Authors: Laura Dave
“I don't know enough,” I say.
“Well, Ethan decided he knew enough. He couldn't be reasoned with that the men I had spent two decades protecting wouldn't do that to my daughter. That I knew these men and they had their own code of honor. That wasn't how they did things. Even their most nefarious colleagues didn't do things like that unprompted. But Ethan didn't want to believe it. He just wanted to blame me. And he wanted to punish me. As if I wasn't punished enough.” He pauses. “There is nothing worse than losing your child. Nothing. Especially when you are someone who lives his life for his family.”
“I understand that,” I say.
“Your husband didn't. That was the part he could never understand about me,” he says. “After his testimony, I spent six and a half years in prison as opposed to putting my family at risk by sharing my employer's secrets. Which they also view as service. So my employers continue to be generous with me now. Even though I'm retired, they consider me family.”
“Even though your son-in-law caused many of them to go to prison?” I say.
“The people in the organization that were sent to jail along with me were mostly lower level,” Nicholas says. “I took the hit for the upper management. They haven't forgotten that. They won't.”
“So you could ask them to spare Ethan? Theoretically? If you wanted to?”
“Haven't you been listening to what I've been telling you?” he says. “I have no desire to do that. Besides, I can't pay off his debt. No one can.”
“You just said they'd do anything for you.”
“Maybe that's what you wanted to hear,” he says. “What I said was they are generous with me about certain things. Not everything. Even families don't let everything go.”
“No,” I say. “I guess they don't.”
This is when I realize something else that is going on. I figure it out in what Nicholas isn't owningânot yet, at least.
“You never liked Ethan, did you?” I say.
“Excuse me?” he says.
“Even before all of this, when you first met him, he wasn't your choice. For your daughter. This poor kid from South Texas, wanting to marry your only daughter. That couldn't have been what you wanted for her. He could have been you. He grew up in a town like the one you came from. He was a little too much like what you had organized your life to be better than.”
“Are you a therapist?”
“Not at all,” I say. “I just pay attention.”
He looks at me amused. Apparently he likes this. He likes me throwing his words back at him.
“So what are you asking me?” he says.
“Everything you did, you did so your children would have different choices than you did. Kate. Charlie. Easier choices. So they'd have
a promising childhood. The best schools, the greatest possibilities. So they wouldn't have to struggle so hard. And yet, one of your children drops out of architecture school and decides to take over your wife's family bar. Gets divorced.”
“Careful,” he says.
“And the other one chooses someone who was the last person you'd want for her.”
“As my wife used to say, we don't get to pick who our children love. I made my peace that she chose Ethan. I just wanted her to be happy.”
“But you had a feeling, didn't you? He wasn't the best person for Kate, he wasn't going to make her happy.”
Nicholas leans forward, his smile gone.
“Did you know when Kate and Ethan started dating she didn't speak to me for a year?”
“I didn't even know Kate existed yesterday,” I say. “So the details as to how that relationship played out aren't something I'm familiar with.”
“She was a freshman in college and she decided she didn't want to have anything to do with us. With me, ratherâ¦ her mother she never stopped talking to,” he says. “That was Ethan's influence on her. We came through it though. Kate came home again and we made peace. That's what daughters do. They love their fathers. And Ethan and Iâ¦”
“You came to trust him?” I say.
“I did. I clearly shouldn't have,” he says. “But I did. I could tell you one story about your husband and you'd never see him the same way again.”
I stay quiet. Because I know Nicholas is telling the truth, at least the way he sees it. Owen, in his eyes, is bad. He has done bad things to Nicholas. He betrayed his trust. He stole his granddaughter. He disappeared.
Nicholas isn't wrong about any of that. He may not even be wrong about me. If I choose to wade into the chasm of doubt Nicholas wants to create about Owen, it won't be hard to go there. Owen isn't who I thought he was, at least not in the details. There are parts I wish didn't exist, parts I can't look away from now. In one way or another, this is the deal we all sign when we love someone. For better or worse. It's the deal we have to sign again and again to keep that love. We don't turn away from the parts of someone we don't want to see. However quickly or long it takes to see them. We accept them if we are strong enough. Or we accept them enough to not let the bad parts become the entire story.
Because there is this too. The details are not the whole story. The whole story still includes this: I love Owen. I love him, and Nicholas isn't going to sway me that I shouldn't. He isn't going to sway me that I've been fooled. Despite everything, despite any evidence to the contrary, I believe I haven't. I believe I know my husband, the pieces and parts that matter most. It's why I'm sitting here. It's why I say what I say next.
“Regardless of that,” I say, “I think you know how much my husband loves your granddaughter.”
“What's your point?” he says.
“I want to make you a deal.”
He starts to laugh. “We're back to this? Darling, you don't know what you're saying. It's not your deal to make.”
“I think it is.”
“How do you figure?”
I take a deep breath, knowing this is the moment of truth with Nicholas. It all comes down to how I sell him this. He'll hear me now or he won't. And the only thing that hangs in the balance is my family's future. My identity. Bailey's identity. Owen's life.
“I think that my husband would rather be killed than let you near your granddaughter. That's what I think. He proved that by uprooting everything and moving her away from here. As angry as you are about that, you respect him for being that kind of father. You didn't think he had that in him.”
Nicholas doesn't say anything, but he doesn't look away either. He holds my eyes with his. I sense he's getting angry, a little too angry, but I keep going.
“And I assume you would like to have a relationship with your granddaughter? I think you want a relationship with her more than almost anything. That you'd be willing to make arrangements with your former colleagues to allow that to happen. From what you're saying, you can insist they leave us alone, let us keep living our lives,” I say. “If you want to know your granddaughter, I think you know it's your only play. Either that or letting her disappear again. Because that is the other option, that is what I'm being told is the option I should be considering. WITSEC, starting over. Your granddaughter no longer allowed to be your granddaughter. Again.”
And, like that. It happens. Like a flip has been switched, Nicholas's eyes going dark, going empty. His face pulsing red.
“What did you just say?” he says.
He stands up. I push back my chair, almost before I know I'm doing it. I push back closer to the door, as if it's possible he's going to lunge for me. It feels possible. Anything feels possible suddenly unless I get out of this room. Until I get away from him.
“I don't like to be threatened,” Nicholas says.
“I'm not threatening you,” I say, trying to hold my voice steady. “That wasn't my intention.”
“So what is your intention?”
“I'm asking you to help me keep your granddaughter safe,” I say.
“I'm asking you to put me in a position where she can know her family. Where she can know you.”
He doesn't sit back down. He stares at me. For a long time. For what feels like a long time.
“These other gentlemen,” he says, “my former employersâ¦ I could potentially work something out with them. It would cost me quite a bit of capital. And they certainly would wonder who I am becoming in my old age. Butâ¦ I think we could make sure they leave you and my granddaughter alone.”
I nod, my throat catching as I start to ask the question, the next question I need to ask.
“And Ethan?” I say.
“No, not Ethan,” he says.
He says it without equivocation. He says it with finality.
“If Ethan were to return, I couldn't assure you of his safety,” he says. “His debt is too large. As I said, I can't protect Ethan, even if I were inclined to. Which, to be clear with you, I'm not.”
I was prepared for this, for this intractable position. I was as prepared as I could getâa tiny part of me believing I wasn't going to have to acquiesce to it. To do what I came here to do. A tiny part of me in disbelief even as I start to do it.
“But your granddaughter,” I say. “You could keep her safe? That's what you're saying?”
I stay quiet for a moment. I stay quiet until I trust myself to speak. “Okay then,” I say.
“Okay then?” he says. “Okay then, what?”
“I'd like you to speak with your former employers about doing that,” I say.
He doesn't even try to hide just how confused he is. He is confused
because he thought he knew what I was doing here. He thought I was going to beg for Owen's life, for his safety. He doesn't understand that this is exactly what I'm doing, even if it doesn't look like it.
“Do you understand what you're considering here?” he says.
I'm considering an Owen-less life. That's what. A life that isn't anything like what I'd imagined for myself, but a life where Bailey gets to stay Bailey. She gets to stay the young woman she's become under Owen's watchful eye, the one he is so proud of. She'll continue to live her life, heading to college in two years, heading to whatever life she wants, not as someone elseânot as someone she has to pretend to beâbut as herself.
Bailey and I will go onâbut without Owen, without Ethan. Owen, Ethan: the two of them start melding themselves together in my mindâthe husband I thought I knew, the husband I didn't. The husband I don't get to have. This is what I'm considering.
This is the deal I'm willing to make if Nicholas is. Which is when I tell him why.
“It's what Ethan wants,” I say.
“To live his life without her?” he says. “I don't believe that.”
I shrug. “It doesn't make it any less true,” I say.
Nicholas closes his eyes. He looks tired suddenly. And I know it's partially because he is thinking of himselfâof the daughter (and granddaughter) he's had to live his life without. But also because he is feeling sympathy for Owen, sympathy he doesn't want to feel, but he is feeling it all the same.
And there it is, what Nicholas least expects to show me. His humanity.
So I decide to tell him the truth, to say out loud the one thing I've been thinking all week, but haven't said out loudânot to anyone.
“I never really had a mother,” I say. “She left when I was little, not
much older than when you last saw your granddaughter. And she hasn't been involved in my life in any meaningful way. An occasional card or a phone call.”
“And why are you telling me this?” he says. “For my compassion?”
“No, I'm not doing it for that,” I say. “I had my grandfather, who was completely amazing. Inspiring. And loving. I had more than most people.”
“I'm hoping it helps you understand that even in the face of what else I may lose here, my priority is your granddaughter. Doing what's right for her, whatever the cost, is worth it,” I say. “You know that better than I do.”
“What makes you say that?” he says.
“You were there first.”
He doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to. Because he understands what I'm telling him. My mother never tried to fight for her familyâshe never tried to fight for me. That defines her. Apparently, I'm willing to give up everything to do the opposite for Bailey. One way or another, that will define me.
And if Nicholas agrees to what I'm asking him, it will define him too. We will have that in common. We'll have Bailey in common. We'll be the two people doing whatever is needed for her.
Nicholas crosses his arms over his chest, almost like in a hug, almost as if bracing himself against what he doesn't know if he should do.
“If a part of you thinks that it will change one day,” he says. “That one day this will go away and Ethan can come back to you, slip back into your lives and they'll let it slideâ¦ it won't. That's untenable. These men, they don't forget. That can never happen.”
I summon up the strength to say what I honestly believe. “I don't.”
Nicholas is watching me, taking me in. And I think I have him. Or, at least, we are moving closer toward each other. For better or worse.
But there is a knock on the door. And Charlie walks in. Charlie who apparently stayed, despite Nicholas's instructions. Nicholas doesn't look happy with him for that. But he's about to get less happy.
“Grady Bradford is at the front gate,” he says. “And there are a dozen other U.S. marshals standing behind him.”
“It took him long enough,” Nicholas says.
“What do you want me to do?” Charlie says.
“Let him in,” he says.
Then Nicholas turns and meets my eyes, the moment between us apparently over. “If Ethan comes home, they'll know,” he says. “They'll always be watching for him.”
“I understand that.”