TOP THREE AWFUL moments of my life:
Meeting my biological father at ten
Breaking my arm in three spots at nine
Falling into a hole and being trapped there overnight with a dead body at eight
Other than that, I love my life. While some of my friends are all, “Woe is me, no one understands my traumatized soul,” I’m pretty happy. I like happy. I like simple. I like predictable and I hate surprises.
With that said, I’m not particularly thrilled when my father tries to hand me a piece of paper that causes my mother to choke up and excuse herself from the kitchen.
Dad and I continue to stare at one another as we listen to Mom race up the stairs then close the door to their bedroom. Life is out of whack and it’s easy to tell. Dirty dishes are piled in the sink. A stack of unopened mail is tossed across the island. A pile of balled tissues creates a mountain on the wooden oval table. The yellow kitchen that seemed cheery this morning is darkened with emotional storm clouds.
The awkward silence between me and Dad has officially stretched into painful. I shift under the strain and my foot nudges my backpack on the floor.
“You should go after her,” I say to break the stillness and to ignore the fact I haven’t accepted what Dad is offering. Plus, Dad always knows how to pull Mom out of her drama pit. It’s one of the million things I love about him.
“I will.” His lips lift a little, a strong indication he’s planning to mess with me. “How do you want to handle this? Straightforward, gradual introduction, or head in the sand?”
I brighten. “Head in the sand works well for me.”
“Good try, but pick another option.”
“How does it feel to be a senior?”
Despite the impending knowledge that my life is about to suck, I smile. I’d walked into the kitchen after my last day of school expecting to gush to Mom about how Trisha and I were invited to Blake Harris’s party tonight.
What I didn’t expect? Dad home, Mom in tears and a note that possibly brings tidings from hell. “It feels awesome. It’ll feel even better if you put that piece of paper in the garbage disposal.”
“Please read it,” Dad presses. “It was hard for your mom to make the decision to let you see this and we should respect her wishes.”
My stomach aches as if I’d been elbowed. This debilitating reaction from my mother means one thing: contact from her childhood home in Kentucky.
Kentucky is a painful subject for her and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to ease her suffering because, until Dad came into the picture and adopted me when I was five, Mom raised me on her own. That deserves some major respect.
Out of the corner of my eye I take in the collage of framed photos on the wall. The middle picture is my favorite. It’s an eight by ten of the day Mom and Dad married. Mom’s in a white wedding gown. Slender. Graceful. Her sleek blond hair falling around her shoulders as she beams down at me. Dad crouches beside me. His sun-kissed hair strikingly gold compared to his black tux.
He tucks a rose into my dark brown hair. I’m five and focused on him like he’s Superman. That’s because he is. My own personal superhero. He adopted me mere days before he married my mom.
Dad clears his throat and I snatch the paper from his hands with just the right amount of ticked off. I’ll wander down this dark tunnel of insanity for a few minutes...for him and my mom.
It’s an e-mail and it’s short and to the point and it’s from my biological father.
Please tell Emily.
Underneath the message are an obituary and a photo of a woman I’ve never met. Her name is Olivia McKinley and she’s Eli’s mother. A weighted sigh escapes my lips and I slouch into a seat at the table. Please tell Emily. Eli does his best to make an impression. It may not be a great impression, but he leaves one nonetheless.
I squish my lips to the side as I absorb Olivia’s obituary. It’s the first time I’ve seen an image of her. Eli’s talked about her on our rare occasional visits, but he never drew enough of a mental picture for me to visualize what she looked like.
Eli’s this biker my mom hooked up with once and he abandoned us the moment Mom said, “I missed my period.” While he gave Mom the slip, he also gave me my dark brown hair and my matching dark brown eyes and the ton of freckles over the bridge of my nose. But other than that he hasn’t given me much.
“So...” Total hesitation as I hunt for the correct words. “Eli’s mom died.”
“That’s right. Your mom wants us to attend the funeral.”
Um...I don’t do funerals or cemeteries. Mom and Dad are aware of this situation. My fingers tap against the table. There’s definitely a diplomatic way out of this. I need to find it and find it quick. “Why does she want to go? Not to be rude, but we don’t know this lady. We barely know Eli and...well...I thought Mom hated Kentucky.”
Dad rubs the back of his head. “I don’t know why. I forwarded the e-mail to your mom this morning. A few minutes later, she called me at work in tears. I came home and she’d already purchased the plane tickets. Your guess is as good as mine here, but there’s one thing I do know—I don’t like seeing your mom cry.”
Neither do I.
“What are your thoughts on this, Em?”
I shrug. There are no words for this. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. “I don’t get it.”