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Chapter 2

I pulled into my driveway and stared up at the quaint dormer window facing out from the third level attic of my house, still trying to convince myself that Carmen was right: walking in on that guy wasn’t a big deal because I would never see him again.

My dad and I lived right at the edge of East Halton, where the municipality meets the forest, in a 150-year-old, two-and-a-half story, board and batten farmhouse, painted a historical creamy yellow. My father and mother, Richard and Julia Reed, had bought it just after they were married, a few years before I came on the scene. At that time it had been pretty dilapidated, but they spent years carefully fixing it up and restoring it to its original charm. Trees had grown up around the place over the years so that now, instead of a farm, the property felt more like a retreat in the woods.

I could still remember the day my mother had declared the house finished. I was thirteen at the time, and she was about to nail the last piece of trim in place in the dining room. She called Dad and me into the room to witness the epic event. Afterwards, we’d gone outside and waited on the big white, wrap-around porch while she set up the camera on the hood of the car, turned the timer on, and ran up to join us for a picture to commemorate the day.

A little over a year later she was killed in the car accident. That picture is now one of my favorites; it sits in a frame on the

dresser in my bedroom.

I thought of my mom as I climbed out of my car and headed up the front path. She would have been able to give me some healthy perspective on my embarrassing slip-up. She probably would’ve laughed and made a joke about that not being what she meant when she told me to be more forward with boys.

Julia Reed had loved life. She’d been an art teacher at East Halton middle school. She was outgoing and giving, always volunteering and getting involved in town functions. She loved to talk, but she was also a great listener and my number one fan, even when it turned out the only natural talents I possessed were the abilities to sketch and paint.

I knew she’d been very proud of my aptitude for the arts. She believed, even though I was adopted, that I’d somehow inherited my skill from her, and I loved thinking that too.

As I opened the front door, I called out to see if Dad was home. It was unlikely though. Dad was a professor at Hartford University, and now that classes were back in session, he pretty much lived at the school. All I got as a response to my shout was silence.

I went upstairs to my bedroom, my thoughts continually drifting back to the guy from The Patch. There was something different about him, more than the fact that he was good looking. My best friend Katie Preston would be able to help me figure it out, or at least get a laugh over what happened. I grabbed my phone, punched in her number, and settled in on my bed cross-legged.

“Hey, you won’t believe what I just saw on television,” Katie exclaimed, before I could even get out a hello.

“What?” I laughed.

“It was an ad for this private investigator guy that helps track down people’s relatives. He said he specializes in adoption cases, and he’s in Hartford of all places. What do you think?”

I struggled to keep up with the stream of words. I could picture her lying on her bed, twirling one of her crazy blonde curls

with her finger while she talked.

Her suggestion caught me off guard. Normally Katie talked about infomercials for sandwich makers, or the latest episode of some reality show. I didn’t even realize Katie knew I was interested in finding my biological parents.

I think every adopted child must wonder about where they came from, and over the years I’d daydreamed many times about what my biological parents were like. Ever since my mom’s car accident, I’d been thinking more and more about trying to find them so I could learn the circumstances behind their decision to give me up. I’d kept that desire a secret from everyone in my life though.

“Oh, wow, yeah Kate, that might be all right. I didn’t know you knew I was thinking about looking for my birth parents.” I grabbed an empty notebook and doodled circles and stars while we talked.

“I saw you searching adoption agencies on Google one day, and I figured you had to be curious. If I was adopted I’d be dying to find out who my real parents were.”

“I am curious, and maybe we could check this guy out. Let me think about it okay? I’m just worried about what Dad would think of me looking for them.” My parents had been so great to me. I didn’t want Dad to think I was looking for something because he wasn’t enough for me.

“Oh right, that makes sense. I wrote down the guy’s number in case you want to do it, and I can go with you and stuff. But hey, you called me, what’s up?”

I settled back against my pillow and recapped my change room blunder for Katie.

Katie laughed on the other end of the line. “Hey, at least he was good looking.”

“I just keep telling myself that he’s a tourist, so at least I won’t run into him again.”

As Katie and I talked, I felt better about the whole thing. When I finally hung up, I sat on my bed and bit my thumbnail, thinking about Katie’s suggestion. I was curious about my birth parents and a little Internet research might be just the thing to keep that beautiful smile and those deep green eyes out of my head.

I sat down at my desk and entered The Crestwood Adoption Agency into Google. My parents hadn’t been able to give me many of the details surrounding my adoption, but they had told me the name of the agency and that it was a located in Hartford, forty-five minutes away. Two hours later, after scrolling carefully through over a dozen websites, I was utterly frustrated. Why was it so difficult to find anything that was remotely useful? I couldn’t even track down a website for The Crestwood Adoption Agency. It was getting late and I was about to shut down my laptop for the night when I spotted a mention of the agency on a girl’s blog about her quest to find her biological parents.

I clicked on the site and read her story. Josie MacArthur had been put up for adoption when she was two years old. She’d been placed with a loving family, had a great childhood, but like me, she was curious about her real parents, and decided to go looking for them. Her adoption had been set up through The Crestwood Adoption Agency in Hartford, and after much research she’d discovered that the agency had shut down almost fifteen years earlier. She had tried to track down information about the agency through various channels, but unfortunately she found out that all their archived files had been destroyed in a fire years before she’d begun her search. She’d created the blog for anyone who might stumble across it with any details about her real parents or The Crestwood Adoption Agency, and had added her email address at the bottom of the page.

I sat back in my desk chair. So that’s why I’m having so much trouble. Closed down and fire devastation were a lot to contend with. I sent her a short email, curious to find out whether anyone had contacted her regarding her story, outlining who I was and what I was looking for.

Just as I hit the word send I heard the front door open, and Dad’s footsteps on the stairs. I drew in a deep breath. Since I was beginning this quest, I might as well get his opinion on the subject. The only way I would know if he could handle me looking for my birth parents would be if I asked him.

I glanced over at the picture of the three of us on the porch. Normally the corner of the frame lined up almost exactly with the edge of a poster print of Van Gogh’s Starry Night I had hanging on my wall, but now the photo was about six inches to the left. That’s weird. I frowned and got up to investigate. Everything else looked to be in exactly the same spots, only the picture had been moved.

“Hey Dad,” I called out my bedroom door.

He appeared in my doorway and gave me a warm smile. “Hi, sweetheart, how was your day?”

“It was fine, nothing overly interesting to report.” Walking in on a half-dressed male customer at the store didn’t really feel like it qualified as news. Or anything I wanted to tell my father about. “You didn’t happen to move my picture, did you?” I pointed to the framed shot.

Dad cocked his head. “No, I haven’t been in your room. I try my best to respect your space, why?”

Then who would have …? I waved a dismissive hand. “It’s just shifted from where it normally sits. I must have bumped it accidentally and forgotten.”

“Okay then, if that’s all you needed.” Dad gave me a nod, and took a step back.

“No, wait. I wondered if I could talk to you about something for a second.”

He walked into my room, his old leather book bag still in his hand. “Sure thing, what’s on your mind?”

“How would you feel if I started looking for my biological parents?” I watched his face to gauge his reaction.

He set his bag down and took his glasses off, grabbing the bottom of his sweater to wipe them. A move he made when he really wanted to think through a question before giving an answer. After a moment he replaced the glasses and nodded slowly. “I think it makes sense that you would be curious about them. I understand the value of knowing your roots, and where you came from; it’s part of why I love history so much.”

“So, you’d be okay if I tried to get some information on them?” I furrowed my eyebrows.

Dad’s face grew thoughtful as he took a step forward and sank down onto the hope chest at the end of my bed. “You know your mother loved you very much, Hannah. Neither of us could have loved you any more if you had been ours biologically. But if you feel this is something you need to do, I will try to understand, and help you any way I can.”

I reached out and placed my hand on his gently. “I love you too Dad, and I want you to know this has more to do with learning where I came from, than with looking for something I feel I’m missing.”

“Of course, and as I said, if I can help, I’m here.” Dad stood again.

“I thought the best place to start would be here. Is there some sort of adoption record I could check out to point me in the right direction?”

Dad’s forehead creased. “There was a file, but unfortunately it was destroyed. Do you remember when the pipes burst in the basement when you were seven, and flooded the whole downstairs? Your adoption file had accidentally been stored away with a box of my old school books down there, and it got completely saturated. I’m sorry, I know that’s disappointing, but maybe you’ll have some luck online. I don’t know if you remember or not, but your adoption was set up through The Crestwood Adoption Agency.”

“Okay, I’ll try that. Thanks.” I didn’t bother explaining that I already knew the name of the agency.

“You’re welcome. You really should get to bed though, big day tomorrow.” Dad gave me a smile that seemed a little forced, and moved towards my door.

“You’re right, I should. ’Night Dad.”

“Good night.” He left me alone and I sat for a second, contemplating our conversation. He’d sounded apologetic about my files getting destroyed, but a strange catch in his voice made me wonder.

It reminded me of the time my pet bunny, Pablo, mysteriously went missing. Dad had told me Pablo had fallen in love with a wild girl bunny from the forest behind our house and they had run off together. I’d wanted to believe him, but the overturned patch of dirt at the back of our yard, and that strange tone of voice, had made me unsure if I could. So if I’d been right then and he had been lying about my beloved rabbit, did that mean he was lying to me now? If so, why?

An odd feeling ran through me as I thought about the series of misfortunes I’d just discovered. A flood in our basement had ruined my file, and on top of that, the agency had shut down and their records destroyed in a fire. I frowned as I pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but it almost seemed as though someone was trying to keep anyone who had been adopted through the Crestwood Agency from finding out the truth about the past.

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