"My Dad?" Katie's voice was a whisper as she listened to the voice on the telephone. She struggled to cast her mind back to the family she'd avoided for so long. The pain was real, all encompassing, it was so hard to try to take in the fact that her estranged father was seriously ill, she was still frozen in a place of confusion when the door opened and Xavier, her husband burst in, like the vibrant extrovert that he was, his black hair hanging in his eyes, his dark chest bare, his board shorts well worn and his feet bare. The man exuded sexuality but she was too distraught to see that now at this moment.
"Cara?" he called. "Where are you?" his Spanish was rapid, a strong dialect from rural Mexico, instantly different to the local sounds of the metropolitan Acapulco region where they lived, and eons away from the Castillian version she was taught in school and University. But she was used to it now, and there was no excuse of not understanding so her lack of response surprised him. He paused seeing her pale face, white knuckles still gripping the telephone, which was sounding an alarm, alerting him that the line was dead. "Que pasa?" He loosened her grip on the hand set and disconnected the phone. Then tilting her chin forced her to meet his eyes.
She shook her head softly trying to bring herself back to the here and now. "My Dad!" she announced.
Trying to hide his shock, he took her hand and stared at her intently, in their three years of marriage she'd not as much as mentioned her family. In fact they'd had more than a few arguments over her avoidance of the issue.
Leading her to the sofa and he sat her down next to him. "What is it?"
She looked into his face, pain clouding her view. "He's had a heart attack..."
"You've never mentioned your family. I didn't know..."
She nodded, "I know, when I moved here six years ago I swore I'd never speak to them again. It was an irreparably damaged relationship."
"And now?" he was studying her, never had he seen her so...lost. Katie was the strongest person he knew.
She looked up at him her eyes filled with tears, "now I feel like my heart is suddenly breaking!"
He pulled her into his arms, "then we must go home, I will take you. Can we fly today?"
An hour later she'd met with Pablo Juarez her boss, mentor and surrogate father who had not only given her unlimited leave, but even booked her on a first class flight to London.
"Family is the most important thing. You must take the time to visit your padre." He hugged the girl he'd come to think of as a daughter. He'd spent many a day worrying about her, she'd been so alone when she'd first started to work for him. But he always knew there was a family somewhere. He just wish he'd known more of this years ago. Over the years she'd made friends with everyone she met, her bubbly personality and keenness to please ensured that. As he started to relax, she started to become less lonely, then she'd married Xavier Albasos, a playboy and a fool. He worried about her now more than ever.
He released her, "I'm sorry that Xavier can't join you, but the boat tour is too important and he is the only guide suitable for it." She need never know that he orchestrated the circumstances that meant she travelled alone, Pablo definitely viewed her husband as a liability, he figured she'd cope better without his dominant and antagonistic presence. If this was as awkward as he envisaged it would be, then he was the last person that anyone needed or wanted there.
"I'm just so grateful that you have given me the time! It means everything to me Pablo."
He smiled, "I'm glad to finally hear that you do have a family! I was beginning to think that you were found under a bush or delivered by a stork! Why do you stay away from them? Can things be that bad?" She loved being in the bosom of his family, so he knew this separation wasn't an easy decision for her.
She paused for a moment, pain and disappointment filling every ounce of her body. Taking a deep breath she looked up at the greatest man she knew. "My mother was ill for many years, she had cancer and it finally killed her. Then my father immediately married an evil and wicked woman who hated me. The arguments, the fights.....it was awful. I barely went home once I got to University, then when we had the worst biggest fight imaginable, I came back here, hoping that the man who had offered me my job for my year out would take me on permanently! Little did I know that he'd be better than a father to me!"
He squeezed her hand, "I'm glad that I gave you some security, but I am not your father unfortunately, and your family is important, I want you to make peace with them. It'll make you feel serenity, a new calmness."
"Until I had a phone call yesterday I didn't know what you mean, but now I do. I am desperate to speak to my father." She felt so sad, yet so nervous at the thought of going back to her father's home. She'd long since stopped thinking of there as home to her.
"Then go! I've got a car booked for half an hour.....it will make the plane, now go!" He kissed her forehead then pushed her in the direction of her apartment.
"I need to see Xavi..." she tried to protest. It had all happened so quickly.
"I'll explain, don't worry!"
So three hours later she was in a plane soaring high above the Mexican coast, heading for first the US and then London. The euphoria and excitement were replaced with fear and dread as she stepped out into the damp and cold British day. It was almost seven years since she'd flown out on a one way ticket, running from the pain and anger her family had become. Now she was back, but was she home? She laughed, no, home was where the heart was, and that had not been Britain for a long, long time.
Pablo in his infinite wisdom, and via his multiple connections had booked her into a large hotel a few miles from her parents. After hiring a car, she headed north to the huge hotel. Katie couldn't wait to visit her father, but a phone call indicated that she couldn't visit until the evening as he was having a scan this afternoon. She'd been travelling for hours, and with the time difference didn't know what to do with herself, but she knew that sleep would be the wrong move. So she headed to the hotel pool, cutting multiple lengths through the cool water in an accomplished and effective stroke.
What to wear to reconcile with a long lost parent? Katie stood studying herself in the mirror of the hotel. She'd been twenty one when she'd left, she was now almost twenty eight. Her previously dark hair was bleached by the sun, natural highlights framing her face, and suiting her blue eyes, she also now had a permanent sun kissed glow to her skin. She'd filled out, having been an exercise addicted college girl when she'd left, run away. Now she was the manager of a chain of exclusive hotels in Mexico, her body was more curvaceous, sometimes she worried that she was too curvy, but Xavier loved her body, and their more than healthy sex life was the only regular exercise she took these days.
The teaching hospital was a tall building, teeming with hundreds of people. She looked at the note she'd made when the regional office and called her and passed on the news about her dad. So she started to follow signs to Gainsborough Ward the Coronary Care Unit. She was shaking as she walked onto the ward.
The first face she saw was a smiling nurse trying to force a large bunch of flowers into a vase. "Can I help you love?"
She nodded, "I'm looking for my father, William Baker?"
"Oh Bill! He'll be glad of a visitor. He's in bed five," she gestured down the hallway, "third room on your right."
Nodding, she thanked her then followed the directions. As she peered around the door frame she gasped. There, pale and almost shrunken propped against pillows was her father, the man who'd never been ill, had been as strong as an ox, who had made up for in pure presence what he lacked in stature. There he was dwarfed and almost frail. He was sixty two she calculated, he'd been fifty five when she left - a lifetime ago in so many ways.
Glancing around she was amazed that Carmel wasn't limpet-like at his side.
"He's just asleep."
Katie turned around anxiously at the voice to see the same nurse walking past. She let out her held breath. "Go up and say hello, he's awake for quite a bit of the day, all signs he's getting stronger." Katie nodded a thank you, before walking slowly into the room.
"Dad?" she breathed, reaching for his hand.
His eyes fluttered before opening slowly and he stared at her, she knew he was doubting his eyes.
"Katie?" his voice was a hoarse whisper. "Is it you? Really?"
She tried to blink away the tears, but they started to flood down her face as she smiled at him, "It's me Dad!"
He squeezed her hand, "thank the Lord! I can't believe it!" He studied her intently, drinking in the vision of his long lost daughter.
"Ssh! You need your rest. I'm not going anywhere."
He was crying too, "I've missed you, so much!"
Suddenly everything was wrong, there was nothing bad enough to keep her her away from her father, her only family, and she fought the nausea at the knowledge that she'd been the one to leave, "I know, me too. We can at least try to talk, hey?"
He nodded, "I'm getting better every day. I want to hear everything you've been doing." She watched him become stronger in front of her eyes.
Katie nodded in agreement, "not now though, you can just relax for a bit and I'll sit with you. Ok? I'm not rushing anywhere!"
Less than five minutes later, as they both sat trying to break down the barriers that until the previous day and seemed permanent, there was a noise from the door.
"What the hell are you doing here?" the aggressive hiss had only one owner, Carmel.
Katie squeezed her father's hand, and whispered, "it's ok. I'll sort everything out!" Hoping that would reassure him somewhat. With that she turned to her step mother. "Carmel! How nice to see you!"
The older woman was wrong-footed for a moment, "what are you doing here? Thinking that you can come back and cause us more grief just as we're starting to get used to you not being around?"
Katie shook her head, "Carmel, my father's ill. Did you not think I might come back?"
Carmel looked ready to explode, "you walked out, left me to pick up the pieces, how do you...."
Katie raised a hand to silence her, "let's at least take this away from my father. He doesn't need the hassle, and quite frankly we are both old enough to deal with each other away from him." She turned to her father. "I'm going outside to speak to Carmel. I'll be in tomorrow, the nurses have said I can visit anytime, so hopefully we can arrange a rota so we don't clash. That'll save some animosity."
"Thank you Katie, I do love you!"
She smiled a sad smile as she bent down to kiss his cheek, "I'll sort this once and for all, work it out as it should've been managed years ago. Ok?"
He nodded, "I can't wait till tomorrow."
She reluctantly left the room, forcing Carmel to join her. No sooner was the door shut behind them that the older woman launched at Katie verbally.
"Who do you think you are waltzing back in here as if the last ten years didn't happen? Have you any idea what you've put your father through? He's been a shadow of himself these last years, all down to you and your adult attitude of running away!"
Katie tapped her foot in anger, "Have you quite finished? I am not a teenager anymore, you have no control Carmel. I'm here to visit my father, and hopefully we can have recreate some form of relationship. I'm strong enough to fight you now. I was a child when you were exerting your authority. But now I'm an adult and your pathetic attempts to discredit me with my father will be futile. So you'll have to get back to the drawing board."
"You told your father you'd try to be nice to me...."
Katie laughed, "as usual you both misheard and misjudged me. I told my father I'd deal with things, and I will. I have no intention of letting you get the upper hand over MY relationship with MY father again. I strongly suggest you don't fight me, but if you do prepare to lose. Because I am stronger than I have ever been." She took in Carmel's ashen face and wondered if her attack was too strong.
Then there was a voice ambushing her from behind, "Don't speak to my mother like that! You'd be best off turning and walking away as you did seven years ago!"
She froze for a moment, trying to place the voice. Then she turned to see a tall, dark man towering over her, "Daniel? My God! You've changed!"
He tutted, "well I was only fourteen when you ran away, I'm the one who looks after my parents now. There's no place for you here. Not with that attitude!"
Katie was crushed, she could accept antagonism from the old witch, but she had favorable memories of Daniel, Carmel's son. He'd been annoying, as all younger brothers probably were, and his mother's unremitting defense of him had caused a large proportion of the arguments in the house. But he'd been a nice kid.
Taking a deep breath she gave a tight smile, "I'm sorry to hear you feel that way Daniel. But I am here to stay, at least until my father is well. You can either accept that, or both fight me. But I don't think that's the best thing for my father to witness, do you?"
She looked at them both before turning on her heel. At the entrance to the ward, she gave the nurse her contact details, then headed out into the evening and back to the hotel.