I’m not scared of the dark like other kids. Daddy and I used to go treasure hunting in the dark all the time.
The two kids who share a room with me always cry at night. I tell them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but they never listen.
It’s Wednesday night. Daddy and I went treasure hunting last Wednesday. I remember. I have a good memory.
Daddy parked the van on the street. It was dark, but I wasn’t scared. We walked around the back of an apartment building. It was one I’d never visited before. The apartments here had lights in the back — the yellow kinds that made everything glow funny. Daddy frowned at them, but he kept walking until we found the recycling bins, our treasure chests, in the parking lot.
Daddy opened the lid of one and lifted me inside. He rummaged through the bin next to mine. I was careful to not make too much noise. Be considerate, Daddy always says.
I tossed plastic bottles and soda cans out of the bin. Daddy collected them. I was careful to not touch anything sharp. One time, I got a big gash on my hand from the lid of a can. There was lots of blood, but I didn’t make a peep. Even if the cut really stung. Remember, it’s important to not get noticed.
Daddy had picked me up and took me to someone who stitched up my hand and made sure it wouldn’t get infected. No doctors if we can help it, Daddy always says. I got a lollipop afterwards.
We filled our garbage bags with treasure, but we didn’t stay long because there was light. Light makes it too easy for us to be noticed.
Jaden’s whimpers interrupt my memory. I pull my pillow over my head. I hate it when he whimpers. I think of Daddy and our last adventure together.
We treasure hunted at lots of other apartments. Then, Daddy said we’d done enough for the night. Tomorrow was my first day of school and he didn’t want me out too late. Daddy drove us to our usual Walmart parking lot. He wet a washcloth and I wiped myself off. “One day we’ll have a home where we can take real showers again,” Daddy said.
I remember when we used to have a home — all of us — together. We lived with Mommy in one of those apartment buildings that we sometimes visit. Daddy smiled a lot more back then. I know he misses Mommy. I miss her, too. But she’s in a better place now. At least that’s what Daddy always says.
I changed into pajamas and waited for Daddy on the mattress that we kept in the back of the van. Daddy came inside. I curled up next to him and fell asleep to the thump-thump of his heartbeat.
I woke up to bright lights shining into our van. “Daddy?” I called.
Daddy sat up and frowned. “Stay here, Cady.”
When Daddy came back inside, he got into the driver’s seat. “What happened?” I asked.
“That was a police officer. We have to go to the police station.”
“Are we in trouble?”
“No, honey. Buckle up.”
My tummy felt funny the whole drive there. Somebody noticed us. Getting noticed was bad. Daddy carried me inside the station when we arrived and set me down on a chair. “Stay here,” he said. “I’ll be right back. I promise.”
An officer led Daddy into a room. He was gone for a long time. I looked around. No one was paying attention to me, so I tiptoed up to the closed door and pressed my ear against it.
“…can’t sleep… vans… home”
The door cracked open and I jumped back.
Someone sighed, “You can talk to her first.”
Daddy stepped out and saw me. “Cady, what did I tell you?”
“To stay where I was,” I mumbled, “but I was worried ’cause you were gone for so long…”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” Daddy crouched down and opened his arms.
I hugged his neck and whispered, “Are you sure we’re not in trouble?”
I glanced at the two people staring at us and hugged Daddy tighter. I didn’t like them. Daddy smiled, but it wasn’t his real smile, and pointed at the lady. “That’s Ms. Lisa. She’s going to take you to a house and you’re going to live there for a bit.”
“Then I don’t want to go. Please, don’t make me. I want to stay with you.”
“I know, honey, but a smart girl like you can’t live in a van. Besides, you’ll only be there for a little while.”
“For how long?”
“Until I can find us a real home again, okay?”
“But that could be a really long time.”
“I promise it won’t be.”
“But you promised earlier that you’d be right back. And you said we weren’t in trouble. But you were wrong.”
Ms. Lisa came closer. “It’s time to go, Cady.”
“No!” I squeezed my arms around Daddy.
“Sh, it’ll be okay, honey.”
Daddy hugged me tight. He told me he loved me. He told me I was brave and I was smart and I’d be fine without him for a little while. Ms. Lisa took me away. I tried my best to not cry.
Jaden’s whimpers yank me from my memories.
My throat feels tight and my eyes sting.
I’m brave and I’m smart and I’m going to be fine, just like Daddy told me.
But then I think of Daddy and how I haven’t seen him in a few days. I think of how he’s out there all by himself tonight, hunting for treasure without me. I hide my face in my pillow and bite back a whimper.
“I’m brave and I’m smart and I’m going to be just fine,” I tell myself. I say it over and over and over again.
Hayley Diep teaches and writes in the Bay Area. She loves getting lost in good books and nature.