“Mother, can I speak to you in your office, please?” I demanded through gritted teeth, my fists clenched tightly at my side.
“I think that’s a wise plan. The gallery is about to open. I don’t need you making a scene.”
“You, you,” I hissed. “You don’t want me to make a scene?!”
“Calm down, Harland.”
I stormed down the hallway to her office with Ellie hot on my heels. I swore I could feel her eyes boring through my back. My mother pushed open the door, taking a seat at her desk.
“How could you do this, Mother?”
“Why have you been lying to me?” Ellie asked calmly.
“I didn’t know.”
“I thought you didn’t like swearing.”
“There’s times it’s warranted. And I’d say the day I find out my half brother is actually my father, is one of those fucking times!”
“Lower your voice, please.”
“Were you ever planning to tell me?”
“I didn’t know for sure if you were my daughter. And there was nothing to be gained by opening up a can of worms that would end up hurting you.”
“Does Kinley know?”
“How do you think she’s going to feel when she finds out you fucked her mother?”
“I’m guessing not very good.”
“I would concur. Why didn’t you ever come to visit me?”
I scrubbed my hands over my face, lowering myself in a chair with a defeated sigh. “I thought it would be best if I stayed away.”
“Best for whom?”
“No, Dad. You did what was best for you!”
“That’s not true, Ellie.”
“You left me to be raised by a sexual predator!”
“I didn’t know that!”
“How bad would you feel if he’d molested me?”
“He didn’t. Did he?”
“No! I told you that from day one!”
“You and Dad had a great relationship. Look at you. He raised a pretty fantastic kid, if you ask me.”
“You think you get a free pass because your dad was good to me?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Did he know he wasn’t my real father?”
“I have no idea, Ellie.”
“I don’t understand. Kinley said you hated Mom.”
“Hated her so much that you stuck your dick in her?”
“Ellie, that’s enough.”
“I need some air,” she muttered, spinning on her heel and storming out the door.
“Do you want me to talk to her?”
I’d kind of forgotten my mother was in the room. I glared at her, anger bubbling in my gut like hot lava about to spew from a volcano. “How could you do this?”
“I knew the second I saw her at the funeral, Harland. She looks just like me at that age.”
“No kidding,” I mumbled.
“And it was pretty clear you either didn’t know, or you had no intention of ever telling anyone.”
“And you decided you had the right to tell her?”
“Yes,” she spat. “I never got to be a part of your life. When I realized Ellie was your kid, I didn’t want to miss out again. She’s my granddaughter. I want to be a part of her life.”
“Never gonna happen, Mother.”
“Because we’re done. This little stunt you pulled? Unforgivable.”
“Harland, you don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do.” I stood up, marching out of her office without looking back.
I found Ellie outside on a bench.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked, gesturing to the empty spot next to her.
I sat down anyway.
She glared at me, flames licking from those familiar emerald eyes. The ones she shared with her mother and half sister. In all fairness, she didn’t possess any one specific physical trait that suggested she was related to my mother. She was my half sister, so the fact that she looked like me was expected. But that painting. There was no denying the truth anymore.
“I’m sorry, Ellie.”
“You think sorry is going to fix this?”
“Yes?” I squeaked, grinning sheepishly.
“You are incorrect.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” she said. “The damage is done. You have to tell Kinley.”
“Do you think there’s any chance she will forgive you?”
“No,” I sighed, shaking my head sadly.
“I thought we were going to be a family. A normal family, and live in a normal house. I know I always lecture you two about safe sex, but I was being fallacious when I said I didn’t want any nieces or nephews right now. I would’ve been ecstatic to learn Kinley was enceinte.”
“Enceinte means pregnant, right?”
“Don’t be condescending, Ellie.”
“I guess there’s probably no chance of you staying now.”
“Because I found out you’re my daughter?”
“Because Kinley is going to send you packing. She was the only reason you were even considering staying. I didn’t factor into that equation anywhere.”
“That is fallacious.”
“You knew there was a possibility I was your daughter, and you were willing to let Kinley be my primary guardian while you went back to your life in New York.”
“Teenage girls need a mother more than a father.”
“You’re so full of excrement.”
“Is that shit?” I whispered.
“I don’t care to know how you ended up fornicating with my mother, but you obviously did the deed. The proof is in the painting. And you haven’t expressed any doubt. Or any signs of surprise, for that matter. You were content to live your life in New York while my mother and grandfather raised me. And when they died, you didn’t step up. You were quite willing to abandon me again.”
“That’s not true, Ellie.”
“I’d like to go home now.”
“Do we have to?”
“Yes, Harland,” she snapped. “It’s time for you to face the music. And when you’re finished shattering Kinley’s heart, you can slither back to New York and pretend I don’t exist again. I’ll stay with my sister. She’ll be okay in time. We will go ahead with our plans for the retreat. We don’t need you.”
Ellie didn’t say a word on the trip home. I stared straight ahead, the miles slipping away too quickly. This was going to be bad. And when it was over, I would be alone. I was going to lose my daughter and the woman I loved.
It was tempting to blame my mother. She should’ve come to me with her discovery. I hated her for what she did. She didn’t care about anyone but herself. And that was nothing new. She didn’t know how to love anyone but herself. If she did, she would’ve never shown Ellie that painting.
But I really only had myself to blame. I should’ve returned to Hollingbrook when I found out that horrible witch was pregnant. Demanded to know if it was my child she was carrying. But I was a coward. I should’ve told Kinley and Ellie the truth, and had a paternity test done. Kinley would’ve continued hating me. I would’ve missed out on falling in love with her, but at least I wouldn’t be the guy who broke her heart.
“I texted Kinley and told her we were coming home early,” Ellie informed me when we passed through the gate.
“Did you tell her anything else?”
“No. You’re going to tell her. Nice try, coward.”
“Hey now,” I warned. “That’s disrespectful. Just because you’re angry, doesn’t mean you get to start throwing out insults.”
“I don’t really care.”
“You should. What happened to the polite kid I met a few weeks ago?”
“She discovered that her entire life was a lie.”
“Ellie, that’s not true.”
“When did I ask?”
“Okay. I think we need to have a cool down period. Why don’t you go paint or something while I talk to Kinley?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m not asking you, Ellie. I’m telling you.”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do, Harland.”
“Oh yes, I do.”
She hopped out of the car the second I put it in park. “I don’t want you as my guardian! I’m going to call Karen and tell her I want it revoked. I want Kinley to have full custody. I hate you!”
Kinley opened the front door before Ellie reached it. “What happened?” she asked, glancing at me.
I couldn’t even look her in the eye. It hurt too much. My gut ached, my chest heavy with despair as I worked up the courage to tell the only woman I’d ever loved that I slept with her mother. Kinley would never forgive me.
“Let’s go inside,” I suggested.
“Good idea,” Kinley agreed. “I need to tell you something.”