Conflict, p.24
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       Conflict, p.24

           M. S. Willis
 
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  I pulled up to The Center and heard thunder in the distance. I was pleased that I arrived prior to a rainstorm and I pulled around to the side of the large building to the private entrance of my parents’ apartment. I killed the engine and noticed that there were no lights on. Realizing it was late, I felt bad for waking my parents, but I had no choice but to talk to them about what Daemon had told me.

  I banged on their door until I noticed a light flick on behind the windows. The door opened and my father stood in front of me in his pajamas and a robe. “Paige?”

  My mother soon came up behind my father and a worried look was on her face. My parents moved out of the doorway so that I could step inside. Lightning cracked in the distance as I entered and it caused me to flinch from surprise.

  My father hurriedly closed the door and followed me as I walked into the living room. My mother turned on one of the side lamps and it bathed the room in a soft light. My parents sat down on the couch and motioned for me to follow, but I shook my head and choose to pace the floor in front of them.

  I finally built up to nerve to speak and asked, “Is there something the two of you need to tell me?”

  Their expressions instantly dropped at my question and the reaction verified that what Daemon told me was true. I stopped pacing to stare each of them down. Momma looked up at me when she asked, “What did Daemon tell you?” Her voice sounded like she was trying to hold back tears and I wanted to feel sorry for her pain. The only problem being that I was too angry to care.

  “Well, he told me who is he, for starters. He also told me he came back for me and that you stopped him. I’m a little confused as to how that can be true considering you’ve been telling me that you couldn’t find him.” My voice had an edge to it and I crossed my arms over my chest as a stared down into the guilty faces of my parents.

  Daddy opened his mouth to talk but was interrupted by a loud crash of thunder outside. The wind picked up and you could hear the rain pelting against the windows of the house. The sound of the storm mixed with the low light of the room gave this meeting a clandestine and ominous feel.

  Daddy waited for the thunder to stop before saying, “Paige. Please sit down. Your mother and I will tell you everything, but I prefer that you are sitting for this conversation.”

  “I don’t need to be sitting for you to tell me what the fuck is going on! My ears work perfectly fine regardless of the position my body is in. Now tell me the truth!” My anger was apparent in my voice as I screamed at my parents. Never in my twenty-two years had I raised my voice to them; but then again, they never gave me a reason to be mad. This was uncharted territory and my heart broke apart, piece by piece, with every step I took closer to the truth.

  Momma spoke up next. “I don’t know how to admit this to you, Paige, but…” She hesitated as she let out a long breath. “…events in your past didn’t happen quite as you remember them. Your father and I had to make some decisions in order to protect your interests.”

  Oh god.

  Where was she going with this? Her hands continuously wringed around each other in her lap. I knew Momma well enough to know that when she wrung her hands, it was a sign of nervousness and pain. I wanted to cover my ears and not hear what she was about to tell me, but I held my place and never stopped looking her in the eyes as she spoke.

  “Yes. Daemon is Buddy. Your father and I have been aware of that this entire time. I was shocked to see him in your hospital room after the….incident.” She paused again. It was obvious how difficult this was for her to tell me. “Daemon came back when you were fifteen. He was walking around back to go talk to you when your father happened to walk outside. When he found Daemon, he redirected him inside and we dealt with it from there.” Her eyes grew remorseful as she spoke. “He was a street kid, Paige, and you have to understand that we couldn’t have that type of person around you. We had to protect you from people like him.”

  My jaw dropped at her statement. I’d never heard my mother talk badly about anybody, no matter what the circumstances. She’d spent her life helping people in bad situations, and she had the audacity to turn Daemon away because he didn’t have a home?! Who was this person sitting in front of me? My reality crumbled a little further as Momma continued.

  “We made a decision when you were six to protect you from Daemon. Even then he was emotionally unstable. Baby girl, your memories of him are not exactly accurate. You’ve forgotten so much as you’ve grown and it scared your father and me. Daemon showed back up when he was seventeen and we helped him, but in a way that kept him separate from you.” The words were spilling from her mouth in such a way, that it was apparent that she was confessing to their past actions while at the same time, begging for forgiveness.

  I absorbed her confession and processed every detail she was revealing. Her words played through my mind and I picked up on something she’d said. “What decision did you make when I was six?”

  Momma and Daddy quickly looked at each other and then back to me. Daddy spoke up this time and he sat on the edge of the couch as if it was difficult to remain sitting. They were both obviously tense and it felt like they were tiptoeing around me as they spoke.

  “Paige, I’m just going to be blunt about this...” Daddy was interrupted again by the sound of thunder and Momma’s soft sobs. “…We had the option to take Daemon when he was a child. Due to his behavioral issues, we chose not to take him because we wanted to protect you. Now, I’m sorry for having lied to you about our decision, but I’m not sorry for the decision that I made. You are our daughter and I acted in a way that any responsible father should. We would have been honest with you about it, but you developed this odd obsession after the event with his mother. We were told it was normal for you to fixate on him after a trauma and that it would be best if we were to just let you believe that there was nothing we could do. So that’s what we did. I’m sorry, Paige, but we never expected that you two would find each other again. We never thought you would find out.”

  His words were like a hard blow to the stomach. I physically jerked back from the impact of what he was saying and my head spun in confusion. They had the option to take him? I didn’t have to go without him all of these years, but my parents made the decision to do that to me? All my pain, loneliness and hopelessness at his loss had been their doing. My eyes burned with unshed tears and I stood motionless for a few moments.

  I was flooded with a feeling of the worst kind of betrayal. The kind that twists you up to a point where reality no longer makes sense. Not only had my parents lied to me, they had been the cause of one of the most painful tragedies of my life. I thought about the life Daemon had lived. As a child he was kicked from home to home, never finding a real family to call his. He was forced to live on the streets at a young age and had no one and nothing for so long. My feeling of betrayal was smothered underneath the building anger I had for what my parents had done to Daemon. His life could have been different, it could have been better, if my parents had chosen to keep him.

  “How could you?! You two, the saviors of all things oppressed, turned your backs on a child? And not just any child, you turned your backs on my best friend! You abandoned someone who needed you and lied to me in the process! I cannot fucking believe this!”

  My mother flinched back in response to my anger, but my father jumped up to look at me, eye to eye. “We did not abandon Daemon. We kept tabs on him the entire time he was in foster care. We helped in any way we could. We recommended counselors, we helped his foster parents out financially, and we hired people to look for him when he ran away. We never turned our backs on him!” My father’s voice was raised in anger and I was surprised to hear him speak in such a manner. Sure, I was a hothead, it wasn’t unusual for me to lose my cool, but not my father. I’d never heard him speak in anything but a calm manner…until now. He appeared to be surprised by his demeanor as well, because he took a second to calm himself down before continuing. “Paige, you don’t remember what a problem Buddy
was when he stayed here. He fought against everybody; adults, other children, it didn’t matter. The boy needed individual attention and care that we did not have the time to give him. Watching him would have been a full time job, and…damn it!” My father ran his hand through his thinning hair. He looked like he was trying to catch himself from revealing something and I stepped forward to urge him along.

  “What? And what? Just tell me what you were going to say!”

  My father’s eyes flicked down to my mother before returning to me. “He hurt you too, Paige. Your Momma witnessed it on several occasions, and we were concerned that not only did you never say anything, you lied to cover it up.”

  My eyes widened in response to my father’s words. I started thinking back to the most recent dreams I was having about Buddy. Sure, he’d been cruel at times, I was starting to remember that, but not enough to warrant sending him away. “He was just a kid.” My voice was raspy from the emotion once again assaulting my body. I turned away from my parents and heard Momma’s sobs grow louder in reaction to mine.

  “Paige, we did what we had to do so that you were safe. He wasn’t kicked from home to home because the foster parents didn’t love him. He was emotionally troubled, Paige. He was violent and out of control at times and the entire situation was difficult for everyone involved. We were worried sick when he ran away in his teens. When he showed back up here, we found a place for him to go. One of our friends took him in, and quite frankly that was the best thing that could’ve happened for him. He straightened out after that and he made something of himself. It scared the hell out of us to discover that he was back in your life that day at the hospital. But we had the opportunity to talk to him, to see that he had finally grown up and calmed down. He understood why we did what we did, why can’t you?” My father’s voice cracked from his restrained emotion and I was desperately trying to understand what they had done. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t make peace with it.

  I started walking to the front door. As I went to open the door, I felt my father’s hand grasped around my arm. “Where are you going, Paige?”

  I turned on my heel and glared at him. “I’m leaving!”

  His grip tightened on my arm. “You are not going anywhere in this storm, Paige. It’s dangerous!”

  I ripped my arm out of his grasp and opened the front door. “Don’t worry about me, dad, I’m a grown ass adult now. Neither of you have the right or the ability to make decisions for me anymore. And I’m thankful for that, because you’ve apparently never understood what I needed. I could have avoided all these years of pain and loss if you’d just taken Buddy in when he needed you.”

  With that, I turned and walked out into the storm. Thunder continued rumbling above my head and lightning lit up the sky as sheets of rain poured down on top of me. I reached behind my back to pull the hood of the sweatshirt over my head and then I took off in a dead run away from the building.

  “Paige!”

  I ignored my father and kept running. I needed to get away from them, from everything and be by myself to think. I didn’t have a particular destination in mind as I ran, so I just entered the woods at the back of the property. Even at night, I knew these woods like the back of my hand and I was able to find my way to a small clearing that I used to play in as a child. The rain pelted down on my body and I was thoroughly soaked within seconds, but the last thing I cared about at that moment was my physical comfort. The storm was a perfect outward reflection of everything I was feeling inside and I sat down at the base of a large oak tree that stood in the middle of the clearing. My body was racked by uncontrollable sobs and my eyes and throat hurt from the emotional rollercoaster that the day had turned into. I was vacillating between anger, grief and feelings of utter loss and betrayal as the rain continued to pour over me. I was so caught up in my despair that I didn’t care that a large puddle had formed around me. The physical discomfort was welcoming because it distracted me from the tortuous emotions that were tearing me apart on the inside. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the rain. My body jumped in response to the loud claps of thunder, but I absorbed the storm, became one with the chaos that was stirring the atmosphere around me.

  The storm never calmed as I sat in that clearing and I lost track of time. The rain was so loud and so heavy that you couldn’t see or hear anything around you. I was taken by surprise when I was suddenly grabbed and pulled up from the ground. I jumped in surprise and was instantly on the defensive. The hood of the sweatshirt was waterlogged from the rain and it covered my eyes blocking me from seeing the person who had grabbed me. I struggled against the hold, but, despite my struggle, I was pulled against a large chest and wrapped within a large set of arms.

  “What the hell are you doing sitting alone in the woods in the middle of a storm, Paige?”

  Daemon’s deep voice startled me, but then I instantly stopped struggling in response. I suddenly felt guilty for what my parents had just told me and tears escaped my eyes. Regardless of the guilt, I was relieved to have him near me and my arms went around his waist.

  I laid my head against his chest and words started pouring from my mouth as I confessed everything that had been done to him. “They abandoned you, Daemon. They pushed you away and refused to help you because of me...” My voice was muffled by the hood over my head and Daemon pushed it back in order to hear what I was saying.

  I looked up to find a hard expression on his face. Even in the darkness, he eyes were crystal clear and I was frozen in reaction to his stare. Guilt, sadness and anger battled it out in those beautiful eyes and I gazed up at him, silently begging him for forgiveness for what my parents had done. He stood in front of me, soaked from the rain and it was probably one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. His normally messy hair was plastered around his face and drops fell from the tips. Rivulets of water trailed the curve of his jaw and his mouth. His shirt and pants were also plastered to him and every muscle was defined by the material.

  “…My parents screwed up your life, Daemon, and it was my fault!”

  Daemon’s expression softened at my words and he pulled me even closer against him. He rested his head on top of mine and I felt his chest move back and forth from the large sigh that escaped him. “Damsel, I know what your parents did. We had several days in the hospital to discuss what happened and, I’ll admit, I was angry at first. But I thought about who they were protecting and I couldn’t stay upset with them.”

  He pulled me away so that he could look down at me as he said, “If I had to turn my back on every single person in this world in order to protect you, I would. I don’t blame your parents for having made that same decision. In fact, I can only respect them for having taken steps to protect you. I’m thankful they did what they did. You need to forgive them; I have.”

  “But you were just a child. And on top of that, you were an abused child. They are supposed to help people like that, not turn their backs on them. Because of me, my parents ruined your life!” I began to cry harder and I felt ashamed. I buried my face in my hands, but was quickly corrected when Daemon placed a finger under my chin to turn my face back to him.

  “First off, Damsel, my life was not ruined. I run successful businesses and I have you; those are the only two things I will ever need. Second, your parents were not the cause of any difficulties I faced when I was young. My father was that cause. Quite frankly, I should be apologizing to you. If it wasn’t for his actions, none of this would have ever happened. His abuse affected not only me and my mom, but you and your parents as well. You lived your life pining for a best friend that was stripped from you and you became hard and closed off as a result. Your parents had to make a decision that went against everything they believed in. But their decision was wise and well-founded. I was a screwed up kid, Damsel. There’s no telling what could have happened between us if your parents hadn’t made that decision. I could have ruined things permanently and I never would have forgiven myself.”

  “So you d
on’t blame me?” My voice was whisper soft, but somehow Daemon still heard me over the pouring rain.

  “No, Paige. I don’t blame you at all. You are not at fault for anything, and neither are your parents.”

  I looked into Daemon’s eyes and saw that he truly meant what he was saying. He’d forgiven my parents for their decision and actually appreciated what they had done. It would be foolish for me to continue holding a grudge against them for what their actions did to him; but could I forgive the fact that they betrayed me in the process?

  “We need to sit down and talk about all of this Daemon. There is still so much I don’t know that I want to know about you…” Daemon’s placed his finger on my mouth to silence me.

  “I promise you, I will tell you everything there is to know, but now is not the time.” He removed his finger and placed a kiss where it had once been. “Paige, I love you with every fiber of my being. What’s important for you to know now is that I never forgot about you. I never gave up hope that someday I would have you again. You know I tried to come back for you, but the time was not right. I needed to grow up and your parents did me a favor by sending me to the man who could finally show me how.” His hand reached up to brush the hair away from my face. A mischievous grin broke out on his face as he said, “So, I’m going to return the favor.”

  I was confused by his statement and my face must have shown it because he chuckled before saying, “You are out of control, my dear. Twice today, I’ve had to rescue your beautiful ass from the woods. And the only reason those rescues were necessary was because you let your emotions control you and you made decisions based on those emotions.” His expression suddenly became tender as he said, “You have to stop running, Paige. You can’t keep doing that every time you are angry or hurt. You also need to stop making rash decisions because you are being stubborn. You’ve done some pretty stupid things today, Paige and I’m now determined to break that stubborn streak in you once and for all. I’ve gone easy on you up until now. We are going to put a stop to that starting tomorrow. In addition to getting you under control emotionally, I also intend to train you physically.”

 
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