Callen couldn’t sleep. Not that he was one for sleeping much anyway, but his mind refused to shut down. He laid on the bed and watched Alyssa and Molly sleep beside him. They were his family and to him, they were all that mattered in life. Not the man out there who greeted him with a hug. He was a stranger. What kind of man would hide from his children for over thirty years and do nothing to make contact with them? It was obvious from what Arkady had told him that his father had made Morro Bay his home. It should have been his home too with Amy. Not that he could remember his sister much, but it hurt, deep into his heart, that once again he had been abandoned. Abandoned by his father and uncle, the latter who had separated him from his sister. No wonder he had shut out all memories of his childhood up to his arrival in America.
Anger surged through him and he found the need for some air. Quietly he stepped outside and watched the mist hover over the town and sea. It was early, just before dawn, the time of day when Callen appreciated the peacefulness of it. He turned as he heard the creaks of wood move from someone’s arrival on the deck. It was cool and a shiver blew over his skin.
Blue eyes met blue. But neither said a word. Callen eyed the man cautiously, trying to figure out why he’d left him for dead. If it hadn’t been for Hetty, he might have ended up dead somewhere. Nikita sat in the chair beside his son, taking in the beauty of the early morning. As the sun peeped over the rolling hills from behind them, the mist began to dissipate before their eyes.
“Not a day’s gone by that I haven’t thought about you or your sister.”
“Don’t.” Callen stood up, ready to flee. “You don’t have the right to say things like that. It makes no difference what you thought, the fact is, you failed us. Your children. If we mattered to you, you should have done more to keep us safe and together.”
Callen ran down the steps and out into the apple orchard and kept on running. He needed to clear his head and that man was doing nothing to ease the emotions that were rushing through his body. His chest hurt and his breathing became rapid as he ran. He reached the end of the orchard and bent over to catch his breath. The sun had risen higher and had burnt away all the moisture that was in the air. It was going to be a beautiful day.
He was shattered, there was no way else to put it. His heart had shattered into a million pieces the day before, when he came face to face with his father. No he would never call him his father. He’d lost the right to that title long ago. He might have given him his DNA, but that didn’t give him the right to anything more. Gibbs had been more of a father figure to him in more recent years, giving him advice and being there for him when he needed it. Not Nikita or Daniel Miller, the name he went by these days. He heard laughter come from the house and he realised his daughter Molly was awake.
“Faster, Papa, faster.” Nikita spun his granddaughter around in the air.
Why was it so easy for a child to forgive and almost impossible for an adult? He was a grown man who had to work hard to survive and choose to be good. It wasn’t like he’d had much of an example, with foster fathers who were more interested in booze than the children in their care. He’d had some good ones for a short while and it was those men he’d tried to emulate. He’d watched them from the corner of the room with his eyes narrowed and observed, like he was just a part of the furniture. He’d seen the kindness in their eyes, the genuine kindness that didn’t require anything in return. It was those men that had set examples for G. Callen, not the man who claimed to be his father.
“You should go easier on him, Callen.” He turned and found Joelle standing there. “You’ve wanted this moment for so long, why are you pushing him away?”
“You don’t understand, Jo.”
“Explain it to me then.” She stood there patiently as if she was waiting for one of her kindergarten children to tell her a story.
Joelle saw the hurt in his eyes and how lost he looked but she held back from hugging him. He was Alyssa’s husband and she would not interfere in the family reunion. She was thankful that he’d found her sister for her, but she also knew that the time they had together, just the two of them looking for Alyssa, had come to an end. He was a good man with a heart of gold, and she wished that there was another man as good as this one with those stunning blue eyes, to be hers.
“Do you know what it was like for me growing up?” She shook her head, of course she didn’t. He was a closed book on his life outside Alyssa.
“I saw the men murder my mom, Jo. I hadn’t long turned five. Imagine what that alone would do to any of your kindergarten kids, if they’d seen what I saw.”
“I get it, Callen.”
He stepped back. “No, you don’t. The shock of it took over my brain. I don’t even remember leaving that beach, I’d forgotten my name and who my family were. I lived in two orphanages and thirty-seven foster homes. I’ve lived most of my life with only a letter for a name. Who do you know, who doesn’t even know their name?”
Only him, she realised.
“I had no one to tuck me in at night, read me a bedtime story, tell me they loved me or to call mom or dad and no big sister to hold my hand when I was scared.” Callen took in a ragged breath, his eyes welled up with tears. “One day I found someone who knew my name. But I had to kill him to stop him from killing me. He had a folder with my name on it in a locked cage, but before we could get it open, the building blew up. Sam, Kensi and I only just made it out of there alive. But we found a notebook amongst someone else’s folder on a desk. It contained every foster home and orphanage I had ever lived in, written by hand. Every time I moved, the new address was added. Eighteen months ago, I met the man who wrote in that notebook. His name was Michael Rhinehart. He was watching me from a distance for my father. He was killed in front of me and at the time I really thought he was my father. You see, the men who killed him, wanted me dead too. They’d killed my mother and grandfather due to some Romani blood feud that I knew nothing about. When we went to Romania to rescue our boss, I had flashbacks to my mom sitting on the beach laughing, while I made sandcastles. I thought it was California, but I was wrong. It was on a beach in Romania.” He paused and looked straight into her eyes. “I’m not from here, Jo.”
Joelle remained silent. She stood there listening as Callen, for the first time since she’d met him, poured out the story of his life to her.
“We tried to find the man who’d set the warehouse to explode, but before we got there, he was dead. They were looking for someone and that someone was the person whose folder we had. It turned out she was a Callen. Amy Callen. I found her hiding from these Iranians, only to find out that she wasn’t Amy Callen, but someone who knew her. She told me I had a sister, and only then did I remember her. She was pushing me on a red cart and I fell and hurt my wrist.” He dug his hands into his pocket for strength to continue. “My sister drowned when she was eleven. My mom died when I was five and I had no idea who my father was until I met Michael Rhinehart. Until then, I didn’t even know his name. I have lived my life alone until I met your sister. Then we became a family. But she vanished and I found myself alone again. Sure, Sam and Hetty have tried to make our team a family and I appreciated it. But it never took away the pain to know that my father abandoned me.”
Joelle took a step forward and hugged him. “It’s going to be okay now, Callen. You have your family back. You’ll get through this.” She held onto him until she felt him calm down. He was a broken man with so much on his mind. He had his family to protect and to deal with reuniting with his father after almost a lifetime. “You have your other family here to support you through this.”
She spoke of Alyssa, Molly and their family. They would stand beside him and help him get through this. They had to. They needed him to protect them from these Russians.
Callen stepped back and looked up at her. “Thanks for being a good listener, Jo.”
“That’s what family is for, Callen. Now, what are we going to call you? You have your name, but we’ve all been given new identities.”
Callen wiped the tears from his face, he wasn’t ashamed to have bared his soul to Joelle, she was family after all. At least it didn’t happen with an audience.
“I can’t think of that at the moment. I’ve got to become Julian Miller.”
“And I’ve got to become Rachel Smilie. It’ll take some getting used to. I don’t know how you and your team do it all the time for work.”
“You get used to it, Rach.” He gave her a smile. “See, the name suits you.”
“Hmm! So, Julian.” Jo raised her brow, her lips slightly parted with a hint of a smile. “What are you going to do for a living now that you’re no longer a Federal Agent?”
“Fishing. I noticed the fishing boats as we drove through town yesterday. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a job down there to fill in the time.”
“Fishing? You can just jump into anything, just like that?”
Callen smirked. “Whatever the job requires, Rach. It’s like the game of life. Pick something that you wish you could do, something different from your real life and give it a try.”
“So, I could just go into town and find a job, doing anything I like?”
“Arkady can provide you with a new C.V. and fake references that will have someone at the other end supporting you.” He watched the expressions cross her face and he was intrigued to know what she was thinking about.
“I think I like this game.”
“Are you going to let me in on what you’re thinking?”
Her lips upturned into a smile that was very similar to Alyssa’s. “You’ll just have to wait and see.” She turned towards the house. “I think breakfast is ready, we should head back.”
“I’ll be there soon. I still need some time to clear my head.”
“Okay. See you around, Julian.” She walked off with a smile, somehow she knew that Callen would get through all that was going on in his mind and the emotions he was struggling with, all he needed was time.
Callen walked the perimeter of the property before he headed back to the house. Everyone was awake and had eaten breakfast. Molly ran to him and he lifted her up and kissed her on the cheek.
“Morning, Lou Lou.”
Molly laughed. “Morning, Daddy.”
“What’s so funny?”
“You just called me Lou Lou.”
“Yes, I did. It’s my nickname for your new name. Do you like it?”
She thought for a moment and hugged him tight. “Yes, Daddy, I do. Because it’s from you.”
His daughter melted his heart. He felt something shift inside of him and he felt he finally belonged. With Alyssa and Molly. How had he deserved them, he still wasn’t sure, but he was going to do anything and everything to ensure they were safe.
He gave her a piggy back ride back to the house and they told each other silly stories as they went. They were so absorbed in each other, that they didn’t notice Nikita watching them. A smile crossed Nikita’s face as he watched his son having fun with his daughter. They looked happy and it was that happiness he wanted to see on his son’s face everyday. Not the worry or the anger he’d seen in Gale’s eyes the day before. He’d deserved the unwelcome reaction from his son, he told himself. Gale had been right. He had failed his children and it was that guilt that hung heavily on his shoulders.
“He looks happy with his daughter. Fatherhood suits him.” Nikita turned to his brother and nodded.
“Yes, it does. I feel I’ve taken so much from him, of all the good things he deserves in life.”
“You had no choice, Nik. If we hadn’t done what we did, he’d be dead along with his sister.”
“But he doesn’t see it like that. He’s hurt and angry.” Nikita stood up and faced Arkady. “I did that to him. I shouldn’t have had you talk me into bringing him here. I lost the right to him long ago.”
Arkady shook his head. “No. He needs to see what you’ve done to keep him safe. He’s a grown man, a father himself, he should see the sacrifice a father makes for his children.”
“Look, Max, I know you mean well, but I have to accept the consequences for my actions. I failed them both. It’s too late to make it up to him.”
Arkady narrowed his eyes as he looked over to his brother with confusion. “It’s never too late. Just give him time. He’s stubborn just like you.”
Callen found Alyssa sitting on the deck reading a book. She looked up at them with a smile. “Did you have a nice time exploring around?” Joelle had reported back to her on her time with him at the top end of the apple orchard. She’d gone on her behalf, seeing she was house bound until her injuries healed. It was a challenge with having both her right foot and arm injured, which didn’t help her endeavour to get about. If frustrated her that she couldn’t run after Callen and help him deal with the reunion with his father from the day before.
“It was okay. Bumping into Miss Lou Lou here made the last bit fun though.” He tickled Molly, who ran away squealing into the house. Callen sat down next to Alyssa and rested his head back onto the chair.
“You okay, Greg?” Alyssa looked over to him with concern. “You’ve been through a lot in a few days…”
“Not as much as you and Molly. I need to keep you safe.” He leaned over and grabbed her hand in his. “I wish we’d been honest with each other from the beginning of who we really were.”
“You know we couldn’t, Greg. It’s against the rules. Anyhow, we can’t change the past, it is what it is. Let’s not waste now worrying about the past.” She had double meaning in her words and he saw where she was directing the subject to. Him and his father.
“Sairs.” He stopped, he still struggled to call her by her real name. “I’m sorry. I’ve known your real name for six months, but to me your will always be my Sarah.”
“Like you will always be my Greg.” She continued to call him by the only name she’d known him by, even after learning his real name the day before. “What do you think of your name, Gale?” She studied him as he moved uncomfortably under her gaze.
“I’d hoped it was George, I don’t know, Gale sounds too feminine to me.”
“I did some research this morning while you’ve been exploring. It’s an old English name, meaning, foreigner, cheerful and happy. It sounds to me that your parents were very happy when you were born.” She paused, letting him take in the meaning of his name. “A name reflects a lot about the parents, when they give their child a name. Like Molly. Her name means: wished-for-child, rebellion and bitter. I wanted her so much, she was all I had of you. And I was bitter because we couldn’t be together. It took me a long time to get over how I was feeling, being on the run, hiding away from my family, from you. Her name was perfect for how I was feeling at the time.”
She felt him shift again in his seat as he listened to what she was saying. “I know you’ve had it tough growing up in the system, Greg. I see it in your eyes, like I did years ago and you pretended everything was okay. You told me a little, but you never got the chance to tell me all that you were feeling over not knowing what happened to your family. I want to help you, darling.” She shifted in the chair to face him square on. She swallowed hard as pain shot through her arm at the movement. “I love you and I have never stopped loving you. Your father hasn’t either. Give him a chance. If not for him, for you. You deserve this chance that’s been given to you.”
Callen fisted his other hand tight to rein in his emotions. He knew Alyssa was only thinking of him in this, and she probably was right, but he still hurt.
“It hurts in here.” He laid his fist on his heart. “I’ve looked for as long as I can remember for my family and he was living here in Morro Bay.” He took a swallow before continuing. “Do you remember that long weekend we drove up here, we’d been together for four months by then. Do you remember me telling you how this place felt like home and that we should move here?”
Alyssa smiled. “I do remember. You were happy here. I thought it was just being in a smaller town up the coast that had that affect on you, not Morro Bay in particular. But now knowing that your father was living just outside of town, it makes sense. Give this place a chance, Greg. The time away from all the problems will do us all the world of good. It’s safe here, let’s make the most of the time we’ve been given to be a family. For you and Molly to be great together, like I just saw the two of you coming back up to the house. Let’s see how it goes with your father. Get to know him and for him to know us. Then after we’ve given it a go, let’s then talk about how you feel.”
“What did I do to deserve you and Molly?” Tears formed and he quickly wiped them away.
“You’re a good man, Greg. And you need to believe in your self worth.”
He leaned over and kissed her firmly on the lips. “I love you, Alyssa.” He remembered her real name and he was thankful that they had found each other again.