There comes a time in every child's life when she starts asking awkward questions. In the case of Diane Peryan, it was when she was about six years old. "Daddy," she said, putting down her paintbrush, "who's that man watching me?"
Narto Telyan put down his notebook and stared at his daughter for a moment. "... what man, sweetheart?" he asked.
"The man." The little girl with daffodil-yellow hair waved her hand in the air vaguely. "I c'n feel he's watching me."
Narto frowned. "Does he talk to you, Diane?" he asked, concernedly. His daughter shook her head.
"No. He's talking 'bout me, though. Is he a bad man, Daddy?"
Narto shook his head slightly, stood up, and walked to the window. "Sweetheart," he said carefully, "there's no one out here. It's dark..."
"He's not out there, Daddy," Diane said seriously. "He's... somewhere else." She waved her hand in the air again.
Narto nodded slowly. This was beginning to look very familiar. "Go on with your picture, sweetheart," he said, pushing his chair back under the desk. "I'm going to go and get Mummy, I have a feeling she knows who the man is."
"Okay, Daddy," Diane agreed, picked up her brush, and painted a careful stroke across the sheet of paper.
"Lou?" Narto called, poking his head into the kitchen. "I thought you were making... Lou?"
"Out here, pet," his wife's voice (they'd finally managed to agree that they were married, about the time Diane had started talking) floated through the half-open door to the garden. Narto nodded and crossed the long room, then stepped out onto the patio. He glanced around, and then stopped and raised an eyebrow.
"I thought you were making supper," he said in a level tone. "That doesn't look very productive."
Sitting in the hot tub, Louise laughed. "Oh, it's in the oven," she told him. "Now, why don't you come over here and join me...?"
Narto rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly. "I'd love to, Lou, but you need to go and talk to Diane."
Louise's expression turned serious. "What's the matter?" she asked worriedly. "She's not hurt, is she? Upset?"
"Nothing like that," Narto reassured her. "She's just... well, she's acting like you. Says there's a man watching her, but not from the window."
Louise relaxed. "Oh, that," she said. "I was wondering when that was going to show up... I mean, I was hoping it wouldn't have to, I was hoping he'd leave us alone, but..." She glanced upwards. "Well. No, I expected this."
"I wish I had," Narto grumbled. "Look, it's great that you know what's going on, but Diane doesn't. Can you come and reassure her?"
"Of course," Lou agreed. Glancing over the side of the tub, she added, "... we need a heated patio." She waved a hand in the general direction of the door back inside. "Could you fetch my slippers, pet? Oh... and maybe a towel? And my dressing gown?"
Louise leant over her daughter's shoulder and watched her paint. "Not just an old superstition after all," she murmured. "It's very good, Diane, but Mummy needs to talk to you."
Carefully, the little girl dipped her brush into a glass of water. "Even with the man watching, Mummy?"
Lou smiled and glanced upwards. "Even with the man watching, sweetheart," she said. "Actually it's because of the man watching that I need to talk to you."
Diane nodded, eyes wide, and folded her hands in her lap. "Who is he, Mummy?"
Louise thought for a moment. "He's... someone I knew, once," she said carefully. "He was... I suppose you could say he worked with me at the PPC. You remember what I told you about the PPC?"
Diane nodded. "'s where you met Bella and Daphne's mummy and daddy. Mummy... why doesn't Daddy know about the man?"
Lou smiled faintly. "He does, sweetheart," she said, leaning forward and ruffling her daughter's hair. "He just doesn't know that he knows."
Diane looked serious. "Is he a bad man, Mummy?"
Lou laughed. "No, not really," she explained. "He can be annoying at times, but since Daddy and I left the PPC he hasn't been around much. That's why you haven't felt him before," she added, "and you probably won't again."
Diane mulled this over for a few moments. "Why's he talking about us, then?" she asked. Louise smiled.
"It's what he does, sweetheart," she replied. "If you ever feel him watching, you know he's talking about you." She looked at her daughter sternly. "And that means you'd better be good, because Mummy will find out if you're not."
Diane's eyes widened in an innocent 'Who, me?' expression. "Of course I'll be good, Mummy," she said.
"I'm sure you will." Lou leant down and kissed her daughter's forehead. "Now, go back to your painting, sweetheart. Your father and I have an appointment in the hot tub... and the man is going to go away." She glanced up at the ceiling, and added, "Now."
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