“Lila, what have you done?” My grandmother’s lower lip trembles and her voice is a thin whisper.
My grandfather won’t look at me.
The three of us take the sofa. I’m sandwiched between them. Grandma wrings her hands in her lap and Grandpa rests his hands on his knees, though when I look closer, I can tell one of them is shaking.
“Ed. Junie,” Howard says as he stands before us. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but our Lila here is with child.”
Grandpa’s shaking hand turns into a clenched fist.
“And the person who did this,” Howard pauses for dramatic effect. I’m almost positive he’s enjoying the hell out of this, dragging it out just so he can watch us squirm. “Is none other than her half-brother, Westley.”
My grandmother claps her hands over her mouth, her eyes filling with tears, and I realize now that she had to have known, and in a way, I imagine she blames herself for this.
I so badly wish I could tell her the truth.
I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for her to bury a secret of this magnitude and for nearly two full decades.
“So now that we have this little … situation,” he says, booming voice filling the small cottage living room as he commands our attention. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to make some changes that are to take effect immediately.”
He retrieves a manila envelope from the coffee table, pulling out small stacks of paperclipped paperwork and three shiny gold ballpoint pens.
“Because of the sensitive nature of this … pregnancy and its details … I’m afraid I have no choice but to relieve all three of you from your duties,” Howard says, fingers coming to a peak beneath his bulbous nose.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand,” my grandpa says. “We had no idea …”
“Lila was your responsibility,” he says. “You were to watch her. And keep her away from my grandsons. You failed. Just like you failed with Mary. I already gave you a chance with your granddaughter. I don’t do second chances.”
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper as the three of us stare ahead at the paperwork sitting in front of us.
“Not now, Lila,” Grandpa whispers back.
I realize now that their relationship with Mr. Bertram was never based on respect or admiration for him, but fear. He must have controlled them exactly the way he controls his own family.
“So here’s how it’s going to go,” Bertram begins. “First, the three of you will pack up your personal belongings and leave by noon today. I’ll have a boat waiting for you at the end of the dock. Second, I need each of you to sign a non-disclosure agreement that ensures you will never breathe a single word about this child or its existence to anyone in my family or extended family.”
I open my mouth in an attempt to protest, but my grandmother grips my forearm. I have to tell Thayer. As soon as I’m off this island, I’m going to find him. This is his child. He deserves to know.
“In exchange for your silence,” Howard continues, “I’ll ensure that the child is well-cared for for the next eighteen years. Lila, you’ll receive a monthly stipend of five thousand dollars until the child goes to college. At that time, I’ll have a trust in their name that should cover most if not all of their college expenses. In addition, I require that the three of you live under aliases. Shorten your last name to Hill. Alter your first names. Do what you need to do to become untraceable. Since that might complicate your ability to get loans or housing, you should know that I’ve already thought ahead. I’ll buy a modest home for the four of you, and I’ve already made transportation arrangements. When you arrive on the mainland, there will be a man there. He’s to give you keys to the car I’m giving you. As for where you settle, I’d prefer that it’s as far away from here as possible, the Pacific Northwest perhaps? I’ll let you decide. Last but not least, Ed and Junie, I know you weren’t planning to retire for at least another four years, so I’ll be providing a small stipend for you as well. I know it’s difficult getting employment at our age and with neither of you having high school diplomas, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. I’ll give you each three thousand dollars a month for the next twenty years. With your housing and transportation covered, the four of you should be more than comfortable.”
While this offer seems mutually beneficial, this feels like making a deal with the devil, and I have no intentions of signing.
“What’s the catch?” I ask.
“There is no catch,” Howard says. “The three of you keep quiet and make yourselves impossible to find … and you’ll be taken care of. If any of you so much as opens your mouth or contacts a single person in my family, the contract is null and void. You’ll lose the house, the car, and the monthly allowances and you’ll be completely on your own.”