As soon as I got home, I showered and chose an outfit: a long-sleeved crimson shirt, and a pair of dark jeans with a wide, coffee-colored leather belt. It was the fourth outfit I tried on, but I was pleased with the balance I’d finally found between dressed-up and casual. I did my hair, pulling the sides back with clips, and tidied my room. I was done by six-thirty. What should I do until Ethan arrived?
I went to open my computer to check my inbox, but it wasn’t sitting on my desk where I always kept it. I scanned my room. It sat on my window seat. “Weird.” I frowned and walked over to investigate. Picking up the machine, I tried to rack my brain. Had I, for some reason, set it there? Nothing came to mind.
I placed the computer back on the desk and sank onto my chair. I always stayed logged into my email account on my laptop and I opened the window to see a message from Josie MacArthur about the Crestwood Adoption Agency. Except, it wasn’t marked as a new message, someone else must have read it first. Dad? He had claimed that he respected my space, but who else could it be? If it was him, why would he read my emails? Was he curious to see how far I’d gotten in my search for my parents? Was he worried about Ethan and me? Or had someone else been in my room, reading my private emails? None of this made sense.
I clicked on Josie’s message, trying to brush aside the anger and betrayal I felt at someone reading my personal stuff. I would talk to Dad later about it.
Her response was brief; she had learned a little more since her online post, and if I wanted to discuss it further I could call.
I moved over to my window seat so I would be more comfortable and punched her number into my phone. I chewed on my thumbnail as I listened to the phone ring, and stared out the window, watching a blustery fall wind pluck rust and gold colored leaves from the trees in our backyard, and send them dancing through the air. What would Josie MacArthur be like? Would she be able to help me?
“Hello?” a young woman’s voice came through the line. She sounded a few years older than me and spoke with a friendly, yet direct, tone. Even though she couldn’t see me, I sat up straighter.
“Hi, this is Hannah Reed; I’m looking for Josie MacArthur?”
“MacArthur was my maiden name, it’s Josie Milligan now, but yes, that’s me. You’re the girl who sent me the email, right?”
“Yes I did. I’m hoping you can help me, Mrs. Milligan, I—”
“Josie, please. Mrs. Milligan is my mother-in-law.” She laughed.
“Okay, Josie, I’m hoping you can help me. I’ve recently started looking for my biological parents. I’m adopted too, and I’m curious to learn where I came from.”
“And why they gave you up?” Josie asked, with the understanding of someone who had grown up in the same situation with the same questions and insecurities.
“Exactly. Anyway, I know my adoption was arranged through the Crestwood Adoption Agency, but I don’t know much more than that and so far all I’ve found on the Internet is your blog. I wondered if anyone else has contacted you and been able to give you any information since you posted it?” I played with the frayed edge of one of the pillows on my window seat.
“Well, as it happens, I have had some luck. About a month after I posted on there, a lady called me to tell me that she used to be an employee of the Crestwood Adoption Agency and she still had some of the files from the agency at her house. She did transcription work for them and had taken a few boxes home with her because she’d fallen behind. Apparently, the agency closed so quickly, she never had a chance to return the boxes.
“Anyway, I gave her my name, she went through the files she had, and mine turned out to be one of the ones in her possession. At first she just gave me some basic details over the phone that I would find helpful. I had been born in Ohio. My birth parents were Grant and Casey Burke. They had been killed in a plane crash, and shortly afterwards, my parents, Roy and Anne MacArthur, adopted me through Crestwood. It was hard to learn I wouldn’t be able to meet my biological parents, and I wasn’t really satisfied with the limited facts she provided, so I convinced her to meet with me so I could get a look at the file myself.
“It took a little arm-twisting but eventually she gave in. The file was pretty sparse, just a little medical background and a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. I’m not really sure if this lady would be able to help you or not. You sound a little younger than me, and I don’t know if her files were from a specific time period, but it would be worth contacting her, if you want her number.”
“That would be really great.” I leapt up to grab a notebook and pen. My heart beat faster as I settled back onto the window seat.
“Give me a minute to look for her information. I know I have it written down, but we haven’t spoken for almost a year; I’m sure you know how these things go.” I heard her set the phone down.
I couldn’t help but be excited, and bounced my legs nervously while I waited for Josie to return. After a few weeks of searching, this was the sort of encouragement I needed to keep going. I’d been about to give up for now and just be happy with the family I had. I could leave my quest until I was a little older, and perhaps if this woman didn’t have any details for me, that’s what I would do, but at least I could call her and ask.
“Okay, I got it.” Josie came back on the line. I poised my pen over the paper and wrote down the number as she rhymed it off.
“Her name is Mazy Jones. She’s really sweet, you just have to butter her up a little. I think she believes it’s her duty to guard those files, to protect the kids in them or something. Plus I’m fairly certain giving out that information isn’t exactly legal. I’m just glad she was willing to bend the law for my sake. Hopefully she’ll help you too.”
I thanked Josie for her time, and then let her go. Scrutinizing the reflection staring back at me in the window, I studied my facial features. I want to know who I am. Did I have my mother’s eyes? Or my father’s mouth? I drew in a deep breath. Mazy Jones likely didn’t even know anything about me, although she might be able to point me in the direction of someone who did.
I checked my alarm clock. How much time did I have before Ethan would arrive? It was seven, not a lot of time to make a call, but I wanted to try before I chickened out. I picked up the phone, dialed the number Josie had given me, and paced anxiously as I waited for someone to pick up. The phone rang several times, and I was about to hang up when a voicemail message, stating that I had reached Mazy Jones but she was unavailable at the moment, clicked on. I sank onto my desk chair and left a short message telling her who I was, that Josie had given me her name in connection with the adoption agency, and I asked her to please call me back.
“Hannah, can I talk to you for a minute?” I jumped, and swiveled the chair around. Dad stood in the doorway of my bedroom. Had he heard me leave the message on Mazy’s answering machine? I hadn’t mentioned my search since his strange reaction the first time I’d asked him about it. And now that it appeared he was snooping through my emails I didn’t know how much I should tell him.
“I have some pretty big news.” He had a gleam in his eye as he took a step into my room, the kind he usually got over something history related. If he had heard me, he wasn’t letting on.
“I’m all ears.” I sat up straighter to give him my full attention.
“I’m not sure if you remember my friend, Rupert Smythe, but he’s a professor of Medieval History at Oxford. He’s invited me to be a guest lecturer for an intensive modular course he’s running on architecture and engineering during the Middle Ages.” Dad beamed with pride.
“That’s amazing! Are you going to do it?” I jumped out of my desk chair and rushed over to give him a hug. No matter what suspicions I entertained about him, teaching at Oxford was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I’m still thinking it over, but I’ve pretty much decided I will accept, and I’ve had a thought. How would you like to accompany me to England? The course is running from mid-October into November. So we would be gone about three weeks, possibly a month. I’m sure we could arrange for you to carry on your semester through correspondence courses while we’re over there.”
I pulled away from the hug and looked up at him. “Really, are you serious?” I’d always dreamed of going to Europe, and England was one of the top countries I wanted to explore.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I don’t know when I would be able to offer you the chance to go to England again.” Dad gave me a big smile.
“This is amazing, when do we leave?” My mind was spinning with thoughts of seeing the sights of London, and the English countryside, maybe even venturing to Scotland or Ireland.
“I need to call Rupert to find out the exact details, but I
imagine very soon. I’m so glad you want to go with me. The timing is perfect, I think a change of scenery will do both of us a world of good.” Dad turned to go.
I frowned. “I guess so.” It was an innocent enough comment, but something about it sounded odd to me. Was Dad intentionally trying to get me away from East Halton? Was that why he’d been acting weird about my adoption search? Or potentially reading my private emails?
The doorbell rang. My evening was about to begin, and I pushed my misgivings to the back of my mind and grabbed my bag. “That’s Ethan. He’s picking me up for movie night at Katie’s.”
“Ethan’s taking you?” Dad whirled back around, and I raised my eyebrows when I saw the worry on his face. “Well … have fun.”
I decided to ignore the look. I was already anxious enough about how the evening was going to go. I gave him a quick hug before heading for the stairs.
I met Ethan on the doorstep with a shy smile. He looked amazing; he still wore the white button-up shirt over an olive t-shirt combo and jeans he’d been wearing at school, but he had added a moss-colored coat, which dressed up the outfit just enough and made him look even older than he normally did. He returned my smile with a grin of his own that spread up to his eyes. A spark of electricity seemed to flicker in his gaze, but nothing else in his body language suggested anything romantic. The sun had almost set; the yard was bathed in the dim glow of evening, and a faint smell of woodstove smoke hung in the air, which I had always loved.
“Should we get going?” Ethan suggested, defusing the energy immediately with his casual tone.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” I hoped my voice sounded normal, even though my heart beat faster than usual as I followed him to his Jeep and we drove off to Katie’s house.