Chapter 39: The Prayer - Kid Cudi
The school year felt like it was going by too fast. It was already Thanksgiving break. We were already at the halfway mark and I was nowhere near ready to leave my oasis. Milo left for break a week early to return to Listonenia. The advisors wanted to give Adam a break from work. I was unsure if Sella Moora would be the same without my Super Prince Charming Man.
“Your car will be here in an hour.” I acclimated to the strong arms that enclosed my waist, their owner standing behind me.
“That’s enough time.” He rested his head on my shoulder. “Would you be interested if that weren’t the case?”
“Yes, but Adam could walk in. I was invited over to help you pack.”
“He’s in a meeting with the far guards. All of his stuff is with him. He will not be back in here.” He started kissing my neck.
I sighed, closing my eyes. “I will scream at you if he sees us going at it.” I put my hands on top of his.
He spun me around after he released my skin from the vacuum his lips created. “Deal.” He lowered me onto his bed.
We kissed languidly once we had finished, still on him. His hands’ placement and movement set my skin aflame. I wanted him again, time receding too far back into my mind to serve as a factor. His mind was in the same place.
“Milo, I hope you’re ready--” Adam’s voice rang through the room.
I turned to get off of him quickly and beside him on the bed. I grasped the sheets around my body. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong side to turn to and ended up on the floor, tangled in them.
“Oh, shit!” Milo cried in shock, looking over to see if I was okay.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to - are you alright? – He wasn’t answering his phone. I see why – uh—um, do you need anything?” Adam stammered at the ceiling.
“I’m okay. Please go.” I clutched the sheets to my naked body with a vice grip.
“The car will be here in thirty minutes.” He shut the door as soon as the final word left his lips.
“Are you really okay?” Milo asked as soon as Adam shut the door.
“No, I’m dying of humiliation.” I covered my face and remained in my spot.
“Did he see anything?”
“I don’t think so, but he sure as hell knows what he walked in on!” I whined.
“Well, yeah, he’s not stupid.” He laid down on the floor beside me and pulled me into his arms. “I think my clumsiness has finally rubbed off on you.”
I busted out laughing. I removed my hand and looked over at him. I wanted to scream, but I found myself smiling even harder. Being in that haphazard and highly mortifying situation was somehow fun with him.
“I’m supposed to scream at you.”
“I know. I’m ready. Let me have it.” He brushed my hair away from my face, enabling him to look directly into my eyes.
“I’m gonna miss you.” I stated somberly instead.
“I’m going to miss you too.” He pressed his lips to mine.
“Are you going to cut your hair again?” I ran my fingers through it.
“Are you asking me to cut my hair?”
“No.” I pushed it back with a smile. “I want to know what to expect when I see you again.”
“You’ll see me before I get back.”
“Still.” I returned my mouth to his.
“I don’t know. I will let you know if I do.”
“Good.” I continued to smile as we kissed.
“I need to take a quick shower.”
“Can I go to the bathroom first?” I played with the hair at the nape of his neck.
“Only if you promise not to leave while I am in there.”
“Like I’d face Adam alone.” I rubbed my nose against his.
I managed to get off of the floor in my sheet dress. I checked myself out in the mirror after using the bathroom and washing my hands. I looked like a cheetah with all the splotches on my neck. I rearranged my hair to cover them.
“You are in even more trouble.” I walked back into his room.
“You took pictures of what you did to my hair when I was sick. One of them is serving as the background of your phone. The only reason it’s not the background of your laptop is because you couldn’t bring yourself to remove the picture of you cooing in tears as I held Dante next to Butternut Sprinkles.”
I tried not to smile. “There was too much cute. Take your shower.”
He excused himself to the bathroom after giving me kiss. I put my clothes back on and I busied myself by making his bed with a new set of sheets and tidying up his side of the room.
“What are you doing, Beautiful? I thought you would sit down and watch television.”
“I want you to come home to a clean room.” I continued to fluff his pillows.
“You’re too good to me.” He kissed the back of my head on his way to the dresser.
“You’ve put me in a good mood. You’re still not allowed to say goodbye to me, by the way.”
“I know. It means something much different to us.”
I took a deep breath. I turned around, my arms wrapped around my body. “When you do it, you won’t even be my friend.” I pursed my lips together to keep my bottom one from trembling.
“You said you were okay with that, that you couldn’t be mine either.” He buttoned his jeans.
“It doesn’t stop me from hating that we’re all or nothing.”
I watched as he pulled a sweater over his undershirt.
“What do you want me to say, Iz?” His strained voice broke the uncomfortable silence we were standing in.
“I don’t know. Something? I keep thinking about how what will happen while you’re in college. I’m not stupid. I know what takes place there. Everything will be multiplied many times over because of who you are.”
“The same could be said about you and the city you choose to dance in.”
“There will be far less temptation for me to cheat. People actively seek your attention, throwing themselves at you. I can’t help but think about it now that you’re going home. Are you mad at me for bringing this up before your flight?”
He shook his head and forced a smile. “We were both thinking it. ” He picked up my hands.
“I’m not upset with you for speaking your mind. I am the one that asked you to in the first place. –“
I cracked a smile because he was doing the same.
“Your worst-case scenario will never happen. I could never treat you with that level of disrespect. I love you too much.” He kissed my hands.
“Neither will yours.”
He kissed my forehead. He let go of my hands and resumed getting dressed.
“Tell Dante, your dad, Will, and everyone else that I said ‘hello’.”
“And text me before you take off and after you land. I want to make sure you are safe.”
He turned to me with a small smirk. “We have been apart before. I know the protocol. You can relax.”
“I’ve never been here without you.”
“I’m right here.” He picked up hand my bracelet was connected to and kissed the back of it.
“You’ve got a great stockpile of lines. Seriously, Babe, top notch.” I joked to lighten the mood.
“How do you think I have 70 imaginary children?”
“71.” I placed my hand on my stomach. “They will be materializing as a robot quite soon.”
“It is a good thing I am going home. Will needs to start prepping the retraining order. You know I do not remain with the women I impregnate.”
I swatted him on the chest.
“You are not helping your case.” He chuckled.
We left his room together. Adam was waiting in the living room. His eyes shifted to the floor the moment they caught mine.
I sighed. “Did you see me naked?”
“No, but I know you were. I’m sorry.“
“It was an awkward mishap. Let’s just move past it.”
He nodded, his eyes still on the ground.
“Your lack of eye contact makes this so much worse.” I pointed out.
He forced himself to look up.
“Hugging or physical contact might take a while to get back to, but you did nothing wrong. We are the ones that should apologize. It is your room too.”
“It was my idea. This is more of a roommate issue that we can discuss on the plane.” Milo put his hand on his chest.
“I do not think that is necessary. Just some sort of warning is all I need.”
“I will certainly do that next time.” He vowed.
“There won’t be one.”
Milo looked in my direction with exasperation.
“We discussed it.”
“We should leave now.” Adam agreed.
I walked out with them, holding Milo’s hand. He turned to me as his bag was placed in the trunk.
“I love you. Tell everyone on your end that I said ‘hello’ as well.” He leaned down and kissed me.
“I will. I love you too.”
I waved goodbye as both he and Adam got into the car.
The week went by in a normal fashion, but it felt lackluster. I missed Milo’s physical presence – his smell, soft hands, and warm body. While that was the case, I was pleased to see that I was more than able to cope with our version of long distance. We still had our silly inside jokes. We shared our daily events with each other via webchat and text. We adapted quickly and it gave me hope for the future.
I inserted my headphones and connected to Milo virtually via the video communication app on my phone. He appeared on my screen with a white puppy in his arms. I clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from squealing.
“Someone wanted to say ‘hi’ for himself.” Milo moved one of his paws to make him wave.
“Dante, you’ve grown so much, but you are just as adorable.” I waved with animation.
He wagged his tail and squirmed in Milo’s arms, trying to get closer to the screen. He kept licking the air to show his love.
“I miss you so much.” I put my hand on my chest.
“Me or the dog?” Milo looked up at me.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re here too.”
“I knew I should have left him on the floor.” He tried to move him.
“No. He’s so precious. I need him.” I poked out my bottom lip.
“He can stay, I guess. How was school?” He settled back into his seat on the couch.
“Okay, but weird. Lex got expelled.”
“Do you know what he did?” I immediately noticed his grim expression.
“No one knows for sure, not even Elle. Why are you making that face?”
“Does anyone think it was because of me?”
“No, why would they?”
“It was. He was deemed a threat to my safety. He was excused from school based on a report given to the administration by my guards.” He ran his fingers through Dante’s fur, looking down at it.
“Did Adam contribute to it?”
“Alex was put on a watch list early on in the semester. There was an incident with power tools that they found particularly alarming. He was the one that told them about it.”
“Do you know what incident they were talking about?”
“He was trying to nudge me while I was using a drill to build my crate. Adam stopped him.”
“Then they made the right call. He could have hurt you.”
“I can take care of myself, Iz. I do not need them telling the administration to excuse everyone that gives me a hard time. I don’t want special treatment.”
“He targeted you because of who you are. He did not like you, but he did not make it his life mission to take digs at you until this year. He would have kept pushing you until you broke down to prove his superiority. That is an issue with him, not you.”
Dante crawled up his chest and started licking his face. “You are too excitable.” He pried him away.
“He’s perfect just the way he is. That’s how puppies tell you they love you.”
He sighed. “I never bargained for this. This year was supposed to be simple.”
“I know, babe, but things change and you adapt.”
“But not us.”
“We are; we’re getting stronger.” I corrected.
That made him smile a little. “I don’t want anyone to know he was kicked out because of me. He’s unable to tell; he’ll be sued if he does.”
“I won’t tell anyone, not even Elle.”
“Thank you. Are you excited to see your mom?”
“Yes, she has many activities for us planned. I can’t wait.”
“She already has Thanksgiving covered, but we are going to bake and decorate her condo for Christmas the next day. We’re going to watch movies and a lot of other fun things.”
“Will Audrey be there?”
“Yep. Everett and Emmy will be joining her. My little pumpkin’s trying to walk now. It is too cute.”
“You will be a good robot mom.”
“You think so?”
“You adore children. You also love taking care of people.”
“It makes me feel good.”
“You are proving my point.”
I smiled. “What have you been doing?”
“Taking Dante for walks, attending minor events with my father, and I spent time with Adam the other day; it is nice having a friend here.”
“I’m glad you’re having a good time. Is your dad still with Jacqueline?”
“Yes. I believe things are getting serious. I would not be surprised if he proposed any day now.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I can’t bring myself to be upset by it. I have never seen him this happy and I like her. She is very sincere.”
“Have you spoken to your mom?”
“Yes, she is dating some CEO. It is weird.”
“How is it weird that she’s dating when you’re glad that your dad is?”
“They have been dating for a month and a half and they have gone on four holidays together. When does he work? What does his company do? And why does he think it is okay to go to topless beaches with my mother? He--”
“There it is.” I interrupted.
“Don’t downplay this. His intentions are questionable at best. I don’t trust him.”
“If his company is going under, she could bail him out with ease. I do not want him to hurt her. She has been used in the past.”
“People think I am with you for the money, when in reality, you have a long list of attributes I find attractive and I never ask you to buy me things. If she’s happy, give him the benefit of the doubt. That’s what you asked her to do.”
“I do not want to be rational about this.” He frowned. “He’s seen my mommy naked.”
“She a person. You’ve seen me –“
“I REFUSE to think about you in the same context. It’ll make me feel perverse for loving your body.” He pleaded desperately.
“You love it?” I tousled my hair and nibbled on my bottom lip.
“You know I do. Don’t tease me.”
I winked and kissed the air.
“You are so mean.”
“And I am about to get meaner. My flight is about to start boarding.”
He opened his eyes. “Wear your seat belt, put your phone in airplane mode – be as safe as possible.”
“I love you. Text me when you land.”
“I will. I love you. Have a good day, Princey. Bye, Baby, I love you too. You’re so fluffy and cute.” I blew Milo and Dante kisses and ended the video call.
“I’ve missed you.” My mom hugged me tight the moment she had me within her grasp.
“I’ve missed you too, Màma.”
She put her hands on either side of my face. “You will be so sick of me by the time you go back to school. I will not let you out of my sight.”
I giggled. “That won’t be possible. I’ll never get sick of having you around.”
She kissed my forehead. She kept her arm around me as we waited for my luggage.
I was not embarrassed, unlike other teenagers my age when their parents are affectionate in public. She wanted to take care of me. I would never turn my back on that.
I rested my head on her shoulder. She kissed the top of my head. I felt protected and safe; I loved every second of it.
“Is Aud at home?” I asked once we were in the car.
“Yes. Everett and Emilia are already asleep, but she is awake and waiting for us to return.”
“I am glad she gave us our moment.”
“Really?” She perked up, glancing in my direction.
I nodded. “My mother fussed over me like a mom. My sister does it because of her maternal nature and out of habit.”
“I won’t let you down this time.”
“I know you are trying. We are going to have fun.”
“We are. I have so much planned. Let me know if you get tired. I might have organized too much.”
“No. I want to do all of it.”
My excitement grew when we pulled into her condo complex. It was nighttime, so I could not see much, but I was anxious to see my other home.
“I completed your room last month. I hope you like it.” She pulled my suitcase for me.
“I am sure I will.” I texted Milo about my safe arrival.
“But let me know if you don’t. I’ll fix it.”
“Mom, relax. I know I’ll love it.” I picked up her hand.
We rode the elevator up seven floors. She keyed us into our unit. “Welcome home.” She opened the door for me.
“It’s beautiful.” I looked around in awe.
It was warm and cozy, but also beach chic. The wall colors were reminiscent of the ocean. The hardwood floors were like glossy planks on a dock. The brown leather furniture was complimented with cream and white décor. The running electric fireplace added another level of warmth.
“Izzie bee.” Audrey stood up from the couch and rushed to me, keeping her voice down for Emmy’s benefit.
I hugged her, inhaling her familiar scent. “I’ve missed you.”
“My husband and I have missed you too. Your niece has as well.”
“She better. I can’t wait to hold her.”
“You’ll have many opportunities, but be sure to share with Màma, Yaya, and Papi.”
“It’ll be hard, but I’ll try.”
“Do your best. That’s all I ask for.” She kissed my forehead.
Our mom made us cocoa. We sat in the living room, catching up for hours. I would have never imagined such a thing occurring a year ago. Doing it was surreal.
I woke up to the intoxicating aromas that composed a fall feast. I sat up in bed, smiling as I looked around my room. She painted my walls yellow, remembering that it was my favorite color. The pattern on my bedspread and the matching décor within my room fit my style well. I loved knowing she put so much thought into making me comfortable. Her cat Luna had made herself at home on the foot of my bed.
“Morning, Cutie.” I petted her fur.
I climbed out of bed and wandered out of my room in pursuit of the bathroom. After quickly running through my morning routine and changing into the dress I brought for the occasion, I went to the main area. Emilia was shakily walking towards Audrey, who was sitting on the floor.
“My cutiekins!” I cheered.
She looked over, wide-eyed. She fell on her behind. I scooped her up before she cried. “How is my little lady doing?” I held her to my chest.
She grabbed a wad of my hair and yanked.
“Nope, let’s not do that.” I freed myself as I smiled through my pain. “Can auntie have a kiss?”
She leaned in and kissed my lips.
“Good job, Honey. Good job!” I cheered, showering her in kisses. She grinned, holding her hands together.
“Where’s Ev?” I rearranged Emmy’s hair.
“Taking a call in our room. The album release has him really busy.”
“Is he neglecting you? Do I need to talk to him?”
“No.” She smiled to herself. “He makes time for us, together and separately.”
“He better be. My ladies mean a lot to me.” I hiked Emilia further up on my hip. “You can go sit in on his call, hold his hand or something.”
“I should. He might actually retain something if I write it down.” She stood up and smoothed out her dress.
“Let’s go visit grandma, Baby.” I kissed Emmy’s chubby cheek.
She held on to me as I went into the kitchen. My mom was bustling about in an apron, completely in her element and surrounded by food.
“Is this what heaven smells like?”
She looked up with a smile. “How did you sleep?” She stopped cooking to kiss the top of my head.
“Well. All of this looks amazing.” I looked at all that was on the counter, sitting down at the bar with Emmy on my lap.
“No snacking. I want you to have the full experience when my parents get here.”
“I could equate this with torture.” I smoothed down Em’s hair, which was sticking up as usual. I kept her entertained by playing games I developed with her over the summer. She giggled, smiled, and squealed throughout.
“You are good with her.” My mom noted, chopping scallions, pulling me out of play time.
“I have a thing for little ones, but I won’t be making you grandchild any time soon, I promise.”
“Are you and Milo being careful?”
“Always. I’m in the fun aunt stage of my life.” I adjusted Emmy on my lap.
“Good. Do you need more –”
“We’re all set.”
“How many do you have left?”
“Like 85% of the box.”
“I’m sending you back with more.”
“Mooom—“ I whined.
“I don’t want you to feel the need to postpone your dreams.”
“I wouldn’t um...remain pregnant. I’m ill equipped to follow through. We’re so young and there’s so much I want to do. His country obligations would make things that much harder.” I looked down at Emmy, unable to watch her reaction.
“Does he know?“She asked after an extended pause.
“We’ve yet to really talk about it. We’ve never had a break or a scare. I think he’d leave it up to me, support what I want. He’s not ready to be a father, just as I am not ready to be a mother. ”
“Would you tell me if you were going through that?”
I nodded and looked up at her. “I’d really need my mom.” I teared up at the thought alone.
She smiled. “And I want what’s best for you.”
“I know.” I returned the smile she was giving me.
“Have you told him you are moving to Listonenia?” She dumped the scallions into the pot on the stove.
“No, not yet. I am going to give him a copy of my contract for Christmas. We’re not allowed to spend money on gifts for each other until our anniversary in March. I am nervous about it.” I picked a grape from the fruit bowl.
When Emilia tried to take it from me, I bit a little piece off for her to have. As I ate my chunk, I watched closely as she ate hers. “There are two sides of it. Part of me is scared he’ll think I am smothering him. The other half is worried that we’ll break up and I’ll be forced to look at his face.”
Em reached for another grape. I realized we were actively sharing and got to work feeding both of us.
“At least it’s an appealing one.”
“That’s one of the problems.” I hand fed a grape wedge into Emmy’s mouth.
“His status as a political figure does complicate things, but you’ll sort it out.”
“Where is Shadow?”
“Taking a sun nap by the deck door. He does it every day around ten.”
“What is your daily schedule like?”
“It varies, but a normal day of mine consists of an exercise class at the gym in the morning, returning here for lunch to shower and eat lunch, running errands for myself and my parents, spending a few hours with them, and ending my day here for dinner and relaxation. ”
“How are Carrie, Gale, and your baking club?”
“Great. We have inducted three new members. I have collected a number of good recipes from the five of them. We keep tossing around the idea of starting a bakery.”
“Do it! I can’t get over the fact that you love to bake and I love baked goods. We were made for each other.”
Her eyes became glassy and she tilted her head to the side with a soft smile. “A part of me has always loved you, Izzie, but I couldn’t – I’m here now.”
“I know. Look at you.” I gestured to her.
“You and Audrey are what I have done with my life. The least I can do is take care of you in the few ways I am qualified.”
“I do not require much. How are Yaya and Papi going to get here?”
“Audrey and Everett are going to pick them up.”
I dabbed the drool off of Emmy’s chin with a napkin. “How bad as it gotten?” I over-catered to my niece to distance myself from our conversation.
“He is speaking in Spanish more and he can be a little aggressive later in the day. He starts to forget everyone whom is around him. But he is still in there; if you talk to him long enough he will come out.” We used the same coping strategy; her focal point was food.
“For how long?” I cleared my throat.
“A minute, if that. But he’s still here. He loves us; he shows it differently now.”
“He’ll motion you over and ask you questions, trying to figure out what is going on. It means he trusts you to help him. He also likes to talk about his family, not realizing you are a part of it.”
“Does he ever mention me?”
She nodded with a stiff smile. “Just the other day he told a story about you; it involved a bag of flour.”
I smiled at the memory. “I was five. I had just learned how to do a pirouette in dance class. I did a lot of them for Papi. He seemed entertained by it, so I tried to do the same for Yaya. She was in the kitchen baking with Audrey. I thought she could watch me and bake at the same time. My hand ended up hitting a bag of flour and I was covered in it. He cleaned me up as she took care of the kitchen.”
“It took him close to two hours to tell that story. He kept getting distracted, but I am happy I was patient enough to piece together his ramblings. He filled me in on something I missed out on.”
“Ah-da. Ada-ada-ada.” Em babbled.
“Are you asking for your papa, cariño?” My mom leaned down to get into her line of sight.
Em slapped her hands on the table and grinned.
“Should I take her to Ev?”
“No, not unless she cries. She might just like his name. Dada.”
“Da-da.” Em repeated with an even bigger smile, bouncing in my lap. “Da-he. Da-he. Da-he.”
I giggled, exhorting extra effort to keep her on me.
“That was the last time I will disappear to take a phone call this week. I covered all of my bases – bandmates, manager, and mother.” Everett walked into the kitchen.
He put his arm around me when he reached the island. I looked up from my seat. “Aud’s right. You cheated in the name game. How did you get her to say Dada AND Daddy?”
“I don’t get a hello first, just cheating allegations?”
“Hi, Everett.” I smiled.
“I recorded myself saying ‘dada’ and ‘daddy’ as I played different tunes on the piano. We play music for her as she sleeps. I swapped the old selections for mine and she eventually picked it up. Don’t tell your sister.”
“I won’t. She might be angry you out scienced her.”
“I’m glad we are the same page.” He ruffled my hair.
“Màma, we heading to the retirement home. Do you need us to pick anything up while we are out?” Audrey walked in with keys in her hand.
“Yes, actually. Let me write you a list.” My mom left the room, gesturing for Aud to follow her.
Everett took Emilia from me. I used my mother’s absence as an opportunity to steal a dinner roll.
“I saw that.” He danced with her.
“You won’t tell. I have too much on you.” I ripped off a piece and inserted it into my mouth.
“Very true.” He smiled down at Emmy. “A package came for you about two weeks ago.”
“To your house? What is it?”
“Yes. I have no idea. We brought it here.”
“Why didn’t you forward it to me?” I inquired between bites.
“Audrey and I were absurdly busy when it first arrived. When things slowed down, we realized we would see you sooner than it would arrive at SMA.”
“Hm. I wasn’t expecting anything. I’ll check it out after Papi and Yaya leave. I’ll be too tempted to mess with whatever it is if I do it now.” I helped myself to a singular green bean.
“When did you sprout patience?”
“Food is all I can focus on right now.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Breakfast yesterday. I packed through lunch. I was on my flight during dinner. I was too excited to eat once I was here, but I drank hot cocoa before bed.”
“Eat more. I will cover for you.” He was still swaying with Emmy.
“It’s not like that anymore.”
“I know, but your profession is known for –“
“Yours is known for drug use, adultery, and living in excess. What’s your point?” I picked another green been.
“I want you to be healthy.”
“And I want you to avoid the temptation to crush my sister’s soul and dance on the ashes of the beautiful life you have built together.” I wiped the vegetable liquid on my dress.
“I can understand your concern, but – wait, how did this end up about me?”
“It is surprisingly easy to distract you. Anyway, I have choreography sorted out for my song. I’ll be ready to rock over winter break.”
“The director will be pleased to know that. Video stars can be difficult at times.”
“I guess it is a good thing I am not a star. Just a sister doing a favor for her brother; it just so happens to be one that offers me dance exposure.”
“Ev, we need to go. We have to get him before he starts sun-downing.” Audrey hastily interrupted our conversation.
He handed off Emilia immediately. She just as suddenly started crying.
“Don’t do that. We have fun together.” I did what I could to console her.
Audrey grabbed his hand and needed to drag him out of the kitchen to keep him from taking her back. My mom took her from me as tears streamed down her chubby cheeks.
“Shhh. They will be right back.” She held her little body to her chest and swayed. “It’s okay. Everything will be alright.” She comforted her.
Though she claimed she lacked what it took to be a ‘real mom’ to me when I was young, my mom knew just what to say and do to get Emilia to calm down and ultimately fall asleep.
My grandparents were over within the hour. Yaya gave me a warm greeting, but she was engrossed with Emilia the moment she woke up from her quick nap. Everett remained at her side to keep her happy. My mom was putting the finishing touches on the food. Audrey and I sat on either side of Papi as he occupied the couch. We grew confused when he started rapidly speaking Spanish. Audrey gently asked him to speak English in Spanish.
“You need to meet my daughter. She is your age.” He told her.
“Does she have children?” I coaxed him to carry on the conversation.
“Dos hijas, Audrena y Isabella.”
“Inglés, Papi.” Aud reminded him.
“How old are they?” I contributed once again.
“Audrena and Isabella. How old are they?”
“Where are we?” He put his hand on my arm as he looked around.
I put my hand on top of his wrinkled one. “Your daughter’s house.”
“You remind me of my daughter. You should meet her.” He leaned in Audrey’s direction, still holding onto me for comfort.
“You’ll have to introduce us.” She smiled for him.
We didn’t get much information out of him, but I was content with the tiny bit we did get. His brain was disintegrating, but we were still in the recesses of his mind. He was still vivid in ours. Yaya had enough to say for the both of them, keeping with the status quo. The table was livelier than it had been in previous years, my mother able to keep the rest of us on her mother’s level of communication by posing questions. I could not stop smiling throughout, enthralled by the sight of my mom’s side of the family altogether.
“Where’s my package?” I asked Everett as he and Audrey prepared to take our grandparents home.
“On the chair in the guest room.” He zipped up his light jacket.
“Thanks.” I headed off in the right direction.
A medium sized box was waiting for me. Picking it up, I was surprised by its density. I got a good look at the shipping label as I hauled it into the living room. Audrey, Everett, Yaya, and Papi were gone. My mom was turning on a children’s cartoon for Emmy to watch as she played on the floor.
“I am going to clean up. Will you be in here to keep an eye on her?”
“Yep.” I made myself comfortable on the couch. “That was the plan.” I clawed at the clear plastic tape as I tried to think of a reason that Eliza Hightower would mail me a box of something.
I was eventually able to get it open. A note was sitting a top a pile of journals. A narrow blue necklace box was beside it. My confusion grew. I chose the letter to open first, hoping it would answer some questions.
I want you to know that you were the best confidante I could have asked for. I didn’t expect you to be so nice. I’m sorry I once believed what everyone said about you. It couldn’t have been more of a lie. You were there each time I needed you. Everyone around me kept saying, ‘things will be back to normal when this is all over’, but you were the only one that was honest with me. You let me know that things could not go back to the way they were before it happened and expecting them to makes things worse. I tried to do what you did. I tried to resume the life I put on pause the moment he had me in his grasp. But you were wrong when you said I could do anything after he was locked up. He was still there when I closed my eyes. I could no longer fantasize about the boys I wanted to be with; I thought of them doing what he did to me. I was scared to make friends, my past ones’ betrayal was burned into my memory as well. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t get to have an enjoyable high school or college experiences. I’d never fall in love, get engaged, or have the wedding of my dreams. I wouldn’t travel the globe and excel at the career of my choosing. And my kids would never listen as I told them of my life. I would always be scared.
I no longer have a future to write about, so I am bequeathing my journals to you. Most of them are filled to the brim. You are the only person I trust with my thoughts. You kept them safe and didn’t use them against me the first time; I know you will do it again the second. And lastly, I want to thank you for all that you have done for me by giving you the diamond pendant I received for my fifteenth birthday. I know you wear your bee necklace everyday. You do not need to wear mine at all, but I’m giving it to you because I want you to remember me and to write for both of us. I considered you to be my guardian angel; maybe now I can return the favor.
I found Eliza’s number in my phone. Tears flowed from my eyes at a steady rate as I hyperventilated. When it went straight to voicemail several times, I called Phil.
“Hello, --?” His voice was hollow.
I refused to believe my assumption. “P-put Liza on the p-phone.” I closed my eyes.
The line fell quiet, but sniffling in the background told me he was still there. I buried my face in my hand and actively sobbed.
“When?” I whispered when I regained the ability to think.
“Three weeks ago.” He swallowed hard.
“Where – how?”
“Home. Pills.” He answered in the simplest of terms.
I was internally gratefully. I was unable to handle a detailed explanation at that point.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I futilely attempted to dry my eyes.
“She –“ He paused. “She left a letter in my room. I found it when my parents called me home from Dartmouth. At the end of it she left instructions. She wanted me to ship your package; she hid it in my closet. She told me not to call you with the news or invite you to the funeral, --“
“You should have done it anyway. I didn’t get to say goodbye!” I wailed, my voice sharper than expected.
Emilia started crying her lungs out. I plugged my open ear with my finger.
My mother rushed in and started tending to her. I fled the room the moment she did.
“She said she didn’t want that – that she didn’t want you to see her like that b-because you told her not to give up and she did. She said the package would—”
“I should’ve been there for her. I didn’t call or —”
“HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL!” He shouted.
I was silenced. I sat down on my bed, the weight of everything hitting me.
“She was my little sister. I was supposed to protect her. I never could. Now she’s gone.” He whispered after a prolonged silence.
“It’s not your fault, Phil.” I heard my voice, but it didn’t feel as though it was coming from my body.
“She needed me. I went off to school.”
“So did she.” I used the back of my arm for nose and eye clean up.
“She hated it there. She was home in a week. She barely talked when I called to check on her so I stopped doing it.” He got choked up.
I clenched my eyes shut.
Each tale he told was another dagger to my heart. I eventually went numb to remain intact. I supported him as much as any person could in that sort of situation. I stayed on the line until he was ready to hang up the phone. I laid down on my bed, shifted onto my side, and cried with my ballerina bunny in my arms.
“Why did you yell? She –“ My mom stopped mid-lecture when she saw my face. “What happened?” She sat down on my bed and pulled me into her arms. I used her ample bosom as a pillow.
“Who?” She stroked my hair.
“The other girl in my lawsuit.”
“Did she commit suicide?” She asked as carefully as possible.
I nodded, crying harder. She kissed the top of my head and held me tighter. “I am so sorry.” She whispered.
“What is going on?” Audrey walked in and shut the door behind her.
“Her friend Eliza passed away.”
“What happened to her?” She sat down on the bed, her voice soft.
“She did it to herself.”
“Oh, Iz. Is there anything I can do?” She touched her hand to my leg.
I shook my head and snuggled closer to my mom.
“Hold her from the other side.” Mom instructed. “You don’t need to choose. You have both of us.” She kept her voice down so I was the only one that heard.
Audrey spooned me from behind, her arm on both our mother and me. We held each other in silence for a long while; I was close to dozing off.
“I didn’t want to hurt you. I wanted – I wanted you to have the strength to forgive me and go on living in my absence. I thought my life was too hard to survive and I prayed you would never feel that way. I wanted those I left behind to have the fullest life possible – to be happy, even though I was gone. I am sure she felt the same way.” I felt moisture on my forehead. My mother’s congestion explained it was a collection of tears.
“I rather have her. We all would.” I croaked.
“She was wrong. Don’t only remember her fatal mistake, remember the good.”
“She left me her journals and necklace.”
“Do what you can with them.” She wiped away her tears and mine.
“I am going to read what she wrote. She asked me to.”
“Take your time. You do not need to do it right this second.” Audrey contributed.
“I know, but she won’t feel so far away.”
“Do you want me to go get one for you?” Aud offered.
I nodded. She left the bed and returned shortly with the book with the number one written on it. I wiped my face and sat up. My mom and sister sat on either side of me. I rested my head on my mom’s shoulder. Aud was on her side, her arm across my lap. They held me as I sought closure one sentence at a time.