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Kiril and I MAG
Betrayal was painful.
That's what this was. My dad glanced at me but didn't say a word, which infuriated me more. His silence acknowledged that he knew how I was feeling and wasn't going to do anything about it.
Complete, utter betrayal.
His eyes once again appraised me until he deemed it necessary to return them to the road. His look was hopeful. “Kaia?”
Time to shoot down that hope. “I hate you.”
I knew I sounded like an angsty teenager, but I was justified. He had divorced his wife, my mother, on her deathbed, then sent meto stupid boarding school right after, then remarried and redivorced in the span of a week. We had been slated to travel together for two weeks, but apparently “Something came up,” and I was being carted off to my grandfather's.
It didn't take a genius to realize that my presence hindered my father's bachelor lifestyle, especially if he was going to measures like this. I hadn't seen my mother's father since I was six.
My father sighed wearily. “I know.”
I carefully observed the aged man before me. “I'm Kaia McMichaels.”
He inhaled deeply, eyes focused on my face. He couldn't have been a day over 55, which startled me. “I know.”
I closed my eyes, breathing as steadily as I could. They had told me that establishing known facts, solid truth, helped with the changing of comfort zones. Would I ever be comfortable here?
“You're my mom's dad. Kiril Chessa.”
You didn't even call.
A bemused smile crossed his face, but it was gone when my dad gave him a stern look. “That's true,” Kiril replied.
I took a deep breath. “That makes you my grandfather.”
My eyes, which had been focused on a spot over his shoulder, snapped to his in panic, but that stupid smile was still on his face. My father hissed; he had never liked Kiril much, judging from the stories I had heard. It was because of these stories that I didn't entirely know why I had been brought here.
“Kiril,” my father murmured warningly, and it appeared to do the job. He sighed, smile erased with the wipe of his hand.
“Jaret,” he said, his voice, for the most part, strong. However, there had been a slight hitch – conceding defeat?
I hated him for it. My dad really wasn't that scary.
I returned to establishing foundations, wanting to erase my disappointment in Kiril. I could feel my dad's calculating and protective gaze on my back.
It was a rotten start to my stay.
My dad stayed that first night on the pullout while I got the spare room (my mother's). Kiril had tried to insist my father “get a quick start” to his “business trip” (all of us knew that it was anything but business), but my dad was adamant. He'd pulled out the couch before Kiril had really responded.
Kiril had once again given in without a fight. My frustration with him grew.
I turned in early but (unfortunately) overheard my father and Kiril's late-night conversation. It confused me that they managed to pull off the “we hate each other” charade when I was in the room, but could act perfectly cordial when alone.
“I won't be back until August,” my dad said quietly.
“That's two months, Jaret. She's a teenager. I'm her boring grandfather. When you were a teenager, you affectionately said this house was ‘in the middle of goddamned nowhere,'” Kiril sighed heavily. “She'll try to run away by the end of the week. You watch.”
“She's a spitfire, got that from her mom.” A quiet chuckle. “I never said that to your face.”
Kiril snorted, which added to my confusion. “My hearing's better than you know, Jaret.” A small pause, and the mood immediately sobered. Kiril's voice was low. “You're holding her down, son.”
My brain only slightly malfunctioned at the term of affection. Son.
My dad's tone was guarded. “It's harder than it looks keeping up with a teenager, Kiril. Especially a teenaged girl. You'll learn soon enough.”
“You never should've sent her to boarding school.”
I smirked. Go Kiril!
I could envision the snarl creeping into my father's face. “I'll be gone before either of you wake up.”
Kiril's tone was clipped. “Good.”
True to his promise, there was no trace of my dad in the morning.
The first words out of my mouth were, “Where's the orange juice?”
One thing that Kiril and I had in common: we let things lie.
I hated to admit that my father was right, but, in this case, he was. I was prepared to run away by the end of the third day. My only ally was my notebook. Kiril was beginning to get anxious, checking on me often, ensuring that I was still on the property and not halfway down the dirt road, which naturally made me want to get out of there even more. Paradoxes suck.
The house was small, and the air seemed permanently tinted with dust. It was suffocating, both the size of the house and the nothingness around it; I wasn't made for the country. I had a penthouse in the city calling me home.
Some days, I really hated my father.
Kiril was getting surprisingly twitchy, then he disappeared.
For two days, I did not see my grandfather. Then, suddenly, he was back, sitting in the kitchen like he'd never gone.
“There's something I want to show you.”
It was a tree. A knotted, old willow. I was unimpressed at first, but I figured the least I could do was see what he had to say. We did one full circle around it, and then he walked into a hidden opening in the curtain-like branches, waving me after him.
I followed. A bit apprehensively, but I followed. Maybe that was the point of the whole exercise. Trust.
Inside the protective shield of the branches, there were two lounge chairs and a hammock. There was an opening in the branches framing the sunset almost like a picture. There wasn't much else – a cooler, a bookshelf covered in plastic, some woodworking tools. I
resisted the urge to raise my eyebrow at Kiril; he was showing me something dear to him.
Really. This time was going to be different. Hopefully.
Kiril cleared his throat. “This is … this was your mom's special place. She learned to walk in here. There's a notch high up in this tree somewhere – she had been climbing, and she wanted to mark how high she got.” He let out
a small laugh, but it was tinted with sadness. “She fell and broke her arm once. It was the only time she fell.”
He stole a glance at me, eyes speculative as he tried to gauge my reaction. I was still trying to absorb it all; my mother had been here. She had climbed this very tree.
“Your mom had her first kiss in here. With your dad.”
I finally raised that eyebrow. “You spied?”
He shrugged. “This is my special place too.”
Soon it was my special place too. I disappeared for hours, curled up in the hammock, reading or thinking, pretending to hear my mother's laughter, envisioning her trek up the tree. One day, I brought a pair of binoculars and picked out a notch high up; a few days later, I spotted another notch several feet higher.
Kiril occasionally joined me. He would tell me stories about my mother and father, claiming that they had been, at one point, in love. I didn't believe him. I think he knew, but he never said anything.
“One time, your mom kicked him out,” he said thoughtfully one day.
“Good to see that she had some sense,” I said airily, and Kiril chortled.
“Not going to disagree with you,” he replied, “but he was a different boy back then. Before the big breakthrough that catapulted him to … money.”
I snorted. “That's putting it lightly.”
“Before you came along.”
Kiril later took that back. He said my presence had made my dad a better man, so much so that he quit work
for the first three years of my life. He said that my dad's mistake had been returning.
I believed him.
Leaving Kiril was harder than I expected. My dad was waiting impatiently in the car, but Kiril and I were observing a moment of silence in the safety of the willow's branches. There was no rush, except maybe for my dad; we knew it was likely he was hung over and just wanted to get home. The silence surrounding us was serene, the sun peeking through the branches was calming, and not even my father's honking could ruin the moment.
“You know why your dad divorced your mom?”
“Because he's an idiot.”
I almost thought that was the end of the conversation. Almost.
“'Cause she asked him to, Kaia, and he would have done anything for her, even if it broke his heart.”
Kiril and I never did say “I love you” to each other, but nothing else filled that summer vacation except that emotion.
It signaled a new beginning.