Never leave me

When the doorbell first rang, I ignored it. It wasn't the first time of the night. Didn't matter that you had to climb up two flights of steps to get to my apartment level and that I'd made damn sure my lights were off and no decorations of any kind were in the windows or on my door. I'd still heard kids yelling and shouting, clomping up and down the stairs and running past my door all night, yelling out "Trick or treat!" in voices shrill enough to give me an even bigger headache than what the tequila had already started. Several of them had knocked on my door or rang the doorbell, and I had left my lights off, hunched over on the couch with my booze and my dark thoughts, and refused any acknowledgement until they got the hint and moved on.2

But this person didn't move on. This person kept ringing the bell, over and over, jabbing it every few seconds without even waiting for the ringing to stop. What the hell…what kind of jackass kid was this anyway, why didn't he give the hell up?3

I gritted my teeth, fingers tightening around the neck of the bottle, but the damn kid kept persisting, and when I glanced over hazily at the clock by the TV, the digital numbers told me it was almost one am. What kind of moron parents would let their kid run around ringing people's doors that late, even if it was Halloween?4

It was probably some teenager, some stupid dumbass moron teenager out getting his kicks, thinking he was scaring me. Some idiot who saw too many horror movies and thinks he's so clever just because he can use his finger for something other than picking his nose or putting it up his ass.5

"Jackass…bug off," I muttered, and I stood up, stumbling just a little as I made my way over to the door and squinted to look out the peephole. It was weird, because the minute I stood up, the doorbell stopped ringing. Just my luck that the second I opened the door, the idiot would be gone…probably was the whole point here, the asshole.6

But they weren't. It was a little kid out there, a little girl around six or seven years old from the looks of it. She was staring up at the peephole like she knew somehow that I was looking back at her, and she stood very still, her hands folded in front of her. She was alone, as far as I could tell, and it didn't look like she was in costume either. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I knew I'd never seen her before.7

Grunting under my breath, I fumbled to unlock the door, irritated at whoever the hell was letting their first grader run around alone this late at night on a Thursday, bothering people whose lights were off, as much as with the kid herself. She was a pain in the ass with the nonstop ringing, but it wasn't like any sorry-ass mom who would let her run around this late would be the type to give her doorbell ringing etiquette lessons. Or that her kid would be the type to listen.8

Throwing the door open fast and hard enough that I practically hit the kid in the face, I noticed with the barrier gone that she wasn't wearing a costume, just kid sized clothes, and she wasn't even carrying one of those plastic pumpkins or a decorated plastic bag or something to put candy in. how frigging sorry was this kid's mom anyway, was she also too cheap to buy her a crappy costume from Wal Mart?9

"I don't have any candy," I said shortly, "that's generally what it means when someone's porch lights are off. It's one in the morning, kid, why don't you give it up and go home?"10

I shut the door, but the kid rang the doorbell again, right away, holding it down in a way that made it buzz for a long, loud, incredibly irritating time. My head pounded, and a hot flash of anger, nearly rage, shot through me. I felt like it was heating my blood inside me, like I could feel it physically, as a part of me. I flung the door open again, almost hitting the kid in the face a second time, but I've got to give her credit, she didn't' back up. She didn't even flinch or act like it would bother her at all if I had hit her. She just looked up at me with these big brown eyes, like she was the most innocent thing that ever walked the earth or abused my doorbell. 11

I had that feeling again for just a moment that there was something familiar about her, something I recognized, but I ignored it. I knew I'd never seen this kid before. I didn't see any kids very much, so how the hell would I have seen this one?12

"Can you not hear? I said I don't have any candy, so get the hell off my doorway before I call the cops on you!"13

The kid blinked up at me, still clasping her hands in front of her. She was standing very straight, which was sort of weird for a kid who looked as young as she did, and not shifting her weight or squirming around. She spoke clearly as she looked me right in the eye, like she had been handed a golden engraved friggin' invitation or something. Like I could have afforded to have stupid shit like that even if I did want her or anyone else around, bugging the shit out of me tonight. Or any other night.14

"I don't want any candy," she said. "I just want to talk to you. Can I come in?"15

Come in?! What the hell- was this kid out of her mind? She rings my bell like someone's about to murder her or something, doesn't go away when I tell her to, and this kid I've seen once in my life, she thinks she can just come marching into my house, into my life, like it's her right?! What the hell is up with kids these days?!16

"Are you for real, kid?" I asked incredulously, my voice rising. "No, of course you can't come in! Didn't you hear, it's one in the morning, some people have to WORK tomorrow, and even if we didn't, why the hell would we let you just come marching in our houses whenever the hell you wanted?! Go home, I said get out of my doorway!"17

God my head hurt. And I wasn't kidding, I had work tomorrow, the early shift too, dammit. It would be hard enough with a hangover, used to those as I was, but with this damn kid…what the hell was with this kid?18

Most kids you'd think would take the hint and go after getting yelled at like that. Most kids you would think would be scared, even, that someone like twenty years older and 75 pounds or so heavier was threatening to call the police on their ass, especially when they were standing right there in the doorway of their own house, and could have a knife or shotgun or something hid behind their back. But not this kid. This kid either had the best nerves I've ever seen or else she was totally stupid because she looked up at me with serious but composed dark eyes and didn't back away.19

I guess she was kind of pretty, for a kid and all, even though she was such a pain. She had long dark hair, almost black, that was straight and thick and all the way down to her waist- the kind of hair I'd always wanted as a kid. She had on sort of weird clothes, for a kid these days, sort of leggings with straps on the feet and a big matching shirt with some cartoon thing on it. More like something kids would wear back in the eighties, when I was a kid. In fact, the outfit looked sort of familiar, like I'd seen it before. Maybe I had, somewhere- maybe that was why I had that feeling that I'd seen the kid before.20

Whatever. What the hell did it matter, as long as she went away and went home?21

Something else that was weird about the kid…she was pretty, yeah, but in a weird way, like too mature. Like her face and mannerisms were too old for a kid her age. She looked…there was something about her face, and the look in her eyes when she looked up at me, the way she opened her mouth just a little bit, that made the word "sexy" pop into my head.22

But that was ridiculous. The kid was seven years old, thinking she looked sexy was ridiculous. I needed to go to bed, and this kid needed to get the hell out of here and go home.23

Still, the way she looked at me so steadily and spoke so clearly was creepy, because it seemed more like an adult in a kid's body than an actual kid, the way she came across.24

"I need to come in," the little girl repeated, and she didn't sound scared or upset or even angry. She was just stating it calmly, like it was an undeniable fact that of course I'd say yes to. "Please let me in."25

"What the HELL, kid, I said no, and I meant it!" I snapped, shaking my head emphatically. "Go ring someone else's doorbell, but leave me out of your stupid pranks and go away, do you hear me?"26

I shut the door again, even harder than before, and a lot more forcefully, almost stomping back over to the couch and letting myself slump down, my hand immediately reaching for the nearly empty bottle as I took a long swallow, clinching my jaw. I felt the alcohol burn slowly down my throat and spread as warmth through my chest. My head still ached badly, pulsing steadily at the temples, and my heart was beating faster now too. I swore under my breath, muttering to myself about stupid kids bothering me in the middle of the night when every sane person was trying to kick back and relax. 27

But I knew there was more to it than that, something bothering me about the girl I couldn't put my finger on. Stupid kid…28

When the doorbell rang again, I almost turned and threw the bottle at the door. As it was I knocked it over when I stood up fast, spilling the rest of its contents onto the carpet at my feet. Swearing loudly, trying to blot up the growing wet spot with a pillow, I lurched to my feet and threw the door open as forcefully as I could, this time hoping to catch the little bitch full on in the face. This time I was going to make her leave if I had to throw her over the balcony rail myself.29

"Listen, you little prick!" I started off, almost screaming…and then I choked, losing track entirely of what I'd meant to say, the violent expressions that had been a second from flying out my mouth. Because this third time I'd looked at the kid, it was different….either I'd been too tipsy or too pissed off to really see before, or else I'd just not looked at all, but I was looking now, and there was no way I could finish what I had been about to say to her.30

There was bruising all over her arms, dark smudges that I knew without needing to be told, from the coloring and shape alone, were from adult fingers. Her lower lip was swollen, split, and crusted slightly with dark blood, and her fingernails were bitten to the quick. I felt myself go cold as I stared at her, my mouth opening as I took in what I had obviously missed the first two times around. 31

The kid had been grabbed hard by the arms and shaken by the looks of it, just before getting decked in the face…but here she was, standing so straight and calmly, with the smallest flicker of something like fear in her eyes as she met mine, her voice still quiet, but steady as she asked for the third time.32

"I need to come in…please let me in."33

I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I let it out in a long, shuddery sigh. I wanted to close my eyes, to turn away from this kid with her big serious-34


Big serious dark eyes and her bleeding lip, the fingermarks on her arms and her clothes from two decades ago. I wanted to send her away, to stop thinking about her now, to never think of her again.36

But I couldn't send her off now…not like this, not after seeing that, and I especially couldn't send her home. That was probably where she got it in the first place, why else wouldn't she have gone home and not here at this time of the-37

("Stop your crying, I didn't hurt you! You're nothing but a baby, a big bawling baby who ain't worth shit!")38

("Daddy…Daddy, you hurt my…")39

("You think that hurt, I'll show you what hurt is, I'll give you something to cry about!")40

("Heather…you know Daddy didn't mean it. Come here, let Daddy show you how sorry he is…how much he loves his Heatherbelle. You know Daddy loves you, don't you, Heatherbelle?")41

(Don't you…don't you know?)42

I shook my head fast, throwing off those stupid thoughts. Pointless, totally pointless, and besides, I'd forgotten all that shit a long time ago. Had nothing to do with anything.43

Still, as I looked down at the little girl on my doorstep with her busted lip and her purpling arms, I couldn't do it. I couldn't let her walk away, no matter how much I wanted to, so I found myself nodding abruptly, my voice loud and sort of harsh.44

"Okay…okay, come in."45