Quick decisions

The little girl's guardians were having her paged. She looked old enough to find the main desk on her own. Cade rubbed his sore back and waited for her to excuse herself, but she lingered.

She also looked, he had to admit, disturbingly crestfallen when she'd heard her name called.

There could be a thousand reasons for that, he thought. Maybe she's a troublemaker. A bad seed. She probably wants to stay here and wreak havoc.

She looked up at him with sad, hopeful eyes, then looked away bashfully. She didn't seem like a bad kid.

But something certainly wasn't right with her.

"Right," he said. "They're looking for you. Let's get you back." Eagerly, she took his hand, and though he hadn't offered it, he smiled and picked his bag up awkwardly with the other. Together, they walked toward the desk in silence.

They were still a good distance away when Cade heard the woman shouting obscenities at the desk clerk. As they got closer, she shifted her attention to two tiny boys. A man looked on and seemed to have no objection to her vulgarity. One of the boys ran and hid behind him.

Cade stopped in his tracks when the woman swatted the smaller boy across the face, her hand connecting with a loud clap.

Lilly stopped as well. He looked down at her. She stared at the ground. Cade looked to the desk clerk to see if the woman would be reprimanded for her behavior, but the clerk cowered and picked up the microphone to make the announcement a second time.

They stood there, about fifty feet from the desk, while Cade tried to decide what he was supposed to do. He couldn't possibly drop a little girl off with these people. He didn't even feel right about leaving those little boys with them.

But he didn't have much of a choice. Besides, he didn't even know these kids.

"Oi!" The woman had spotted them, and her red face began to turn crimson. "What are you doing with my child?" she roared, charging toward them. Cade put his arm across Lilly's shoulders and stepped hesitantly in front of her. his instinct only slightly besting his desire to stay out of trouble.

The woman reached a flabby arm around him. The stench of old booze made his eyes water. The security guard trotted over and stood at the sidelines, gauging the situation.

Cade had no idea what to do. He uttered the first words that came into his mind.

"Ma'am, I'll have to ask you not to touch my daughter," he heard himself say.


Cade calmly watched the woman turn purple. Well, brilliant, he thought. Leave it to me. He could tell the security guard was sizing him up, getting ready to intervene. He wasn't in the guard's best graces. He had a fair idea this wasn't going to work out in his favor. I hope it's not too late to say I'm only joking and hand the kid over.


A familiar voice called out from behind Cade. He turned as the child broke away and ran to Maria. Cade looked at her curiously, petrified that she would say something that would destroy his already-doomed ruse.

The End

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