It was a long, tiring trip home. Given the suddenness of her capture and the fact that her grandfather’s bodyguards confiscated her phone on the way to the airport, Kaila had nothing to occupy herself besides her own worried thoughts. The fact that her grandfather had her followed throughout all of her travels made Kaila furious. She was upset at the invasion of privacy, but even more than that she was angry with herself for not noticing sooner. How had she not realized there was a tail on her for three whole weeks? She had been a fool to think her grandfather had believed her story. She should have had her eyes out for ways he could be keeping track of her. But she hadn’t been thinking about any such danger, and now she was going back to face the wrath of Eamon Arthur.
She certainly wasn’t looking forward to seeing her mother either, not under these circumstances. No one who was waiting for her back at home would be glad to see her now. Even Phoebe might still be ticked off at the stunts she’d pulled. It was too stressful to just sit there stewing in her own gloomy thoughts, so Kaila tried to pass most of her time on the three flights home sleeping. It was impossible to get comfortable though, and since the thoughts never left her, Kaila found herself in an exhausted stupor for most of the travel time.
When they finally pulled up to her address, Kaila felt a little warmth creep into her heart at the sight of home. No matter the circumstances, there was comfort in being back. It felt like forever since she’d been here. The bodyguards guided her to her bedroom, and one immediately stationed himself outside her door. A few minutes later, Kaila saw the other one standing outside. He positioned himself several yards away with her bedroom window in his direct line of sight. There was no way to escape. Not that she had any particular place to escape to. Kaila decided to take a shower and get a change of clothes before the inevitable confrontations started.
The shower was one of the most luxurious experiences of her life. She’d forgotten how much she missed unlimited hot water and good water pressure. Putting on a clean shirt and jeans, in much better condition than the clothes she’d been wearing lately, Kaila started to feel like the events of the last few weeks had taken place in some other world. They felt so far away. And she was so tired. Kaila lay down on her bed. She instinctively reached toward her dresser drawer, then drew her hand back. That’s right. Mr. Snuffles was gone. She’d given him to Chaisai. The adventures had been real, even if they didn’t seem so now. They had really happened…. she had done it all….
It was dark outside when Kaila opened her eyes. It took her a second to remember where she was, and how she got there. Then she fully awoke with a start. Her mother was sitting at the foot of her bed, watching over her quietly.
“You’re finally up. Did you sleep well?”
“Mom? How long have you been sitting there?”
“Oh, just for 20 minutes or so. I came home as soon as I heard you were back, but when I came into your room you were already asleep, so I thought it was just best to wait.” She paused, then looked away from Kaila. A tear slowly trickled down her face. “ Kaila, what were you thinking? Running around the world by yourself without telling us – you hadn’t even been out of the country before this! And what you’ve been doing… your grandfather said you were involved with some sort of protest group against Eamon Industries in Qatar? Are they the people who put you up to this?”
“What? Mom, no!” Kaila struggled to sit up in bed, still dazed from her midday nap. “It wasn’t anything like that! Yes, Grandfather’s company is corrupt, and I saw that for myself in Qatar, but I’m not in some sort of radical, international environmentalist group. I’ve been writing articles, trying to tell people what I’ve seen.”
“Yes. I want to be a journalist, Mom, like Dad was.”
“No.” Aileen Chancellor adamantly shook her head. “I won’t allow it. That sort of work is what got your father killed! I won’t let you put yourself in danger over the same foolishness.”
“Foolishness?” Kaila exclaimed. “I’m not just talking about plants and animals here. I’m talking about people’s lives! People’s jobs, their families, their health, all these things are tied to the world we live in. Dad got that. He still gets it. Mom…” Kaila paused. Should she tell her mother what the real purpose of her trip was? She’d wanted to wait, to surprise her with the news once she’d already met her father face to face… but she had to tell her now. After all the secrets she’d kept from her mother, Kaila wanted to be completely honest with her now. “Mom… I think Dad’s still alive. That’s the reason I went on this trip: to find him.”
Kaila’s mother looked at her for a moment, stunned. Then she shook her head. “That was the reason for this trip? Honey, I’m sorry. I know I don’t like to talk about him much, but the one thing that I’m sure about when it comes to your father is that he’s gone.”
“It was a missing persons case, Mom. No body was ever discovered. He was eventually declared dead because no one knew what else could have happened. But there’s this journalist that’s been publishing his work these last few months under the pseudonym November Skies. And his writing is exactly like Dad’s, and I mean exactly. The phrases he uses, the subjects he focuses on… he’s even been visiting some of the same places that were featured in Dad’s old articles. And now his focus on Eamon Industries-”
“Stop.” Her mother’s voice was firm.
“I don’t want you chasing a fantasy, Kaila, no matter how wonderful it may seem. I know it may seem to you like you’ve been finding all these clues and signs, but honey, you’re just seeing what you want to see. I don’t want to see you getting hurt when this dream comes crashing down.”
“You’re wrong.” Kaila’s voice was tight. “This isn’t just some silly daydream I’ve been chasing. I met people who know November Skies. I’ve talked with him myself. He’s real!”
Her mother paused. “You talked with him?”
“We’ve been emailing each other. I was going to meet him in Qatar. That’s why I was there – to see him in person.”
Aileen’s face grew dark. “Are you crazy? Emailing some strange man and planning to meet him in a foreign country? Haven’t you heard all the stories of girls who’ve been kidnapped and sold into slavery in these sorts of scenarios? Thank God your grandfather found you when he did! You could have been killed!”
“It’s not like that! He’s with a legitimate news organization!”
“He could have told you whatever you wanted to hear! That’s what these men do – they prey on vulnerable, naive girls-”
“I am not naive! If you’d just listen-”
“No, you listen! I have honored your father’s memory in the best way I know how. I gave you his name so that you could be proud of where you came from, so you could be inspired by the man your father was. But he is gone! Even before he died, he was gone. He left and he never looked back, and that kind of man… you don’t go looking for that kind of man.” Aileen opened the bedroom door to leave, then turned. “I’m told your phone has already been taken from you. Your computer was also left behind in Qatar, but just in case it isn’t clear, you are banned from all internet use for the foreseeable future. You are also grounded until such time as I see fit to trust you again. When you’re ready, I think it would be a good idea for you to meet with a counselor and get all these ideas in your head straightened out.”
Kaila did not respond. There was nothing she could say that would do any good.
Her mother left the room. Kaila was left alone with her thoughts once more. She wasn’t crazy. She’d met several people along the way who had heard of November Skies and knew of his work. Ulima had even partnered with him in her work against Eamon Industries. Her mother’s fears of Kaila being in communication with a kidnapper were unfounded, and she hadn’t been willing to listen to Kaila long enough to understand that. What truly disturbed Kaila about her mother’s words were what she had said against Jeffrey Oliver himself. ‘You don’t go looking for that kind of man’… Kaila had always assumed that her mother didn’t want to talk about her father because of the pain she felt at his death. She hadn’t realized the deep anger her mother had held, how betrayed she had felt when he left. When Kaila had heard the story as a child, her mother had always brushed over that part of the story. Even when Kaila was old enough to understand what her father leaving meant, she’d always told herself that he would have come back after a few months. Once he knew that he was going to be a father, he would have returned. It was his death that had separated them.
Kaila’s mother had been afraid that Kaila would be crushed when she found out her theory was wrong and her father really was dead. What truly terrified Kaila though was the possibility that her father had learned of her existence sometime in the years that had passed and didn’t care. He had left her mother without any explanation. What if the news of having a daughter hadn’t been a cause fir celebration in his eyes, but rather a burden that he wished to avoid. In his career, Jeffrey Oliver had been a great journalist, and continued to be as November Skies, fighting passionately for the protection of those victimized by the rich and powerful. But what was he like in other areas of his life? Kaila had no idea. She might have evidence that Jeffrey Oliver was still alive, but she had found nothing to prove that he wanted anything to do with her. Maybe her mother was right. If he had never reached out and tried to be a father when Kaila was growing up, what made her think he’d have the makings of a loving father now?
The rest of the night was spent mostly alone. Robby and Clarissa dropped by her room with Robert to visit. Seeing as they didn’t feel any personal betrayal from Kaila, her brother and sister were both as friendly yet self-focused as always, chattering on about the adventures they’d had in the weeks she’d been gone and voicing disappointment when they found that no, she hadn’t bought them anything on her trip. Robert, mercifully, remained silent for most of the visit. He likely didn’t feel he had the authority to speak on the issue at hand, especially when it involved Kaila’s real father. Aileen stopped by again as well, but only to drop off dinner. It was clear that neither she nor Kaila was willing to open discussions again. Although she had slept during the day, Kaila found jetlag to be pressing her towards sleep once more. Since there was nothing better to do, Kaila soon gave in to a shaky night’s sleep.
The next morning, Kaila awaited her grandfather’s arrival, ready for the ax to fall. Again, thanks to jet lag she found her sense of time thrown off balance. Waking up at 5, it seemed like an eternity waiting to get the dreaded meeting over with. At last at 10:30 on the dot the doorbell rang. Kaila could hear her mother answer the door. In an attempt to appear preoccupied, Kaila grabbed the nearest book and began to pretend to read. She heard the door open and lifted her eyes. Her grandfather stood as poised and proud as ever, but there was a fire added to the usual steel of his eyes. Kaila felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Hello, child,” Eamon Arthur said coldly, standing in front of the closed door, his silver-tipped cane planted in front of him. “How was your trip?”
He waited calmly for a response.
“Oh? So I take it then that you have learned your lesson through this ‘adventure’?”
“And what lesson do you believe that I have learned?”
“That only a fool bites the hand that feeds him,”
“What do you have against me learning the methods by which Eamon Industries is run?”
Eamon Arthur gave an exasperated sigh and adjusted his grip on his cane. “There is nothing wrong with understanding the way that business works. However, it is childish and naive to condemn the source of your own welfare,”
“Childish?” Kaila sputtered. “Naive? What’s naive is assuming that your own methods are unquestionable, especially when they are as blatantly evil as denying your own workers their basic rights!”
“Ah, so you’re going to pull a speech out of the American playbook and talk about the innumerable rights of man. Is that how you want to approach this?”
“Are you saying you don’t believe in human rights?”
“I’m saying that human rights are an ideal, not a reality. At best, they are a pipe dream of the masses to keep them appeased. At worst, they are an annoyance, interfering with the natural order of how things work.”
Kaila couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Are you saying that some people are just naturally better than others?”
“Don’t be silly. I’m saying that people are born with unequal opportunities for success. Those born with strength or wealth retain their legacy, while the poor remained trapped in the lower echelons of society. That is the way things have always been. Nothing attempted throughout history has changed that. Nothing ever will.”
“What are you talking about? You give to charities. I’ve attended Eamon Industries’ events!”
“My opinion is my own. It is not a particularly popular one, so I do what I must to keep Eamon Industries’ relevant in the public eye. As long as everything appears reputable on the surface, the world is appeased and I am able to continue my dealings as I see fit. I did not plan for you to become this deeply involved in Eamon Industries at such a young age, Kaila. I understand that it is pleasant to believe in equality and a better world, but eventually every man grows up and finds that he cannot help everyone. He must look out himself and his own, because no one else will.”
“You act like your view of the world is the mature, discerning one, but really I think your just bitter!” Kaila snapped. “And honestly, I can’t see why. You have everything you could want: a ton of money, a thriving business, a family. What are you so angry about?”
“Angry?” Eamon Arthur exclaimed. “You are the one who has displayed anger these past few weeks! You are the one who is raging against injustice and inequality and working herself up into a frenzy! I let you go about the world for a while because you are young and I figured the allowance of some freedoms would lead to you calming down and returning to your studies. Instead it has had the opposite effect, and you have become a fool, just like-” Eamon stopped suddenly, holding his tongue in check. Kaila knew where he had been going though.
“Just like who? Jeffrey Oliver? My father was a great man, a much better man than you’ve ever been!”
“Jeffrey Oliver was a gallivanting fool, using his skills and charisma to rile the world up about whatever topic had gained his fancy that week. He might have held held the heart of the public for a time, but as you can see from your own travels, his work made no difference in the long run,”
“That’s a lie! I met plenty of people in my travels who were inspired by him, people dedicating their lives to helping others just like he did! And they’re making a difference in other’s lives! I made a difference too!”
Eamon Arthur let out a long, harsh laugh. “You made a difference? Tell me Kaila, how long were you there? A couple of weeks? Do you really think your little international holiday made any sort of tangible difference in the world? Certainly it meant a great deal to you, but are you going to tell me that you altered the lives of those you met for the better?”
Kaila was silent for a moment. He had a point. When she looked back on her time, had she been more of a help or a nuisance to all the people she had visited? Was this trip just about making her feel better about herself, making her feel that she, Kaila Oliver, was significant? It had to be more than just a trip to her, though. This journey had set her on a new path.
“Maybe this trip was more about me than others. But that doesn’t mean that’s how it’s always going to be. This wasn’t just some flight of fancy, Grandfather. This is what I want to do in life. You may think that my father was a fool, and you might have had different plans for me, but after what I’ve seen in my travels, and especially after Qatar, I can say with certainty that I never want to be like you.”
A condescending smile crossed Eamon Arthur’s face. “Strong words. We will see how hollow they sound after you have been home a few months. You may say that this trip has changed you, but in time I am sure that you will return to the comfort of your old ways and consider if all your grand words could really lead you to give up the life you’ve been raised in. You may scoff from your ivory tower at the deplorable conditions of the world around you, but remember, it is because of me that you are not in the mud with those below you. You may despise me now, but remember, it was I, not Jeffrey Oliver, that made you who you are today.”
Eamon turned to leave the room. “I am lenient in my discipline toward your actions because you are my granddaughter. However, my mercy has its limits. Should I find that your attempts to speak out against the horrors of Eamon Industries continue, I will have no choice but to find proper punishment. Perhaps that friend of yours – Ulima was it? – would appreciate a visit from Eamon Industries’ regional supervisor?”
Kaila felt her skin crawl. “That’s low, even for you,”
“My dear Kaila, that is how the game is played. Those unwilling to get their hands dirty soon find themselves out of the competition. Your bodyguards will survey the perimeter until such time as I believe my words have touched you. Your mother has informed me of the technology ban of which I thoroughly approve. For now, my dear, you have been declawed. We shall see if you appreciate your situation in the ensuing days,” With that, he was gone.
It seemed to Kaila as if her blood was boiling. Her grandfather hadn’t even bothered to deny or alleviate any of Eamon Industries’ culpability for their acts in Qatar. Did he really think that his bullshit soliloquy about this being how the world works would somehow convince her that everything she’d witnessed was alright? How could he be this cruel? And how had she not seen this side of him earlier? Kaila had always known her grandfather to be severe, but to have such total disregard for the welfare of others… Kaila didn’t care how many obstacles he put in her path. She was not going to let her grandfather win. The things she’d seen on her journey had changed her, and now she was going to do her part to change the world. It didn’t matter how much some might laugh and say she wasn’t going to make a difference- she knew that wasn’t the case.
How was she going to fight back though? Her laptop was in Qatar, her phone was off-limits for the foreseeable future, and the guards and her family’s watchful eyes would prevent her from swiping someone else’s tech. What could she do? Kaila sat for a minute, one leg dangling off the edge of her bed, tapping against the bed frame. Then she remembered something. Her iPad mini! Those had been big for about a second when they first came out, and as soon as they weren’t, she had tossed hers into the back of her closet. Now if only she could find it…
It took about fifteen minutes of frantic digging to find the thing and another ten to find the charger. Once it finally had enough juice to turn on, Kaila pulled up her email. The first thing she had to do was warn Ulima about potential danger coming her way. Since her grandfather thought there was no way she could get on the internet, he wouldn’t be monitoring her online activity. This was Kaila’s one boon. As Kaila scrolled through her email though, she saw that Ulima had proved herself as self-sufficient as always.
When you didn’t come back after a couple of hours, I assumed the worst. I asked around and was eventually able to find someone who saw a white girl getting pulled into a limousine that morning. The simplest explanation for this is that your grandfather found you, even though you said he had no idea where you were. If you are able to reply to this email and confirm my suspicions, that would be appreciated. I sent your draft on the Qatar labor camps onto November Skies as I figured you would be unable to do so. It’s promising stuff. I believe he will approve.
As for me, I am going to be visiting my aunt who lives in the Mediterranean. I don’t expect to be back in Qatar for some time.
I hope that all is well with you.
Ulima was safe. That was the most disconcerting thing her grandfather had been able to hold over her, although Kaila was sure it wasn’t his last. Now to see if there was any news on November Skies. Her argument with her mother might have placed her in doubt as to how much her father would want a daughter, but the fact remained that November Skies respected her as a fellow journalist. If she told him she had more dirt on Eamon Industries, he would listen. This was too sensitive of a topic to go into detail on over an email. To really be of use to November Skies in his fight against Eamon Industries, she would need to do what she had originally planned: meet him in person. Kaila typed up a quick email.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I too had to suddenly leave Qatar. However, I hope that this will not prevent us from being able to meet in the near future. I have further information on Eamon Industries that is quite sensitive. I believe it would be best for us to meet in person.
– Autumn West
Was the message deceptive? All she really had to offer up was her own personal connection to Eamon Industries. Still, it would have to do for now. She was not going to back down.
The final email to write was to Phoebe. Kaila kept it short, as the bulk of what she needed to say she hoped to able to divulge in person.
As you predicted, my plans fell apart and now I’m in trouble. Like, a TON of trouble. However, if you’d be willing, I could use your help one last time. You up for it? If so, drop by the house. I figure my mom will have enough mercy on me to allow one visitor.
Phoebe came and visited the next day. Needless to say she was hesitant at the viability of Kaila’s plan. At best it would put her a couple hours ahead of her grandfather once he got onto her trail. It would be enough time to meet November Skies though, and that was all Kaila needed. After healing the whole story of what had gone down over the past few days and sharing tears as best friends are wont to do, Phoebe was committed. As she dried her eyes, Phoebe asked:
“So, where will you be going on this last wild ride?”
Kaila showed her November Skies’ response to her last email:
Sounds good. Do you like Brazil?
A few days later, Kaila waited by her kitchen door. Her mother and Robert were at work. Robby and Clarissa were at school. She had been keeping track of the guards’ perimeter sweeps these last few days, and had found a two minute interval when neither was in the backyard. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. It would give her enough time to reach the bushes on the edge of their lawn, and from there she hoped that her neighbor Mrs. Harmelink’s shrubbery menagerie would provide enough cover for her to get a block down the street to where Phoebe was waiting.
It was 1:37. Kaila opened the door and walked calmly toward the edge of her yard. Running would be too noisy and draw attention. She had to remain calm. She reached the foliage safely, and a block down the street found Phoebe waiting. They drove silently for a while, then Phoebe spoke.
“This is really the last time, huh? The last hurrah?”
“Yeah, there’s no way I’m escaping after this,”
They stopped at a local pawn shop in Pasadena first. Kaila had several pieces of jewelry her grandfather had given her over the years. It seemed only fitting that these should be used to fund her airplane ticket. Then it was off to LAX. Kaila paid for her ticket in cash. Before the TSA checkpoint, Kaila turned to give Phoebe one last hug.
“Thank you for all your help. I couldn’t have done this without you,”
“Hey, it’s worth it for all the crazy stories we’ll have to tell after this,” Phoebe chuckled. Then her tone grew more serious. “I hope you finally find what you’re looking for,”
Kaila nodded and a thoughtful smile flitted across her face. “You know, in some ways, I feel like I already have.”
And with that she turned, ready to board the plane toward her final destination.