The thing is that Jack Simms isn’t actually our father. He was my mother’s best friend and the closest thing I have had to a father since we moved here when I was 5. He was the only person my mom knew when we came to Virginia and the reason why she chose to live in this town, Manassas, or as like to call it, The Middle of Nowhere.
Mom and Jack grew up living next door to each other in Buffalo, best friends since diapers and inseparable up until college, when she moved to Los Angeles and he stayed in Buffalo. They grew apart, but kept in touch and Jack was the first person my mother called when she decided to flee LA. At that point he was already living here in Manassas, where he opened his own law practice, and told her to come to him. He promised to do everything he could to keep us hidden from my father and his family, and he did. Jack helped mom find a house, get a job, change our last name, and even take care of me.
Most days my mother couldn’t get out of work before 5 and she couldn’t afford a nanny, so Jack would pick me up from school and bring me to his office, where he would help me with my homework and hangout with me until mom came. I can’t possibly count the number of afternoons I’ve spent there, playing on the floor, reading books on Jack’s couch, or taking a nap in the employee’s lounge in the back.
In the beginning I wasn’t easy on them, always throwing tantrums about wanting to go home and repeating how I missed Los Angeles and my dad and wasn’t going to let Jack to replace him. But Jack, who never even had kids of his own, was the only one who knew how to calm me, talk to me, and get me to open up. When I finally let my guard down, Jack and I became really close. I was around 7 years old when I called him ‘dad’ for the first time and I still remember the tears in his eyes and the tight hug he gave me.
Dad hated seeing how living with Lucy was affecting me and Jameson. Our stepmother never really liked us, and Jack thought it was absurd that I had to take care of her. We talked about Jameson and I moving in with him, but in the eyes of the law Jack didn’t have any claim over us. So, we decided he would file a petition for custody, and Jack thought it would be an easy win, seeing as Lucy obviously wasn’t going to fight it and we could prove to the court that Jack had been helping take care of me since I was 5.
What none of us expected, was that my biological father still had private detectives looking for my mother and me. And in a small town like Manassas, being in a tragic car crash followed by a custody suit makes you high profile news, and the story caught the attention of my father’s investigators. A week after the story was published, Jack got a call from Donovan, my biological father. He said he was coming to get me.
When Jack told me, the first thing I said was that I would not be separated from Jameson. Even if I had to do the same thing my mother did and run away with him. So we tried to convince the judge that me and my brother would be better off with Jack. And I avoided all Donovan’s attempts of contact, even made sure to keep my eyes off of him at the courtroom. I wanted the judge to see how much of a stranger he was to me.
Now here we are, on our last court date. Today the judge will decide who gets our custody. And even though I hoped we did enough to convince the judge to let us stay with Jack, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me want to throw up. That’s why I had all of mine and Jameson’s things packed in the car, making it easier to escape if today’s outcome wasn’t what we expected. Trying to hold back the tears that suddenly filled my eyes, I pushed my feelings away and turned my attention back to the building in front of us as we walked toward it.
“Is he here?” I asked Jack.
“I haven’t seen him yet.” He tells me. Jack takes a deep breath, as if he were trying to gather the courage to say something else, so I wait. “But I really think you two should talk, Amelia. He is your father and it’s been 12 years since you last saw each other.”
“And there’s a reason for that. Even though you and mom never told me, I know there is. If my mom took me away from him, I trust her, and I don’t want to be near him.” I said and then looked straight in eyes so he could see I really meant what I said next. “You are my father, and I don’t need another one.”
Jack knew there was no point in pressing the matter, so the rest of our walk into the building was quiet. By the time we reached the courtroom, I could feel my heart pounding against my chest, I was sweating, and my hands were shaking. Dad squeezed my hand and tried to give me a reassuring smile, but I could tell he was just as nervous.
I wasn’t scared of what was going to happen to me, in a few months I would turn eighteen and be on my own anyway. What really terrified me was the thought of being separated from my brother, and with my father trying to get my custody, that was a very real possibility. But I was never going to let that happen, and Jack knew that. When my father first showed up, I told Jack I would rather run away with Jameson than let them separate us, and I think the thought of both of us on the run by ourselves was what scared Jack the most.
“Amelia, there’s something I need to tell you.” Jack’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
“What is it, dad?”
“Sweetheart, I…” Jack paused, cleared his throat and shifted his weight from one leg to another. Whatever he was about to tell me, he knew I wasn’t going to like it. “I know you’re planning on running away if the court decides to separate you and Jay, so I talked to your father, and he– “
“Stop calling him that.” I interrupted. “Please, dad. You are my father, not him.”
“But he is, sweetheart.” Jack insisted, and I glared at him. “Okay, I talked to Donovan, and he agreed that we shouldn’t separate you and your brother, so if the judge decides to give him your custody, he’s going to petition for your brother’s custody too.”
“WHAT?” I yelled and Jack shushed me, looking around.
Jameson, who had been quietly playing on the floor behind us, got up when he heard me scream and hugged my leg. People around us were now looking at me like I was crazy. Reminding myself that dad was only trying to help, I took a deep breath and tried to calm down before speaking again.
“Dad, no. I don’t want me and Jameson to be apart, but I also don’t want us to be around that man. We’re not going with him, I don’t care what the judge says.”
“Amelia, think about this.” Dad’s voice sounded desperate now, urging me to pay attention to his every word. “I know you think you can run away because your mother did, but it’s not that easy. Your mother was an adult, had some money saved, and had my help. You’re not even eighteen yet, and you plan to run away with a child! You’re going to put your life at risk, not to mention Jameson’s! I can’t let you do this, sweetheart, I’m sorry.”
Jack lifted his hand and wiped a tear from my cheek, surprising me. I didn’t even know I was crying. But he was right, I couldn’t run away. Jameson was my priority, and I couldn’t give him a decent life if I did that. At that realization, it was like all the fight just flushed from my body, leaving me only with fear. My head dropped and my hands started shaking again.
“I’m scared, dad. I don’t know what to do.” I whispered, and Jack pulled me into a hug.
“It’s going to be okay, sweetheart, I promise. Whatever the judge decides today, I’ll always be here for you, I’ll always be your dad.” Jack said, his voice raspy with emotion.
Before I could answer, I felt a pull on my shirt. Letting go of dad, I looked down to find Jameson holding my shirt, but he wasn’t looking at me. With his eyes widened, he was staring at something behind me. I turned to find Donovan standing there, with his lawyer next to him. They were just a few feet away, and his eyes were focused on Jack’s hand that was still on my shoulder.
“Good morning.” Donovan said.
It was the first time we were talking face to face. His voice sounded both strange and familiar at the same time. I hadn’t seen him or talked to him in 12 years, and I barely even remembered what he looked like. As I stared at his face now, the first thing I noticed were his light brown eyes. There was a sadness to them, something that made him look like he had a hard life. But when he looked at me his eyes got wider and happier.
The next thing I noticed was that his curly thick hair was the exact same shade of blonde as mine. So that’s why my mother never told me where I got it from.
“Hel… He… Hello, Amelia. I missed you.” Donovan struggled to say.
He started moving towards me as if he were going to hug me, but I stepped back and looked down.
“Hello, Donovan.” I replied quietly. I could still feel his gaze on me.
Slowly lifting my head again, I saw Donovan crouching down to look at Jameson.
“Hi, Jameson. It’s good to see you again.” He said in a smooth voice, as if he were trying not to scare my brother. But it didn’t work, Jay jumped and hid behind me.
“He’s just shy.” Jack explained and it made me frown. He didn’t have to justify my brother’s behavior to this stranger.Before any of us could say anything else, the courtroom door opened to let us in.