Author's Note: This story may get dark at times and is rated M because it deals with things such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, death, and implied rape.
Carol Duncan's earliest memory was of her father, lifting her high up into the air and blinking as her brown corkscrew curls fell into his face. They'd laughed together and he'd hauled her up onto his shoulders in front of the mirror, pointing at the glass and telling her how beautiful she was.
He pretended to throw her into the air and she squealed happily, knowing that he would never really let her fall. "Silly. I love you, daddy."
"I love you too, baby girl," he said, drawing her in close and kissing her cheek.
She was only four years old at the time, but she remembered that she'd pretty much been Daddy's Little Princess her entire life. She never felt so special, so precious as when he was around, and she always thought that she would never, ever love another man as much as she loved her father.
She wasn't much older than that the first time her heart was broken, and she tried to forget the day that her mama had come to her class at school to tell her that her daddy was gone. He'd been killed in a car crash, hit by a drunk driver. She didn't know what "drunk" was, but she already knew she hated it.
Carol wasn't sure exactly how she'd come to be labeled "odd," but by the time she'd hit middle school, apparently that's what she was. She didn't totally mind, figuring that staying out of the drama would be the best way to keep her grades up. Mostly, she just kept to herself and never bothered anyone. And no one really bothered with her, until her first encounter with Eddie Peletier.
She knew who he was, of course. Not that she particularly cared about sports, but he was a linebacker and football was a very important sport in her town. So when she saw the familiar dark brown eyes and head of slightly shaggy brown hair in the middle of the hall that day, she recognized him instantly.
She'd been rushing to the art room to turn in her project on time, when she'd accidentally bumped into a broad shoulder and fell over, spilling her books across the hall. She'd barely had enough time to mutter an embarrassed apology before Butch Henderson was cursing loudly as he stumbled over her books.
"Clumsy, much?" The large teen spat out angrily, eyes narrowed.
Her eyes were wide as she fumbled to gather up her belongings from under other people's feet.
"Hey, I was talkin' to you, freak-erella. Why don't you watch where you're going?" Butch pressed.
"Why don't you just shut up and leave her alone?" Eddie said in a cool, even voice behind his friend.
"Who asked you?"
Ed nudged the bigger guy with his elbow. "What, you're into pickin' on girls now, ya big bully?" He bent down to pick up the last of her books.
Her rounded eyes met his as she eagerly accepted them. "Thanks," she said in a quiet voice.
He shrugged in response.
She stood abruptly, adjusting the strap of her backpack on her shoulder and mumbling a quick "Sorry," over her shoulder as she hurried off. It was years before she'd speak to Eddie Peletier again.
It wasn't until they were juniors that Ed found out what it was like to not have anyone to talk to. She'd heard all the gossip from the week before and she knew that his father had died. She didn't usually trust gossip that was passed through the halls, but she'd known enough about the Peletiers to know that his dad getting beaten to death in a bar fight was probably accurate information.
His friends had been ignoring him all week since he'd been back in school. She figured that was just because people didn't know what to say, so they didn't say anything. Even still, Carol had always been a compassionate person and she never forgot that time he was nice to her.
So when she saw him sitting on the steps outside by himself, it really didn't take that much for her to approach him.
"Hey," she said softly as she stood awkwardly above him.
He looked up, squinting slightly in the sunlight. "Hey," He answered, sounding surprised.
"I just wanted to say…. I'm sorry about your father," She said gently. "My dad's gone too. I know what it's like… to not have anyone."
"Thanks," He said with a nod. "It's Carol, right?"
He appeared lost in thought for a moment as he watched his friends goofing off across the parking lot. Finally, he looked back up at her. "Can I drive you home, Carol Duncan?" He asked with a lopsided grin.
She smiled back. "Yeah, sure."