Tula decides it's just best to rip off the bandaid.
"I've been thinking about earning my own money, and I found a pretty good job."
Paolo smiles warily, "Oh, what would you be doing?"
Paolo, who was putting his dishes away, pauses mid-stride. And he stays that way for a long...
"That's just a joke, right?" Sun asks, a tight smile on her face, "You're not serious, are you?"
"I'm dead serious. I already filled out the visa application and the job application. I'd start in a few months. I'd be there for about a year and the money's pretty good," Tula smiles at her fear-stricken parents, "I need this change. Being here...there's too many bad memories. I need to get away from it."
When no one says anything, Tula assumes they just need time to let it sink in. She silently gathers her plate and utensils, and heads for the dishwasher.
When Tula takes her father's plate, the movement is enough to snap him out of his shock.
"No, absolutely not. You're barely 18! You can't just go all the way to China on a whim," he snaps, a mixture of worry and anger flickering over his features, "It's not safe."
Sun freezes, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. Why does she have to be here when they're fighting?
"Too dangerous? You've been in the military since you were barely older than I was! How can working in Shang Simla be any more dangerous than that?!"
"Don't try to turn this on me. I've never been deployed. You've never lived on your own- hell of a way to start, in a foreign country. Do you have any idea what could happen to you there?"
"Do you? You've never lived outside of this tiny town!" Tula fumes, "Maybe that's ok for you guys, but I can't stand it here..." her rage melts into tears.
Sun smiles sadly. "Come on guys, don't fight-,"
"Do you have any idea what it's like to see the place where it happened every single day? To be reminded that everyone knows whenever I go out? Do you know what it's like, looking at Haliya and realising that she could have gotten hurt because I didn't want to say anything?"
Paolo's eyes fill with tears, "...I know exactly how it feels..."
"Then you understand why I need to leave. Not forever, I'm not running away. I just... I just want to be normal. Somewhere where I'm just Tula Winterly, not "the girl that awful thing happened to", not someone who needs to be under lock and key..."
Her voice becomes choked with sobs, "Please dad... I'm not doing this to hurt you. I know that you're only watching over me because you love me, but if I'm ever going to get better, I need to move on. I can't do that here, cooped up in this house. I can't do it here when everyone walks on eggshells around me... I just want to get better."
Watching his daughter cry and beg, Paolo's heart breaks.
"I'm sorry, dad. I don't want to hurt you..."
Paolo takes her into his arms.
"Just...give me some time to think it over. I don't want to force you to stay here..."
Tula looks up at him. "I'll be in my room when you want to talk..."
Paolo and Sun wait until Tula's closed her bedroom door behind her.
"Do you think it's smart, to let her go all the way to China by herself?" Sun asks anxiously. She understands Tula's intense desire to find her own job and live life on her own terms, but this seems risky to Sun. Like Tula said, none of them have ever left the city before. It would be so easy for her to get hurt or taken advantage of...
Paolo smiles sadly, "She's either going to go with our blessing, or she's going to go crazy in here until she fights her way out. I don't see that we have much of a choice."
"But there are probably other cities she could move to instead. Ones not so...far."
"She's already made up her mind, it seems. I don't want to dictate what she can and can't do in her life..."
Paolo stares down at the floor, eyes wide with disbelief. He's actually going to let this happen. His daughter is going to live in Shang Simla, by herself, for at least a year...
"I think I need to lie down," he squeaks.
Sun nods, "Me too..."
Tula waits outside anxiously. Summer is drawing to a close, meaning that the nights are beginning to cool. Tula shivers a little as the sun dips lower in the sky, eager to get into a nice, warm car.
She's heard that the weather in Shang Simla is still balmy and hot this time of year.
"Your taxi to the airport won't be here for another ten minutes," Paolo says grumpily, "You don't need to be so eager to leave."
Tula grins at her father, "I'll miss you too, dad."
She turns to her father. He sighs, his eyes beginning to water.
"I guess there's nothing I can say to stop you from leaving?" he jokes weakly.
"I must say, you make a compelling case with that heart-breakingly sad face... but I'm going to have to say no."
"Well, I just want you to know... whatever you do, and however this year goes... I'll always be proud of you, Tula."
She throws herself into her dad's arms.
"I'll miss you so much," she whispers to Paolo.
Paolo hugs her tighter, "You better not forget to call."
She laughs, the noise intermingled with tears, "Don't worry, I won't."
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
Sun walks outside, ready to say her farewells.
"Hope I'm not interrupting dad and daughter time," she says jokingly.
Tula pulls away, "I think we're about done."
Sun decides to go for a much more upbeat goodbye.
"You'll do great," she says, smile wide.
Tula returns Sun's high-five, "You can count on it."
"Promise you'll send pictures? I want to show Haliya what the rest of the world is like."
"Of course! Hey, maybe you guys could visit me sometime..."
Sun guffaws, "Ha, fat chance. I'm fine staying here. But if you can convince your dad, I won't stop you."
No one can stop me, Tula thinks triumphantly to herself. At long last, she'll be living independently from this family.
She can't wait.