“Kaila?” For a second her mother’s face shone with joy, but this quickly turned to shock as she pulled Kaila closer. “What in the world happened to you? You’re bleeding! Why are you covered in scrapes, and why…” She looked up to see both bodyguards standing silently before them. “Why are you running away from your grandfather’s bodyguards?”
“Mom, you’ve got to help me!” Kaila gasped. “Grandpa has to be stopped! He threatened to put my friend in jail, and when I agreed to come with him, he said that I’d never be able to see Dad again, so I jumped out of the car to get away and-”
“Honey, calm down, breathe,” her mother ordered, taking Kaila’s head and placing it against her shoulder. “Catch your breath and then tell me what happened,” At those words, Kaila realized just how out of breath she was. She gasped shakily, gulping down air frantically before remembering to breathe through her nose. As she took slow, deep breaths, her heart slowed its panicked tattoo against her chest. She let out a sigh, and her mother gently rubbed a hand on her back.
“Now, let’s start from the beginning,”
Kaila’s head shot back up. “Dad!”
Her father and Theo were standing just outside the cafe. Both began running toward her. As her mother turned to face them, Kaila’s father froze in his tracks. “Aileen,”
“Jeffrey,” Her mother’s voice had disappeared, as if speaking above a whisper would blow away the mirage she saw standing before her. “What… what are you doing here?”
“I’m so sorry, Aileen, I know this is all coming as a shock to you…” Jeffrey’s words trailed off as his eyes turned to Kaila and he noticed her injuries. “What happened? You just left a few minutes ago!” He crouched down, his face now level with theirs. Her mother instinctively pulled away from him, still holding Kaila close. Comprehension seemed to be blooming within her, and with it, anger.
“What the hell is going on? You’re dead! We had a service for you! How are you here? Why?”
“Aileen, I’m sorry.” Kaila’s father scooted back a few inches defensively. “This is all so sudden for me too – two days ago I didn’t even know I had a daughter!”
“Didn’t you?” her mother spat, eyes venomous. “You mean to tell me that all these years you’ve been alive, and you never thought to look back?” She rose suddenly to her feet, pulling Kaila up with her. “Even before we met, you knew everything that was happening at Eamon Industries, all the press reports and scandals. You mean to make me believe that you never noticed the announcement that the CEO had a granddaughter? You snake!”
Aileen moved as if to lunge at him, but Kaila held her back as best she could.
“Mom, please, it’s not like that!”
Theo stood a few steps behind Jeffrey, clearly wanting to help, but unsure of what to do.
“I know this is hard to believe,” Kaila’s father said, turning his eyes to the sidewalk. “It took me almost a year to recover from my injuries and during that time… I reevaluated what journalism meant to me. I dropped out of that social sphere, and I found a new purpose in life,” His eyes stayed glued to the ground. “I’m so sorry, Aileen. You’re right. I didn’t look back after I left. If I had…” his eyes turned back to Kaila. “Then I would have returned right away. I would have stayed,”
“Well, it’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?” Kaila’s mother snapped.
A terrible screeching came from around the corner. Everyone turned to see a Rolls Royce barreling down the street, other cars honking as it came dangerously close to collision. It screeched to a stop in front of them. Eamon Arthur emerged from the car, motioning to one of the bodyguards. “Re-park my car, then get back here quickly!” He strode toward the group, his eyes spitting fire. After a few steps though he stopped, frowning.
“Aileen? What on earth are you doing here?”
“Looking for Kaila, of course!” Kaila’s mother brought her other hand to rest on her shoulder. “When she went missing again, I couldn’t sit still, not this time. Robert found someone who could get into Kaila’s email for us. Once I saw she planned to meet up with that November Skies she kept talking about in person, I knew I had to stop her from meeting whoever was catfishing her,” She looked back and forth between Jeffrey and Eamon. “Now I don’t know what to believe is true,”
Eamon cleared his throat roughly. “While I admire your initiative in coming down here yourself, there’s no need for you to get involved in this situation. I have everything under control.”
“Considering that my daughter and her father are here, I would say I’m already involved in this situation, wouldn’t you?”
Kaila looked up at her mother in surprise. Her words bit like ice. She’d never heard such a tone from her mild-mannered mother before.
“Mom, you can’t trust Grandfather,” Kaila ventured to look up into her mother’s eyes. “He tricked me into getting in the car, then he said he’d never let me see Dad again,”
“What? That wasn’t part of the agreement, Eamon!” Kaila’s father shouted, turning to face him.
Eamon sneered. “You mean to tell me you believed I would let you continue to see Kaila after all this was done? All you bring with you is chaos, leaving destruction in your wake as you move onto the next place, the next ‘adventure’. That is no way for a father to live, certainly not the father of my granddaughter!” He put out a hand, motioning to Kaila. “Look at her! All her life, Kaila has been exemplary, a model for others in everything she does. Then she began to look for you and she’s become just as rebellious and useless as you were! I will not allow you to ruin her!”
“You’re one to talk! Commanding Kaila to do as she’s told, to live the exact life you’ve mapped out for her! You don’t care what she wants. You don’t care about who she is. All you want is for her to be exactly like you: a coldhearted, self-centered narcissist!”
“Stop it, both of you!” Kaila’s mother shouted. “Neither of you have been telling me the truth! Jeffrey’s been hiding for years, and you,” her eyes shot daggers at her father, “You had to have known about him to have tracked Kaila down so quickly. You’re both liars, and I’m done letting myself be part of your games! Now, this is what we’re going to do: Kaila, you are going to fly home with me right now, and when we get home…” she paused, looking over at Kaila’s father, “We’ll discuss options for the future,”
“No!” Kaila cried out, pulling away from her mother. “I’m not going home, not after what just happened! If we went home now, once we were there you’d just pretend none of this ever happened and give into Grandfather, just like you always do! He’ll block my cell and put me under house arrest, and -”
“Kaila Jemima Oliver! You will not speak to me in such a way! I am your mother and I am not allowing this nonsense to go any further! You have lied to me for weeks now and gone behind my back while you put yourself in God knows what sort of danger. This is not a discussion. We are going home!”
Jeffrey took a step forward. “Aileen, please-”
“You stay back!” Kaila’s mother warned, raising a hand. “You do not have a say in this! You are not a part of this family!”
This was horrible. Kaila looked around her, feeling numb. She didn’t know what to do. Her instinct was to run, but what would that accomplish? Where would she go?
Someone took her hand in theirs. Kaila turned to see Theo beside her. A tight smile covered his face, the type used when there’s nothing to really smile about, but you’re trying to be of comfort.
“Who is that boy?” Kaila’s mother demanded. “What does he have to do with all this?”
“He’s… November Skies,” Kaila answered lamely. “He’s the one I was following,”
“I thought you were following your father,”
Kaila, Jeffrey and Eamon all ventured to speak again, but were interrupted by an angry bellow from Aileen.
“No, it doesn’t matter! Everyone, shut up!” She looked amongst the group, her chest heaving. This was the angriest Kaila had ever seen her mother. Everyone was silent as Aileen’s breathing calmed down. The silence was terrifying. At last, she spoke.
“Clearly, this is not something that can be stepped away from. All of you have lied to me, so I’ll need to hear each of your stories before I can understand how things have come to this. Whatever has been going on,” she said. glaring at Jeffrey and Eamon, “It stops now. No one is leaving until this has been resolved,”
She looked around her, as if suddenly realizing how public this entire fight had been. People were watching from across the street, and those stuck in traffic were obviously intrigued enough to put their heads out car windows. “Where can we discuss this in private?”
“How about the cafe?” Theo offered.
“The cafe?” Aileen asked.
“Yeah, the one about 20 feet behind you. It’s closed now, and I think Mr. Arthur has the key,”
“That will work. Kaila – “ her mother reached out and took her hand. “I want you to stay where I can see you.” Kaila winced at her mother’s touch, and Aileen paused. “What’s wrong? Did you break your arm?”
“No, nothing that bad. I think it’s just bruised. I’ll be fine.”
“There’s a first aid kit in the cafe’s kitchen. I can help clean her cuts,” Theo offered.
Aileen nodded silently. “Alright. Let’s head inside then. Me, Kaila, the boy…” she looked over at Jeffrey, “… and you. I’ll speak with you first.”
“Aileen,” Eamon harumphed, “This is nonsense. I will explain-“
“You will wait your turn,” Kaila’s mother said firmly. “That is how this is going to work,”
Kaila’s grandfather certainly was not happy with this plan, but it was clear that the power dynamic had changed and he needed to re-strategize. He sullenly nodded.
The four of them made their way toward the cafe.
“The kitchen’s right through that door to the back,” Theo pointed to the door behind the cash register. Kaila’s mother stiffened, clearly loath to let go of Kaila’s hand.
“We’ll prop the door open,” Kaila offered. “So you can see us,”
Her mother nodded. Silently, Theo and Kaila walked over to the kitchen.
Kaila’s legs were shaking. As soon as they’d made it past the door and into the kitchen, they gave out. “Whoa there!” Theo exclaimed softly, putting a hand around her shoulders to steady her. He tried to hold her up for a second. It was no use. Her legs felt like noodles. Theo gently lowered her to lean against the nearest cabinet on the floor.
Outside of the kitchen, Kaila could hear mumbling and tables shuffling as her parents decided where to sit in the front. She groaned and moved to place her head between her legs. The room wouldn’t stop spinning.
Theo was gone for a moment then returned, placing a glass of water beside her.
“Thank you,” Kaila mumbled.
“No problem,” Theo examined her shoulder, which was turning a mottled shade of grey. He prodded it lightly and Kaila hissed in pain. Now that the last of her adrenaline was wearing off, she could finally feel all the injuries she’d received in her leap from the car. Her whole body felt like it had been scraped raw. “There’s a first aid kit around here somewhere,” Theo said, standing up. “I’ve seen Maria pull it out before when someone gets cut on broken glass or burns themselves,” He began searching the cabinets above the stove.
“I’m so sorry you got dragged into this,”
“It’s alright. I mean, it sucks, but given what I’ve been working on lately, I sort of expected the other shoe to drop sooner or later,” He paused in his investigation of the cabinets. “You honestly look like you got off worse than I did. If I’d known your grandfather was as bad as that, I would have tried harder to escape before you made it to the cafe,”
“He would have stopped you. No one ever gets away from him. He always gets his way,”
“Found it!” Theo said happily, pulling a small red box down and opening it. “I’m not sure if I have much to help with the shoulder except some basic painkillers. It might be dislocated. You should have it checked out once this is over,”
“This will never be over,”
Theo came back over and offered her some small white pills. Probably Tylenol. Kaila took them from his hand and downed them with the water. Theo produced a bottle of rubbing alcohol and some cotton balls from the first aid kit. “This is going to hurt. Is that OK?”
Kaila nodded. She let out a sharp hiss as he touched a cotton ball onto the first scratch. They were silent for a while as Theo methodically cleaned her wounds. The kitchen was small, but cozy. Kaila rested her head against the cabinet and watched the ceiling fan swirl its blades above them. This sort of quiet wasn’t so bad. She felt her eyes grow heavy and shut them for a few seconds. She wanted to try to hear what her parents were talking about, but she was so tired…
“How did you get these anyway?” Theo’s question brought her mind back on track.
“All these scrapes. How did you get all of them running down the street from those thugs? Did you fall?”
“I – um – I jumped out of a moving car,”
Theo looked at her in shock, pausing his ministrations for a moment. Then he laughed lightly, shaking his head in disbelief. “You jumped out of a moving car? Seriously? I should’ve known after all the crazy stuff you’ve apparently done these last few weeks. You seriously are amazing, Kaila,”
“I don’t feel so amazing right now. I don’t see how we’re getting out of this,”
“Twenty minutes ago when I was standing between your grandfather’s bodyguards, I thought the same thing. But now that your mom is here… I mean, she seems like a real badass. I don’t think she’s going to let anything else happen to you,”
Her mom a badass? Kaila thought back to how her mother had held her when they were out on the sidewalk, how she’d shielded her from her father and grandfather alike. This was a side of her mom she’d never seen before. Seeing her than angry was terrifying, but considering that her mother had been equally angry at both men, maybe a negative outcome wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Maybe she could show her mother how truly awful her grandfather was, how much this trip had changed her, how she had grown… Then Kaila remembered how her mother mother’s eyes bored into her when she talked back. Her mom was pissed at her too. There was no way of knowing how any of this would play out.
As Kaila and Theo sat on the kitchen floor, words from the argument her parents were having wafted through the door.
“…Cannot believe you!” Her mother’s words broke through more frequently than her father’s, which, though muffled, were clearly apologetic. Kaila strained to catch the exact words.
“Years! I thought you were dead for years! And you….” The words weren’t coming through anymore. Cautiously, Kaila leaned forward and opened the door a crack. Her mother was crying. Deep, bitter tears, the kind you choke on but can’t keep from breaking through. The room was silent except for Aileen’s ragged, shaky sobs. Kaila felt tears sting her own eyes.
“Aileen,” Kaila’s father began.
“Don’t touch me!” Aileen snapped. “Don’t you try to fix this when you’re the one who caused this mess to begin with! You left, and I had nothing! I had to go back to my father, practically crawling, begging him to take me back in! Do you have any idea how humiliating that was to have to go home in that state, with you gone and a baby on the way?”
“Aileen, why would you go back to that man? You know how manipulative he always was, how he coerced you into his own plan for your life since the day you were born. You were breaking free of that,”
“I had a child on the way! I couldn’t think of myself – I had to think of her!”
“He’s the one ruining her life!”
“He’s the one who’s provided for her all of her life!” A chair scraped against the floor, and Kaila could hear her mother’s heels clicking back and forth. “What would you have expected me to do, Jeffrey? I was pregnant, not even finished with college. Should I have dropped out, worked a dead end job and spent every waking moment trying to eke out an existence for my daughter? And all that for what, to protect my pride? I went home because I knew that then Kaila would be able to grow up with a roof over her head, with the best education money could buy, and she would make something of herself. Something more than I’ve ever been,” The room was silent, and Kaila inched the door open further, worrying she had missed something. Theo moved in closer beside her. Finally her father spoke.
“I’m sorry, Aileen. I spoke out of turn. It’s not my place to criticize what you did when I wasn’t there for you. Both of you,”
“Well, where were you?” Aileen’s voice cracked as she asked the question. “Have you really been here this entire time? Did you never think of coming back?”
“I have a family here.” Kaila’s father paused. “A wife. And a son,”
The chair creaked once more as Kaila’s mother sat down. “I see.”
“The ring on your finger – I take it you’re married too?”
“He’s a good man,”
“I’m glad to hear that,”
From the angle from which Kaila was viewing the scene, she could just barely see her mother’s back, hunched over, shoulders clenched. Her mother sighed and ran her hands through the back of her hair.
“Obviously our own personal history won’t be resolved in a day. For now, we should move onto the matter at hand. Now tell me, why exactly did I find Kaila running through the streets of Rio de Janeiro bleeding?” Her tone was pointed.
“The last I saw of Kaila, she was handing herself over to Eamon in order to prevent my nephew from being thrown in prison. Theo and I were inside for a few more minutes, then the next thing I knew we heard a crash and saw you and Kaila on the ground. If I had to guess from Kaila’s words outside, it would appear that Eamon reneged on his part of the deal he had forced upon her,”
“What are you even talking about? My father came here to bring Kaila home safely, and you’re making this out to be some sort of spy thriller!”
“I don’t believe Eamon cam here solely for Kaila. I’ve only just become aware of most of the details myself, but I think the best person to explain these things to you….” he turned toward the kitchen, “… would be Kaila,”
They were looking at the door. They could probably tell she’d been listening in on everything, considering how far open it was now. There was no way around it: she had to go out there. Shakily, Kaila got to her feet, Theo offering his arm for support. They shared a look for a second, Theo’s eyes questioning. Should he go out there with her? Kaila shook her head. This was family business. She had to face them herself.
The kitchen door creaked loudlly as Kaila swung it the rest of the way open. Her parents sat at the table, watching silently. She took a few steps forward, trying to keep her gait steady. Her legs still weren’t having it. She stumbled, and both parents exclaimed loudly, jumping up and coming to help her. Kaila was guided to the table and placed in a chair where she sat silently, her cheeks aflame with embarrassment at her own weakness. Her parents stood on either side of her, the awkwardness tangible.
“Jeffrey, Kaila and I are going to talk alone. Why don’t you go back to the kitchen with that boy?”
“Alright.” He looked as if he wanted to say something more, but then turned around and silently walked back to the kitchen.
Kaila’s mother pulled out the chair across from her and took a seat. Kaila felt her stomach tighten with dread. She was afraid to look up into her mother’s eyes and see the anger there. This whole time Kaila had been worried about her grandfather finding her and what he would do, but now she’d angered her mother the most patient, soft-spoken person she’d ever known, and she had no idea how to make things right.
“Kaila, is there something you’d like to say to me?”
Kaila raised her eyes slowly, preparing for wrath. Instead, when she looked in her mother’s eyes all she saw was concern. And this broke her. Tears started to flow plentifully.
“Mom, I’m so very, very sorry!,” Kaila sobbed. “This whole time I thought I knew what I was doing, but these past few days have been crazy and just totally not what I imagined. I thought November Skies was Dad, but then it was Theo, and then he knew Dad…” Kaila snorted, trying to rub the snot from her nose. Her mother handed her a napkin, which Kaila took and blew loudly into. “He took me to Dad, and Dad didn’t even know I existed! And I was so mad and so lost, and then.. and then he took me to this garden and when we started talking, like really listening to each other, and everything just clicked. He wants to be a good dad and make up for all the years he missed. He wants me to be family,”
Her mother’s eyes darkened at this last line, but her words were controlled. “Honey, you already have a family. They’re back home, worried sick about you. You know Clarissa and Bobby have been asking about you nonstop ever since you left on that “vacation” of yours? Robert’s been concerned too. I know you never saw him as much of a father, but he’s been looking for you too. He drove me to the airport when I decided to jump on the earliest plane to Brazil and he promised to keep everyone safe till I came back. I know that you’re happy to have found your father. I certainly never believed this was possible. But you still need to be careful. He doesn’t know a thing about you, and we don’t know anything about him,”
“Mom, no, that’s not true!” Kaila protested. “I know you think that he’s changed since he never came back for us, but he’s the same man you always told me about in all of your stories! He’s compassionate and he’s thoughtful…” Kaila looked down at the crumpled napkin in her hand. “He’s better than the stories. He’s a good dad. I’ve seen him with his son. He wants to be that sort of dad for me too,” She looked up at her mother. Fresh tears were on her face as well. “Mom, I’m sorry,” Kaila murmured. She sniffled, her nose runny now. “I know that I’ve been an awful daughter lately. I’ve lied, I’ve run away again and again, and I’ve put myself in these crazy, ridiculous situations. Robert’s always been kind to me, but Jeffrey is my dad, my real dad. I had to meet him. I know all you want to do is leave right now, but please, please don’t make me leave. Not yet,”
Her mother gazed at her, a mixture of pain and empathy in her eyes. “I know that Jeffrey means something to you as your father than no one else ever could. I certainly don’t want to take that away from you. But it’s going to take more than your assurance before I’m comfortable with you being alone with him. I certainly can’t leave you here.”
“Then stay, Mom!” Kaila exclaimed, grabbing her mother’s hand. “We can stay here a couple days and you can see everything for yourself. Dad can show you the college he works at, and we can spend time with his family, and I’m sure Theo could help us find somewhere to stay!”
“Now, who exactly is Theo?” her mother inquired. “You said something about him and November Skies, and your father mentioned prison? Is he why you were running?”
“Oh no, Mom, it’s nothing like that! Let me explain,” Kaila glanced out the window. Her grandfather was pacing back and forth outside. He was on his cellphone, and clearly quite angry. Kaila turned back to her mother, who had noticed the same thing. “Is there time to explain?”
Her mother’s eyes were firm. “We’re not moving until I’ve heard everything.”
And Kaila told her everything. From the very first time she heard of November Skies and the spark of hope lit within her, to her abrupt and irrevocable decision to find November Skies herself, to her quest around the world, spanning three continents, never giving up hope that she’d find her father in the end. Kaila held nothing back. There were plenty more tears and several exclamations of concern from her mother when she’d heard of the type of places Kaila had been, but for the first time in a long time there wasn’t a wall between the two of them. There was just pure, raw emotion, bolstered and contained by the love they had for each other, a love Kaila felt she’d almost forgotten about until this day. The story started and stopped as questions were asked and clarifications made, previous parts of events remembered after that part of the story had passed and certain points explored in more depth.
Kaila tried her best to articulate this new dream she had found, her desire to be a journalist and to help speak truth and provide humanitarian aid throughout the world. Her mother’s eyes lit up when she saw her daughter’s passion, but there were also moments of fear when she heard of all Kaila had done, and sadness mixed with a sort of muddled confusion whenever she referred to Kaila’s father in the past tense, then glanced to the kitchen once the realization hit her that all she said about the man could be presently true as well. Kaila could tell that all of her mother’s emotions regarding the events of these last few weeks wouldn’t solidify in one hour. There would be further discussions, and certainly punishments, later on. But for now they both wanted the same thing: complete transparency. There would be no secrets anymore.
Interwoven throughout the narrative was her grandfather’s influence. Although Kaila was unsure how much he had known at the beginning, she was sure now that her grandfather had tracked her on every step of her journey, and his involvement only became darker the further she delved in. It was fascinating to watch her mother’s reactions when Eamon was mentioned. Kaila expected to be shut down, that her mother wouldn’t allow a word to be spoken against him, just as it had been at home. But today’s events had irrefutably shown that something was wrong with her grandfather’s involvement in all this.
The pair’s reactions were not always the same. At the beginning, when Kaila spoke of how her grandfather had hidden her whereabouts even though he knew she was not where she claimed, she could see her mother’s jaw tighten and resentment grow in her eyes. When Qatar and all the atrocities Kaila saw there were mentioned, while Kaila boiled with rage, her mother remained still, pensive. At last, they came to the unspoken truth that haunted them the most: given his actions not only in Brazil, but in regard to Kaila’s travels in general, Eamon had known that Kaila’s father was still alive, perhaps before she was even born.
At last Kaila came to the end of her story and waited in tense anticipation for what her mother had to say. Throughout this whole time she had let Kaila take the floor, asking questions and voicing concerns, but never taking the reins of the conversation. Now she sat silent, clenching her hands atop the table, her jaw firm. The veins in her hands could be seen clearly, and a certain one in her neck was particularly prominent. She gazed at Kaila intently, taking in all that had finally been revealed to her. At last, she unfolded her hands.
“I always knew that your grandfather’s business practices weren’t altogether pure. In fact, often they were completely vile. That’s one reason I was so taken with your father when I first met him: finally I had found someone willing to stand against the great Eamon Arthur and speak out for change. I had never felt like I belonged in that corporate jungle and was enthralled by the thought of fighting against it. I thought that with your father, I could have a part in changing the world for the better.” She fiddled with her wedding ring, eyeing it thoughtfully.
“My opinions on your grandfather’s business tactics have never changed. But when I knew I was going to have you and that your father was gone, I decided that I couldn’t take the high road anymore. What mattered was you. I would give you a good life with my parents’ support. I stuck my head in the sand and paid no attention to what your grandfather did with his company. It may sound silly, but I think a part of me hoped that all those bake sales and fundraisers and women’s clubs I joined would help make up for the damage Eamon Industries did every day. It wasn’t a solution to the problem, but what your grandfather did in his office never harmed our family. You, Bobby, Clarisse, you were safe. And for years now, that’s all that mattered to me. Your grandfather could have the world, as long as I had you. But I didn’t even have you, did I?” Her mother’s voice tightened at this point. “Moving back home, it certainly gave you all that I could hope for you in terms of provision. But your upbringing… by depending on my father, I put you right into his hands. You weren’t just a grandchild to him, you were the future. He saw steel in you, a reflection of himself. He wanted you to become him. I knew that, and I didn’t stop him,”
Kaila reached out and took one of her mother’s hands. “Mom, it’s OK. I get why you made the choices you did. This isn’t your fault,”
“But don’t you see, Kaila, that in the end all I’ve done is play into his game? I thought family meant something to your grandfather, but if he really did know that your father was alive this whole time, then that means that he tore his own family apart, and he didn’t even care. He took your father from you, took the man I was going to marry from me, and to him it was all a power play. I thought your grandfather always paid such close attention to you because you were special to him, that he wanted the best for you. But in the end, it’s about his company, his plan, and his own family is just another cog in the machine.”
Suddenly, her mother stood up from the table. “The manipulation, the lies, the control, it ends here. I’ve heard what you and your father had to say. All my life, I’ve heard all your grandfather has to say.” Kaila, go get your father and Theo from the kitchen. I’ll get your grandfather myself,”
“What are you going to do, Mom?”
“It’s time for my voice to be heard,”