twenty - six
“Hey Ezra,” Kieran called out, picking up one of the many folders. It was on the very top of the box Mrs. Donna had dropped off earlier. Since we were technically the guardians of Cleo, after we were transferred custody, her previous foster parent sent over some information and remaining belongings of Cleo’s.
Basically it was a box full of paper and a pillow from her bed. Everything else had been, uh burned, courtesy of some unknown assailant that Cleo has yet to tell us about.
“What?” I put down some adoption forms and bounded over to where Kieran was at our dining table. Hearing our commotion, Cleo got up from the sofa and followed closely behind.
“Cleo’s birth certificate.” Kieran narrowed his eyes in a light hearted mood at her. “You never told us your birthday.”
Tucking a strand of her black hair behind one of her ears, Cleo said, “S-sorry.” Her voice still sounded strained and it has yet to come out not hoarse. About a week had passed since we took her home from the hospital and still so little improvements. She could speak a few words at a time, but even then, they sounded so awful.
“February third,” I murmured. I ran my eyes along the other words, finding out that she had no middle name and that her last name was Adel.
A brief memory of Banner dashed through my mind again.
He had told me to contact him if I found his daughter, or his granddaughter. He had told me his last name, which both of the missing people should share. I couldn’t remember the name exactly, but I was almost sure it wasn’t Adel.
Maybe Banner wasn’t Cleo’s grandfather after all.
I skimmed over the other names, discovering that only a mother’s name was listed. The father’s name field was blank.
“Alana Rose . . .” I quietly whispered. There was no last name, unless Rose was this girl’s last name, which a part of me doubted. The name sounded so beautiful, and seemed incomplete, as if it was abruptly cut off. I could almost picture Cleo’s mother with matching beauty that of her daughter, sharing the same, midnight black hair and golden bronze skin.
“Yeah,” Cleo coughed out. “Her last-last name isn-n’t on there.” She then shrugged as if to say that she didn’t know why.
“Alana Rose Adel?” Kieran turned away from the birth certificate, his blue eyes finding her hazel orbs.
“No. Her last name was Bahar.” She took a deep breath to gather some of her strength back when speaking. “I had mine leg-legally changed.” Her voice wavered in and out at some parts, making me wince when she looked as if she were in pain.
Neither Kieran or I had to ask why Cleo would want to change her last name. She clearly wanted no connection to the mother that abandoned her, or her absent father, if he ever wanted to come into the picture.
Alana Rose Bahar.
A rose . . .
With petals of dripping red, and a stem made of thorns, a rose was imprinted on his cheek, for a daughter he may never see again.
Do me a favor. Banner’s voice suddenly materialized into my mind. While you’re outside these walls, if you catch wind of Rose or her kid, tell me how they are, or what happened to them. Her last name is, or was, Bahar.
Oh my god.
“Cleo,” My voice came out rapid, and uncoordinated. “I know where your grandfather is.”
She widened her eyes at my statement, a ghost of a response on her opened mouth.
“And I think I know where your mother is.” Kieran suddenly said, further shocking Cleo while unintentionally stealing the thunder from my earlier epiphany. Not that it mattered, or anything.
“One thing at a time.” I ordered. “Cleo, you choose. Mother or grandfather.”
“F*ck my mother.” She seethed.
I guess we have to change our plans of ever taking Cleo to our old pack, Kieran mindlinked me abruptly.
Does the name Alana Rose, or better yet, Lana, not ring a bell?
Then it hit me. Like a sudden swing of a bat, a second light bulb shattered above my head.
Cleo’s mother is our previous pack’s luna.
“So, where is he?” Cleo asked, snapping us out of our trance. She looked quizzidly at both me and Kieran, puzzled at our sudden silence. Her grandfather, the only family member she wanted to see, was locked away in county jail; while the only available family was actually a few miles away, but basically all but dead to Cleo.
“Uh . . .” I hesitated. “. . . prison.”
“So he was your cellmate?” Kieran confirmed, and when I nodded, he continued. “What a fucking blessing.”
“No, a fucking blessing is t-that he told you about my mot-ther to begin with.” Cleo huffed, her voice scratching against her throat as she forced it out. Internally, I winced. “So, what exactly did he tell you about her?”
That your mother got mixed into some bad people and was assaulted.
You’re a rape child.
Puzzled at my hesitance, Cleo took a sip of her water, relinquishing the cooling of her throat. She glanced across the table at Kieran, who then in turn looked back at her. I knew that they weren’t mindlinking, not while Cleo was still so weak since it took so much out of her, but the way they looked at each other almost convinced me that they were. But neither of their eyes glazed over, so I knew I was just being paranoid.
“Uh - I’m just trying to remember everything he said -”
She abruptly cut me off.
“ - no, you’re not. You-you remember everything he said, you just don’t want to tell me.”
I paused, staring at my place of chicken parmigiana expectantly, as if it could somehow swallow me whole, saving me from this conversation.
Maybe I didn’t forget everything Banner told me. Maybe I did always remember Cleo’s actual last name, but a part of my brain blocked it out, because I knew what it meant if Banner was Cleo’s grandfather. It confirmed what we - I - was scared of. I was scarred with the knowledge of Cleo’s awful origins, how she was forced onto her mother, and in turn, her mother forced her onto the foster system. It was a cruel game of chess that I was forced to bear witness. I always knew that Cleo’s life was difficult, but now that I knew for sure that she was in fact, an accident, I couldn’t bear to tell her. How could I tell the love of my life that she was never supposed to be here? How could I stare into her hazel orbs of beauty and tell her that her entire existence was never supposed to have happened?
How could you say that to anyone, nevermind someone you love?
Love? Do I love Cleo?
Besides that question, which I should get back to later, then there was the whole Banner thing. I barely knew the guy, we shared one night in a holding cell and that was it. He could be crazy, or vindictive, and crush Cleo’s spirits with a single word. Do I risk having them meet - knowing it could ruin Cleo?
Jesus. My options were basically worse or even worse.
“Ez-ez-ezra.” Cleo spoke, snapping me out of my thoughts. “I know what you don’t want to tell me. My grandf-father told you what I’ve always known.”
She took a deep breath to recollect herself.
“I’m a rape child. Nothing more.”
Her voice wavered, and not just because of her injured voice box, but because she was on the verge of breaking down.
I don’t know how, but she must’ve figured it out, and she’s lived her entire life thinking she was a mistake. And I all but confirmed it for her.
What a crap person I was.
As her mate, I was supposed to bring her nothing but joy. I felt like I only brought her unhappiness and misery.
I mean Jessabel attacked her because of me.
And now I just confirmed her biggest fear.
“Hey,” Kieran softly spoke. He got up from his chair, and was heading for Cleo, when she suddenly bolted up.
“I need to be alone right now.” She murmured, and then, without explanation, ran out of the cabin.