She stands up and quietly walks out of the room, then returns moments later with a small wooden box. She places it into my hands. “I couldn’t leave without these. I knew that when the day came for me to tell you the truth, that you would want to know all about your mother, too. I couldn’t find much, but what I did find I kept for you.”
Tears fill my eyes as I run my fingers over the wooden box that holds the only memories of a woman I never thought I would have a chance to remember. I don’t open it. I can’t. I need to open it alone.
Karen tucks my hair behind my ear and I look back up at her. “I know what I did was wrong, but I don’t regret it. If I had to do it again just to know you would be safe, I wouldn’t think twice about it. I also know that you probably hate me for lying to you. I’m okay with that, Sky, because I love you enough for the both of us. Never feel guilty for how you feel about what I’ve done to you. I’ve had this conversation and this moment planned out for thirteen years, so I’m prepared for whatever you decide to do and whatever decision you make. I want you to do what’s best for you. I’ll call the police right now if that’s what you want me to do. I’ll be more than willing to tell them everything I just told you if it would help you find peace. If you need me to wait until your actual eighteenth birthday so you can continue to live in this house until then, I will. I’ll turn myself in the second you’re legally allowed to take care of yourself, and I’ll never question your request. But whatever you choose, Sky. Whatever you decide to do, don’t worry about me. Knowing you’re safe now is everything I could ever ask for. Whatever comes next for me is worth every second of the thirteen years I’ve had with you.”
I look back down at the box and continue to cry, not having a clue as to what to do. I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong or if right is wrong in this situation. I know that I can’t answer her right now. I feel like with everything she’s just told me, all that I thought I knew about justice and fairness has just slapped me in the face.
I look back up at her and shake my head. “I don’t know,” I whisper. “I don’t know what I want to happen.” I don’t know what I want, but I know what I need. I need a chapter break.
I stand up and she remains seated, watching me as I walk to the door. I can’t look her in the eyes as I open the front door. “I need to think for a while,” I say quietly, making my way outside. As soon as the front door closes behind me, Holder’s arms wrap around me. I cradle the wooden box in one hand and wrap my other arm around his neck, burying my head into his shoulder. I cry into his shirt, not knowing how to begin processing everything I’ve just learned. “The sky,” I say. “I need to look at the sky.”
He doesn’t ask any questions. He knows exactly what I’m referring to, so he grabs my hand and leads me to the car. Jack slips back inside the house as Holder and I pull out of the driveway.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 8:45 p.m.
Holder never asks me what Karen said while I was inside the house with her. He knows that I’ll tell him when I can, but right now in this moment, I don’t think I can. Not until I know what I want to do.
He pulls the car over when we get to the airport, but pulls up significantly further than where we normally park. When we walk down to the fence, I’m surprised to see an unlocked gate. Holder lifts the latch and swings it open, motioning for me to walk through.
“There’s a gate?” I ask, confused. “Why do we always climb the fence?”
He shoots me a sly grin. “You were in a dress the two times we’ve been here. Where’s the fun in walking through a gate?”
Somehow, and I don’t know how, I find it in me to laugh. I walk through the gate and he closes it behind me, but remains on the other side of it. I pause and reach my hand out to him. “I want you to come with me,” I say.
“Are you sure? I figured you’d want to think alone tonight.”
I shake my head. “I like being next to you out here. It wouldn’t feel right if I was alone.”
He opens the gate and takes my hand in his. We walk down to the runway and claim our usual spots under the stars. I lay the wooden box next to me, still not sure that I have the courage to open it. I’m not really sure of anything right now. I lay still for over half an hour, silently thinking about my life…about Karen’s life…about Lesslie’s life…and I feel like the decision I’m having to make needs to be one for all three of us.
“Karen is my aunt,” I say aloud. “My biological aunt.” I don’t know if I’m saying it out loud for Holder’s benefit or if I just want to say it out loud for myself.
Holder wraps his pinky around mine and turns his head to look at me. “Your dad’s sister?” he asks, hesitantly. I nod and he closes his eyes, understanding what that means for Karen’s past. “That’s why she took you,” he says, knowingly. He says it like it makes complete sense. “She knew what he was doing to you.”
I confirm his statement with a nod. “She wants me to decide, Holder. She wants me to choose what happens next. The problem is, I don’t know what choice is the right one.”
He takes my entire hand in his now, intertwining our fingers. “That’s because none of them are the right choice,” he says. “Sometimes you have to choose between a bunch of wrong choices and no right ones. You just have to choose which wrong choice feels the least wrong.”
Making Karen pay for something she did out of complete selflessness is without a doubt the worst wrong choice. I know it in my heart, but it’s still a struggle to accept that what she did is something that should have no consequences. I know she didn’t know it at the time, but the fact that Karen took me away from my father only led to what happened to Lesslie. It’s hard to ignore that Karen taking me indirectly led to what happened to my best friend—to the only other girl in Holder’s life that he feels he let down.
“I need to ask you something,” I say to him. He silently waits for me to speak, so I sit up on the concrete and look down at him. “I don’t want you to interrupt me, okay? Just let me get this out.”
He touches my hand and nods, so I continue. “I know that Karen did what she did because she was only trying to save me. The decision she made was made out of love…not hate. But I’m scared that if I don’t say anything…if we keep it to ourselves…that it will affect you. Because I know that what my father did to Les was only done because I wasn’t there, taking her place. And I know there was no way Karen could have foreseen what he would do. I know she tried to do the right thing by reporting him before she became so desperate. But what happens to us? To you and me, when we try to go back to how things were before? I’m scared you’ll hate Karen forever…or that you’ll eventually begin to resent me for whatever choice I make tonight. And I’m not saying I don’t want you to feel whatever it is you need to feel. If you need to hate Karen for what happened to Les, I understand. I guess I just need to know that whatever I choose…I need to know…”
I attempt to find the most eloquent way to say it, but I can’t. Sometimes the most simplistic questions are the hardest to ask. I squeeze his hand and look him in the eyes. “Holder…will you be okay?”
His expression is unreadable as he watches me. He laces his fingers through mine and turns his attention back to the sky above us.
“All this time,” he says, quietly. “For the past year I’ve done nothing but hate and resent Les for what she did. I hated her because we led the exact same life. We had the exact same parents who went through the exact same divorce. We had the exact same best friend who was ripped from our lives. We shared the exact same grief over what happened to you, Sky. We moved to the same town in the same house with the same mom and the same school. The things that happened in her life were the exact same things that happened in mine. But she always took it so much harder. Sometimes at night I would hear her crying. I would always go lay with her and hold her, but there were so many times I just wanted to scream at her for being so much weaker than me.
“Then that night…when I found out what she did…I hated her. I hated her for giving up so easily. I hated that she thought her life was so much harder than mine, when they were the exact same.”
He sits up and turns to face me, taking both of my hands in his. “I know the truth now. I know that her life was a million times harder than mine. And the fact that she still smiled and laughed every single day, but I never had a single clue what kind of shit she had been through…I finally see how brave she really was. And it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know how to deal with it all. I wish that she would have asked for help or told someone what happened, but everyone deals with these things differently, especially when you think you’re all alone. You were able to block it out and that’s how you coped. I think she tried to do that, but she was a lot older when it happened to her so it made it impossible. Instead of blocking it out and never thinking about it again, I know she did the exact opposite. I know that it consumed every part of her life until she just couldn’t take it anymore.
“And you can’t say that Karen’s choice had any direct link to what your father did to Les. If Karen had never taken you away from him, he more than likely would have still done those things to Les whether you were there or not. It’s who he was. It’s what he did. So if you’re asking me if I blame Karen, the answer is no. The only thing I wish Karen would have done differently…is I wish she could have taken Les, too.”
He wraps his arms around me and brings his mouth to my ear. “Whatever you decide, baby. Whatever you feel will make your heart heal faster…that’s what I want for you. That’s what Les wants for you, too.”
I hug him back and bury my head against his shoulder. “Thank you, Holder.”
He holds me silently while I think about the decision that isn’t even much of a decision anymore. After a while, I pull away from him and lift the box into my lap. I run my fingers across the top of it and hesitate before touching the latch. I press on it and slowly lift the lid as I close my eyes, hesitant to see what’s inside of it. I take a deep breath once the lid is lifted, then I open my eyes and peer down into the eyes of my mother. I pick the picture up between my trembling fingers, looking at a woman who could be no one else but the person who created me. From my mouth to my eyes to my cheekbones, I’m her. Every part of me is her.
I set the picture down and pick up the one beneath it. This one causes even more emotions to resurface, because it’s a picture of both of us. I can’t be older than two and I’m sitting in her lap with my arms wrapped around her neck. She’s kissing me on the cheek and I’m staring at the camera with a smile bigger than life. Tears fall onto the picture in my hands, so I wipe them off and place the pictures in Holder’s hands. I need for him to see what I so desperately had to go back to my father’s house for.