Jerry Russo was not a scary man. Not in the least.

But Harper could never forget the time he'd frightened her so badly that she'd burst into tears.

She had only been eight years old at the time, and scaring a child of that age was not so difficult a task…especially not a child as sensitive as young Harper. Though years later she would understand things about that day that her younger self could not have realized, she never forgot the feeling of utter, calamitous fear that had gripped her when she'd seen a side of Jerry Russo that she'd never seen before.

She had been in the playground after school with her best friend Alex, Jerry's daughter. They were sitting on the swings and talking of various topics, chief among them: the location of Alex's father. For he was supposed to have been at the schoolyard to walk them home that day. As it happened, that day he'd been running late due to the normal complications that can arise when trying to navigate through the typical Manhattan Island afternoon.

Harper and Alex had not dwelled too long on his absence, for they'd quickly became distracted with issues that concerned the minds of little girls. Their conversation turned to other things: games, classmates, ponies, and ladybugs. No doubt they would have moved onto even further areas of discussion if they'd been left to their own devices, but that was when a stranger had arrived.

He was a lanky man who wore ill-fitting clothes and smelled of too much aftershave. His voice was raspy but his tone was relentlessly friendly as he introduced himself to the girls and asked them if they liked candy.

Harper had been warned once or twice by her parents about taking candy from strangers. But the seriousness of such warnings had never been emphasized. The advice from her parents had come off, like so much of what they said always came off, as meaningless half-hearted chatter. Vague generalities thrown out with little conviction and possessing only the superficial wisdom of an average fortune cookie. Still, Harper's shy and cautious nature might have made her shrink back from the man…but the presence of her ever-bold friend made that a moot point.

"Sure we like candy," Alex had responded. "Who doesn't?"

Her answer had caused the man to reach into his pockets and pull out a couple of candy bars. BIG candy bars, the kind they sold individually at the checkout stands of grocery stores…not the bite-sized ones that came in bargain-priced bags. Both girls had taken the offered prizes and thanked the stranger. He then began talking about how he had more goodies they might like 'just around the corner' and invited them to come take a look for themselves.

A somewhat frazzled Jerry Russo had arrived just as Harper and Alex were getting off the swings to follow their mysterious benefactor. Harper had thought the timing was excellent, for she knew that Mr. Russo had a considerable sweet tooth himself and perhaps he could have some candy as well.

But as Jerry had questioned his daughter about just where she thought she was going, and Alex had explained the situation without hesitation, Harper saw that Mr. Russo was not happy.

The lanky stranger could have chosen to turn and run at that moment, but he'd instead opted to try and offer excuses. He'd said that there was a misunderstanding and that things were not as they appeared.

And that was when Jerry Russo had grabbed the stranger and shook him as violently as a mad dog might shake a ragdoll held in its jaws. There had been shaking and shouting and then the stranger had been thrown to the ground.

"IF I SEE YOU AGAIN YOU'RE DEAD!" Mr. Russo had shouted as the stranger scrambled to his feet and took off running. "STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM MY LITTLE GIRL!"

Then he had turned to face the girls, his focus almost entirely on Alex.

"Are you alright, sweetie?" he'd asked with concern.

That was when Harper had started crying. Sobbing uncontrollably in fact.

Not because she wasn't getting anymore candy. Thoughts of chocolates and other goodies had completely left her mind by this point. She cried because she couldn't understand what she had just seen. She couldn't understand how Alex's dad…the happy, friendly man who always smelled like food and sometimes tripped over his own feet but then laughed about it…could have such a hard look in his eyes and bellow in a voice that promised violence and more. This was not the man she knew. This was not the friendly, sometimes clownish fellow that cut the crusts off her bread when he made her a sandwich. Not the same man that took her and Alex to the ice cream stand on hot summer days and brought them both double scooped cones.

It had taken a long while for Harper to stop crying that day.


Of course, Harper would later understand the events of that afternoon much more clearly. She'd come to realize what had almost happened and how Jerry Russo had possibly saved them from death or worse. She'd appreciate this. She'd be thankful for this.

But she wouldn't forget the terror she'd felt when she'd seen that look in his eyes, even though she understood it. The look of a man who was ready to kill another human being.


It was a Friday night almost ten years later when Harper was walking back to the Russo family's sandwich shop. She lived with the Russos now, and was quite happy with that development. They had long felt more like a real family to her than her biological parents. She often wished that she could be an actual member of the family, rather than just a close friend. This was not due to any ill-will towards her mother and father…just a recognition of the truth of life. Harper's parents were never cut out to raise a child or have a stable family life. Their place was out on the road living like vagabonds and following their impractical dreams. Harper's place was with the Russos.

Of course, on this night, not all of the Russos were present. Alex and her two brothers were off visiting their Uncle Kelbo for the weekend. Harper had been invited to come along but had declined. She liked Kelbo, but his antics were sometimes more than she could take. Besides, she had a date with her boyfriend Zeke planned for Saturday.

One thing she had not planned though was passing by Ray Sterko on her walk that night. Ray was a senior that went to the same high school…occasionally. Why he bothered to show up to classes was a bit of a mystery, as he'd been held back a year already and seemed to have no interest in doing even the minimal work necessary to graduate. He was a shady character who'd had several run ins with the police, mostly for underage drinking.

Harper could tell from scent alone that he'd clearly been drinking this night.

"Hey, I know you!" he had called out, his speech slurred.

Harper, wanting nothing to do with the drunken lout, hadn't bothered to respond.

But Ray had not relented. And Harper had not expected him to grab her. Nor had she expected his inebriation to make him so forceful and threatening. And she had been horrified when she saw the anger in his eyes transform to an animalistic lust.

She's already been screaming before he ripped her shirt. She'd screamed even louder once she'd realized his intentions.

And then, Harper had suddenly found herself free of her attacker's grasp. And she'd watched as Jerry Russo threw Ray against the hard brick side of the building. Her mind hadn't been able to help flashing back to many years earlier…the last time she'd seen that look in Jerry Russo's eyes.

She'd trembled as she'd witnessed the man land several vicious blows to the thuggish teen's face. And her emotions were in a whirl as she heard Jerry yell after Ray as he'd fled.


And then, Harper had seen that look in Jerry Russo's eyes change as he'd turned to her.

"Are you alright, sweetie?" he'd asked with concern.

That was when Harper had started crying. Sobbing uncontrollably in fact.

They were some of the happiest tears of her life.

For that had been the moment when Harper had realized her wish had come true. The moment when she'd known that the man who'd taught her what a real father was…considered her his own.


The End


author's notes: A little story I wrote as a birthday gift for my friend SilverTurtle. She's a great yourselves a favor and go read her fics. They're all excellent. And she writes for so many different fandoms it's scary.