1986 — Seven-year-old Connor hesitantly tiptoed down the dark hall to his foster parents’ room, shaking.
When he reached their closed door, he gulped. Then he slowly raised his hand and knocked as loud as he could.
“Who is it?” The gruff voice of his foster father carried through the door.
“It’s me,” Connor said timidly. He heard the man mutter something incoherent and had a feeling it wasn’t something appropriate.
“What’re you doing out of bed?”
“I-I can’t sleep,” Connor said. “I’m scared of the dark. Can I…can I sleep with you?”
“Absolutely not,” he heard his foster mother say.
“But my adopted mommy and daddy let me,” Connor protested.
“Well, we’re not your adopted mommy and daddy,” she replied. “And they’re dead in case you forgot. Besides, you’re seven years old. Grow up!”
“No buts!” His foster father shouted. “Bed! Now!”
With tears in his light brown eyes, Connor turned and bolted back upstairs to his room. He dove under the dark blue covers and started crying.
I hate being here! He thought. I wanna go back home!
But he couldn’t. When it started getting too hot under the covers, he poked his head out. He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to look at his darkened room.
He didn’t understand why they didn’t care about him or love him. After all, isn’t that what parents did?
Chicago, Illinois, 2012/26 years later — Connor paused in the middle of heating the casserole Kelly had left for him. He poked his head into the dining room, saying, “Hello? Who’s out here?”
No answer came and he turned to go back to his meal. Huh. Could’ve sworn I’d heard a-
A sniffle reached his ears and he stopped. He turned on the dining room light and looked around, eyes landing on a pair of small, socked feet in the doorway.
He walked over and bent down, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Hey, what’s wrong, kiddo?” he asked. “Why are you out of bed?”
Six-year-old Liam looked up at him with tearful brown eyes. “My nightlight broke, Daddy,” he said. “And it’s really dark and I’m scared.” He sniffled again.
“Come here,” Connor said, pulling Liam into his arms and shifting so they faced the dining room. “Shh, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
“I wish I was brave like you, Daddy,” Liam said with a hiccup. Connor smiled a little and looked down at him.
“I’m scared of the dark too, Liam.”
Liam looked up at him in surprise. “But you’re a police officer,” he said. “You’re not scared ‘cause you fight bad guys and bad guys are more scary!”
“Well, it’s true,” Connor said, chuckling. Liam hiccuped again, prompting him to ask, “Do you want some water?”
Liam nodded and Connor stood and took him to the kitchen. After he was done drinking the cup of water Connor had given him, Liam asked, “Daddy, can I sleep with you and Mommy tonight?”
© H.S. Kylian 2019
(Critiques are welcome and appreciated!)