I nodded my head, keeping the confusion I felt inside off my face. Did grown-ups drink apple juice? "Uh, sure. That sounds . . . good."
"Oh, and how rude of me. I didn't even offer you dinner—"
"No," I said, "just the juice, please. I ate before I came here." Molly stood up and walked toward the French doors off the patio.
"Okay," Carolyn said. "Well, if you change your mind, of course, this is your house, too." She reached out and took my hand. "You'll move in tonight, of course."
"Oh . . . I, well. We'll talk about that—"
She shook her head vehemently. "No, Eden, please. I can't bear it. I won't be able to sleep another night if you're not under the same roof." She started to cry quietly again. "Now that I have you back, I'll die if you don't stay."
"Carolyn . . . Mom," I said, "I'm not going anywhere." I smiled at her. "I'm back, and I'll never go away again."
"Promise me," she said, her voice cracking.
"I promise." I smiled up at Molly as she handed me a glass of apple juice and set a glass of wine in front of Carolyn.
Carolyn took a big sip of her wine and leaned back. She looked away from me, out over the pool. "Your father helped build an investment firm from the ground up. It was very successful. We suddenly lived a lifestyle we had never dreamed of . . . cars, houses, vacations . . ." She waved her hand in the air. "We learned that all the material things meant nothing in the end. But of course, at the time, it seemed like everything we'd ever dreamed of." She was quiet for a minute, looking lost in thought. "Anyway," she looked back at me, "one of your father's co-workers was caught stealing money he was supposed to be investing. There have been higher profile cases like it on the news in recent years, and everyone has heard of those, but back then, I barely understood it."
"So my father wasn't the one stealing?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No, but he had looked the other way. He knew what was going on and his failure to act allowed it to continue. His failure to report what he knew resulted in hundreds of people losing their life savings. In the end, the whole company, they were all disgraced." She waved her hand through the air again. "The details don't matter so much, Eden, trust me, I knew them all and they still didn't help me make sense of it, other than to say that it came down to greed—levels of it, yes, but all greed in the end." A brief look of pain skittered across her features as if she was living back there for just a moment.
I looked down.
"Your father took it hard. Not just the loss of his job, all the stuff, but the disgrace. The shame ate at him like a cancer. And that's when Hector came along."
My eyes flew to hers.
"He first came to us as a man who had lost everything and understood where we were. At first we were skeptical, naturally, but . . . the more he talked . . . told Ben, your father, that it wasn't his fault, that the greed of society had seeped into his soul . . . well, it sounds ridiculous now. But at the time, and with how far we'd fallen, I guess we were searching for something, anything—"
"I understand, Mom. I do."
She looked back at me sadly. "Of course you do. I'm sorry for that."
I shook my head. "Please go on," I said.
She sighed. "Well, your father, he became almost obsessed with Hector, although, at the time, we knew him as Damon Abas. Your father was intrigued with this society that Damon . . . Hector had started, this place where there was supposedly no greed or sin, no pain or competition. This community had started several years earlier, but Hector had spent that time constructing the buildings and finding the first people who would live and work there. Hector and your father talked non-stop about how it would all operate . . . the things people would need down the line, what was working, what wasn't." She shook her head again. "Even with the talk of gods and visions and other things that were difficult to believe in . . . it healed something in your father for a time, gave him something to cling to, a purpose, an escape, and so for that I was so very grateful. I ignored my suspicions about Hector . . . I did just what your father had done. I looked the other way because I was benefitting from it." Tears welled in her eyes again. "I guess if you choose to trust a snake, you deserve his venom."
"Carolyn . . ." Molly said, but Carolyn shook her head and wiped at her eyes.
"Anyway, Hector came to your father specifically because Hector had this idea about a council. I know now from the news reports on Acadia what came to be as far as that went, but when he first spoke of it, he spoke of a group of men who understood what it was to fall in the "big society" as he called it—a group of men who had personal knowledge about the evils of our culture—men who could guide and mold this 'land of plenty.'"
I thought about what I'd learned from the news reports on the Acadia council—things I hadn't understood when I'd lived there. Hector had gone around the country gathering together a group of men who had been disgraced in one way or another and were desperately looking for a place to find respect again, to reclaim some small measure of the power they'd once had. And of course, there was the financial gain. Hector was paying them a yearly salary—far more than any of them had been making in their previous jobs. The police had looked for the money trail, but apparently Hector had known how to hide it. The property had been paid for in cash and put in his false name as well. They'd never found a thing that would clue them in to Hector's true identity.
And of course, the council had been chosen to benefit Hector in a myriad of ways as well . . . a judge . . . a police officer . . . I moved that aside.
Sadness welled inside me as she discussed Acadia, even the idea of it. It had been my home. It had been where I fell deeply in love. And somewhere inside me, just speaking of it, sparked a longing so intense, it shocked me, because it had also been the place where life ended. Of course, it wasn't the place I longed for, but a person. And for me, that's where he'd always be. I swallowed heavily.
"What happened to make my father see Hector for who he really was?"
"You," my mother said quietly. She looked off behind me as if she was recalling something specific. "He had met you, but one day you ran in while your father, Hector and I were talking, and you had a sundress on. Hector saw the birth mark on your shoulder and he got this look." She shivered. "The look in his eyes . . . it was . . . hungry." She paused for a minute. "Things changed after that day. Your father saw the way Hector looked at you, the way Hector became obsessed with you. He was obsessed with this idea that you were the key to this journey to the afterlife the gods had planned for the people that would live in this perfect utopian society of his." She shook her head. "After that, your father started distancing himself from Hector . . . made excuses when Hector asked to come to our home. I had hoped your father was on his way back to being the man he had been. But then one day, we came home from a hearing about your father's old company, and . . . you were gone. The nanny we'd left you with thought you were playing in your room." Tears welled up in her eyes again. "Just like that, you were gone. And then," she sucked in a breath, "your father was, too."
I scooted my chair out, stood up, and leaned over to hug my mother as she cried in my arms. I wiped the tears from her cheeks and then hugged her again. After a minute, I returned to my own chair. "I'm so sorry," I whispered. "Everything you've been through . . . I'm so sorry." I knew, that when it came to unthinkable grief, the best someone could do for you was recognize and acknowledge your pain.
My mom sniffled and nodded. "Your father, Eden. He wasn't a perfect man. He had made a terrible mistake. But he loved you more than anything in this world. It broke him to lose you. And he simply couldn't put the pieces back together."
I nodded, picturing the man in the photo Felix had given me, the man whom I recalled so very little of. We both sat quietly, my mom and Molly sipping their wine, me thinking about everything I'd been told in the last hour. It would take me a long time to organize all the pieces. After a minute I asked, "So Hector told you his name was Damon?"
"Yes. Damon Abas. Another false name."
I nodded. I wondered if the police would ever determine Hector's true identity. Now that I knew more about him, it was almost as if he had simply materialized at my parents’ house that day so long ago.
"Did the police look for a place like Damon Abas had described once I was taken?"
"Oh yes. Damon . . . Hector had indicated Acadia was here in the Midwest, somewhere close by." She shook her head. "He never disclosed the location and we had no reason to press the issue at the time. We figured we'd learn more when we began planning our relocation. The police scoured every community that was anywhere near the description Hector had given us. They came up empty. I never realized how many alternative societies are out there, most of them completely under the radar. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack." She looked off behind me for a minute. "I see it so clearly now that I know about Acadia, and I imagine the police do, too. As for the whys and the hows, there are so many things to understand. Half of me wants to, and the other half wants to brush my hands of it and thank God you're back where you belong."
I nodded and offered a small smile, feeling joy in the word, 'belong'. Finally—the thing I'd been searching for my entire life.
We talked for hours. My mom had many more questions about how I'd been treated in Acadia. I told her of my loneliness and confusion. I spoke of Mother Hailey and felt a pressing on my chest. I didn't speak specifically of Calder or Xander. I couldn't—not yet. But I did tell her there'd been happiness for me there, too, and that I'd had friends. And I filled her in haltingly on more of the horror I'd experienced at the end, most of it, at least. My mom cried some more and so did Molly.
We filled each other in on what our lives were like now, about what it'd been like for me to re-enter a new and different society, about Felix, and the things my mom had done to keep my memory alive all the years I'd been gone.
Finally, as the night grew darker, I covered my mouth to stifle a yawn. I was emotionally exhausted. "I'm sorry," I said, shaking my head. "It's been a long day. I should get going. Do you think you could give me a ride?"
"You'll do no such thing," my mom said, setting her wine glass on the table. "Please, Eden, I meant what I said. Please stay here. Please."
"Seriously, Eden, she has rooms to spare upstairs. And you said you were looking for a place . . ."
"All right. That would be wonderful, actually. Let me just call Marissa and tell her. She's going to be thrilled. Really, I can't wait for you to meet her."
"Meet her? I'm going to squeeze her so hard. She's been taking care of my baby!"
I breathed out. "Thank you, Mom." I looked over at Molly. "Thank you, Molly. You made today so much better than I ever could have dreamed."
We all stood up and hugged, my mom shedding a few more tears, and then Molly showed me to my new room, in my new home, and brought me a few of her things to borrow until I could retrieve my own the next day.
When I'd slipped into bed, my mom came in and sat beside me on the mattress, gazing down at me in wonder and running her hand over my hair. "My little girl," she said softly. She hummed to me for a few minutes, a look of awe-filled joy in her expression.
"My beautiful Eden," she whispered, "I never thought I'd see you again."
"I love you, Mom," I said, blinking at her, trying not to tear up. "I never forgot you."
She caressed my cheek, a tear escaping her eye. It rolled slowly down her cheek as she said, "Oh, my sweetheart, I love you, too. I never thought I'd get the chance to tell you that again in this life. We have so much lost time to make up for." She wiped the tear away and hummed again for a few minutes.
I lay there after she'd closed the door, looking around in the dim light of the moon outside, reeling at how life could change in an instant.
All my life I'd dreamed of my mother, held on to the belief that I'd been loved before. And now I had her back. I said a silent thank you to the God of Mercy, hoping against hope that being back in my mother's arms would help heal another piece of my broken heart.
The day I stumbled away from Acadia, the day I lost the love of my life, I thought I'd never feel happiness again. I didn't think I'd ever care about anything. Nothing mattered and all I could do was hurt. Just breathing felt like enough.
I'd heard it said that the only way through grief is to grieve. Sometimes I felt like I'd done a decent job of that, and other times, I saw something, or remembered something, or smelled something, and the pain would hit me so hard, I almost felt like doubling over with the blow.
I'd been living at my mom's house for a month and like I'd hoped, the stability and love I had found there was a balm to my heart. Not that I hadn't found some measure of peace with Felix, but it wasn't quite the same. I didn't belong to him. For the first year I'd been there, the only thing I'd been able to do was grieve. For the two years my mind could focus on anything other than my grief, I had focused on earning and saving money, attempting to build something of my own that would allow me to feel safe. I didn't imagine I'd ever have more than a few fleeting moments of happiness, but I craved safety, security, and so that's what I worked toward. I had known Felix was ill the day I arrived at his house, and losing him had been a constant worry for me, for more reasons than just the fact that I grew to love him.