Fuck my whole world! I think with disdain as the sun starts to rise outside the small windows of the plane. Cain gets out of bed and closes them. It was dark when we left San Diego, but the closer we get to New Orleans, the more time we lose. It's almost 8:00 am local time now, and we'll be landing within the next hour. I'll see my mother for the first time in six years, and as the last precious moments of peace slip through my fingers, I know the time has come to tell Cain what sort of person he's about to meet.
He lies back down, wrapping his arms around me from behind, and when I feel his warm, bare chest against my back, it burns through me, the pervading thought in my mind a deep, agonizing certainty that I will never feel this intimacy again. When we land, it's over. I believe it as surely as I believe fate exists solely to fuck me. And fate fucks hard.
Earlier, Cain and I were on the way to the airfield when my memory started to come back to me - everything from last night that had eluded me after I fainted by the breakfast bar. I can still feel a throbbing knot on the back of my head where I hit the corner of the marble countertop, but I've hidden it from Cain, hoping to slip into a coma and never wake back up to the nightmare my life has become.
When I began to remember, I began to ask questions. I know he didn't want to tell me. He wanted to protect me, but I couldn't let him suffer alone. He was in agony. I could feel it emanating from his every cell as he forced himself to keep up the charade of strength for my sake, and there was nothing I could do to help him.
Cain's Parent's House
"Fuck both of you lying bitches!" Cain had shouted before grabbing my hand and dragging me out of his parents' house. He was furious, but I was already devastated. He didn't believe it was possible that my mother was the woman his father had an affair with before he was born, but I was convinced of it because I had been waiting to have the rug pulled out from under me since the moment Cain revealed himself from behind that menu on our first, unofficial date. I knew it was foolish for me to think I deserved a love like this, and as we rode home in the back of the limo, I had become completely numb, unable to even feel his warmth as he held me.
How is this possible? How in a vast sea of 300 million Americans could Cain and I have managed to find each other if what Catherine said was true? I was thinking as we stormed out, trying to disprove it all with logic, then Catherine obliterated the last bit of hope I had in me.
"It's called Genetic Sexual Attraction!" she had called after us. "Look it up!"
But I didn't need to. I just graduated with a four year psychology degree. I've heard the term before, and as Lucy drove us through the streets of La Jolla toward the 5, though I kept my silence, inside my memories of reading about GSA consumed my thoughts. With one hand around my shoulder, Cain searched the internet with the other to learn what I couldn't bear to tell him.
"Genetic Sexual Attraction is the term used to describe the phenomenon that causes a strong, often obsessive, sexual spark between blood relatives who meet as adults for the first time or after being separated when at least one of them was prepubescent..." It's all I read before he noticed and tilted the screen so I couldn't see it, but I already knew what came next. GSA crosses the lines of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, and it can happen between any two people who share DNA - siblings or even a parent and child...and certainly between a half brother and sister. It happens to some people even when they know they're related before meeting, like a reunion between children separated by adoption, and when the people involved don't know they're related - that's when it can truly ruin lives. There are documented cases of brothers and sisters crossing paths as adults and ending up in romantic relationships, even marrying and having children before learning the truth, and though it could've been worse if Cain and I had found out later, it was little solace.
Feeling dead inside, I watched as he read about how the spark he and I felt when we first locked eyes across the bar at Prometheus could have been the product of a genetic predisposition, but he didn't let it overwhelm him like I did. Even after seeing the stories about GSA on reputable news sites, he still wasn't buying it.
"It isn't true, Evan," he said as we entered his apartment. "My mother is a fucking liar who would do anything to control me, and I'm going to prove it to you." He squeezed my hand, kissed me on the head, then left me standing at the breakfast bar as he went into his office and made a series of phone calls. First he called his dad, then my mother, and last, he called the home number of Dr. Milo Andersen, the geneticist who signed the letter Catherine showed us, linking our DNA. Even in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, the man took the call, and though Cain's determination to poke holes in Catherine's story had given me the first glimmer of hope I felt since we left La Jolla, as he talked to Dr. Andersen, I could see the exact moment when the cold realization that Catherine could have been telling the truth took root in Cain's mind.
And down I went, taking my memory with me.
3:00 am Christmas Morning
As Lucy drove us to the airfield and the memories surfaced, I knew I had to ask Cain what the geneticist had told him on the phone. His father confirmed that the picture he described sounded like the only remaining photo he had of Angela and himself, and my mother claimed that her name used to be Angela, but it wasn't until he spoke with the Dr. Andersen that he gave up hope.
While I try to summon the courage to ask him so I can help carry the weight of his pain, I spend too much time contemplating my words, then I see the lights of the airport as Lucy pulls us onto the tarmac. The plane is on the runway, and the ground crew is in action. She hands them our bags, and as we follow her up the airstairs, I feel guilty looking at all the people we've dragged out of bed in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. The crew can go back home soon, but the pilots are going to be stuck with us for hours.
"We shouldn't be doing this," I say. "It's not fair to the pilots. It's Christmas."
"It's okay," Lucy assures me. "Their gifts are in the cargo hold, and there will be a tree waiting for them in their hotel suite. I've already arranged it."
"But their families..." I argue.
"Paul and Daniel are a couple," Cain explains.
"And they're actually kind of excited about spending Christmas in New Orleans," Lucy adds.
Glad someone is excited about it, I think. I had always assumed I would feel further removed from my past before I had to face going home, but I don't need to go down that rabbit hole right now. I have enough on my mind as Cain leads me straight to the bedroom, pulling down a pair of jump seats along the wall and strapping me in first. He hits the intercom button, and tells Paul we're ready whenever he is, then he grabs my hand.
"You're not doing the takeoff?" I ask.
"Under the circumstances, I think it would be irresponsible," he admits, and as the plane begins to taxi, his grip on my hand tightens.
"It's going to be okay," I reassure him.
"No, it isn't," he says with a sad laugh as he brings my hand to lips and kisses my knuckles, then as we feel the force of the takeoff begin, he closes his eyes, gritting his teeth, his every muscle tensed until the plane begins to level out in the air and we hear Paul's voice come over the intercom.
"We've reached our cruising altitude, Mr. Ballantyne," he says, and Cain exhales long-held breath as he unhooks his seatbelt, then mine.
"Lie down with me," he urges, and I follow him to the bed, lying atop the covers, Cain on his back, me on my side with my head against his chest. His heartbeat is already racing, and though I know it's a selfish thing to do today, I cannot go another minute without knowing what took him abruptly from believing the DNA test results to be one of his mother's schemes to spiraling into this depth of despair.
"What did he say?" I ask, propping myself up on one elbow to look him in the eye. "When you spoke with the geneticist, what did he tell you?"
"He said if I provide him with new samples, he'll begin testing them tomorrow," he replies.
"Cain, stop," I plead. "You know that's not what I meant. Please tell me what he said."
"Baby," he whispers, then he sits up, leaning forward and covering his face with his hands. I scoot closer to him on the bed, putting my arms around him, my face pressed against his shoulder as his heavenly scent fills my head with a deep, unfathomable sense of loss.
"It's okay," I whisper, trying to soothe him even when I know it's impossible.
"It can be," he says, turning to face me, his expression suddenly hopeful as he seem otherwise manic. "I'll liquidate all of my assets and buy the island. We can live there forever, just the two of us, and no one has to know. Or we can go to Argentina. There's a large community of American expats down there. I'll get a vasectomy, and if we want children someday, we can ask Cary..." As I look at him, my eyes fill with tears, and he trails off because these are just dreams we could never follow.
Defeated, he turns away, unable to look at me as he begins to recount the conversation he had with the geneticist before we left the apartment.
Catherine went to see Dr. Milo Andersen, a former employee of the San Diego County Crime Lab who now runs his own private research facility in Riverside, asking him to confirm or discredit the results that claimed Cain was not her son. Dr. Andersen remembered it all clearly because Catherine was convinced that he and I were related. He recalled how tormented she seemed on behalf of her son, and he was actually distraught to have to be the bearer of such bad news when he provided her with the results that she later showed us. Dr. Andersen confirmed that his tests proved Catherine could not possibly be Cain's mother and that Cain and I share approximately 25% of our DNA - the percentage shared by half-siblings.
"How much did my mother pay you to falsify that report?" Cain had demanded.
"No amount of money could make me risk my reputation in the scientific community, Mr. Ballantyne," Dr. Andersen had said. "I'm truly sorry."
"And that's when I knew," Cain tells me, turning to look into my eyes, his face anguished. "It was in his voice. I called his home in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and accused him of taking a bribe yet he wasn't offended. He was apologetic, and I knew."
"Then why are we doing this to ourselves? Why are we going to New Orleans?"
"Because I can't give up hope, Evan. I could spend hours trying to find a geneticist willing to retest our samples today or I could see for myself if your mother is the woman in the picture. I want to look her in the eye as she tells me it's true, and we'll wing it from there," he says, then his tone grows softer. "Baby, no matter what happens, I'm going to take care of you. I'll always take care of you."
"Cain," I whisper, my voice cracking as the tears threaten my bloodshot eyes again, and he pulls me to him, kissing me softly with closed lips. He brushes my hair out of my face and kisses me again, studying my face as he pulls away, trying to read me, but my expression is blank because I don't know what to do. Then with a sudden roguish look, he licks his lips, and I feel them once more, parting mine with his tongue, gently forcing his way in. I taste his mouth like pure, clean water as he lays my head on the pillow, his body atop mine, so powerful and devastating.
"We can't," I protest as he tugs at my shirt.
"We have to," he says resolutely.