College Student, Crumpled Paper, Train, Laptop

Kenneth Karret was on a train, seated across from a lawyer who seemed to be finishing a difficult case. From the little snippets of the lawyer's phone conversation, Kenneth understood that it was a custody battle. The father was about to be proven as an unfit parent for the four-year-old girl. He sighed. That lawyer may as well have been his ex-wife's.

He didn't want to think of her. Why she decided to pursue custody of their four-year-old daughter, Lillia, three years after he left was beyond him. His ex-wife, Aresie, had always been so strange. He'd been in love with her differences for a while, but they grew boring after their first year of marriage. By the end of it, before the divorce, they had been fighting, often making one-year-old Lillia cry.

Perhaps Kenneth was a terrible father. After all, he had walked out on his family and didn't look back until the court summoned him.

The train car halted. He supposed it was his stop. The lawyer stood, too, as if he was going to the same place as Kenneth. Kenneth certainly hoped it wasn't so; that would be awkward. To Kenneth's relief, the lawyer boarded another train.

He looked down at the court summons in his hand. He was supposed to meet with Aresie at one in the courthouse with Judge Tutwright. Glancing at his wristwatch, he saw that he had two hours before the hearing began. He decided to grab a cup of coffee before facing his ex-wife. He also figured that it wouldn't do him any good if he fell asleep before the judge because of the long trip.

Kenneth ordered his coffee black, earning a strange look from the teenaged barista. He didn't care what she thought. He was about to lose custody of his only child later, anyway. A stranger's opinion didn't matter.

The only other customer in the coffee shop was a college student, feverishly working on a paper of sorts. Kenneth laughed as he remembered those carefree days, without marriages, ex-wives, or custody battles to worry about. He realized it wasn't long ago when he and Aresie were that age. They had married straight out of college, when they were only twenty-four.

Kenneth and Aresie shared the same birthday. April 17. Again, he laughed. That was only in a couple of days. Aresie probably thought winning custody over Lillia would be her birthday present.

He didn't want to give up on Lillia so easily, but he knew he would never win custody because he had been the one to leave. He also couldn't make the commitment to Lillia that she deserved.

He conjured up all his good memories with Lillia and Aresie. There were many memories to recall, but only a few didn't lead to disaster. As he downed the last drop of his strong coffee, he realized his appointment with the court was still an hour away.

Kenneth decided to make his way to the courthouse. It wouldn't do him any good if he was late because he decided he didn't want to leave early for the hearing. He glanced down at the court summons again, trying to find a route to the address on the paper. His knowledge was severely lacking in these unfamiliar surroundings, forcing him to ask the barista for directions.

Unfortunately, she did not know where the courthouse was, but the college student did, and soon he was on his way. When he arrived at the courthouse, he checked his watch and noted that he still had fifteen minutes before the hearing began. Kenneth marched bravely up the steps, pausing before the large glass doors. A sudden burst of anger filled him. He couldn't help it; this court hearing was insanity itself. It was all pointless.

When his fury subsided, Kenneth made sure to pass by a trash can to discard the crumpled paper that his court summons had become. He asked the receptionist behind the desk for directions to the room in which he was supposed to lose his only daughter.

The judge let Aresie and her lawyer speak first, then Kenneth. He didn't want to give up Lillia, but he knew it was the best thing for her. Before he confessed to the judge that Lillia would be better off with Aresie, though, Aresie's sister walked into the room with Lillia, making excuses that she only wanted her mother. Kenneth's heart stopped as he watched his four-year-old daughter rush in an awkward toddler's gait into her mother's arms.

He wanted to hug her, to spend time with her. A rush of memories overwhelmed him. Aresie had been using their laptop to find a new home; the landlord had chosen to evict them. Kenneth had been playing dolls with one-year-old Lillia, and Aresie joined in the fun after giving up the house search for the next day. They had actually been a happy family.

Kenneth realized he couldn't let go of Aresie and Lillia. Not here, not when he was so close. If he distanced himself, he could do it easily. But he wasn't far away.

The judge prompted Kenneth to continue. He asked for a recess. The judge sighed, but called for a ten-minute recess. Kenneth rushed out of the room, eager to clear his head and give up custody of Lillia. To let Aresie live the rest of her life in peaceful bliss.

He couldn't look at Lillia. His daughter, only four years old, already had a bewitching power that could stop a grown man from accomplishing what he needed to do.

Aresie followed him out of the room, carrying Lillia in her arms, and stared at him strangely. He glared back at her, darkly. Why was she doing this to him again? It wasn't fair. He shared these thoughts with her.

Lillia began to cry, pointing at Kenneth. Aresie hushed her quickly, before retorting that she only wanted Lillia to have some closure.

Kenneth's fury subsided, and he explained to her what he planned to do. Aresie's eyes fell a little as she replied that that was what she thought was best, too.

Again, anger filled him. He knew as well as she that this wasn't what any of them wanted. Not Aresie, not Kenneth, and certainly not Lillia. Though they both knew that they could never become a happy couple again, Kenneth argued that they could at least share custody. He didn't care if that meant that he was only able to see Lillia once or twice every month.

Aresie bit her lip nervously. He could tell that she agreed with his idea, but she told him that her lawyer wouldn't agree with the decision. Kenneth informed her that it was her decision now, not her lawyer's. With impeccable timing, Aresie's lawyer came to fetch her.

The judge again asked Kenneth what he thought would be best for Lillia. Kenneth answered that he would gladly give Aresie primary custody as long as he could take Lillia over to his residence once or twice a month. Aresie's lawyer strongly objected this, but Kenneth watched in awe as Aresie quieted him and informed the judge that she agreed with Kenneth's choice. The lawyer strongly objected this, too, but this time, the judge quieted him. The judge ruled in favor of Kenneth's and Aresie's decision because they were both in agreement. Then, the case was dismissed.

Kenneth quickly left the room, eager to escape the suffocation. He sat down on the steps leading up to the courthouse, exhausted.

He heard Aresie calling out his name and turned to see her rushing towards him with Lillia in her arms. He stood, and she gave him a hug.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Kenneth nodded in response.