"Now hold on a minute here," Claire said, standing up and pointing a finger at me. "You don't know anything about us either. You don't get to stand there and judge us, you little gold digger."
"Claire, Charles—" Marissa started.
"Gold digger?" I repeated, interrupting Marissa, disbelief rolling over me. "I never took a dime from your father that I didn't earn. Not one dime."
Mr. Sutherland stood from his desk. "Everyone, please, these things can get heated, I understand that, but really, let's remember this is about Felix's last wishes. He split his entire estate between you," he nodded to Claire, "and Charles."
Claire and Charles glared at him and then turned their suspicious eyes on me. "Fine," Claire said. "Take your envelope. It's all you'll ever get. And we want you out of our father's house in two weeks. If you wish to continue tutoring Sophia on the piano, you'll do it from somewhere else."
Hurt speared through me and I did my best to tamp it down. I had come a long way in the last three years. I was no longer the unskilled, meek girl who'd arrived broken and hungry on Felix's doorstep. I'd learned that I possessed a little more strength than I'd ever imagined, and I'd gained two friends in Felix and Marissa. Yet somehow, I'd ended up alone. Again.
I pressed my lips together, not willing to rock the boat any more than I already had. I cared very much for Sophia and I didn't want them to take her away from me—even if I did only see her twice a week. I comforted myself with the knowledge that although they disliked me, they knew I was a good piano teacher. Sophia's results spoke for themselves.
Plus, I was desperately going to need the income.
"Well then," Mr. Sutherland said, coming from around his desk, apparently spotting a good opening to shuffle us out of his office. Who could blame him? "Thank you all for coming in. Felix was not only a good client, but a good friend. He'll be missed."
Marissa stood and lowered her eyes and nodded. "Yes, he will," she said, taking my hand and squeezing it as I gave her a small smile. We followed along behind Claire and Charles.
Mr. Sutherland showed us to the door and we said our thanks to him one more time, ignoring each other. Just before he closed the door behind us, I turned and he paused. "Raynes," I said softly. "My last name is Raynes."
Mister Sutherland looked at me quizzically, and then smiled, nodding his head once. "Good day, Miss Raynes."
I nodded at him and turned to Marissa, taking her hand in mine. Claire and Charles were already halfway down the hall in front of us.
Once I was back at Felix's house, on my bed in the room I'd woken up in three years before, hungry and grief-stricken, I opened the envelope, my fingers shaking slightly.
Inside was a manila folder with a letter paper-clipped to the front. It was dated one month earlier, right before he'd become so ill, he was only lucid part of the time.
If you're reading this, then I'm gone. I fervently hope me writing this is just a safety measure. I hope I'm able to give you this information myself, but with my health, I have to take precautions. I have to make sure you're not left with nothing. I can't bear the thought of leaving you here with as many questions as you arrived with. I'm not a man who finds it easy to express my emotions, but I want you to know how much I've grown to love and care for you over these past three years. And I like to think you think of me as a father figure and that you've come to care for me as well. This is my attempt at caring for you when I'm no longer there.
I believe your parents' names are Carolyn and Bennett Everson.
I gasped and dropped the folder to my bed. The corners of two eight by ten glossy photos slid out and I stared at them for a second before reaching forward and pulling them all the way out. My heart stopped for a brief millisecond and then took up what felt like an irregular beat in my chest. I lifted the photo on top and gazed at it. It was my mother. I knew it was. Misty images danced through my mind - a ring of laughter, the smell of flowers. That face. It was my face, only older. She's alive? My mother is alive? How? Before looking at the second photo, I snatched Felix's letter back up with shaking hands and read the rest.
I believe you were abducted, Eden. And I have questions only you can answer about why you didn't know that. I hope I can ask you them myself once I'm done gathering all the information I can for you. But as I write this letter, this is all I do have. If I'm gone, I hope it's enough.
I started this investigation a few months ago and when I came across the photo of Eden Everson on the missing children's database, I suspected instantly it was you.
Your parents reported you missing fourteen years ago. It was all over the news for months, especially sensational because your father was a suspect in the case. He had been involved in a business scandal earlier in the year, and it was speculated he had gotten involved in something that led to your disappearance. He vehemently denied that to his dying day. He took his own life, his note spelled out his innocence and his grief. After your father's suicide, your mother went into hiding. I can only imagine that after everything she'd endured, being in the public eye was too much to bear.
My investigator found her and discovered that in recent years, she'd been re-married and her name is now Carolyn Collins. Her second husband passed away last year. She never had any other children. Her address is in the envelope.
With the help of a good friend who owns Cincinnati Savings and Loan, I've also opened an account in the name Eden Everson. I know that you've saved all the money you've earned from me so you'll be fine until you can get an ID in your real name and access the money I've left for you. It was the only way I considered that wouldn’t involve Claire and Charles.
I only wish I had started this investigation sooner, but you, your music, the smile you put on Sophia's face—on my face—you brought so much light into my home, and I was selfish with you. I wanted to provide comfort and healing—I hope I at least did some of that. I hope I was a temporary shelter in a storm. And now, my dear Eden, it's time for you to continue on your journey. It's time for you to take that brave step out and find your people, find your life, your destiny. I know in my heart it's a beautiful one.
All my love, Felix
Sadness, shock, and hope warred within me. I swiped at the tears running down my cheeks and swallowed the lump in my throat. Felix. You did save me—in so many, many ways I can't even count, I said in my mind, thinking of the scared, emotionally broken girl who had stepped off that bus here in Cincinnati three years earlier. In some ways, I was still that girl, but I had also learned to draw upon the strength Calder had seen in me. I liked to think that somehow he knew and was proud. Somewhere he was looking down and calling me his brave morning glory.
Felix had rescued me, given me a home, a purpose, and a safe place to grieve. I'd never divulged to him or Marissa where I'd come from, not even when I saw news coverage about Acadia, where no one had come out alive. But they knew I was emotionally damaged, and they gave me the space I needed to work through some of it in my mind, in my own time. And though much of the last three years had passed in a daze of pain and longing, because of Felix and Marissa, there had been comfort, too.
And he'd given me back my music, and the pride that my sweet little student now loved the piano as much as I did. She had helped me grasp the hope I could still find small pieces of happiness in this lifetime. Not many, perhaps. And they were fleeting. But they were there—and they helped me survive.
Once I got a handle on my tears, I pulled the second picture out of the folder and looked down at the handsome blond man. I tilted my head, trying to recall his face, and although there was a small spark of recognition, I had nowhere near the emotional response I'd felt when I looked at my mother's photo.
I set it down and started looking through the rest of the paperwork. It all corroborated what Felix had written in his letter, although the scandal my father had been involved in wasn't spelled out.
At the bottom of the pile lay the photo from the missing children's database. I stared at it for long minutes, my heartbeat speeding up. It was me, no question. Eden Everson. My name was Eden Everson. Is. Is Eden Everson. "My name is Eden Everson," I whispered. The name felt foreign on my tongue.
I was a missing child. I had been stolen. Shock and grief hit me in the chest. Hector had lied to me. Hector had kidnapped me. All those years . . . all a lie. I sat there for a minute simply staring at the wall and letting the truth sink in.
Finally, I looked back at the folder on my bed. The last page at the back was an address in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati. I folded it up and reached for my purse, putting it inside.
When I went to put all the papers back in the envelope, I felt something hard at the bottom and opened it wide, tilting it upside down. The locket I'd brought to Felix's shop three years ago fell out. I let out a small breath and brought it to my chest, holding it tightly against me. Oh, Felix. I'll miss you forever.
I startled when there was a knock on my door. "Come in." The door opened and Marissa peeked inside.
"I just wanted to let you know I'm home, dear."
"Thank you, Marissa." I licked my dry lips. "Marissa, can I ask you something?"
Marissa came inside and sat on the end of my bed. "Have you been crying?" she asked gently.
I nodded my head. "A little, yes. I'm okay. Felix, he wrote me a letter and he . . . did you know he was investigating my past, where I came from?"
Marissa looked surprised. "No." She shook her head. "Did you ask him to?"
"No . . . I . . . I'm not upset about it, in fact, he found my parents."
A look of surprise came over Marissa's face. "Your parents? I thought you said your parents were dead."
I nodded, frowning slightly. "I thought they were. They're not. Or at least, my mother isn't." I glanced down at the folder again.
"What are you going to do?"
"I think I'm going to go to her," I said. I think.
Marissa studied me for a few seconds but didn't ask more questions. It was her way. I knew she'd never pry unless I indicated I was ready to speak more on a subject. "You know I wish I could offer for you to stay here . . ." Her face filled with regret.
"I know," I interrupted. "I have some money now, though, enough to rent a room for myself." I met her kind eyes. "I know you'd let me stay here if it belonged to you." I grabbed her hand in mine and squeezed it.
Her eyes filled with more sadness. I knew she'd miss me as much as I'd miss her. "Have you found an apartment yet?"
"I've checked out a couple. I just need to decide on one." They were all small and run-down. I couldn't afford much, but it would be mine.
Marissa nodded. "You just let me know when you're ready."
"I will." Marissa was going to rent my new place in her name since I still didn't have identification. Not yet anyway. A world of possibilities swam in front of my eyes and I could hardly put them all in order. I have a name.
Marissa looked at me with concern. "Eden…" She brought her lips together, blinking tears from her eyes. "Three years ago when you first came here, you asked me if Felix would let you go out if you wanted to."
I took a deep breath and studied my fingernails. When I met her eyes, I said, "Yes. I remember."
She nodded. "Felix would have never prevented you from doing anything you wanted to do. But it seems . . . well, it seems that you've held yourself captive here since then, rarely ever going out, holing yourself up in your room much of the time." Her kind eyes were filled with sympathy. "I just hope you'll see this change not only tinged with sadness, but as an opportunity to start living, truly living. I have so much faith in you. Felix had so much faith in you."
My heart squeezed tightly. I wondered if I was ready for that. I wondered if I'd ever be ready for that. I nodded at Marissa, and smiled at her. "I'll try," I said.
She nodded back at me, offering a small, sad smile.
I tilted my head. "Will you tell me about him?" I asked. I had always wanted to know what made Felix's eyes fill with that far-off sadness he allowed through when he thought no one noticed. I wondered what had happened between him and his children.
Marissa studied me for a minute. "You remind me of her in some ways. Only you have a strength she never did."
"Her?" I asked, meeting her eyes.
Marissa looked out the window, her eyes going misty. "Lillian, Felix's wife."
I tilted my head. I'd seen her picture in the house, but no one had ever talked about her.
She was quiet for several moments and I thought she might not answer. But then, "Felix's parents were immigrants. They ingrained in him a very strong work ethic. Work came first. Supporting your family came first." She paused for a second, obviously remembering. "When he married Lillian, I immediately noticed she was a delicate girl, sweet, but always in need of reassurance. She lit up under Felix's attention. And she dimmed when he wasn't around. And he often . . . wasn't around." She pursed her lips and paused.
"Lillian made it known to Felix she felt ignored, I suppose. I heard their fights, her tears. But, for Felix at the time, work came first. His business was growing, a big success and that's what he nourished. That's what he fed. Lillian withered. So many times, I stood with her as she looked out the window when he'd promised to be home for dinner . . . her birthday, their anniversary. Their children grew, began having their own lives as well and Lillian, her loneliness grew as well. And then the diagnosis came. She had cancer. By the time they found it, she didn't have much time left. Seemingly, she was here one minute and gone the next." She shook her head, tears springing to her eyes.