They were on their way to her father’s house. As they sat in the back of a taxi, Kaila wrung her hands, twisting and pulling each finger. She felt incapable of being still. She wanted to ask Theo a million questions, but at the same time wanted to wait till she saw everything for herself. The tension inside between anticipation and self-discipline was killing her. She had to at least know one thing.
“How do you know my father? Do you work together?”
“Well, actually, he’s my uncle,”
As Theo saw Kaila’s confused expression, his eyes widened in shock. “Oh, crap, that means when I was teasing you back there- he’s just my uncle by marriage! He’s married to my mom’s sister!”
So he was married. She hadn’t even considered the implications of inheriting another stepparent.
“How long have they been married?”
“Gee, about fifteen years by now. I remember attending their wedding when I was just a kid,”
Her father had been married to this woman since Kaila was six years old. Kaila leaned back against her seat, taking the information in. If they’d been married that long, then…
“Do they have any kids together?”
“One, my cousin Samuel. He just turned ten last week. He’s a great kid, really friendly,”
A son. Her father had another child of his own… and she had a half-brother. This was more than she’d been expecting.
“I think I just need to sit quietly for a while, so I can prepare myself,”
“Sounds good,” Theo coughed and looked out the window. “They’re all really friendly. I’m sure they’ll love meeting you,”
“OK,” She would have to see for herself.
Theo seemed able to tell that what Kaila really needed wasn’t time to think, but a distraction. As they drove around Rio de Janeiro, he pointed out famous buildings, popular shops and restaurants, anything of note. Kaila didn’t really take any of his words in, but it was better than sitting in a silent void. She nodded absentmindedly every time she felt Theo was expecting a response, and he didn’t push for anything else. They spent about a half hour in dazed communication.
At last the taxi pulled to a stop. Kaila looked up to see her father’s house. It wasn’t very large, but it was well kept. Palm trees and bushes full of flowers grew in front of it, and the exterior seemed to have been painted within the last year. As they stepped out of the taxi and Theo paid the driver, Kaila looked all around her, taking in each and every detail. They walked up to the house, and she felt the now familiar thumping of her heart.
Theo reached for the doorbell. “He should be home right now, but if not, my aunt will let us in,”
“She won’t mind us dropping by unannounced?”
“She loves visitors, especially family,”
Kaila couldn’t tell if that last comment referred to himself, her or the both of them.
The door opened and a Brazilian woman in her mid thirties answered the door. As her eyes fell on Theo, a large smile crossed her face. She spoke quickly in Portuguese, motioning for the two of them to come in. She offered them seats at what must be the dining room table, then headed toward the kitchen.
Theo called after her, also speaking Portuguese, then turned to Kaila. “She says he’s not home yet, but he told her he’d be home by 3, so he should be here any minute,”
“Ok. Does… does your aunt speak any English?”
“Oh, yes! I’ll let her know you don’t speak any Portuguese,”
Theo’s aunt emerged carrying two glasses of what appeared to be iced lemonade and set them down. Theo spoke a few quick words to her and she nodded and turned to Kaila.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Maria. And you’re Kaila?”
“Theo says you want to meet my husband. Are you one of Theo’s journalist friends?”
“Well, yes, but I, um… yes,” She didn’t think it was right to drop the bombshell of a daughter from her husband’s previous liaison onto this woman. Maria would know soon enough, but Kaila had to tell her father first.
Theo’s aunt smiled as she cut slices of some sort of cake that was on the table. “Many students here are big fans of my husband’s work. If you don’t speak Portuguese though, you must not go to school here.”
“No, I went to USC for a year and a half, but right now I’m taking some time off, traveling,”
“That’s wonderful. Traveling is a great learning experience. My family travels whenever we can afford to, and of course Theo here travels all the time. I feel like I never see any of him nowadays!”
“Aw c’mon, Tia, I visit whenever I’m in town!” Theo protested.
“Mãe?” a child’s voice came from across the room. The three of them turned to a see a young boy, about ten years old, standing at the front of the hallway in his pajamas. Maria walked over to him, speaking softly. From the looks of his runny, red nose, the boy must have a cold. Maria led him into the kitchen to get some food.
Kaila’s eyes were locked on the boy. This had to be Samuel. She felt a new sensation pulling at her.
Theo took a sip of lemonade and caught Kaila’s eye. A barely perceptible nod from him told her she was right – this was her half-brother.
“I never considered that my dad might have had other kids,” Kaila whispered. “My mom always said he was so wild and restless, it was a wonder she was able to tie him down at all,”
“How long were he and your mom married?”
“They were never officially married, but they were engaged. My mom was a couple months pregnant with me when my dad disappeared, and-“ Kaila grew quiet as Maria and Samuel reentered the room.
Maria patted the boy on the shoulder, then sent him back toward his room. She returned to her seat at the table. “My son’s been sick now for a few days with a nasty cold. It’s one of those colds that seems to spread through the school a couple times a year,”
“What sort of subjects does he like in school?”
“Oh, he’s very smart when it comes to the maths and sciences. It’s good he is, since I wouldn’t be any help to him with that schoolwork! Are you studying journalism at USC?”
“Actually, I started out with a business major, but after this trip I’m thinking of trying some journalism classes,”
“That’s a great idea. I actually met my husband when he was teaching a journalism class. I was one of the oldest students in my class, but I was still determined to get my degree. The first time I saw him, he told me….”
Maria’s words faded from Kaila’s consciousness. Her memories turned inwards. Her father had met Maria at college? That’s where her parents had met! What was this, some sort of ploy of his, to pick up women at colleges then leave them when he got bored? Except he’d had a kid with Maria, and he had stuck around. He’d been there for every one of Samuel’s birthdays, had gone through each stage of his development. He hadn’t left this family he had made. He’d only left hers.
“So, did you and Theo meet during your travels, or sometime before?”
“Um… well…” Kaila wasn’t sure how to answer that.
“We’ve actually been pen pals of sorts,” Theo cut in. “We’ve mostly been writing back and forth about different current events and social issues. Kaila actually collaborated with me on some of my latest articles.”
“Oh, I’m sure Jeffrey would love to read those! He’s always following Theo’s work and sharing his thoughts. Ever since Theo started writing back in high school he’s acted as a sort of mentor to him, giving him practical device or teaching him different styles and techniques. My husband loves to teach everyone, but I believe Theo is his favorite student,”
“I remember when I first started reading his old work. He was like a super star to me,” Theo laughed. “That probably sounds super nerdy, but he pretty much was my childhood hero, with all the crazy adventure stories he was always telling. It made me want to be like him even before I knew what journalism was,” Suddenly, his eyes caught Kaila’s and he frowned. “Kaila, are you feeling OK?”
Kaila felt like she was going to be sick. Theo probably thought telling these stories showed her how great her dad was, but it just strengthened the reality that her father had made a new life for himself away from her and her mom. He had a son and a nephew and a wife whom he loved. He had spent these last fifteen years showering them with love and attention – and apparently never giving the life he left in California a second thought. He wouldn’t want to see her. Having a daughter from his past life would only mess with his current one. Kaila stood up.
“I think I should be going. I have a flight to catch, and I want to make sure I don’t miss it,”
“Kaila, wait!” Theo exclaimed. “I’m sure that he’ll be here any minute!”
“That’s exactly why I have to leave!” Kaila hissed. “I can’t do this. This was a mistake. I’m-“
Suddenly the door swung open.
“Maria, Samuel, I’m home! Sorry I’m a bit late. I saw some fresh papayas at the corner market and thought they would be perfect for after dinner,”
Jeffrey Oliver stepped into the house, arms laden with grocery bags. He looked like the man in the photo Kaila had kept by her bed for so many years, but a bit faded. His hair had some streaks of grey forming now, and he wore glasses perched upon his nose. He was still a handsome man, but seemed to have a more unassuming air about him than Kaila had expected.
As he turned to face them, Kaila felt a moment of panic and averted her eyes. She hated how afraid she felt. She’d almost run away a second ago. Why was she being such a coward? She forced herself to look up and saw that her father’s eyes were on her. He was looking at her almost as if he knew her. Could it be?
No, he was turning away from her now, kissing Maria on the cheek. “I didn’t know we were expecting visitors today. Theo, when did you get back in town?” He moved forward to give Theo a hug. “You’ve been traveling like crazy lately! Are you going to stay home for a while?”
“For a few weeks at least,” Theo looked at Kaila, and cleared his throat. “There’s someone important that you should meet. Uncle Jeremy, this is Kaila,”
“Kaila, huh?” Her father offered his hand. “Have we met somewhere before, in one of my classes or lectures maybe? You look very familiar,”
“No, we haven’t met. Perhaps the reason I look familiar…” Kaila paused, her mouth dry. “Perhaps the reason I look familiar is because you knew my mother, Aileen Arthur,”
Jeffrey Oliver’s hand dropped by his side. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in many years. So, Aileen Arthur has a daughter now,”
Kaila nodded. “Yes, she does, but I have a different last name from her. Her last name is Chancellor now, and mine is Oliver,”
Jeffrey Oliver stood for a few moments, not comprehending. Then his eyes widened in surprise.
Jeffrey Oliver stood stunned, seemingly unable to speak as he stared at Kaila. The silence was brutal. Kaila had to fill it with something. She could hear herself talking.
“When you left California twenty years ago, my mom was pregnant with me. She didn’t know if she should tell you, since you had gone away without any explanation or any sign you’d come back. Then she got news that you were missing. Then rumors started to surface that you were dead. When it came time to have me, she decided that the best way to honor her daughter’s dead father was to give me your last name, so that’s what she did. And I’ve been living with that name all these years, thinking you were dead, but you’re not. You’ve been here all along, just a plane ride away,”
Her father remained silent. His eyes were locked on her face, searching it. Kaila felt anger growing hot inside her. Why wasn’t he saying anything?
“Jeffrey?” Maria was looking from Kaila to her husband, her face etched with concern. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” Jeffrey responded, placing the grocery bags on the table. He took off his glasses, breathed on them, then cleaned them with his shirt. Putting them back on, he turned to Kaila.
“Are you certain that what you’re saying is true? Have you been tested?”
This was how he responded to this news?!
“Have I been tested?” Kaila shouted. “I fly all over the world looking for you, getting myself in danger and making my family hate me, and when I come to you all you ask is have I been tested? How dare you!”
“Now calm down,” Jeffrey Oliver said, raising his hand. “I just meant-”
“Oh, I know what you meant! You meant my mom must have slept around, don’t you? I couldn’t possibly be your daughter, so she must have lied and given me your name instead of somebody else’s! Don’t you dare try to put this on her when you’re the scum who left and never came back!” Her arms were trembling with rage. Her father opened his mouth to speak again, but Kaila wasn’t finished.
“You left us all alone! My mom had to go crawling back to my grandfather, begging him to let her back into his life. She depended on him and put up with him because she knew she couldn’t get the life she wanted for me off of a single mother’s income! And what did she get in return? Nothing! I worshipped you! You, the deadbeat dad, the one who couldn’t be bothered to stick around. That made sense when I thought you were dead, that you had been killed on some sort of noble mission to reveal truth to the world, but when I suspected you were alive, why did I think I’d find anything other than this? Why did I even bother looking for you?”
Her father looked weak. His hand rested on the table, seeming to be his only support. As he looked up in Kaila, she could see the anguish in his eyes.
“I-I didn’t know. After the mission went south, I never looked back, never got in contact with anyone. If I’d known that Aileen was pregnant when I left…”
“What? You would have been sure to pay child support?” Kaila demanded. “You were never going to stay with her, were you? Her life was too suburban, too banal. You needed some foreign, exotic life, full of adventure. But that’s not how things ended up, is it? Here you are, Mr. Suburbia, with a wife and a kid and a steady job, running to the store for groceries, wiping your glasses on your shirt. You could have done all that in the States, but you didn’t want to, because you didn’t want my mom and you didn’t want me!”
“Pai, mãe, o que está acontecendo?”
Kaila turned to see Samuel standing at the edge of the living room. He must have heard all the shouting and wondered what was going on. Kaila looked to her father, and saw the concern in his eyes as he looked at Samuel. He hadn’t looked at her that way at all. She couldn’t take this anymore. She had to get out of here.
“You know what? Forget it. Forget I was ever here. That’s what you’d really prefer, isn’t it?”
“Now, wait just a minute,” Jeffrey started.
“Oh no, you are not denying me the pleasure of leaving. If you can do it, so can I!”
Kaila stormed out of the house, reached the street, and realized she had no idea where she was. No taxis drove through here. How was she going to make it back to the airport without a cellphone to call a cab or get directions?
She could hear arguing coming from the house. With the door left wide open by her exit, the words were clear. Surprisingly though, Maria was silent. It seemed to be Theo who was angry.
“‘Have you been tested?’ That’s what you say to your daughter when she finds you after twenty years? What kind of a response was that?”
“I’m sorry, I froze! It was the first thing I could think of!”
“So your first gut reaction was to call her a liar? No wonder she screamed at you!”
“How do you even know this girl, Theo? Are you sure her story’s true?”
“Why would it not be? It’s not like you have money that she would want to steal – her grandfather is Eamon freakin’ Arthur! She could buy whatever she wants! She’s been flying all over the world these past couple of weeks looking for you, and when she gets here she realizes not only that you have Tia Maria and Samuel, but that apparently you want nothing to do with her! I expected more from you than this!”
“Theo,” Maria’s voice was surprisingly calm. “What do you mean she’s been traveling around the world?”
Kaila could hear Theo’s sigh. “This is all my fault. I’m the one who got her into this mess with that stupid November Skies pen name,”
“What do you mean?” Kaila’s father asked. “What does the name have to do with any of this?”
“She recognized that the name was referencing your old work, the “november sky” you wrote about all those years ago. Not only that, she recognized your writing style. When she read my writing, she thought that it was you. Since then, she’s travelled wherever I was writing from, looking for you. When we met up today and she found out who November Skies really was…” Theo’s voice cracked. “She started crying. She was sobbing, because she thought that meant that you were really dead.”
The silence was so tangible, Kaila could hear the sound of food frying in the house next door. Then her father spoke.
“I have to find her. Kaila!” His voice grew louder as he walked toward the door. “Kaila!” He stopped as he saw her standing in the street in front of the house. He seemed at a loss for words once more. Kaila provided some.
“Can I borrow your phone? I left mine back in California,”
“Who are you planning to call?”
“Oh,” Jeffrey Oliver looked down at the ground, understanding. But then Kaila saw a shift in his body language. His shoulders rose, and as he looked at her his eyes were full of purpose. “No. You’re not leaving yet. I made a horrible mistake with what I said after you told me your story. It sounds like that’s been the only experiences you’ve had from me: I mess up and you’re left alone. I’m not going to let that happen again. Please, come back inside. We’ll sit down and talk for as long as you need,”
Kaila looked at the house. Maria was still in there, and Theo, and Samuel. She couldn’t handle all those eyes on her right now, or have her father’s perfect life thrust into her face once more. “I can’t.”
“OK. Then we’ll go somewhere else. Do you want to go to a coffee shop, maybe a restaurant?”
She didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. Her deadpan expression communicated as much.
“Wait,” her father said, grabbing a set of keys from beside the door. “ I have a better idea for a place we can go. It’s just a fifteen minute walk from here. Are you up to that?”
A fifteen minute walk alone with him after she’d just blown up in his face and been ready to leave the country? Kaila looked up at her father, framed in the doorway, his glasses reflecting the afternoon light. If there was a chance to make things different between them, she had to take it. Kaila nodded. “Let’s go,”
“Wonderful,” Her father turned around for a moment. “Maria, I’m going out for a while. Don’t wait up for me. I’ll have my phone on in case of any emergencies,”
“Alright, be safe. Make sure Kaila knows that she can spend the night here if she needs to. Don’t let her go off without making sure she has a place to stay,”
Knowing her grandfather, Kaila probably wouldn’t make it till nighttime without him finding her.
As they prepared to head out, Theo emerged from the house and ran up to Kaila.
“You’ll be back, right? Like, back to this house? I’ll see you before you go?”
Kaila bit her lip. She couldn’t promise that. “I’m not sure,”
“I just – I want you to know that I’m sorry. All this probably wouldn’t be so messy if it wasn’t for me,”
Kaila gave a wry smile. “It’s a messy situation to begin with. You were never really a part of it; you just got pulled in by accident. Thank you for trying to help,”
Kaila wasn’t really sure what to do on parting ways, so she simply offered her hand.
Theo shook it firmly and smiled. “I hope things work out for you,”
“So do I,”
With that, Kaila and her father stepped onto the street together and began to make their way down the road.