Cold Sweat

October 10, 2017

Isabella delicately treaded down the timeworn school bus steps and followed the curve of the sidewalk to her house, leaping over the cracks in the concrete as heavy drops bounced off of her raincoat.  She was eager to stay with her father for their special weekend together since she rarely ever got to see him.  Frederick, on the other hand, felt guilty for being part of the reason that Isabella had to be juggled between two different homes.  The old door, splintered on the edges, gently floated open and a full head of brown curls peeked inside the door.
“Hi Sweetheart,” Frederick shouted as Isabella tottered over to him, almost tripping on her oversized rain boots.  She jumped into his arms and he cradled her head in the crease of his elbow, and in this moment, Frederick felt that even though the world was falling apart, everything would be okay.  She looked up and smiled at Frederick; he was so fixated on the glimmer of innocence in her eyes, he didn’t even realize that his puppy, Fido, was licking his toes.  Knowing that this was a sign that Fido wanted to go outside, Isabella hopped out of Fredericks grip and skipped over to the cheaply finished backdoor, reached up, and pulled on the metallic door handle.  Fido raced out into the large backyard surrounded with a white picket fence and Isabella followed.  Frederick momentarily watched them play together from a small window in the living room, the gentle rain producing small puddles for Isabella to splash in. 
When Fido and Isabella came inside after playing in the rain for a good thirty minutes, they both shook the remaining raindrops that clung to their body onto the rug in front of the door.  Frederick helped Isabella take off her ladybug rain boots while she asked him,
“Did you see that big puddle I splashed in?” 
“You bet I did,” Frederick replied.
“I’m surprised it didn’t swallow you whole.”
  Isabella giggled at this response and carried on babbling about her adventures outside with Fido.  Frederick was distantly staring off into space thinking about his big writing deadline that he had to finish by 11 pm that evening (he was a writer for the Post) -- only half listening to what Isabella was rambling about.  His head turned when he heard his daughter sadly say,
“Mr. Vincent lost Fido’s ball.” 
Confused, Frederick asked “Who is Mr. Vincent?”
Isabella replied, “The man who asked if I want to play with him.” 
Frederick was very worried when Isabella said this because he knew his daughter was not one to make things up, yet he did not freak out because he didn’t want to frighten his daughter.
“What did you and Mr. Vincent talk about?” asked Frederick.
“He asked me a lot of questions” replied Isabella, “like who my favorite princess is, what I like to eat, and what my room looks like.”  “I like Mr. Vincent!” “Did you know he likes fairies too?”
Ignoring Isabella’s question, Frederick told Isabella “I thought I told you not to talk to strangers?”
“You did, but Daddy Mr. Vincent isn’t a stranger, he’s my friend.” Isabella said with a confused expression on her face.
Frederick had so many questions to ask, and to be perfectly honest, he didn’t know if he wanted to know the answers.  He finally spit out a question.
“What did he look like sweetie?” He asked her
“He is shorter than you and he has a shiny head” “Oh!” Isabella shouted, remembering something else.  “He had a big belly like Winnie the Pooh”
Frederick pulled Isabella close to him and kneeled down to her level “Listen honey, next time Mr. Vincent comes over to play I want you to come and get me as quick as you can, I would love to meet him!”
“Okay” Isabella said, her dimples hiding a few of her freckles.

He couldn’t stand to see the innocence fade from her eyes if he told her that the world is a scary place.  What if something were to happen to her, Frederick thought, and he beat himself up about it for the rest of the night. 
Isabella and Frederick played dress up for hours and Isabella eventually fell asleep, still in her fluffy red princess dress.  Frederick scooped up Isabella into to his arms ever so gently and left Fido sleeping on the living room couch.  He put her in her fairy bed that was covered in glitter and didn’t even reach half a foot off of the ground and stood back and stared at her for a second wondering what he did to deserve her.  The light slowly left Isabella’s face as Frederick slowly closed her bedroom door.  He had three hours to finish and submit his article, or his job was on the line.
  As he came down the stairs, he saw Fido curled up in a ball on the couch and he could almost feel the warmth the dog was giving off.  When Frederick approached his desk, a strong drowsy feeling fell upon him.  His fingers started moving across the keyboard and when he removed his pointer finger from the “h” key, many long threads formed, trapped between the key and his finger, which he concluded was maple syrup from his breakfast the previous morning.  Frederick plodded to the bathroom that gave off a red illumination due to the apple scented candle; he tore off a square of toilet paper and pumped a swirl of a soap directly on the center of the paper. 
When he returned to the living room to wipe the sticky residue off of his laptop, he noticed Fido was no longer on the couch.  A barking projected into the living room from the backyard, it was Fido.  There was no doggy door in his home and Isabella was still in a heavy sleep.   Frederick was sure that he had locked the door before he carried Isabelle up to bed, yet both the upper and the lower bolt were unlocked.  That’s when he convinced himself that his stress was to blame for forgetting that he let Fido out ten minutes earlier.  Frederick was usually a tranquil and practical man, but tonight was different, everything happened too fast tonight.  He went upstairs to check on Isabella again, but when he opened the door he found nothing but her fairy bed in her bedroom.  He ran throughout the house screaming her name and sobbing, but there was no reply. Frederick’s world stopped and the only sound he could hear was the chirp of crickets in the distance. 

Suddenly, he woke up, desperately gasping for air; it had felt as though a skyscraper was pushing down on his chest.  His clothes were drenched with sweat, yet he shivered when a light breeze from the fan hit him.  Once he caught his breath, he ran upstairs and relived his worst nightmare; Isabella was not in her bed.  Frederick heard footsteps down the stairs and then the sound that a loose hinge makes when a door slams, like it is trying to hold things up, but it may give out at any moment, and in this instant that’s exactly how he felt.  He sprinted down the spiral staircase and out the front door.  Frederick saw a red blur in the distance reflecting the street lights gentle rays, then it disappeared into the night.  He collapsed to the ground knowing that he would never see Isabella again as the cold breeze seemed to be a blade of ice across his face.  Feeling defeated, he walked inside not even bothering to close the door and that’s when he saw Isabella walk out of the bathroom and say, “Daddy, I can’t sleep.”






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