"Oh no," I whispered. "I didn't know."
"He never talked about it." She turned to me. "The thing is, after that, he changed. Work wasn't his focus as much anymore. He devoted time to his family." She shrugged. "Of course, some things happen too late. His children harbored resentment. They weren't willing to forgive. Felix . . . he never quite forgave himself either." She grasped my hands in hers. "When you came along, he saw it as a second chance to nourish a wounded heart." She shook her head. "Of course, he never said that, but I . . . I saw it. You saved him, too, Eden."
I wiped at a tear that was making its way slowly down my cheek. "He was a good man," I said softly.
Marissa nodded. "Yes." She stared off into space and then breathed out on a small smile. "Isn't it funny how we're all just bouncing around in this crazy world, our own stories, our own hurts, all weaving together, changing outcomes, sometimes good, sometimes bad? Well," she patted my knee, "I'd like to think your story and Felix's story came together for a reason and you each healed a little because of the other."
I nodded. "Yes," I said, trying not to choke up. "I don't know where I'd be without him. I don't know where I'd be without you." I smiled at Marissa and wiped away the last of my tears.
Marissa smiled back warmly at me and then squeezed me tight and stood up. After she'd closed my door behind her, I fell back on the bed thinking of what she had said about our varied stories and how we were always affecting other lives—every moment of every day—whether we meant to or not. I closed my eyes and pictured people walking around trailing bright white light behind, some of those lights meeting, tangling, changing colors as they combined. And even in my mind, it was achingly beautiful.
I stood in front of the ornate, black door pulling air into my lungs and letting it out slowly. I was trembling slightly, my fists clenched at my sides. What if Felix was wrong? What if he was right, but she rejects me? What if? I hadn't even told Marissa my plans for that day. I'd taken the bus and walked the rest of the way to the address Felix had left for me. I'd felt like I needed to do this on my own, and if I changed my mind, only I'd know.
I stood there, staring at the brass lion's head knocker, trying to talk myself into using it. It looked intimidating in and of itself, never mind the fact that I was already shaking like a leaf, fear pulsing through my blood. I took a deep breath and used the knocker to rap twice. As I waited, I looked over my shoulder, down the long set of stairs leading to the street. This area of Cincinnati was filled with elegant, older homes, the yards lush, the trees huge and ancient, all with stories to be told. I took another deep breath and tensed my shoulders as I heard footsteps coming toward the door.
It swung open and she stood there, my mother. I knew her immediately. Not because I recognized anything in her face exactly, well, except my own, but because the feeling that swept over me was the same sensation I’d felt when I tried to recall her for the past fourteen years.
I started trembling even more. Once I had belonged to someone. Once I had belonged to her.
I blinked at her, just taking her in. She was a little taller than I was, probably five foot five or so and her blonde hair was cut into a straight bob that ended right at her jawline. She was wearing a pair of darker jeans with a white sweater. She was real. She was alive—standing right in front of me. Emotions slammed into me, too many to investigate.
She cocked her head, a small frown coming to her face. Her mouth opened and then closed as she took me in. "I'm sorry . . . how can I . . .?" She paused and blinked at me. "Do I know you?"
"I'm Eden," I said, so softly I wasn't sure I had actually spoken. "I think I'm your daughter," I squeaked out.
The woman's eyes, my mother's eyes, widened and she took a step back, bringing her hand to her chest. "Molly," she called, her voice breaking, turning her head slightly to someone who must be inside. "Oh, Molly . . ." And then she swayed as a young, blonde woman ran up behind her, catching her in her arms as my mother fell backward.
"Oh my God," the girl named Molly cried out. "Carolyn!"
I rushed in and helped Molly lead Carolyn to the couch in the large family room right off the foyer.
"I'm so sorry," I murmured, bringing Carolyn's feet up on the couch. "I didn't do that in a very sensitive way. God! So stupid, Eden. I was just so . . . I didn't think." I had prepared myself for this, at least as much as I could. She hadn't had any warning whatsoever.
I straightened myself and looked down worriedly at Carolyn who was lying on the couch. Her eyes now open, she looked up at me with shock on her face.
"Holy shit," the pretty girl next to me murmured. I looked over at her to see her staring at me. "You can't be," she said, and then shook her head slightly as if she was attempting to wake up. "What's happening here?"
I took a deep breath. "Should we get her a cool washcloth or something?" I asked, nodding down at Carolyn.
Molly blinked and then looked down as if just remembering Carolyn was there. "Oh, right, um, sure. I'll be right back."
Once Molly had left the room, I sat down on the couch next to Carolyn and I took her hands in mine. She was still staring at me, her large, blue eyes wide, her mouth parted in shock. I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
Her hands gripped mine and a tear rolled slowly down her cheek. Her chest rose and fell in quick inhales of breath and her mouth opened and closed, but no words came. "I know," I said softly, squeezing her hands back. "It's okay, I know."
"How? Where?" she squeaked out. Before I could answer, Molly came rushing back into the room and knelt down on the floor and put a damp, white washcloth on Carolyn's forehead.
Molly's eyes shot to mine. "Are you really her?" she asked. "Like, how? My God! Do we need to call someone? What's the protocol here? Jesus!"
"I'm sorry." I offered her a small smile. "I didn't even ask. Are you my step-sister?" I remembered the letter Felix gave me telling me my mother had never had more children, but perhaps her second husband had. My brain was buzzing.
Molly shook her head. "No, I'm your cousin." Her eyes widened. "Oh my God! My cousin is alive." She put her hand to her chest and took a deep breath, composing herself. She shook her head back and forth, almost as if she was trying to remember who she was. "Um, I've been living with Carolyn since my mom, her sister Casey, passed away five years ago."
"Oh, I'm so sorry." I frowned. "It's so nice to meet you." This feels surreal. Molly stared back at me as if she was thinking the same thing.
I looked back at Carolyn as her head shook back and forth and she pulled on my hand so I would help her sit up. She came up slowly, breathing out and leaning back on the couch as the washcloth slipped into her hands and she handed it to Molly. We both watched her carefully. She gripped my jeans, almost clawing at me although I'd let go of her hands. Her eyes swept over my face, down my body, and back up to my face. "Eden," she breathed out. "My girl."
I nodded my head. "Yes."
"You're so beautiful," she squeaked out, her hand coming up to my cheek as she touched me tentatively and then pulled her hand away.
Her eyes moved down to the locket I wore around my neck and she gasped out. "The locket!" she cried. Her eyes flew back to mine. "Your father and I gave you that for your sixth birthday." Tears coursed down her cheeks and her hands trembled as she reached forward to touch the small round piece of jewelry.
I nodded, tears coming to my eyes, too. I had known it was mine the minute I saw it.
Molly, who had stood up, returned now with a small glass of amber liquid from the bar on the other side of the room. She handed it to Carolyn who wiped her cheeks, glanced quickly at the shot, and then downed it in one gulp, breathing out and relaxing back into the couch again, her eyes returning to me.
I looked back at Molly who was downing a shot as well. Her eyes got big and she motioned her head to the bottle asking if I wanted one. I shook my head and returned my attention to Carolyn–to my mother.
"How? Where?" Carolyn asked again, only this time her voice was stronger, calmer. "Eden," she breathed out. Her face crumpled. "Did anyone hurt you?" She grabbed at me and I grasped her hands. "Please tell me no one hurt you. Were you safe? Please tell me you were safe." Her voice sounded pained, desperate.
Had I been hurt? Yes. Had I been safe? No, not at all. But I didn't say that because the explanation of both answers was complicated and required more than I had in me to give right at the moment. Instead I said simply, "Hector, I was with Hector."
Carolyn squeezed her eyes closed for a few seconds and then opened them. "You escaped from Acadia," she whispered.
I breathed out. "You saw it on the news? You saw Hector?"
She nodded. "There have never been pictures of Hector Bias, which I'm sure you know, and I didn't know him by the name Hector. But I recognized the description of Acadia. I notified the police on your case, but they said," she moved her head from side to side again, "there were so many bodies . . . so many of them unidentified." Her eyes flew up to mine. "How did you escape before . . ."
"I didn't," I said. "I was there."
Carolyn's eyes grew big with shock. "You were . . . But how? How did you survive that? And how did you find me?"
"I'll tell you all of it, all I can remember anyway." Taking her hand, and relishing the fact that I was touching my mother, I continued, "I want to know what you know as well, and I have so many questions, too." I hoped Molly didn't really see the need to call anyone, especially the police. I wasn't ready for that course of action yet. I needed time to prepare.
Carolyn gripped my hand and nodded her head. "Yes, Eden, whatever you need. Eden . . . my daughter . . ." She started to cry and as she looked at me, her cries turned to sobs. Molly sat down on the couch and leaned forward to hug Carolyn. I watched them for a moment and then they both grabbed my shirt and pulled me toward them. We sat crying and hugging as the world somehow continued to spin around us.
Twilight descended on Cincinnati as we sat together on the poolside patio. All around me potted flowers perfumed the air and the water sparkled in the dwindling sunlight. Soon the curtain of night would be closed. I turned to my mother and Molly. "And that's where I've been living for the past three years, with Felix and Marissa. I've been teaching piano. I even have a few more clients now, I make some money. . ." I trailed off as I took in their shell-shocked expressions.
It had been the very first time that I'd uttered a word about Acadia since I stumbled away from it that day . . . and though I'd relayed it all in a colorless voice, my emotions carefully tucked away, for me, it was another small survival. I let out a big breath.
"My God!" Molly said. "That's . . ." She swung her eyes to Carolyn. "She's been ten minutes from us for the past three years now."
Molly's statement hit me in the gut and I could tell it affected Carolyn the same way. I wasn't sure how to feel. In one sense, the knowledge that we'd been so close and not found each other brought a certain grief with it, but in another sense, if I had found my mother right away, somehow, I'd have missed out on my time knowing Felix. And I couldn't wish Felix away, I couldn't.
Carolyn grabbed for my hand again and squeezed it. "Oh, my sweet girl, you lived through hell, Eden. Truly, you survived hell." Grief passed over her face, but she took a deep breath, paused, and continued, "Like I said, I went to the police when I heard about what happened at Acadia, but of course, your body wasn't found there . . . I knew though, I knew that Hector Bias was the man who had taken you, even though they could never identify him to show his face on the news. I thought my deepest fears had come true—that he had killed you at some point." Her eyes squeezed shut for a few beats before she opened them again. "Everything about Acadia just sounded so familiar. Hell, truly hell." Her eyes filled with tears for the hundredth time since I'd begun my story.
I lowered my eyes. "Not all of it was hell," I said. "Sometimes I was scared, and I was very lonely . . . for a time. But," I raised my eyes to look at her, "some of it I wouldn't give up for anything in the world."
Carolyn's faces crumbled and she shook her head vigorously. "No, none of it should have happened. None. It was all my fault that Hector took you. All of it."
"Carolyn," Molly said, "we've all told you that's not true."
She continued to shake her head. "No, it is true. It is."
"Carolyn—" I said.
"Mom," she interrupted, "please call me mom. You always called me mom."
I felt the words flow through my insides, a cool summer breeze calming me, setting me at ease. "Okay, Mom." Emotion swept over me as the word fell from my lips. I was still loved. I belonged to someone again. Perhaps I wasn't going to be alone after all. I breathed out and smiled, trying to keep a hold of my emotions. "Mom, will you tell me what happened?" I asked. "How Hector—"
"Yes. I'll tell you all of it. But Molly, will you get a bottle of white from the wine fridge? I think this requires it. Eden, would you like something to drink? Water? Pop? Apple juice! You always liked apple juice." There was almost a pleading in her expression.