No Nightmares

Chapter 1: Babysitter

Mr. Clegane is scary but little Elinor is so cute. She’s in kindergarten at the same school as Sweetrobin, Runestone Elementary. Mr. Clegane must have seen me put up my babysitting flyers on the school bulletin board because he called the next day. I knew it was him because he rasped, “Little bird,” on the other end, and oh crap! I honestly didn’t expect him to want me.

Here’s the thing: I see Mr. Clegane a lot. It’s my job to pick up Sweetrobin from school and I’m always early because he would be so sad if he got out of fifth grade and I wasn’t there with his snack bag and favorite plushie (Marillion the stuffed falcon!) I walk over from Moongate High right after fourth period even though Harry and Maddy are always going to get milkshakes at Chella’s, and of course I totally want to go, but Uncle would never ever forgive me if I let down little Robin. I have a very important job helping him, ever since Aunt Lysa died.

So I wait outside Runestone in the entry courtyard with the other parents: Mrs. Royce, Mrs. Waynwood, Mrs. Templeton. I say parents because there’s one dad—

Mr. Clegane.

I don’t know what his job is or where Elinor’s mom is but he started showing up at the beginning of second term. “Not from around here,” Mrs. Royce whispered to Mrs. Templeton. “On scholarship, no doubt.”

Well he’s obviously different. He’s old and giant, like literally seven feet tall, with stringy black hair to his shoulders. But he doesn’t dress super old. He’s always wearing a black leather jacket over a black polo, tucked into black jeans or cargo pants with big black boots. All black! And that’s not even the scariest part—it’s his face. I know immediately something is wrong with it. It’s not polite to stare so I avert my eyes, until one afternoon, when he somehow finds me on my route from Moongate to Runestone.

I walk very fast naturally, stranger danger and all, but I walk even faster when a towering shadow grows from behind and cloaks the pavement in front of me. I think it would be smart to take the shortcut between Egen and Dutton Street like I always do, except the shadow follows. Then I feel stupid as I rush down the narrow walk sandwiched between two tight rows of stony buildings, because everything is shadowy back here.

“Don’t be frightened,” comes a snarl at my back, but when a hairy-knuckled hand clamps my shoulder, I promptly stiffen. The bubbly pit of dread in my tummy bubbles extra hard because I know: “M-Mr.Clegane.”

He laughs like a nasty barking dog. “Sandor,” he rasps. “Call me Sandor.”

“Oh—um—good afternoon, um, Sandor, Ser.”

“Not Ser. Just Sandor.”

He lets my shoulder go, but only after pushing me forward a smidge. "Walk, girl." Walk, yes, walk. Just go! But he stays at my side. I try to ignore his massive bulk, accompanied by dark waves of body heat and the stink of cigarettes. Say something! Anything!

“Are you doing well today, Ser—sorry, Sandor?”

“You come over from the high school?” he asks back.

“Oh yes—I go to Moongate, but, well, I can’t drive, yet. But I pick up my little cousin, then we walk home.”

“You live close?”

“Yes, on Eyrie Street.”

I don’t know why it's funny, but Mr. Clegane laughs. “A pretty street for a pretty girl.”

I blush hard. I wouldn't think that Mr. Clegane would find anything pretty, being so ugly himself. I watch my sneakers though, not his face. “Where do you live?” I ask.


Oh. That’s a bad part of town. I’m not allowed there.

“What?” Mr. Clegane rasps. “Nothing pretty to chirp at that?”

Well, no, but before I can even think of one nice thing to say, he has a giant paw on my shoulder again. He backs me off the path, through a muddy patch of snowblooms, until my backpack bumps against a tall stone fence. Two monster-sized boots land toe-to-toe with my pretty white Filas, now rimmed in muck. I frown.

“You’re awful.”

“I’m honest. Where are your manners, girl?”

“Sorry, I um—” I force myself to look up, but only manage to get so far as his burly chest, the thick crossweave of his polo stretched tight. Muscle, so much muscle, and I am a crushable flower. Is this how it happens? A not-stranger in an alleyway, broad daylight? I get out, “I don’t want to be late, Mr. Clegane, Ser.”

He pushes out a big smoke-smelling breath so I know I’m in trouble. Not Ser! I’m so stupid!

“Look at me,” he says, cupping my chin with a hand two times bigger than my entire face. Ever obedient, I look. Scary. One half of his face is jagged bones—his jaw and cheek are angled so sharp they could cut, and his crooked nose protrudes like a dog's muzzle. The other half of his face is melty, like weeping black and red flesh that gaps at his cheek and even leaves a spot of bone poking out at the far corner of his jaw.

“What happened?” I whisper, another stupid move. Mr. Clegane laughs again, and it sounds about as good as a middle school band concert.

“My brother fought me for a toy when I was seven. I lost. Face first, in the fireplace.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“I’m sure you are, little bird.”

“Little bird?”

“Yeah, that’s you—chirp, chirp, chirp.”

I don’t think I chirp, but I can’t think of anything to say with that messed up nose inches from mine. Mr. Clegane has big pores stuck with coarse black stubble and a deep set crow’s foot beside his one good eye. Even without the scars, he wouldn’t be pretty, like, ever. He’s too old. He’s a dad.

“Come—” he grabs my arm by my pink puff sleeve and tugs me back on track. “We don’t want to be late.”

Thankfully I make it to Runestone in one piece. But the entire night I feel the ghost of his strong fingers on my upper arm, a uncomfy ache, mirrored between my legs. I sleep with my hand there but don't rub. I wouldn't want to sin.

The next day, just as I arrive at the courtyard, Mr. Clegane comes out of basically nowhere and pulls me beneath the shade and shield of the biggest oak tree. My legs tremble fawn-like as he backs me against the trunk and leans close, his thick forearm propped just above my head. I’ve literally never blushed worse in my life because not even my boy teachers come this close to me and Mr. Clegane has done it twice now.

“Best keep my story a secret,” he says, pushing a curl behind my ear. “Or else.”

“Or else what?”

Mr. Clegane pushes his jacket back and pats an L-shaped lump on his hip where his polo is tucked into his thick leather belt. I don’t like looking at him down there at all because his pants are too tight, but I’m not so dumb, the other bulge is for sure a gun. I don’t want to die! Oh my gosh!

“I-I won’t,” I stutter, transfixed.

“I wouldn’t think so. You seem like a good little bird.”

Good little bird.

That’s the name Mr. Clegane gave me. Now, when I bump into him in the courtyard, that’s how he greets me: a gruff “Little bird.” I have to be polite back, so I’ll say, “Hi, Mr. Clegane,” then scurry over to my stone bench waiting spot and sit down and look at my phone so I seem very busy and important. It’s also a good time to call Jeyne, or sometimes just pretend to call Jeyne, because Mr. Clegane also really likes to stare, which isn’t ideal, because he has one intact bushy eyebrow that turns positively predatory when it slants over his sharp grey eye. The other he tries to keep covered with his hair, flopped over his burns. I do not like looking at him!

Problem is, he knows my route. Some days he joins up with me and I don’t have any excuses, like obviously we’re both heading to the same place. So I talk about the weather and my classes and taking care of Sweetrobin, small things, until Mr. Clegane brings up religion or politics and tries to fight me because guess what? He doesn’t believe in the Gods!

I ask him if he’s worried about going to hell.

He laughs so hard his spit flecks my forehead. Yuck.

I always watch my feet, because if I look up, Mr. Clegane will be staring straight down my shirt. He doesn’t have a choice I guess. I’m confused why he’s so big and muscular until I hear Mrs. Templeton whispering to Mrs. Waynwood about how he fought in the war: “He was called the Hound. For his brutality, of course.”


I wonder how he got a wife and a baby then. Like yes, I know how babies are made even though my septas would take a ruler to my knuckles if they knew the things Randa told me. Randa has lots of sex with her sexy older boyfriend Timett, who doesn’t even go to school, he plays guitar and smokes hempweed and doesn’t comb his hair and wears eyeliner. I’m going to wait until I’m married to have sex, duh. Joff and I never got further than first base even though he wanted to, then we never got a chance because I moved to the Vale when Mom and Dad died. I guess it's for the best, sigh. Staying pure I mean. Mostly I’m hoping Harry will ask me out soon, like I’m sending all the signals. That’s not the point! The main question here is who would make a baby with Mr. Clegane?

I also pick this up from Mrs. Templeton, eavesdropping while furiously scrolling through Insta.

“The mother is out of the picture,” she says to Mrs. Waynwood. “Never married."

"I heard she was a Summer Island whore," Mrs. Waynwood replies.

"Seems likely—he works at the Double Crown, after all."

Yikes! That's a strip club! Like the most infamous one in town! I don't even feel bad when Mr. Clegane looks over, scowling, because prostitution is so bad. That’s what the High Septon says and that’s what Uncle says too. But the thing is, Little Elinor is so cute! She has bright amber eyes and dark curls that she wears in two little puffball ponies. The kindergarteners get dismissed first, and she always runs out in her light up shoes, Princess Nym backpack slipping from her shoulders, and throws herself into Mr. Clegane’s arms. His face doesn’t seem half so bad when he smiles and plants dozens of kisses in Elinor’s hair. His meaty arms don’t seem half so deadly when he wraps them around her tiny body, perfectly breakable, and yet, unbroken.

One day, it’s Mr. Clegane who catches me staring. Embarrassing, but he walks to my perch on the bench, big hand swallowing Elinor’s, and says, “This is my little girl, Elinor. Say hi Elinor.”

“Hi,” she shyly says, one dimple stamped in her pudgy cheeks.

“Nice to meet you, Elinor. I’m Sansa, Robin’s cousin.”

“You’re not a mommy?”

“No, I’m not a mommy. Maybe one day, but I’m in high school.”

“Wow.” Elinor’s eyes go wide and she looks up to her dad. “She’s a big kid.”

When Mr. Clegane smiles, his teeth show through strings of black hair and red flesh beneath. “She is. Sansa is a big girl.”

That night I pray for Mr. Clegane and Elinor. I think even if her mother is a whore, Elinor didn’t do anything bad, so she doesn’t deserve to suffer for her father’s sins. I also end up praying for Mr. Clegane. He’s obviously a sinner, like aside from the whoring he rides a motorcycle with his daughter on the back, so dangerous, but maybe the Gods would forgive him too.

I decide I’m done thinking about him. Like high schoolers and dads can’t be friends, I don’t think. I wouldn’t be his friend anyway. Like he threatened me, remember? He’s really mean and swears all the time. He called my tiny backpack useless shit. He called Mrs. Waynwood a rotten bitch. Rude!

But a half moon after the alley incident Robin decides he's a big boy, too old to be babied on the weekend. I ask Uncle if I can join everyone for movie nights on Fathersdays, or Smithsdays at the mall, like a regular high schooler, like Harry is going to be there, and him and Maddy have started flirting an awful lot. But Uncle says no. He says I need more responsibility.

“Try babysitting.”

But I already do that for Sweetrobin! I don’t need the money, we have plenty!

I don’t say any of that.

I say, “Of course, Uncle,” because I’m a very good niece. I make a flyer on the computer and hang it up on the Runestone bulletin board with the permission of the principal.

The next day Mr. Clegane calls.

“Little bird,” he rasps into the receiver. “I need you.”

Mr. Clegane says their usual babysitter wants a day off, maybe I can fill in. I tell him I don’t know if I can. I’m thinking of Redsmith, and all the shootings and drugs they talk about on Channel 7 News, but also how Mr. Clegane lives alone, with a gun. No, that’s not right.

He has Elinor. He has a baby without a mommy. Like me.

Mr. Clegane tells me to put Uncle on the line. He must be very convincing. Smithsday at five—it’s decided.

I don’t know why but it takes forever to pick out what to wear. It’s just babysitting, but Mr. Clegane will see me, and he called me pretty. I guess I want to be pretty, because I settle on a floral wrap minidress, made mini by my stupidly long legs. The front is modest though (I don’t have any boobs) so Uncle doesn’t say anything about it when I come downstairs. It’s not like I wore makeup—he especially doesn’t like that. He likes my natural beauty best. He likes when I wear my hair in two milkmaid's plaits, which I am tonight, because you never know how intense playtime will get. Uncle pets the back of my head when I get in the passenger seat.

He’s not a fan of driving to Redsmith, but Mr. Clegane promised to drive me home. It was part of their deal, I think, though I worry about riding on the motorcycle.

There were three school days in between his call and tonight. Mr. Clegane waved to me each day before pickup, then he and Elinor waved on their way to the parking lot, and then today, he brought Elinor over and said, “Sansa is gonna watch you tonight while Daddy works, sweet girl.”

“Are we gonna play dollies?” she sweetly asked.

“Of course,” I said. “You can show me all your toys, and we can play anything you like.”

“I have a Princess Nym dress.”

“No way! You’re very lucky.”

Elinor aimed her tiny smile at the man who made up our shared dark sky. “Daddy got it for me.”

Mr. Clegane smiled back, which was still freaky but also kinda sweet, especially when he scooped Elinor up and held her against his hip so he could kiss her little forehead. To me he said, “See you at five, little bird.”

Little bird. That’s me.

But oh, Sweetrobin came out and I had to say goodbye! He hasn’t met Mr. Clegane yet and part of me doesn’t want that. No matter what Robin says, he’s still a baby to me. He might be afraid of Mr. Clegane. He might tell Uncle we're secret not-friends.

Mostly I’m a little bird, a pet name, like I’m a pet. It’s not the same as friends, I don't think.

Mr. Clegane lives in a shabby split level in a neighborhood of equally shabby split levels. The pale yellow siding is peeling, the walk is cracked with green weeds and black dirt. The lawn is also kinda yellow, but mowed, littered with balls, jumprope, squirt guns, and a pink plastic tricycle. Uncle doesn’t want to escort me to the front door, so he gives me a lip-kiss goodbye and off I go, tummy aflutter! I think about getting killed again, of how daddies can be killers too. And Mr. Clegane has already killed people during the war. Terrorists are still human beings.

Mr. Clegane fills the entire door frame when he answers. He must have put on deodorant or showered, because I’m forced to breathe in a very manly stench, eye-level with his broad chest. His black polo is embroidered with the words Double Crown.

“Hi, little bird," he says. "I like your dress.”

Elinor squeezes between her daddy’s long legs. “Sansa!” she cries.

“Hi, sweetling,” I answer, bending low to give her a hug. “Can you show me your house?”

I meet Stranger first thing, a slobbery black hound, apparently Elinor's best friend. Mr. Clegane carries her around while he gives me a tour. The house is nothing special; it’s like two decades outdated with low popcorn ceilings, spotted grey carpet and chipped linoleum. The den is blocked off by a wooden railing and a half-sized staircase. It overlooks the back of an ugly plaid couch and mismatched fancy flatscreen, awash in a sea of Pia Pocket clothes, strewn like rainbow confetti. In the kitchen the cupboards are painted drab olive green and the appliances are all brown, not even stainless steel, yikes. His wooden countertops are cluttered with junk mail and coupon pamphlets, a fruit bowl with nothing but red delicious apples, a plethora of breadcrumbs and flaky milk splotches.

I keep my hands to myself, clutch my shoulder bag instead.

When Mr. Clegane asks if I’ve had dinner I lie and say yes—I was too nervous to eat in front of Uncle. Even so, he points out the menu of Manderly’s Pies, buried under layers and layers of kindergarten-quality crayon illustrations. “Order anything you like,” he says. He nods to a cookie jar in the shape of a castle on top of the cabinets. "I keep cash in there."

“Does Elinor need dinner?”

“I eat chicken nuggets!” she volunteers.

“She eats chicken nuggets,” Mr. Clegane repeats. “They’re in the freezer. But she likes pears too. Here—" He grabs a can from the pantry and smacks it on the counter. “She’ll eat those.”

“I’ll eat them,” she confirms.

Elinor gets surly when Mr. Clegane has to go. She clings to his shirt then his hair then his hands as he pries her off him and foists her into my arms. She cries, “Daddy, stay! Daddy, no!” while he gets his jacket and keys, stoops to kiss her forehead goodbye. "Shhh. You’re alright, sweet girl. I'll be back before you know. Be good for Sansa. She'll take care of you." Then, to me, “Nell does this sometimes. Doctor says it’s because she lost her mom too young. Put on Princess Nym, she'll calm right down.”

I have a better idea than TV. After Mr. Clegane's motorcycle rumbles into the distance, and I spend some time on the musty carpet, rocking and shushing Elinor while she wails and Stranger prowls around us, I say, "What if we put on your fancy dress and had a princess tea party?"

She sucks her thumb and sniffles, "Okay."

First we do a full princess makeover. She wears her Princess Nym dress, silky purple with puffy tulle sleeves and a sparkly tulle skirt, a plastic brooch with Princess Nym's cartoony portrait smack dab in the center of the lacy collar. Nym and Elinor look basically the same, with those dark curls and gilded eyes. I tell Nell that, and she dishes out her pearly whites. I ask her how she wants her hair and she says like mine, so after a thorough combing, I weave two plaits, tied off with purple elastics, the little girl kind with glittery bobbles. I take her picture and show her.

"Do one together!” she says.

So I pull her in close and snap a selfie with our matching hairstyles.

Nell grins and tells me, “Send it to Daddy so we can keep it on the iPad! Pretty please!"

It makes me nervous to text Mr. Clegane (we only talked on the phone once) but Nell asked very nicely, so I type out princess makeover 👸 and attach the picture. When he sends back, My two pretty girls, my face gets kinda hot. I put him in my contact list as Ser Clegane, because it seems funny. Seems like something that would make him growl, “Little bird,” all rough and annoyed.

Then it's tea time. Nell kindly shows me her My Little Unicorn tea set, pink and plastic, with crinkled and peeling unicorn decals on the sides. I wash the dishes while I cook the chicken nuggets, because we both agree princesses can eat them. I get distracted looking at the cluttered fridge, a rag-tag art museum. One piece stands out: three stick figures, two tall ones holding hands with a littler one.

my famly

The tall stick figure with a skirt and long black hair has a golden halo above her head.

Tea! Let’s put some tea on. When I ask Nell where her daddy keeps it, she says, "Daddy makes sweet girl tea."

"What does Daddy put in sweet girl tea?"

"Milk and honey! And sprinkles!"

Easy enough. I dump like half a cup of honey into the little teapot and top it off with milk. Rainbow sprinkles go in what I assume is the sugar dish, then I fill the cream pitcher with Reddi-whip for fun. We make our tea party a picnic on a blanket in the den, a spread of nuggets, sliced pears, and sweet girl tea, with Princess Nym playing in the background. I remind Nell to keep her pinky up when she drinks. Manners are very important.

After the picnic, I let her boss me around playing Pia Pockets. I get to be the redhead, and in this world, the redheads are the servants. I bring the princess sprinkles as tokens of my fealty, and the princess munches them one by one. Soon enough she gets bored and wants her iPad, which Mr. Clegane said she could use as much as she wants as long as she washes her hands. I wipe them down and we sit on the couch. Nell snuggles close, tucking her cute strawberry smelling head right under my arm.

"Let's look at my pictures," she says.

Mr. Clegane already uploaded our princess plaits selfie into her photo album. There are a lot of pictures of her dressed up, then pictures of Stranger, pictures of her and her daddy, or her daddy alone, but from awkward upward angles, most of them blurry. "I took these," Nell boasts. I giggle. "They're very nice, sweetling." A lie isn't wrong if it's kindly meant. It's a miracle Mr. Clegane didn't break the camera, what with his harsh bone structure and mega-scowl. "My daddy is handsome," Nell says, pulling up a picture of Mr. Clegane in a pristine white uniform, barrel chest adorned in medals. Woah—those are dress whites. Daddy was in the Kingsforce. He has the matching white cloak and massive golden sword slung over his shoulder. Nell is in white taffeta at his side, her tiny hand curled around one of his fingers.

"He doesn't scare you?" I blurt.

"No, Daddy is nice."

"But his face—"

Nell pouts up at me. "It's not Daddy's fault."

As she scrolls down she gets younger. "I used to be little," she says. Then, "Look! There's Mommy!" Before I can see, she brings the screen to her mouth and makes a big lip-smacking sound. When at last she lowers the iPad, there she is: willowy tall and radiant in the sunlight, beaded braids cascading down her back, toddler Nell her arms.

"What happened to your mommy?"

"She ate too many pills and died."

I press my fingertips to my lips, automatic. "Oh my gosh. That's so sad."

"That was when Daddy was at the war, then he came home. Now I have Daddy back, but I don't have Mommy anymore."

She says it so matter-of-fact it hurts. I run my hand over her head and say, "I'm so sorry, sweetling. I lost my mom too."

"I wish Mommy could come back."

"That would be so nice, wouldn't it?"

"I can send her messages. Wanna see?"

Nell pulls up iMessage, and she has four chats: Daddy, Mommy, Papa, and Nana. She opens Mommy's chat first: a stream of emojis, mostly hearts, with some rainbows and unicorns tossed in. She slowly pecks hi mom,then the heart-eyed cat, then regular heart-eyes, then three dozen red hearts. "Daddy doesn't believe in heaven but the doctor says that's where Mommy is. I think heaven is really nice. I think Mommy is an angel."

"Of course she is. A very pretty angel."

Next she opens her chat with her daddy. Again, lots of emojis, but at least the conversation isn't one sided. Looks like she sent the last message yesterday night. luv u daddy 💓💓💓

I love you too baby girl

"How do you write your name?" she asks.

I spell it out and she punches in letter by letter with a tiny finger.

sansa is nis i luv u 💓💘💕💗

Mr. Clegane sends back ❤️

They send a lot of emojis back and forth, hearts at first, then flowers, then princesses and unicorns. It gets sillier and sillier until I notice the time—eight pm. Little princesses need bed! Nell gets sassy when I press the lockscreen on the iPad, but she agrees to get into her nightgown when I promise a story. I help her potty, though she proudly announces she's worn big girl underwear for two years and she doesn't have accidents like a baby would. She can brush her own teeth too, though I discover Mountain Peak deodorant and an orange bottle labelled paroxetine when I fetch bubblegum toothpaste from the medicine cabinet. I blush, which is stupid, but other people's medicine feels secret. I wonder what's wrong with Mr. Clegane.

I take Nell by the hand to her bedroom, nothing short of chaotic, girly debris scattered like a pink and purple nuclear bomb. I try to guide her to her white metal-framed bed, basted in stickers, but she puts up a fuss and twists out of my grip.

"Not here," she whines. "I want Daddy's bed."

"Is that allowed?" I ask. Mr. Clegane didn't actually give me many bedtime details. But Nell answers, "Very allowed. I'm Daddy's little dreamcatcher. He says so."

Okaaay, I don't know what that means, but I let her pick out a book (Hot Pie's Hot Pies) and pink blankie in hand, she leads us down the narrow hall to the master bedroom. It feels weird, you know, being in Mr. Clegane's room. It's like being in a boy's room which is already kinda scary except this is a man's room. It smells like his piney man deodorant but also kinda like sweat, a mysterious body funk, and in contrast to Nell's room, it's very neat. No clothes on the floor, yellow and black flannel sheets crisply folded on the dark oak bed. The only other furniture is a matching oak wardrobe—nothing special, it just smells. When me and Nell crawl under the covers, I try not to think of how this is my first time in a non-family boy bed.


Mr. Clegane is a man.

And it really smells like him in here. I power through Hot Pie's Hot Pies, a tale about a chubby boy defying the odds and being a boy baker who makes pretty pies and prettier cupcakes. But Nell is still awake, so I ask if maybe she wants to hear a song. She nods. I start with the Bear and Maiden Fair to get out her wiggles, tickling her and nipping at her plaits like I'm the hungry bear. Next is the Song of the Seven, then for some reason all I can think of is the Mother's Prayer. I sing it twice because Nell asks. Eyes closed, with her little hand clutching the string tie bow at my waist, she whispers, "You're a good mommy."

I sing the hymn once more; she falls asleep.

When I slip out of the room and tiptoe down the hall, Stranger perks up on his dog bed. I get on my knees and let him lick my face. I want a puppy so bad, but Uncle won't let me.

Uncle also doesn't let me eat pizza—I have to sneak it at school or at Randa's house. It's only nine pm (and Mr. Clegane said he'd be gone until midnight, doing whatever it is he does at a strip club) so I dial up Manderly's Pies and order a large supreme, large because I stood on the counter top to reach the cookie jar, and found fat wads of ones, fives, and tens. Maybe two thousand dragons in there! Mr. Clegane is kinda weird to keep cash out like this. While I wait for the pizza, I crack open a Coke (another no-no according to Uncle, because sugar will ruin my teeth and caffeine will stunt my growth), then I wander Mr. Clegane's house.

He has older pictures up on the wood-panelled walls. Like, old-old. Like black and white, future grandpas and grandmas. Or maybe just his parents. There's a hazy yellow picture of a husband and wife in front of a farmhouse, with a tall, dark-haired boy, a toddler, and a baby bundled in white frills. I put the pieces together as I walk the hall. I knew about the brother, but I think Mr. Clegane is in the middle, because there are pictures of him, young, burnt, with a little girl. They're all in a farmhouse, looks like the crownlands with brown grass, or maybe it's the westerlands, because mountains loom in the background.

But then there's a gap. Definitely no teenage Mr. Clegane. No more little girl. The next youngest picture is him in uniform, an official military portrait. Beside it—his shiny gold Kingsforce plaque. Mr. Clegane is a big liar. Everyone knows Kingsforce knights should be called Ser.

He has one framed picture of him and Nell's mom. It’s a glossy four by six with an orange date blazed into the corner: 11/04/294. Mr. Clegane's hand is on her pregnant belly. His face is buried in her neck. He's kissing her, or maybe he's hiding, either way it's kinda sexy.

Oh boy.

I scurry to the end of the hall. There are two spare rooms. One is full of boxes, the walls lined with books. The other is locked, but there's a sign on it in an unmistakable six-year-old's scrawl: Daddys Only No Litel Girls Alowd.

When the pizza comes I get a little too cozy. Not so cozy I drink the beer in the fridge, even though Mr. Clegane said I could, he didn't give a shit, just keep it to three max and put the cans in the recycling bin. No, I take my pizza to the couch and curl up barefooted under a rough knit throw. I savor my meal, bite by tiny bite, sip by sip, and watch Blood Bond, which typically I only get to do at Randa's. I text her a bit, tell her babysitting is going well. She doesn't text back. She must be with Timett. I text Jeyne too, no answer. Her boyfriend is Theon, bleh. I think about texting Harry, but I check his Instagram story first. My pizza belly flops when I see it: a picture of him and Maddy on her pink gingham comforter.

He doesn't reply on an ordinary night let alone when he's with her. They probably just made out. Ugh.

I watch everyone's stories then, and everyone is out at Chella's or at the mall or kissing their boyfriends and girlfriends and showing it off. Or they're busy being super skinny, posting selfies in skimpy outfits with full-face makeup. And me, I'm here, in Mr. Clegane's split level. I think about taking pictures of my pizza crust on a scratched up My Little Unicorn plate: Smithsday vibes 😜✌️💋

Could I get any lamer?

I was cool when I was Joffrey's girlfriend. I was cool when Daddy was alive.

For whatever reason I end up texting Sandor. Nell is sound asleep 💤

She give you any trouble?

well she did want to be in your bed...i hope that's okay

Yeah she gets nightmares. Just keep an ear out

Will do

He sends 👍 so I send 😇

He sends back 😘

Probably a typo, but even so, my heart skips a beat and my hands get sweaty. I think about deleting all our text messages, but end up stuffing my phone in the couch cushion instead. He's an old man—he doesn't get how texting works. He doesn't know what emojis mean.

I watch Aemon and Naerys have sex on TV, like with lots biting and moaning. It’s so scandalous because they’re brother and sister! And oh my gosh, Aemon is licking his sister’s private parts, what Randa calls eating out. It makes my heart pound in an awkward place but I can’t look away. I try to remember if the Maiden says watching sex happen is as dirty as having it but—


Oh shoot, Mr. Clegane! I mash every key on the remote and manage to switch off the naughty show just as he stalks through the door.

I rush up to greet him (I think I'm really ready to leave, still flushed from the emoji incident and sex scene), but I can’t get anything out. Mr. Clegane is a muscular tower. He exudes a black cloud of stale cigarettes and liquor, and stares down my v-neckline, loosened from the night's games. My pink bra peeks out from above. I'm breathing really hard.

Mr. Clegane fingers the end of a plait. “Hi pretty bird,” he says.

"I thought I was little," I reply, stupefied.

Dumb, dumb, dumb! He lowers his scary scarred face to my pretty one. “You’re both,” he growls, his breath so thick I basically drink a beer. Yes, beer. He drank and drove! A motorcycle! I'm so stunned I forget to ask him for a ride, then I'm confused, how will I get a ride home if he's had alcohol?

Mr. Clegane doesn't care—he pushes into the kitchen, throws off his jacket, and drops into a creaky chair.

"Be a good little bird and get my boots," he grunts, tipping his scruff-darkened chin to the floor.

Um, what? But I guess I have to, because he's paying me? I used to do it for Daddy, so he's like, paying me to be his daughter or something? Do people do that? Reverse babysitting? Am I the baby? For hire? Oh gosh. Too many thoughts. Mr. Clegane grunts, leans back so I can see that ominous outline at his hip. Oh no, no, no. I fall bare knees to cold linoleum and go to work on his laces. His black socks are damp underneath and he says, "Those too."

His feet are hairy, huge, and reek of feet. I get out of there fast, and try to act casual in front of the fridge, but then he lumbers over, so I have to dart back against the counter.

He fishes out a can of beer!

My jaw literally drops but he doesn't care. “The little bird ordered a pizza,” he muses. He goes upstairs; a door opens and softly shuts. He resurfaces, lurches down the four carpeted steps to the den, and sinks into the couch with a low groan.

It's too much. "I still need a ride," I nervously call from behind the railing.

"And I need to finish this beer."

His eyes take a long journey from my bare toes to my chest. I don't even have a chest! But his eyes cling there. "Come here, girl," he calls.

I don't know why but I do. Mr. Clegane lifts up a muscular arm, and he's so heavy that when I sit down next to him, my legs get sucked against his. Worse, my skirt bunches up at the top of my thighs, so it's milk skin married to rough black denim. It feels kinda wrong to be close like this, like his beefy bicep weighs down my shoulders, but I guess it's like how Daddy used to sit with me. Except I don't remember Daddy's armpit being so sweaty it soaked through my sleeve to my skin.

Mr. Clegane goes on drinking his beer all casual. "How did she do?" he asks.

"Oh, um, good,” I answer, fiddling with the hem of my dress. “Really good. We played princess party and read books."

"Did she make you read Hot Pie?"

I smile accidentally. "Yeah, she did. It was cute though."

"Girl's obsessed."

"What do you do at the Double Crown?" I ask, another accident.

"I'm an audio tech."

"Did you meet Nell's mom there?"

"Little bird," Sandor says. He scowls down at me so I pout. I just want to know. He says, "No. I met her at a club in King's Landing. Why do you ask?"

"Nell told me about—she told me about the pills."

I press my fingernails into the pads of my thumbs and listen to Sandor take a long sip of beer. Three cars whiz past the windows. Down the street, a couple shouts. In the distance, sirens.

"Amaya had BPD pretty bad," he says softly. "I should have seen it coming. I was in Qarth when it happened. Didn't find out for a full twenty-four hours."

"Oh my gosh."

"Yeah, it was shitty."

"And you loved her?"

"I think so. But it doesn't come easy."

My heart thumps three times, so strong I feel it in my throat. "You look so pretty tonight," Sandor says, and he sets a hand on my knee, thumbs the light fuzz on my thigh. I should have shaved. My skin seems ghastly in comparison to his. So pretty. I'm acutely aware of the fact that my phone is still wedged between the cushions, now squashed by his big man butt.

The word for this is trapped. I swallow, hard.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" he asks.

I shake my head. "I have a crush on Harry but he has a crush on Maddy. He's at her house tonight, I saw it in his story."

"Harry's loss then." Sandor tucks a baby curl behind my ear, runs his finger along its edge. "My pretty little bird,” he breathes. "What if I told you I have a crush on you?"

I am suddenly nothing but skin and throbbing heart, one hundred twenty pounds of barely contained pulse. Mr. Clegane has a crush on me? That makes sitting next to him special, but what am I supposed to do? Maybe nothing, because his hand slides up to my hem. He descends like the night, dark hair drenching my face, the expanse of his chest a half-world black sky, or maybe it's the opposite, a grave, and I'm being buried alive.

"I bet you're the prettiest girl in school," he says, nipping at my earlobe. "Can I kiss you?"

But he already kind of is. I look straight ahead at our fuzzy reflection in the blank TV as his lips, half regular, half rough, work down my ear to my chin. He cups my entire jaw, and sticks my mouth to his. His tongue breaks in and I whimper on it, so he makes an animal type of sound, a throaty rumble, and says, "Hush, girl." Oh my gosh, Nell! I'd be so embarrassed if she saw her daddy kissing on the couch. So as Mr. Clegane gets sloppier, biting my lip, licking up my nose and over my cheeks, I swallow my noises and clamp my legs around his hand as hard as I can. Even so his fingers weasel their way up to the crotch of my panties and press down. "Gods, you're wet," he growls. "Are you a maiden, little bird?"

I nod into the hand on my jaw.

"I thought so. You're a good little bird, aren't you?"

I nod again.

"I need you to do something for me then."

He pries my wrung hands apart and sticks my palm to his jeans. I immediately recognize what's down there even though I'm too afraid to look—a boner. Joffrey used to do this, make me touch his boners through his pants, and tell me it's my fault it was there, all the making out, and that I should do something about it. Now I've done it again, teasing Mr. Clegane with my kisses. But his boner is bigger than Joffrey's. It's bigger than my hand, throbbing like it might break free.

"Have you ever seen a cock before?" he asks.

I shake my head but regret it. Mr. Clegane plucks my waist like I’m a doll and sets me on his lap, straddling him with my legs spread so wide my pink panties show. Inches away, he unbuckles and unzips. His cloaked erection swells urgently beneath plain grey boxers.

"Take him out and play."

I try to think of the excuses I used to tell Joffrey, but none of them make sense in this context. Let's wait until we're married, or, my dad wouldn't approve. But Mr. Clegane is the dad! And marriage is out of the question! But I forget how to think because he puts his hand back up my skirt, past my undies, and slides a rough finger inside of me. It doesn't feel like when I've done it, once or twice, it feels like if fire was good, so good my vision stars bright white.

"Oh," I gasp, propping a hand on Mr. Clegane’s beefy chest.

"There's a good girl," he says. "Now take out Daddy's cock."

A wolfish grin comes into focus—that makes me the baby. This is really naughty.

"I'm afraid of him," I pout.

"Don't be. Be brave for me, sweet girl."

He guides my trembling hand to his boxers, slides my fingers through the front seam. I come back with an overflowing fistful of man’s staff: red, hard, as big as my forearm.

"Oh gosh," I puff. "He’s huge."

It bounces up and I whip my hand away, only to have Mr. Clegane catch me, spread my palm, and spit in it. "I'll help you," he grunts, easing my fist along his length. It's like if meat was alive, like a one-eyed monster, stupidly thick, drool coming from the tip of it. I kinda stroke angrily because I'd rather be in my own house right now; I want to be a baby like Nell, safe in Daddy's bed. I don't know what kind of daddy Mr. Clegane is. The kind that keeps whispering, "That's it. That's a good little bird." The kind that sticks a second finger inside of me, and pets the back of my plaits when I wilt face first into his chest. It's surprisingly soft in here; his pecs are dark pillows; I'm tucked; I drink in smoky cotton.

"Daddy is the first to touch you here, isn't he?"


"I thought so. My baby has the tightest little flower, but she's soaked. She's hurting. I think she needs Daddy's fingers to make her all better."

He's right because he nestles into a spot that's so sore but his fingers are strong and warm, a remedy. He finds the other owie spot on the outside, where my pulse pounds the fiercest, and mashes his thumb on it. "Daddy," I whimper. My fingers seize the base of his staff, then drop languidly into the coarse hair below. "Easy now." But it's not easy, because my insides are going wild around his fingers. I haven't gotten this far on my own, like I can't stop it, like my heart is swelling up, fluttering madly, it's a star and I'm—

"You’re alright. You can come on Daddy's hand."

That's what happens. Like first it's pure white, the happiest ache of my life. I feel my insides draw Daddy in, but I also feel them slipping out. When he takes his hand from beneath my dress, it's glossed pink. "Naughty bird," he growls. But he's the naughty one! I'm just a girl! It doesn't matter. He says, "Clean up your mess," and shoves his fingers in my mouth, fills me with my own guts. It tastes wrong, a metallic animal flavor.

When I finish, Mr. Clegane’s spit-shined hand cradles my cheek. His manhood rages in my grip and I know we're not actually done, especially the way his grey eyes narrow, locked with mine.

"Get on your knees, and suck Daddy's cock."

I think about crying. I think about running. I think about Nell upstairs. I don't want to give Mr. Clegane a blowjob, not here, not now, and maybe not ever.

I think about the gun, but I don't dare look away. I slip between his legs to the carpet.

"Please," I beg.

"Please what?"

"Please don't make me, Mr. Clegane."

"Sandor," he says, pushing his thumb past my frown. I suck on him because I can’t help it butrealize I'm not-on-purpose practicing. Mr. Clegane slowly strokes himself and serves up the courtyard stare.

"Do you know why mommies and daddies have sex?" he asks, dragging down my lower lip.

"Um—to make babies?"

Wrong answer—Mr. Clegane grins, sharp-toothed. "Because it feels good," he corrects. "Did you like coming?"

I nod, forcibly pouting. "Look what you do to me, sweet girl." He's talking about the boner in his fist. It looks extra swollen now, dark with blood, so hard it sticks up to his puffy belly.

"You're hurting," I say.

"I'm hurting."

“Why?” I whisper. Where did I go wrong?

"Because you have such big blue eyes, and shiny red hair. And your skin—" he swipes my blush with a wet thumb. "You're so young. You're my little baby bird, but daddies need help too. Do you understand?"

My nod is part lie—I still don't think babies should have sex. But Mr. Clegane made me feel good, so it's only polite to return the favor. He eases me forward by the cheek until my nose bumps his ugly boner. "Use that cute tongue of yours," he breathes. Timidly I stick it out, lick his bulging veins and warm skin. "That's not so scary, is it?"

I shake my head.

Not so scary, but I only give Mr. Clegane's penis light kitten laps because with each one he throbs like a loaded weapon and growls out hot beer breath. With the next pulse, he latches onto my plait and draws my open mouth down harder.

"That's a good girl. You're Daddy's little helper, aren't you?"

When my tongue reaches his leaking tip, he thrusts himself in my mouth, a heavy hand sprawled on the top of my head. I suddenly have so much to say—you're not my daddy, I don't like this game, take me home, I’m telling— but I can't say it because my lips gape so wide they tear at the corners. My knees roll on squished up Pia Pocket pieces. My panties are sopping wet with sin and a too-big man's staff rams my soft palate like a fleshy drill. Mr. Clegane moves my head for me; I just keep my tongue flat and focus on not puking.

"Oh fuck," he groans. "Look at you. My little girl gives the best head, doesn't she?"

The waterworks run. Little. I am little. Little when Daddy crudely wipes my cheek. Little when his tear-kissed palm sneaks inside my dress and cups my boob. I am a crush, crushable. One good squeeze and my heart truly would be his. "Daddy," I whimper on his slobbery cock.

"Daddy's right here, little bird. Daddy's gonna come in that pretty mouth."

He does. It's a salty blast that I gulp down because he doesn't relax his hold and otherwise I'd suffocate. "Good girl,” he soothes as he eases me off him. "What a pretty sight."

He’s lying, maybe. I’m wet literally everywhere: two slugs of snot drip from my nose, spit dangles from my lips, tears bead on my lashes, swim in my eyes. He touched his baby. He’s touching me now, thumbing a string of come from my chin. I'm disgusting. I sob. "Come now," Mr. Clegane says. He drags me into his lap by the elbows and uses my dress to smear the gunk from my face. "Shh, I've got you." He draws those big arms tight and mashes me against his too-soft chest. “I’m proud of you, sweet girl.” He says it in a tone I recognize from earlier today, a tone I recognize from a decade ago, a tone that sounds the way a warm glass of milk before bedtime feels. "I know it’s a lot, but it's been a while for me. I really needed that."

“Because you have a crush on me,” I wetly whisper.

“I do.”

“Am I going to hell?”

“Never." Mr. Clegane kisses my head and leaves his mouth there. "The Gods love you, little bird.”


Oh no, Nell!

Flight kicks in, except Mr. Clegane’s biceps tense up and cage me. He turns his head and calls over his shoulder, “I’m here, sweet girl. What’s the matter?”

"Why is Sansa sad?"

Mr. Clegane relaxes enough for me to peel my face from his polo. He waits for my answer with a tummy-turning softness in his eyes.

“I had a bad dream,” I say.

“She had a bad dream,” he repeats, louder, but by the time I fully straighten, Nell is there in her Blossomforth nightgown, pink blankie in hand, scrambling onto the couch, then climbing into our collective lap. “Daddy gets bad dreams too,” she says. “That’s why you’re supposed to sleep with me. I make it better.”

“Is that so?”

“Mhm.” Nell pokes beneath my nose. “You have a booger, silly.”

I palm away the dregs of snot and weakly giggle, because it all comes down to boogers, doesn’t it?

“We need to take Sansa home,” Mr. Clegane says. “Here.” He scooches me and Nell to the side, fluffs her blanket over her little body and my goose-pimpled thighs, sticky on the inside. “I’ll be right back.”

Mr. Clegane loudly uses the bathroom and I fish my phone out of the crumb-infested cushions. Three new texts from Uncle, but I can’t bring myself to open them. I'm almost mad at Uncle for letting me come here. I almost hope he called the cops, but what if Mr. Clegane got in trouble? Who would take care of Nell? I stroke her frayed plaits and smooth down corkscrew curls with their own agenda. I just had sex here, right here, we’re I’m snuggling Mr. Clegane’s baby girl. I saw his big penis. I touched it. I put my mouth on it. He touched me. He made me have my first orgasm by accident.

I drank his sperm. It tastes so yucky on my tongue.

But I’m a good girl still, really. Mr. Clegane said so. I'll repent very hard tonight when I get home to make extra sure I don't go to hell.

Mr. Clegane returns with a pair of shoes in each hand—my sandals and Nell’s tiny pink crocs—then kneels to help us put them on, Nell, then me.

He holds our hands on either side of him and walks us to the garage. Thank the Gods, he has a truck. The three of us pile in the front seat, Nell nestled in the middle. She's asleep in minutes. Mr. Clegane smokes and steers with his left hand, drapes his right arm around me and lightly holds my boob. I take out my phone and pull up what Uncle sent me.


It’s late.

Call now.

It’s actually only ten past midnight, like I wasn’t even supposed to be home until twelve thirty. So I send one text back:

omw home - mr. clegane worked late, sorry!

"What did you send him?"

I show Mr. Clegane the message at the next red light, and he grunts about it. The rest of the drive is quiet except for the crescent moon and the stars, the swirling tide of night air lapsing my loose curls and stiff cheeks. When Mr. Clegane rolls up the long hedge-lined drive to Uncle’s house, he doesn’t unlock the doors. He pulls six hundred dragon bills out of his back pocket and hands them to me.

“That’s a lot,” I say. A whole moon’s allowance in one night.

“You earned it. I think Nell really likes you.”

I put the money in my bag because I can’t be rude now, so close to my own bed. “Thanks."

“I’ll see you Maidensday, then.”


Mr. Clegane squeezes the back of my neck. I steal myself, look his way. His scars ripple like blue water in moonlight. They aren't his fault. I don’t know if we’re boyfriend and girlfriend now because of the sex. I don’t know if that’s even possible, because he’s twice my age, like he’s an adult man.

“Do you think—do you think if I texted you, you’d text back?” I meekly ask.

The bad side of Sandor's lips twitches up. “Always,” he replies, thumbing the electrified notches of my spine. “But we ought to be careful. You're very special to me, little bird. Do you understand?"

I nod, wide-eyed. I think he answered my question. “Good girl,” he says, and he unlocks the doors. I only get so far as stepping down before something catches my dress. It's Nell. She holds a little handful of flowery cotton and blinks up at me drowsily.

"Is Sansa gonna come back?"

I pry her little fingers off me one by one and tuck her back into her blankie bundle. “Of course, Nell,” I answer. I look straight at Mr. Clegane and smile sweetly.

"I'll babysit whenever Daddy wants me to."