CHAPTER ONE: QUESTIONS
Searing, unbearable pain ripped through Camile Leon’s skull as she sat in her homeroom class. The sensation was so intense, all sense of perception seemed to fade into the recesses of her consciousness. All that remained was a high-pitched shriek which penetrated her eardrums and radiated throughout her brain. Relief was brief and fleeting, allowing her only a moment to inquire about the sound before it returned. However, no one else could hear it. She was ridiculed with sneers and snickers as her peers doubted her sanity. Ms. Hawkins, her teacher, even seemed uncertain of Camile’s mental faculties. Before long, Camile identified the source of her torment, a dog whistle being blown by her rambunctious classmate, Barry Collins. Once he realized he’d been found out, he and his goons laughed mercilessly in the face of their victim. They even called her ‘Teen Wolf’ in hushed chants, inaudible to the teacher. At first, she said nothing, not wanting to cause a scene, but by the time class had been dismissed she could no longer hold her tongue. Her anger had reached its peak. Rising from her seat, she intercepted Barry just as he approached her desk on his way to the exit. He was nearly a full head taller than Camile, who shook in the shadow of his intimidating frame.
“Get out of my way!” He sneered.
“One of these days you’re gonna mess with the wrong person.” Camile said through gritted teeth, glaring into his eyes.
“Really?” Barry asked rhetorically. “And I guess you’re the wrong person, huh? So whatcha gonna do, Teen Wolf? Howl at me?” He snickered.
“Just leave me alone! I’m sick of you! Just do the world a favor and disappear!”
Camile lashed out before grabbing her bag and storming out of the classroom. As she made her way towards the exit, Ms. Hawkins fixed her with a curious gaze and opened her mouth to say something. However, Camile left before her teacher could address her.
The ominous clouds in the dark afternoon sky seemed to rupture, unleashing a torrential downpour. It didn’t take long for the gusting wind to snap the canopy of Camile’s umbrella, causing it to collapse into an inverted fold. She tried in vain to fix it, but like her ego, it seemed beyond repair. Nevertheless, she clung to the broken apparatus as she jogged home, her feet sloshing in the water that had collected in her sneakers. Vibrant ribbons of lightning streamed across the sky followed by a violent clap of thunder just as Camile reached the building. She stormed into the apartment, throwing her broken umbrella onto the floor as she entered. Her hair was plastered to her face, which was drenched with a mixture of fresh rain and salty tears. Her grey eyes flashed with intense anger as she kicked off her shoes. Although she was only sixteen, she already matched her mother’s 5’ 7” stature. Another trait she shared with her mother was her beautiful golden caramel complexion.
Although Camile was reeling from the latest round of insults from her classmates, it didn’t compare to the devastation she felt when they made derogatory remarks about her mixed race. She’d been called such names as ‘Oreo’, ‘Half-breed’ and ‘Ethnically confused’. As painful as those comments were, Camile didn’t speak to her mother about them since she feared it would only exacerbate the situation. At one time, Camile had an ally, Rhonda Jones, but sadly she had gotten caught in a cross-fire between rival gangs on her way home from school one day. Until her death, Rhonda had been Camile’s only friend and often kept bullies at bay. With Rhonda gone, it seemed Camile’s intimidators were making up for lost time.
Her mother, Kylie, met her in the corridor upon hearing the commotion. Camile noticed she seemed a bit somber, but was too engrossed in her own distress to pay full attention. She wasted no time in voicing her grievances of the day’s torment to her mother.
“Camile, I know it’s been really tough for you lately.” Kylie replied tenderly as she embraced her. “Your teen years will be some of the most challenging years of your life. Believe me I know. I also know you have the strength to push through them. Like life, kids can be so cruel, but you have to remember that all people aren’t the same and that hate isn’t the answer. It only begets more hate and will only do you damage in the long run.”
“Right now, I only care about the short run! Why do I always have to go through all this pain? Why am I always so weak? I’m constantly being picked on. I’m never able to defend myself and I’m sick of it! I just want them to know what it feels like to hurt this much! I hope Barry takes my advice and disappears so he can just leave me alone!” Camile sobbed.
“Baby, is that what you told him? You didn’t threaten to make him disappear did you?” Kylie asked gingerly, an uneasy look crossing her face.
“No. I didn’t threaten him. I should’ve!”
“Camile, just be careful about what you say to people. Saying the wrong things can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Even thinking the wrong things can cause a lot of damage, not necessarily to others, but to ourselves. Look, I know how unfairly you’re being treated. Karma will make sure your bullies will get theirs, but you can’t let anger get the best of you. I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but don’t take revenge into your own hands. It’s a slippery slope to devastation. As I’ve told you many times before, I would be fine with going up to your school so I can talk to—”
“No!” Camile interrupted.
Her already large eyes grew even wider as she calculated the potential horrors that would follow such a visit.
“Mom, please don’t do that. It would only feed the jerks more ammunition. It’s my junior year in high school and all I have to do is get through this year … and the next.” She said with a hopeless sigh.
For the most part, the weekend was average and uneventful. On Saturday, Camile spent most of her time doing homework. Camile was an average student but would often find math to be the most challenging. Therefore, she usually dreaded math homework, but her interest piqued when it came to Geometry. As a result, she was able to solve most problems with ease. After storing her books in her backpack, she helped her mother with chores. Camile began clearing the wall unit shelves before wiping them down. Stashed in the rear of the top shelf, she spotted a leather bound book. Upon inspection, she noticed an old photo attached to its cover. In the photo, Camile and her father, Zephyr, were posed in front of a very large tree. Its bark was pure white and its bountiful branches bloomed with unusual red petals. Zephyr, a handsome man in his late 20’s, was shown crouching beside Camile, who was then a chubby cheeked toddler.
Camile’s auburn, shoulder-length hair was in curls. Her large piercing grey eyes were a trait she shared with her father—a tall, fair-skinned, medium built man with a megawatt smile. His glossy hair appeared to be jet-black and was neatly combed, except for a small, loose tuft that dangled above his brow. Camile wore a white dress which complimented her rich skin tone. Her outfit was accessorized with a blue satin sash and a silver necklace. Hanging from the chain was a beautiful stone, about the diameter of a silver dollar—which had various shades of blue. The stone was framed with intricate, leaf-like accents. Camile removed the photo from the book and regarded it for a moment before approaching her mother.
“I thought you said there were no pictures of Dad.” Camile remarked with great curiosity.
Kylie seemed genuinely surprised at Camile’s discovery and stared at the photo with great perplexity.
“I didn’t realize it was there.” She answered softly. “All these years and it’s been here all along.”
With a heavy heart, Camile watched as her mother stared at the photo with tearful eyes.
“I thought this was lost in the move along with all the other pictures.” Kylie sighed. “I’m sorry it took all these years before you could finally see what your father looks like. If I knew that picture was there, I would’ve shown it to you a long time ago.”
“It’s weird. Even though I don’t remember him, I still miss him.” Camile said quietly after gawking at the photo a few moments longer.
“You don’t remember him because you were very little when … Well, when he …”
“Died?” Camile interrupted. “Mom, why can’t you just say it?”
“Camile, don’t start. There’s no proof that he’s dead!” Kylie snapped angrily before calming her voice. “I—I’m sorry. I just miss him too.”
“I know, but there’s no proof that he’s alive either. He’s been out of our lives for thirteen years now. If he’s still alive, he would’ve had some kind of contact with us by now. I just can’t standby and watch you hurt yourself by holding on to false hope.”
Kylie took the photo from Camile and sank into the tan sofa. As she gazed at the picture, tears trickled down her cheeks. Camile, feeling terribly about causing her mother grief, sat beside her.
“Please don’t cry.” Camile said as she wrapped an arm around her mother’s shoulders.
“Camile, I have to tell you …” Her mother’s voice trailed off as she drifted into a trance-like state.
“Tell me what? Mom?”
Kylie was non-responsive as she continued to stare at the photo with her dark eyes. Camile panicked.
“Mom!” She exclaimed.
“Oh!” Kylie gasped and she placed one hand over her chest as she forced out a nervous chuckle. “I was in my own little world there, huh?”
“What were you thinking about?”
“I forgot.” Kylie answered abruptly as she made a motion to stand, but Camile gently took hold of her arm.
“Wait. You said you had to tell me something.”
Kylie nodded with a soft smile as she placed her hand on Camile’s shoulder.
“Camile, I just want you to know that right now—aside from you—hope is all I have left. It helps keep me going. I understand that you’ve given up on ever seeing your father again, but I believe he’s out there somewhere. He loves us both so very much and I truly believe that we’ll see him again someday.”
“But Mom, if he’s still alive … how come he didn’t come back to us by now? Why didn’t he at least try to contact us? So many years have gone by without a word from him. If he’s not dead, then maybe he forgot all about us. Maybe he already moved on and—”
“Camile, that’s enough!” Kylie said sternly before reducing her voice to a bitter whisper. “You’re really testing my patience today aren’t you? All I ask is that you let me hold on to my ‘false hope’. Let me have at least that much.”
Camile felt uneasy about her mother’s volatile reaction to her questions. Nevertheless, she wanted answers.
“Mom, I didn’t mean to make you mad. I just have so many questions. I just think it’s weird that as much as we both miss Dad, we never talk about him. After all these years, I barely know anything about him. I don’t know how or why he disappeared, what kind of job he had or how you met him. There’s a lot I don’t remember about my childhood. There are so many gaps in my life. Every time I try to ask questions about any of these things you always change the subject. Why?” Camile asked softly.
Kylie sighed as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She leaned back against the sofa and smiled faintly before responding.
“Camile, it might not have been right for me to do it, but I thought it would’ve made things easier for you if I didn’t talk about him. I thought I was protecting you and that the less you knew about him, the less you would suffer. Evidently, I was wrong about that. I’m sorry if it made things worse for you, but please believe me when I tell you that I had your best interest at heart.”
“I know.” Camile said as she rested her head on Kylie’s shoulder. “But there are so many things I want to know about him. It’s not too late.”
Camile looked into Kylie’s eyes and smiled tenderly before pointing to the necklace she was wearing in the photo.
“Let’s start with this. It’s very unusual.”
“Yes … it was custom made just for you.” Kylie answered slowly as she stared at the photograph.
“Where’s it now?” Camile asked.
Kylie frowned. There was a brief pause before she answered the question.
“You lost it at the swimming pool when you were very little. The clasp must’ve broken while you were swimming. The pool workers tried to help us look for it, but it was too late. Someone must’ve found it and taken it. It’s such a shame. It was such a beautiful necklace.”
“Why was I swimming with it in the first place?”
“You loved that necklace so much you refused to ever take it off. I tried to get you to give it to me but you made a big scene and eventually got your way. You thought it was your only connection to your father and you were afraid that it would disappear just like he did.”
“It looks like I was right about that.” Camile replied glumly as she hung her head. “Dad would’ve been devastated if he knew that I lost it. I bet it meant a lot to him.”
“Oh baby, don’t worry about it.” Kylie said while hugging Camile gently. “It really wasn’t your fault. You were only a child and I know you didn’t lose it on purpose. Material things aren’t the most important things in the world. They’re just symbols that represent much greater things. Losing that necklace doesn’t change the fact that your father loves you very, very much.”
Camile took a moment to regain her composure before asking her next question.
“Where’d you meet him?” She asked.
“Before you and I moved to New York, I used to work at Arizona General Hospital.”
“Yeah, I remember that. You told me you worked there for a while before we moved here when I was three.”
“Well, that’s where I met your father.”
“Really? Did he work at the hospital too?”
“Nah, he was a patient. He was in a terrible crash. It was a miracle he survived! The stubborn man didn’t take the necessary precautions when he was traveling. Amazingly, he walked thirty miles to get to the hospital! It took him two days just to get to there. The poor man was a mess! He suffered dehydration, cuts, bruises,
a mild concussion, and a dislocated shoulder that he managed to pop back into place on his own.”
“Ugh! Sounds like he was a pretty tough guy.” Camile replied. Kylie nodded with a slight chortle.
“He recovered nicely, but he insisted he still wasn’t feeling quite right and requested additional care. I later realized it was just an excuse to get me to spend more time with him. Eventually, he worked up the nerve to ask me out.”
Camile smiled as she continued to listen with rapt attention.
“Some of the other nurses would’ve killed to trade places with me. But I didn’t accept his invitation. At least not right away.” Kylie added.
“I was getting over a pretty bad breakup at the time and wasn’t ready to jump into a new relationship. What kind of girl do you think I was anyway?”
Camile and Kylie shared a hearty laugh.
“But your father wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Kylie continued. “Eventually, he wore me down and we started dating. He was very charming, kind and loving. He seemed too good to be true and I was always secretly waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Did it?” Camile asked.
Her mother chuckled uncomfortably and avoided the question.
As Camile continued her discussion with her mother, she learned that Zephyr was an officer. Her mother finally seemed ready to reveal everything to Camile. However, she clammed up when it came to the particulars surrounding Zephyr’s mysterious disappearance. Kylie also refused to discuss the reason she decided to
move to New York.
“That, my dear, is a very long story. I’ll have to explain that another time. I’m just so tired all of a sudden.” Kylie said.
“Aw, can’t you just tell me now?”
“Patience, Camile. I’ll tell you in due time, but right now I’m very tired and really need to take a nap. Don’t forget, you still have to mop the kitchen floor.”
Little did Camile know, the answers to her many questions would elude her for years to come. Kylie stood up and proceeded to walk to her room. Camile noticed that subtle signs of her mother’s age were beginning to emerge, particularly around the eyes. She also noticed that lately, Kylie seemed to grow tired more easily than usual. Camile felt uneasy about the realization that her mother was getting older. Camile’s sudden recognition of this particular metamorphosis weighed on her mind as she began to contemplate time and mortality.