Taylor Swift... this girl is my life.
"What's up with you today, A?" Ben said finally, after a car ride of virtual silence from his daughter. Pulling into the driveway, he glanced at her in the mirror. The little girl was strapped into her booster seat, leaning against the pink fabric, her face not showing any emotion.
Ava didn't say anything, shrugging simply. "Nothin'".
"Do I have to ask Rubes?" he questioned,
Ava shook her head. "Don't ask Ruby", she mumbled.
Ben looked at her suspiciously- Ava Rafter was not a quiet little girl. She was over the top and loud and a little show pony, and she was his little girl. He wouldn't swap her for anything in the world.
"What's wrong, baby girl?" he said, lifting her into his arms.
"Daddy, don't make me go back there", she whimpered, her façade finally cracking. Tears ran from her big blue eyes, and she scrubbed them away with the back of her hand. "Please don't make me go back there!"
Ben rubbed her back soothingly, cooing the words of sympathy he had become so well acquainted with since becoming a father, dwelling on the moment.
When he was sure his daughter was asleep, tucked under her pink blankets, drifting off to dreamland, he exploded.
"What would Mel say?" he demanded, poking his best mate in the chest. "Carbo! I didn't raise her like this, shoulda punched the kid in the nose… this isn't like Ava!"
"She wasn't brought up like that", Retta contradicted, and Ben sighed.
And the next morning, instead of the usual last minute rush (because Ben Rafter was not a morning person, at all), he had the little girl ready almost an hour early.
"Are we going somewhere first, Daddy?" Ava checked, as Ben strapped her into the backseat. "We're really early!"
"We're gonna go and get brekky, and then we're gonna go and speak to your teachers".
"I don't wanna!" she protested.
But she had no choice in the matter, Ben had decided the night before. Even if he had to drag the little girl kicking and screaming into the school gates, they would sit down and Ben would calmly and rationally explain to the teacher about the child who caused his child to come home with a bruise the size of a small planet on her hip.
There was pointing, calm explaining, and the bruised hip to back him up.
"I should have been a lawyer, what do you think, A?" he checked with his daughter, grinning.
"Daddy, you're really embarrassing". Ava's face was still red.
(He had expected to hear those words from her mouth when she was sixteen. It was a decade too early, for his liking.)
"Thank you, Daddy", she said quietly, hugging his legs.
"I love you baby, don't ever forget that". He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "See you this afternoon, gorgeous. Have a good day".
And for the first time that week, she went into the playground with a smile on her face.
Ben stared at the clock on the wall, changing the channel on the television. As the second hand ticked past the huge eleven, it was deemed official.
Ava Leigh had broken her curfew.
But Ben remained calm. He didn't call the police or grab his car keys to start a rescue party himself. He sat there, staring at the clock and watching as it ticked later and later.
At nine minutes past the hour, the front door opened, and Ava crept into the house.
"A?" Ben questioned, and the girl jumped a foot into the air.
"Dad!" she gasped. "You scared me!"
"Sorry, babe". The look on her face gave her away immediately. He knew his daughter, and after a date with Noah, she came home wearing a smile. But the expression on Ava's face was not smiling. Not by a long shot.
"Ava baby, what happened?"
"Nothing", she said, her voice beyond a whisper. "Nothing happened, Daddy, I'm not like that. I'm sorry I'm late, Daddy, I didn't mean to be".
Threats of killing the boy in question followed and many tears on Ava's behalf. Ben, barely restraining himself, held his daughter close, rubbing her back and cooing the words of sympathy that worked when she was a five year old with a scraped knee.
He could always trust that little girl. Even at sixteen, breaking curfew. He knew she wasn't brought up that way.
At nineteen, Ava had informed her father that he no longer needed to wait up for her. She could make it home by herself, and date watch was not necessary. But Ben found it one of the most important jobs of being a father, and waited upstairs in his room, where she couldn't see him.
It was almost eleven thirty when he heard a knock on the front door. Expecting Ava to be standing there, a blush creeping into her cheeks for forgetting her keys once again, he padded quietly downstairs.
"Yes?" Ben said, staring at the police officer in front of him. That was the last person he expected to open the door to.
"There's been an accident- your daughter Ava is in the hospital-"
That was all it took for Ben to grab his keys and follow the police officer out the door. He didn't want the details. All he wanted to do was see his baby girl.
But seeing her in the state that she was almost killed him. Breaking down, he fell beside the bed in tears.
"Please, God, don't take Ava", he whispered. "It nearly killed me the day we lost Mel, she's with you now. I can't lose both my girls; Ava's all that's kept me going these years. Please, please, don't take my baby girl".
He squeezed her unresponsive hand, tears falling hard and fast.
"I love you, Ava Leigh", he whispered. "So, so much. Stay strong for Daddy, baby girl. I can't lose my baby girl too".
A shiver ran through her still body, and after a moment, her eyelids fluttered open.