“Hey sweetheart, wake up!” Ben said, as he stretched on his side of the bed and gently nudged Caroline. She opened her eyes in disgust and readjusted herself, closing her eyes again. Ben laughed and hugged her.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he kissed her on the forehead, “Why don’t we go for the morning walk that we had talked about?”

Caroline opened her eyes and gave him a dirty look, which he regretted, “I am sorry. Daddy talked and you listened, because you cannot speak?”

Caroline groaned and got out of bed. They both were getting a little heavy in the middle and he had come up with the idea of going for a relaxing brisk walk in the morning. And so, in five minutes, the both of them were ready and on their suburban lane. He breathed in the fresh air, as they took their first step. Caroline looked back at the house, and then at Ben.

“We’ll let your sister, Charlotte, sleep for more time, shall we?” he said, “She’s had a rough night.”

Caroline sighed and began walking, with Ben shaking his head and walking ahead.

“It is a nice place, isn’t it?” he looked at her and smiled, “You can do a lot over here, and yet it will give you all the privacy that you want!”

“Hmm,” Caroline simply sighed, saying nothing.

“Come on, don’t be like that!” he shook his head, “I will tell you the story that I promised to tell!”

Caroline looked at Ben and smiled. He knew that she wanted to know about it and he wanted her to know about it.

“Okay,” he laughed and shook his head, “it is going to be difficult for me, but please bear with my ranting!”

“Great!” he said and looked ahead after he made sure Caroline was going to be comfortable for the next hour, he continued.

“Look, I want you to understand that, life was never easy for me, to begin with. My father died trying to save our country at the border, and mum gave up on the operation table right after I was born. And… nobody… who was related to my parents… were ready to take me. Some relatives, eh?” he smiled, nudging Caroline. He knew that laughing in sadness was annoying, but his defence mechanism was involuntary and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“So, you know what happens to kids like me. They either send them to a crappy orphanage or throw them into a bad foster system!”

He looked at Caroline, who gave him a raised eyebrow look. “Yes, yes, I am cynical, and not all orphanages and foster systems are bad, so sue me!”

Caroline relaxed and looked ahead, “So yes, I got into the bad side of foster care. And it was… different… difficult…”

Caroline nudged his hands, smiling and looking at him. He looked at her, not realizing that his eyes had teared up and his vision had gone hazy. He quickly wiped them off.

“Guess, I got a little too carried away with it, eh?” He gave a little laugh, “So yes, I am not going to go into the details of what happened, but just know that those were not the things that you should have forced a kid to see, let alone… do… ”

“But, you know what?” he smiled, looking at Caroline, “I would have killed myself, if not for the one reason that kept me alive, that helped me to bear… all that…”

“Mira…”, he said gently and softly with a smile on his lips, as a gentle breeze ruffled up his hair. Caroline nudged him as they walked, making him laugh and shake his head.

“They beat me up, whenever I could not pack it all well,” he said, his voice getting distant, “one grain of cocaine rolling off the table and onto the floor, and they would slog me with a leather belt. My back would be red by the end of the day, and I had only the cold, hard floor to comfort me with. And then she would come, with a wet cloth and a smile on her face, ready to soothe my soars.”

“Those people did not even know that she would sneak around and meet me after they were asleep, to help me deal with my pain…” he continued to sound distant. His voice suddenly turned serious as he looked back at Caroline, “But, sometimes, secrets have their way of coming out!”

“One day, when I was badly beaten up, Mira came to me to show me a way to escape. I had no strength to get up because every time I moved an inch, blood would ooze from cuts and I would…scream…”

They reached a park and he sat on the bench, feeling the pain on his back even today. Caroline rested her head on his lap and gave him a comforting look, encouraging him to go ahead.

“She helped me to cover myself with a blanket and helped me to escape through a hole. It hurt my back, but freedom was too close to taste. We held each other and walked, until we hit the streets. Big mistake!”

“They came. I did understand how, but they came. They were a bug, they had guns. We did not stand a chance…”

“I was… too weak to even stand at that moment… My adrenaline had finally failed me, and I fell…”

“I fell, I fell, I fell, I fell…” Ben kept chanting. Even if it was a cool dry morning, beads of sweat formed on his forehead.

“…but I wish that I had lost consciousness. It took me time, and I saw the gang leader of those assholes… draw his gun… and point it at me… and Mira, she, attacked him to save me… but he had already fired…”

Caroline sat up, worried and looked at him. She pressed his hand on the bench, gently reminding him that he was safe.

“The next thing I know that I woke up and I found myself at the hospital. The nurse attending to me had told me that I was serious, and the bad guys were put in jail. I did not care about any of it. There was only one thing on my mind. I asked about Mira, and he did not say a word.”

“I knew. I knew. They didn’t have to tell me, but I knew. Those goons were sent to jail, but nothing could bring back the only real family I had. Mira.”

“I did not know if I could ever find a family again,” He said, looking at Caroline, “and then, I saw Dr Alison Greene…”

“She was an intern and five years older to me, but that did not unfazed me. She not only treated me and ask me about my condition, but she did more. She took care of me and listened to what I had to say. She was not only my doctor but also my confidante, my shoulder to cry on, my only friend.”

“As I spoke to her, I realized that she was too, a tortured soul who had escaped from an abusive home. We had so much in common, and that brought us close.”

“Once, I was discharged, she let me stay at her place to recuperate. I am sure you remember that moment because that was the first time that I had met you!”

“Dr Greene had told me that, in all the mayhem of the cops and everyone crawling around the place, after busting the joint, she had found you both.” Ben gave Caroline a thoughtful look, “She finally broke it to me that you were Mira’s twin babies!”

“In time, she dropped the biggest bomb of all. She too had escaped from my last foster home – a reeking meth lab. And Mira had helped her to escape without them knowing, even if she could not herself at that moment. That was the reason they had kept a lookout for my escape, and ended up killing Mira. And taking care of Mira’s babies was the least that she could do to honour her death. She did not want to give any of you up, because, we both wanted the best for you…”

He looked at Caroline, who was still looking at him, waiting for him to continue. It took him time to realize that his eyes had become hazy because of the tears welling up. He swallowed up the heavy feeling building up in his chest and continued. Just then, someone sat on the park seat and put her head on his lap.

“Hey Charlotte, glad you know you got out of bed to come and sleep in the park!” he laughed and gave her a hug. She smiled and closed her eyes. He felt a little better and looked at Caroline’s inquisitive eyes, continuing his story.

“I got on my feet, got myself educated and got a pretty decent job as a mechanic. We lived together and helped each other heal. And you made it easier for me.” He sighed, putting an arm around her shoulder. Caroline sighed and rested her head on his shoulder.

“I did not see it coming…” He said, taking a deep, heavy breath.

“I had come home one day, from work. The moment I reached the front door, I had realized that something was wrong. I dashed inside and looked around. I realized, too late, when I stepped into the pool of blood…”

“I began to shiver,” he gulped, “Because I dreaded to face my fears realized. But, that day, my dread did nothing to help me avoid it. I saw her blue eyes, lifeless like the seas had stopped gravitating to the sun and the moon. I stood, shocked and my breathing stopped. I wanted to puke, but somehow, it was difficult to even stand still. Then you howled in pain. That was all I needed to jolt out of the shock.”

“I ran to the bedroom, and there he was. That asshole of a gang leader, who was standing with blood splattered all over his body, a gun in one hand and your neck in the other. I ran towards him, but he kicked me on the side, taunting me about finishing the job. I cried as I struggled on the floor, as he pressed his foot hard against my cheek. He kept talking about the vulgar things that he would do to you after he put a bullet through my brain. I banged the floor with my fists, trying to free myself, begging that asshole to save your life…”

He shook his head, the tears streaming down like a river. Caroline started to get worried.

“And then, something knocked him over, and he let go of you. I caught you just in time and held you tight, as my shirt started to feel wet. I turned over to stare into his dead eyes, as blood kept oozing from a deep gash in his back. And then, I looked up, a smile spread across my face.”

“She was standing tall over him, bathed in the splatters of his blood. Her eyes glowed red as if she had brought forth hell on Earth. An eerie orange aura surrounded her very being as she met eyes with me…”

“And kids, That’s How I Met your Mother,” he said, looking down at Charlotte as a tear fell on her cheek, “for the very last time…”

“In all my years of my existence, never would I have thought that a happy and compassionate black dog like Mira would be a residence from hell. With a last lick of my face and a wag of her tail, she cracked opened the ground beneath her and dragged the dead body along with her, to the burning depths of hell itself. But before she gave me her final goodbye, she gave me a look, and I knew what to do…”

“So,” he smiled, as he hugged both his dogs, Caroline and Charlotte, “here we are. A new city, a new life and a new beginning. It is hard, but that is a bet that I am willing to take.”

He kissed both his pet children, basking in the light of the morning sun. In those moments of reliving the dark past, he found himself feeling lighter and able to let go of all the nightmares and fears that he had harboured in his heart. And as he smiled, and looked around, he frowned. He shook his head, passing off what he had seen as a figment of his imagination. But he had secretly hoped that what he had seen was real, that this would not be a goodbye, that he would at least get a glimpse again. The glimpse of…

…a black wagging tail.