(Trigger warning: heavily implied abuse)

“Came up to the world, have you boy?”

Emil froze.

That voice. Deep, gravely, somewhat raspy. And suddenly the quietly confident man in a suit disappeared. Emil was eight years old again, cowering behind the couch.

He remembered that voice, guffawing in amusement, chortling with mirth as Emil’s young body was thrown against the wall. He glanced down and saw those hands — large hands with long, thick fingers.

He feared those hands.

He remembered the burn across his face, the crushing grip on his thin arms. It was those hands that caused that. The same hands that dragged him across the floor before locking him in a room with a tall skinny man with a sweaty face and horrible breath.

Emil remembered fighting. He remembered the flash of white heat as his body endured what it should never have — especially not with his own father just outside the door. But those hands belonged to the father he had hoped loved him and he can do nothing but whimper helplessly.

That was the moment he learned to hate.

He remembered walking out of the room and seeing those hands counting out bills given by the tall skinny man. Hands that pulled out a bill that was handed to Emil with a broken-toothed grin.

Face stained with tears, eyes burning with hate, Emil stood there holding the dollar that was supposed to make up for being unable to walk after what the tall skinny man did.

Three days later, those hands dragged him back into the room with another man — this time tall and stocky — and handed him another dollar with that same broken-toothed grin after he had to endure more than a little boy’s body could have.

Those hands. A man. Pain. A dollar. A grin.

That was his life.

It took twenty dollars and a building fire before he could get out. Before Emil was taken away by the nice policeman.

Snapping back to the present, Emil’s gaze travelled up from those hands and to the face. The years hadn’t been kind to him, Emil thought dispassionately, noticing the lines on the face, the disheveled hair, and the yellow tinge to the skin. And he doesn’t seem too big now.

“Hello, Rick.”

“It’s been twenty years, is that how you greet your father?” The grin flashed out at him.

Emil shook his head at the small, withered man standing by his table. “Goodbye, Rick.”

Gathering his things, Emil felt a rush of gratitude for the family that took him in and the years he’d lived after that fire. He stood up and walked out of the cafe, not sparing another glance at the man he called his father a lifetime ago.

As he stepped out, he saw a tall woman rushing up toward him. He smiled at her.

“Hi, honey. I’m so sorry I’m late.” She leaned up to kiss him. Then tilted her head to look back into the cafe. “Who was that you were talking to?”

Emil looked back and saw the man sitting on the table he vacated, sipping the coffee he left. It doesn’t hurt to look at him anymore, he realised. The years made him feel clean now.

“No one, sweetie.”

Photo by Žygimantas Dukauskas on Unsplash

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