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Cercare

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Cercare - Italian. verb meaning to seek, search, look for


She can feel his gaze boring into her back as she walks, jogs, nearly runs. She knows she looks ridiculous, irrational, insane, but at this moment, she doesn't give a damn.

He walks quickly, just as fast as she does and she knows he is close behind. He grabs her forearm beneath her dark blazer, twisting her around, turning her, spinning her the same way their world is whirling.

Twisting,

Turning,

Spinning

Off its axis

"What are you gonna do?"

He knows her too well.

He knows she is the one who will handle it because she knows that he can't.

They can't.

Out of the five of them, she is the only one who can. The burden, the weight falls on her shoulders because she is sure she is the only one who can carry it. She wants to shield them, to protect them, to keep them safe, but the damage is done and now all she can do is try and temper and triage.

Over his shoulder, she watches as a figure appears in the hallway.

Seeking, searching, secure.

Olivia.

The woman with decades of compassion coursing through her veins for children who aren't her own.

"Stay with Eli," she commands, pressing against her brother's arm.

Pushing him backwards at the same moment she propels herself forward.

She leans into the heavy wooden door and in her haste, nearly falls into the empty stairwell. She takes the downward flight one step at a time. She doesn't hold onto the railing because the smooth surface will only slow her down and she wants to fly.

One floor and then two, sinking below. It doesn't escape her that the descent to hell is paved with good intentions, but even the best of people can lose themselves in the fall.

The heels of her ankle boots resound with her pace against the shining marble of the floor as she moves. She isn't sure if each step will bring her closer or further away, but she can't shake the irony that here in these hallowed halls of justice, she has come to find the truth.

She knows instinctively where to find him, as if there is some invisible draw leading her through the empty halls to where he waits.

For weeks, he has begged them not to come, not to waste their energy, their time. She thought she understood why he'd urged their absence, but now she wonders if this is his reason why. If a strange woman's convoluted confession in open court is the real reason he hasn't wanted them present.

She doesn't know.

She has to know.

Her stomach rolls at the freshness of the memory…"We grew close."

She doesn't understand.

She wants to understand. She wants to shake and scream.

She rounds the ornate corner to find him.

There, at the end of the long-deserted hallway, he sits on a bench with his head bowed, his elbows pressed hard into his thighs, his hands clasped before him as if in uneasy prayer.

"Dad!"

He glances up at the echoing sound of her approach, once, twice. A double take, as though she is the last person in the world he has expected to seek him out.

"Kathleen."

She hears the low rumble of his voice as he presses his palms against his knees. Her father wears his dark suit and his blue dress shirt that makes the depths of the ocean in his eyes seem to sway where he stands.

She doesn't slow. She doesn't stop. She isn't sure she can. She steels herself and marches right up to him.

"You all right?"

She shakes her head vehemently.

She isn't.

"Why didn't you want us here today?" She asks.

"I don't ever want you here," he starts slowly. "You shouldn't have to listen to–"

She motions with her hand, waves away his placation. This isn't the answer she is after.

"You're right. I shouldn't have to listen to a complete stranger swoon over my father days after I buried my mother," she says sarcastically.

She watches her father's eyes grow wide for the briefest moment with disorientation as he tries to follow her words.

"You let Olivia sit there while that delusional woman told everyone…"

"I don't let Olivia do anything. She decides," he corrects heatedly.

"That's crap, Dad and you know it," she fires back. "Is it true?"

"Is what true?" He watches her, bewildered. A furrow in his tired brow and she knows she should back off, take it easy, approach with caution…but if he has given her anything in life, it is his low tolerance for bullshit.

She exhales sharply and skims the floor with her gaze. She tries for control, but it is slipping through her fingers like grains of sand on a beach.

She tosses a look back over her shoulder. The corridor is still empty, but she isn't about to have this conversation in a place where what she has to say to her father could be overheard. The bones of her family's skeletons have already been strewn from their proverbial closets for all to see, but she has to preserve this one last thing.

For now.

She glances to her left, toward a closed door of a conference room and she hopes against hope that it gives way when she pushes hard against it.

It does and as soon as she hears the door snap closed behind them both, she rounds on him and speaks again. She can't help the way she spills.

"Did you sleep with Angela Wheatley?" She demands.

Her father steps back against the strong wood of the door as though her question has slapped him across his face and he shakes his head, in denial or negation, she can't be sure.

"Did she say that?" He asks, his tone has a bite.

"You're not answering the question," she fires back bitterly. If his avoidance is his confirmation, she may never speak to him again.

A particular peculiar expression she isn't able to define passes over her father's face. He is looking at her, but she can't shake the feeling he is seeing someone else.

Déjà vu

"I didn't sleep with her," he asserts. His voice is low and even as if he is measuring his answers and she hates him for it.

She wants the truth.

"But you wanted to?" She challenges. Ordinarily, she knows better than to put words into her father's mouth, but in this moment she forgets.

Her anger has a life of its own.

"Leen."

She hears the cautious way he says her name through the fog of her fury, but she ignores him.

"She said you kissed her. She said you wanted to get to know each other better…" She throws her hands up in a mock shrug, moving around the room toward the head of the table.

"What more could you want to know about the woman who may have killed my mother?"

She fixes her glare on her father from across the room and watches the way he bites down hard on his bottom lip, shakes his head as if to clear it before he speaks again.

"She didn't, Leen."

She gives a light scathing laugh and tilts her head on her aching neck. She wonders if he has finally lost his damn mind.

"Forgive me, Dad, if I don't entirely trust your judgment on this one."

More than two decades as an NYPD detective and suddenly the man is blind as a fucking bat. His intuition should be screaming, just as hers is. His instincts, which have always been razor sharp, seem to have failed him in the most cataclysmic of ways. She wonders what other pieces of her father have been lost to the monster of his post-traumatic stress disorder.

His silence surprises her. He can't seem to speak, and she wonders why. She wonders if he considers this, her rebuking, his penance for his sins.

"Angela said you both had feelings for each other. Is that true?"

"No."

"Was it true?"

"No. It was…it was complicated, Leen."

She thinks her father is wrong. It was senseless and simple.

Her father went looking for solace in the insignificant rather than face the most meaningful truth of his life.

She wonders how much it will cost him in the end.

"When did this happen?" She asks. She is trying to put together a curious morbid timeline.

"What do you wanna know?" Her father replies, rasps as if his throat is parched.

"When did you first go to see her?" Her mind is working in overdrive, rewinding and playing back the last nine months of their lives. It's all a muddled blur, but she forces herself to think, to remember.

She doesn't have to try hard because she sees the answer in the shattered shutter of his eyes.

She hears it, the gentle quiet plea inside her head as clearly as she did nearly three hundred days ago and all at once, she knows.

"Tell us what you need…"

She remembers his quaking, shaking, disjointed daze. His short temper, his distressing distraction.

Only one thing he said that night came out clear as day.

Unequivocal and indisputable, but…

"You went to her that night, didn't you? The night you told Olivia…"

She remembers. He'd left and he hadn't come home for more than an hour. The minutes ticked by slowly while his partner rubbed her trembling back.

"How could you do that, Dad?" She asks, but it's rhetorical now. She doesn't think there's an answer he could provide that would satisfy her. Her stomach is rolling again. She feels off balance, dizzy as she stands still.

She watches as he crosses his arms, his sole posture of defense.

Her father is quiet enough that his silence is jarring. She isn't used to this. This isn't the man she knows. He isn't fighting back, standing up for himself, protecting himself against her claims. She wonders if he has given up, if he doesn't see anything left to fight for.

He shakes his head again. "I don't know. I was –" Her father is trying to explain, to justify and she can't take it. She knows she is being merciless, and he deserves a chance to speak, but she can't help herself.

No more.

She is finished. It's a cop out and they both know it. She can't let him off easily, not this time.

She cuts him off, interrupts him. "I understand that you have been to hell and back this year, but I think you do know, Dad."

She places her palm on the smooth surface of the table, gripping the edge so that she spares the delicate skin of her own palm with her blunt fingernails.

"I think you do know," she repeats. Her voice is nearly a whisper, and she thinks he can sense the warning winds in the way he watches her. She has never spoken to him this way, so blatantly, brutally honest. She is his truth-teller, his open-book of a child and yet she has never felt the need to rage at him quite so violently as she does in this moment.

"I think Angela seemed like the safest alternative," she says quietly. The repulsive paradox does not escape her, and she has to swallow to keep her nausea at bay.

"Alternative to what?" He asks, fixing her with his stormy gaze.

It's the calm before the storm. She takes a gulp of air before she speaks. She thinks she is going to need the reserve when the rain comes.

"To Liv."

She sees her rightness in the widening of his blue eyes, and he plants his palms hard against the surface of the table as if it is the only thing holding him up. She watches the way he momentarily fractures beneath the unspoken weight she has whispered from his shoulders. She has conjured it, bringing the enduring implicit into existence.

"Kathleen," he rasps her name. His voice is a raw, brewing ache. She wonders fleetingly if his tempest is coming, because she has a gale of her own.

The thunder rolls and the downpour begins.

Her father turns as if he can't face her anymore and the sight of his back only serves to make her seethe. She plunges into an untouchable chasm she knows is more than two decades deep.

"I think you're terrified of Olivia," she asserts. She knows he hears the way her voice nearly cracks as she watches the muscles of his shoulders jump with an invisible ache.

"You lost mom and you got Liv back in one fell swoop and I think that terrified you."

She steps closer, into the lion's den.

He rounds on her now. His jaw is tense as though he is holding himself steady and still. He doesn't shake his head in denial. Instead, his eyes are an unwitting mixture of shock and surety.

"I loved your mother -" He starts fiercely, but she can't let him finish. He thinks this, her outrage, is about his late wife, but it isn't. Her mother is gone forever.

This is about who is left.

"Every single day for ten years, you mourned Liv in ways you will never mourn mom because you can't!"

"Stop." He growls the word in desperate admonishment, but she isn't finished. She knows she is his daughter, and she has no right to yell, to speak to him this way, but if she doesn't, who will?

Her father is untouchable to everyone, except for a few.

She moves closer as he steps back.

"What you have with Olivia is different and special and I think you're terrified of that because it's real."

"Leen." His voice is gravel, and she wonders if her confrontation has reduced his vocabulary to one word. He reaches for her, to grasp her arm, to step around her toward the door, but she holds her ground. She steps backward, puts herself between her father and the only way out.

Now, he has to go through. If he were a little boy, she thinks he would have put his hands over his ears by now.

"I need some air," he says, but she ignores him.

She thinks a woman meeker than she would wither beneath the glare he is giving her, but she has never been frightened of her father.

"You're afraid of Olivia and what she means to you," she presses fiercely. He fixes his gaze on the floor and she steps closer into his chest, forcing him to meet her eyes.

"I'm not stupid. I'm thirty-one years old. Don't look at me like I'm crazy!" She cries bitterly. He shakes his head, and she thinks he is about to contradict her claims, but his voice is so quiet she barely hears…

"You're not crazy."

"You're afraid to delve into the depths of what it means to love her, so you'll take the easy way out, the meaningless fuck, instead of staying and sitting in the pain and holding her hand."

Her father flinches as though she has thrown a powerful punch his way. He exhales sharply into the quiet and she can't catch her own breath as his eyes fill. Before he can open his mouth, she speaks again.

"I've never been anything but proud to be your daughter, but now?" She whispers, shaking her head. Her vision is blurring, and her tears are coming fast.

"You have to make this right."

She can't help herself. This may be the only chance she ever gets.

"Angela called you two grief partners?" She rolls her welling eyes at the utter ridiculousness of the concept.

"You have a partner, Dad. You don't need another."

She hears his heavy swallow, and she leans into the door. She presses her shoulder into the door for a moment before she turns toward him one last time.

"You know what I think?" She asks. She doesn't want a reply because she knows the answer.

"I think you've assumed that you still know who Olivia is, like nothing has happened, like nothing has changed in ten years. You act like she's been encased in glass for the last decade. Liv knows more about grief than you can imagine, but you're afraid of what she has to say, so you haven't bothered to ask her about that, have you?" Her question is punctuated by the sharpness of her sob. She pushes against the door and steps out into the empty hallway.

Her mind is glaringly blank with exhaustion, but she can't let herself mentally collapse. It isn't over.

Her father catches her arm in his hand and pulls her back toward him. His face is paler than moments ago, his expression is pure anguish.
"What happened, Leen?" He asks desperately.

She shakes her head because it isn't her place. It never will be, but he has to know. She squeezes her father's hand with her fingers.

"You're going to have to ask your partner."