How About Them Apples By D.I. Jolly

For the first time in his life, Rick found himself standing in front of a problem he couldn’t solve with his fists. He was a violent man who’d lived a violent life and had learnt he could punch his way out of most situations. But despite a bad childhood and a series of abusive teachers, coaches and drill sergeants, his moral compass had always pointed North. So, he used his power, such as it was, for good. Or at least, how he understood it.

He wasn’t the one who started the bar fights but sure as hell could finish them. After being drummed out of the army for assaulting a corrupt General, and a brief career with the police where he broke his partner’s jaw for taking a bribe, Rick moved to private security. Where he became famous for always being tough but fair. Also, for once throwing a billionaire’s playboy son through a glass door because he apparently didn’t know what the word “no” meant. What the club had lost in lawsuits, they had gained back in reputation.

His life had been hard and he’d become hard as a result. So, he was infinitely unprepared for Debbie. He’d met her in a courthouse waiting room. He was there to give an account on a fight he’d witnessed and then ended. She was sitting with a small warn toy bear and a few plastic cups, and seeing that he was the only other person there, she had invited him to join them.

At age 5 she stood an imposing 3 foot nothing, and with both hands on her hips and a scowl on her face said.

“No! It’s not ok! Mr Teddy doesn’t like that tea!”

She then stamped her foot in frustration and let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Are you a stupid?”

Rick frowned at the child who was speaking to him in a way that no other human had ever survived, and yet she was utterly unafraid.

“Why does it matter?”

“Because! He doesn’t like that tea, and it’s not nice to give Mr Teddy things he doesn’t like. He’s my only snuggle buddy and you must not be mean to him.”

Rick looked at the two empty cups he was holding and his frown deepened, then nervously held out the other one.

“How about this?”

Instantly the little girls face brightened and her shoulders relaxed.

“That’s much better, that’s English apple tea and he really likes that one.”

Then she leaned in closer to whisper conspiratorially.

“I actually like the other tea better, but Mr Teddy gets very grumpy when you give him the wrong tea.”

A part of Rick’s mind started to take notes about who the little girl belonged to, and he wondered where she’d learnt that sort of crisis coping mechanism and at what level he was going to get involved.

“Why is it apple?”

English apple! And because apple tea is the best tea, that’s what my mommy says uncle Larry says.”

Uncle Larry became a new phrase in Rick’s mind and he started to pin ideas to it.

“Is it your mommy that you’re waiting for now?”

“Yes, she’s here because my uncle Bobby isn’t paying his alan money, and my mommy says that if he doesn’t uncle Larry will leave. And mommy doesn’t want to another uncle to leave.”

Rick breathed a sigh and smiled his scarred weathered smile.

“Is Mr Teddy like either of your uncles? Bobby or Larry?”

Debbie looked down at the bear as if she’d never thought about that before, which she hadn’t, then said a little confused.

“He used to be a bit like uncle Bobby when uncle Bobby would come home late and want me to sit on the couch with him, which always made my mommy start throwing things. But now he’s more like uncle Larry who gets very grumpy when you do things wrong.”

Rick nodded thoughtfully, “Do you like Mr Teddy?”

“No, but my mommy says that he’s the only snuggle buddy I’ve got, so I’ve got to be nice to him.”

Rick felt her words as if they were tiny punches straight to his heart and he made a few snap decisions that he wasn’t expecting.

“Wait here.”

He rose and walked out of the room. He quickly found and cornered a passing lawyer, who he scared into fetching social services. Then he called the owner of the chain of nightclubs he kept safe and asked for a favour and a few strings to be pulled. A few hours later in a private office, a scared-looking policeman with a scar that ran the length of his jaw, co-signed some papers and Rick got full custody of Debbie.

He then had his first experience of a toy store, trying to find a much nicer Mr Teddy to be her new snuggle buddy, and then they went home.

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