By the time she reached home, Kaiya Armstrong felt horrible. Her gut was in knots and her heart raced. The sickening feeling was not completely unfamiliar to the eleven year old, but she disliked it all the same. The feeling had a name, her father had told her once. It was called guilt.
The guilt had set in almost instantly. Like some kind of unwelcome uncle, it barged in and made itself right at home. Deaf to protest, Uncle Guilt helped himself to all the food he could carry, kicked up his dirty shoes onto the coffee table, and smoked smelly cigars while he watched TV all day. To make things worse, Kaiya knew her “uncle’s” visit was her own doing. Her actions had invited him in.
Kaiya had tried to enjoy the movie, but rude, obnoxious Uncle Guilt had ruined any chance of that, which, on top of everything else, made her angry. She had been aching to see Pirates of the Caribbean since she had seen the trailer. That Johnny Depp was just too yummy for words. Yet, not even his dark eyes could fend off the incessant waves of remorse that crashed against her.
On the other hand, Lena, her best friend, had had a great time. She laughed, hooted and cooed at all the right moments, nudging Kaiya when the dashing hero did something especially daring or alluring. For Lena, the whole afternoon had been a terrific lark.
And why not? Kaiya thought. After all, what had it cost Lena? Not a thing, even though the whole thing had been her idea. Kaiya had provided the money for tickets, drinks and candy. Furthermore, as they walked around the mall afterwards, Lena was eager to spend the money Kaiya had brought until it was gone. Lena had a free ride all afternoon. Naturally, she thought it had been a blast.
Kaiya, on the other hand, had paid dearly for it. As the door closed behind her and she headed into the kitchen, Kaiya realized Uncle Guilt would make her pay for her afternoon for quite some time.
“Hey there, Angel,” her father said as he caught sight of her. Though Kaiya was tall for her age, David Armstrong, at six feet, stood head and shoulders over his only child. He ran every morning to keep fit and kept his salt and pepper hair neatly trimmed. The aroma of the seasoned ground beef sizzling on the stove permeated the kitchen.
Kaiya’s father stood at the counter chopping tomatoes wearing his favorite apron. It declared, in large yellow letters, World’s Greatest Dad. The apron had been Kaiya’s Father’s Day gift to him last year. “How do tacos sound for dinner?”
Trying to hide her guilt-induced pain with a forced smile, Kaiya said, “Sounds good.” Seeing her father did not help her guilt trip. She had hoped he would still be outside doing yard work, where he had been when she left several hours ago. Then, she could have snuck upstairs and avoided this painful moment. It had been too much to hope for.
Kaiya and her father had been living by themselves since her mother died when Kaiya was three. Her mother had gotten ill. Cancer, her father had explained on one occasion, in her lymph nodes or something.
“I’m shooting for…” her father looked at the clock on the microwave oven. “Fifteen minutes or so. Okay?”
“Sure, Dad. I’ll go get ready.”
“Okie doke.” He crouched down and presented his cheek. On queue, Kaiya gave him the expected peck, which brought a grin to his face. She turned from her father, left the kitchen and headed upstairs. Each step seemed a chore, as if all her strength had evaporated. As she passed her father’s open bedroom door, the memory of her crime, only hours old, returned unbidden.
The house had been quiet then, unusually so, she recalled. Her father’s bedroom door had been open then, too. Beside the bed stood her father’s night table and, upon it, was his wallet. As she had entered the room, her eyes fixed on the black leather lump. She knew that what she was doing was wrong. There was no denying that, but she stepped ever closer to the night table anyway.
Kaiya had asked for the money to go see the movie, but when her father had refused, her friend, Lena, talked her into “Plan B.” In her head, Lena’s voice urged her on. “He’ll never know. We’ll return it before he even checks.” Lena had assured her that they could replace the ticket money after they got home, but she had not explained how they would do that. “You’re not stealing it. You’re borrowing.”
She had been torn between doing without something she wanted and doing something she knew was wrong. In the end, Kaiya had let herself be convinced that there would be no harm done. Her hands trembled as she unfolded the wallet, parted it open and grabbed a few bills.
She placed the wallet back on the night table and ran from the room, down the stairs and out the front door. Lena waited on her bike at the end of the driveway. “Did you get it?”
Kaiya nodded and opened her fist to reveal the crumpled bills.
Lena counted them. “Wow!” she said. “That’s more than seventy dollars.”
“What?” Kaiya counted the money as Lena fanned out the bills. Two twenties, three tens, three ones. Seventy-three dollars. Her heart stopped for a moment as Uncle Guilt barged in the front door. “I have to take it back,” she said, trembling.
Lena seemed not to hear her. “We are going to have some fun, today!” Lena folded the bills and slipped them into the front pocket of her jeans and rode off. “Let’s go.” Kaiya had no choice but to follow on her own bike.
Standing outside her father’s room, seventy-three dollars later, Kaiya sobbed. As the tears at first burned and then froze on her cheeks, she wondered how she would get the money back, what her father would say, and what he would do to her when he found out. Yet, most of all, she wondered how she could ever look at him again.
She ran to her room, closed the door, and fell onto the bed. Burying her face into a pillow, Kaiya bawled.
14/Apr/2006 – Story: Kaiya, part one 12 comments