“Achilla, you look great,” Sam said as Achilla turned around in front of a mirror in her maroon dress and matching heels. “Perfect really.”
“You’re just saying that to get me in a dress,” Achilla replied. “You know I hate wearing this shi-I mean stuff. I’m only doing this because I’m graduating, and even then I’m only doing it because I know you’ll be there.”
“That’s a good enough reason for me,” Sam laughed. Achilla sucked her teeth as she turned her back to the mirror and checked her rear-end. The dress was long enough, but it felt as tight as saran wrap. Sam told her that it suited her figure without revealing too much. Achilla had no clue what the hell that was supposed to mean, but she didn’t like it. She hated wearing dresses. She liked manicures even less, which was next on their agenda. Still, she suffered through it. Achilla hadn’t seen her family in two years, and most likely wouldn’t see them again. If spending time with her mother meant getting all prissy for a day, then so be it.
“Fine, I’ll take it,” Achilla grumbled as she stomped off to the dressing room down the hall. Sam followed her and they closed the door. As Achilla sat on the bench and yanked off her new shoes, Sam giggled and shook her head. She knew why her mother was laughing. Ever since she moved into their house, Achilla made the simplest feminine tasks difficult, and it was a battle that Sam always lost. This time, she won. A graduation was too important to not dress up, even for Achilla. So she was wearing a dress, getting her nails done, the works, and Sam made sure to be there every step of the way. She said she was helping her, but Achilla felt like it was her chance to finally get what she wanted. Oh well. After all she had done for her, Sam deserved it. Let her gloat. Achilla shrugged as she stood up and tried to pull her dress over her head until Sam jerked it back down.
“Achilla, you have a zipper!” Sam hissed. “Girl, you are going to rip this thing before we pay for it!”
“Oh,” Achilla laughed as Sam inspected the dress. “Sorry.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” Sam sighed as she unzipped the back of the dress and helped Achilla out of it. “You’ve always been more of a daddy’s girl, but you know, there is some value in learning how to be a woman.”
“I am a woman,” Achilla snorted as she pointed at her bra. “As you can see, my boobs are bigger than yours.”
“It’s not a competition, honey,” Sam replied, but Achilla wasn’t buying it. She knew how girls at school looked at her with envy. It usually happened when the boys checked her out. Everywhere Achilla went, she had admirers, and it wasn’t because of her skills on the basketball court. She was fine, and it was about damn time she realized it. Why not brag a little?
“Everything is a competition,” Achilla said with a grin. “And I always win.”
“Except at wearing a dress and heels,” Sam snapped with a stomp of her foot. “I haven’t seen you win at that yet.”
Achilla glared at Sam before turning her back and picking up her jeans. Sam always had a way of proving her wrong that she found irritating. Something about her old school logic always stumped Achilla in ways that college level courses never could. So she decided to take the loss on this one. Today was not the day to argue.
“Whatever,” Achilla muttered as she danced her way into her pants. “Like I said, I’m only doing this for you.”
“And I appreciate that,” Sam said as she patted Achilla’s shoulder. “Let’s hurry. Your father and brother are waiting.”
Achilla could feel every cell in her body breathe easier through her jeans and white cotton t-shirt as she shoved a green and black Boston Celtics fitted cap over her head. Unlike the massive number of Knicks fans in Bridgeport and Stratford, Hartford heads were die-hard Celtics fans. A Celtics fitted was not only easy to find but a wardrobe requirement for those off-campus parties (a.k.a surveillance practice for Agent Jones). Sam clucked at Achilla as she passed her out of the changing room.
“You and those hats,” said Sam. “If I had my way, you wouldn’t have been allowed to wear them, but your father-”
“Lets me be me?” Achilla quipped. “Stinks doesn’t it?”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Sam replied. “It’s just that you kids wear things that don’t make any sense. Girls wearing baseball caps. Boys wearing dresses. Just look at Samuel!”
“Samuel’s not wearing a dress, Mom,” Achilla laughed. “It’s a tall tee, and I don’t like them either, but they’re in style.”
Achilla and Sam strolled in the lobby and saw Samuel pacing around in a sky blue tall-tee that stretched down to his thighs, a matching headband, and jeans with white sneakers. Brendan sat in a chair to his left wearing a red polo(one that actually fit) and khaki shorts with boat shoes. They couldn’t dress any more different, but when Achilla waved Samuel down, they both gave her the same frown. Achilla knew the question that came next.
“Baby, how did you survive?” Brendan asked Sam before kissing and hugging her.
“Dad, I’m not that bad,” Achilla groaned. “Is it really that big of a deal?”
“Listen, it takes a lot of courage to get you in a dress,” Brendan replied. “Fortunately, I married such a brave woman.”
Achilla watched Sam smile and look at her feet. Every time she saw them together, they had nothing but good things to say about each other, but if complimenting was a competition, Brendan would be the victor. Sam kissed Brendan on the cheek and held him around the waist as Achilla walked toward Samuel with her hands on her hips. She pulled at his t-shirt and he smacked her hand away.
“Achilla, leave it alone,” Samuel snapped. “I already told you it’s the style.”
“I believe you,” Achilla replied. “But it’s still hilarious. Mom called it a dress.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I wouldn’t call it that though.”
“You wouldn’t?” Samuel asked. “What would you call it then?”
“A nightie,” Achilla said with a sly grin as she squeezed Samuel’s shoulder. “All you need are some blue grandma slippers and your outfit’s complete.”
“Yeah, real funny,” Samuel sneered.
“All right, kids,” Brendan called as he and Sam walked by hand-in-hand. “Time to grab some food.”
The Johnsons found a restaurant near the Capitol Building, ordered to go, and ate their food in Bushnell Park. As they sat on their black and white polka-dotted park blanket, Achilla patted her full stomach and took in the sun’s warmth against her skin. Today couldn’t go any better. She finished high school, Agent Jones hadn’t contacted her with any assignments lately, and her family came up to visit. Best of all, they were all intact just like the CIA promised. Whether she couldn’t, or chose not to, Ailina hadn’t harmed any of them. A smile grew on Achilla’s lips as she looked out into the fresh-cut green grass and the Capitol Building that loomed over the trees. She then craned her neck to look at her father behind her and followed his gaze. He was looking at the building just like her.
“Have you considered working there?” Achilla asked as she pointed at the Capitol Building.
“Not for the time being,” Brendan replied before looking at Sam and then Samuel.
“Oh,” Achilla said as she nodded her head. “I see. Fair enough.”
“Wait, are we the reason?” Samuel asked. “You’re not running because of us?”
“That’s right, son,” Brendan said as he kissed his wife’s hand. “It’s a decision we made after we had you.”
“Why?” Samuel demanded. “You’re already busy, and we do ok.”
“Samuel, you don’t understand,” Sam said with a raised hand. “Your father knows the political environment. So do I. We decided that if he were to ever run for anything, it would be after you’re all grown up and out of the house. The damage politics can do to a family…it’s too much.”
“Especially in Bridgeport,” Brendan added. “And that’s the first place I’ll run for anything.”
“You don’t have to run in Bridgeport,” Samuel grumbled. “You could run somewhere else.”
“Bridgeport’s my hometown, son,” Brendan replied. “If I want to make a difference anywhere, it has to be there.”
“I don’t get it,” Samuel said. “I mean, other politicians have kids in high school. I don’t see why you can’t do it too.”
“Samuel,” Sam sighed before waiving her hand. “You know what, you’ll get it when you’re older and-”
“Of course you don’t get it,” Achilla snapped. “All you’re focusing on is the status it would bring; not the fact that our father has other priorities that he values more than a luxurious career; like you, for example. You want your dad to be the mayor so bad that you keep arguing, even though our parents just gave you a more than legitimate reason for them to wait.”
“Achilla, that’s enough,” Brendan said with a steady tone. “Give him a break. He hasn’t learned yet.”
“Are you even aware of how politics affect us now?” Achilla continued as she turned and stared Samuel down. “Remember Stanley? His connections let him walk away without so much as a fucking charge!”
Brendan and Sam hung their heads. Achilla was sure that they hadn’t told Samuel about that. Samuel flinched at the news and looked away, but Achilla wasn’t done. She couldn’t finish. Not yet.
“Or how about your absentee grandfather, huh?” Achilla continued. “You know, the one who never visits because he can’t be seen hanging around a defense attorney too much? When’s the last time he sent you a birthday card?”
“Achilla!” Sam gasped before turning to Samuel. “I’m sorry, Samuel, she shouldn’t have said-”
“No, let him hear it all,” Achilla said. “Let him hear what makes politics so great, and then let’s see him keep pressuring our father to just jump in there and put his family through more shit!”
“Achilla, stop!” Brendan barked. “You’ve made your point. He didn’t know what he was saying. What more do you want from him?”
Achilla gathered herself long enough to read the expression on Samuel’s face as he looked down at the blanket. His eyes stared at the ground as he gripped the blanket with one hand and wiped his pants with the other. Achilla caught her breath and open her mouth, but nothing else came. Brendan was right. She made her point and perhaps a little too well. Sam didn’t say so much. She just glared at her as she rubbed Samuel’s shoulders.
“I’m sorry she said that to you,” Sam said to Samuel while staring at Achilla. “Your grandfather loves all of us. He’s just busy, as you know. Achilla, I believe you have something to say to your brother.”
“I’m sorry,” Achilla said as she choked back her tears. “Sorry I even brought it up.”
“I mean,” Samuel trailed off before speaking again. “I mean, it’s straight. It’s cool.”
“No it’s not,” Achilla replied while standing up. “This is our first time together in years, and I just ruined it with my temper. I’m sorry, everybody.”
“Achilla, where are you going?” Brendan asked as she turned her back and walked deeper into the park. She walked for a good ten minutes before she let her father catch up with her. She turned her face away from him and crossed her arms, but he stayed by her side as they walked across the grass. Achilla stopped when she realized he wasn’t going away.
“Why do you keep following me?” Achilla growled as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Because I’m your father,” Brendan replied.
“What kind of reason is that?” Achilla asked while wiping her eyes.
“It’s all the reason I need,” Brendan said before holding Achilla by her arms. “Achilla, what was that about back there? Talk to me.”
“You know as well as I do,” Achilla said before looking around the park and lowering her voice. “You know as well as I do that you have what it takes to be a governor if you wanted, but as long as we stay here it won’t happen.”
“What do you mean?” Brendan asked with a frown. “I didn’t say I’d never run. We’ll just have to wait a little that’s all.”
“It’ll all come out,” Achilla replied, pointing at herself. “I came from somewhere, and it certainly isn’t the Price side of the family.”
“Oh,” Brendan sighed. “Right. Well, Chief Price assured us that he would keep our secret.”
“Yeah, until it benefits him to turn on you,” Achilla snorted. “And what about witnesses? They’ll only remain anonymous until somebody pays them enough to talk.”
“You’ve thought this through,” Brendan said with his arms crossed.
“Of course I have!” Achilla hissed. “Samuel’s not the reason you can’t run and neither is Mom. I’m the reason, and I’m a damn good one. The second I was born, out of wedlock, from a psychopath for a mother, I stifled your career.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame yourself, Achilla,” Brendan replied. “Or to believe that your very existence is somehow holding me hostage. I will consider my political career when both of my kids are grown. That’s it, and I don’t want you to think that you’re anything less than a blessing to us. ”
“Politics isn’t fair,” Achilla said. “Nothing in government is fair as we’ve seen already. You say I’m a blessing now, but wait until your opponent jumps on the fact that I’m Ailina’s kid; that you’re a defense attorney who managed to have a baby with a corrupt cop, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. God forbid they know the full truth about me and her. It’s political suicide, and it might ruin your legal career to even run.”
“You’ve thought this through a little too well,” Brendan replied. “You sound about as cynical as a seasoned attorney. Where did you learn to think like this?”
“You said yourself that I was a genius,” Achilla replied with a cocked eyebrow. “Why are you surprised?”
“Geniuses only know what they can learn,” Brendan said. “I’ve cross-examined my fair share, Achilla. You’ll have to answer my question better than that.”
“Ok, I’ve learned a lot about government affairs lately,” Achilla snapped. “So what? I’m going to need it.”
“And why is that?” Brendan asked. “Do you plan on running for office too?”
“No, I’m…I’m enlisting in the Marines,” Achilla said as she looked out into the park. “With my capabilities, I’ll most likely end up in the Middle East pretty soon. It would behoove me to stay abreast of where our president decides to send our military forces, among other things.”
Brendan inhaled like he had just stubbed his toe before turning his back and crossing his fingers behind his head. Achilla stepped back and lowered her chin like she was expecting a punch. Brendan spat out a curse word before whirling around and glaring at her. Achilla raised her chin and stared back. This was the hard part, but she could do it.
“When did you plan on springing this on us, Achilla?” Brendan demanded with his arms wide.
“Today,” Achilla replied.
“You could go anywhere in the country,” Brendan yelled. “Anywhere! Big schools. Small schools. Ivy League! But you want to go to war? What are you thinking?”
“More school is the last thing I need, Dad,” Achilla replied while looking Brendan in the eye. “I like to fight. I fight well. Why not defend my country?”
“If you enlist now you won’t be defending your country,” said Brendan with a curled lip. “You’ll be fetching oil for a private corporation! You’re too smart to not know that!”
“Temporarily perhaps,” Achilla sighed. “But there are real threats to our country, and I want to be the first one there to fight. Besides, we will have a new president eventually, and I get the feeling it’s Obama out of Illinois-”
“So after that speech you just gave your brother, you’re going to throw your life away?” Brendan said with his arms crossed as he shook his head. “Because you like to fight? I don’t believe this!”
“That’s not exactly a fair way of putting it,” Achilla said as she kept her voice level. “The Marines has plenty of career opportunities, and I can always transfer into civilian life, but yes, I want to fight. It’s what I’m best at; might as well bust some heads.”
“I’m taking Sam and Samuel home,” Brendan replied.
“You’re leaving?” Achilla muttered. “Mom and I had a manicure planned-”
“Work that out with your mother later,” Brendan cut her off and turned his back. “Her school year ended. She can find time this week, I’m sure of it.”
“So you’re just going to abandon me?” Achilla asked with a quiver in her voice. “Because you don’t agree with my decision, you’re just walking away? Fine, go. Have fun.”
“I’ll be back for your graduation,” Brendan stated. “I’m angry, but you’re still my daughter. I never bail on my kids when they need me.”
“Right,” Achilla snorted with a shrug as she looked away. “A man has to keep his obligations, I get it. Not a good look for a man skip out on his daughter’s graduation.”
“Now you listen to me,” Brendan whirled around with blood shot eyes as he marched toward Achilla. “After all we’ve been through for you, after we’ve risked our lives for you, you have no right to doubt how much we love you. You have no fucking right! Do you hear me? No right! Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, Achilla. Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?”
Achilla stared at her feet to avoid his glare. He was right of course. If there was anything about her father that she couldn’t question, it was his love for his kids. Still, Achilla questioned it anyway after he took her in, raised her, and fed her. Brendan breathed so hard his chest pumped up and down before he raised his hands like he was backing down from a fight.
“Like I said, we will be back for your graduation,” Brendan said with a level voice. “But right now, I will leave before I say something I’ll regret later.”
“So you are leaving?” Achilla asked with pleading eyes. “Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that,” Brendan snapped. “Because you know what? Right about now, you sound just like her, and I just can’t…I can’t even look at you right now.”
Just like her. Brendan didn’t often compare Achilla to Ailina. When he did, Achilla’s stomach lurched. She blinked back tears as Brendan stormed off, and she watched his back as he marched across the field back to Sam and Samuel. After frowning at Brendan’s harsh gestures, the Johnsons gathered their things and followed him out of the park. Samuel walked behind his parents with his head low, but he peeked up and looked in Achilla’s direction before waving at her. Achilla let out a small whimper as she waved back. When they left the park, Achilla wiped her eyes until she heard footsteps behind her. She didn’t bother turning around to address her audience.
“It’s done,” Achilla said. “I did what you asked. I caused a scene, led him over here, fed him the story. I manipulated my own family just like you wanted.”
“I’m sorry, Achilla,” Agent Jones replied from ten feet away. “They can’t know about your whereabouts anymore. It’s for their benefit as well as yours, and I commend your resolve in -”
“Just shut the fuck up and leave me alone!” Achilla growled. “Now! Before I really get upset! You’ve already taught me my best attack range, and you’re well within it!”
“Got it,” Agent Jones said as Achilla heard him walk away. “I’ll give you all the space you need. We resume your training after graduation.”
Achilla ambled toward a statue to her left and slumped down to her knees. She then covered her face in her hands and coughed as the sobs in her throat forced their way out into the summer afternoon air. This would be the first of many lies she would have to tell her family. She would lie about her whereabouts, her activities, even her sleeping habits. Lying was the skill with which she needed the most practice. As a full-fledged CIA field agent, she would have to use it more than ever with no exceptions.
Not even the people who would never lie to her.
Did you enjoy that? Wait until you read Angel of War on September 12th! In the meantime, the final episode of the Nephilim Mini Series posts next week.
Politic well, my friends.