Paisley was throwing another monstrous temper tantrum. Her screeches punched through her bedroom door like bullets made of sound.
Cole stood in the hallway outside her room, flinching at the noise as if he were actually being shot. For a person wholly obsessed with cuteness, he marveled for the zillionth time, his daughter was often astoundingly ugly.
Like today at the zoo. She’d gone into a mega-meltdown when she saw the red pandas and he explained that, no, she couldn’t take one of the adorable creatures home as a pet. She’d been a howling, flailing wrath-beast since then.
Cole felt inadequate, helpless, and completely in over his head with Paisley on a regular basis. It was never like that with the three sons he’d had with his wife Megan before Paisley came along. But Paisley’s entrance into the world had marked Megan’s exit from it, and Cole had been alone in alien territory ever since.
Paisley was a pretty child, and extremely sweet at times, but she’d been a rage-filled screamer right from day one. Everything with Paisley needed to be cute. Pink, sparkly, princessy, girly. And yet her tantrums got more hideous by the week, no matter how much attention, therapy, medication, and desperately researched parenting techniques Cole threw at her.
In her room, Paisley was in the process of hurling everything she owned at everything she owned. She’d squeezed a two-sizes-too-small tutu on over her Disney princess costume, but this in no way hindered her ability to rip through her belongings like a hurricane. Toys flew through the air in an endless stream.
Sometimes she screamed, “I WANT A RED PANDA!” And sometimes she just screamed a wordless, unending sword of sound meant to hack through the willpower of those around her.
She shoved her Barbie Dreamhouse over, sending it crashing to the floor in an explosion of pink plastic — the third one she’d destroyed that year. Her ringlets of red hair clung to her pale, sweaty, tear-streaked cheeks as she howled.
One of the things Cole hated the most about these fits was that when Paisley got worked up like this, she resembled Megan in her final, agony-filled moments. He sent Paisley to her room during the tantrums not just as a disciplinary measure, but also because her features summoned images of his wife he wanted more than anything to forget.
Paisley threw a music box at her bedroom door. “WHY CAN’T I HAVE A RED PANDA?”
The red pandas were so cute. Daddy had gotten her a kitten, which had been cute until it grew up into a fat cat that didn’t like to play or cuddle with her. He’d gotten her a puppy when she demanded one, but it, too, had left adorable babyhood behind, and become a dog that slobbered and galumphed around and was not cute at all.
But the red pandas were cute, even all grown up. Fuzzy and sweet-faced. She wanted one and Daddy had said no. Daddy was always saying no, and she was sick of it! Sick of no. Sick of being in a house full of nothing but gross, dirty boys.
Paisley began kicking and punching her pink princess bed, screeching like a demonic monkey, until a flash of movement caught her attention. Still shrieking, she whirled around.
Her green eyes widened and she abruptly fell quiet. Her small closet was almost completely filled with layers of fluffy pink tulle and fuzzy reddish-brown and white fur.
On the other side of the door, Cole’s shoulders sagged. Any break in the racket was a blessing, but the sudden silence did nothing to ease the tension transforming his muscles into knots of steel cable. He was all too familiar with this pattern. Maybe Paisley had worn herself out, if he was lucky. But she was probably just gathering her strength for another explosion.
God, he missed Megan. He wondered all the time if Paisley would be a different person if Megan were here to be her mom. If he’d be a better dad if Megan still existed.
Paisley tiptoed towards the closet. A sigh of wonder slid from her mouth, as delicate as her screams had been harsh.
There was a darling face peering up at her. It was like someone had taken the best parts of a cat and a raccoon and smooshed them together into cuddly-wuddly perfection. Black eyes twinkled beneath white smudges of eyebrow fur, almost conspiratorially, as if they were sharing a secret with her.
A red panda had followed her home from the zoo.
The red panda stuck out its tongue, which was as bright pink as the too-small tutu Paisley was wearing. And then Paisley realized the red panda was actually wearing a tutu just like hers!
The adorable creature squeaked and wiggled, and its movement triggered a larger wave of motion around it. Paisley was able to wrest her attention away from its face and take in the rest of the closet’s contents.
It was full of red pandas.
And they were all wearing tutus too!
The narrow space was absolutely overflowing with little animals in fluffy pink outfits. It was impossible to tell where one critter stopped and another began. Paisley hopped up and down, extending her arms, and the mass of red panda ballerinas came wriggling out in a fuzzy, fluffy wave.
Now, she could see that they were all connected by their thick, poofy striped tails. They were a tangled knot of perfect cuteness. She squealed and ran to meet them. This was the best pet ever.
When she hugged them, she discovered that their teeth were tutu-pink too.
Cole put his head in his hands as the terrible screaming began again. When Paisley eventually went silent, it didn’t make him feel any better.
He knew this was only the calm before another storm.
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