Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
Sadness filled her eyes, but she didn’t remain silent. “I know you’re frustrated, but he’s scared.”
“I know that!” My voice rose to a sound just under a yell and I felt tears prick my eyes. “You don’t think I know that?”
I watched my mother stand to face me. “Be patient with him, Hadley. He’s only trying to protect you.”
“Mom...” my voice broke. “I lost him too.”
“I know.” She blinked through tears. “But he can’t lose you, Hadley. He wouldn’t survive.”
“He’s pushing me away.” I whispered and her face locked up tight.
I didn’t speak another word as I moved back into the house that only last week had been filled with loving laughter and easy bantering. Now, tension crackled thickly in the air, threatening to strike like damning lightning.
I understand my father’s fear. Really, I do, but I can’t set myself up for a life of utter disappointment because he’s afraid I might die like my brother.
I just can’t
. What was once a great relationship between my father and I has become tense. We can hardly stand in the same room for longer than three minutes without walking away screaming. Dinner has become painful, so painful, I’ve taken to skipping it altogether.
My father is a powerful man. I think, that if he could blame someone for my brothers death, that this would be different - but there’s only one person to blame. And he’s gone. Michael is the only one to blame for his absence in our lives. I know this deep in my soul. No one forced Mike to try the MDMA or ecstasy - whatever you want to call it. No one made him take the drug. It was offered, and Mike made a choice. He made the wrong choice and he died because of it. His repercussion wasn’t a lifetime of addiction or a slap on the wrist or even a sentence in prison.
Instead, he was sentenced to death.
It breaks my heart to know that only my brother is to blame, because his light is one this world will feel an absence of for years to come. But I also know, that although the blame has died with Mike, my father wears its weight. My father encouraged us to live our lives while we were young. He encouraged us to meet people, to party, but to party safe. We were told to never drink and drive and on more than one occasion, Mike had called Dad to pick him up from a party. He’d always made the responsible choice before, so what possessed him to try something so terrifyingly damning, I’ll never know.
Dad thinks it was his encouragement to live and experience that killed Michael. He’s wrong. I know this - Mom knows this - but Dad doesn’t see it that way. He’s heartbroken and he needs someone to blame. So, he blames himself.
Dad regrets his interaction with Michael and he’s vowed to never allow me to walk the same path. Not that I would ever walk that path anyway. Never before have I been interested in drugs. Actually, they’ve always scared me - and now, with the loss of my brother, they
Reaching out to place my hand on the knob of Dad’s office door, I swallowed determinedly, trying to keep my heart from lodging itself in my throat. I didn’t want to fight with Dad anymore. I just didn’t have the strength - but I also didn’t have the strength to commit to four to six years in University. The idea was like a prison sentence. And I simply didn’t have the willpower to force myself to serve such a sentence.
As I opened the door to walk into his space, I held my breath. Dad had an open door policy for his office. We’d never had to knock. We didn’t come barging in screaming at the top of our lungs in case he was on the phone, but we didn’t need to knock and wait for his allowance.
My eyes settled on my father as soon as I stepped into his office. He was sitting at his desk with his laptop open and he was staring at the screen. His eyes flickered to me and there was such a deep-rooted sadness in their depths, I felt my heart clench in my chest. A small rush of breath toppled from between my lips and I moved, on weak knees, to lower myself into the chair in front of his desk.
“You wanted to see me?” I asked in hushed tones.
He nodded, settling back in his chair. “I can’t persuade you to attend University?”
“Um...” I frowned, before shaking my head tiredly but firmly. “No.”
His jaw tightened. “Alright then, Hadley, I’ve arranged for your inheritance to be frozen until further notice.” I stiffened in my chair. “You’ll no longer receive your money when you turn twenty-one.”
“Then I’ll move out and get a job, Dad.”
“No, you won’t.” He shook his head before he pushed his laptop across his desk and I squinted at the screen. “I’ve arranged for you to spend the next six months at this Ranch.”
I whisper-breathed the words I read on the screen. “The Donnelley Wild Land Tours?” I glanced up at my father and wondered, for a moment, if he’d lost his mind. “What are you talking about?”
“This Ranch is located in the Alberta Rockies. Your flight leaves in two days. You will remain at the Ranch until December fifteenth when you will come home for Christmas.” I didn’t speak. I just stared at my father in horror as he continued speaking. “There are plenty of activities within the Ranch you will be able to participate in. They have horse back riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting and...”
“Dad.” My voice trembled and he stopped talking. I dropped my face into my hands as I spoke tensely. “I’m twenty years old. You can’t just ship me off to live in the wilderness!”
“Hadley.” There was an utter desperation in his voice that begged for my eyes to lift to meet his. And when I did, my heart stopped. No matter the fact that I wanted to shake him silly, I couldn’t do anything more than watch him. He looked old. His blue eyes were dim, almost gray and the lines I used to see as laugh lines looked more like stress lines.
I had never seen my strong, happy father, look so desperate. I’d never seen him look so broken. I’d never known his spirit to appear so limp and tired and frightened. Worry fringed his expression as he begged me with his eyes to understand.
He began speaking again. “I know you’re angry and I know you’re hurting, Hadley.” Tears misted in his eyes and I wanted to fall to my knees and beg for the strength I’d always known my father to possess to come back to him, but I couldn’t move. “Your stay for the next six months has already been paid for. You’ll have your own cabin and I’ll provide you with the money you’ll need for food and supplies and activities. Please, Hadley, I need for you to experience life differently than...” Michael’s name lodged in his throat and my heart seized in pain. “I need you to know something other than the city and the people living in the city. It’s only six months. In six months you’ll know an entirely different way of life.”
He was starting to ramble and I couldn’t take it any longer, so I said. “Okay.”
His eyes connected with mine. “Okay?”
“I’ll go.” I whispered, hating the sadness I felt climbing up my throat. “I’ll go, Dad.”
In two days, I’d be on a plane to God only knows where.
My flight had landed and true to his word, my father had arranged everything. And I mean,
. There was a man from a BMW dealership in Calgary who’d met me at the airport with my brand new BMW X5. It was silver and pretty. I liked it - mainly because it was the exact vehicle I had driven at home in Toronto, and it was a little piece of familiarity in a place where there was none.
The man had assured me that the GPS had been programed with the Ranch’s address and all I had to do was follow the directions. All the while, he had placed my suitcases into the back of the car for me.
Now, that was service.
Not only had they delivered my new car to the airport, but they’d also programmed my GPS and loaded my suitcases into the hatch. I wondered how pretty a penny my father had paid for this kind of service. Knowing Dad, he’d made it a condition of his buying the car.
Now, I was on the road. I’d been on the road for what felt like hours and I wondered how much longer I would have to drive over the gravel road I’d found myself on after turning at the sign that read ‘The Donnelley’s - Wild Land Tours’.
In all honesty, I was confused and frustrated and even a little angry. My brother had died and as though my life hadn’t changed enough, my father had shipped me to Alberta - and even worse - to the wilderness. I had lived my entire life in the city. I knew Toronto like I knew the back of my hand. In the busy streets and exhaust filled air, I was comfortable. I knew people in Toronto. I didn’t know Alberta, and I certainly had never spent more than a day of fun in the wilderness. How in the world was I going to spend the next six months here? Who would I talk to? Would I even make friends? Surely no one stayed at this Wild Land Ranch for as long as my father had booked me to stay.
Maybe that was his objective all along. Maybe he wanted to make it impossible for me to make friends - because that way there would be no one around to offer me drugs. Who the hell knew?
The longer I drove, the more angry I became. My Dad obviously didn’t trust me and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find it in myself to be angry with Mike for everything he’d changed when he died.
A week ago, I’d known where my life was going to go. I would be given my inheritance at twenty-one - the same time Michael had been given his - and I would purchase a small building that I could put some equipment in. I would own my very own gym, that one day, I would make into a worldwide franchise. Yes, I dreamed big - but at least I had a dream. I had a destination. I’d wanted for something. That was good. I’d always thought people who knew where they were going didn’t often get lost so tragically, but although Mike didn’t know what he wanted to be necessarily, he’d known who he wanted to be. Dead from an overdose on MDMA wasn’t it.
Now, I didn’t even know what my next five minutes would entail. If I was judging by the last two and a half hours, I’d guess driving, but I still didn’t
The road curved and I felt tears prick my eyes as I slowed the pace of my car to movement that resembled more of a crawl than actual movement.
I’d made it.
The Donnelley’s Wild Land Tours site was actually quite beautiful. In the afternoon glow of the late May sun, the wooden cabins and communal hall glimmered almost gold. Gravel roads wound through bright, manicured green grass, and it seemed that nearly every bend in the road, corner, and cabin doorstep was decorated with massive, heavy looking rustic barrels of new flowers and vines. I knew that in only a matter of time, they would be spilling over the sides. The mountains practically surrounded this little retreat where old and new thrived to exist together. I couldn’t help the squeezing of my heart, as I thought about my brother, and how he would have loved this place.
Unlike me, Michael was always for the extreme sports. I’d never done anything much outside of a gym - it was where I was comfortable - working the machinery and knowing which weight machine worked which muscle.
I was fit, but I wasn’t overly so. I didn’t have bulging muscles that made my body more masculine than feminine, but I also didn’t strive for that. If I was anything, I was a runner. But I liked to eat - a lot - so my joy of running did more for balancing my body than working it into muscled mass.
Parking my car in front of the main house with the little sign-in office attached, I pulled my visor down to peek into the mirror. I was checking my deep blue eyes for the residue of tears. Unlike Mom and Mike, I had Dad’s eyes. They were a deep dark blue framed in thick, long, (luckily) dark lashes. I had tan skin that had a natural glow about it I loved and long, wavy, honey blond hair that reached down to the small of my waist.
As I studied myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but think of Mike. We’d looked alike - well, as much as a brother and sister can look alike. We’d both had high cheekbones, although mine were slightly more rounded. My lips were fuller than Mike’s had been and apart from my eyes, my lips were my Mom’s favorite feature. She always said I had Jolie lips. I had to be the voice of reason and claim, three-quarter Jolie lips. Where my brother and I had differed was in our height - somehow, I drew the short stick when picking genes, because unlike the rest of my family who was five-foot-seven or taller, I was only five-foot-three. But I was portioned just right with a tiny waist that added a hell of a nice appearance to my curves. I had an ass to turn heads (thanks to my running) and a chest I was proud of.
It was safe to say that I liked my body. I’d never been insecure about it - never. And I liked to empower other women to love their bodies the same way. Work with what you’ve got - and work it good.
Taking in a deep breath for courage I didn’t feel, I slapped the visor back into place and pushed open my door. I wasn’t exactly dressed for a stay at a Ranch, in my dark skinny jeans, black leather boots, white tank, and cropped black leather jacket. I knew this when a man stepped out from the sign-in shop and stiffened, a frown framing his gorgeous face. I knew it wasn’t a perma-frown because he had been quite handsome when I’d first caught sight of him exiting the shop. Now, he just looked mean and I refrained from shivering, rather working to straighten my spine. His eyes flickered to my car, and a deeper sense of displeasure appeared in his face as he glared back at me once again.
“Can I help you?” He asked loudly, gruffly, and I had to tense to keep from flinching.
This man works here?
“If you work here, I’m sure you can help me.”
He raised a brow before crossing thick - intimidatingly thick - arms over his chest. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to check in.”
His eyes did a quick once over on my body before he scowled in serious distaste. “A woman by the name of Gracie didn’t encourage you to come here, did she?”
“No.” I pinned displeased eyes on the jack-ass of an interrogator. “Are you going to show me where to sign in, or should I figure that out for myself? Either way works for me, bud.”
The man straightened once again, but this time, his lip quirked. “Aren’t you a little mouthpiece?”
I tipped my head back an inch, wishing, not for the first time, that I was as tall as everyone else in my family. Height really did a lot when you were trying to be intimidating. “Am I?”