must have seen the shock on my face because his expression softened before he said, “I want to help you, son. But you have to respect my wishes when it comes to my daughter. Come with me. I won’t send you back to foster care. I know somebody else who can help you and you won’t be back in the system. Will you trust me, please?”
My stomach growled from my hunger and I looked down at the dirty and torn clothing that covered my body. Going back into foster care was out of the question, but if he knew somewhere I could go that kept me away from that nightmare on the streets, I was willing to give it a try. I was tired and beat down from having lived on the streets for almost a year and I was willing to try anything that would save me from the shit my life had become.
“Will you trust me and come inside to talk, Daemon?”
I looked into his honest eyes and saw that he was earnest about his offer. My breath huffed out of me and I turned back to look for Paige once last time. I couldn’t see her and my heart fell when I realized we wouldn’t be reunited today as I had hoped.
But that didn’t mean forever…
My eyes met Mr. Stone’s again and I nodded my head at him. “Yeah, okay, let’s go inside.”