The Defendant

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Chapter 18. The Meeting

“I think I’m going to be sick,” I murmured as I bent over slightly, placing my hands on my knees. I took a few shuttering breathes, my eyes closed. A warm hand rubbed circles along my back.

“You’re not going to be sick. That’s right, deep breathes,” Wes murmured beside me.

I reached for his free hand, giving it a squeeze before standing straight. The house across the street looked like every other house. It’s was an old red rick, scuffed by the years. The windows were covered with a checker patterned curtains and a basket of bright purple flowers hung from a basket to the side of the door. I imagined what the inside of the house looked like. A group of kids, probably 10 years old, ran down the street, laughter ringing. Would my childhood have been like that? I thought back to the early Saturday piano lessons and the quiet picnics I'd had in the backyard with El. I wouldn't have traded those for anything.

Beside me, Wes bumped his shoulder to mine. “Do you want to go?”

I stood frozen for a moment. Did I want to go home? Did I want to go up to the unassuming wooden door? I wasn’t even sure which he’d meant. I swallowed past my dry throat and nodded. We’d been here twice before and today I couldn’t leave without trying.

After he’d told me he’d found my birth parents, I’d been shocked. Honestly, it had never occurred to me to go looking. Obviously they hadn’t wanted me and I wasn’t one to go where I wasn’t wanted. That day my family had come and I didn’t tell them what Wes had done. I was scared how they would react. I’d been out of the hospital for 2 weeks now and I knew it was time. Wes was right, there was one more thing to do before we moved on with our relationship.

With a deep breath I looked both ways and crossed the street quickly. Once the door was right in front of me I froze again. This was huge. I was going to meet one of my biological parents. I’d read over and over the file Wes had given me with information on my birth parents. My dad had actually died a few years ago. A drug overdose, guess he was never able to get clean. But here we were at the house of my birth mom. My heart hurt at that word, mom. It conjured up images of eating chocolate chip cookies with my real mom, tucked away in the kitchen and giggling over nonsense.

I should have told her I was coming. I took a small step backward, his hand landing gently on my lower back. “I can’t, I need to tell my mom.” Wes pulled me tight against him.

Before either of us could move the door flung open. My eyes widened as I took in the women looking at us, eyebrows furrowed under the fringe of her blonde bangs. She wore faded comfy looking jeans with a plain T-shirt tucked in showcasing a rather large jeweled belt. Her thin arms were covered in multicolored bangles and a single feather earring hung from her right ear. She looked like she’d stepped right out of the 70’s.

“Can I help you two or are you just going to stare at my front door all day?”

I could feel Wes’s eyes shooting back and forth between the two of us as he held me tightly. “Sorry,” he started, “we were just...”

“Tiffany? Tiffany Younger?” I asked, my voice not shaking an ounce.

She crossed her arms, giving me a quizzical stare. “Who’s asking?”

“The baby you left at the hospital about 29 years ago.”

No one moved a muscle. It was like the sounds of the street faded around us as her and I watched each other. I saw her eyes widen at my statement, then frantically began to search my face as I did the same. We had the same nose. Her eyes were blue too, but much closer to a sapphire than my pale ones.

As if being pulled from a staring match she glanced both ways down the street before beckoning to us. “I guess you’d better come in then,” before turning on her heels and heading into the house.

I swallowed past the lump into throat and looked up at Wes. He shrugged with a half smile before taking my hand and leading me up the steps. I shut the door behind me, barely managing to side step the pile of shoes in the entryway. Wes lead me into a living room as he followed Tiffany. She plopped down in an armchair, her fingers gently tapping the fabric. Wes and I lowered ourselves onto a dark brown couch awkwardly.

“So...” she finally started, “What do they call you.”

I cleared my throat. “Olivia.”

She nodded. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be something too stupid. That seems... fitting.”

The room grew quiet again. I glanced around the room, taking in the framed photos of two boys in various stages of youth. It seemed like I had brothers. They both had unruly locks of blonde hair and freckled noses. “Who are they?” I asked, pointing to a picture of the teens, arms thrown around each other standing on a beach.

She glanced to the side. “Oh, those are my boys, Micah and Mitch. Only 14 months apart those two. Junior and senior in high school now.”

My mouth went dry as I studied the pictures. Of course she'd gone on to have more children, it was just me she didn't want. A warm hand slid over mine, squeezing gently. I glanced up at Wes and he winked at me. I breathed in slowly through my nose.

I crossed my ankles, sitting up straight, hands folded in my lap still cupping Wes's hand. "I won't take up much of your time. I just... I just wanted to know about my past."

"You want to know why I gave you up," she said matter of factly.

No beating around the bush then. "Yes. I've had a very good life but it is the one thing that still manages to bother me. I just felt like I needed some answers."

Tiffany ran a hand through her hair, so similar in color to mine. I fought the urge to reach up and tuck a stray strand back. "Well," she said roughly, clearing her throat, "I was a teenager. My parents didn't want to help me raise a baby and I didn't really know anything about taking care of kids. My boyfriend was into drugs, hell so was I. I only stopped when I found out I was pregnant." She paused and glanced over at the pictures lining the walls of the two boys. My brothers. Her face softened before she turned back to face me. "I did what was best. The adoption agency had a lovely family they said who had been struggling to have a baby. I liked the idea of that, thought it would make them cherish you more."

She scooted forward on the seat. "Did they...cherish you that is?"

Tears prickled at my eyes at the thought of my family. I don't think I'd ever been in trouble a day in my life. I'd had everything I could ever want; toys, clothes, piano lessons, ballet. They'd worked so hard to give me everything, to set me up for success. I owed everything to my parents. My real parents. Suddenly, this whole situation seemed silly. Talking to this woman wouldn't change the past, not that I wanted it to.

"Yes they did. My parents are the absolute best."

Her shoulders sagged a bit in what I took as relief. She gave me a half smile. "That's great. I couldn't have asked for more. You seem like a fairly normal adult. Probably better than you would have been growing up around me and Kenny." She let out a small humorless laugh.

It was like I could see it in front of me. Two strung out teenagers, blowing money on booze and drugs as I cried, dirty and hungry. I stood, Wes following my lead. “Thank you for your time,” I said politely. Her eyes widened as she stood too.

“So that’s it? You tracked me down and all you wanted was a 10 minute conversation?”

My mind raced trying to think of how to explain what had brought me here without seeming damaged. I wasn’t damaged and I didn’t want this woman getting the wrong idea. “Ever since I was little and my mom told me I was adopted, I’ve had this fear of letting anyone too close. If my own birth parents couldn’t love me how could someone else?” I shrugged gently, Wes squeezed my hand. “Obviously I’ve gotten better at letting people in, trusting in them and myself. But always the idea of being thrown away played over and over in my mind. I just needed to know why.”

Tiffany fidgeted with the bangals on her wrist, her eyes trained to the floor. “I can tell you’re not a parent yet,” she said quietly before raising her eyes up to meet mine. “Believe it or not, leaving you at that hospital was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For days I crammed cabbage leaves in my bra to dry up my milk and I slowly realized I couldn’t do it again. I couldn’t keep living that life. You gave me the strength to get out.”

My eyes widened in surprise. I’d honestly never thought about how giving me up could have changed her life too. “I’m....” I started to say, unsure where I was going with this, “I’m glad you were able to get out of that situation. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been.”

“I finished high school, got a good job, met a decent man, and when we were ready we started a family. It was like my life before this was all just a bad dream.” She swallowed roughly. “But I thought of you often. Wondered what you looked like, if you had a good life. I even went to the adoption agency once to see if they would give me your name. However, when I’d decided to give you up I didn’t realize I’d signed the papers for a closed adoption. I’d wanted so badly to give you a better life and I was so young.”

All the pieces were beginning to click together in my head. Her giving me up had not only been good for me, but for her. Adoption isn’t a choice everyone can make, but she’d made a decision that in the end probably saved us both. A wave of gratitude passed over me. “My parents love me dearly, I don’t think they’ve ever even yelled at me. They ended up getting pregnant right after adopting me so I have a little sister. She’s my best friend. I had every door opened for me. I graduated top of my class and went to an Ivy League school. I just opened my own corporate law firm.” I took a few steps forward, I grasped her hands lightly. “I’ve had the absolute best life. Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand gently, giving her a soft smile. She smiled back and it was like a weight I’d been carrying my whole life lifted off my back. “Thanks for your time,” I said, letting go of her and backing up into the comfort of Wes. His arm snakes around my waist and I leaned into his warmth.

Together we headed out the door, Tiffany following behind us. “Thank you for finding me. It means a lot to know you are happy and well cared for.”

I smiled back at the woman who gave birth to me. All my life I’d wondered what I would feel when I saw her. I’d never imagined this wave of overwhelming gratitude. Wes dropped a kiss on my head. “She sure is,” he replied and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Goodbye Tiffany.”

“Bye Olivia.”

With that I turned and walked briskly down the street, tucked safely into the side of a man who loved me. A man who’d gone above and beyond to not only save my career... but my sanity. I’d never realized how close to the edge I was. How much the idea of being unwanted had played into my decision making. Obviously, it would take time to really change my thinking but this was the first step. A small meeting and a few words and I was ready to take on the world.

“You are amazing,” Wes whispered in my ear.

I smiled brightly, turning to drop a kiss on his cheek. “Let’s go home and you can show me how amazing you think I am,” I said with a wink.

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