After Ian left Celia set about helping the girls with their homework. “Mama you’re not paying attention,” Katrina tapped her hand with the pencil eraser.
“Oh what? I’m sorry” Celia looked down at the row of numbers Katrina was trying to add to together. The numbers blurred and blended as she fought to keep back tears.
“Mom are you worried about daddy?” Katrina asked breaking into her thoughts.
“Who cares?” Kara asked “I hope he never comes back.” She slammed her books shut hopping down from the table.
“Kara you don’t mean that,” Celia said going after the girl “he’s your father…”
“No he’s not” she shouted back “you told me he’s not.”
“Daddy loves you,” Katrina said from where she sat at the table “he didn’t even know mama told you you were adopted.” Turning to Celia “why didn’t you tell him mama? Don’t we have a right to know; especially daddy and Kara?”
“I didn’t think Kara would care so much about someone she’s never met,” she said feeling cornered “I never wanted her to know. I hoped she’d forget about it.”
“Forget!” Kara shouted “how can I forget that I don’t belong here? I want to meet my real dad. Why won’t Ian let me see him?” She lifted her chin up belligerence in every taut muscle.
“Because I don’t want you to,” Celia blurted “John never wanted you. Never tried to come and see you. He signed the papers letting Ian adopt you. Ian’s your dad not John.”
Smiling Kara filed the name away in her mind. All she needed was his last name and she could do her own research on the internet. Squinting up at her mom “how do I know you’re telling me the truth? All you do is lie. You lied when you said Ian didn’t want me to meet my dad. Now you say me real dad never wanted me. What’s the truth?”
“Stop calling your dad by his name” Celia demanded feeling as if she was sinking further and further into quicksand. Why couldn’t she think straight when it came to talking to her daughter? Why couldn’t Kara stop asking questions and just take her word for it?
“He’s not me dad. I’ll never call him dad again,” she screamed throwing her books on the floor and stomping up the stairs to her room.
Katrina stared at the books on the floor mumbling “why won’t you just explain it to her.”
“I’ve tried. She just refuses to listen,” Celia barked at her.
“No you just want it to be someone else’s fault but your own,” Katrina said bending to pick up her sisters things and following her up the stairs to their room.
Once the girls were in bed and she had checked on Garrett. Celia glanced at the time, why wasn’t Ian home yet? He left hours ago. Surely it couldn’t take this long to put a fire out. Going downstairs she switched on the news. She stared transfixed on the screen. The news reporter was describing a wildfire on the outskirts of Starlight Shores. Acres and Acres of land had been consumed by the blaze while the firemen worked to keep it from spreading into the city itself. The words droned on as she watched the growing wall of flames. Going outside she looked in the direction of the fire. She could make out the unmistakable glow in the night sky.
The shrill ringing of her phone broke her from her trance “hello” she said hoping it was Ian. “I just saw it on the news….” she heard her own fear echoed in her mother-in-laws voice “Ian’s been gone for hours,” she said in response to Aimee’s unasked question. “I’m worried too but he knows what he’s doing,” she reassured her “where’s Gene?” Nodding she listed “Oh I’m sorry I hope his sister’s alright.” She looked up as the glow of the distant fire seemed to brighten for a moment before dimming. Distracted she quit listening to whatever Aimee was saying “can I call you back? Garrett just woke up and I need to check on him.” Celia tossed her phone aside as soon as she disconnected.
She felt the tiniest flicker of guilt for the lie she told. She heard Kara’s reproachful voice in her head accusing her. Shaking her head to rid it of the unsettling thoughts she just didn’t want to deal with Aimee’s prattle right now. Forcing herself to turn away from the glow in the sky she went inside to get ready for bed. Laying in the dark she jumped at every noise. Throwing the covers back she sat up glaring at the clock, 4 o’clock. Something was wrong… she could feel it.
Deciding to get up and do some unpacking needing to do something to distract herself. If she couldn’t sleep she could at least do something useful. There it was again. That strange popping sound like firecrackers going off. She raced downstairs and threw open the door where the sound was louder, coming towards the glowing horizon. Gripping the banister she strained her eyes and ears for the slightest sound but the popping sounds didn’t repeat after the first several that had drawn her outside. Shivering in the cold early morning air she went back inside. Surely Ian would be coming home soon. He couldn’t work all night, could he? The sound of ambulance sirens blasting the silence had her heart beating faster. The sound causing her to forget what she was supposed to be doing in favor of pacing the floor in jerky strides.
The ringing of the phone shattered her thoughts “Ian” she said into the phone. The calm deep voice of the caller droned in her ear as the phone shook in her hand before falling and clattering to the wood floor breaking into pieces. Moving in slow motion she wrapped her arms around her midsection as if she could hold herself together. A low keening started that built into a high piercing scream as she sank to her knees.
Katrina sat up rubbing her eyes. Something was wrong she was sure of it. Was that mama screaming? She threw the covers off and went towards the door.
“Kat where are you going?” Kara asked sleepily from her bed.
“Shh go back to sleep,” she told her sister. The strange keening happened again causing Kara to look around “what’s that?” she asked turning frightened yes to her older sister. “Do we have ghosts?”
“No silly,” she shook her head “I think mama’s upset.”
A sour look replaced the fear on Kara’s face “good” she mumbled.
Frowning Katrina glared at her sister “you’re mean….” she shook her head at Kara’s stubborn determination not to care. “Well I’m going to find out why,” she said slamming the door behind her waking Garrett in the next room in the process. She heard his frightened screams as she ran down the stairs.
Hesitating at the bottom of the stairs it was a little scary to watch her mom crying on the floor. Taking a small step forward “Mama” her voice was low she wasn’t surprised her mom continued to cry instead of answering her. Taking several steps forward she put a hand on her mom’s shoulder “mama?” She felt her mom jump as soon as she touched her shoulder “mama what’s wrong.” Looking around the room at the half unpacked boxes she asked “where’s daddy?”
The dreadful keening started again, louder more intense. Katrina didn’t know what to do. She was positive something bad had happened. She backed away from her mom still sobbing on the floor completely self-absorbed to notice anything and everyone around her. Turning Katrina ran up the stairs to find the phone Daddy told her was only for emergencies.
Before she could make the call Kara came into the room demanding “do something about that brat’s screaming.”
“I’m busy” Katrina told her “he just needs a bottle.”
“Why do I have to do it,” Kara complained “I’m not his slave.”
“No you’re his big sister,” Katrina snapped “or don’t you care about anyone by yourself?”
Squinting Kara stomped her foot before turning to leave slamming the door hard enough that their parents wedding picture fell from the wall and cracked. A moment later Katrina heard their bedroom door slam shut and Garrett continued to cry from fear and neglect. “Daddy where are you?” she asked aloud.
Taking a deep breath she pushed the button Daddy told her to and waited for someone to answer. Hopping from one foot to another while she waited, sighing in relief when someone said hello on the other end. “Grandpa” she cried as tears trickled down her cheeks at the sound of his voice.
“What’s wrong sweet heart?” Gene asked as if he had all the time in the world and not rushing to hop a plane for Roaring Heights.
“Mama’s crying. Garrett is screaming. Kara is mad at everyone and Daddy’s not home.” She said in quick succession.
Gene stopped in his tracks no longer interested in making his flight “what do you mean daddy’s not home?”
“He left yesterday on an emergency and hasn’t come home.” She stopped fighting for control and began to cry. “I think something bad happened.”
“Sweetie everything’s going to be alright?” he told her as he stopped in front of a bar wondering if they might have a local news channel going on one of their monitors. Going in he walked up to one where several people were gathered around watching the developing news story of wounded firemen being air lifted to the Starlight Shores burn unit.
“Grandpa you there?” Katrina’s tearful voice wasn’t quite enough to snap him out of his daze as he watched the pictures of the injured men and for the first time in years he felt the need to drink. Licking his lips he walked up to the bar, the phone call all but forgotten. He watched the barman pour the whiskey, set it in front of him. He lifted the amber liquid to his lips “Grandpa I don’t know what to do?” He heard her voice as if from a long way off he sniffed the liqueur felt the old craving reawaken in him. “Grandpa I’m scared.” Her voice was like a cold bucket of water being poured over his head. Pushing the drink away he turned and ran from the bar.
“Sweetie,” he tried to break through to the hysterical little child. “Sweetie Grandpa’s here. Everything is going to be alright. I’m on my way.” He made a quick call to Tain to explain he couldn’t come. As much as he wanted to be there for his sister he couldn’t leave his family in a middle of a crisis. Turning back to Katrina he said “sweetie listen to me. Get a bottle for your baby brother.” Silence greeted him “can you do that?”
“Yes” came the quivering reply.
“I’ll be there soon sweetie.” Gene tried to keep his voice calm, steady, reassuring.
“Is daddy hurt?” she asked between hiccups.
Holding his breath he debated over what answer to give. As he stepped outside he opted for the truth. “Yes baby he is.”
“Ok” was the only response he received.
“Daddy I told you to be careful,” he heard the voice say. He had no idea how long he had heard the voice say that again and again. It felt important but he couldn’t quite grasp why. That was different, strange…somehow comforting.
“Come on sweetie it’s time to go,” Gene held his hand out to his granddaughter.
“Alright” she leaned over the bed to kiss her dad’s cheek “bye daddy.”
Don’t go he screamed that got no further than his head. He didn’t want to be alone. When the room fell silent he knew she was gone. There was someone else he longed to hear but she never came. His mind pictured her, a sullen little girl with angry eyes. Would she say to him as she did before “you’re not my daddy.” The words that hurt worse then being burned alive.
The fire had trapped them, overwhelmed their defenses. He could still feel the heat, the pain as the flames licked at his skin, seared his flesh, burned his lungs. The steady beeping of some machine increased until a familiar soothing voice reached out and touched him. “Shh it’s ok. You’re ok.”
His lips moved cracking from disuse and burns. He ran his tongue across them seeking moisture of any sort “mom” he croaked.
“Ian” she almost shouted. Jumping up she kissed his forehead before running from the room. “Celia come quick. He’s awake!”
Looking up from where she was sitting she heard her mother-in-law shouting for her. Heard the joyous news. Ian was awake after several months of being in an induced coma. She knew the day would come. They had been slowly bringing him out of the coma for the past week. She knew she should be happy but she dreaded telling him what she had done. He would hate her for sure now.
“Celia didn’t you hear me,” Aimee asked coming up and standing in front of her “Ian is awake. He’ll want to see you.”
Standing Celia walked stiffly towards Ian’s room. Each step felt like she was one stop closer to doom. She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t face him. She turned and ran from the hospital.
Four weeks later Gene stood glaring at his daughter-in-law. “Why haven’t you been to see Ian?” He breathed in and out counting each individual breath seeking a calm he didn’t have. He kept counting. “He’s been asking for you.”
Shaking her head she mumbled “I can’t.”
“Why the hell not?” he shouted causing the girl to jump. She ducked her head unable to meet his glare. She looked from corner to corner like a mouse caught in a trap. “Don’t you care about him?”
Trembling she nodded her head “yes” she muttered barely audible.
“Then why? Help me to understand,” he almost pleaded “can’t you see how this is effecting him? He needs you.”
“I can’t. I want to but I can’t,” she started to cry in deep wracking sobs. “Don’t you see once he finds out what I’ve done he’ll hate me.”
“You can’t run from it forever,” Gene told her “you have to face up to him eventually. Better now before he comes home.” Gene looked around the well decorated room then back at Celia pointing towards the family portrait taken a couple weeks before the fire. “Don’t you think he’ll notice someone missing from the family?”
Staring at the picture the enormity of what she had done over whelmed her. Gulping in air she gasped “I….I can’t breathe.”
Rushing to her side he helped her to the kitchen where he found a paper bag “breathe into this,” he instructed.
Looking up from the kitchen table Katrina watched for a moment before asking “is she alright?”
“She will be,” Gene told her. Nodding she turned back to her homework.
“Even your daughter is tired of your dramatics” Gene told her harshly eliciting a quickly hushed giggle from Katrina. “Pull yourself together. You have children who need you.”
“No she doesn’t,” Katrina stood up glaring at her mother “I don’t need her. Garrett doesn’t need her. I change his diapers. I feed him when he’s hungry. I get up with him at night.” Stomping her foot “we don’t need her. All we need is daddy.” She ran from the room sobbing.
“Is that true?” Gene asked his voice low, ominous like dark thunder clouds moving in before a storm.
“What if it is? Garrett just cries whenever he sees me. He only wants her.”
“You could have asked for help. We would have done anything….”
Rolling her eyes “I don’t need or want to listen to how I’m doing everything wrong.”
“Is that what you think we’re doing?” Gene stared at her shaking his head “you came to us asking us what you should do. We made suggestions then you, I might add you chose to ignore. How is that telling you what you’re doing wrong? We never once said or implied it. We have tried our best to let you and Ian handle your own problems.”
“You hate me. My children hate me. Ian will hate me.” Covering her face “I even hate me.”
“Why?” Gene asked the single word question and it’s effect on Celia was explosive.
“Because I gave my daughter to that man. I couldn’t take her hateful glares and sullen silences. I couldn’t deal with her because I didn’t want to. I kept hearing her say how she hoped Ian would never come come back. So I sent her away when John asked if he could have her on a trial basis.” She stood stunned staring mouth open wide at her admission.
Gene clenched and clenched his fists desperately needing to hit something “you blamed a confused little girl for what happened? Are you crazy?” Words failed him. He was suddenly thrown back to the past hearing his mother blaming everything upon his shoulders until he felt like the entire world was weighing him down. He turned away unable to look at her “I’m taking the kids home with me.”
Opening the door to Katrina’s room Gene said “hey sweetie you’re coming to stay with me until your daddy is able to come home.”
“Really?” she asked looking up at him. She watched anxiously while he nodded. Squealing she jumped up hugging him “thank you….thank you,” she kept saying as she squeezed him.
Garrett began to cry through the baby monitor she had set up in her room. Sighing Katrina released her hold from around Gene’s waist. “I better go check on him.”
Nodding he mumbled “I’ll pack some things for you.” He watched the little girl leave. His lips thinning as the door closed behind her. She was carrying more responsibility then any little girl should have to. Gathering a few things he went into the baby’s room where she was finishing changing her brother’s diaper.
She turned as the door opened holding Garrett tight against her she said “I don’t think I can come with you Grandpa. I need to stay here and take care of Garrett. That woman won’t.”
Gene could hear the anger in her voice and confusion over what was happening. He watched as Garrett snuggled into her content. Reaching out he took his grandson from her arms “sweetie he’s coming too.”