November Skies: Chapter One – The Decision
Kaila Oliver awoke to the cries of her younger siblings fighting over their new toys. She could hear her little sister Clarissa’s voice rise shrilly.
“Robby! No fair! I want that one!”
“Well, too bad! I called dibs!”
“That’s not fair! Mom!”
“Mom’s not here right now, so there’s no one to run crying to!”
Kaila groaned and reached for her cellphone to check the time. It was almost 11. She should probably get up. Bleary eyed, she trudged into her bathroom to brush her teeth. She could still hear her siblings arguing through the walls.
“Daddy, Robby’s not sharing!”
Robert, Kaila’s stepfather, could be heard from the kitchen, his voice calm as always. “Now kids, I bought you that game so you two could play together, not so you’d fight.”
Kaila smirked in the mirror. Kids always fought over stuff when it wasn’t clearly divided, even sometimes when it was. That was the way of the world. She looked toward the shower, wondering if she was willing to jump in yet. The heated tiles were warm against her feet. California might be warm most of the time, but the winter mornings were chilly. This January had been particularly brisk. She’d have to take the shower sooner or later. Might as well be now. Turning her phone to Spotify, Kaila plugged in her portable speaker and let her morning playlist run. The water was plenty warm, so at least it wasn’t too big of a shock to jump in. As she applied a liberal amount of shampoo to her head, Kaila wondered how long this red dye would stay in her hair. She and Marcia had tried it out on a whim last week just to spice things up from her usual brown, but she didn’t feel like the look really suited her. It was bold, but not in a good way. Maybe some simple highlights would’ve been better…
As Kaila stood in the kitchen in her fluffy, purple bathrobe, pouring herself a cup of coffee, she could hear her mother entering the front door.
“I’m back from Women’s Club! Did anyone miss me?”
Kaila’s grip on her mug tightened.
Clarissa and Robby didn’t respond, as they were fully engrossed in their video game now that things had settled down.
“Aileen? Have you seen my blue tie anywhere?” Robert called from the master bedroom.
“I put it on the armchair last night. Do you see it?”
Aileen Chancellor’s eyes fell on Kaila, hair still wet and tangled from the shower. “Honey, did you just get up? It’s almost noon!”
“It’s only 11:45.” Kaila muttered. “Plus, it’s the weekend.”
“Well, it’s not like you’ve been getting up much earlier on other days.”
Kaila could hear her mother following her into the kitchen.
“Have you heard back from USC yet on what their deadline is for reapplying for the spring semester? And have you checked out any of those colleges your grandfather mentioned?”
“I’ll check later today.” She probably wouldn’t.
“Well, Robert’s going into work for a few hours, and I’ll be dropping Robby and Clarissa off for a play-date at Tommy’s house, then meeting with Mrs. Garcia, so you should have the house to yourself for a few hours.”
Kaila nodded. She was on her phone. With one hand she poured milk onto her cereal, while in the other she scrolled through her newsfeed. “That gas leak in Porter Ranch still hasn’t been fixed.”
“That’s awful.” Aileen murmured.
Kaila looked up to see if her mother was going to say anything else, but she appeared engrossed in today’s newspaper. Kaila decided to try again. “Is Grandpa coming by today?”
That got her mother’s attention. She placed the newspaper down and turned straight to Kaila. “Yes, he is, and I hope you’re more civil to him than you were last time. Honestly, he gets enough complaints from perfect strangers, he doesn’t need to be attacked by his own family.”
“So then it’s not his fault that a huge oil spill happened last week on one of his company’s oil freighters?”
“Oh, stop acting so high and mighty, Kaila! Honestly, you’ve never given two hoots about the environment, and now you seem to take every chance you can to throw a jibe at your grandfather. What has gotten into you? Do you really have no better way to spend your time?”
“Dad wasn’t scared to tell Grandpa what he thought of him!” Kaila snapped.
Aileen’s expression changed, to one of sorrow. “It’s true, your father was proud of sticking up for what he believed in, but he wasn’t very good at handling responsibility. I want you to grow into a woman who can stand accountable for herself, and be proud of what she’s accomplished.”
“Why, so I can marry someone like Robert? So I can become a happy housewife like you?”
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Aileen’s face hardened. “What in the world is wrong with you? You never acted like this before! Why are you so angry all the time?”
“Because sometimes I wonder if I would have been happier with Dad!” Kaila’s throat felt tight at these words. Her back was turned to her mother. She flinched when she felt a hand come to rest on her shoulder.
“Honey, your father was declared legally dead. He’s been gone for over twenty years now. If he were still alive-”
“… Then Grandpa would know about it. You’ve told me as much before. I’m eating in my room.” Kaila shook off her mother’s hand and strode angrily down the hall, slamming her door behind her. The cereal had already gotten soggy. Kaila stepped into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet. Sitting down on her bed, she reached for her laptop which was buried under a pile of pillows. It was almost noon. November Skies would be posting soon.
Jeffrey Oliver had been a famous environmental journalist back in the early 90’s. He had shown the world the dangers of humanity’s actions, and that while men were busy fighting wars or building empires it was the earth that paid the price. One of his most famous articles came from his time covering the Kuwaiti oil fires. In 1991, military forces from Iraq had set fire to hundreds of oil wells as they retreated from Kuwait. These fires burned for months, filling the sky with smoke and casting the land in shadow. It was only after months of dedicated work that the last fire was put out on November 6 of that year. On that day, Jeffrey Oliver wrote:
“It is finished, and yet in another sense the hard work of repairing the damage done by these fires has only begun. How many toxins have entered our air, how many children have inhaled the fumes from these wells and grown sick from the very air they breathed? The fires may have stopped, but the damage remains. Still, there is hope. You can see the sun once more in Kuwait, shining brightly in this November sky. It is a symbol of hope for humanity, that what was lost may be regained and the land returned to its former glory.”
As far as the public eye knew, Jeffrey Oliver had died in September of 1993 while on assignment in India investigating whether reservoir construction along the Terna River had caused the Latur earthquake. A body was never recovered, but no one had ever heard from him since.
On September 17th, 2015, at 6 AM Pacific Coast Time, November Skies had published his first article on World News Today, a exposé on fracking practices in the Middle East. Kaila had come across it while looking for an article to cover in her presentation for International Business. She had skimmed the article, not finding anything particularly interesting there, when the author’s name caught her eye. Ever since that day, she had read each and every one of November Skies’ articles religiously.
She skimmed the World News Today home page while she waited for noon to arrive. More articles on Porter Ranch. Boooring. She had already used that one on her mother. She needed something fresh, something it was clear Eamon Industries was involved in. Her phone rang. Kaila distractedly groped for it with one hand.
“Hi, Kaila? It’s Phoebe! What’ve you been up to?”
“Nothing much. Just gonna spend some time in my room, do some reading.”
“Reading? What are you reading? You’re not even in school anymore! I’m planning to go to the Americana this afternoon. Wanna come?”
“Nah, think I’ll skip.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a minute.
“Phoebe, you still there?” She could hear Phoebe sigh.
“Yeah. Kaila… what’s up with you lately? Isn’t angst supposed to happen in high school? I mean, if you’re going through something you can tell me. We’ve been friends since junior high, and I know that things might have changed after graduation-”
“Phoebe, it’s not that. This has nothing to do with you or with us, really. It’s just….”
The numbers on the computer’s clock changed. It was 12:00.
“Phoebe, I have to go. I promise I’ll explain myself later. Just don’t be angry, ‘kay?”
“Okay. By ‘later’ you mean later today, right? Because you know I’m leaving on my family trip to Germany this Monday-”
“Yep. Definitely. Ok, bye!” Kaila hung up without waiting for a reply from Phoebe. She reloaded her page.
The latest article had been published.
British Government Gives Secretary of State Power to Overturn Lancashire County Council’s Decision Against Fracking by Cuadrilla
In June of 2015, the Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s fracking applications for Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton. They believed that the visual impact and unacceptable noise that would be caused by Cuadrilla’s work would be detrimental to the character of the countryside landscape, industrializing an area whose residents had no desire for this change. This was a great success for anti-fracking groups in England, such as No Frackin’ Way, run by brother and sister team Oliver and Sophie Walker. For the past three years, Oliver and Sophie, as well as thousands like them, have been protesting the infiltration of fracking practices into Britain due to the unsavory and questionable impact such practices have on the local environment. Lancashire County Council’s decision was seen as a testament to the power of local political action. However, all the celebrating which happened in June may have been in vain if the Secretary of State decides to overturn the Council’s decision.
This past September, the British government categorized shale gas drilling as one of the planning appeal decisions that the minister could directly decide. In February, less than a month from now, planning inspector Wendy McKay will hear Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire County Council’s decision. She will then write a report with her recommendations to the government on this matter, and the Secretary of State will make the final decision.
This disheartening news shows that while local people may protest what is happening in their own neighborhood, their voices may fall on deaf ears if the government has bigger plans in mind than one county’s wishes. Many powerful people in England’s government are pro-fracking because of the jobs and economic boost they believe this industry would bring. However, we cannot allow short-term benefits to be the sole focus of a major decision such as this while long-term consequences are ignored. I, with many others, wait in Lancashire to see what is to come. It is my hope that Ms. McKay will see the wisdom in Lancashire County Council’s decision and discourage the government from enforcing fracking where it is not wanted.
Kaila hunched over her computer, engrossed in the article. The subject matter was definitely boring, but anything November Skies wrote was captivating when she imagined the author behind those words, a man she had become increasingly certain was her father. There was no way that all this could be a coincidence: the pen name, the time of his debut… even the writing style was similar. Kaila had read some of her father’s articles when she was growing up, especially around the time her mother remarried. Her twelve year old self hadn’t understood much that she’d read, but enough had stuck with her to recognize her father’s words. After following November Skies for two months, she had combed through every article she could find from her father’s career. Three months later, there was little doubt in her mind. Her father was alive, and he had just told her exactly where he was. England.
Opening a new tab, Kaila began to skim the Web looking at prices for flights to England. She couldn’t let this opportunity be lost without a fight. Her mother may not be happy with her now, and her grandfather certainly wasn’t, but she would find some way to convince them that this trip was a good idea. How though? She certainly couldn’t tell the truth. What excuse could she give?
Exasperated, Kaila yanked her bedside drawer open and pulled out a small, purple elephant plush. Running her fingers through its fuzz, Kaila strove to think of explanations. Her family already thought she was a mess, dropping out of USC for no apparent reason in the middle of her college career. Would they allow her to go on one of those backpacking through Europe trips to find herself? No, it was crazy to think they’d give her that much freedom at a time like this. Were there any distant relatives or acquaintances she could claim to be visiting?….
“What do you think, Mr. Snuffles?” Kaila murmured.
Wait a minute. What had Phoebe said? Something about Germany? Kaila lunged for her phone, pressing the redial button with her thumb as she rolled onto her back. The phone rang a few times before Phoebe picked up.
“Hey, Phoebe, sorry I spaced out on you before. Listen, I’d love to go to the Americana with you, but I’m also going to be coming to ask a favor. A big one.”
By the time Kaila got back from the mall, it was getting dark out. She could see her grandfather’s Mercedes S-Class in the driveway. Pulling to the side of the road, she decided to take the back way in so that she’d have some time to make herself more presentable. If Eamon Arthur had come by yesterday, Kaila would have loved to strut in with her self-dyed hair swaying behind her. Now she needed something from him though.
It took a while to get all the red dye out, but Kaila knew that her grandfather wouldn’t give her anything if she looked like a rock concert reject. Besides, she wouldn’t want her father to see her like this either, and if everything went as planned she would be seeing him very soon. She had better dress more conservatively too. She didn’t have much in the way of preppy clothes though. Sighing, Kaila threw on an old polo shirt and black slacks, then put in the diamond studs her grandfather had just gotten her for her birthday. With her hair returned to its honey brown color and blow dried to perfection, Kaila strode out her bedroom door.
“Kaila!” Aileen exclaimed, “Have you been here this whole time? I didn’t know you were around.”
Aileen and Kaila’s grandfather sat on the couch while Robby played a game on his 3DS while lying on the floor. Clarissa was curled up on the armchair with her cellphone. Robert was still off at work.
“Hey, Mom.” Kaila responded casually. “I was in my room listening to music.”
“Good evening, Kaila. You look well.” Eamon Arthur looked his granddaughter over carefully, not approvingly, but without finding anything to openly condemn.
Kaila met his gaze evenly, but tried to mask her habitual scorn. She noticed her mother’s relieved expression, likely from the return of her daughter’s natural hair color.
“Hello, Grandpa. Did work go well today?”
“I’m surrounded by idiots, but that’s nothing unusual.” Her grandfather grumbled. “And what about you? Are you ready to start your studies again? Idle hands never did any man good. I think you’d know that by now after taking so much time lying around the house.”
“I am planning to go back to school soon.” Kaila lied, gritting her teeth. “Right now it’s Winter Recess, so I still have some time to figure things out. Until then, I was actually wondering if you’d be willing to fund a trip of mine.”
Eamon Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what sort of a trip would this be? No granddaughter of mine is going to needlessly dip into her educational account for her own whims and fancies.”
“My friend Phoebe and her parents are going to Germany for a few weeks. I was wondering if I could go along with them and see the sights, learn a bit about the culture there.”
Eamon Arthur looked unconvinced.
Kaila decided to try a new tactic. “We had ancestors that came from there, right?”
“Yes, from Lübeck. Do you think you’ll be going to Schleswig-Holstein?”
Like she had any idea where the crap that was. She had to deflect. “Well, the Callahans have a pretty full touring schedule along the normal routes, you know, Berlin, Munich.I figured I’d stick with them. There’s plenty to see there.”
“Has Mrs. Callahan approved this?” Aileen questioned.
“Phoebe called her while we were at the mall. She said that as long as it’s fine with you, then it’s fine with them.” Kaila turned to her grandfather. “I believe this trip could be important in helping me understand what I want out of life.” That was probably the first true thing she’d said.
Eamon’s eyes narrowed, but Kaila couldn’t get a clear read on his expression. “Well, that is a thoughtful consideration, Kaila. I believe a trip abroad does a man good. It expands your horizons, and perhaps in your case it will finally give you inspiration for what sort of business ventures you would like to pursue in your future.”
Kaila simply nodded. She wasn’t going to touch the topic of her career in business at all.
“As long as you’re travelling with chaperones it’s fine by me. I think a trip’s a great idea.” Aileen put in.
She was performing her role as a mother, but it was clear the decision was not up to her. Eamon Arthur held the purse strings in this family, from Aileen’s inheritance to Robert’s job. Nothing was done by this family without his permission. Nothing slipped by him either. Kaila was a bit surprised that he hadn’t objected more strongly to her proposed trip, but she certainly wasn’t going to question her luck. Probably Eamon figured that if he granted her this favor, she would feel indebted to him and return to the complacent obedience she had shown him before the events of these last few months.
Aileen stood up to give Kaila a hug. “Oh, I’m so proud of you, honey! Just think, my little girl on her first big trip abroad!”
Kaila felt a little bit guilty as she hugged her mother, but she quelled the feeling quickly. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. This trip would show Aileen how much she’d underestimated her eldest child. “Alright, well, I’d better start packing. The plane leaves first thing Monday morning.”
“So soon? Honey, do you need any help? Do you know how you’re going to get to the airport?”
“I’ll just drive over to Phoebe’s house and get a ride with her folks. Don’t worry, I’ve got everything planned out.”
“Well, OK then… Robby, Clarissa, do you have anything to say to your sister before she leaves?”
“Bye, Kaila, smell ya later!” Robby snickered, jumping up from the floor and running to the kitchen so he wouldn’t get whacked.
Kaila just rolled her eyes and let out a sigh.
Clarissa tore her eyes away from her screen for a second. “Will you bring me something back from Germany? Like some fancy makeup?”
“Honey, aren’t you a bit young for makeup?” Aileen questioned, concern clear in her tone.
Kaila wasn’t going to let herself get sucked into this discussion. “Alrighty then, guess I’ll see you all in a few weeks. Grandfather.” She gave a respectful nod.
Eamon slightly inclined his head in return. “Be careful on your trip, my dear. Remember, the decisions we make in our youth impact us for the rest of our lives. I wouldn’t want to see you get distracted the way your mother did.”
The condemnation in his voice made Aileen blush in shame.
Kaila felt her stomach tightening. She needed to hold herself back. She would have this fight another day, when she didn’t need him anymore. “Yes, grandfather. Goodnight.”
With that, Kaila spun around before anything else could be said and headed back to her room. As soon as she got in, she opened her walk-in closet, pulled her sky-blue suitcase from off the top shelf and began packing. The nerve of that man! She couldn’t wait to get out of this house, to get out of this country. On to greener pastures. Well, not really. It was going to be cold in England, it being the middle of winter and all. She was going to need to bring all her sweaters. She’d probably want rain boots too, and jeans and slacks, and… she was going to need a list. Better safe than sorry. Looking round her closet, Kaila also pulled down an olive backpack she had once bought for a camping trip. This was sturdy. It could be her carry-on.
As she walked over to her bedside drawer to find a memo pad, Kaila spotted Mr. Snuffles still sitting amongst her pillows by her laptop. Kaila picked up the stuffed elephant and sighed. “Fine, you’re coming too, but don’t tell anyone, ‘kay?”
Her computer was still open to the Lancashire County article. The last article November Skies had written. He was still there. “I’m coming for you, November Skies,” Kaila whispered. “I’m coming… Dad.”