Four Fifths Endowed
by Timothy Joseph
~~~ Daddy ~~~
The elevator carried a man and a little girl skyward into tomorrow, but not out of yesterday; if only it could. Kyle Ellis looked in the mirrored wall and knew the slim, six-foot, curly haired man staring back through wire-rimmed glasses must survive the wounds of evil, for the child beside him allowed no other choice. Swirls in the shiny walnut sent him to spiral deeper into what he wanted most to move beyond. He blinked hard to slow his plummet.
“Daddy,” Katelyn said, unheard.
Kyle peered at his reflection, asking, what will you tell them? How can you possibly explain? Moments away he would come face-to-face with his professional family for the first time in nearly three years. He was their company president, and Ellis and Associates was a successful property acquisition management firm because of his expertise and guidance. The company had carried on admirably during his leave, and he owed them an explanation. Gazing at the eyes that stared back from the mirror he didn’t see Kyle Ellis, but an estranged, bewildered man. Self-pity grew from the hate that poisoned his blood, and the loss of Angela that had bailed his heart dry. He had flown among the pure white clouds of shared love, only to drop as a leaded feather straight into hell. His lips pursed at the tortured spirit in the mirror: Why didn’t you just stay put? None of it would have happened.
Katelyn yanked his hand, “Daddy!”
He looked at her reflection, which answered his question. My daughter. I have a daughter. How many more times would he realize Katelyn belonged to him before it seemed natural? Had he not found Willow Falls and Angela Collins, Katelyn would not be standing beside him. Such a gift. Such a cost.
“Yes, Sweetheart.” The doors swished opened.
“Never mind.” She’d forgotten what seemed so important moments before.
He looked at his watch and knew everyone would be in the Monday morning staff meeting. Delighted to be back, also disheartened, Kyle Ellis squeezed the hand of his new daughter and walked unannounced into the conference room. He looked at his surprised staff as hush settled around seventeen awed people. He walked with Katelyn to the end of the long, gleaming walnut table where he had welcomed many past meetings, but never before holding the hand of a little girl. Explanation was needed, but how much?
“Hi everybody, the boss is back.” When the clapping and cheering ebbed, he continued. “I can’t thank you all enough for the great work you did while I was away.” He glanced at his vice-president. “Great job, Jack. Great job all of you. Thanks.”
Kyle turned toward Katelyn taking in her long, satiny black hair, dark complexion, big brown eyes, high cheekbones, and oversized lips on an undersized mouth which rendered an infectious grin. He was delighted her mother was biracial, for the beauty showed in mother and daughter. A thousand times before he’d captured the same sparkle, shy smile, and defining gestures; her hands and arms moving faster than her mouth. Too, he’d wondered if he could love her more if she had his genes; certainly not, he had concluded. His smile grew as his arm reached around her, more proud to be her dad than the owner of a respected company. His hand settled on her shoulder–my little girl–the strength he needed.
“I would like you all to meet my . . .” adopted came to mind, yet he had never before thought of her in that way, “. . . my wonderful new daughter, Katelyn Collins Ellis.”
In a room saturated with emotion, no one could ask the question. Odd enough a beautiful little eight-year-old stood beside him–but his daughter? That was the word he used. Who and where was her mother? Did Dr. Ellis marry while away? Faces smiled and all eyes focused on Katelyn, taking in a princess, a charmer who beamed purity and joy. How she came to be his little girl changed none of that. No one could imagine such resplendence was the product of a horrid defilement by a vile scum who had paid with his life, or that the president they admired could possibly have surrendered control to anger and vengeance and intentionally torture a man and revel in his death.
Kyle looked at the faces of curiosity peering back as embedded images reached out slashing into the tapestry of his character: Rape, murder, guns, blood, HIV. A chill coursed through him as the fabric of his reality shredded into outrage–he was on his way back to hell. His hand and jaw clenched hard to push away the evil. Not here, no dammit!
Mystified by Kyle’s new companion the staff shared excitement over his return, unaware of his turmoil. “Hi Katelyn! Hi young lady! Thanks for bringing your daddy back to us.” It gave him time to recover.
Maggie, the only one aware of his return, uncovered the cake. On it was, “Welcome Back Boss and Daughter.” Kyle saw “Daughter” and glanced at Maggie, who winked her assurance. Paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils were ready, and Kyle’s prized possession, a black and gold Star-Fleet mug, steamed with the aroma of fresh coffee. Next to it was a mug of hot chocolate.
Maggie was the one person Kyle trusted completely. He had never known his father, William, for he’d died before Kyle could remember. His mother, Ruth, had been a gentle, hardworking woman who adored her son. Maggie had been Ruth’s closest friend and was Kyle’s Godmother. When William died, Maggie moved out of her apartment and into the lives of the two people she loved most. Mom and Maggie, that’s how it had been until Kyle’s world was shredded at ten years old when Ruth died. But Maggie grabbed the frail young boy, picked up the torn pieces of his tiny heart, hugged them back together and became Mom. She had taken care of him as a child and never stopped, for when he opened the doors of Ellis and Associates, Maggie was there as his Executive Assistant. Though Kyle had tried many times to make her an officer in the firm she was content in her role, which everyone understood and respected. Her title was changed to Executive Office Manager, but everyone knew the short, soft-spoken, round faced woman with green X-ray eyes was Chief Executive Officer.
Kyle swallowed hard as he pulled on Katelyn’s shoulder to muster support. “Katelyn is part of us now. We have a terrific new member of our family.” He glanced at the Star-Fleet insignia on the mug as the aroma caused him to remember the joy of sharing coffee with Angela, their treasured routine. “Katelyn’s mom can’t be with us anymore, so we’ve decided to live here in Dallas while Katelyn attends Rosemont Academy.” Kyle picked up the mug and took a much-needed sip, then cupped it in his hands as one might protect a rare antique, thinking how silly to be so attached to a coffee mug. He set it down, slid his finger across the bottom of the cake, and dabbed a touch of white frosting on the tip of Katelyn’s nose. Staff laughed and Katelyn giggled–it worked.
“When school’s out we’ll head back to Willow Falls, in upstate New York, to spend the summer with our friends. And we’ll always be ready for visitors.”
Katelyn chimed in. “And you can fish in Katelyn’s Cove. My daddy named it after me and my mommy wrote a story about it, didn’t she, Daddy?”
Kyle cleared his throat, but not his mind. “She sure did.”
Katelyn smiled, “And mommy froze in the water from the waterfall.” She looked up at Kyle and pushed against him as her smile changed to a frown. “Daddy, I want Mommy here.”
Barely able to contend with his own sadness, and not prepared for Katelyn’s, her anguish pressed against his soul coaxing him in the same direction. His sullen eyes blurred, and when Katelyn leaned her head against him he knew. Kyle squatted and Katelyn cradled herself against his chest and shoulder, her arms around his neck. Angela’s lap had always been her safe-haven, but necessity had replaced it with Kyle’s shoulder. His arms encompassed her heartache as he squeezed. “I wish Mommy were here too, sweetheart.”
Puzzled, staff saw and felt the pain of a little girl and their newly returned boss as Katelyn pulled at his neck and tucked her soft cheeks against him. Kyle heard Angela’s voice, then the retort of the pistol. He glimpsed Angela’s beautiful face, then the red of Satan’s blood. Visions, sounds, and emotions reeled as a yo-yo: love and hate, beauty and grotesque, purity and evil, fulfillment and loss. Silent thunder echoed through his psyche and pounded anguish deep into his core, while black lightning illuminated the dreadful past as if it had occurred yesterday. He struggled against torment to console Katelyn.
Then, as if standing next to him, he heard Angela say again, “A strong man fears no tear.” Unashamed, with little choice, Kyle let the grief flow freely from his eyes. As he lifted Katelyn he tucked his face into her hair. Maggie walked over to join in their caress and sorrow as the weight of sadness sank everyone into their chairs.
Together, Kyle, Angela, and Katelyn would have conquered the totality of love, had rape not inflicted Angela with HIV. An injured man and a vulnerable little girl were bonded with the Superglue of love and loss of Angela–mother to one, soul-mate to the other, ripped away by Satan’s curse. When Angela and Katelyn left Willow Falls unannounced, they had taken four-fifths of Kyle’s purpose with them. And when Angela sent Katelyn to him to shield her daughter from the woeful sight and dreadful reality of her mother’s deterioration and impending death, four-fifths of Katelyn’s spirit shattered. Yet the time Kyle and Katelyn had shared in Willow Falls had fashioned a deep love and powerful bond. An adult and a child needed each other for a buttress against the constant storm of aching reminiscence, and a foundation for repair–father and daughter.
Kyle thought about Angela struggling far from the people she loved, tormented by disease and depression. He wondered if she had ever questioned her decision to face death alone, hoped she would change her mind, but knew she wouldn’t. Had she freed them from pain with her shield of privacy, or cheated them of the love they needed most? Had it been compassion or betrayal, or were they the same? Time is the trail that leads from the past to the future, and the present is the crossroad where they meet. Kyle felt his past with Angela and his future with Katelyn merge at the crossroad, realized he was about to drown in self-pity, and knew he must leave the crossroad to head down the path of their happiness–now.
Katelyn tucked harder against Kyle’s neck as a tear fell from his cheek to lose itself in her black satin hair. He hadn’t prepared for sorrow, and a conference room full of employees wasn’t the place to recover. Awash in memories and wishful dreams, he looked over Katelyn’s shoulder at his staff, forced a hint of smile, lifted his fingers in a slight wave of apology, and turned toward the door. Maggie put her arm around them and they left. Everyone sat perplexed in silent question and concern for the sadness in the homecoming of their chief with his new daughter. Though they did not, could not discern the depth of the matter, they were unwittingly swept into the drama. More, they wanted somehow to fix it.