"Mommy?" I called in a high pitched six year old voice, "Mommy, where are you?" poking my head inquisitively into each doorway I passed down the long, narrow, desolate hallway.

My mother popped out of a doorway a further ways away a rueful smile displaced on her features.

"I'm right here sweetie." She sighed, urging me to come to her. I skipped happily to her and frowned.

"Mommy, what's wrong?" She whimpered and placed a hand to her mouth to muffle the noise as her eyes dropped to the small picture frame in her hand. "Mommy, what happened?" I asked sadly as she crumpled in the middle of the doorway, her head hanging lifelessly; her small body jolting with each wretched sob that pulled through her body. She had pulled the frame closer to her body, clutching to it as if her life depended on it. Like, if she let it go, she'd disappear with it. "Mommy," I whispered, climbing carefully into her lap and burying my neck in her shoulder, nuzzling her, "It will be okay. I promise. Everything will be okay. I can go get daddy. He'll make it better!" I cheered excitedly pleading to all the God of God's that my warmth and happiness could be spread from me through to her. Her cries stopped instantly and her eyes whipped to meet me, eyes red and a puffy purple, stained black tears trailing softly down her cheeks.

"Dad's gone, Sera." She maundered, the light in her eyes dissipating as fast as wild fire in a dry field.

I fumbled for a second, my young, not yet fully formed and functioning brain, not comprehending.

"Huh? What? Yes he is, Mommy. He's just at work. We can call him and then he will come home and make it all better. Where does it hurt Mommy? Maybe if daddy can't fix it we can go to the doctor and he will give you medicines to fix it. It's okay." My mother smiled, the smile not touching her eyes as she petted my pitch black hair, pulling my head into her shoulder again. She continued to sob but it was definitely not as bad as it had been mere minutes ago.

After what seemed like hours, she pulled me back from her and kissed the top of my head, her gloomy deep blue eyes searching mine.

"Sera, sweetie, I—" she began, "You're father, daddy, he won't be coming home tonight." She breathed in harshly, "He won't be coming home tomorrow either."

"What about the next day?" I asked, befuddled.

She shook her head forlornly, "No sweetie. Daddy won't ever be back." She whispered broken as the tears began to fall again, but this time there was no sound, just silence as the tracks of salted water traced the curves of her cheeks and trailed down into the crevice's under her chin.

"I love you, Sera. Please, always remember that." She whispered. I swallowed back my own small tears and nodded fervently.

"I will remember Momma."

"You're such a beautiful baby girl." My mother smiled as she cupped my small apple cheeks in her palms, resting her forehead against mine, ours eyes meeting.

"Did daddy hurt you Momma?" I asked worried, kind of making a connection now.

She nodded almost reluctantly, "But it wasn't his intention, baby." She reassured me ardently.

"But why did he do it then? If he knew it would hurt you? Doesn't he love you?" My eyes were squinted and my nose scrunched with a morbid concentration. I was trying to figure it all out, sift through all this emotion and information. What I needed to know and what I didn't.

"Baby, you're daddy loves you. You always have to remember that. You're daddy and me, both love you big much!" She smiled warmly, the smile almost reaching her eyes. I almost believed it.

"Then why did he leave? You don't leave people you love." I harrumphed as I pushed my bangs out of my face.

Her eyes caught in the midst of a lost memory, she was quiet. It was a long time before she spoke again.

"Sera, you don't need love. All you need is you. All you EVER need in life is you. Don't let anyone tell you different, they don't know what they're talking about. Love makes you weak. It makes you like me. Do you want to end up like me, here on this floor, crying your heart out, yearning for a love that won't ever be yours?" She pushed, "Is that what you want, Sera?" She urged again, suddenly gripping my shoulders. "Sera, is this what you want?" I sniveled and shook my head. She released her hold and instead pulled me into her, hugging me tightly, rocking us back and forth.

"Good, baby. Good. Love is a dangerous game the simplest and most effective way to beat it; is to not play at all, my sweet. Keep this," I felt her hand on my heart as she rocked me to sleep, "locked away from prying hands. It's safer that way. It's just safer." She soothed.

It's safer.

X

"Mommy, what are we doing?" I asked quizzically as we pulled up outside a large, uninviting house I didn't recognize. It was beautiful, in its own right. But it wasn't my home. "I want to go home. I want daddy." I whined. It had been a week since my father had left and I still couldn't wrap my head around it. I was six and there wasn't much I could wrap my head around to be frank.

My mother sighed, a tone of frustration lacing her features, "Sera, we've already been through this and I refuse to repeat myself for the umpteenth time. Now get your belt off and grab your bags." She huffed, taking her own belt off, flicking mine off any way to make things faster, pushed her door open and slammed it shut. I listened as her heels clicked noisily on the smooth pavement of this stranger's driveway. I frowned as my mother reached into the back seat, emerging with my suitcase in one hand and a light pink Dora the Explorer bag slung casually over her shoulder as if it didn't clash at all with her crisply ironed maroon business attire. Her brown hair was combed right back from her head and secured into a tight bun at the back of her head. She looked beautiful, despite the rough edge of hardness that washed over the beauty, trying to fade it out.

"Where are we? Why aren't you getting your bags Momma?" I questioned as she pulled out the handle to make pulling the suitcase along easier, left it for a second as she grabbed me out of the car, shut the door, placed me on the pavement, grasping my hand she then resumed tugging the suitcase up along the pavement to a small set of stairs and up to the imposing, black door. She dropped down to my face and placed the bag around me, sticking my own arms into the straps; she cupped my face lightly in her hands and looked as if she was trying to commit every detail to memory.

"I love you, Sera. I love you so much. I know this is best." She tried to smile, but couldn't quite get it out. A single tear escaped her eye and she didn't bother to brush it away.

"Momma," I whispered, sticking my own hand up to cup her cheek and wipe away the tear. She leaned into my touch, "I love you too." I said softly. "I have something for you." She smiled at me as I pulled a drawing that I did before we left from my dress pocket. "I made it for you." It wasn't much; I only had very little time. "It's a picture of us. There's daddy and you and me!" I told her, pointing to everyone as I explained excitedly, "We're all jumping on a trampoline and trying to touch the sky, because do you know that Shelly told me that Reagan her brother said that Seamus his friend, said that his Mommy said if you jump high enough on the trampoline, you can reach the sky. So that's what we're doing." I smiled at her and pushed my bangs out my face, she grinned, tears falling freely, "And that's our house, and there's an alien on the moon whose trying to fly to the sun but the sun has cooties that will burn him if he goes there, so he's a bit scared and that's the doggy, that you're going to get me. Right, Mommy?" I finished pleadingly. She laughed and wiped the tears from her eyes.

"No, Sera. Don't even think about it." She smiled and kissed my pouted lips. "No dogs."

Knocking on the door and waiting for someone to open it was a pretty scary thing. The black door was intimidating okay? The whole house and situation daunting; not that I knew that at the time.

A lady who looked to be only a couple years older opened the door and greeted me with a large smile and a big hug for my mother "Hey Karol," my mother tried to smile and not cry more, when Karol gave her a sympathetic hug and kissed her forehead, "how are you?"

"It's okay, Lyd, it's okay." She cooed as my mother broke into deep sobs and Karol comforted her in a warm embrace, "It's okay," She repeated as my mother cried harder, "she's going to be okay."

As my mother pulled herself together, Karol got down on her knees so she was level with me and placed her hands in her lap, tilting her head to side as I subconsciously moved behind my mother's leg.

"Hi, Sera." She smiled warmly, "I'm your Aunt Karol, and your Momma's sister. It's nice to meet you." She said politely, I slight twang in her voice, holding her hand out for me to shake.

I looked up to my mother for approval and she nodded lightly. I took her hand and shook it shyly.

"Hello."

She grinned and looked up to my mother, nodding slightly, "She's beautiful, Lyd. Definitely not the little bundle of baldness she was the last time I saw her." She laughed kindly.

"You know, I actually have this really really cool dollhouse upstairs, that I've wanted to share with someone for a long time. Would you like to see it?" She beamed.

I looked to my mother and nodded again, "Yes please."

"Well come on then, sugar." She smiled as we entered her house.

My mother followed us in, bringing my bags too, she stopped at the bottom of the stairs and Karol and I continued upstairs, "Momma?" I asked before I completely disappeared from her sight.

She shook her head, urging me on, "You go, sweetie. I love you."

I caught her pull something out of her pocket place it on the small table, resting on the side of the staircase and then she headed for the door. I was confused and scared until Karol nudged me to keep moving on up. I stood still, grinning and thinking of the dollhouse and raced the rest of the way up the stairs, successfully tripping up five of them and carpet burning myself.

I huffed and Karol smiled encouragingly, telling me there wasn't much farther to go.

The doll house was totally worth the skinned knee.

It wasn't worth my Mother though.

I never saw her again.