I grew up in a large family. And I hated it!
Of the seven children my parents had, I was number four, and the ultimate middle child at that. I would throw tantrums at the mildest things, constantly stomping around the house and banging doors.
I was five years old before my parents had another child, and I remember what it felt like to be the baby of the family. As time went by, I grew to resent every new screaming, smelly baby that took the attentions away from me.
By the time Dana came along, when I was fifteen, I swore I would never have children. When Dana was six months old my father said she was old enough the go the Safe-house with us.
The Safe-house was the family vacation spot, a very isolated stone house on another continent that father had bought years ago and had slowly been fixing up. We spent at least one week a year there.
But that year I fought back. Nine people in a two-room shack with a screaming newborn? I was so not going! I begged and pleaded, screamed and shouted, until my parents finally gave in and let me stay at the hotel.
I was only there one night when I got the call from my fathers' attorney. I remember exactly how the conversation went that night; like so many of the tragic events of my life, I will never forget it.
"Hello? Miss Kasley?"
"This is Mr. Baker of Baker, Broomhall and Sons. Do you know who I am?"
I was tempted to make some witheringly sarcastic retort like, 'You just told me didn't you?' but something in his voice gave me pause. I settled on a squeaky "Yes." Instead.
"Could you please come to my offices right away? I have some rather urgent matters do discuss with you."
"With me?" I protested. "But what about my father?"
Mr. Baker sighed down the line. "I cannot reach him where he is now."
The Safe-house I thought, it doesn't even have running water, let alone a phone line. "Alright." I said aloud to Mr. Baker. "I'm on the way." I placed the phone back in it's cradle, grabbed my jacket and headed downtown.
Sitting in the office of Mr. Baker, my whole life came tumbling around my head. While I sobbed bitter tears of guilt and sorrow, the old man explained how my entire family had perished when they were caught in a storm just off the coast. They never even made it to the Safe-house. All at once I was orphaned.
That night I stayed at the hotel. In the morning I was escorted to an orphanage.
It was awful!
The other children and I were treated like the lowest level of life on the planet. We ate twice a day: lumpy cold porridge in the mornings, and lukewarm stew with a crust of old bread at bedtime. No one tried to help us feel better about ourselves. No one tried to dry our eyes if we cried. We were left to wallow in our own misery. We were like flowers without the sun; slowly withering. Our tears draining what little emotion we had left inside.
After seven months, the day before my sixteenth birthday, I'd had enough. In the dead of night, I crept out the bathroom window with nothing but the clothes I wore, and I never looked back.
Three days later I was in Timber, trying to find work. I ended up working as a sales clerk for a pittance. It was long hours and hard work, but it kept me alive. I stayed in Timber for just over a year, until I'd saved enough money to move on.
With the Gil I'd saved I made the five-day journey to Balamb by train. As much as I would have saved (both in time and Gil) by taking a boat, I couldn't bring myself to brave the sea that had stolen my entire family. That being said, I felt I needed to be near it. Somehow, gazing over the oceans had always had a calming effect on me, and now it made me feel closer to my family too.
When I arrived, I found a room to rent in the home of a newly wed couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dincht. Mrs. Dincht even helped me find a job at the local item shop. That's when my life really began.
It was 10am on Saturday, and I was just waking up the wonderful smell of breakfast. Plodding barefoot down the stairs in my nightgown, I greeted Mrs. Dincht to a cheery. "Good morning!"
"Ah, there you are dear!" She beamed, pouring me a cup of tea. "We were beginning to wonder if you'd ever wake up."
"Don't be silly." I reassured her. "I just like to sleep in on the weekend."
"Well you certainly earned it. All those hours you work must be taking their toll. You just drink your tea and I'll get breakfast on the table."
She pottered around the kitchen for a moment then came in and joined me at the table. "It's really not that hard." I told her. "The work I mean. Even Eli could have done it."
"Who's Eli?" She asked.
I winced, but I wasn't about to lie to the woman who had been so kind to me. "He is…" I hesitated. "He was my little brother." I told her. "He died when he was ten."
"How awful. I can't imagine what you and your family must gone through."
I fought back the impending tears. "Actually, they died together. It was a shipwreck. I was in a hotel at the time."
"Oh. Dear, I am so sorry. But at least they had each other at the end I suppose."
"Yeah, but for the first time in my life I was all alone."
"Well." She smiled, taking my hand in hers and giving it a squeeze. "You've got us now haven't you?" A glimmer of a smile passed across my features, and I nodded. "How many brothers and sisters did you have?" She asked, in a slightly more upbeat tone.
"Six." I choked out. "Two sisters and four brothers. Dana was only six months old when the ship went down."
Mrs. Dincht sighed. "It must have been wonderful to have such a large family. All that love and support. I envy your parents, honey, I really do."
"Why?" I blurted out. "I made their lives hell!"
She chuckled. "I bet they didn't see it that way." She sighed again. "I've always wanted a family." She confided in me. "That's why we bought the two bedroom house when we got married. But…sadly that's never to be."
"I found out I can't have children." She told me, her own eyes beginning to mist over. "About two months after we married, that was. That's why we rented out the room. There really was no point in keeping it to ourselves if it would never become a nursery now was there?"
"You could always adopt." I told her. "Some of those children would really appreciate a good home and a good family."
"We have been looking into it." She told me. "But there's so much red tape it's almost impossible."
This time, it was my turn to sigh. "I know what you mean." Draining the rest of my tea I stood from the table and grabbed some toast as I headed upstairs. "I'm going to get dressed. I think I'll take a walk to the docks."
That conversation was a turning point in my life. I felt like I finally had someone who could share my burden, and life became a little easier. From then on every day after work and every weekend after breakfast, I'd go down to the docks and gaze over the sea. Not to calm me down, but to tell my family how much I loved them, how much I missed them.
In fact, I was there so often, it's no surprise it's where I met my future husband. I was sat, like always, on the end of the pier when he came and sat beside me. "What are you looking at?" He asked.
I didn't look at him, just shrugged. "My past."
He followed my gaze. "It's turbulent." He said.
He was talking about the sea, of course, but I couldn't help the wry smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. "To say the least." I remarked.
"So… do you come here often?" He asked.
"Every day. It's where I do most of my thinking."
"Wow." He laughed. "You must do a whole lot more thinking than most of the girls I've had the misfortune of meeting."
I gasped, trying not to giggle. "That's a horrible thing to say! It's sexist and judgmental."
"No it isn't." He denied with a smile. "I said: 'Most of the girls I've had the misfortune of meeting.' I made it clear I'm only judging by my own experience and I never said ALL of them were like it."
"Well… I guess since you put it so nicely…I'll let you off the hook."
"Good. Because with eyes like yours, I'd hate to be in your bad graces." He replied.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded, my hackles rising.
He didn't even flinch. "Only that if you stared long enough, it'd be all too easy to fall in and get lost forever. And be happy doing it." He added with the most genial smile I'd ever seen.
Hyne! I though breathlessly, What a charmer. "I have to get home." I told him. "It was fun talking with you. Maybe I'll see you around some time." I hinted as I stood to leave.
"Maybe you will." I heard him murmur as I was walking away.
The following day, he was waiting for me at the pier. We sat together and talked until dusk darkened the sky and I had to leave. "Hey." He called to me as I was almost out of sight. "Same time tomorrow?"
I shook my head at him. "No." I yelled back. "I'll be here at eleven." And I left. Looking back, that was probably the start of our relationship. Everyday after that we would meet and either sit together in silence or talk about anything. I told him everything about my past, and he told me about his; it seems neither of us had had it easy. I found him so easy to talk to, maybe because he had gone through his own hardships. Or maybe because he was still kind of a stranger to me.
Even after three months, we hadn't exchanged names.
Then, one day, he wasn't there waiting for me. In the place he usually sat I found a box of chocolates and a card.
Bright Eyes, it read, for that is what he had chosen to call me. Meet me outside the hotel in two hours. Yours, Mysterious Stranger. P.S. Bring a towel.
My heart fluttered. Was this going to be a date? I ran back home at top speed and jumped in the shower. I was determined to look my best for my mystery man. When I got to the hotel, he was stood outside. "Hi Stranger." I greeted him with a shaky smile.
He beamed at me and gave me wolf whistle. "Wow, I didn't think it was possible." He told me.
"What?" I asked nervously.
"That you could look any more beautiful Bright Eyes." He replied, taking my hand and leading me towards the docks.
"Where are we going?"
"To the docks." He answered.
"Why? We could have just met there this afternoon."
He shook his head. "Not if we were going to get on the boat."
I stopped dead. He knew I was terrified of ever getting on a boat. Sure, I told him that as a child the boat trip had been my favorite part of our holidays, but I couldn't get on one ever again. "No." I stammered. "I can't. I can't go on a boat, you know that."
"Yes you can." He countered, pulling me on. I could see the boat in the harbour, and I began to tremble. "Come on Bright Eyes. You can do this, and I'll be right with you. I promise. I won't let anything happen to you."
"I…I'll try." I surrendered.
He squeezed my shoulders in a comforting embrace. "Good!" He beamed. "I knew it."
As I took my first hesitant steps onto the deck of the small fishing vessel I felt like my entire future depended on my actions here. I almost went back to the safety of the dock, but my date was stood directly behind me, obstructing my retreat.
"Hey." He whispered when I backed into him. "There's no going back now." Drawing strength from his belief in me I pushed myself on. The cast off was a blur. Mainly because my eyes were so full of tears, and I sobbed so uncontrollably, I was barely aware of the motion of the ship.
And all the while I bawled like a child, with my breath coming in gasps and my mascara running down my face, my Mystery Stranger held me close. After we had lost sight of Balamb, my eyes began to dry and my howls became whimpers. The gentle rock of the sea, and the soothing tone of my escorts' voice, lulled me into a mild fear in place of my incessant terror.
"Bight Eyes?" He spoke gently, as though afraid to break the silence. "Look at the sea."
I lifted my head from my heads and gawked at the sapphire waters. "There're so calm…"
"I know. It's beautiful too. Come on Bright Eyes, let's go for a swim."
The childlike enthusiasm in his voice made me giggle in spite of myself. "No!" I squealed girlishly as he pulled me up and towards the rail. "I haven't swum in years."
"Well you must be out of practice." He shrugged. "What do you say?"
"I…don't know." I told him honestly, standing at the rail and looking doubtfully at the water below. "I'm sort of scared."
"Don't be. Look, I'll go first." And with that he jumped in– clothes and all.
I laughed so hard my sides hurt and jumped in after him. I had never felt so free in my life. We splashed around for hours, playing like children. Then, as night fell, we arrived back at Balamb and he walked me home.
"I had a really nice time today Stranger." I smiled. "Thank you so much for every thing you've done for me."
"There's no need. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun."
"Me neither. Goodnight Stranger."
"Goodnight Bright Eyes." Just as he was turning to leave, he paused. "Just one more thing," he began. "What's your name?"
I chuckled. "Why?" I teased him.
"Well." He explained, turning back to me. "I suppose if you don't want to…"
"Of course I want to." I replied. "I just have to have a good enough reason."
"Then I will have to convince you won't I?" Then he kissed me. It was a long lingering kiss that seemed to last for an eternity. But all too soon it was over and he pulled away. "Well?"
Blushing from my toes to my eyebrows I told him my name.
"It's beautiful." He said of my name, walking away before I could ask him his.
The next day, I returned the favor and learnt his name. That's when we became a serious couple. I was happy, truly content for the first time since I lost my parents. They were in the past now, but I would always remember the good times I shared with my siblings and the love my parents gave to each of us equally.
Then, two days after my eighteenth birthday, Mrs. Dincht handed me a letter addressed to Miss. E. Kasley. It read:
Dear Miss. Kasley,
On this, the day of your eighteenth year, and as the sole surviving beneficiary of both Mr. and Mrs. Kasley's Last Will and Testament, you are to be awarded the sum total of the Kasley estate.
This includes, but is not limited to, the entire balance of the Kasley bank account, which, as of this date now totals 798,422 Gil. Pearl of The Water the large watercraft owned and maintained by Kasley Water Sport Co™. And the privately bought property described in the Will as the Safe-house.
In order to finalize the contract we request that you sign the forms attached to this letter and return them in the pre-paid envelope provided.
Mr. M. Baker
CEO, Baker, Broomhall and Sons.
"How did they find me?" I asked Mrs. Dincht.
"They didn't. I got in touch with them a few weeks ago."
I gasped. "But why?"
"Because you have to stop hiding from your past and face it head on." She replied. "Besides, if you don't acknowledge your claim to your inheritance, everything that belonged to your family will be locked away or auctioned off."
She had a point, but that didn't change the fact that I was pretty shaken up. "I… you're right. I have to face this." I grabbed a pen and signed the papers. Sealing the envelope I passed it back to Mrs. Dincht. "Could you post this for me?"
"Of course, dear, no problem."
"I'm going to the docks." I told her as I headed for the door. "Cid will be waiting for me by now."
"Well off you go then." She grinned. "It's never a good idea to keep a man waiting." Laughing softly at her words, I hurried to the docks.
Cid was indeed waiting for me. I told him about the letter and he sat silent for a while. "Wow Edea…" He murmured. "You're rich."
"I guess so…."
"So what are you going to do now?"
I thought for a moment. "I don't know, I…. I think I'd like to go to the Safe-house. I want to see it again."
"That's a great idea." He said happily. "You need to face your past."
"Will you come with me? I don't think I could do it without you."
"Of course!" And he hugged me. "Anytime you need me Edea, I'll be there."
And so, four months later, Cid and I docked Pearl of The Water on the southwest shore of Centra. The Safe-house looked desolate, and was in such a state of disrepair I could scarcely believe it had been only four years since I had played within it's walls. So many memories flooded to me then, but I was no longer distraught by them.
I remembered the good, happy times I spent at the house. Despite it's dejected appearance; the Safe-house had always been a joyous place. It was a retreat from the cruel harshness of the world. I suddenly found myself wishing that I had felt this protected during my miserable loneliness at the orphanage.
"This place needs a lot of work…." Cid observed. He stood beside me as I looked over the empty rooms. I nodded. This house had never been empty before; it had always been filled with laughing smiling children.
My siblings…and myself.
It was painful to see it so quiet, so abandoned. And then it hit me: I wanted to fill this home with laughter again. I wanted to restore its former glory, to give this old stone structure a purpose. And I knew just what that purpose was.
"Cid?" I began,the edge of excitement audible in my tone. "I want to open an orphanage."
"Right here. I want to make a home where children can feel safe, where the horrors of their lives can be forgotten. The war has already left so many of them without parents, and I want to do something for them. I want to make this place their Safe-house too."
And, as you know, I did.