Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
"Don't shrink my jeans," she warned in an ominous tone, to which Andrew replied with a sharp, "Then do them yourself." Kaia ignored him and headed off to bed.
Andrew had just thrown himself on his bed, contemplating how he'd fit grocery shopping into his day tomorrow, when the phone rang. He picked it up with a short and sour, "Yeah."
"Hi, Andrew. It's me."
Andrew sat up in bed, taken aback by Maggie's melancholy tone. His initial reaction was to ask her if she was okay, but then he remembered how angry he'd been with her earlier that evening and caught himself from acting like he cared. "Hello, Maggie."
There was a long sigh on the other end of the line. "How are the kids?" Maggie asked.
"Smart-mouthed and absent, as usual," Andrew shot back. "Kaia does nothing around here to help out, and Kyle isn't even home yet. Since when is he allowed to be out all hours of the night without calling in to let us know where he is?"
"He's almost twenty years old. Who did you check in with when you were twenty?"
Maggie's question irritated Andrew. "That was different. I was away at school. He's living at home, and we're still paying his bills. He has a responsibility to follow our rules, not make up his own."
Maggie sighed again. "I didn't call to argue. I just wanted to check on you and the kids, and make sure everything is okay."
"Well, everything is not
, Maggie. You're off to God knows where, and I'm stuck here doing all your work. It's time you came home. There's no two ways about it. And if you don't, well, I'm not going to be held responsible for what happens to our marriage."
"You never have taken responsibility for our marriage before," Maggie said calmly. "So why should I expect anything different now?"
The long pause hung thickly in the air as Andrew contemplated what Maggie had just said. Finally, in a calm, controlled voice, Andrew asked. "Maggie, how much longer do we have to keep going over the past? When will it finally be over?"
"When I'm finally over it, I guess," she said. "I just need more time."
"And what will that time do to us, to our family?" Andrew wanted to know. "We'll never be the same, will we?"
"I hope not," Maggie said quietly. "I hope we'll never go back to the way we've been these past few years." Without another word, Maggie hung up the phone.
It was Kaia's second day of going AWOL from school, and she didn't feel at all guilty about it. She'd simply stepped off the school bus, walked to the parking lot, and slid into Lance's car, along with Allie and Jessie, her skipping buddies. They weren't really good friends of hers, but she knew them from classes, and they were more than happy to include her as long as she helped pay for the gas. Yesterday, she'd had them drop her off at home before her dad got home, and she'd deleted the message from the school inquiring why she'd been absent that day. Her poor, clueless dad had no idea she'd been running around all day instead of sitting in class. She planned on doing the same thing today, so he'd never know she was absent. This was so easy. She didn't know why she hadn't tried it before. Except if her mother was home, she'd know. She had a sixth sense about both Kaia and Kyle, and always seemed to know instantly if something was wrong. Kaia would never have gotten away with this if her mother were home. But her mother wasn't home, so it was working out perfectly.
They drove out of town about fifty miles to another small town where no one recognized them, and they could shop at the mall and play at the arcade all day. Kaia sometimes helped at her mother's work during the summer, so she had some money to spend. It wasn't until they passed the earring shop that Kaia got a great idea. No, a fabulous idea. And with her new friends urging her on, she knew it was going to be the best idea she'd ever had.
Andrew was working on an advertising campaign to run on the local television station when the phone on his desk rang. Absently, he picked it up. "Hello, this is Andrew."
"Mr. Harrison?" the lady on the other end of the line asked tentatively. "I'm calling from Woodroe Middle School."
This got his attention. "Yes?"
"Mr. Harrison, I'm sorry to bother you at work, but I tried your wife at both home and work, and she wasn't at either place. I know I usually call her, but we had your number as an alternate, and I thought I should try you," she stopped, sounding unsure. Andrew didn't know why she was rambling on and wished she'd get to the point.
"Did something happen to Kaia?" he asked, starting to worry.
"That's why I'm calling," the lady told him. "She's absent from school today, and you didn't call in, so I thought I'd check on her."
"Absent?" Andrew asked, confused. And what was this call-in bit about? What was he supposed to call in for? "Are you sure you have the right student?" he asked. "Kaia was perfectly fine this morning and went to school."
"Did your wife drop her off?" the lady on the other line asked. "I know she always drives her to school."
Andrew frowned. What was it with everyone knowing about Maggie driving Kaia to school? Did everyone in town know what Maggie did? "No, Kaia took the bus today. But what does that have to do with anything? She's in school today. I'm sure of it. Just check again." He was getting irritated. Didn't this lady know he had better things to do than talk to her all day?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Harrison," the lady said more firmly. "But Kaia isn't in school today. She wasn't in school yesterday, either. Didn't you get the message I left yesterday at your home?"
"Message?" Andrew mumbled. "No, there was no message." He thought back to the night before, and his mind began to spin. Kaia was home before him. She left on the bus in the morning after he left for work. Was Kaia skipping? He really didn't think she would do such a thing, yet, who knew? Feeling like an idiot for not knowing where his own daughter was, he told the woman on the phone he'd get back to her and hung up. Grabbing his jacket, Andrew told the secretary he was leaving for the day and took off for home.
Maggie was headed to Reno. She hadn't really known she was headed there, but when she'd reached Salt Lake City, she had her choice of four directions, north to Idaho, south to Las Vegas, turn around and go home, or continue on Interstate 80 West to Reno. She knew no one in Idaho, didn't care for Las Vegas, and certainly wasn't going home. So Reno it was.
She remembered the times she and Andrew had spent weekends in the Reno/Tahoe area in their college days and how much fun they'd had. She was excited to visit again.
Maggie had spent a wonderful couple of hours in Salt Lake City sightseeing and taking pictures. She had accumulated quite a portfolio of photos over the past few days and she couldn't wait to transfer the most recent ones onto her computer. She decided that she'd stay a few days in Reno, settle into a hotel, then go through the photos she'd taken. And while she was there, she was certainly going to explore the city and even drive to Lake Tahoe to enjoy the sights and take pictures.
As she drove, a sense of peace fell over her. She didn't know why, but she felt she was heading in the right direction after standing at a stalemate for years.
Kaia felt pretty good about herself. She had Lance drop her off down the road from her house so the neighbors would think she'd taken the bus home. You never knew with nosey neighbors. They'd tell on her for sure. As she stepped into the back porch, she was surprised to see Bear lying quietly in his corner, not begging to be let out. She let him out anyway and put him on his leash. Better safe than sorry. She didn't want to be the one to clean up a puddle on the back porch floor.
The house was dark, the late afternoon sun not yet finding its way through the back windows. Kaia dropped her backpack on the kitchen floor and opened the refrigerator to grab a snack. She'd eat, erase the school's message from the answering machine, and all would be right in the Harrison household. The piercing would be pretty tough to explain, but she had plenty of time to think up a good story before her dad came home. Feeling pretty smug, she grabbed an apple and shut the fridge door when a shadow at the kitchen table caught her eye. Kaia screamed, dropping her apple on the floor with a heavy thud.
"Hello, Kaia," Andrew said from his spot at the table. "Did you have a nice day?"
Kaia fell back against the counter, her heart beating wildly. "You scared me to death," she accused him. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here," her father said, receiving an eye roll from Kaia. "The question is: where have you been all day?"
Kaia stared at her dad for one long moment as she came up with a reply. She thought she could still con her way out of trouble. "What do you mean? I was at school all day…" she began, but he interrupted her promptly.
"Don't give me that," Andrew said, anger rising in his voice. "The school called me at work today. Apparently, you've been playing hooky the past two days." He waited for a retort from Kaia, but none came. "Well?" he asked, rising from the chair and stepping toward her.
Kaia didn't know what to say. Maybe less said was better. She kept the left side of her face away from her dad's view, knowing that if he saw the piercing, he'd really blow up. But he continued to come toward her until he was standing over her.
"Well?" he asked again. "What did you do that was more important than school? And who were you with? I hope it was important, because I had to miss half a day's work to come home and wait for you." He wasn't yelling, but he was angry.
His last comment made Kaia angry, too. Everything was always about him and his work. "You shouldn't have bothered," she bellowed, her voice rising to a high pitch. "You should have just stayed at work. I'm fine, as if you care."
"Don't turn this around on me," Andrew said. "You're in big trouble, little girl, and you were caught. I don't know what's gotten into you, but you're not going to be running around as you please as long as I'm in charge. Your mother may let you flit around…" Andrew stopped talking as Kaia interrupted him.
"Leave Mom out of this," she hollered. "This wouldn't have happened if Mom was around. Mom cares what I do. She's not so into herself like you are."
Andrew stared at Kaia. "But your mother isn't here, is she? If she cares so much, why is she halfway across the country and not here?"
A look of shock crossed Kaia's face. She saw her father's face change from angry to surprised, as if he regretted the words that had come out of his mouth.
"Listen, Kaia. I really didn't mean to say that. I know your mother cares about you. It's just, well, it just came out." He reached over the sink and switched on the light in the dark kitchen. Kaia backed away a little, turning her face.
Andrew frowned. "Kaia, hey, I'm not that mad at you," he said, drawing near her. "Let's just talk about this, okay?" He took her by the shoulders and turned her toward him. Something on the left side of her face twinkled in the light.
"You pierced your eyebrow?" he asked in a shocked tone. "You pierced your eyebrow?" he bellowed again. Andrew backed away and fell into the chair he'd left only moments before. "Oh, God, what next?" he asked aloud.
The lights of Reno winked at Maggie as she drove to the old downtown area in search of a hotel. There were so many to choose from, all tall towers and lit up so brightly that the night sky was a rainbow of color. She followed the traffic through the famed Reno archway that proclaimed, "The Biggest Little City in the World" and took a left, heading up to
Since that hotel and casino was family-friendly, she somehow felt safer going there for a room. Silly of her, she knew, but she'd been family orientated for so long, she couldn't change that mindset.
The streets were bustling with people in the early evening. Even though late September usually meant a slow down of tourists for most places, Maggie knew that Reno never slowed down, like Tahoe and Vegas. At every corner, there was a stoplight, and at every stoplight, people streamed by, crossing to the next casino, the next lucky win. The town was alive with activity, and Maggie felt her spirits soar again after her long drive.
She found her way to
and obtained a room on the sixteenth floor, where the view of the city was absolutely incredible. She had no sooner settled into the room and was working up the courage to join the throngs of people below when her cell phone rang. Seeing that it was Andrew, she took a deep breath and answered.
"Maggie, you aren't going to believe what your daughter has done," Andrew said, bellowing.
His tone immediately irritated her.
he'd said. Yeah, as if he hadn't had any part in her creation. "What is it now, Andrew?" Maggie asked, trying not to sound annoyed.
"Your daughter has been skipping school, That's what. The past two days, she's been gallivanting around the countryside with kids she barely knows. What do you think of that?"
Actually, Maggie was surprised. She knew Kaia was headstrong and fiercely independent, but she never did anything too out of line like skip school. She was a good student and hung out with decent kids, as far as Maggie knew. But, under the circumstances, she wasn't entirely surprised by it.
"Well?" Andrew demanded loudly, making Maggie pull the phone from her ear and stare at it a moment. It seemed he said
"Well," Maggie replied sarcastically. "I'm not sure what you want me to do about it. You're the one there. You need to handle it."
"Well," Andrew said snidely. "Maybe if you were here, there'd be nothing to handle. Maybe if you were here doing your job, there wouldn't be a problem."
Maggie hated it when he said the kids were her job. The kids were his, too. Although he'd never taken much day-to-day responsibility for them. Now, it was his turn to finally deal with them.