Kaila was sitting in the café in Rio Di Janeiro where November Skies had said to meet. The place had been a bit hard to find, off the beaten path from the more tourist-driven coffee shops, but the place seemed to be popular with the locals. The bright walls and large windows made the whole place bright and cheerful, and the relaxed atmosphere helped to distract Kaila from her own paranoia. It was far too early to expect one of her grandfather’s thugs in a suit to stride in and drag her out of here. That hadn’t kept Kaila from turning around more times than she’d care to admit on her way here, thinking she’d spotted someone following her. The man who she really wanted to come through the door hadn’t yet. Every time she heard the door open, Kaila’s eyes would jump up and she would feel a mix of relief and disappointment. She hadn’t been caught yet, but her mission wasn’t fulfilled either.
Her backpack sat on the table, a bouquet of begonias sticking out. That had been their agreed upon signal in the email:
“I’ll recognize you from the begonias in your backpack.“
The flower choice had been his. She had scheduled the meeting to take place in the afternoon, which had given her plenty of time that morning to get the flowers and find the café, but now that she’d been sitting for an hour, Kaila wondered if it had been such a good idea to come early. Sitting here doing nothing had just given her nerves an excuse to be even more frazzled.
Kaila fished in her purse for her cellphone for what must have been the tenth time before realizing once more that she had left it at home in California. She hadn’t wanted her grandfather to be able to track her through it. She’d left her laptop at home for the same reason. Of course, this meant that she now felt completely cut off from the world. She couldn’t even check to see if November Skies had emailed her with any last minute changes to their meeting place. Maybe she hadn’t thought this all the way through.
“Would you like me to get a refill on your coffee?”
Kaila looked up to see a Brazilian man about her age standing before her. Must be the waiter. She nodded. “Thank you,”
“No problem,” he said with a smile, taking her cup.
The door opened again and Kaila straightened in her seat, muscles tensing. It was a woman and her daughter. With a sigh, Kaila slouched back in her chair and pulled out the photo of her father that she’d taken along for reference. Even though she’d seen it a million times, Kaila had wanted to take it along just to be safe. Twenty years could change a person, and she didn’t want to rely on faulty memory to recognize her father. Also, this was a photo that had been taken of him and her mother on an early date. Perhaps she could provide it as evidence that she was who she claimed to be.
The young man returned with the coffee. Kaila gave him an appreciative smile, returning the photo to her backpack. She reached in her purse to give him a tip, then turned back in surprise when she saw he had sat down across from her.
“Long day?” he asked knowingly.
“Uh, yes. I’m sorry, but I’m sort of waiting for someone…”
“Oh, no problem. I’ll pull up another chair,” the young man said, reaching toward one at the table next to them and dragging it into place.
“That wasn’t what I was getting at.”
“Oh, I can leave as soon as your friend arrives if you think he’d be jealous. You are waiting for a guy, right?”
The young man smiled.
“It’s not like that though! I mean, it’s not that sort of meeting.”
“Oh, so it’s a business meeting then?”
Kaila found a smile crossing her face to answer his own. “If I’m going to be cross-examined by someone I just met, then I deserve the same leeway that I’m affording you.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“A question for a question,”
“Alright. I’ve already had two, so you get two of your own,”
“Hmmm, last name?”
“What kind of an answer is that?”
“We never said in the terms of our agreement that we had to answer the question to the other’s satisfaction,” Theo laughed. He turned, called something to the lady at the counter, then looked back at Kaila.
Theo thought about that one for a minute. “Truth teller,”
“Truth teller? Are you a poet or something?”
“Ah ah ah,”
“Right, your turn,”
“… Maybe Closer by The Chainsmokers?”
“A bit mainstream, but the lyrics aren’t bad,”
“Oh, so now we’re judging each other’s answers?” Kaila asked, raising an eyebrow.
The door opened again, and Kaila’s eyes shot toward the door. It was an older man, obviously a regular from the way he greeted the men at the table near the door.
Theo was watching her closely. “You nervous about this meeting?”
Kaila nodded. “Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. I bet you see that a lot though, working here… people waiting for someone,”
“Oh, I don’t work here,”
“What? But you got me more coffee!”
“That was just me being a gentleman. Had to make a good first impression, y’know,”
“So then why are you here?”
“I’m meeting someone too,”
“Well, it better not be a girl, ‘cause it’s not classy to hit on someone else right before your date,”
Theo laughed. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“Well, what am I supposed to think you’re doing? Taking a survey?”
“I guess I can see how it looks that way. After all, I was pretty surprised too,”
“Surprised by what?”
“You’re much younger than I expected, Autumn West,”
Kaila looked at Theo for a moment, dumbfounded. There was only one person who knew her by that name. If Theo had just used it, that meant…
“You’re…” She couldn’t get the words out. Her throat suddenly felt dry.
“November Skies. Pleased to meet you,” Theo offered his hand. “Sorry if my entrance was a little cloak and dagger. I like to get to know people a bit before showing my cards. Most expect me to be older, so it’s helpful to see whether they initially write me off because of my age or not. Of course, that wasn’t going to be a problem with you, but still, I couldn’t resist,”
“How long?” That was all Kaila could manage to get out.
“How long have I been writing under the name November Skies? About eight months now. I’ve been writing for several years actually, since high school, but the whole November Skies name is really where things took off. Now I understand why pen names have been used so many times throughout history: there’s something freeing about writing what you want without anyone judging your work by your age or your race or something else silly without really listening to it,”
“You write everything, alone?”
“Yep,” Theo said proudly, “It’s all me,”
It felt like everything was falling apart around her. She’d been wrong. November Skies was not Jeffrey Oliver. He had nothing to do with Jeffrey Oliver at all. Her father could be anywhere in the world. Worse, if that wasn’t her father’s work she’d been reading in the last eight months, her father could truly be dead. Kaila felt her eyes start to burn. A choking sound escaped her throat as she tried to hold back tears.
“Whoa, what’s wrong? Theo eyes widened with concern. “I know I said that my true identity hasn’t always been received the best, but I’ve never had tears before! Is it something I said?”
She had no willpower left to hold back the grief. All of Kaila’s emotions came flooding out of her. Anger, stress, disappointment, confusion, all had been stirred up inside her as if in a melting pot and now poured out of her. It was one of those long cries where your whole body is overtaken by the process: Kaila could feel herself shaking, hear the sobs and little gasps for breath that kept coming from her, felt her cheeks and then her neck grow wet with the tears that kept coming. All self propriety was gone. Kaila didn’t have much thought for those around her. She’d been expecting so much, and to have all that taken from her… she was right to mourn, because now her father was truly and forever gone.
She felt a hand take her own.
“Hey, it’s OK,” Theo said. “I’m sure whatever’s going on, it’s not the end of the world-”
A fresh wave of misery rose from Kaila’s throat.
“Or maybe it is. I don’t know. You just let it all out. Take your time,”
It was a couple of minutes before Kaila’s sobs slowed down to a few convulsive shakes. By then her throat was burning and the front of her shirt was soaked.
“Could I get some tea?” she whispered, her voice a bit hoarse.
“Of course. Luiza!” Theo called to the lady behind the counter and spoke in Portuguese.
The lady nodded, entered the kitchen, then emerged with a cup of hot tea and a pack of tissues. She placed them on the table by Kaila, rubbing her back in a motherly way. Kaila started to realize what a scene she’d made. Everyone in the café must think she was crazy. She couldn’t leave now though. She felt completely exhausted, as if her legs wouldn’t be able to support her if she tried to stand. Looking over at Theo, she was sure that he would want an explanation for her strange behavior as well. He was kind enough to give her some time though before trying to initiate dialogue. Her cup of tea was half gone and a handful of the tissues had been used before he ventured a question.
“Not sure if you’ll be willing to answer this, but who were you expecting when you wrote to me asking to meet up?”
Theo’s eyebrows rose. “Well, I understand the shock of finding me then.” He paused. “So your father was a journalist?”
Kaila nodded. “He disappeared before I was born. Everybody thought he was dead, but I guess I was so desperate to believe he was still alive that I just took whatever I could as proof,” She groaned, burying her face in her hands. “In a couple hours my grandfather will have tracked me down, and what will I have to say for myself? ‘Sorry, I guess my crazy conspiracy theory was wrong after all?’ And to come back and face my mom now…” She let out a bitter laugh. “This is my fourth continent in the last three weeks. That’s how badly I wanted to find him. I flew around the world, pressing on even when everyone around me said they hadn’t seen my father…”
“Wait a minute. Where exactly have you been in the last three weeks?”
Kaila sighed. “Everywhere you’ve been. I went to England first, thinking I’d find you in Lancashire County. When that didn’t work out, I saw your next article was in Thailand and flew there to meet up with an old contact of my father’s to search for you. After almost drowning there, I went back to London to head home from there. When I got that email from you I decided to visit Qatar instead, and Brazil was my last ditch attempt to meet up with November Skies before I’m put under permanent house arrest,”
“Wow. I gotta say, although I am picking up on a bit of a “crazy” vibe, that’s pretty freaking awesome,”
“So your reaction to finding out you have a stalker is, ‘That’s freaking awesome’?”
“Well, you’re not really my stalker, are you?” Theo said, leaning back in his chair. “You thought you were going after your dad. And to want to meet him for the first time in your whole life, that’s not crazy. It makes perfect sense,”
“Thank you. It’s nice to be validated, even though…” Kaila’s throat got tight again. “Even though I didn’t end up finding him,”
“What made you think that I was him in the first place?”
“A lot of things. Your writing style for one. You wrote with such passion, such charisma. When I first saw an article of yours, that one about the corrupt fracking practices in the Middle East, something just clicked. It felt like he was speaking to me, fighting for justice and the good of our world, just like he had in the old days,”
“From what I’ve seen of your writing, it looks like you’ve got a similar drive,”
“But see, that’s the thing: I didn’t care about social justice or the environment or anything like that before this trip. But being there in person, meeting the members of No Frackin’ Way and seeing the living conditions of those workers in Qatar… it made me want to make a difference in the world. Seeing my dad today wasn’t just about meeting him. I wanted to show him what I’d become… or am starting to become anyway,”
Theo nodded. “Being there in the dark places changes you. The stories you read in the news stop being statistics and become real people to you. That’s what I liked about that first article you sent to World News Today. You made the story about the people who lived in those slums and how they’d touched you. You humanized the issues,”
Kaila gave a weak smile. “You know, I was pretty nervous when I sent that story in. I knew it was probably crap, considering the quality of what must normally be submitted, but I had to take a shot, not just let my fear keep me from trying,”
“That’s how you get to where you want to be – by trying.” Theo said, straightening in his chair. “My first attempts at journalism were awful – total snoozefests. Even now I know I could do so much better with my writing, but I’m finally at a place where my work can be taken seriously. It doesn’t matter that I’m younger than most successful people in the field, because I’ve put in my hours. My work is good enough to gain people’s respect and get them to listen,”
Kaila’s eyebrows wrinkled. “You still hide your age though. People don’t know they’re reading the work of a twenty-something year old. They think they’re reading the work of a middle-aged man,”
“But that’s just their assumption. November Skies could be a Yugoslavian girl in middle school for all they know, but they assume it’s a middle aged man, and probably a white one. I’m not lying about who I am – I’m just letting them paint their own picture of who they think I must be,” Theo said with a mischievous grin. Then he looked down, swirling the residual coffee in his cup. “I’m really sorry that I sent you on this wild goose chase. I never thought that anyone would assume I was someone in particular and try to find me. I got your hopes up, and now I just crushed them,”
“It’s not your fault. This isn’t the sort of thing you could predict. I’m glad that I got to meet the real November Skies. It’s good to finally put a face to a name,”
“Even though it wasn’t the face that you wanted?”
Kaila felt her throat tighten again.
“Sorry. Forget I asked,”
“No, it’s alright. It’s… devastating that I’ll never be able to meet my father. But this trip that I went on, chasing after you… it wasn’t for nothing. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be before I stepped on that first plane. I was just some angsty white girl who wanted an axe to grind because she had nothing better to do. Going around the world shook me out of my little bubble and gave me a vision for who I could be in life: someone who fights for justice… who speaks truth,”
Theo smiled. “‘Truth speaker’ is one of the better titles I’ve come up with for this line of work,” His eyes turned to her face intently. “Even though I’ve only known you for a matter of minutes, and I’m sure this is a more surreal encounter than most, I have to say that I disagree with you,”
“On what exactly?”
“You said that before this trip you were nobody, just a basic white girl. But people don’t change, not really. They just become more themselves. My guess is you’ve always been the spunky, somewhat crazy girl I see before me. You just never knew how to show it before,”
Kaila felt a bit of heat enter her cheeks. Clearing her throat, she turned toward the cashier. “Check, please!”
“Going so soon?” Theo asked, surprised.
Kaila shrugged. “My journey has reached its end. I found November Skies, I reflected on what this adventure has meant to me… now all that remains is to wait to get caught again and face my punishment,”
“What do you mean by ‘caught’? Is your grandfather literally going to fly to Brazil?”
“More likely he’ll send his goons,”
“Goons? What is he, an Italian mob boss?”
“Not exactly. I may as well tell you this because I’m sure it’ll come up whenever you talk to Ulima next. My grandfather is Eamon Arthur,”
“THE Eamon Arthur? Of Eamon Industries?”
“Mhm. Don’t worry, I won’t tell him anything about you. I’ll just say I couldn’t find November Skies, that he never showed up.”
“Eamon Arthur’s own granddaughter writing an exposé on his corporation – you’re even more ballsy than I thought,”
“Not ballsy enough, I’m afraid. There’s no way my grandfather will pay for me to get a degree in journalism, and I’m NOT going back to college just to come out of it as his own little mini-me, so I’ve sort of reached an impasse. Both of us are stubborn, but he holds the purse strings, so I don’t see how this ends in my favor,”
“Don’t let his money be the deciding factor in this battle. The passion that shines through your writing, your drive to help others and fight against corruption, that’s what’s going to take you where you want to go. Even if college isn’t an option right now, that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. If you keep at it you’ll make something of yourself, I’m sure of it,” Theo placed a few bills down on the table. “That’s the future though. For now, you still have a few hours of freedom left, don’t you? What do you want to see in Rio De Janeiro? I know all the best places,”
“You really don’t have to do that, Theo,”
“Why not? It’ll be fun! Come on, I cleared my whole schedule today because I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect out of this meeting. A date with a beautiful girl is way better than anything I had imagined, so I’m game for whatever!”
Kaila smiled. “This is not a date. At best, it’s a mistaken rendezvous. But I guess sitting around at the airport for a few hours would only make me miserable, so…”
“Yes! Alright, I’ve got the perfect idea for what we’ll do first. Let’s go!” Theo jumped up from his seat.
“Now wait a minute. I’ll let you cover the tip, but I’m paying for my own coffee,” Kaila pulled out her credit card. No need to hide her steps now.
Theo shrugged. “Fine. If you insist,” Then his eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute, can I see that for a second?”
“My card?” Kaila drew her hand back instinctively. “Why?”
“What’s the name on that card?”
“Kaila Oliver. My mother had me keep my father’s last name, in memory of him,”
Theo suddenly looked pensive.
“Theo? What’s up?”
“You said your father died before you were born?”
“And that he was a famous journalist?”
“He was well-known, yes,”
“Is your father Jeffrey Oliver?”
“Yes, he was. You took your pen name from one of his articles, right? ‘You can see the sun once more in Kuwait, shining brightly in this November sky.’ That was one of the first clues I had that made me think you were him,”
“Kaila, I know your father,”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s not dead. I saw him just two days ago. I can take you to him right now if you want,”
“Your father is alive and I know where he is. Do you want to see him?”