"I'm half a man, at best, with half an arrow in my-" He stopped short and turned his head, looking around his empty bedroom. "Baby?"
"Daddy..." A small voice traveled up the hall.
Setting his guitar down, Harry stood and walked around his bed and exited his room. He walked the short distance to his daughter's door, light from her lamp already illuminating the hallway.
"Ree?" He called out her nickname. His voice was quiet and gentle, in case she was just talking in her sleep. But as luck would have it, she was awake, blinking sleepily in her bed, half-dried tears on her cheeks. She saw him and raised her hands, curling them into tiny fists and beckoning him closer.
"Daddy..." She whimpered, coughing wetly into the air.
Harry frowned, letting himself in all the way and kneeling next to her bed. "What's the matter, my love?"
She sniffled, her eyes rimmed red. "I had a bad dream." Her cries picked up again and she rubbed her face groggily with her fists.
"You did?" He nudged her over in bed, sliding under her blankets. His feet dangled over the edge of the frame. Supporting his chin with his palm, he propped himself up by his elbow. His eyes level with hers. "What was it about?"
Shaking her head, she pointed at the window overlooking the street below. "We were in a 'urricane, and all the windows broke, and I couldn't find you, and I hurt my hand, and I was cold..." She bowed her head and and continued to cry.
"Hey, hey," Harry rubbed her back, taking her 'hurt' hand and kissing it softly, then her temple. "Everything's fine, okay? Do you see any hurricanes around here? In Brighton?" She looked around the room and shook her head slowly. He smiled, running his thumb over the back of her hand. "Nothing's gonna happen to us, not while I'm here. And I'll always be here."
She nodded, still whimpering. "It was just a dream?"
"Just a dream," he confirmed, chuckling a little. "Silly one, at that. Not even a boogeyman or a monster under the bed." He pinched her nose, and she cracked a small smile that told him the worst was over. "What am I gonna do with a toddler that dreams about natural disasters?"
She put her hand on his cheek, serious again. "You don't leave, okay?"
A lump formed in his throat but he swallowed before nodding quickly. Wiping the tears off her cheeks, brushing the loose hairs away from her eyes. He gently pushed her shoulders down into a laying position again. "Nothing's gonna touch us, my love. Nothing. Just go back to sleep. Tomorrow will be better."
To this day, she was the only four-year-old he'd ever seen roll her eyes. Momentarily forgetting her distress. "You say that every day, Daddy."
"Because it's true, every day." He kissed her forehead again. "Sleep, Ree. I love you." Pushing back the covers, he swung his legs over the side of her bed and sat up. Turning to tuck in the gap he'd left under her chin.
"Wait," she said, her voice small. "Can I wear your shirt?"
Harry looked down at his faded Elvis tee, the one her aunt had given him before she was even born. He sighed, reaching behind him and pulling it swiftly over his head, dropping it purposefully on her face. "Thief."
She grinned and sat up, taking the clothing and tugging it clumsily over her head. "Your perfume smells so good."
He rolled his eyes (perhaps that's where she got it from) and bent to kiss her hair, just as she was burying herself back under her blue comforter. "It's not perfume, Holiday. It's cologne. Manly stuff."
"Perfume." She retorted, but Harry knew better. She was stalling. The clock on her wall read half-past one. He had to be awake in six hours. He groaned to himself but smiled nonetheless at his daughter. Letting her win, just this time.
"Fine. Goodnight, lovely."
Sighing, she pulled the collar of the shirt over her nose and inhaled deeply. "Goodnight...are you gonna be awake for a little while? Are you gonna play some more?"
Harry shook his head, running a hand through his hair. Exhaling slowly through his nose. "Not tonight. It's pretty late."
She scratched her cheek lightly and nodded, rolling to her stomach and closing her eyes. "Okay. Love you."
Massaging his bare shoulder, he yawned tiredly, mouthing the words back to her. His back itched, the scabbing from his recent tattoo irritating his skin. Turning her lamp off, he left the door open a crack and walked back to his bedroom. Laying his guitar in the open case and casting his journal and sketch pens into his bedside drawer. Half-finished ballads and incomplete portraits stared up at him. When would his time come?
Tomorrow will be better, he thought.