Best Interests - A Oneword Short Story

Another One Word Story, written in one minute a day using a string of words suggested by

Best Interests 

1. Never

He shifted in his seat to be facing her more directly.

"I will never leave you. Understand that! I may not be by your side every day, but I will always be with you, in my heart. In your heart too, as long as you want me there. I will always love you, and nothing will ever change that." As he stared at her intently, she looked out the window for a few seconds, then turned to him and smiled. 

"Thanks, Dad, I know. I love you too." She got out of the car and walked into the station. That was the last time he ever saw her.

2. Stood

She stood in the entranceway, her mouth open in disbelief. "Where are you going?!" she gasped at her mother, who was stuffing clothes into a suitcase, one of three laid out on the floor. "WE," she emphasised the plural, "are going to stay with my mother for a while. She's been feeling poorly lately. Don't worry, it will only be for a few days."

3. Failing

He had known that she was becoming distant, but had no idea of how fast their marriage was failing. He thought he was doing all the right things, helping out around the house, being a good father, working harder and longer than anyone else in the office, but somewhere along the line she started growing disinterested. He had thought she was just tired, but came to suspect it was something more than that. Then one day she just told him not to come home anymore. 

4. Footsteps

His footsteps echoed around the apartment, his heels rapping against the wooden floor. He had not removed his shoes in the entrance, distracted by what he saw, or didn't see, in the bedroom at the back of the hall. The closet was empty, the toys gone. The bag that held all their bank books hidden in the bottom drawer lying open on the floor. At first he thought that they had been burgled, but it was too neat for that. No, Michiko had left him, and she had taken the kids!

5. Underdog

"As the husband, and as a foreigner, you will be very much the underdog. We have to show that it is in your children's best interests that they be returned to you. That may involve making some very hurtful statements about your wife. You, and your children, may also suffer emotionally, and you will make more enemies that friends by doing this. I, as your lawyer, will suggest any course of action I feel may be of any benefit to us. It is up to you to decide if that action is necessary, and weighing up the risks, acceptable."

6. Flattened

He flattened out the sheet on the bed. It had been left unmade since that day they all disappeared, clothes still strewn around the room. He decided today was the day he would clean it up, to have it ready for when they came back. He had to believe they would, or he could not keep himself going.

7. Doubt

Ted put two pints of beer down on the table, and sat opposite him. "My wife took our girls three years ago. It's all I can think about now. You'll probably be the same. You will go through periods of doubt, despair, anger and even confidence, but you will never get over it. Even if you get them back, it will always haunt you, the fear that you could lose them again at any time.

8. Apologetic

He waited outside the house for three hours, until she finally came home. "I have nothing to say to you!" she barked, as she tried to push past him into the house. He had planned on being non-confrontational, apologetic even, but his mother in law was a difficult woman to deal with at the best of times. "I want to see my children!" he shouted, putting his hand on the door to prevent her from opening it. "You are not their father any more! Now get out of my way or I'll call the police.  - Go away! - The paperwork is all done! It's over!" His hand fell from the door, and a sudden fear overwhelmed him. Before he could react any further, the door was shut,  his mother in law was inside, and he was left out in the cold, alone. 

9. Accomplice

What his mother in law had said gnawed at his mind until the following Monday morning, when he could get to city hall. After several hours of cajoling, he finally got the clerk to show him the information he wanted. His family registry, on which he had only been an after thought to begin with, had been changed. He had been divorced without his knowledge, deleted; and the rest of his family moved to another address, which they would not tell him, because he was technically no longer related to them. When he got belligerent, and accused his wife, and them, of fraud, they accused him in turn of being an accomplice, since his stamp was on all the forms too. His claims that it was used without his knowledge fell on deaf ears. 

10. Thrown

He sat in the car, staring out the window in front of him. His life had been thrown into complete turmoil. In the space of one week he had lost his home and his family. All those days of not knowing what was going on were over, and reality had now hit him squarely in the face. As the panic and bewilderment subsided, the frustration anger and hate bubbled to the surface. He started banging the steering wheel with his hands, and then his head. He stopped suddenly when he noticed a security guard banging on the glass.

11. Pity

He spent almost an hour telling his story. Ohara listened patiently, nodding and taking notes. When he finished, Ohara leaned forward, and spoke.

"Well, it certainly is a sad ..."

"I don't want pity," the man interrupted testily; "I want you to find my children!"

"... state of affairs," Ohara continued, not showing any emotion; "but we have had success in this type of situation before." 

12. Gesture

As a gesture of reconciliation after his earlier outburst, he paid for their drinks. Ohara agreed to take the case.

"What I'll need," he explained as they walked toward the station, "is as much information on the three of them as you can get. Your son is too young to have much of a record other than medical history, if any, but your daughter is old enough to have an online presence, so I want to know what her likes and interests were, we may be able to trace her through them. Nicknames, pet names, favourite characters or boy bands, anything. And your wife's full family and work history, as much as you can get."

"Understood," his client responded, "how long will it take to find her, do you think?"

Ohara stopped walking, and turned to him.

"You should plan on this taking years," he said, "because it probably will."

13. Locket

Six months had passed since that day. Nana had tried to convince her mother to let her see her father one more time, but her mother was livid when she even suggested it. The only thing she had managed to keep that connected her with her father was a locket he had bought her on a trip to Tokyo Tower when she was about seven years old. She kept it hidden from her mother, so that she could not take it away. She had taken everything else...

14. Amused

Nana came home from cram school to find her mother sitting in the kitchen, clearly not amused. "Have you been making contact with your father?" she accused, without even returning her daughter's greeting. "Just forget about him! He was lazy an useless!" 

She slammed her hands down on the table.

"If you try to go back to him, you'll never see me or your brother again. Remember that! If you betray me, you will pay dearly for it!"

15. Greedy

Nana sat on her bed, crying. She wasn't being greedy, she just wanted her family to be together. Wasn't that what a family was supposed to be? If they couldn't be together, then at least she wanted to be able to spend time with both her mother and her father, and the same for her brother. Shouldn't they have that choice?

16. Stitches

He held the old, ragged teddy in his hand, remembering moments from his own childhood with it as much as Nana's. She had loved that teddy, but Tom had been less merciful, and the stitches where it had been repaired were in need of repair again. The phone rang.

"It's Ohara," the voice said. "I think I've found something!"

17. Elegance

"I had been going through that diary you gave me, trying searches for phrases and themes that were repeated a lot, and I eventually found this." Ohara pointed at the screen.

"The twitter name, "TorturedElegance", is a phrase she used in the diary quite a lot, and the photo, while it doesn't show her face, does look like her old bedroom. See, there's that old ragged teddy bear!"

Dave nearly cried. That ragged old toy his wife had almost thrown out a dozen times had helped him find his children again!

18. Falter

Ohara didn't want him to get his hopes up to soon, as this would be the most difficult part of the search.

"Now, we'll have to be careful about how we approach her. I would assume her mother is monitoring her twitter account, and Facebook if she has it. We need some recognisable message that will tell her it's you without your wife figuring it out. Can you think of anything?"

His voice faltered as he spoke.

"There was a song we used to sing, a silly thing we made up for bedtime. Her mother didn't know it, just us."

19. Attuned

They had sent the message, and were now waiting for a response. Dave sipped his coffee, which was already cold.

"I must say, you seem very attuned to the younger generation. I'm amazed you found her with that little to go on."

Ohara gestured towards his coffee cup, offering a refill.

"I have to, it's part of the job. It's mostly common sense though. You have to remember that it doesn't pay to think too much, because most of the people you're looking for, don't think too much either!" 

20. Cyclical

"You should be prepared for rejection. It's probable that your wife has turned them against you, and they may even have come to blame you for what's happened by themselves. It's cyclical, like jetlag."

"How do you know so much about it?" Dave interrupted.

"Did you study this kind of thing in University?"

"Yeah," Ohara replied; "The University of Life."

21. Steadfast

“Her mother is probably behind it all, she was steadfast against us marrying in the first place.” Dave said. Ohara put down his coffee cup.

“You may feel like this is a ‘You against Them’ situation, but it’s not. You have to resolve this, not win it.”

22. Terrain

Ohara wanted to find out where she was. This would not be an ambush, but he usually wanted to know the surrounding terrain before he approached a subject. Sometimes things took a turn for the unexpected, and he liked to know where the nearest exits were; Little things like that sometimes made a big difference.  

23. Grove

Nana stood in the small bamboo grove behind the temple. She turned on the "Show Location" option, and tweeted a single blank space. After ten minutes, she deleted it again. She knew her mother would not be checking her timeline at this hour, but she could only hope her father was.

24. Denim

She kicked off her shoes as the door closed behind her, and threw her denim jacket on the sofa. Sitting down at the table, she picked up her chopsticks and muttered "Itadakimasu". Her mother started to scream at her for being late, but the words were smothered in a fit of coughing. Nana looked at her mother, and then at her little brother, forcing herself to show no emotion. Her mother was getting sicker, it was clear. "Soon," she thought to herself, "soon."

25. Souvenir

Dave sat in Ohara's office toying with a corkscrew shaped like the Mannequin Pis, stamped with the words "Souvenir of Brussels". Ohara kept a lot of trinkets like that around his office, for his clients to tinker with. He found it a useful way to observe people, watching which knickknack they chose, how they handled them, for signs of nervousness or discomfort. It was a good way to spot when 

someone was lying, and Dave, he was sure, was as honest as the day was long. Dave missed his kids, and wanted to see them again; there was no ulterior motive at work here, Ohara was sure. That made him all the more determined to help the guy.

26. Thirst

Michiko walked back to the kitchen and poured herself a large glass of water, which she then gulped down. Sudden thirst was one of the symptoms they had warned her about. She hoped the kids hadn't noticed yet, but knew she would have to tell them soon. At least she had assured their future, and wouldn't have to worry about them struggling with a single father, especially not one 

like Dave. He was a good guy, she knew; - she had married him, after all, but he was just not up to the task of raising her kids in Japan. She wanted the best for them, and he could not provide it.

27. Confined

Michiko had been happy at first, but started to feel confined when they had children, which she had expected would not happen. She thought that since Dave was British, he would be more open minded than a Japanese husband. But he still worked till midnight, still went drinking with his coworkers, and only helped out on weekends, which was the only time he was around. She had thought for a long time about getting out, and the diagnosis her doctor had given her four months ago had been the breaking point. She could not leave her children with him, she had to know they would be taken care of. That was why she had asked her parents to adopt them.

28. Fishing

Ohara led Dave into the office as he spoke.

"To be honest, I thought we were fishing for a needle in a haystack, but it seems your daughter is a very clever little girl." He stopped in his tracks for just a second when he realised how awful his mixed metaphor had been, but pressed on. "It appears she has been trying to contact you. And we now know where she is." 

29. Curtains

"But we have to be careful. We can't just go up to the house and peek through the curtains. You are risking an attempted kidnapping charge if you make any attempt to contact her, so we have to move very carefully now. Firstly, now that we know where they are, we should go through the courts. It won't do any good, but at least we will have it on the legal record."

Dave opened his mouth to protest, then stopped to think for a moment.

"My god, this is going to take forever, isn't it?"

30. Visit

"Your wife has probably tried to turn your kids against you, so don't be surprised if they seem distant or hostile. That's assuming you even get a visit with them. She will most likely oppose that too."

Dave was finding things more and more difficult to understand. He had not been a bad husband, or a bad father. He had put in the hours to get recognition at work, and promotions had come. They had argued occasionally, but all couples did. Then out of the blue, she was gone!

31. Gentleman

"You could be the perfect gentleman, the perfect father, but if she accuses you of abuse, it will be almost certainly accepted as a fact. That's why we have to be so careful. It's a funny thing to say, but you have to try not to tick her off. And hope she doesn't think of that by herself."

Ohara could see he was wearing Dave down, so decided to give it a rest for the day.

"We'll be seeing your lawyer again tomorrow, let's bring him up to date on developments and see how he wants to proceed. In the meantime, get some rest. And stay away from gaijin bars; all you'll get there is bad advice."

32. Bicycle

They sat in the McDonalds in front of the station for six hours, drinking more coffee than could possibly be healthy. Then she walked out of the station, picked her bicycle out of the racks in front, and rode off. Ohara watched Dave carefully, ready to restrain him if he tried to go after her. Dave barely moved, save for crushing his paper coffee cup in his hand. This was the closest he had been to his daughter in eight months, and it felt like she was further away than ever.

33. Takeoff

Dave was going bananas. He had expected things to takeoff now that they had found his family, but it seemed to be moving even slower than ever. He could understand why so many left behind parents were so bitter. This was maddening. The whole system was designed to prevent people like him ever seeing their children again.

34. Viewpoint

From his viewpoint on the corner Ohara could watch the apartment all day. It was cold, and his feet were numb. This was his third day staking out the wife's apartment. He had already confirmed that the two children were there, and the grandmother visited regularly, but he had yet to see the mother go in or come out. He was in his usual, and very effective, disguise, sitting on a fold-up chair with a row of counting machines attached to a clipboard on his knees. Everybody just assumed he was doing some kind of traffic survey for the city, and forgot him immediately. He could have been dressed up like Lady Gaga and people still would not notice him.  

35. Static

Ohara sat in the front office of the station, trying to listen to the snippets of information coming over the police radio, but the static, and the background babble of the station house left him with very few morsels of information. Not that any of it would help him, he was here to complain about nothing happening. Court orders, summonses and other papers delivered to the address now known to be the residence of Michiko Tahara Doyle were being delivered, but ignored.

36. Farmers

Nana cycled passed the fields towards the river, past the farmers, bent double, planting seeds in neat rows, preserving a tradition that had been eradicated decades ago by machines in other parts of Japan. But not here, where making rice for Sake was a holy craft. She sat on the river bank for an hour or so every evening, trying to avoid going home. Not because she didn't want to be there, 

but because she knew that being there would make her want to talk to her mother, to convince her to change her mind, and that would only lead to an argument, and she didn't want to be shouting at her mother, or have shouting back, when she was so gravely ill. 

37. Moonshine

Nana was thankful that her room had a skylight. The moonlight lit up her room just enough to camouflage the light of her phone. Her old room had had one too. Her father would always sing her a little lullaby he had made up about the prince of the moon coming to whisk her away to live in his lunar kingdom. That was how she knew the message was from her father. It had to be. 

"Will you be my moonshine?"

She responded by saying she was too young to have a boyfriend, but they should start out by being 

friends. That way they could talk without her mother getting suspicious.

38. Sympathy

Ohara didn't expect any progress, or any sympathy, from the police. Their hands were tied, since defying a court order was not actually a crime. They didn't like getting involved in domestic matters anyway, because there was rarely an independent witness, and thus little chance of an arrest leading to a prosecution. Cases like that made their case resolution statistics look worse, and a lot 

of time was wasted playing marriage counselors to people who would probably forgive each other long before anything got to court. But Ohara had to go anyway, as he had learned nine years before, to maintain the paper trail that would eventually prove that Dave had never given up trying to find his children.

39. Caramel

Dave sat on the caramel coloured sofa in his living room and clicked on the "Send" button. His heart raced a little, and he let out a long, deep sigh. His first real contact with his daughter in almost eight months, it had taken him almost thirty minutes to decide on the one hundred and thirty nine characters in the tweet. 

40. Delirious

Dave lay on his futon, staring at the ceiling. Deliriously happy at the thought of reconnecting with his daughter, his mind raced to create conversations with her that would fit his "cover" of a potential boyfriend, so that his wife would not find out they had reconnected. At the same time, his wife lay in her bed, coughing, feverish, and at times delirious herself, but completely aware that soon, she would have to surrender herself to a hospital bed, and her children to her mother's care.  

41. Transform

Tom could hear his mother coughing, and was frightened. He did not understand what was going on, but he did not like it. His whole life had been transformed. A new home; a new school; Daddy was gone, and he didn't know why; and Mommy was sick. But he tried not to cry. Mommy didn't like it when he cried.

42. Oak

Dave parked the car near a line of oak trees at the entrance to the park. Ohara had warned him not to do this, but he couldn't wait. Down the road, the students started trickling out, running into the arms of the mothers waiting outside the kindergarden. He saw Tom, and his heart stopped. He had grown so much! His awe gradually turned to confusion as Tom stood quietly by the wall, alone.

After a few minutes Dave saw his mother in law pull up in a car and Tom got in. Where was his wife? Working?

43. Eleven

Ohara was telling him that things were progressing, that in the eleven months since this nightmare had started, things were "getting better". Dave nearly laughed when he said that, but had to hold back a screaming tirade of abuse as well.

"Getting better!?" he asked Ohara incredulously. "Do you know what it's like for me? Coming home to that empty house every night?"

44. Trails

Ohara was finding this job to be less than satisfying. He had seen bad cases before, trails going cold that left him with nothing to do but apologise, and only one case where he had seriously screwed up. But this time, he had done nothing wrong, he had found the missing person, but it still left him feeling like a useless failure.

45. Centerpiece

Nana came home at around nine o clock, and her grandmother and aunt were sitting silently in the living room. Tom was at the kitchen table, playing with the flowers in the centerpiece. The lack of conversation told her everything. She thought she would be relieved when her mother died, and even tried to pretend she wasn't, but as soon as she met her grandmother's gaze, she realised she had now lost both of her parents. Her grandmother's face showed not sadness, but resolve.

46. Embassy

Dave sat with the three other fathers he had befriended all "left behind" by their families. Mark was a newcomer to the group, and was learning fast.

"Your embassy will not be of any help. They'll claim it's a domestic issue..."

"But what about that Hague treaty!", Mark asked.

Dave was about to answer but one of the others interrupted, just as Dave's phone buzzed.

"That only applies if they leave the country they live in, and that's the case for none of us!"

He looked at Dave for confirmation, but Dave was staring at his phone. The notification from Twitter made his blood run cold.

47. Complicated

Dave sat in his lawyer's office, slowly twirling a ballpoint pen. There had been about two minutes of silence since he dropped the bombshell news of his wife's death. His lawyer, Ken, drew a deep breath, and sighed.

"This might actually make it more complicated," he finally spoke. "since we will have to refile most of the paperwork, and almost all the evidence becomes hearsay. Technically speaking, your children have been adopted, probably illegally, by your in-laws. Our strongest claim to getting that reversed was your wife's misconduct, but we can no longer prosecute that. Your in laws will obviously claim ignorance, and that they were told that you approved the adoption. It will be harder to get a court to find against them under these conditions."

Dave looked at him, incredulously.

"Are you saying that I've lost? - That I've lost my children!" 

48. Speaking

Dave had spent the morning speaking to his lawyer, who was of little help. He couldn't really blame him though, his wife had been very thorough in her deviousness. Not only had she stolen his children, his family, from him, she had hidden it in a way he could never get it back, because even if he managed to climb over all the legal obstacles she had put in his path, his children would be 

grown up, and he would have lost all those precious childhood years, he would never have all those memories that a father was supposed to have.

49. Toadstool

He watched them enter the funeral hall from the safety of a cafe across the street. His children looked so grown up in the black formal wear required for funerals in Japan. Little Tom's only betrayal of his childhood was a little toy in his hand, an elephant sitting on a toadstool, which Dave had bought him as a souvenir from a trip back to England. Tom had never shown much interest in it when he bought it, presumably because he didn't know the nursery rhyme which inspired it, but he was clinging to it now, a sure sign to Dave that Tom was missing his father.

50. Ingredients

He was less than thirty meters from his children, who were standing on an open street. He had a car nearby. He could just drive up to them and tell them to jump in. They would be gone before anyone could react. But Dave knew those were the ingredients for a trip to jail. He would have nowhere to take them, nowhere to hide, and he sure as hell couldn't leave the country with them. They would be ound within days unless they hid very carefully, and Dave didn't want to have to hide. He just wanted a normal life again.

51. Tofu

Nana picked a cube of tofu out of her soup and lifted it to her mouth, stopping with it in mid air. Trying as hard as she could to sound casual, she asked her grandmother;

"So, are going to go live with our dad now?" All the chopsticks around the table froze; 

"No dear," her grandmother responded, barely suppressing her scream. Within a second she had regained her composure, and smiled; "you are going to live with us. You don't have a father anymore."

Nana dropped her tofu on the table, and put her hand to her mouth. She wanted to argue, to resist in some way, but her mind was blank.

52. Bargain

Now that her mother was no longer monitoring her, Nana had a little more leeway to talk to her father. They had dropped the pretense of him being a boyfriend, but still were careful about what they said. They made a bargain that they would try to meet, but he could not yet approach Tom, as he was too young to understand why his Daddy wasn't with them, so Nana had just told him that Daddy had moved away because of his job.

53. Maestro

Ken Takanishi, Dave's lawyer, rang him, sounding excited.

"We've made a breakthrough! The adoption papers weren't the only thing your wife faked your hanko on. She transferred all your joint bank accounts to her name, claiming that you had left the country. Since we can prove from your passport that you were here when it happened, we can prove fraud on her part!"

Dave was exasperated; "I don't care about the money..." - but Ken cut him off;

"I know. But this means we can prove that she faked documents, and that makes the adoption papers shaky too. Your in-laws' lawyer, Kobayashi, is a maestro at manipulating the judges emotions, but this will pull the rug from under him."

Sensing his client wasn't convinced, he pressed on;

"Dave, this is it! This is the big break we have been waiting for!"

54. Fort

Tom had built a fort with his lego, acting out some story of a brave knight rescuing two people from an evil queen. His grandmother watched him play, mildly amused by his seriousness until she noticed the names he was using for his characters.

"Tomoaki," she said sternly, using his full Japanese name, "put those away, it's time for dinner!"

55. Fiery

Dave sat down in his appointed seat, and looked across the courtroom aisle. Hoping to see the expectant, smiling faces of his children, in the same room as himself for the first time in over a year, all he got was a cold, empty stare from his mother in law's attorney, and a fiery, bilious scowl from the woman herself.

56. Cub

Over the next four weeks, Dave had to remind himself many times that he was not the one on trial. Some of the accusations his mother in law made against him were so vile, that he was actually glad his children were not there to hear them. There was only one day when they did attend, to be given the chance to tell the judge their own wishes for their future. It was clear that they had been coached, because little Tom was so nervous, he kept looking at his grandmother for prompts, while clutching the little stuffed tiger cub he had obviously been bribed with. But it was the mother in law herself who gave the game away, by almost choking with rage when Nana, in a clearly deliberate move, blatantly deviated from her prepared script. 

57. Venice

And then it was the moment of truth. All present rose to their feet so the judge could read his ruling. Dave noticed out of the corner of his eye something flashing, dangling on his mother in law's neck. A pendant his wife had worn religiously every day. Evidently she wanted something to remind herself of her daughter, but Dave smiled wickedly to himself; What would she do if she knew that Dave had bought it for Michiko on their honeymoon in Venice? 

58. Outsourced

There was silence, then murmuring, then even some hesitant applause. Dave stared at his lawyer, as his mind struggled to process the information it had just received. He had been denied custody, but allowed visitation rights one day a week. He wanted to complain, to object, but he could only stutter useless gibberish as the judge proclaimed his duties and obligations as blandly as if he was 

describing cleaning duties outsourced to a staffing agency.

59. Rivalry

The meeting took over an hour, but made little progress. Dave could tell there was some rivalry between the two lawyers, but they were meticulously polite throughout. He spent the time watching the two of them as his mother in law sat across the table from him, staring through him as if she was watching him through two-way glass.

60. Tribal

His friends took him out to celebrate his win, but Dave didn't feel very victorious. They spent the evening telling him how he had broken through, how he had set a precedent for all of them. Dave realised that most of his friends were just like him; divorced, fighting to get their kids back, bitter about how life had treated them, angry at the Japanese in general, as if the failure of their marriages was part of some national plan. It suddenly struck him as astonishingly tribal, and more than a little racist. 

61. Headband

The atmosphere was tense at first, but Tom soon broke the ice. Not having seen his daddy in almost a year and a half, he was uncontrollably delighted. Dashing into his father's arms, his scream of joy was both uplifting and heartbreaking. Questions flew at a million miles an hour, hardly waiting for a response. Dave gave up all attempts to hide his tears and mixed them with howls of laughter. After a few minutes, he could prise his son away enough to include his daughter in the group hug. His mother in law stood near the door, her polite attempts at attracting attention completely ignored. Eventually Tom pulled back from his father, reached into his pocket and gave him a piece of cloth.

"This is my headband from our school sports day. Our team won! Nana says you're working very hard, so I thought this would help you be strong!" 

Dave hugged his son again, and all he could say was 

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry I took so long!"

62. Leveled

The next few months settled into a pattern. Visitations were arranged, and cancelled by Dave's mother in law for a variety of reasons, illness, school events, travel; she did everything she could to prevent him from seeing his children. She even leveled accusations t him of abusing the children, but withdrew them when the authorities insisted on actually talking to the children. It was 

frustrating, but Dave didn't care, because he was seeing his children, talking to them, and they knew that he loved them.

63. Settlement

One year after the settlement, their case came up for review. Dave gave his deposition, and his mother in law gave hers, based in a very different reality. The arbitrator started his prepared speech about how it was impossible to determine which of them was, as he so delicately put it, "not understanding the situation" but Dave just blurted out, in a rare moment of uncontrolled frustration, 

"Why don't you just ask the children? They may not be old enough to vote, but they are old enough to know what they want!"

64. Divider

The stunned silence that flooded the room as soon as he finished speaking informed Dave that his outburst had been ill advised. He actually began to realise it while the words were still leaving his mouth. His frustration was aimed at the system, not the middle management orderly who had the poor fortune to be its spokesperson on this particular occasion. He knew he had to dig his way out of the hole he had just dug himself into. His two decades of professional experience had taught him that an imagined insult was much more of a divider than an outright one, since the offending party was often unaware of the offence, and the apology therefore had to be that much more carefully prepared. 

65. Pepper

With the considerable assistance of his lawyer, Dave managed to avoid any serious repercussions from his outburst. Visitations went ahead, albeit sporadically. Dave noticed that while Tom was bonding with him better, peppering him each time they met with questions and reports of his schoolwork, friends and toys, Nana was becoming somewhat reticent, and withdrawn. Dave knew that she always got like that when something big was worrying her. They would have to talk. 

66. Weaving

Nana had been pretending to be asleep, so that her grandmother would not notice she was crying. That was how she had heard the whole phone conversation between her grandmother and her great aunt, and finally understood why her grandmother, and her mother, had been weaving such an intricate web of lies. Her mother had known she was dying, and her grandmother had wanted her grandchildren to grow up in her house so she would have someone to look after her in her old age. All that talk about acting in the children's "best interests" had been rubbish. Her grandmother had just been looking for unpaid home help.

67. Polo

Spring became summer, and Dave went to the storage boxes to get some polo shirts to wear instead of his sweaters. A flood of memories washed over him just as the scent of the mothballs did. A thousand moments from his married life flashed before his eyes in an instant. Even down to the minute details, he had let his wife run their married life, trusting her. And he was paying the price now.

68. Beyond

Dave sat down with a beer, and pondered his lot. He had burned through most of his savings for the legal fees, and the fight to get his children back took up most of his free time as well. Beyond that, he realised, he had little in his life to enjoy. But he was not sad, and did not regret it. He had to fight for his children. At that same moment, his daughter sat on her bed; also sad, and also regretting most things in her life. She too had little free time, being forced to look after her grandmother and brother. Neither of them realised that very soon, everything would change. 

69. Stale

It was a hot, sultry night. Nana got up to use the bathroom, and meandered sleepily down the wooden floor of the hallway. As she passed the door of her grandmother's room, the stale, musky smell of old age wafted out from it, as it always did. Nana held her breath as she passed, but stopped abruptly when she glanced inside. Her grandmother lay awkwardly on the floor, staring up at her. Nana watched; in amazement first, then gradual realisation. Squatting down beside her grandmother, she whispered softly. "Grandma?" 

70. Vet

The police were, for obvious reasons, courteous and compassionate, but procedure dictated that they had to vet Nana's story thoroughly. They had no reason to suspect anything, and for that reason they didn't. It was dawn by the time they told Dave he could take the kids home. He nearly laughed when the officer said that, considering the two year battle he had gone through only to have no one actually grant him that privilege. As they left the house, Nana smiled too, but for a different reason.

71. Stardust

The first few weeks back together were a time of stardust and rainbows, Dave was delirious, and spoiled the children with presents and trips to all their favourite places. He had three years of their childhood to catch up on. Tom was a bundle of joy, revelling in the attention, but Nana seemed distant to him at times. He wondered if yet another transition in her life was causing her some 

stress, but anytime he tried to talk to her about it she would brush him off, claiming there was nothing wrong. 

72. Wintertime

Autumn gave way to wintertime, and they settled down into a more normal daily routine. Dave had arranged for more time to work at home, allowing him to spend more time with the children and do the brunt of his work at night. It began to worry him that as he sleepily trudged to his futon after a night at the computer, he would pass Nana's room and see her hurriedly shut her eyes, pretending to be asleep. He wanted to know what was keeping her awake so late every night.

73. Stunt

At the school sports day, Nana watched her friend squeal in pain as she hit the floor. Their gymnastic stunt had failed, but Nana found it hard to care. She was reminded of the night she had watched her grandmother die before her. Ever since then, she found it hard to care about anything. As she had watched her grandmother groan in pain on the floor before her, she found herself reluctant to call for help. If her grandmother were to die, she realised, she and her brother could return to live with their father. And she found herself wanting that to happen.

74. Regrowth

New Year's Eve came around, and Dave reflected on the year. Even though the last three years had been hell, he hoped the coming one would be a time of regrowth for his family. He could see that it had been hard on the kids, and he hoped they could get back to a normal life soon.

75. Interview

The coroner was glancing through the final report on the Tahara woman. Something about the timing of it didn't fit. In her interview, the granddaughter had said she had called the ambulance as soon as she found her grandmother, but she was already dead by the time they arrived. According to the autopsy results, that should have taken hours.

76. Charmed

The coroner asked to speak to Nana again. Dave was curious, and concerned, but Nana thought she could breeze her way through it like she had charmed her way through the first police interview. When the coroner arrived at the house, Dave was the more nervous of the two of them.

77. Miss

Nana answered all the coroner's questions, playing innocent all the way. She was actually pleased with her performance. When the coroner looked down to make some notes, she even allowed herself a quick smile. Dave, his suspicion growing as the interview progressed, did not miss it. His suspicion became fear, and then horror. Nana had waited for her grandmother to die!

78. Olive

Dave watched Nana sleep, her olive skin seeming a deeper brown when bathed in the glow of the nightlight. Was she really so heartless as to let her grandmother die so that she could return to her father's house? 

79. Mercy

He could not hate her for it. He had to show mercy. It was not her fault she was in the situation she faced. He hated his wife, and her mother, for creating the situation, and he hated himself for letting them do it. It made him wonder, did any of them really have the children's best interests at heart?

80. Slate

April came around. Nana moved from Junior High to High School, and Tom started Junior High as well. It would be a new start for all of them, a clean slate. He never asked his daughter about her grandmother again, deciding it was best to forget the mistakes of the past, to learn from them rather than dwell on them. They would be busy enough dealing with the future. 

- THE END  -

Copyright (C) 2015 A.Keyes All Rights Reserved.