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Stepping out of his black jeep liberty, Nick took a deep breath as he walked up the stairs to the run-down brick building. He couldn't believe she lived in that building, let alone that section of the neighborhood. How someone could live like this is beyond me, he thought. Taking a deep breath, he opened the gray steel door and walked in. “Let’s get this over with,” he muttered. Nick walked through the small lobby of the apartment building to the stairs that were located in the back. Thank god I only have to do this is a couple more times and I will never have to see this place again.

He ran up the stairs, skipping every other one, and made his way down the hall. The halls were a dingy brown and needed to be fixed because of all of the cracks.

He stopped in front of the door with D15 barely readable. He took a deep breath and knocked on the gray door.

Nick waited a few minutes and then proceeded to knock again. Why can’t you just answer the damn door? He thought. I don’t want to be here.

“Just a fucking minute!” a female voice answered.

Rustling could be heard before the door was opened. She opened the door. Her appearance didn’t shock him one bit. Her clothes were wrinkled from what looked like she wore them the previous night. Her black capris hugged her skinny bird legs and her yellow tank top drowned out her pale skin. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Hello Tracy.” Nick stepped into the dingy apartment. The smell of smoke was making him sick. He couldn’t identify the scent of a single drug. He wrinkled his nose at the smell, but she didn’t notice. “Where’s my daughter?”

Tracy waved her arm in the direction of the hallway and took a drag off her joint. “She’s in her room. You can have the little brat.” She placed her joint on the ash tray.

Nick shook his head in disgust while she used her credit card to prepare a line of cocaine. He cautiously made his way down the hall to the tiny room at the end of the hall. He pushed the curtain out of the way so that he could enter the room. The door had been gone for so long that Nick wondered if the door ever existed. Ariel was sitting on the floor combing her baby doll’s hair. He smiled at the four-year-old sitting in the middle of the room, although her appearance broke his heart. Her long blonde hair was tangled and obviously dirty. She had dirt smudges all over her face, arms, and clothes. Her sundress had holes in it. “Hi Ariel.”

She looked up from her doll. “DADDY.” She grinned widely and abandoned her doll on the floor and ran to Nick. He scooped her up and hugged her tightly.

He placed her back on the floor. “Go get your doll and we’ll leave.”

“Ok Daddy.” Nick never had a problem getting Ariel to leave. He knew she didn’t like living there. He couldn’t be happier that the custody fight was over and that he had won. He had Ariel for that weekend, then he was supposed to bring her back there and then pick her up permanently next weekend. He didn’t want to bring her back there and he knew that she didn’t want to come back. He knew he was going to have to find a way to keep from having to bring her back. “Daddy, can we go shopping? I want a yellow, flowery dress.” She said coming back to his side.

Nick smiled. “Sure, we’ll go to the mall and see what we can find.” He ran his hand through her unruly hair. “We’ll get you a hair cut too.” She smiled at him. There was no denying that she had his smile. He took her hand and led her down the small hallway. They reached the front room. “Say bye to mommy.”

Ariel went up to Tracy. “Bye mommy. Daddy said he’ll take me to the mall to get a new dress and a hair cut.”

Ariel stepped closer to Tracy to hug her mother, but Tracy had other plans. Tracy bent down and snorted another line of cocaine. “That’s nice. Bye.” Tracy stood up and started to walk away. She turned back around and said to Nick, “Don’t bother bringing her back.”

Nick saw that Ariel was about to start crying from her mother’s cold treatment. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go.” Ariel made her way over to Nick, climbing over food and condom wrappers. Nick took her hand and led her out to his car. He buckled her into her car seat. He got into the driver’s seat and pulled away from the building.

While Nick drove, Ariel was babbling about everything that she wanted to do. He looked into his rearview mirror at her and smiled. He was glad that he finally got Ariel out of that living environment. It took him two years, but he was glad to say that he finally got Ariel away from Tracy.

Soon Nick was pulling into his driveway. He owned a one-family house. His house was a little big for him and a young girl, but he bought it in the hopes that one day he’d have a real family.

Nick opened the front door and let Ariel step inside. A small, black ball of fur ran toward the door and tackled Ariel. Ariel giggled. “Daddy, you have a puppy.”

“Yep.” He bent down to pet the hyper Siberian Husky puppy. “Her name is Missy. I felt since you would be living here permanently now that it was time for a puppy.”

Ariel giggled and stood up. “Come on, puppy.” She said and followed Nick toward her bedroom with Missy following along.

Once inside the bedroom, Nick sat behind her on the bed with a brush in his hand. He attempted to gently comb out her hair.

“Ouch, Daddy. You’re hurting me.”

“I’m sorry, baby, your hair is really tangled. I’m trying to be gentle.” Nick continued to try and untangle her hair. He felt horrible every time she whimpered. He refused to cut off her beautiful hair, so the only way was to get it untangled. Things were going well for a while when the brush got caught in a really big knot. Ariel screamed and started crying. Nick placed the brush down and hugged her. “I’m sorry. Tell me when you’re ready.”

“No more Daddy. It hurts.”

“Ok, honey. How about I give you a bath first and then we come back to this?”

“No Daddy.”

“Please baby? If, after your bath, we still can’t untangle your hair, I promise, but please let me try one more time.”

She nodded. “Ok Daddy.” She wrapped her hands around his neck. He carried her to the bathroom. He took her dress off and immediately threw it away. He wasn’t about to allow his daughter to dress in rags.

After her bath, he wrapped her in a towel and took her back to her room. He pulled out two outfits; a pair of jeans and a cute shirt and a dress. “Which one?”

“The dress.”

Nick laughed. “I should have guessed.” He dressed her and the sat on the bed once more. This time, he pulled her onto his lap. Once again, he attempted to untangle her hair. Now that her hair was clean, it was a little easier to handle. After about 20 minutes, he had her hair untangled. He picked out a headband that matched her dress and put it on her. He smiled. “There’s my little girl.” She giggled. “Come on, let’s go to the mall.”

“Yes Daddy.” She grabbed his hand and he led her back out to the car.

Once she was buckled into her car seat, he got behind the wheel. He pulled out of his driveway. Just about 10 minutes later, he arrived at Stonestown Galleria Shopping Center.

They entered the mall. As Nick led Ariel passed The Children’s Place, Ariel said, “Daddy, you passed the store.”

“I know. We’re going to get your hair cut first. Then we’ll come back and shop.”

A half hour later, Ariel was done. The hair stylist managed to get all the knots out of Ariel’s hair and then cut it so that Ariel’s hair rested just below her shoulders. Nick paid for the hair cut and then left the salon. Nick ran his hand through Ariel’s hair. That time he smiled.

“Daddy, you promised me that I could get a yellow flower dress.”

“I know honey. And we’re going to look for one now.”

Ariel smiled and grabbed Nick’s hand.

They went in The Children’s Place first and they did not have a yellow flower dress. “Do you like any of them?”

“No Daddy, they aren’t a yellow flower dress.”

“I know that. But a lot of what you have at home doesn’t fit you anymore. So we need to get you more than one dress.”

Ariel looked through the dresses and picked out the ones she liked, while Nick grabbed her size. They followed that pattern with jeans and t-shirts too. Nick paid for her clothes and they left that store.

Next they entered Gap Kids, and Ariel ran from Nick straight to the dresses. Nick got to the dresses moments after she had. “Daddy, look. A yellow flowery dress.”

Nick smiled and looked through the sizes. “Honey, they don’t have your size.”

A sales associate came out of nowhere. “What size do you need?” Nick turned around quickly in the direction the voice came from. “We just got a delivery and more of this dress was in that delivery. I can look in the back to see if the size came in.”

“Thank you. 4T.” Nick saw Ariel looking around the room excitedly. He picked her up to keep her from running off.

Soon the associate was coming back. “We didn’t have a 4T but we do have a 4.”

“That’s fine. We’ll take the 4.” She handed him the dress. “Thank you.”

Nick turned to walk to the counter to pay for the dress. “Wait.”

He turned around confused. “What?”

“You look familiar.”

“I’m no one special.” He turned to leave again.

“Wait. I think I know.” She waited for him to turn around again. “You work at Waves Records, don’t you?”

“Um, no actually, I own Waves Records.”

“Oh wow. I love that store.”

“Thanks.” He looked at Ariel. “You ready?”

“Are you hiring?” The associate asked bluntly.

“No. My staff is full.”

“If I came by and put in an application, would you consider me when there is an opening?”

“I don’t accept applications when I’m not hiring. Sorry.” He turned to walk away once again. That time the associate let him leave. He paid for the dress and took a deep breath when he got out. Ariel giggled. “What’s so funny?”

“That girl didn’t want you to leave.”

Nick laughed. Nick was nearing the toy store. He stopped in front of the door and pointed inside. “What do you think?”

She clapped her hands excitedly. Nick walked into the store and put Ariel down. She headed straight for the dolls. She picked out a new baby doll. Holding the doll, she ran to the stuffed animals. She looked at the stuffed animals and spotted a stuffed dog that she liked. However, she couldn’t reach it. “Daddy, I can’t reach it.”

“Which one do you want?”

“That one Daddy.” She pointed and Nick grabbed it. He handed it to her. “Ok Daddy, we can leave now.”

Nick laughed and walked to the cashier. Ariel stood on her tip toes to place her doll and stuffed dog on the counter.

The cashier smiled at her. “Are these for you?”

Ariel nodded. “Yep.” She pointed to Nick, “It was his idea to come in here.”

Nick chuckled. “I’m just lucky that she didn’t want to buy out the whole store.”

Once the toys were paid for, the cashier bagged them and handed the bag to Ariel. “Thank you.” Ariel said. She grabbed Nick’s hand and they left the store. Once outside of the store, Ariel handed the bag to Nick. “Here Daddy.”

“You don’t want to hold it?”

“No Daddy. It’s getting heavy.”

“Ok Ariel. Are we done?”

“No. You said that I needed a new copy of The Little Mermaid.”

“I did say that, didn’t I.” Nick headed toward Suncoast Motion Picture Company.

“Daddy, you passed the Disney Store.”

“I know.”

“But aren’t we going to get The Little Mermaid.”

“Yes but the Disney Store only sells current Disney movies and The Little Mermaid isn’t current.”

After buying the DVD, they left the mall. When they got home, Nick took their purchases up to Ariel’s room and put them away, while Ariel stayed downstairs and played with the puppy.

As Nick was about to step off the staircase, Missy bolted underneath his foot, chasing a ball that Ariel had rolled in that direction. Nick shook his head in amusement, and then scooped up Ariel. “So what do you want for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

“Pizza?”

“Yes pizza.”

Nick laughed. “Ok, pizza it is.” Nick ordered the pizza and then sat on the floor with Ariel playing with Missy. About 20 minutes later, the pizza arrived. Nick paid for it then put the box on the stove. “Come on Ariel, let’s get you washed up and then eat.”

“Ok Daddy. After dinner can we watch The Little Mermaid?”

“Sure.” He washed her up and they walked back to the kitchen. Ariel sat in her seat while Nick got two slices. He cut Ariel’s piece into tiny pieces and handed her a fork.

Once dinner was over, Ariel jumped up. “Ok, it’s time for The Little Mermaid.”

“Not yet. I have to clean up dinner and then we need to get you into your pajamas.

“But Daddy, I already had a bath.”

“I didn’t say anything about giving you a bath. But we do have to get you into pajamas.”

“But Daddy, I not tired.”

“You don’t have to go to bed now. But it is already close to 7:00. Which means it’ll be after 8:00 by the time the movie is over. And by that point you’ll probably be tired.”

Ariel nodded and then ran after the puppy while Nick cleaned up dinner. Holding the wrapped pizza, he was about to open the freezer door when Missy ran between him and the door. Nick chuckled as Ariel ran after the hyper puppy.

He put the pizza in the freezer and then took Ariel upstairs. Missy bounced after them. Ariel sat on her bed and Missy jumped up to get petted. Nick grabbed a couple pairs of pajamas from Ariel’s drawers. “Let’s see, we have The Little Mermaid, Dora the Explorer or My Little Pony.”

“The Little Mermaid.”

“Ok.” Nick put the other ones back in her drawer and then changed Ariel. He placed her on the bed and Missy crawled into her lap. Nick put on The Little Mermaid and then climbed on the bed.

The movie started and Ariel sang along to all the songs that Ariel sings in the movie. “Why are you only singing Ariel’s songs?”

Ariel looked up at Nick like he had five heads. “Because I’m the little mermaid, I can’t sing the other songs.”

Nick laughed. She answered so matter-of-factly. “Oh right. I forgot.”

“Silly Daddy.”

“I’m silly? No, I think it’s you that’s silly.”

“No daddy. You’re silly.”

Nick laughed again. He reached over and started tickling Ariel. She giggled in delight. Missy joined in on the fun, she made her way between Nick and Ariel and kissed Ariel repeatedly on the face.

“Daddy, save me. The puppy is trying to kill me.”

“Oh but Ariel, Missy loves you.”

“Maybe a little too much.”

Nick smiled. He reached over and pushed the little dog off the bed. He pulled Ariel closer to him. That’s how they stayed for the rest of the movie.

After the movie was over, Nick looked down at Ariel to find that she was already asleep. He kissed her forehead and got off the bed gently so that he wouldn’t wake her up and shut off the movie. He put her Little Mermaid nightlight on and headed for the door. Once at the door, he shut the light and was preparing to leave the room. “Daddy.”

He put the light back on and walked over to the bed. “I thought you were asleep.”

“Read me a story please?”

“What story?”

“The Three Little Pigs”

Nick grabbed the book and sat on the side of the bed. By the time he was finished with the story, Ariel’s eyes were almost completely closed. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, sweetheart. Goodnight.” Nick smiled as she closed her eyes and went to sleep. He went back to the door, shut off the light. He closed the door behind him, leaving it open slightly

 

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