what scares me pt. 2

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

(This is a companion piece to "what scares me.")

Margaret King found herself once more staring out the window of her penthouse suite. Once more, the raindrops pattered on the glass, squirming downwards like rivulets of light. Once more, far beneath her, the people of the city skittered back and forth like ants.

It reminded her uncomfortably of the night Bob Sparker had gone to the hospital. Margaret had raced to his room to see him strapped down to a table like Frankenstein's monster, nearly delirious with electric shock. She remembered the doctor berating him until he burst into tears, and she remembered holding him as he cried himself into unconsciousness.

She remembered the surge of terror she felt as she saw him walk into her room the next morning, bright and cheery, as if nothing had happened.

Margaret looked over to the other end of the room. Her father, Percy King, bent over his desk, absorbed in the minutiae of his day planner. He looked up at her, caught her gaze, and offered her a wan smile that she couldn't bring herself to return. After all, her father was the one who had requested Bob be discharged in the first place. He was also the one who arranged for Bob's ill-fated contestant, Alice Lang, to be relocated. And after Bob had been suspended for his complicity in the coverup, it had been Percy King who put him back on the air weeks later.

"What's wrong?"

Margaret yelped at the sound of his voice. "Oh, sorry," she stammered, trying to laugh it off. "I was just thinking about something, that's all."

"What is it?" Percy asked, sitting up. "You look exhausted, Margaret."

"I…I guess I am." She hesitated. "Dad…actually, it's about Bob."

"You always did worry about him." He stood up from his chair and let out a small laugh as he walked towards her. "Don't worry, sweetheart. He's doing better than ever, now that he's back at work."

"He hasn't been back to the hospital, has he?"

"No, no." Percy sat down next to her and looped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "He's been in fine condition. I've been telling him to take care of himself. Is that what you were worried about?"

"S…sort of." Margaret felt herself tremble. Her father had always been warm and loving, his body strong, his grip protective. But for the first time, she didn't feel safe in his arms. "Dad," she whispered. "Do you remember that night Bob went to the hospital?"

"I do. I wasn't there," he said, "but I heard about it when I visited the morning after. Apparently he was a terrible sight."

"Yeah. He was. I actually saw him," she explained. "I went to his room the night before."

Percy blinked. "Oh. The doctor didn't mention that." He paused, and Margaret heard him swallow anxiously. "So…you saw him, then. How he gets."

"I did," Margaret whispered. "Bob…he looked like he was going to have a heart attack at any second. He kept laughing, then he kept crying, and then he was suddenly out cold. I was so scared," she said, burying her face in her hands, "and I know you got him out of the hospital, but I don't know if that was really a good idea, and…"

Percy was quiet as he held her close, but there was a pounding in his chest that thrummed in Margaret's ear. It was an assurance that the events of that evening hadn't just been a horrible nightmare for her and her alone. At some point, Percy must have seen the same things she had, and felt the same way. She turned inwards, curling up against her father's heartbeat.

"I don't know," Margaret moaned. "I don't think I know anything anymore."

"I'm sorry you had to see that," he whispered. "It scares me, too. It's horrifying." He paused. "I know he doesn't like being there. That's why...I had to bring him back."

Margaret sniffed and rubbed at her face. "Is that why you had that Alice lady discharged, too?"

"Yes, but that was different," he explained. "I hired a private doctor for her instead. We agreed that it would be best for everyone if she was out of the public eye."

Margaret looked up at him, her eyes bleary, an incredulous look on her face. "You mean…you did all that without even telling Bob?" she asked. "Why didn't you say something? We could have avoided that whole mess with Miss Information."

"I…" Percy glanced away guiltily. "I thought it would be better if he didn't have to think about it."

I thought it would be better if he didn't have to think about it. Margaret blinked, and suddenly, so many things fell into place.

"Dad," she said. "Can I ask you one more thing?"

He nodded.

"How many times have you done stuff like this? Pulling strings to--to hide people, or get them discharged, or to sweep things under the rug?"

Percy King was silent for a long moment. His eyelids drooped down as he gazed at some point in the distance, looking into his memories. Finally, he confessed: "I don't know, Margaret. I do it every day."

They sat there, together, looking out the window, two sides of a gulf that couldn't be crossed.

"I love you," Margaret whispered.

"I love you, too," Percy replied, his voice hoarse. "I'm sorry."

Margaret's hand tightened on her father's. "It's okay," she lied. "It's okay, Dad. It's okay."

The End.