(C)Copyright 1996 by Ronald Rand

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Nineteen years earlier...

The television was on in the next room. Rita and Paul were arguing about money. Rita thought that Paul could afford to buy her a car so that she could work, but Paul said that she didn't need to work.

A waft of marijuana filled the room. In a crib, in the next room, a baby was crying.

"Daddy, daddy," a young voice called from the next room.

Rita got up and began to leave the room.

"Just where are you going, Rita?" Paul demanded.

"I'm going to take care of my baby," Rita said.

"No you're not, sit down," he yelled.

She complied.

Someone turned the television up louder.

Samantha was crying, soaking in a puddle of her own urine.

"Mommy!" she cried. The television was too loud to hear her faint infant voice.

"Mommy," she cried again. Still she heard no response. "Daddy?" she called. "Daddy," she sobbed.

"I wet my-sef!" she said between whimpers.

Her cries to her mommy and daddy went unanswered for a long time.

And then, thankfully, there was a knock at the window, and it slid open, and someone crawled in.

A large man with a friendly face picked her up. He kissed her on the cheek and laid her on the floor next to his feet.

"Hush, Samantha," he said.

He put his finger to her chubby lips and she stopped crying. He changed her diaper and wiped up her crib.

He picked her up, kissed her on her cheek, and rocked her in his arms for a long time. She squeezed his arms with her fingers. He was so warm and muscular. He hummed to her, and whispered things in her ear.

Then he held Samantha upright in his arms for a while, and she nuzzled up to his neck and cooed. She liked the way he smelled—clean, and cool, and fresh. The smell and feel of him comforted her in a way her own father never had. She looked at him as if to say, "I feel so safe in your arms."

"I would never let anything hurt you, baby," he whispered in her ear. "I love you, Samantha, now and forever."

He put her back in her crib and crawled out the window. He looked back at her once through the open window and then disappeared. She never forgot the face or smell of that mysterious man who comforted her. This time, when she went to sleep, she had no nightmares.

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