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There she is!  She’s still as bright and healthy as ever. Even in a silly green and yellow uniform, her innocently happy smile causes her to radiate the moment she comes outside. I smile in excitement, ready to give her my wrapped birthday gift, until she gets closer, skating towards me with a bag of food in her hands. Worry suddenly strikes me, and I duck behind the dashboard of my car. The sound of roller skates scrapes the asphalt to a sudden stop. My heart rate has become much faster. At the knock on my window, I jerk my head up to answer, but hit it with the bottom of my steering wheel. Rapidly rubbing the forming bulge on my head, I open my eyes and stop in surprise to see a teenage boy employee staring wide-eyed into my car. I roll down my window, and off to the side see my daughter, Jinny, head back inside.

I’m at a drive-in. Fascinating idea for a fast food restaurant: stalls are set on each side of a parking lot, all lined uniformly at an angle for people to park their cars. You make your order without having to get out of your car, and nice, young people come out from the nearby kitchen and bring you your food on roller skates. Just a week ago they were walking to each car bundled up in puffed-up jackets in the snowy weather, but with spring coming in and the weather warming up, they’ve become as lively as ever skating and serving food with bright smiles on their faces. The food here is not anything spectacular; I’m just here to see my daughter, who I haven’t been seen for four years since she left for college. On top of that, I’m listening to my favorite CD. My wife gave it to me on my birthday, the year before she passed away. I wasn’t able to take her love for nature sounds seriously, but now I can’t help but listen to this CD every day. Mix the sound of chirping jungle birds, the smell of fresh grass and blooming flowers, a brightly lit parking lot in the night, and I feel at utmost peace.

After I embarrassingly apologize for making the boy wait, he assures me, “No problem,” hands me my food, and skates back into the kitchen. Holding the gift in my hand, I blankly stare into the kitchen and catch a glimpse of Jinny hard at work wiping off a table. With the back of her hand, she gently wipes the sweat off on her forehead, and with a focused look on her face she disappears out of sight into another area of the kitchen. Once again, I can’t bring myself to look at Jinny. With a sigh, I put down the gift in the back of my car. The CD turns to a new track, and with the sound of crickets chirring and owls hooting in the night, I pry the burger from its wrapping and take a bite.

The last time I was able to celebrate Jinny’s birthday was when she was becoming a mature teen, or “sweet sixteen,” I guess I should say. I’ve never been good with holding birthday parties, so in preparation to celebrate Jinny’s birthday, for a few days I made a commitment to watch a show called, “My Super Sweet 16,” Every night after coming home from work, I would sink into the couch in the living room and watch with shock this show in which girls are thrown unbelievably grand parties for their 16th birthday party. The most stunning episode was one in which the birthday girl held her party in New York City, watches a concert performed by a clearly popular celebrity, and is given a sleek, sports car that looks well more expensive than all of my possessions combined. I don’t think anyone has had their eyes open without blinking as long as I did while watching that incomprehensible show. I watched the birthday girl get into her new, luxurious “gift” until I quickly changed the channel as I heard the Jinny’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Dad, I didn’t know you came home!” Jinny exclaimed as she headed towards me and sat on another nearby couch.

“Ah,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “You forgot to give me a hug.”

With a light-hearted sigh, she got up, walked over, and with a chuckle she gave me a hug. I couldn’t help but smile.

As she walked back to the couch, Jinny suddenly let out a burst of laughter.

“Dad, what are you watching?” she asked, pointing towards the television screen. Apparently the channel that I abruptly changed to was the sports channel, and a basketball game was on. Neither of the teams playing were Michigan.

“What?” I said innocently, “I’ve been trying to get into basketball.” I was sitting straight and staring intensely at this game that had rules I was absolutely unfamiliar with.

“Right, Dad,” she said sarcastically, searching my blank face for any hint of deception.

“I’m serious!” I said, emphasizing “serious” hoping to convince her in believing me.

“Okay then,” she said, leaning back with arms and legs crossed, “Answer this question: What is one way to get a foul?”

“A foul?” I thought with eyes looking up in obvious uncertainty. “Agh. That’s it. I’m trapped.”

I saw Jinny out of the corner of my eye tilt her head towards the ground as she let out her pure and joyful laugh. I found myself smiling and shaking my head in miserable defeat.

“Nevermind, Dad. Just watch what you want,” she compromised as she grabbed a nearby pillow and laid on it chest-down with koala sock covered feet twirling in the air.

It took a while to find a channel interesting enough to turn to. None of the shows that I usually watch were on at that time of the day. Scrolling through the TV guide, I passed other sports channels, inappropriate movies, “My Super Sweet 16,” until a title caught my eye: “Animal Livestock.”

“I should’ve known,” I heard Jinny say with a short breath of laughter when I selected the channel.

The show had already progressed quite a bit. A man with an enthusiastic voice was commentating as clips of sheep were herding through fresh, green fields. I wished the commentator would stop talking so I could just listen the wonderful sounds of rustling through the fresh, green grass and of the very soothing “baa’s” and “maa’s” coming out of the sheeps’ mouths. After a few minutes, however, the show transitioned from the topic of raising sheep to the topic of preparing them for industry. The commentator was explaining that for home preparation, the best way to kill a sheep is by knocking it out and slitting its throat.

“What?” Jinny said with her mouth open and hand laid out on her pillow. “That’s terrible!”

‘Terrible’ is right, I thought. Slitting a sheep’s throat has to be painful. The spinal cord is probably the target in order to cause immediate death and the least amount of pain, but that’s definitely not easy to cut through.  If you’re going to have to kill like that, the harder and faster it is the better.

I opened up the TV guide to prevent Jinny from hearing anymore, searching for something Jinny would like to watch.

“Oh!” Jinny suddenly exclaimed, pointing at the screen. “’Friends’ is on!”

And so, I changed the channel.

Jinny’s 16th birthday had finally arrived. After watching a horrendous amount of “My Super Sweet 16,” I concluded that if those parties are the norm, I absolutely would not be able to please Jinny on this so-called special day. I’m bad with normal birthdays. The most creative I’ve been in celebrating Jinny’s birthday was when I made a cake for her myself in the shape of her favorite animal, the koala – which ended up looking very inappropriate. Luckily, many of Jinny’s friends planned her birthday party this year. Outside in the backyard of our house, Jinny was laughing and having a clearly wonderful time talking with all of her friends.

The weather was beautiful: bright, warm, with a gentle, cool breeze. Birds were perched in the trees chirping, and the scent of blooming flowers filled the fresh air. The backyard was completely collaged with streamers hanging from the trees to the house, and with brightly colored balloons with “Happy Birthday” in big letters on them. Suddenly I heard the Happy Birthday song beginning in unison. I looked over to the house and saw a tall, probably handsome boy wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts come out, approaching her with the cake. I momentarily ignored him as I looked upon Jinny with a smile as she received the cake and blew out her 16 candles, until the boy wrapped a casual arm around her.

Apparently, this boy is the most important player on the basketball team of Jinny’s school. I also heard something about him already getting accepted into a prominent university. I’m not sure exactly which one or how, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that he could ruin my daughter’s life.

I take another bite into my burger, hoping to gulp away my memory of this boy. I enjoy a brief moment of peace, listening to the sound of hooting ownls, until it is interrupted by obnoxiously loud music coming from a big truck that pulls up to the stall beside me. I look over and see a young man with short-cut hair, rocking his head to the beat of what I can hardly consider “music.” He seems crazy. Ignoring the rudeness of this man, I begin to take my second bite out of the burger until the loud music suddenly disappears, and I overhear the conversation the man is having with the person taking his order. He actually just seems to be drunk.

“Khet mee uhnomba aiheet,” he slurs.

“I’m sorry, what would you like to order?” the employee says, confused.

“Uhnom – uhnombuh AIHEET!” he stutters.

“Sorry, I can’t hear you very well. I’ll get someone out there to assist you.

The telecomm shuts off with a click, and a few seconds after, the boy that previously served me appears again from the kitchen, skating towards the truck with hands open offering peace. What? I blinked in disbelief. They’re sending that kid out here? I hear the man grunt and get out of his truck, harshly slamming his door. With the look of shock, the boy hops backwards, and now I understand why. The drunken man comes into my view. Around six foot tall (a few inches more than my height), with a large tattoo of a vicious snake wrapping around his giant arm, clearly muscle-built. Even from someone like me that doesn’t have any credibility of analyzing physical stature, I can safely say that he can fight three average men on his own and win.

And that boy is out here, ready to get pummeled by this man. Suddenly a whole wave of scenarios in which the man causes havoc bursts in my mind. What if this man starts acting violent? Even worse, what if Jinny becomes traumatized because of it, or injured? I pull out a cell phone from my pocket, and stare at the glowing screen in the dim light of my car, placing my thumb over the ‘9’ key. Should I call the police? What if they discover my crime years back when I become a witness to the scene? My life would be over, and I would never see Jinny again. I bite my lip, as I contemplate whether the danger of the situation is worth the call.

Three days after Jinny’s 16th birthday, I came from work to an unnaturally silent home. I didn’t get off work particularly late that day, so she couldn’t be sleeping. Jinny was usually watching an episode of ‘Friends’ by now. I head to the living room, from which the only source of light was coming from in the house. A single, small lamp was turned on beside the couch. I head over and turn at the end of the couch and am shocked to see Jinny lying there on the couch, staring motionlessly at the black screen of the TV. I quickly kneeled down before her, and could see her eyes, red from what could be hours of fallen tears.

“Oh my gosh, Jinny,” I said in absolute fear. “What happened to you?”

She remained still. Her mouth didn’t pry open even a little. I continued saying her name, trying to catch her attention, but there was no response. What could have caused her to become like this? There was no sign in the past few days that help me guess what she was going through. I had never seen so happy in my life since the time of her birthday–

All my thought processes suddenly stopped as I came to understand the problem. I slowly stood up from Jinny, and asked in a trembling, low voice,

“Jinny. What did that boy do to you?”

Jinny’s eyes became wet, and she closed her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” she said in an almost inaudible whisper.

“What, Jinny? What happened?”

Jinny opened her eyes again. Avoiding eye contact, she confessed, “Mark – that boy you saw at my birthday party – he…” she paused. “He took advantage of me.”

That’s all I needed to hear. I went to the front door and opened it, to which I was invited by shining, silver moonlight. There was a full moon in a dark sky that night. Standing in the doorway, I closed my eyes to hear a strangely unfamiliar rustling of trees in the wind. One last time, I turned to look over my shoulder, at the dim, yellow light escaping the room in which my daughter was hurting. Without a word, I stepped out into the mysterious night, and closed the door.

Jinny decided to stay at home for the next few days. I told her she could take all the time she needed to feel better. Three days after the incident, we were eating dinner on the couch, watching ‘Friends’’ as we usually do. Tonight was spaghetti night. Jinny loves spaghetti. She was slurping her food like a vacuum, smiling at the taste of the marinara sauce I made for her, until she received a call from her friend to watch the local news. She changed the channel, and I knew it was about the murder that happened the night Jinny told me she was raped. A reporter was announcing outside of the crime scene where I took the life of Jinny’s boyfriend in front of his house.

“Hey Jinny,” I said in a shaking voice, “I kind of wanted to watch a show. It’s a season premiere tonight.”

Jinny was silent and did not move her eyes from the screen.

“Recent news of an eighteen year old teenage boy found dead in a car outside of his home,” a woman commentated on-screen. “Police have reported that it was a murder, taking place three nights ago.”

I was staring helplessly at Jinny, and I could have sworn her body trembled and she glanced at me for a second when she heard that announcement.

“Details of the murder will not be disclosed, as it may be inappropriate for viewers of young age.”

The news report ended about a minute afterwards, and the local news was now about rising gas prices in our city.

A few still minutes passed until Jinny slowly got up from the couch. With her eyes looking at the floor, she picked up her unfinished dish of spaghetti and headed for the stairs.

“Jinny,” I said, eager for a response. “Where are you going? Don’t you want to see the rest of your show?”

Jinny quietly walked up the stairs. The only sound I heard were the creaks of her footsteps on the wooden staircase, and the sound of her room’s door close in intentional quietness.

Ever since then, my relationship with Jinny faded. I rarely saw her. I came home every night now to a dark, empty living room. She stayed at her friend’s house most of the time, and the days that she was at home, I only saw her get the dinner I made and take it up back into her room.  She stopped wearing koala socks I gave her that she wore so often. She was distant from me, up to the very time that I saw her picked up by her friend to go to college. I wish I had never gone out that night.

I can’t get caught by the police. I can wait. Everything should be okay. I take a look at the drunken man approaching the boy. What kind of person would act violent in a public place like this? That makes no sense. Besides, I’m sure if something happens, someone else will call the police. I don’t need to be the one that gets involved. He’s probably getting out of his car just because he’s angry the telecomm shut off on him while he was ordering his food. Shaking my head at the absurdity of my worries, I relax my hand and place the phone aside onto the seat next to me, picking up my soda and sipping out of it. I fall back into my seat and raise the volume of my stereo, playing a track of crashing waves. Continuing to eat my burger, and watch the man approach the small boy.

Five minutes pass, and the man is still yelling at the poor boy’s face. Through the glass entrance into the kitchen, I see the other employees crowding and looking at each other with confused and worried looks. The stereo has no use. The man’s loud shouts disrupt the peaceful sound of pelican calls amplified within my car. I turn down the knob of my stereo and roll down my window an inch to hear this conversation.

“I’m sorry about what happened earlier,” the boy says with hands shaking peacefully in front of him. “If you could just tell me what you would like–“

“How DARE yooo hang upp ohn me,” the man interrupts, slightly stumbling from side to side.

The man seems to have sobered a bit – at the very least enough to make understandable comments.

“I’m sorry, sir. If you tell me what you want, we’ll give it to you free of charge.”

“NO!” the man says as he jerks his head.

The boy looks back towards the employees watching, and shrugs his shoulders, mouth open in helplessness.

“I’ll ghet what I want my FUCKING sself!”

A small click of a door lock sounds. A female employee stands frightened at the door to the kitchen, and scurries off as the man jerks his head in her direction. Suddenly, the man throws aside the fragile boy with a swing of his arm hard into the steel dining tables nearby. With a screech of the steel harshly scraping on the concrete, the boy falls to the ground yelping in pain. I turn back and look around into the parking lot, hoping for any other witness that could help, but it’s completely empty. Looking forward now, I see the man aggressively shaking the handle of the locked door. Cursing, he heads over to the boy with a vehement gaze. I arch my back forward and grip the steering wheel, afraid for the boy’s safety. I glance at my cell phone next to me, and hold it tightly within my hand. I’m going to have to do it. I’m really going to have to call, don’t I? I look back up and see the boy getting up in a panic, fleeing into the parking lot as the man grabs one of the tables. He picks up the table off of the floor, and lunges it through the glass entrance. An ear-piercing shatter resonates through the lot. The man enters through the door and disappears into the kitchen. My eyes open wide in panic. Jinny’s inside.

I dial the number, and with a single ring, an operator picks up the phone on the other end of the line.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes, lives are in danger!” I yell as I star intently at the broken entrance to the kitchen. “You’ve got to come right now!”

I tell the operator the location of the drive-in, and quickly hang up the phone. There’s no way the police are going to get here in time. Within the next seconds, that man might hurt my daughter! Frantically, I look around in my car for something to use – something to stop that man in case he really does act violent. I open the glove compartment in my car, and shuffle through loads of car insurance papers and nature CDs. I need something. I can’t stop that man with my bare hands. I feel the bottom of the compartment, and stop as I find it – my switchblade. I grip the bulky, smooth, rectangular object and pull it out as sheets of paper rattle out of the compartment and waver down to the car floor. I must have hidden it here ever since that incident. With a click of a button, a blade whips out from the object, and I hold it before the dim light in my car. The steel blade is still smoothly sharp, frighteningly curved to ensure a fine slice. The handle feels cold. I quickly retract the blade and get out of my car to chase after the man inside.

Stopping at the doorway, all I see is a giant disaster: pots and pans are flipped upside down and food is crushed everywhere throughout the kitchen. I hear the frightened cries of the employees and the clang of a steel pot rattling on the floor. The man is pressuring the employees into the corner.

“I’m going to teach you little bastards a lesson!” the man shouts angrily.

Suddenly, I see Jinny appear from another room, approaching him from behind holding a steel pan in her hands. My heart pounds as I realize she is going to try and stop the man herself.

“Stop!” she screams as she hits the man with a pang, flat on his neck.

Unhurt, the man abruptly turns back towards Jinny, furious. He grabs her by the arm, and throws her against the wall. Before I can get there in time, he lifts his hand in a fist, and pounds her face. With a thud, Jinny’s head becomes limp, and she slides to the floor.

“Jinny,” I whisper under my breath in complete disbelief.

She’s motionless. Her legs are sprawled on the floor, and her head hangs over her hunched shoulders like a dead person. Rage I’ve never felt to this intensity sears from my body. I glare at the man aggressively clearing the pots and pans off of a stove, and pressuring the other employees into a corner, the man that has killed my one and only daughter. Knife in hand, I switch open the blade with a click, and approach him from behind. I grab his head with one hand, and with the other dig the blade into his throat, tearing through his neck in one quick motion, left to right. Blood seeps from the wound, and sprays outward. I let out my breath and his body goes limp, falling hard to the floor with a heavy thump. A scream rings through my ears as the employees stare frightened at the sight of the dead man. I drop the knife and slowly head over to Jinny, tired from the sudden rush of fury.  Outside, the sound of police sirens get louder. I slide down the wall next to Jinny, and wrap an arm around her still limp body.

“Dad?” Jinny says in a weak voice.

“Jinny?” I exclaim. I turn towards her on my knees and check to see if she’s injured anywhere else. “Jinny, it’s me, Dad. Are you okay?”

With effort, she slowly raises her head to see my face.

“Dad,” she says in pain. “What are you doing here?”

“Thank God, you’re all right!” I say, embracing her in my arms. “Don’t talk anymore, Jinny. Everything’s fine now. Dad’s taken care of you.”

“Really?” Jinny whispers as she relaxes into my embrace. “Thank you, Dad.”

Holding her in my arms, tears suddenly pour from my face. After all this time, I can hold my daughter in my arms. I have my daughter again. She loves me. She loves me.

After a few moments, frantic pangs of steel kitchenware and the clacks of heavy boots sound near the entrance. Suddenly my arms are snatched and brought to my back, and my body is forced onto the floor as my hands become handcuffed while I hear a policeman reciting my rights.

“Wait, what’s going on?” Jinny asks the policeman in a hoarse voice, looking at me in concern.

A policewoman comes and approaches Jinny, assuring her, “Are you all right, Miss? Everything’s going to be okay.”

The policewoman walks over to the dead man and says, “Looks like he’s been killed, using this knife over here.” She walks towards me. “And it seems this man is the source of the murder.”

“All right, get up,” the policeman orders me. “You’re coming with me to the police department for inspection.”

“Wait,” Jinny says in desperation. “Where are you taking him? He’s my dad!”

“Miss,” the policewoman says to Jinny kneeling. “You need to be hospitalized. Come with me.”

The police officers take us through the kitchen to the entrance. They open the door, and I hear the drizzle of rain outside. With small splashes of water, we step into the rain as the police officers lead us to two separate cars. The policewoman assisting Jinny opens the car door for her. Ignoring her, Jinny stands and looks at me with genuine concern. She turns towards policewoman and asks her something that I can’t hear beyond the sound of the rain. The policewoman replies and worry suddenly overcomes Jinny’s face. She resists as the policewoman leads her to get into the car.

“It’s going to be okay, Jinny!” I yell from afar. “You can trust her.”

Jinny looks at me once more, and gets into the car. The policeman gets into the driver’s seat and turns on the engine. The officer drives away, and Jinny looks out the back window with that same worried look on her face.

I never imagined I could hear the sound of peace within my heart again, that same sound of contentment I felt so long ago when Jinny and I sat in our living room, laughing and talking to each other. Finally, the string tying my heart to Jinny’s is mended again, extending forever wherever she goes, even as she disappears into the distance.