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Taylor's Time!


CW: child abuse, child exploitation, kidnapping


This is a hard-hitting story. It's good; don't get me wrong. But if you have kids at home, this is going to smack you hard.


- Kendra



"When a child says they're uncomfortable around an adult, please listen." - Anonymous


Behold Your Little Ones


The boy rocked back and forth in the chair. He didn't want to rock. He wanted to sit still like all of the adults in the room, but the rocking was comforting. It served as a distraction from everything he had gone through.


Keanu watched. This child, so young, wasn't supposed to be there. No child should've been there. But the boy was there and Keanu struggled with himself. He should go talk to him, he thought, but he second guessed himself and thought maybe he shouldn't. Finally, he chose. Departing from his colleagues, he walked to the boy and crouched in front of him.


"Hey, little man." His voice was soft, gentle, unthreatening.


The boy glanced up at him, still rocking. Keanu took an object from his pocket. He presented it to the child.


"You know what this is?"


The boy looked down and shook his head in a barely visible movement. Keanu held it between his thumb and middle fingers and flicked it with the fingers of his other hand. He turned his head sideways, peering into the boy's face.


"It's called a fidget spinner. It helps me relax after a hard day. You wanna try it?"


For a long moment, the child did nothing. He hesitated, then took it in his tiny hands. He followed Keanu's gentle direction and spun the fidget several times. His rocking slowed, then ceased completely.


"There ya go," Keanu encouraged. "Good job. You got it."


The boy didn't speak, captured by a blur of memories. Memories of being passed from adult to adult. Memories of money being exchanged. Memories of those adults pulling down his pants, then his underwear. He could still feel their hands on him, their mouths crawling over his little body. He shivered in his chair.


A cold twinge ran up Keanu's back. He didn’t see the memories, but he knew. Tears slid silently down the child's cheeks, and Keanu reached to place a comforting hand on the boy's back. The child flinched, and Keanu checked himself. How stupid he'd been to reach for a child who'd been so sickly violated. Keeping his voice light, he said,

"I won't hurt you. You're safe here, okay? Those bad men can't hurt you anymore. I promise."


His eyes flicked to a dark spot on the boy's neck: a hickey. They flicked to more spots on the boy's wrist: finger imprints. Keanu's chest grew hot. Most pedophiles were gentle with their victims. Others were rougher, no matter the child's age.


For another long moment there was silence, filled only by a coffee maker in the employee lounge. Then, the child spoke, his voice low and small.


"You talk funny."


Keanu forced a smile, seizing the subject and lowering his voice as if confessing a secret.


"My tongue is lazy. It's so lazy I had to drag it out of bed this morning."


The child smiled, just a little. His tears were gone.


"Gabriel."


Gabriel jumped and looked down the hall to the woman in uniform walking tawords them. She glanced at Keanu, smiled, then reached her hand out to Gabriel, who's face had fallen in fear and anticipation.


"It's alright, hun," she assured him. "You're not in trouble. I just want to ask you some questions, okay?"


Gabriel looked at Keanu, his eyes shiny and wide.


"It's okay," Keanu said, nodding his head.


Gabriel swallowed, took the woman by the hand, then stopped. He reached his hand with the fidget spinner out, intending to return it. Keanu shook his head.


"No, no, you keep that." He stood. "A gift from me to you. Promise me you'll use it?"


Gabriel looked at the spinner in his little hand, then nodded at Keanu before following the woman down the hall.


Keanu heaved a huge, trembling sigh. He ran a hand over his hair, his mouth, the back of his neck, pacing the floor restlessly as he did. His head was starting to throb. His eyes burned.


"Lot tougher than you'd thought it'd be, huh?"


Keanu opened his eyes and turned to find Woody, one of his coworkers, standing in front of him, presenting him with a steaming cup of coffee. Keanu didn't much care for coffee. Despite the chronic tiredness that came with the job, he firmly believed that the body should go off it's own energy. He accepted the offer anyway, not wanting to seem rude or ungrateful. His fingers encircled the hot beverage, grateful for the soothing heat radiating from the cup.


"You can say that." Keanu added a few sugar cubes to his coffee to make it somewhat drinkable, then took a swallow. He winced at the bitter aftertaste.


"You doin' alright?"


Again, Keanu turned to find Woody. He turned around fully and leaned back against the counter, favoring one leg. His head was pounding now. He rubbed his free hand over the side of his face to dull the pain.


"Yeah, I'm alright."


Woody sipped his coffee. Keanu looked sorrowfully down into his cup.


"You're really good with them, Keanu."


Keanu didn't look at him. Inadvertently, he thought of Gabriel. Tiny, innocent Gabriel with his chubby cheeks and dimples, with his Spiderman shirt torn just below the collar and dusty light up shoes, with his shaved head and bruised body.


"With those kids, I mean,' Woody continued. "They open up more with you than anyone else here. You seem to have a way with them. You should be proud of that."


Keanu's eyes flicked upward through his hair. Now it was he who was the child, struggling to comprehend the world around him.


"They're so wicked," he said, finally.


Woody raised an eyebrow.


"The children?"


Keanu looked into the darkness of his coffee again, then spoke on.


"The adults who hurt the children. What they do … it's so wicked and ugly and …"


He trailed off, his thoughts getting away from him. His mind wasn't good with words.

Anyone who knew him knew he avoided using any form of foul language no matter the subject. The only thing that came to his mind was a Bible verse, one he'd read often to his own children.


"It were better for him that a millstone were hung about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to fall."


"You don't curse much, do ya?" Woody asked with a chuckle.


Keanu shot him a venomous look. Woody hadn't meant to make light of the situation, but was reacting to the tears in Keanu's eyes. Part of Keanu knew this. It didn’t make it easier to cope.


Woody continued. "How's about we head out for a stiff drink? Blow off some steam?"


"You know I don't drink." Keanu’s reply was immediate.


Woody gestured with his coffee cup.


"Right. Coffee is stiff enough, huh?"


Keanu forced a smirk. It faded quickly.


"I just want to go home and watch a movie with my little ones."


Woody gulped the rest of his coffee. He patted Keanu on the shoulder on his way out the door.


"Hold them close tonight, brother."


Keanu dumped his coffee and drove home.

#


They ran to him as they always did. With their skinny arms open and their smiles bright, the children crashed into their father.


"We missed you, Papa!" they squealed.


Keanu knelt down to their level. He closed his eyes and held tightly to them, pulling them close


"I love you, Papa," his daughter said.


Keanu buried his face into her strawberry scented hair.


"I love you too, beautiful."


He sniffed. No, he couldn't cry now. Not now. He had to stay strong for them.


"I love you more, Papa." His son had to one-up his sister, and Keanu choked back a sob.


They felt so much smaller in his arms. He kissed their shoulders and squeezed them tighter.


"I love you most, little man."


He was thinking of Gabriel again, of the predators who hurt him.


What of Gabriel's father? Has he been notified of his son's whereabouts? Or was he still searching the streets, wrapped in a months-long panic?


Keanu then thought of his own children: his son who sucked his thumb and his daughter who loved the scent of her strawberry shampoo. Their safety was so fragile. It could've been them who'd been preyed on. A predator could've snatched them up on their way to the bus stop, picked them up at school claiming to be a relative, or even stalked and groomed them through social media. How easily they could've been taken away from him and hurt the way Gabriel was.


Keanu's head throbbed at all the possibilities. Mostly, he sas grateful to have his little ones in his arms. He was grateful to have them close. Then he did something he never thought he'd do in front of them.


He cried.


Tears slid silently down his cheeks as he hugged his children closer. They buried their faces into his thick curly hair and squeezed him tightly, instincts telling them exactly what he needed.


"Sweets?"


Keanu wiped at his tears. He composed himself quickly, straightened himself and faced his wife.


"Are you okay?" Her eyes were soft.


He closed the distance between them, taking her face in his hands. He kissed her forehead.


"Just a hard day at work, Love." He rested his forehead against hers. "It's okay. I'll be fine."


He kissed her hair, continuing to reassure her and the children he was okay, even if he couldn't tell himself that. He sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping as if crushed by the tremendous weight he carried each night. He forced a smile.


"Let's watch a movie."


That night, the family fell asleep on the couch, tenderly wrapped in one another's arms. In sleep, Keanu's thoughts didn't haunt him. The events of the night didn't touch him. In his dreams, little Gabriel ran happy and carefree as every child should.




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