Authors: Karen Kingsbury
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Domestic fiction, #Fathers and Sons, #Christian, #Religious, #Christian Fiction, #Birthfathers, #Air Pilot's Spouses, #Air pilots, #Illegitimate Children, #Mothers - Death
No, he couldn’t get enough of her, even after nearly fourteen years. Their Tuesday mornings were constant proof. He loved that time each week with his wife. Loved the way she often initiated their lovemaking, and the way their arms and legs tangled together, making it impossible to tell where one of them ended and the other began. If that morning he’d missed some of his usual routine, he’d live with the fact.
Alone time with Michele was worth every minute.
The bathroom was filling up with passengers again, and Connor made one last tuck of his uniform. He had ten minutes before he had to be at the gate, and halfway through the door he remembered something.
The plane crash.
– Oceans Apart –
He’d never seen a passenger list, and though this was his first day back since the accident, he’d heard none of the other pilots or staff talking about it. He probably didn’t know anyone on the plane. But he never read about an aircraft going down without wondering who was on board. Too many years in the air to not at least check.
The nearest counter had a woman working it and no one in line.
He went to her and gave her a polite nod. “Hey.”
Connor didn’t know her, but she had a familiar face. “Have you seen the passenger list from the Western plane crash this past weekend?”
“Yes.” The woman thought for a moment. She was older, fifty-two, fifty-three, a former flight attendant, no doubt. “Over at Gate Eleven.”
Connor nodded his thanks and worked his way back into the flow of traffic along the concourse. Eleven was two gates past the one where his plane was parked. He grinned at himself. His plane.
Michele liked to tease him about the way he took ownership of every aircraft he ever flew.
The thing was, he had to take ownership. It was why he flew so well, not by mere instrumentation and formulated turns, but safer and more instinctively. By the seat of his pants, she liked to say.
And she was right. But that same flying was why he’d always come home to Michele—especially after the Gulf War.
He picked up his pace and focused hard on the action at Gate Eleven. The attendants were intently working two lines for a flight due out in twenty-five minutes. He came up alongside the counter and waited until one of them noticed him.
“Captain, what can we do for you?”
“I understand you have the passenger list?” He kept his voice low, so the passengers wouldn’t hear him. “The one from this past weekend’s Western crash?”
– Karen Kingsbury –
The attendant returned her eyes to the customer at her counter, reached into a drawer, and pulled out a folded newspaper. With only a quick glance, she handed it to him and flashed him a sad smile. “You can keep it. None of us knew the pilots or crew.” He took the paper from her. “I’m checking the same thing.” She returned to her line of passengers, and Connor moved to a spot near the windows, removed from the crowds. There he unrolled the newspaper. It was already opened to the passenger list.
Jared Browning, pilot; Steve McCauffey, copilot; Angela Wield-ing, flight attendant; Kiahna Siefert—
His heart thudded hard, then stopped. He stared at her name, taking it in one letter at a time. That was her last name, wasn’t it?
Siefert? The Kiahna part he was sure about. No matter how hard he’d tried to forget it, every now and then, in the early morning hours before dawn, her name would come.
With a jolt, his heartbeat resumed, twice as fast as before. How many years had it been? Almost eight, right? He’d met her that awful summer, back in 1996 when his entire world was upside down. And even then they’d known each other only a few hours, the time it took for a massive storm to make its way across Hawaii and farther out into the Pacific.
Just long enough for her face to be indelibly written across the canvas of his mind, his heart. She was breathtaking. A Hawaiian girl with deep green eyes, light skin, and a hundred dreams about her future. For an hour she had seemed the answer to every problem that stood against him.
And now she was dead.
Passengers came and went a few feet from him, but Connor was frozen in place, his heart still pounding. His eyes remained locked 69
– Oceans Apart –
on her name, willing it to disappear from the awful list. But no matter how hard he stared at it, the words wouldn’t go away.
Yes, it was her. Of course it was. She’d switched airlines, but she’d stayed in Honolulu, where she was raised. And what else?
Had she married or studied medicine the way she’d dreamed? Had she raised the family she’d spoken so openly about?
A dark and buried memory flashed in his mind: him and Kiahna early on the evening they’d met. Because of the storm, hotel space was limited, and somehow their paths had crossed. A few hours in the lobby and then . . .
He closed his eyes, willing the memory to disappear. Instead it grew more vivid, her words as clear as they’d been that night. She talked about her hopes and dreams, and he shared his frustration over being stationed in Los Angeles, his fears about the FAA investigation. He even told her about his father.
The only thing he didn’t tell her was—
“This is the first boarding call for Flight 1205 to Atlanta.” Even two gates away he heard the announcement. They were waiting for him. He blinked and in a sudden, swift movement rolled the paper, tucked it beneath his arm, and headed for his plane. Before he reached the Jetway he crushed the newspaper into a tight wad and popped it into the first trash can. As he boarded the aircraft and took his place in the cockpit, he had a sudden awful thought. One so bad he would never have admitted it to anyone.
If the article was correct, then the single darkest secret in his life was no longer a threat. Never again would he wake up breathless at three in the morning as he’d done four or five times a year, every year since. No longer would he backtrack through the alleys of his mind, desperate for a way to cover his bases, to make sure Michele and the girls never, never learned about his layover in Honolulu the summer of 1996.
– Karen Kingsbury –
Connor had kept the information to himself, never told another soul about it. But the possibility always existed, as long as Kiahna was alive, that somehow the truth would get to Michele.
Now . . . that possibility had drowned right there in the ocean.
Kiahna was dead; his wife would never find out.
Connor felt himself relax. He adjusted his tie and tugged on the brim of his hat. It wasn’t his fault her plane had gone down. Rather it was one of those strange and rare occurrences, the freak one-in-a-million air disaster that hit the industry every few years. His copilot was saying something, running through some of the checks on gauges and computerized systems.
He exhaled and realized he’d been holding his breath. Once more he read over the flight plan, but he couldn’t concentrate. He was too busy hating himself. Because at a time when he should have felt sorrow and remorse for the green-eyed island girl who’d lost her life, he felt only one thing.
Complete and utter relief.
The doorbell rang at five minutes before two.
Ramey watched Max, how his eyebrows lifted and a spark came to life in his expression as though maybe, just maybe, his mother had come home. Maybe she’d found a way to swim off the doomed airplane and make her way back to the island, after all.
But even with his little-boy hopes, the glimmer lasted only a moment. “Who is it, Ramey?”
She considered lying to him, telling him it was a passing salesper-son or a personal friend. Anything to keep Max from knowing that days after his mother’s death he was about to be dealt a hand that would decide his future. But in the end she decided against it. The boy knew the attorney. No point raising his suspicions about the visit.
Once more, the doorbell rang.
The boy’s voice brought her back to the moment. She said, “It’s Mr. Ogle, you remember him, right?”
Max’s eyes were wide and vacant. “Yes.” She headed for the apartment’s small foyer, watching Max the entire time. “He wanted to make sure you were okay.” Max nodded, and his chin quivered. He stood straight and still, waiting.
Ramey opened the door and stepped back. The attorney was a man in his fifties, pleasant and distinguished with black slacks and a white short-sleeve dress shirt. Standard island business fare. He introduced himself and then stepped past Ramey toward Max.
The moment their eyes met, the attorney dropped to one knee and held out his arms. “Max . . .”
– Karen Kingsbury –
The child hesitated. Then in a rush he ran to the man and clung to him. His back shook and his words were short and choppy, almost impossible to understand in light of his sudden wave of emotion. “Mommy’s . . . plane . . . landed in the water.” Mr. Ogle stroked Max’s back. “I know, pal. I know.”
“She couldn’t get out.”
“I’m sorry.” The attorney held Max for a long time, until the boy’s sobs subsided. Then he drew back and studied Max’s face. “I need to talk to Ramey, okay?”
Max looked at Buddy and that was sign enough. The dog was on his feet at Max’s side, and the two went outside.
When Ramey and the attorney were alone, she struggled to find her voice. “Should we sit down?”
“I think so.” His eyes held hers, unwavering. He nodded to the sofa. “It won’t take long.”
Ramey glanced at Max as she followed Mr. Ogle. The boy had dropped to the cement patio and had his arm around Buddy’s neck again. Her eyes stung, and she blinked hard to stop the tears. At least the boy had Buddy. She took the spot at the other end of the sofa so that one seat cushion separated them.
“Kiahna’s instructions were very clear.” Mr. Ogle pulled out a two-page document and a white sealed envelope from a file and spread them on the space between them. Less writing covered the top page, and the attorney held it up. “This one is a will, Kiahna’s last testa-ment. The first part is fairly straightforward. It leaves Max all her worldly belongings—a few thousand dollars in savings and whatever material goods she’s collected. And her life insurance, of course.
“The second part is somewhat unusual.” He leaned back and exhaled. The tension in the room doubled. “It’s a request, something that wouldn’t be legally binding, really. But it was her wish all the same.”
– Oceans Apart –
Ramey folded her hands, waiting.
“I’ll read it.” Mr. Ogle held the paper closer and did a small cough. “‘In the event of my death prior to Max’s eighteenth birthday, it is my desire that before he is turned over to state custody, he spend two weeks with his father.’”
Ramey’s breath caught in her throat. The man Kiahna had refused to talk about, the one whose identity and whereabouts remained a complete mystery? She forced herself to listen.
“Yes.” His eyes found his place on the document. “The letter goes on, ‘The man is a married pilot who was living in Los Angeles eight years ago. I am providing you with all the information I have; it should be enough to find him.” A knowing filled Ramey’s heart. No wonder Kiahna hadn’t wanted to talk about him. Max’s father was a married man, which meant . . . what? That his time with Kiahna had been only a one-night stand? Or worse, that he had led her on, made promises to her, and then left her alone with Max?
Either way the situation was sad, and somewhere in the center of her being, Ramey’s heart began to hurt.
Mr. Ogle kept reading. “‘If you find him, and if he’s willing to agree to the two-week visit, tell him that at the end of that time he’ll have to make a decision about Max.’ As you know, Kiahna didn’t list the father on Max’s birth certificate, so the man will have to decide whether to adopt Max and tell him the truth, or send him home to be placed for adoption by the state.” Ramey tried to imagine the reaction the man might have to the news. For that matter, whether he’d even consider such a request after so many years.
The attorney was almost finished. Kiahna’s letter went on to provide the man’s name, the name of the airline he flew for, and two phone numbers. One for the airline where the man worked, 74
– Karen Kingsbury –
the other for the apartment where he had lived back when they spent their one night together.
“That’s it? One night?”
“Apparently.” The attorney pursed his lips. “Makes me wonder if he even knows about Max.”
Ramey thought about that. Kiahna had been pregnant when she made the will, and since part of her request included telling the man about Max, chances were he had no idea he’d fathered a son with Kiahna. None at all.
Mr. Ogle set the paper down and looked at Ramey. “The apartment will be useless. Too long ago.” He narrowed his eyes. “The airline’s our best chance.”
For a moment neither of them said anything. Then, for the first time since the attorney began speaking, Ramey thought of something other than the information in Kiahna’s will.
“What about Max?”