“It was a dark and stormy night-“
“No it’s not.”
I suppressed a sigh. “No sweetie, in the story.”
Hannah looked out the window and turned to me sternly. “Lying is wrong Daddy.”
“No Hannah-belle, telling a story isn’t lying, it’s…” Silence. “Uhm, it’s making up a story…”
When I was young I had thought it would be difficult to raise a child of average intelligence, but now, arguing with and being outsmarted by my three year old, I wondered. How was I going to explain fiction for the purpose of entertainment?
“You know, when I read you bedtime stories? Those aren’t true stories-“
“What?!” Shock and outrage.
“Baby, those are just made up tales about happy, faraway lands and-“
“You lied to me?!” It appeared the shock and outrage would continue. If only I hadn’t been muttering to myself as I typed. If only Rachel were still alive to help tame our offspring. Rachel had always been the voice of reason to my dreamer tendencies.
“I’m sorry sweetie. Lots of people like to… peek into other people’s imaginations when their own imaginations get tired.”
Hannah pondered this. She sucked on the strap of her jumper, which she’d undone again, before finally saying, “Like if I let other people talk to Mr. Bears? And be friends with him?”
Of course my genius toddler could put my thoughts into words better than I. “Yes, very much like that.”
“I have to think about this Daddy. I’ll get back to you.” She walked out. Great, have your people call my people, maybe we can have teatime with Mr. Bears and philosophize.
I turned back to the computer and stared at it. Heaving another melodramatic sigh, I erased the intro. It was too cliché and my life was anything but. Rachel’s picture smiled at me just above the right corner of the monitor. “Rach… Rach… what am I doing?”
“Daddy…” Hannah reappeared sounding worried and I snapped back to reality. “Daddy there’s someone at the door.” And the doorbell rang.
Mildly perturbed by Hannah’s premonition, maybe she had just seen him walk up, I set her on the couch in my office and instructed, “Daddy will be right back. Don’t move.” Hannah gave me the annoyed look she used anytime I referred to myself in the third person but gave me a short, curt nod in assent.
I closed the door behind me before hurrying down the stairs to the front door. I didn’t think to look through the window before I found myself staring at an impeccably dressed man in his mid-thirties. Perfectly sculpted blonde hair, sunglasses, a tux, and bodyguards rendered the whole moment beyond surreal and I failed to speak.
“Mr. Lancomb?” The blond man spoke crisply, with such a pronounced lack of accent it was startling.
“It will not do to play games with me Mr. Lancomb. Won’t you invite us in?”
“I’m sorry, and you are…?”
“You need money, Mr. Lancomb. You’re a decent writer, but you aren’t making enough to fully support your beautiful daughter.” He paused for dramatic effect, and it worked. “Are you?”
“Won’t you come in?” I don’t know what overtook me, but within moments they were seated around my dining room table sipping ice water with lemon. Rachel would have been proud – of the lemon, not the strangers sitting in our house.
“Mr. Lancomb,” the blonde man had removed his sunglasses to reveal eyes that seemed falsely blue. “I am Mr. Powers. An amusing name to be certain, but do not let humour detract from the gravity of this situation.”
“That’s not your real name anyway.” We all whirled around to see Hannah, lips pursed, staring down the man in the tuxedo. She held Mr. Bears in both arms, and even he looked defiant.
“You are correct small one. My great-great grandfather changed it when he immigrated.”
“He came to America from another country.” Hannah debated this briefly before climbing onto a chair at the table.
“I told you not to move,” I reproached her. She looked at me steadily and said nothing until I felt foolish losing the argument to a toddler.
“Mr. Lancomb, I need you to deliver something for me.”
“Actually it’s someone. I need you to ensure the safe travels of my niece across the country.”
“That’s- I- what?”
“Is she nice?” Hannah was clearly less bothered by this than I.
“I like to think so.” Mr. Powers nodded to one of his bodyguards, who stood and exited. He returned momentarily with a young girl around 13 who held her arms and hummed softly. “Olivia, please sit.”
“Six chairs. I-s-x a-c-h-i-r-s. Six people. I-s-x e-e-l-o-p-p.” Olivia sat.
“Olivia enjoys putting the letters of her words in order.” Mr. Powers smiled.
“A-i-i-l-o-v. My name is Aiilov.” She pronounced it like I love.
“Olivia is autistic and like many autistics, she is brilliant. Unlike most autistics, she is also connected to important people and therein a target. I would like you, Mr. Lancomb, to help me transport her across the country to Stanford where I am assured her safety.”
“Mr. Lancomb, I will give you 1.5 million dollars as well as setting up a trust for Hannah’s college education should you carry out this task and not ask questions.”
“Daddy, that’s 5 zeroes and 7 figures.”
“I know that Hannah.”
“Daddy…” Hannah stood on her chair and put her hands on my shoulders so she could look my directly in the eyes. “What would Mommy say?”
And then, in front of the three powerful men, in front of the genius autistic, in front of my own daughter, I started crying.
Hannah put Mr. Bears on my lap and wiped my eyes with her chubby hands. “Mommy helped everyone.” It was true. Rachel wouldn’t even have cared about the money. If she really thought someone was in need, she just helped them. She had been an absolute saint during her time and who was I to deny Olivia the right to safety.
“An excellent decision Mr. Lancomb.”
“A-b-c … l-m-n-o. I like his name.” Olivia seemed genuinely thrilled by the realization of the consonant clusters. As usual though, she spoke only to her uncle.
Mr. Powers rose, and his goonies stood with him. “I will send you an electronic itinerary and some notes by e-mail this evening. Olivia will arrive promptly at 0800 Friday morning along with her belongings, money for the trip, and anything else I deem necessary.”
“Define itin- itinerary.” I should never have taught Hannah the word define.
“It’s a schedule Hannah-belle.” And turning to Mr. Powers, “That’s two days from now.”
“Very good Mr. Lancomb.”
As I stood silently, shocked, the party made their way to the door. Mr. Powers stood aside to allow the bodyguards to escort Olivia first, but she turned and looked directly at Hannah. “I hope you’ll tell me what Mr. Bears said when I came in. I think we three shall be friends.” Then she turned around and walked out.
Mr. Powers looked at Hannah peculiarly. “Olivia speaks only to me. She has addressed no one else, not even her parents, since she was born.” He stared harder at Hannah.
“Mr. Bears is an excellent judge of people,” Hannah replied simply, as though that explained everything.
“I have chosen well and I am pleased you have agreed to this, Mr. Lancomb.” And then the door was closed.
I looked at Hannah, at Mr. Bears, at the closed door, and back to Hannah.
“Daddy, we need to pack,” she said before I could utter a word. With that, we went upstairs to pack.