Well my book has disappeared into god knows where so imma update it here. I was just 25 when she was given to me. A precious bundle who looked up at me with her blue eyes, begging for my help. I was on the couch, trying to catch up on sleep before i ran off to work. The TV on, the sound turned down, gently flickering light passed through the small apartment. A young Marine reservist, barely holding on, i was trying to find meaning in my life, trying so hard to make sense of this big bullshit world i had found myself in. A knock on the door, i turned in my sleep and curled tighter under the blanket. The knock turned frantic, louder and faster, someone calling my attention from my light sleep. I stood up, groggy, trying to reason with my brain to what i should do. Stumbling to the door, i checked through the peep hole, and there she was, a long lost friend, her hair wet from the storm brewing outside. I pulled the door open and she fell into my life again. "Danny..." her eyes were soft but pained. "Brandy..." I wasnt sure what else to say to her. She reached up and touched my face. "Danny... i need you to do something for me." I looked at her, questions in my eyes. "Im so sorry. This is... so bad. You're going to hate me for this." She was talking fast, trying to frantically get it all out. "Brandy you need to tell me what it is" I cupped her face and guided her eyes to mine. She stepped back from me and kneeled down outside the door. I heard a little cry and she stood up with a baby curled in her arms. I already knew what she was going to say. In my heart i could see it in her eyes before she said a word. "Danny... i just cant. I cant do this." She was crying now. "Brandy... this is--" She put her finger to my lips and kissed me softly on the cheek. "She needs you. I need you. Danny she needs a parent who will love her like she deserves." She handed her to me, wrapped in a warm blanket. Her soft blue eyes staring up at me. I rubbed her nose with my finger tip and she gurgled up and grabbed my finger with her tiny little hands. I smiled down at her and she smiled back. In that brief moment that i looked down, Brandy had disappeared from the door. I peered out the door and down the hall, all i saw was her figure as she pushed through the door out into the night. I called for my friend and he came stumbling out of his room. "Whats..." was as far as he got when i pushed the little girl into his arms. "HOLD HER!" I yelled as i bolted out the door after Brandy. Running down the hall i burst out into the night. In the rain i ran to the parking lot. Looking around i didnt see anyone. Out of the corner of my eye, under a street light i caught a flash of green as a car pulled out of view. I ran to the street only to see the tail lights disappear down the road, headed for the freeway. I walked slowly back into the apartment building, mulling over everything in my head. As i walked inside, Erik was standing there holding her still. She was crying and he looked confused like he didnt know what to do with the whole situation. "You have to hold her man. Shes a baby, not a rabid raccoon or something." I took her into my arms and she looked up at my face again and slowly stopped crying. She wasnt smiling but i gave her my finger and she gripped it tight and then broke into a little smile. "Hannah..." I whispered to her smiling face. "My little Hannah..." That was 15 long years ago. So many things have changed since then. It was hard at first, being a single dad. But friends had come to help, give me days off here and there and work through it. Not once did i ever regret taking her though. She was the person who gave me hope. My beautiful little girl. Things were tough, a single father, a Marine and a Mechanic. From day one things were hard, even the morning after i took her into my life, things were chaotic. I was young, had no idea how to even change a diaper, or feed her. My friend Michelle had come and helped me out. She was my life saver, my hero. She was in high school at the time and yet she came over everyday after school to help me care for Hannah. A baby sitter during the day and Michelle at night, it was all i could do to keep up with my hectic life. Erik's mom helped after a while, she took Hannah to her house and cared for her there. Michelle would run over and pick her up after school and bring her back to my apartment. Thinking back i regret how much stress i put on Michelle. She was such a good girl, she didnt deserve to have to live like she did for me, but im eternally greatful for all she did for me and my daughter. The first months were hard, my life was so different suddenly it was difficult to say what was worst. Trying to plan everyday around work and still trying to find time to spent with my little girl. I was already afraid she'd grow up without me. Between her waking up at night and me working everyday i barely had time for sleep let alone time to spend with her. Still i made a point to spend every second i had free with her. I'd read her books and watch TV with her. It seems she took after her father from a young age, she loved to play with little toy cars i had from when i was a kid. It took about a year for life to smooth out. Michelle was always there sitting with Hannah when id come home from work. I tried to pay her but she fell in love with Hannah and was always so happy to see her. Id come home from work and plop down on the couch and Hannah would come crawling across the floor to me and yell "Da!" at me before shed grab my leg. Id pick her up and hold her close. She was always so happy as a little girl. She spent so much time smiling. She never seemed to miss her mom. I wondered for the longest time if she even remembered her, but she didnt seem to. Michelle was her mother as far as she was concerned, she even called her mommy. It must have been a strange way to grow up. The daughter of a Marine and a mother who wasnt always there. Even when she was little, going to parent teacher conferences, it was an awkward meeting, introducing Michelle and myself. Not married, not even really dating, but her parents none the less. When she was 7, was the first time anyone questioned it fully to her face. A boy from her class asked why her mom didnt live with her and her dad. She came home crying that night. Michelle tried to comfort her, but really wasnt sure what to say. I tried to comfort her but she kept crying. Michelle and I had been together for 7 years, kind of off and on. I loved her, and she loved me but we hadnt ever been sure where to take our relationship. Probably because of the awkward way it had started. That was the first night we truly realized that our love was something we need to bring to our little girl as much as eachother. The wedding was set for April that year, just a few months away. A Marine Corps wedding, a beautiful bride and a smiling flower girl so happy to see her parents together. There was no honeymoon, no time for one to happen. Our lives fell right back into its hectic pace. But Hannah was happier than ever. She had such a big smile on her face whenever Michelle and I would take her for a walk. She was always proudly displaying "her parents" for everyone to see. Michelle and I were happy, truly happy, for the first time. It was this little thing, so little that some people miss it completely, that pulled us together and found us complete, a family. Things seemed to change around our house. Things felt simpler, felt like the emotions we had put off for so long had finally come out and we were finally whole. A phone call one morning, 2 months later, again brought almost violent change to our little world. The Middle East was escalating further, and my unit was called up for active duty. I had just a week to prepare for leave for Afghanistan. Hannah didnt understand why her daddy was leaving or where he was going, she didnt understand her mothers tears. Dressed in my uniform i stood with my family on the airport runway looking at the plane that would carry me to war. Hannah looked up at me. "Daddy... where are you going?" She was confused. "Daddy is going away for a while sweetpea." "Why?" She asked again. Her sad little eyes cut into my mind. "Because..." Was all i was able to get out before a tear fell from my eye. I kneeled down and kissed my little girl on the cheek. "I love you Hannah" I held her in my arms. Michelle was crying so hard. I wasnt sure what else to say to her. "I will come home to you both, i promise." I kissed her as the sergeant yelled to mount up. Michelle picked Hannah up and held her close. She cried into her hair as she watched me walk to the plane. I wrote them both whenever i had spare time. Letters came from time to time. Michelle was busy trying to keep things going at home. At the bottom of each letter i got had Hannah's scribbled name at the bottom. Michelle would spray perfume on the letter to remind me of her. 6 months passed without incident. Patrols came and went, mixed fights happened occasionally but nothing that was so hard that the troops stationed couldnt handle them. August 10th, that was a day thats burned into my memory, a day i thought i wouldn be going home to see my little girl. A patrol gone wrong, we lost contact with base just as an IED went off just feet from our truck. It wiped out 4 Marines in a second. Insurgents poured down on us from a hillside. Between the gunfire, we helped the Marines we could get under cover. The Sergeant screamed for help over the radio but only empty static returned. Gunfire cut us back and held us under cover. I raised my rifle and opened fire from the front of the truck. A round struck me in the leg and i fell back behind the truck. Another pierced the the door and went through my shoulder. All i could hear was my heart thudding in my ears. I was terrified but looking around i saw fear on the faces of my fellow Marines. I knew that if i was gonna die, i sure as hell wasnt going to do without a fight. I raised my rifle and ran out firing as i went. Shot after shot i was screaming now, running at them, half crazed. I could see Michelle and Hannah, their faces smiling at me. My mind went blank after that. I was seriously wounded when i came to, laying on the ground dragged behind a truck by my sergeant. They told me i took out 8 people before the rest scattered. I couldnt feel my legs or my arm. All it was, was blinding pain from head to toe. I faded from conciousness, wondering if i would live to see my little girl grow up. I came to in a Naval Hospital. I was in pain and it felt like i couldnt move my arms. The nurse told me to lay still. That i was hurt badly. I needed rest before i could move. I laid back staring at the ceiling. My mind wandered where it always did when i nothing else to process. Hannah... Michelle, my life at home. Would it ever be the same? As the doctors came and the nurses talked, i wondered. They told me i was hurt, very badly, and that recovery would take time. But i would walk again, i would lead a normal life. A few days later i found myself aboard a plane headed home to the US. They were sending me to Bethesda Naval Hospital for recovery. They told me i was a hero, that i operated beyond the call of duty. I said i did what was necessary, to protect my fellow Marines. When i got to the hospital Hannah and Michelle were waiting for me. Michelle cried, asking what happened. Hannah didnt know what to do, she had never seen her dad look so bad before. I told her i was alright, that there was nothing to worry about. I held my little girl and she smiled at me. She was happy to have me home. Every chance she had free Michelle brought Hannah to come see me. Recovery was slow at best, but i was getting there. Hannah never really seemed to understand i was hurt as bad as i was. She would ask me if i was ready to get up and play with her. Soon i was able to walk, and Hannah would grip my hand tight and walk with me through the halls. She would walk with me and ask me questions about where i was and what i was doing. I told her i was trying to make peace with some people far away from home. For a lack of better words, i suppose that really was what i was trying to do, albeit with a rifle in hand. The Corps awarded me the Silver Star for Bravery, and i was given a Honourable Discharge. Michelle and Hannah were so happy to have me home everyday. I had missed Hannah's 8th Birthday when i was deployed. So she was extatic when I was there for her 9th Birthday. I guess i never really realized how much it effected her when i was shipped out. My little girl seemed so much more grown up when i came home. Instead of the timid little girl i had left behind, confused why her daddy was leaving, I found a confindent little girl who was happy to have her daddy and mommy back together to take her to school. Some of the other parents came to talk to me, asking me questions about the Corps and what i had done overseas. Hannah would run up and tell them all what i had done, and that her daddy was an american hero. She was growing up, faster than i would have liked. But all parents wish they could keep their children young. But then, she would always be my little girl. It was a couple days after her 12th birthday when Michelle came to me. "Danny, do you think we should tell her about her real parents?" I leaned back in my chair and sipped on my coffee thoughtfully. "I'm not sure..." I trailed off slowly. "I guess id never really thought about it" Michelle nodded and sat down in my lap. "I didnt even know who her real mother is, but if you think we should tell her... then we will" I let out a sigh as i thought back to that late night when Brandy had been standing on my doorstep asking for my help. Brandy and I had always had a bit of a strained relationship. Way back in the days before i had enlisted, before i had moved away from the north. A lifetime ago she and I had been best friends, closer than family. She ended up struggling with a break up and i had poured my life into keeping her together. And then one day, after all i had done, she got up and walked away and forgot i existed. Ever since then i had been unsure of where i stood with her, or even where i wanted to stand with her. It eventually came with the realization that as much as i might have loved her, it was only rivaled by how much i hated her too. When she had gotten pregnant with Hannah, she was with a real asshole of a guy, abusive and dominating, it was all i could do to keep from yelling at her whenever she would come around. I hated to think what her child would end up like between Brandy and that guy she called her boyfriend, how bad they would be as her parents, how much she deserved better parents. I suppose i really got my wish when she showed up on my doorstep. Hannah came into the kitchen and poked me. "Daddy?" she asked as i sat lost in thought. "Hmm?" I sank back to reality. "Are you ok? you look sad." Her voice conveyed concern. "Yeah im fine baby girl" She looked a little confused but smiled and kissed me on the cheek. "Im going to school!" she yelled back as she ran out the door to the bus. I sighed again. I wasnt sure what i should tell her. She deserved to know, but how do you tell a 12 year old girl that shes adopted and her real parents weren't very good people. I finally concluded that i would tell her later if she asked. Maybe it was better this way anyway, she was happy, no need to throw and confusion into her life. It was a little over a year later when she finally did ask about her parents. The three of us were out grocery shopping when she blurted it out. "Dad... what was my real mom like?" She looked up from the cart she was pushing behind us. "Uhh.." was all i really got out as i looked over at Michelle. She gave me a little shrug and a look that said "i dont know, this is all for you to explain". "Did you know her well? What about my father?" She looked up at me, questions in her eyes. "Well, um, your mothers name was Brandy, and you fathers name was Nick." I said, trying to avoid the situation. "Did you know my mom well?" She was tugging at my sleeve now. "uhhh baby... we'll talk about this tonite ok?" I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. "Dadddddd i want to know!" "i know you do baby but... we'll talk about it at home ok?" "Is it really that bad?" she looked upset. "Its complicated ok? We'll talk about it when we get home. I promise." She was quiet the rest of the trip. I could tell she was mulling things over in her mind, trying to make sense of what it was that i was trying to avoid. The ride home was silent, Michelle was staring out the window and Hannah still had the perplexed look on her face. We were unpacking groceries when Hannah spoke up again. "Dad. We're home now PLEASE can we talk about this?" I let out a long sigh and looked at Michelle. "yes yes go go, ill finish up here." She pushed Hannah into the living room. I kissed Michelle and wandered after Hannah. Hannah sat down on the couch and looked up at me. She looked like she was going to explode with anticipation. "So... your mother's name was Brandy. A long time ago she was my best friend. Before i enlisted in the Marines, before i moved to Tennessee. She and I were, very very close friends" "Were you... together?" "No. I loved her though, although she seemed to be the only one who didnt know about it." "So what happened between you two?" She was leaning forward to listen. "Well, we went through a lot of stuff, your mother, had a lot of trouble after a particularly bad break up. I spent the better part of a year trying to hold her together and keep her stable, but in the end, she ran off with this guy and forgot i existed." Hannah was silent, trying to process what she had heard. She looked upset, but i suppose i couldnt blame her for it. "Hannah, your mother, she was a good person at heart but, she made bad decisions and that landed her in a lot of trouble." She stayed quiet for a little while. "What about my father?" She finally asked. "I...I didnt know him really well. Id only met him once or twice." I was lying through my teeth but, there were just somethings she shouldnt know. Atleast not at 13. I wasnt sure if she could tell that i was lying but, there wasnt much i could say, or even wanted to say to her about her father. He was abusive, and had put Brandy in the hospital more than once. It was always a mystery to me why Brandy stayed with him, but in the end there wasnt anything i could do. She leaned back on the couch and sighed. She looked sad, confused, unsure of what to say. "Hannah..." I took her hand. "Im sorry baby. I wasnt ever sure how to tell you." She stayed quiet, staring at the wall. I sighed and kissed her on the forehead. "I love you Hannah" Was all i could really say to her. I felt some guilt, I really wasnt sure if i should have told her all that, but, then i suppose everyone deserves to know about their heritage, about their parents. She was quiet for a couple days after that. Shed come and go from the house without saying much. Michelle tried to talk to her but she wouldnt say much. I wanted her to talk to me, but then when was the last time you could force a teenager to talk? Things seemed to change a little after a couple weeks tho. She came home and threw her arms around me and hugged me tight. "I love you daddy" she smiled happily. "I love you too!" i held my little girl tight. "You seem happier" She nodded and smiled. "I realized that, You and mom, you're my real parents. Sure Brandy and Nick might be my biological parents but, you both raised me, you taught me how to be a good person." It made me so happy to hear that. I hugged her tight and she smiled and hugged me close. She ran into the kitchen and hugged Michelle and snuggled her. She ran off to her room and I walked into the kitchen and hugged Michelle. "You think shes just happy or hiding something?" I laughed. "Probably hiding something, but since when was that a mystery for a parent?" Michelle sighed and thought back to the days when we were young. We were young and dumb back then like all teenagers. She and I hid relationships, drugs, stealing, all those little things you learn not to do as you grow up. When your a teenager you swear you wont treat your children like your parents did you but somewhere along that road, when your own children are staring up at you, that all goes to hell. Still, Michelle and I were pretty lenient on Hannah. She was allowed to stay out with her friends as long as she told us where she was going. We had tried to forge a relationship in which there was trust without stifling her and making her resent us. The thing all parents are seeking i suppose. we made it clear when she turned 13 that we would allow her these things as long as she never got in trouble for anything, and although these rules had only been around a year and a half, she hadnt betrayed our trust yet. But I suppose its a parents perogative to worry about their children. Michelle and I watched her behaviour the next couple days. She seemed happy, but we couldnt really tell if she was hiding something or she had come to terms with what i had told her about her parents. We talked to her about it and she promised she had just come to terms with it. I suppose we still worried but, we were more worried that if we pressed too hard she'd distrust us. People might citicize our parenting style but, we choose to try and be not just parents but friends to her. As far back as i could remember there were always things i hid from my parents. I loved my parents, but there were things i just didnt trust telling them. Mostly out of fear of criticism or misunderstanding. Michelle was the same way with her parents, and we wanted to do our best to be truthful and honest with Hannah. I suppose it was irony that opened up the next chapter in our lives. It had only been a couple days since the whole situation about Hannah's real parents have come and gone. Michelle and Hannah had gone shopping and i was napping on the couch. Attempting to catch up on some sleep lost working on the family car. Someone rang the doorbell, which i attempted to ignore. I guess i wasnt entirely in the mood for company, but when the doorbell rang again, i groaned and rolled out to get it. Something made me stop for a second, a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. I pulled open the door and Brandy was standing there. "Hi Danny..." she looked up at me. "Brandy..." I kinda looked into her face, trying to get an idea of what she was here for. "This is familiar isnt it?" I suppose i was somewhat angry with her, some deep latent part of me that came out when she was standing there again. She looked hurt, but at that point, i wasnt too concerned. Maybe i should have been, im not sure. "Yeah... its been a long while..." She finally broke the silence. "Is... is she... here?" "No, shes not, shes shopping with Michelle, my wife." "Look... Danny, back then... i was in a bad place. I abandoned my child for some guy, who didnt even stick around. I spent the last 15 years trying to find myself, trying to find who i was." "Brandy i have a feeling your trying to validate yourself, and try and make it seem like what you did wasnt horrible." She stayed silent, staring up at me. Her eyes showed hurt from what id said. "Look, Brandy, Im not sure what reasons you had for running away, but after 15 years you start to make your own ideas about it, and im sure Hannah has does the same." Brandy just stood there silent, an almost horrified look on her face. "I dont think you should be here when she comes home..." i let the words hang in the air between us. "Danny--" she started to say but i cut her off. "Brandy, this isnt a great situation. this isnt the time for you to drop into her life. Shes young, and shes still growing up, to have you fall out of nowhere right now? no. i wont let that happen to her, not now." She stepped up next to me. "You cant protect her forever, she'll have to know the truth eventually." I could feel the anger inside me growing. "Well, maybe you should have stuck around for her and been her mother then." I stepped back in the house and shut the door in her face. I was angry, i couldnt help it. She didnt have the right to criticize how i raised MY child. She gave up that right 15 years ago when she was standing on my doorstep handing her to me. I watched her leave through the window. It wouldnt be the last time, i knew that but for now, i choose to protect my daughter. Michelle and Hannah were just pulling up as she was walking away from the house. I was still at the window when they walked into the house. Michelle set down her bags and walked over to me. She rubbed my shoulders as i continued to stare out the window. "Who was that honey?" She leaned against my shoulder. I waited until Hannah ran up the stairs, on the phone telling a friend about what she'd bought. "That... was Brandy" I sighed. "What was she doing here?" Michelle looked worried. "She wanted to see Hannah" "What did you tell her?" Michelle was more worried than before. "I told her to get out, that she had no business to see her" I sighed again. "She'll be back though" I fell back on the couch and laid my head back. I rubbed my temples, getting a headache. Brandy would be back, and the posed a problem. Specifically, Hannah would find out eventually, there was no way to stop Brandy from showing up at her school or maybe on her way home. "I..." i started to say before i stopped. "What?" Michelle set down next to me. "I think we should have Brandy meet Hannah here." "WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY!?" Michelle exploded at me. "Shes gonna find Hannah eventually, better it be here where we can keep an eye on her" Michelle stood up and walked out of the room and then back in, she stopped pacing for a second and then went back to it. "...i guess your right..." she trailed off again. "That said? i dont know where Brandy is staying... or where she came from. She was on foot when she left, so i dont think she has a car here." Michelle nodded and let out a sigh. "It has to happen this way Michelle, we dont really have a choice" "I dont like it Danny, it doesnt make sense. After everything we told her, this just doesnt feel like the right time to let all this happen" "I know but what would you rather do, introduce her to Brandy, or let Brandy show up at her school or on her way home and try to bend the truth" Michelle let out a big sigh. "i still dont like it..." I nodded but in the end, nothing we could do. I wasnt really sure what Brandy would tell her, but i knew i would rather be there when she did than have her do it on Hannah's way home from school. Michelle called Hannah downstairs so we could talk. "Hannah, your... biological mother was here today" I pushed out, trying not to grit my teeth. "That was Brandy?" She seemed unbelieving that the woman she saw walking away was her mother. "mmm yeah that was her" "Look Hannah, we didnt want her to see you, or talk to you, we thought it would make things confusing" Michelle spoke up. "But we figured that... maybe it was time" I took over before Michelle could express her distaste with Brandy. "Its up to you baby girl, if you want to, we'll meet up with her" Hannah looked confused, maybe unsure, i couldnt tell. She didnt really say anything. She just stood up and wandered up the stairs still with a confused look on her face. Michelle started to follow but i caught her arm. "just give her time, this is big news for her, its a lot to process" I pulled Michelle into my lap and kissed her. "Its gonna be ok, we'll talk to her tonite at dinner ok?" Michelle nodded and stood up to walk to the kitchen. "How are you going to find Brandy?" "Oh if i know her, she'll find me soon enough. She always does" Michelle let out a sigh but wandered off to start dinner. Leaning back on the couch i let my mind wander. Brandy had always been good at finding me when she wanted something or needed some love. She would disappear as soon as a new guy would come along, but when they left, shed be back at my side. It was my weakness that i didnt walk away when i could have. Back then, i loved her, i really did, and that was my mistake. She never failed to find me whenever id go somewhere though. Thinking back on it, im not entirely sure why i stuck around for her. Michelle called us for dinner and i sat up. Hannah was slowling coming down the stairs. I hugged her and she laid her head against my chest. I walked with her to the kitchen and we sat down for dinner. Hannah just kind of picked at her food. "Hannah?" I asked. "Huh?" She looked up from her plate. "Are you ok?" "I dunno Dad. Im not really sure what to think right now" "I know baby girl. Im sorry to dump this on you right now" "Daddy, what do i do?" The look in her eyes was quiet and sad. Her maturity seemed stripped away, and a little girl was looking up at me, begging for help. I really didnt know what to do, i didnt like the idea of Brandy being back here but, there wasnt much i could do to stop her. But at the same time, i didnt want to force my daughter into something that could hurt her. "We'll... we'll go meet with her ok? if you want to get to know her more, we'll talk but if not, its ok, we'll go right home ok?" Hannah nodded and then hugged me. I kissed her on the forehead before she stood up. She walked into the living room and sat down on the window sill and pushed it open. The warm summer air flowed in and she took a deep breath. She stayed on the sill and just sat staring out at the sunset. There werent really any words i could say at this point, except let her think things over and get her head together. I kissed Michelle and grabbed my car keys. "Im gonna see if i can find Brandy. Its a long shot but you never know" Michelle nodded and went back to cleaning the kitchen. It was warm outside, the falling sun had crept behind the horizon, and the fading light was a dull blue. I walked out to my car and sat down. As the engine cranked over i rolled the windows down and let the summer air in. As i pulled out of the driveway, Hannah waved from the window. I sighed and propped my head up with my arm against the window sill. The air felt so clean, so crisp. It was one of those beautiful summer nights when things were so perfect. It brought back memories of when Hannah was 5 or 6. Just a simple day, started at the park, Hannah, Michelle and I, playing with her. Kicking a ball around. We went to a little seaside diner down on the beach. We walked with Hannah, holding her hands and swinging her above the surf as is it washed up against our legs. She was giggling and telling us to swing her higher. We walked up the beach for a while and then stopped at an ice cream shop. She got strawberry, her favourite flavour. The walk home was slow, Hannah running through yards with her bare feet in the grass. It was a happy time, a happy life. I snapped back into reality as someone honked at me. Id stopped at a red light and gotten lost in my daydream. I pulled down into the the center of town and parked infront of the local cafe. I wasnt really sure where id find her, if i could find her. I walked the shops, looking for her. Asked store owners about her, gave as a basic description. I kept getting shrugs, and shakes of heads. I finally gave up in the center of town and headed out to an apartment building near the beach. I figured it was a long shot, she had just shown up, so there was no reason to think she might be living here. But after spending a couple hours having no luck, i figured why not. I asked the guy at the desk in the lobby if hed seen her. He shrugged and told me he saw a dozen women like that all day. I was walking out when he suddenly said something. "Was she wearing a black coat with a green strip on the arm?" I thought back, trying to remember. "She might have been, i dont remember a green strip, but she was wearing a black coat." He sat and thought for a minute. "She might have been kinda depressed when she came in?" I asked. "Hrm... yeah i think thats her. Her apartment is 417" I thanked him and hopped on the elevator to the fourth floor. I was still mulling things over when the door opened and i stepped out. I honestly wasnt sure what to tell her, but here i was, standing at her door step. I knocked on her door and stood back a step. She opened it a crack and looked out at me. Her eyes were red from crying. She had a hoodie on that she was obviously crying into. "What do you want" She asked with hurt in her voice. "Look, about before... I shouldnt have been so rude" "Thats right. you shouldnt have been." She was angry, but i guess i couldnt blame her. "I know, but Brandy, you dont have the right to tell me how to raise my child. But look i didnt come here to argue with you. Hannah wants to meet you. Now i dont know where it will lead but, she does want to meet you" Brandy pushed the door open and looked at me. "Is this for real?" "Yes, yes this is real. Im not sure when she'll be ready to meet you but, she does. Can i find you here when the time is right?" She nodded and let a small smile creep across her face. "Ok Danny. Yeah ill be here, i moved in here a couple weeks ago" "I have to go, its late and i need sleep before tommorow. Good night Brandy" She smiled and said good night as i walked down the hall. I stepped back outside and sighed. Things went well, but that didnt change the feeling in my stomach. I wanted Hannah to know but at the same time, i was worried what she would think. Some part of me wondered if she might leave with Brandy. I figured it was just an overactive imagination but i still couldnt push it from my head. I took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. "God, i sure hope you know what your doing" I said up at the stars, i guess i was more talking to myself than anyone else. The drive home was nice, the air had cooled and the breeze from the ocean was salty and fresh. I pulled into the driveway, Hannah was still sitting in the window. She ran out the front door and hugged me when i got out of the car. "Daddy, whered you go?" "I uh... i went to go look for Brandy" "Did you find her?" She was curious now. "Yeah, i did" "Does... she still want to meet me?" "Yes, she does, do you want to meet her?" Hannah sighed and then plopped down in the grass. I sat down with her. "I dunno yet, Daddy. I really dont know what to do" "I know honey" I kissed her on the head. "You dont have to know yet ok?" She nodded and laid back against me. "I love you Dad" "I love you too baby girl" I hugged my daughter close before we got up. "Come on, lets go inside" She gave me a smile and we wandered back inside. Michelle sat with us and we all watched a movie, putting off the thoughts we all had brewing in our heads. It was after Hannah had gone to bed that i leaned back and sighed. "Michelle? Am i crazy for being worried that Hannah might want to stay with Brandy and stuff like that?" Michelle sat down in my lap and kissed me. "Of course not, but you should know shes OUR daughter, YOUR daughter, she wont leave" I sighed again and leaned back. Michelle kissed me again and got up to go to bed. "Dont stay up too late baby" She smiled and ran up the stairs. I looked around the house, the lights were off, it was quiet. I sat and listened to the subtle noises that quietly echoed through the house. Being there reminded me of the lost Marine Reserve i had been 14 years ago. I had left my home in Connecticut, heading to Tennessee, trying to find a place for myself. I wasnt confused by life, but more unsure of where i was headed next. There was a lot i wanted to do, a lot i had yet to find. I choose the Marine Reserves because i felt like i needed time to find myself, a little before i went to full active duty. Its not that i was afraid of it, or unsure of it, just something held me back and told me to stay open to what might come next. Thinking back to it, im glad i did. Otherwise i wouldnt have had Hannah. So here i was, 14 years later, staring out the windows of my beautiful house. It was hard to believe, that i had gone from the stupid unsure kid, with no plan to a 39 year old living in my own home near the beach in Middle California with two cars, a great job, a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter. Its funny how life works sometimes. Just when you think you really are lost, something perfect gets dropped in your lap, So to speak. Hannah didnt talk much about Brandy or meeting her over the next couple days. It was a lot for a 14 year old to put together i guess. Michelle asked her everyday but i stayed out of it. When she was ready, shed tell us. Looking back, i wonder sometimes, if i did her wrong with that whole situation. She was depressed for most of the time when she first found out about her mother. As a father i couldnt help it, but as an adopted child myself, i knew the difficulty of putting all that together in your head. I hadnt ever met my biological parents, and in the end i never really found the need for it. The situation was obviously different here. My biological parents lived on the other side of the world, in fact i didnt even know their names. But for Hannah, her biological mother was right here, living in the same town. Even if she didnt want to meet her, there was gonna be a day when she would have to face it. I finally asked her about it, a couple weeks after Brandy had come by. She got upset about it. "Dad i just dont want to talk about it!" Was all i got before she slammed the door in my face. I might have gotten upset but i really did understand where she was coming from. Michelle came to the stairs. "What was that?" "Uhh I asked her about Brandy" "Danny, we need to give her space. I tried to talk to her about it too much, and now shes upset about it" "I gathered" I said as i walked downstairs. I fell over on the couch and leaned my head back. "So what do we do?" Michelle plopped down next to me and wrapped her arms around my neck. "We just let her decide on her own" I nodded and sighed. I really did dread the meeting a bit in my heart. She was my baby girl, my angel, i couldnt help the feeling of fear i had deep inside. You work so hard to protect your children from the bad in this world, but sometimes you finally you realize cant protect them from everything. But that never does make letting them go any less strange and hurtful inside. Michelle kissed me softly and let her hands run down my face. "Do you remember, when she was just a baby, when you used to sing to her?" I smiled and nodded. When she was a baby, she would cry endlessly until i would pick her up and sing to her. I didnt really tell Michelle that i could sing, but one night she had snuck into the room while i was cradling Hannah. She stood at the door while i sang, trying not to cry. Hannah's favourite song was You'll Be In My Heart, she always loved it when i would sing it to her, even when she got older. But, there comes a point when they outgrow that phase of their life. I kissed Michelle and pulled her close. As we climbed the stairs to bed, she whispered "I love you". As Michelle fell asleep beside me, i gently climbed out of bed and went to check on Hannah. She was fast asleep, some music playing softly in the background. She was beautiful, my baby girl. Its true, no matter how old they get, they're always going to be your child, your baby. Life really was peaceful for us, our home was quiet, and yet, sometimes i got this strange feeling that things couldnt last. I pushed it out of my mind, maybe just paranoia, i wasnt always sure what it was. Michelle and i discussed it, but she always assured me it was just this whole happening with Brandy coming back, and that no matter how well the eventual meeting went, it would still be an upset in our life. Sometimes, its amazing how wrong things can go in such a short amount of time. Just a night later, as i was heading off to sleep, i heard movement downstairs. Michelle grabbed my arm tight. "Danny... what is that?" She whispered. "I dont know, stay here" i whispered back. I grabbed my service pistol out of the safe in our closet and loaded it quietly. There were somethings i still treated as if i were in the military, no matter how they came. I crept down the hallway, making sure my movements stayed silent. Hannah peeked her head out of her room. "Daddy what is that?" She was scared. "I dont know, baby stay in your room" I pushed her back gently. I stepped down the stairs quietly, checking around the room with my eyes and moving my pistol to cover the room as i went. A loud crash emminated from the kitchen. I crept along the wall, remembering the training i had long ago. In the kitchen, a man in a black jacket was rumaging through drawers for something. A pistol was laying on the counter near him. Aiming my pistol at his back i stepped into the kitchen. "Stop! Put your hands on your head now!" I yelled at him. He started to raise his hands but grabbed his pistol. I fired a shot at him which struck him in the arm. He dropped to his knee and opened fire. The first shot ripped through the wall, the second grazed my leg. The pain was overridden by a shriek of pain that echoed into my ears from the other room. I knew the voice, beyond a doubt. The instant of pain that reached my ears, my attention focused to limits i didnt know i had. A single shot caught the intruder in the head, dropping him instantly. I didnt wait to find out if he was down, i turned and bolted into the other room. Hannah was laying on her back, crying. A clear bullet wound was in her chest. She was bleeding badly, crying, begging for me to help. Those blue eyes looking back at me, in pain begging for my help. Michelle was running down the stairs, screaming. Everything was flashing before my eyes. Holding a towel against her chest, as Michelle called 911. Police came, an ambulance, i went along. It was all moving so quickly, it felt like it was all moving in fast forward. The next thing i knew, i was sitting in the waiting room, my hands still covered in her blood. I just sat, staring, trying to comprehend everything that had just happened. The police came, and questioned me about the shooting. They told me it was a good shooting, that it was self defense. I didnt really hear any of it, my mind processing everything as it came. A nurse came and lead me to a room to clean up. My mind was still a mess, just a big jumble of snapshots of the night. Once i was cleaned up, i went back to the waiting room and collapsed in a seat. I couldnt cry, i couldnt be angry, my entire mind was just blank, it had moved so fast, it felt like a dream. Michelle walked in and found me sitting staring at my hands. "Danny!" her voice was quiet, almost an echo. I finally looked up, my eyes glassed over. "Danny... have you heard anything yet?" "Huh?" i looked up at my wife, still not fully aware of her presence. She grabbed my face, and pulled my eyes into line with hers. "DID YOU HEAR ANYTHING YET!?" My eyes were still glassed over. "No... nothing yet" Honestly, someone could have told me something, but i wouldnt have even known. Michelle let go of my face, and i fell back in my seat, staring at the wall. She paced nervously, shaking her hands out, trying not to burst into tears. Everytime a nurse or doctor would enter the room she would grab them and beg to know about Hannah. She sat down next to me and begged me to say something, but i was in shock, my mind was a blank. 10 hours went by, before a doctor came to talk to us. I had started to come out of the shock by then, but i was still out of it. "The surgery went well, shes going to be just fine, but shes going to need lots of rest" Michelle fell apart and hugged the doctor and then hugged me. "Oh god... thank you god shes going to be alright!" We both fell back on the seats in the waiting room and started crying. My baby girl was going to be alright. All the emotions my mind had blocked out for the past 12 hours came flooding in all at once. I wasnt sure if i should cry, or be happy. Everything was coming too fast for me to deal with. Eventually a nurse came and told us we could see Hannah. She led us down a long hallway to her room. Hannah was asleep in bed, machines around her beeping quietly. It scared me to see my daughter like this, but relief that she was alive. Sharp contrast to the previous hours, hanging on nothing, completely unsure of her survival. Michelle just sat down beside her bed and held her hand and watched her sleep. I let out a big breath, it felt like id been holding it all night. I collapsed in a chair in the back of the room. Exhausted i began to nod off, unable to stave off sleep. I woke up a couple hours later, bolted upright. Michelle put her hand on my shoulder. "Baby its ok..." I looked up at her, momentarily confused. As my mind caught up with me, i fell back in my chair. Hannah was still asleep in bed. "Has she woken up yet?" I asked as i started to get up. Michelle shook her head. "Not yet baby... shes been through a lot" "I know..." I sank back to my seat. "Im sorry..." i trailed off. "For what?" Michelle looked concerned. "For not protecting our daughter like i should have" Michelle kissed me and held my head. "You didnt know she came downstairs, you couldnt have known the robber would have fired at you. Theres so many things you didnt have control over" I sighed, not entirely believing her. Its a parents job, to protect their children, and i felt like i had failed totally. My little girl was laying in a hospital bed, after being shot. How had i not failed? I stood up and walked over to her bed, and sat down. She looked so peaceful, asleep there. I took her hand and just sat and watched her sleep. I wondered what was going through her mind, what she was thinking about. What she might feel. Hannah let out a groan and slowly opened her eyes. "Hannah! Im here baby girl! im right here!" I gripped her hand tight. "Daddy...?" she asked slowly. Michelle ran over and sat down. "Baby! im here too!" She gripped her over hand. "Daddy... what happened?" She asked, still dazed and heavily sedated. "Baby, you were shot last night. A robber broke in..." I trailed off, not sure if i really wanted to relive the horror we all went through the night before. She looked up at me, and burst into tears. Michelle did as well. I held my girls close and we all just cried, happy to just be together. Our family intact. We just sat there for nearly a half hour, just holding eachother. Finally, i broke the silence. "Baby girl, is there anything you want?" She shook her head. "I just want to rest right now " I kissed her on the forehead and hugged her. "Are you sure baby girl? im gonna go get some food" She shook her head again. "Im ok daddy. I love you!" She called out. "I love you too!" i smiled at her and kissed Michelle. "Do you want anything honey?" Michelle kissed me and smiled. "Im ok babe" I wandered down the hallway and plopped down in the cafeteria. I could finally let my mind rest a little. I sat and stared at my cup of coffee. I never thought in a million years that i would be sitting here, after nearly losing my daughter like that. I dreaded going home, i knew what was waiting. A lot of bad memories. I threw my coffee out and went back to Hannah's room. I gave Michelle a quick kiss. "Im gonna go back home and get you some clothes and other things ok?" Michelle nodded and kissed me. "Do you need anything baby girl?" I asked Hannah. She nodded. "Can you get me my cell phone and laptop?" "Sure" I gave her a kiss on the forehead. "I love you baby girl" "I love you too Dad" She smiled at me. The drive home was quiet, i left the radio off, the windows down, breathing the fresh air, trying to calm my nerves down. I pulled into the driveway, a Police Car was still sitting out front, with police tape still across the front door. I walked over the police car and the officer stepped out. "Is your daughter ok?" He asked. "Yeah, shes gonna be ok" "Thats good to hear" I nodded and sighed looking back at the house. "So can i get in there? i need to get clothes and stuff for everyone" "Sure thing, we left the tape there to keep anyone out. we figured it was best until you came back to decide about getting everything cleaned up" He walked up with me and cut the tape away. I opened the door up and stepped inside. There was a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs. I looked down at it, and flashed back for a second, seeing Hannah laying there, screaming in pain and crying. I blinked and the vision disappeared from my eyes. "You Ok?" He asked. "No, not really" I stared back at the big stain on the floor. "We can call in a good cleaning crew if you like? They specialize in this type of work" "Yeah if you could, that be great, i just want this place cleaned up by the time she comes home" He nodded and pulled out his cell. I walked into the kitchen. Blood was sprayed all over the cabinets and floor, several pools of blood were on the floor. I shook my head at the scene, mildly upset that i had caused it. I was a soldier at one point, i had killed men in battle. But this was different, this wasnt a battlefield, this was my home, where i raised my daughter. I walked out of the kitchen up the stairs to Hannah's room. Her phone was vibrating across the table when i picked it up. 15 missed messages. I had a laugh a bit, my daughter got more messages in 24 hours than i got in a week. I packed a bag of clothes and threw her laptop and cell in with it. I left it in the hall while i went to pack up a bag for Michelle as well. I grabbed my phone and called my work and explained the situation, that i would be in when i could make it back. My boss said it was fine, and i should take as much time as i needed. As i was leaving the cleaning crew was just arriving. I showed them what i wanted done and they set off to work. I stepped out the door, the police officer was standing outside. "We'll keep a car here until their done and you return" "Alright, thanks for your help" I shook his hand. "No problem, im glad your daughter is going to be alright" "Yeah, so am i" I nodded as i sat down in my car. I pulled out of the drive and headed back for the hospital. The cleaning crew said they would have things set by the next day. I let a bit of a stress melt away as i drove, one less thing to think about. Michelle and Hannah were talking when i got back. I gave Hannah her bag. She kissed me and said thanks. She pulled her cell out and listened to her messages. Then got on her laptop. It really did amaze me she was able to do all that, after the night she had. But i guess, anything to keep her mind off it was a good thing. I sat back down in my chair and let out a breath. Michelle came over and sat down next to me. "Hows the house look?" "You really dont want to know baby..." I sighed. "Is it that bad?" She looked concerned. "Its worse. But the police called in a cleaning crew, they said they would be all done tommorow. But in the mean time i think its best you stay here ok?" Michelle nodded. "One of will stay here every night until they release her ok?" I nodded in agreeance. "I have to get back to the house tonite. Keep everything locked down" Michelle frowned. "Just be careful ok?" "I will be, i promise. No one will touch the house now anyway" I sat down on the bed next to Hannah and kissed her on the forehead. "Whatcha doing?" "Talking to my friends?" She gave me a funny look. "telling them what happened?" "Most of them saw it on the news dad" "oh. Hrm i wonder if thats a good thing?" Hannah shrugged her shoulder and leaned her head on my shoulder. "I love you dad" "God i love you too baby girl. I love you so much... Last night i was SO scared i was going to lose you" Hannah stayed silent for a moment. "You wont lose me that easily daddy" she said quietly. I wasnt sure what else to say, so i just wrapped my arms around her and held her close. Michelle came over and sat down with us. We talked for a while, before i brought Brandy up. "Hannah? I... think i should get Brandy here. I think she deserves to know what happened..." Hannah was silent for a bit before she slowly nodded. "Ive been thinking about it... and i want to meet her now. Last night, so many things were running through my head, and i felt guilty that i hadnt given her a chance" I kissed my little girl and hugged her. She was showing maturity so far beyond her 14 years. "Ill go pick her up then ok?" Hannah nodded and smiled. "Im kinda nervous" "I know, but it wont be bad, i promise" I left the hospital trying to come up with a way to explain to Brandy about what had happened. The was no real easy way to explain things, but there wasnt anyway to avoid it all either. I went over potential lines in my head trying to come up with something i thought would work, but it all came out the same. I sighed and just concentrated on the drive. I thanked god a little bit that she was standing outside the apartment smoking a cigarette when i pulled up. "Hey Danny, what are you doing here?" She asked as she tossed her cigarette away. "Uhh... theres no real way to say this i guess, so... Hannah is in the hospital" Her eyes opened wide, her mouth open. "What... what..." she kept saying. "There was a home invasion last night, the robber--" I stopped. "Look shes going to be ok, She wants to meet you ok? So lets get to the hospital" She sat down in my car and just stared out the window. I think she was trying to process too much at once. She didnt say anything until we got to the hospital. "Hold on. let me run to the restroom, i need to clean myself up a little bit first" I nodded as she ran off into the restroom. I leaned up against the wall and waited. As i waited i thought back to when Hannah was young. Its amazing that when these crisis happen, that you never, in your wildest nightmares, expected these things to happen. When she was a little girl, she would run around the front yard naked like all little kids would do. It was cute, and funny. It was funny, looking at it now, the scariest thing then was keeping her out of the road. And here, now i was sitting against a wall in a hospital, with my daughter laying in a hospital bed after being shot, and about to meet her biological mother for the first time. I prayed that after this life would calm down. This was more drama than i cared to deal with again. But then i had a teenage daughter, it was only a matter of time before she got her first boyfriend and that horror started. Brandy grabbed my arm as she came up. "Ok im ready" She was starting to panic, i could see it in her eyes. "I think" "Just calm down Brandy, freaking out over this isnt gonna help" She nodded but continued to panic. We started towards the elevator before she turned and started walking away. "Where are you going?" I asked after her retreating figure. "I cant do this!" She was panicing completely now. "Look, you OWE her this now ok? Shes nervous about meeting you too, but shes willing to put it away and do this so you NEED to come and do this NOW" Brandy paced around trying to make up her mind. "Look you have 5 seconds, otherwise im going up without you" "FINE!" she ran after me and got in the elevator. We got to Hannah's room before Brandy paniced again and started down the hallway again. I ran after her and grabbed her arm. "You're this far, come with me" I pulled her down the hall to the room. I turned the handle despite Brandy trying to pull away from me. As i pulled her into the room, Hannah and Michelle both looked up. Hannah had a nervous look on her face. I think i did too, but then everyone did. "Hannah, Michelle, this is Brandy Markens" Brandy waved nervously, not entirely sure what to say. "Hi... Hannah..." She looked at her. Hannah looked up at her, tears in her eyes. She couldnt even form the words she wanted to say. There was too much for her to say and think. "Hi..." her voice trailed off. "How... how... are you feeling?" Brandy asked slowly. "I...Im... doing ok..." There was reluctance in her voice. I couldnt tell if she was afraid, or just unsure. "Thats... good" Brandy had the same reluctance in her voice, but i knew there was fear in hers. "Hannah... i know you dont understand, why... why i left all those years ago, but i want you to know im sorry. It was wrong, and irresponsible" Hannah just nodded, trying to form the words in her head. "Brandy, I... used to hate you. For leaving me, but after a while i realized that, you gave me amazing parents, and a good life. I love my mom and dad" I smiled at my little girl, she really was grown up for her age. Brandy didnt say anything for a while. She was processing everything. "Hannah, I..." she trailed off for a minute. "I want... the chance to be in your life, even just a little bit, i want you to know that i love you" Hannah nodded. "Its... nice to meet you Brandy" She whispered as she held her arms out to hug her. Brandy ran to her and hugged her tight. Michelle smiled up at me and gave me a quick kiss. I sighed a little, still tense about the meeting. "Im gonna go get some fresh air" I told Michelle as i opened the door. I wandered down the halls and finally found a nice bench at a nursing station to sit down. I held my head in my hands and let all the stress and emotions pent up and just let them pour out. In two days life had been turned upside down and then been righted. I barely had time to breathe let alone process everything. I sighed and laid my head back, letting the day wash over me. Michelle came over and sat down next to me. She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me. "Long couple of days huh?" She sighed against my neck. "God... we need a vacation. As soon as Hannah is well enough, we're going to..." I trailed off trying to think of something. "Go to Tennessee?" She asked with a smile. "You know, i was thinking we should go visit my parents. They havent seen Hannah in a couple years, and after this im sure they'll want to see her" Michelle smiled and gave me a kiss. "Id love to see your parents again, its been a while" I nodded as Brandy walked up. "Hannah is taking a nap" She let out a sigh. I could see the relief on her face. "Feel better?" i asked. "Danny, i want to thank you for this. What i did, was horrible, and i dont deserve to know her" Michelle smiled at me as i stood up. I gave Brandy a big hug. "Brandy, no matter what youve done, you'll always be my friend. We've had our differences, our bad times, but we should put that all behind us now, for Hannah, for eachother" Brandy smiled and nodded. "I have to get to work, but ill come by tommorow to talk to Hannah again?" "Sure" I nodded and smiled. She waved as she retreated down the hall to the elevators. I sighed and took Michelle's hand. We walked back to Hannah's room, hand in hand. I cracked the door, Hannah was asleep, her laptop was on the tray table next to her bed. Michelle and I collapsed in the chairs in the back of the room and sighed, glad to finally happy to have a little peace and quiet after two days of chaos. I kissed my wife and sighed. "Do you remember when she was 4? we were at that wedding and she disappeared?" I whispered. Michelle groaned. "Oh brother, that was a crazy trip wasnt it?" I nodded and drifted back. Hannah was only 4, and the three of us had gone to a family wedding in Maine. We were at the reception afterwards, and Hannah had disappeared from my side. I swear i had only taken my eyes off her for a second and she was gone. I raced all over the house looking for her. I had started upstairs, asking everyone i could find if they had seen a little girl running around. People shook their heads and said they hadnt. I had started to panic by that point, completely unsure of where my little girl had gone. Finally i ended up downstairs, an older lady was sitting in a room with a couple other people, chatting about the ceremony. I was out of breath by the time i made it there. "Have... Have you seen a little girl running around? Shes about four years old, dirty blond hair and blue eyes? She has a yellow dress and a blue sweater on?" "Hmmmm" the lady thought for a moment. "I think she was in the other room. There was a pool table there, i think she was hiding underneath it?" "Thank you!" i managed as i rushed out the door. "You're Welcome!" i heard her call after me as i left. I found the room with the pool table on the otherside of the house. There were a couple guys playing pool. "Did you guys see a little girl in here? maybe four years old?" "Yeah she left when we came in here" "Any idea where she went?" I asked. "Uhhh not really, i think maybe outside?" "Oh, ok thanks" I headed outside, down the walk out to the patio, where i finally spied her standing with my sister. As i hurried up to her, my sister pointed me out. "See Hannah? Theres your daddy" She ran over and attached herself to my leg. "Daddy!" she yelled up at me. "Hey baby girl" I smiled, glad i had finally found her. My sister laughed. "She wandered up looking for you. I think she was lost" "Think? Ive been looking for her for 20 minutes now" "Daddy! i want up!" she tugged at my pant leg. I picked her up and kissed her on the cheek. "Ooo you're hard to find sometimes sweetpea!" I smiled at her. "Sorry daddy" she smiled. I carried her over to Michelle and sighed. "I found her" Michelle nodded and tugged at her cheek. Hannah started to nod off against my chest, tired out from her adventure. Michelle kissed me on the cheek as i came back to the present. "Remembering?" She asked softly. "Yeah" I nodded. "That was a crazy day wasnt it?" Michelle nodded to Hannah laying in bed. "Not as crazy as these last couple" She said with a sad look on her face. I nodded without saying anything. I decided that my daughter needed to learn some self defense techniques and how to handle a firearm. She was young, but considering what had just happened, i wanted her to be able to protect herself in the future. I might not be there, or she might be out somewhere. There were just some things i think she needed to know. It didnt help that i had failed to protect her, it was time for her to know what to do. But for now, she needed to rest, and recover. Over the next couple days, her friends came and visted. Guys and girls from her class came and stayed, asked her how she felt, how she was doing. Some of the guys seemed overly friendly to me, which, i have to admit, pushed my buttons a bit. After all the stress, the last thing i needed happening was Hannah having her first boyfriend. It was more than i could think, and i would leave Michelle to keep an eye on things. I was standing outside the room, about to get something to eat when Michelle opened the door. "Danny? Can i talk to you about something?" "Umm sure, whats going on?" "Have you noticed any boys that Hannah seems unusually close to?" "Ugh dont even make me think about it. Theres a reason im out here when her friends are there. I cant even think about her having a boyfriend right now" Michelle smiled softly. "I think his name might be Aaron" "Nope. I cant hear you!" i put my hands over my ears. "Shes 14, shes not allowed to have a boyfriend yet!" Michelle giggled and kissed me on the cheek. "When did you have your first girlfriend?" she asked. "Uhhh so his name might be Aaron?" I changed the topic quickly. "Thats what i thought" Michelle kissed me again. I sighed softly. My little girl was growing up, faster than i wanted her to. It was only a matter of a few years before she was driving, before she graduated high school, before she was in college, before she was gone from our life. I could remember being a kid, all i wanted to do was grow up and get out, live my life. But here i was, the parent, and i finally realized what it was like for my parents. Watching your baby grow up, and move on with the life, you both love it, and hate it. They're your pride and joy, the reason you live, and yet it hurts when they grow up and move on. When they pull away from you, and hide from your love. I suppose all teenagers do it, but Michelle and I tried our hardest to keep Hannah close. I think we succeeded, more than other parents, but there was always the dread in my heart that one day she might leave. Days went by, Brandy came a few times, and Hannah talked, finally reconnecting with her long lost mother. It was just under two weeks when Hannah was released from the hospital and we were allowed to take her home. The cleaning crew had done a great job, the house was spotless, but i could still see the fear in Hannah's eyes when we stepped in the front door. I suppose it was only natural, with all that had happened. Over the next few days she continued to avoid the bottom of the stairs and the kitchen. She was scared, and would wake up at night crying. Michelle and I tried so hard to comfort her but, there was so little we could actually do. Her surroundings scared her, she spent so much time with friends avoiding the house. Michelle approached me about it a couple days later. "You know, Hannah isnt getting anymore comfortable with the house" I let out a sigh. "I know, but what can we do? she has friends here, and im just not sure we can afford to move" Michelle sighed and laid her head against me. I let out the same, somewhat frustrated sigh. It was a dilemma for sure. "We'll talk to her about it tommorow" I finally broke the silence. "Are you sure?" Michelle asked quietly. "Well, i want to know what she thinks atleast, although im going to guess she wants to stay here" "Probably..." She trailed off as we both realized Hannah was standing at the doorway to the living room. "Mommy? Daddy? I had another nightmare..." She was close to tears. It was funny, sometimes she was so very mature, far beyond her 14 years, but sometimes, she was a little girl, so afraid of the things she didnt understand. "Can i stay up with you?" She asked, a tear running down her cheek. "Of course baby girl, come here" I motioned to the couch. She ran over and curled up between Michelle and I, burying her head in my chest. I held my little girl as she cried, letting her get all the emotions inside out. I whispered to her that i was there, and i would protect her and that she would be ok. She cried for about twenty minutes before she finally looked up at me, blurry eyed and puffy cheeked. "Daddy im scared here..." She trailed off, giving a frightened look at the spot where she had fallen that night. "I know baby girl. Your mother and I were just discussing that" "Your Dad and I think that we should move" Michelle ran her hand down Hannah's face. Hannah had a concerned look on her face. "Move where?" I could see the look in her eyes. "Well we're not sure yet, we wanted to talk it over with you and see what you thought" "I dont know..." She trailed off again. "Look we understand about your friends, and that you dont want to leave them so, we wont go far if you dont want to, Brandy lives here too so..." I let my voice fade as i gauged her reaction. "I dont know..." She repeated. "Well you dont need to figure anything out tonite" Michelle stuck in. She nodded and curled up again with us. Michelle brushed her hair for a while as she laid there against my shoulder. After a while she nodded off and fell asleep. As i watched my little girl sleep, Michelle leaned over and kissed me. "Im going to get to bed and get some sleep, ok?" I nodded as i watched her go. I let my mind go, and gently drifted off to sleep myself. My dreams that night were strange, but somehow enlightening. I found myself standing on a darkly light path as it trailed through these long dark woods. There was a light path to one side, but something about it didnt feel right, as if, the light itself was wrong. I couldnt place the feeling, but i knew that the dark path that looked worse was the way to go. I wandered down the path, staring into the woods, with an almost certain feeling that eyes were upon me, waiting to attack. Soon the path came to a head, a small outlook. As i stood there, i could see the white path, not far off in the distance. It was still well lit and open, but i noticed that people were walking it, but it came to an end, almost violently. There was no creature, no monster, no evil, to speak of, only an end, and end that came without warning, in which none could return. I turned and continued down the path of darkness, following its dim outline as it wound through the deepest part of the forest. I had fear held in my heart, and wished i had taken the white path, if only for the light it provided. I had to remind myself of the ending i saw in it though. Soon as the path wound around i saw an ending ahead, not light, but a fading darkness instead. As i found myself at the end, i found a large stone, on it was written "à l'extrémité, il y a la vie", I dont know French, but for some reason i could read it as clear as day. "At the End, There is life". "...Danny... ...DANNY...." her voice broke through my dreams. I sat up slowly, blinking through my tired eyes. "What... what is it?" I asked slowly, blinking trying to get my eyes used to the sun that streamed through the windows. "You were mumbling something in your sleep" Michelle looked worried. "I... what... did i say?" I looked up at her. "Im not sure, i dont know what language it was..." As i brought the dream back into memory i remembered the stone. "à l'extrémité, il y a la vie..." i trailed off. "That sounds... like it" Michelle nodded. "It means At the end, there is life in French" I quietly thought about what it meant. "I didnt... know you spoke French" Michelle stared at me. "I dont" I said quietly looking at my confused wife. Hannah was still fast asleep against me, her chest rising and falling with slow even breaths. "Looks like she slept well the rest of the night huh?" I yawned and stretched gently, trying not to wake her up. Hannah let out a little sigh as she slowly opened her eyes and looked up at the two of us. "Mommy? Daddy? what time is it?" She rubbed her eyes trying to clear the sleep still held in them. "Its 8:45 baby" Michelle smiled and ruffled her messy hair. She sat up right. "Im late for school!" she freaked out. "No baby we called you out this morning, you need sleep, rest, ok?" Michelle kissed her on the forehead. "But what about my school work and everything?" She looked concerned. "Ill pick it up for you honey, dont worry ok?" I kissed my little girl on the forehead, before i got up and stretched. I fell into my seat at the kitchen table and leaned back cracking my neck trying to work the soreness out of my body. Michelle came in after sending Hannah upstairs for a shower. "Coffee?" She picked up the pot by the stove. "yes... ohhhh yes please" i stood up and grabbed a cup before kissing Michelle. I let out a sigh before sipping the hot drink. "So, do you think we should move or what?" I asked Michelle again. "I... think so... as much as i dont want to admit it, i just think this place will continue to haunt her" I nodded in agreeance, not entirely awake yet. I stared out the back door to our yard, my eyes glazed over, not entirely focusing anything. We had moved into the house, nine years ago, finally happy to have our own place, our own home, a place we owned, and yet here i was, faced with the fact that for my daughter, we had to pack everything up and move away. I walked out the back door with my coffee and stared out in the backyard. Our house stood up against a small hill that wandered up into the mountains. The backyard was spacious, a small fence that lined either side, sperating our house from the neighbors. One of my neighbors was working in his backyard. "Hey Dan, hows the family? everything looking up?" "Hiya Jim. Things are... so so i guess. Hannah is still having nightmares. We're thinking of moving to be honest" "Really? well that sucks, been good having you as a neighbor all these years" "Yeah i know. Its been nice, living here, you know?" I nodded to the neighborhood. "Yeah..." he left off staring up at the sky. "I remember when your family moved in here" "Haha yeah, what... 7? 8 years ago?" "Well..." he thought about it. "yeah, Josh was, 10 that year i think?" "Mmm yeah how is he doing now?" I asked. Josh was Jim's oldest child. "Ah hes doing well, he just enlisted in the Marine Corps" "Ahhh very good" I nodded. "Good choice, Semper Fi" "Yeah, thats right, you were a Gunnery Sergeant in the Corps huh?" "Yep, i was, until i was wounded over in the Middle East" "You know, Josh will be home next weekend, maybe you could talk to him, you know give him some advice on boot camp and all that?" "Sure id love to" I nodded. "ill stop over as soon as i have a chance" "Thanks Dan, have a good one" he waved as he went back to his yard work. I wandered back inside and dumped out the rest of my coffee to get a new cup. "What did Jim say?" Michelle asked as she wrapped her arms around me. "Oh he wanted me to talk to Josh when he comes home next weekend. He just enlisted in the Marines" "Ahhh, well you'll be good at that talk huh?" Michelle squeezed me. "Heh i might give him some good ole Drill Instructor talk" I laughed a bit. "Hey now, dont scare him to death before he goes to boot camp now" Michelle tickled me a bit. "yeah yeah i wont" She gave me a kiss and grabbed her keys off the table. "I have to go shopping, ill be home soon, ill pick up Hannah's school work on my way, ok?" "Alright babe, thanks" I leaned back and gave her a kiss. "Ive got to run to work and get things figured out there, ill take Hannah with me" She nodded and waved as she headed out the front door. I plodded up the stairs to change and catch a shower. Hannah was sitting in her room, on her bed listening to music. I leaned into her room and she pulled her headphones off. "I have to go into work and get some things sorted out, so, get dressed and we'll get a late breakfast there ok?" She nodded and smiled at me. "I love you daddy!" "I love you too baby girl" I grabbed a quick shower and for laughs i pulled on my old uniform, happy that it still fit me just nice. I looked at myself in the mirror. "Not bad Dan, you still fit in it" i said to my reflection. Hannah came up behind me and put her arms around me and hugged. "You look good still daddy" "Aww thanks angel" I kissed her on the forehead. "Why are you in uniform though?" She tilted her head to the side a bit. "Oh, Josh Franks from next door is going into the Marine Corps, and his dad wanted me to talk to him about my experience and give him an idea of what to expect" "ohhh" she had a bit of a smile on her face. "hes hot" "ohhh no, dont even think about it young lady" i tickled her. "your not allowed to date anyone in the armed forces" She giggled and hugged me. "Ok Dad, but as soon as i turn 18, its my choice right?" "we'll see" i hugged her tight. We ate at a small resturant outside of town, a little diner joint that had been there since before id even thought about California as a place to live. It had been a favourite place of the whole family. They always seemed to have that perfect comfort food that you craved, even at 2 am. "Have you thought about moving anymore?" I looked up over my coffee. "I dunno daddy. I dont want to leave my friends but..." she trailed off, her voice quivering. "This whole place is my home but somehow, it just doesnt feel right anymore" I nodded and sipped my coffee and stared out the window at the mountains in the distance. I knew what she meant. The whole world had been turned upside down since the robber had broken in. Everything had changed. We were so much more careful about everything we did, all three of us. I worked from home, and kept an eye on Hannah whenever possible. Michelle and I would wake up at the lightest noise in the house, and i knew Hannah did as well, although she would curl up tighter under her blankets and cry. I had nightmares, just like Hannah and Michelle, the house was cold, and dark. That night replayed in my mind whenever i found myself idle. It was time for a change, for all of us. "Daddy?" Hannah's voice broke through my distant thoughts. "Huh?" I looked back at my daughter. "Are you ok? You seem far away..." She gave me a worried look. "Umm yeah, im fine, just thinking" "What about?" She pried at me. "Oh just, everything thats happened lately" She gave me a sullen look and looked down at her plate, and picked at her food. "...I dont like thinking about it..." She mumbled. "I know baby girl, i dont like it either. Thats why i think its time we moved and start some place fresh" Hannah stared out the window with a blank look on her face. "Dad... i dont wanna leave my friends" "I know..." I trailed off and stared out the window with her. I knew how it was to leave friends behind, and i didnt want to do the same to my daughter, but as far as i could see, the longer we stayed here, the worse off she would be. I hated the choices i had to make for her benefit, they would make things hard at first but in the long run she would turn out better. Atleast thats what i prayed for. It was a quick trip to my job. I had been working from home since the attack, to keep and eye on things and make sure Hannah was ok when she stayed home. My boss had been very understanding, probably for the three children he had himself. "Hey Jack" I called to my boss as i walked into the building. Hannah was walking behind me slightly looking around my work place. "Hey Dan, hows everything going?" Jack turned down the hall and walked towards us. "They're... ok" I shook his hand. "To be honest, we're thinking of moving away, starting over you know?" He nodded "Yeah i hear that" "Oh, this is Hannah" I pulled her up. "Hannah this is my boss, Jack Franklin" She shook his hand. "Nice to meet you" She said quietly. He smiled at her. "Nice to meet you too" "So whats up Dan? you need something?" "No just wanted to see how things were, if you needed me to do anything else while im at home" "No things are good" He replied. "Alright well, im sorry its been inconvenient with me working from home" "Ah no problem Dan, i understand completely. Just let me know when you'll be ready to come back in" "I'll do that, Thanks Jack. Well we're gonna get going" "Sounds good Dan, Nice to meet you Hannah" Hannah waved as we turned and left, headed for home. Michelle was unpacking some groceries when we got back home. "Hey you two" she called when we walked in the door. "Hey babe" i tossed her my keys as i walked into the kitchen "how was shopping?" "Its shopping Danny, its about as interesting as watching wallpaper dry" Michelle giggled. "You should come next time though, we'll have fun" "Uh you know, i just remembered, im going to be busy that day, sorry. Rain Check though!" Hannah laughed at us as she helped put groceries away. "See?" i motioned to Hannah. "This is why you have kids, so they can do the chores for you" Hannah let out a giggle and threw a bag of frozen corn at me. "Daddy! thats not funny!" she was still giggling. I threw the bag back at her, before Michelle grabbed it. "Ok ok ok, stop throwing the food around, i swear you two are kids" "I AM a kid Mom" Hannah laughed. "Im so totally not a kid... i just act like one" I stuck my tongue out at my wife. "OH thats mature" Michelle said with a giggle. Hannah laughed and smiled, tossing food to Michelle to put away. Times like these made me so happy, that my life had turned out as it had. Despite the problems we had been through, here we were, a loving happy family, joking and playing around. "Hannah, you want to throw a frisbee around after dinner or something?" Hannah smiled. "Id love to Daddy" "we'll all go, ok?" Michelle smiled. Hannah smiled and nodded back. She ran upstairs with her homework and Michelle and I started dinner. "We talked a little about moving today" I said as i started to cut vegetables for dinner. "What did she say?" Michelle looked up from her spot at the table. "Well, what i expected her to say, honestly" I sighed a bit. "She doesnt want to leave her friends, right?" "Yeah, pretty much, but i dont blame her" I looked out the window. "But still, im not sure staying here will be any good either..." I let my voice grow quiet at the end. "Michelle, will she hate me if i move our family away?" "Probably at first, but she'll learn that it was for the best, and she'll make new friends" I sighed again, it seemed like i'd been doing that a lot lately. Michelle stood up and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me. "We trust you to make the right decision" She laid her head against my back. "Ugh, i know, thats what scares me..." I sighed again. "Scared?" Michelle kissed me. "Yeah, im not sure, i guess im just worried about it all..." I leaned back against my wife. "What if i make the wrong decision" "You wont" She kissed me again. I think its every parents perpetual fear that they'll mess up with their children. Hannah was a beautiful, happy girl, who was close to her parents, and i was hopelessly avoiding messing up that special bond that she and i had together. This move could very well do that, create some hatred between us. She was 14 and taking her away from her friends would devestate her, but looking around at our house, and seeing the nightmares she was having, i couldnt see any real way around it all. The whole town had taken on a somewhat, dull feeling. Our house especially felt dark and repressed. But, in the end, how do you take a 14 year old away from her friends without devestating her? If someone had the answer, i was praying for it. I let out another sigh and leaned back. I noted that id been doing it alot before i turned back to my wife. "We need to move..." I didnt want to finish the sentence but, this home wasnt secure anymore, it was time for us to find a new place. "Ok" Was all Michelle said as she kissed me. I sat in silence staring out the back door. Clouds had started to roll in and a light rain was falling. "so much for the park" I mumbled. Hannah came into the kitchen for dinner. "Daddy?" She walked over to me. "Are you ok?" "Uh. Yeah, yeah im fine" I faked a smile. My daughter was good at reading my face, faked or not, she knew something was wrong. "Whats really wrong?" She tilted her head to the side. I heaved a deep sigh and smiled down at her. "Lets sit down for dinner and talk it over" I kissed her on the forehead. She gave me a suspicious look but ran to the dining room and took her seat. I sat down with Michelle and leaned back in my chair a bit. Hannah's look was scrutinizing and demanding, i could read the look in her eyes, she didnt want any crap, just the truth. "We're going to move, honey" I let out another sigh. "But..." she trailed off, her head dropped a little. "I..." she started again but stopped. She was at a loss for words, but then i think we all were. What could really be said? "Im sorry honey, but you're mother and i are just not comfortable here anymore" I tried to avoid her eyes. They showed hurt and uncertainty. An awkward silence hung in the air between the three of us. She was on the verge of tears, trying to choke out the words that were held in her throat. Michelle started to open her mouth to say something, but Hannah bolted from the table and was out the front door before the words formed in Michelle's mouth. "HANNAH!!" Michelle yelled after her. "Ill get her, you stay here ok?" I got up and ran after her. Michelle dropped her face into her hands and burst into tears herself. The rain was pouring down now. Hannah was running fast and it took me a while to catch up to her. She finally collapsed sobbing in a park a few blocks from our house. I ran up to her and wrapped my arms around her. She struggled for a bit before finally collapsing against my chest and cried for a while. The rain was warm but still felt harsh as it fell on the two of us. After a good half hour she managed to get herself under control. She didnt say anything as i picked her up and carried her home. She only curled her head into my chest and laid still. Her eyes were sullen and dark, matching her mood and the clouds above. I pushed the door open and carried my little girl into the living room. Michelle jumped up from the couch, her eyes red from crying. "Hannah!" she yelled as she ran to us. "She's ok... just overwhelmed by everything..." I clutched her close. Michelle ran and grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her tightly, trying to get some of the water off her. As i laid her on the couch she opened her eyes and looked up at me. It felt like she was looking through me, trying to clutch at the thoughts in my head. She closed them again and turned away from me. Michelle wrapped her in a blanket and i left them to talk, wandering up the stairs to change. I stood in the hot shower, letting the water trail down my form, trying to think of something to say. I knew this was all going to be hard on her, but, now, i had no idea what to say or tell her. I wasnt sure if it was hatred or just hurt i saw in her eyes. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back and let the hot water hit my face. I remembered back to that first night she came to me. Those beautiful blue eyes looked up at me. She had a smile on her little face and gripped my finger in her tiny hands. Right then i knew how much i loved her. How much i needed her. Those little eyes looked up at me and showed me love, love that i was now TERRIFIED of losing. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head free of water. As i climbed out of the shower i grabbed a towel and dried off. I changed into a pair of shorts and a tshirt before heading downstairs. Hannah was curled on the couch, staring out into the rain. She looked back as i came down the stairs but turned back to the rain, resting her chin on her arm over the back of the couch. "Hannah... Im sorry..." I said to her turned figure. "I just want whats best for you, for us all..." She didnt respond, not even a shrug, she just continued to stare out the window, trying to ignore me. I sighed and hung my head before getting up and walking off into the kitchen. Michelle was standing at the kitchen sink staring out into the backyard. I wrapped my arms around my wife. She jumped a bit before turning around "Danny! you scared me..." She kissed me softly. "...I screwed up... didnt I?" i hung my head. "No... no you didnt" Michelle kissed me again. "You didnt screw up. Shes just not sure what to make of it all" "She wont even look at me, Michelle..." I couldnt look up. "She's mad, honey, but she'll get over it" "How do you know?" I finally raised my eyes up to meet hers. "Because i know our daughter, and i know that she'll realize you made the decision for her" "Someday... maybe..." I turned and walked to the screen door and listened to the rain as it fell. The next few days passed without speaking between the three of us. Tension was thick and quiet, ready to burst. With nothing to distract me from all the stress at home, i started running every morning, trying to get out and stop thinking it all over. I started with a couple miles, trying to beat my old times from when i was in the Marines. I found it distracting enough to keep my head clear. I came back from my run one morning and Hannah was sitting on the porch steps to the house. "Daddy..." She was clutching her knees. "Hannah?" I crouched down in front of her. "Im sorry..." She started to cry. "What for baby girl?" "For being so unbearable lately... for crying so much..." She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. "Oh Hannah... its ok baby... i know its a big step... and its scary..." I hugged her close and kissed her forehead. She laid her head against my chest and burst into tears again. I pulled my girl close and held her tight. Michelle heard her crying and came running. "Whats wrong, Danny?" She kneeled down and hugged Hannah close. "Just clearing the air" I hugged them both. After her breakdown, Hannah stayed quiet, still depressed but she seemed more open to us. Michelle and I knew, how much she didnt want to move, and it hurt us to see her pain. There wasnt much we could do, There was just too much here that we couldnt live with. We were her parents, we wanted to keep her safe no matter what, and there was just too much we couldnt control anymore, or maybe we couldnt ever control it, but now it seemed as if it had all crashed down on top of us. She finally talked to me about it all one night. I was sitting on the couch, half watching the images flicker on the screen, half sleeping. "Daddy..?" She asked quietly. "Uh?" I lifted my head up, shaking off sleep. "Can i talk to you..." She trailed off, her eyes watering. "Sure baby girl, anytime, you know that" I stood up. The sun had set but the warm air still hung in the air. We walked down the street together. She finally broke the silence. "I love you daddy..." She trailed off again. "I love you too" I nodded my head to her. "What did you want to talk about?" "I..." she let her voice fade. "I dont know..." I gave her a little hug. "Im scared of moving Daddy..." Her eyes started to water again. "I know you are baby, its a big, big change. Im scared too, but we all have to be strong" She let out a little sob. "I dont want to leave my friends, i dont want to leave everything ive ever known..." She tried to choke the words out between her sobs. I pulled her close and held her. "I know angel, i know you dont, your mother and i dont want to either, but its time for us to change things, time to move on" She fell into silence again, trying to force herself to stop crying. I let out a sigh, trying to find a way to make the hurt stop, but there wasnt anything i could do or say at this point. I could remember moving away from everything i knew when i was a teenager, and remembering how much it hurt, i knew how she felt and i also knew there wasnt much i could do to make it not hurt. Only knowing that in time, the pain would stop and she would make new friends and things would get better. But those days were off in the distance, for now we just had to get things set up to even think about moving. We walked back in silence, but i knew what she wanted to say, or atleast what she wished she could ask. Later, Michelle came and sat down in my lap. "What did Hannah want to talk about?" She kissed my forehead. "The same thing i asked when i moved as a kid" I laid my head against her chest. "can we stay here" Michelle Sighed. "What do you think?" "I think im not comfortable here anymore, and i think you feel the same" Michelle nodded slowly and sighed. "Did you ever move when you were a kid?" I asked slowly. "Yes, well, sort of" Michelle nodded. "I was too young to really remember though" "My family moved a couple times when i was younger" I sighed. "It was never easy though, new friends, new life... really" It never was easy to get up and move, even as an adult. I had moved a lot. I was always trying to find a new place to live, sometimes i got restless. Eventually i had ended up in Tennessee again, and thats when Hannah was given to me, from there when she was about 5 we moved to California, finally finding our little home near the beach. It was time, one more move, one more life. Michelle kissed my forehead. "Where will we go baby?" She held me close. "Im not sure yet" I sighed. "Ive kind of been wanting to return to the East Coast" "Any ideas?" Michelle tilted her head. "Ive been thinking about Connecticut" I leaned my head back and looked up at the ceiling, rubbing my eyes. "You grew up there, didnt you?" "mhm" I nodded. "A little town called Tariffville" "What was it like?" Michelle shifted off my lap and curled up in my arms. "It was a nice place to grow up. It was near the capitol, but far enough away that it was on a river, with a lot of hiking trails around. As a kid there was a lot to do, places to run, things to see, i spent my childhood running through the woods with friends" "Sounds nice..." Michelle trailed off. "It was..." I trailed off, and fell back in time, thinking about the life i had as a child. Life wasnt simple, but it wasnt complicated. The town was small, just three thousand people, in a fairly small area. under a square mile. Suburban, but wild, surrounded by mountains and woods, a river on two sides. It was seperated from the surrounding towns by woods and long roads. It kept the town small, kept the busy pace of life outside. But it was never hard to get into that fast pace, just a quick drive, or a long walk and you were in the center of activity. I think i had already decided, thinking back to it all, it was a good place to live, a good place to grow up, maybe boring sometimes, but better boring than the frightening reality we had recently been faced with. "Baby?" Her voice broke into my daydream. "Yeah?" I yawned a bit. "You ok?" She kissed my cheek. "You looked like you were daydreaming" "Oh, i was" I smiled. "Thinking about my childhood home" "You want to move there dont you?" She smiled at me. "Yeah, its a good place, itll be good for Hannah" I heaved a sigh before standing up. "I think ill go out there, and look around, see whats what, visit my parents a bit and see whats available" "We should all go" Michelle stood up next to me and hugged me close. "You think?" I looked down at my wife. "I do" She smiled up at me. "itll be good for Hannah to see where were moving, and even give some input on everything. Itll make her feel more at ease about the move in general" I nodded a bit. "We need a vacation anyhow, after all this" Michelle nodded and kissed me. "Im going to bed, we'll tell Hannah in the morning ok?" "Alright" I turned and stretched. "Ill be up in a little bit" She smiled at me and climbed the stairs. The following day i called my parents. They knew what had happened to Hannah and had wanted to see her, but scheduling conflict made it impossible. They were really happy to hear that we were thinking of moving out there, and that we were coming to visit. Hannah came home from school a little early, her last period was a study hour so i picked her up and brought her home. School had been a little hard for her to get back to. People had all heard now and people all looked a bit strangely at her. Some avoided her, others asked questions. She came home crying a couple times. But finally, after a few weeks, things smoothed out and life dropped back to being a little more normal, atleast as normal as they could be. "So Hannah?" I asked cautiously, still not sure what she would say. "Something's wrong isnt there" Were the first words out of her mouth. "No no, nothings wrong, we're taking a vacation is all" I wasnt lying, but i wasnt being entirely truthful. Her mind had been taken off the move, even if it was temporary. Doing homework and seeing friends had kept her fairly busy, busy enough not to think about moving. "Where?" She turned to me in the car. "Well, we're gonna go see your grandparents" "Really!?" Hannah sat up in her seat. "yep, we're gonna leave in a few weeks" Hannah smiled, she loved her grandparents. My parents had been pretty open, when i came home with Hannah in her car seat for Christmas. She was one and a half at the time, and I hadnt entirely known how to tell them, and infact i had kept it a secret from them. It wasnt that i was ashamed, just, wasnt sure how to tell them. Its hard, to come home and just tell them straight out that i suddenly was a father. I choose to protect Brandy, they had always thought highly of her. I told them pretty simply that i was the father, and that her mother had run away after she was born. I knew my parents wouldnt think less of me, and that somehow it would have kept Brandy safe. I think my mom nearly fainted when i carried her in, the snow falling gently on the both of us. Hannah was smiling happily, staring up at the falling snow. When she finally managed to find words, she stammered through "who is this?". "Mom..." I trailed off. "This, this is Hannah, your granddaughter" "What... where? when?" My mom stammered through again. "This girl i was dating, she uh... well i think you can tell" "Bu..bu..." She couldnt get it out this time. "Im sorry i didnt tell you mom, i wasnt really sure how to..." I picked Hannah up from her seat and held her. My mom just stood there, staring at her. I carried her to my mom. She slowly outstretched her arms and held her close. Hannah giggled and pulled at my moms hair and smiled. A smile slowly crept across her face as she held Hannah close. I think she was slowly getting over the shock. "Danny, shes beautiful!" "She is" I smiled. "How old is she?" My mom cooed at Hannah and played with her little fingers. "Shes 18 months" I smiled again. "Wow, when's her birthday?" "June 10th" I picked Hannah back up and swung her into my arms. She giggled happily. That seemed like an eternity ago, as i looked over at the teenage girl who had once been that baby, gurgling happily in my parents kitchen. She sighed and leaned the seat back a bit. "We're not just going to visit are we?" "What do you mean?" I looked over as we stopped at a stoplight. "We're looking for a house out there, arent we?" She tilted her head over. She really was smarter than anyone gave her credit for. "Uhh..." Was all i managed to really find as i searched for something to respond with. "Its ok dad" She turned and looked out the window at the passing scenery. "Look, i know what your feeling. My family moved when i was a kid too, its never easy, but i promise itll be ok in the end" I took her hand and squeezed it softly. "I know" she trailed off for a second. "Its just hard" "It always is baby girl" I sighed softly as we pulled into our driveway. Hannah was quiet the next few days, but this wasnt a change from the last couple months. I finally decided to teach her to use a handgun, so atleast she would have some experience. Some parents would have kept their kids as far away from weapons as possible, but i was a military man, and i wanted my child to be safe around them, and know how to use them. Life had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and next time i wanted her to have a better sense of what to do. "Hey Hannah" I poked my head into her room. "Um.. Hi?" She looked up from her book. "Can we talk?" I was standing in her room. "I guess?" She asked while looking up at me. "Look, with all thats happened lately, i want you to know how to protect yourself better" "What do you mean?" She stared a little. "I want to teach you some martial arts techniques and how to use a handgun and rifle" I sighed a little. It still did worry me a bit, teaching her at just 14 to use weapons like that, but then i learned how to use them when i was only 10, and had been doing it ever since. "I... what?" She stared up at me. "I want-" I started to say. "I know... i just never expected this, you always told me to stay away from the safe. To NEVER use a gun" She looked a little excited. "I know, but if think your old enough to learn and i think you need to know how to. That way if anything happens..." I trailed off. "Well, id really like to learn" She smiled a bit, trying to hide her excitement. "You seem pretty eager" I smiled at her. "I guess" She gave me a sly smile. I shook my head a bit with a smile. "we'll go tommorow ok?" "Ok!" she bounced a bit on her bed. It suprised me a bit, how excited she was to learn how to shoot a gun. I admit, i was very excited the first time i did, it was a rush, but i couldnt say i ever expected it to be one for my fourteen year old daughter. "Im taking Hannah to the range tommorow" I told Michelle as i walked in the bedroom. "You're what?" Michelle looked up from our bed. "Im going to teach her to shoot a handgun and a rifle tommorow" I yawned as i plopped down on the bed next to my wife. "Ummm no, you are NOT teaching OUR daughter to use weaponry!" She dropped her book beside the bed. "Michelle, i want her to be safe. I want her to be able to defend herself" "NOT WITH A PISTOL!" Michelle nearly yelled it at me. "Michelle, ive been to war, ive seen things no one should EVER have to see, and you know what? i saw it happen to my daughter, my pride and joy. I will NOT let her walk through life without knowing how to do these things. I dont care who you are, where you are, life is dangerous and i want her to be as prepared as possible for it!" "But-" Michelle got out before i cut her off. "No buts Michelle, this is not an arguement, this is not a discussion. I know you disagree but shes going to learn these things, tommorow" Michelle looked up at me trying to find something to say but let her shoulder sink and she laid her head down on the pillow. "I love you, and i love Hannah, and i want her to have the best skills she can possibly have for this life" Michelle rolled onto her side and didnt say anything. She closed her eyes and laid still, staring at the wall. She was upset, but i was set in what i was going to do. I sighed and turned off the light and let myself drift off to sleep. Hannah was sitting on the bed the next morning, before i even got up. "Morning dad!" She had a big smile on her face. "I uh... morning kiddo" I sat up, blinking in the bright light. Keeping one eye closed i looked at my daughter. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a white t shirt. "Youre really gonna go to the range in that?" I looked at her kinda funny. "Whats wrong with this?" She looked down at what she was wearing. "Well we're going shooting, not to the mall" I closed my eyes and fell back on my bed. "well DUH" She giggled. "I wouldnt go the mall with you anyhow" She stuck out of her tongue. "oh really?" I grabbed her and tickled her. "Nonono! dadddd!" she was giggling as i tickled her off the bed. "Come on go get something a little more, hmm" i thought for a second "heavy duty?" i thought those were the wrong words but it was the best my brain could come up with. She giggled and got up. "fine fine fineeee" she ran off to change. "Still going?" Michelle sat up and looked over at me as i stretched and got out of bed. "Yep, still going" I yawned and stretched again, trying to work the pain out of my back. "Hannah seems excited" Michelle stared out the door where she had just run through. "Yeah, im suprised at that for sure" I pulled a shirt out of a drawer and pulled it on. I searched through my clothes until i found my Cammies from the Corps. I pulled them on and looked myself over. "Whatcha think?" I turned to Michelle. "Lookin good babe" She smiled. "Im still mad at you though" "Yeah i know, look we'll talk about it after ok?" She sighed heavily. "ok, i guess" She crossed her arms. "I love you" I leaned in and kissed her on the lips. "I love you too" she mumbled as i pulled my handgun from the safe and locked it into a carrying case. Hannah followed me as i went downstairs to the basement where my rifles were. she was wearing a heavy shirt and a pair of cargo pants. "Here, hold onto this" I handed her the carrying case holding my handgun. She took it and let it fall to her side. "This thing is heavy!" "Yeah a little bit, but itll help with recoil, itll make it easier for you to shoot" "Umm what?" She stared at me. "Its the kick of the-" I stopped short. "You know what? youll see when we get to the range" She tilted her head "Ok?" I nodded to her as i put a several rifles into cases and slung them over my shoulders. "Come on, baby girl, lets get to it!" She ran up the stairs behind me happily. The range was close, just a couple miles from the house. One of my old friends from the Marines was running it. "Hey Pete!" I called out as we walked up. "Heyyy Corporal Punishment!" he called out as i walked up. Hannah tugged my shirt a bit. "Corporal Punishment?" She looked up at me. "Uh it was a nickname i had when i made Corporal in the Marines. Its the first rank thats an NCO, erm Non Commissioned Officer. I had a tendency to give out physical punishments to those who disobeyed orders" "Wow, you sound like you were harsh" Hannah giggled. "No, i just let that power effect me a little bit, i learned my place after that though" "Huh, good thing" She rolled her eyes. We walked up to the counter and i set my cases against the wall. "Whats up Gunny?" Pete asked from behind the counter. "Going out on the range?" "Naw just thought id pack up my guns and carry em around at the range" "Hah, always a smart ass" "Hey now, thats smart ass SIR, SERGEANT" I punched his arm. He laughed and smiled at Hannah. "So this is the tough little girl that takes right after her dad huh?" He extended his hand and she shook it. "Your dad is one tough Marine, lemme tell you that" He pointed at me. "Man's been through hell and back and he kept his head up and his gun to his shoulder" "Hah, quit telling her stories Pete" "You want stories? I got a million of em" He grinned. Hannah giggled. "Aright Pete, we're gonna set up and spend the day shooting. She may be tough but i still want her to know how to handle a gun" "Hah, well" He turned to Hannah "If your half the shot your old man was, youll be fantastic. You know he was a Sniper in the Corps?" He pointed at me. "Hey now Pete, AM a good shot, not was" "Oho! do i hear a challenge?" "Yeah, you want one? you got one old man!" I slung a case off the ground onto the counter. "Here, our old friend, the M40A3 Marine Sniper rifle. Best shot at 500 yards. 50 bucks, right here, right now" Pete laughed. "Sounds good to me, Gunny" Hannah watched us happily. She seemed happy to hear all the stories and stuff Pete had to tell her about me. Pete and I Lined up on the range. I sat down behind the rifle, and carefully sighted it down range. Looking back at the range information center, i gauged the wind, and direction and adjusted for the distance. I sat and waited, gently feeling the gun and waiting for the right time to take the shot. "Anytime old man!" Pete laughed from behind me. "You know he took this much time when we were active in the Corps too. Still your dad was one of the best shots ive ever met" "Anytime you feel like shutting up back there!" I called as i waited. I finally lined everything up and took my shot. A single crack, clean and crisp rang out in the cool morning air. "Whoo!" Pete whistled as he watched downrange in a set of high power binoculars. "Thats about 2 inches from dead center, high and to the right" I stood up and then reset all the settings on the rifle. "Alright then Sarge, lessee what you can do hmm?" "Yes Sir, Gunnery Sergeant!" He mock saluted me. "Bah get to it old man, i dont have all day!" He grinned and sat down, quickly set all his sights and took the shot. "Ouch there Pete, 5 inches outside the target, infact, im not sure you hit anything" "Bah see, my eye sights going" "Already Pete? damn you need glasses or something" "Yeah yeah, well lets see what your little girl can do huh?" "Heh, double or nothing says she outshoots you!" "oooo you are SO on Gunny!" Hannah giggled and came over to the line. "You up for the shot Hannah?" She giggled nervously. "I dunno, do you think i am?" She smiled. "I think so, here, ill help you set up" I coached Hannah in setting up the shot and how to adjust for windage and time aloft, distance to the target and bullet drop. I think she was a little overwhelmed by it all but she understood enough to atleast get the rifle set up enough to shoot. "Now i want you to keep the butt tight to your shoulder, this is a powerful rifle, and if you dont, the recoil can break your shoulder" "Really?" She turned her head and looked up at me. "Yep, so pull it tight" She set it against her shoulder. "Good, thats perfect, now line up your crosshairs in the center of the target and when your ready, pull the trigger. You need to squeeze it gently, dont just pull, you can throw off your aim that way" "Ok Dad" She rested her head against the butt and carefully looked down the scope. A couple seconds went by and then a loud crack echoed through the hills as she pulled the trigger. "Hooo damn, Gunny! Your little girl is a hell of a shot! She outshot you by a good 3/4 of an inch!" Pete laughed. "Really?" Hannah had a big smile on her face. "Damn straight little girl. You whipped your old man like crazy!" He handed her the binoculars. "You see there are three bullet holes, yours is the closest to the center there, your dads is just next to it, and... well that one way off in the corner of the target board is mine. Obviously, i wasnt a sniper like your dad" Hannah smiled at the target downrange. "How was that?" She smiled at me. "That was perfect baby, im proud of you" I hugged her close. She had a huge smile on her face, she was so happy she had made me proud. "And i believe YOU, Sergeant, owe me 100 bucks" "yeah yeah, how bout i give you ammo free for the day" "That works just as good" I laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. Hannah and I gathered up my guns and walked down the range a bit, a few booths away from the other shooters so i could explain things to her without shooting. She had a quick step in her pace, and a big smile on her face. Again, i couldnt help but wonder at how interested she was in this, and how much fun she was having. She had always been a bit of a princess type of girl, a girly girl. But here she was happily sat at a gun range with a high powered rifle in her hands, happy to be doing all this. "Well, you did real well with the rifle baby" i smiled down at her. "Lets train a bit with a handgun" "Ok!" she smiled happily at me. I put down the case with my sidearm from the Corps. I had kept it with me ever since, a token of the career i had poured 15 years into. "Alright, this is a Beretta M9 handgun" I lifted it out of its case and held it up. "It might be a little too big for your hands, but we'll see ok?" She nodded and watched me. "Did you have that when you were a Marine dad?" She asked. "Yep, i did. I carried this with me from Afghanistan to Iraq and back" "Wow" she tilted her head a bit. "Alright this is a semi automatic pistol, which means it will fire a round everytime you pull the trigger" She nodded again, i think everything was a bit over her head at first. I locked the slide back and checked the gun over making sure it was safe before ejecting the magazine and setting it all down. "Now there are rules for handling a firearm and you ALWAYS obey them ok?" I looked down at her with a serious look on my face. After all we were here with deadly weapons. "The first rule is you ALWAYS treat the gun like its loaded, it doesnt matter where you are, or even if you know its unloaded, you still treat it like its loaded ok?" "Always treat the gun like its loaded, ok" she repeated after me. "The Second Rule is that you NEVER aim the gun at something you dont intend to kill or destroy" "Never point the gun at something you dont intend to kill" She repeated again. "The Third rule is that you always keep your finger OFF the trigger until your ready to shoot. That keeps accidental firings from happening ok?" "Finger off the trigger" She smiled up at me. "Got it daddy" "Ok baby, lets focus on this gun ok?" She nodded to me and waited for me to tell her what to do. "Ok pick it up and take the magazine and put it into the handle of the gun" She nodded and picked it up gingerly. "Its heavy" "Yeah, its a little heavy, but it will help with recoil" "Whats that?" She asked with a tilt of her head. "Well when you fired the rifle, you felt it kick back against your shoulder right?" "Uh huh, it kinda hurt" she rubbed her shoulder a bit. "Ok well, thats recoil, so when you hold a handgun you need a nice tight grip on it, ok?" She nodded and gripped the pistol tighter. I picked up the magazine and handed it to her. "Ok this goes into the handle here" I pointed to the opening at the bottom of the handle. "This is the magazine, it holds the bullets in it" She nodded and slide the magazine up into the gun. "Give it a nice solid tap" She smacked the magazine with her hand. "Good, now the magazine is seated" I pointed to a lever on the side of the gun. "This is the slide release. Use your thumb and push it down" She pushed the lever down and the slide slid forward. "Whoa" She giggled. "That scared me" I smiled at her, she really was enjoying herself. "Now if the magazine had ammo in it, it would have slide a round into the chamber and been ready to fire, you see the hammer is locked back?" She nodded. "What do i do now?" "Ok now your going to click this knob here down" I pointed to a knob on the slide. "This is the safety and it will also drop the hammer safely so that the gun doesnt go off, ok?" She nodded and clicked the safety and the hammer dropped back. "Are you sure it wont go off?" She looked at me nervously. "Yep, im sure it wont baby girl, i promise" "Now im going to shoot and i want you to watch me carefully ok?" She smiled again and handed me the gun. "Are you as good with a handgun as you are with a rifle dad?" "Not really, im not a bad shot, but i didnt use it near as much as i did my rifle" I pulled a box of bullets out of the case and opened it up, and loaded the magazine. "You see how im loading the rounds here?" I asked. "See the round pushes down the spring here. You have to keep your finger on the round so that it doesnt slip out while your pushing it in" "How many bullets will that hold?" she asked. "fifteen rounds" I nodded as i pushed the last into place. I slide the magazine into place and racked the slide, loading the gun, before i dropped the hammer and saftied the gun. "What are the rules of gun handling?" I looked over at her. "Treat the gun like its always loaded. Never aim at something you dont plan on killing, and... umm. Oh! Always keep your finger off the trigger until your ready to shoot!" She smiled up at me. "Right?" "You got them baby girl" I smiled at her. "Ok, watch me while i shoot. Got your ear protection in?" She nodded and turned her head so i could see the earplugs she had in. "Good. Firing!" I called as i clicked the safety off and lined up my sights. The first rounds cracked down range as i unloaded the gun. "Alright, your turn" I locked the slide back and dropped the empty magazine to the table. She loaded it carefully and then racked the slide and dropped the safety gingerly. "OK, remember the rules of safe handling, and when your ready line up your first shot" I stepped back and checked her stance. "Ok, move your left leg up a little more, and drop your back leg just a little more, get a good stance ok?" She nodded and moved her legs a little. "Perfect!" I smiled at her. "Now grip the gun tight, like this" I guided her fingers around the handle. "See? you have a nice tight grip here, that will help with recoil, and your finger is positioned where we want it, off the trigger" She nodded and looked around, keeping her hands where i had positioned them. "When youre ready, take one shot, get used to the recoil and then reaim the pistol ok? The recoil will make the pistol rise up, and youll have to readjust so that your sights are back in line ok?" "Ok, am i aiming right?" She looked down the barrel. "Yep, your doing great" I stood back. She took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. A loud crack echoed through the hills. Her first shot went wide and missed. "Ok, you need to squeeze the trigger, not pull. When you pull, youll pull your gun off the target ok?" She nodded and reaimed her sights and stood ready to fire again. "Dont think of it as pulling, just a gentle squeeze, put pressure on it, but keep it constant" She squeezed the trigger and another round echoed down range, this time hitting the target up and to the right. "Great!" i smiled at her. "Was that better?" She looked up at me questioningly. "That was a lot better, now you need to keep your eyes open when your firing ok? If you close your eyes, itll be harder for you to line up the second shot ok?" "Ok, its just catching me off gaurd" She smiled a little nervously. "Yeah, well just remember, you have your ear protection on, and you have your safety glasses on so youre all set, dont be afrad of it" "Ok" She smiled as she set up her next shot, aiming down range. "This time fire three rounds ok? As quick as you can, while keeping it as accurate as you can ok?" She nodded and fired her first shot, going just a little high, her second shot was a little better, and her third shot hit the target well into the scoring range. "That was great!" I clapped. "Awww dad your embarrassing me" She giggled. We continued to shoot the rest of the morning. I taught her how to fire several handguns and a few rifles and then a shotgun as well. She had a huge smile on her face most of the day, i could tell she was really enjoying it all. Finally, we cleaned up and decided to head for home, our ammo and our ears spent. "Hey, we're out of here Pete" I said as we walked up the counter. "Oorah Gunny" Pete smiled. "Howd you enjoy it Hannah?" "It was a lot of fun!" She smiled up at him. "See? she really does take after her old man" Pete laughed at me. "Heh, i guess so" I smiled "We'll be back sometime soon Pete. Maybe for a rematch eh?" I laughed. "Hah! you got it Gunny, ill be practicing" He grinned. We packed up the car and got in to head home. I had a smile on my face, it had been a while since id really had such a fun day out with my daughter. Though most of the time i had envisioned horseback riding, or something along those lines rather than shooting, but we both enjoyed it so it was fine. "Have fun?" I asked as i pulled into traffic. "Yes!" Hannah had a big smile on her face. "That was SO much fun!" "You know, i never figured you for the type that would enjoy stuff like this" I smiled at her. "Yeah, well most of my friends wouldnt believe it either, but i think this is really cool, and i get to do it with you, that makes it better" "Aw, i love you baby girl" I leaned over and kissed her on the head. "I love you too daddy" She hugged me. We pulled into our driveway at home and Hannah helped me lug everything inside. Michelle was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper when we came inside. "Have fun, Hannah?" She looked up at us as we carried everything in. "I had SO much fun!" Hannah smiled. "It was so much fun to spend time with dad and talk to his friend and stuff" "Im glad you had fun" Michelle eyed me warily, still upset about it all. "Hannah, i want to show you how to clean a gun as well, ok? Its part of safe gun handling" "Ok" She followed me as we went down the basement where i had all my cleaning supplies. I gave her a quick lesson in cleaning a gun before she ran upstairs to take a shower while i finished up and put everything away. Michelle came downstairs and sat down next to me as i finished cleaning one of my handguns. "You know, i still dont approve of this all" She toyed with a cleaning brush. "I know Michelle. But now she knows how to handle a firearm safetly and how to be safe about that sort of thing. I know you dont agree with it, but i would much rather her have the knowledge and never use it, than need it and not know what she needs to know" I sighed at my wife as i reassembled my gun. "When will she ever really need to know this?" Michelle stood up. "I dont know, and in fact, i hope she NEVER has to use this information beyond shooting with me, but you know what? This world can be a terrible place and we cant ever tell what will happen tommorow" Michelle heaved a sigh and sat down next to me. "I just dont like thinking of my baby learning those things" "I know you dont, but you know what? she enjoys it, and on top of that, shes good at it, very good in fact. Shes got a good grasp on it all" "Why couldnt you have just taken up fishing" Michelle sighed again, with a slight smile on her face. I grinned and leaned over and kissed her softly. "Dont worry too much babe, Hannah is growing up, and shes becoming a good hearted, well planted young woman" "Damnit! dont remind me" Michelle playfully pushed me out of my chair. "its too fast if you ask me" I laughed. "Its always going to be too fast babe, no matter what you do"