The world holds different ideas and dreams for many people. For me, my dreams never went further than the neighborhood I grew up in. I'd learned at a delicate age that when you put your faith in something or someone, that it was highly probable that you'd get that faith broken.
I had lost my father when I was 7 years old in a tragic boating accident and my mother never quite recovered. My older brother Brody had been 9 at the time, took the role of protector from then on and we both watched her about break herself to provide for us. She would often work two to three jobs just to put a roof over our heads, Daddy's life insurance money sitting in a bank for our college education that she never touched. It wasn't until Brody got to his senior year of High School that we even knew it was there.
But even when tragedy grips you from a young age, human nature is to fight and survive. Now in my mid-thirties, settled with children of my own, content to be the soccer mom, the woman with the best begonia plants on the block, nothing but blue skies and smooth sailing seemed to be on the horizon.
I had a criminology major from the state university, because mama wouldn't have it any other way, but I'd never used the degree at all. I married Carter right out of college and started our family. He was a successful district attorney and I was happy being the trophy wife. Brody lived nearby, and every Wednesday we met for lunch as a way of keeping up with each other just as Mama would have wanted.
Loss makes you jaded at times and even though Mama had been gone for several years now, it still stung at times when her memory would creep up in the middle of nowhere.
So it was with a carefree heart that I headed downtown to Shirley's Cafe, one of Mama's favorites to meet Brody for lunch that Wednesday just as I had every Wednesday before. He was already there, looking just like daddy with his dark wavy hair and piercing blue eyes, kicked back in one of the corner booths with a cup of coffee, his tanned arms stretched out over the back, shirtsleeves rolled midway up. I grinned as he stood and gave me a hug.
“How are my nephews?” he asked and I nodded, pulling out a picture that my youngest, Jordan, had drawn him the night before and handing it to him.
“Jordi says you need to come check out how fast his fast ball is now.” I grinned as the waitress came back, filling my mug with coffee as well. We ordered lunch, caught up with what was going on in each other’s lives since last week and said goodbye. Same place, same time would find us here next week and I left to run a few errands before I had to pick up the boys from school. I drove across town to the nearby suburbs to a small antique book store they had as the last stop, checking my watch before I locked the car and headed inside. I perused the books, keeping in mind what time I would have to leave.
It was near the old murder catalogs, editorials of unsolved crimes from back in the 20’s and 30’s that I lost myself.
Ever the detective in all things, my oldest son Kyle hated it. I could bury myself in figuring things out like piecing together a puzzle, made it very hard for him to lie and get away with it. But at 13, he still hadn’t learned that if I didn’t find him out right away, I would eventually. Sitting in one of the reading chairs in the back corner I read through a few articles, deciding which copies to add to my collection and which to leave for another day. I stood, heading for the counter still lost in thoughts of the soccer mom, dinner to cook, laundry to do, homework to help with, the list was endless. I barely noticed the clerk who rang me up and turned to leave after getting my receipt when a voice stopped me.
“Excuse me miss, you dropped this.”
I turned, looking at an outstretched hand holding the lacrosse signup I had to drop off at the school when I picked Kyle up that must have fallen out of my bag. A smile swept my lips in embarrassment for being so scattered at the moment and my eyes lifted to the man holding it to me as I took the paper from him.
You ever have one of those moments where it seems like slow motion? Like the whole world just stops as if on pause and starts to move frame by frame slowly gaining speed as all the wind is sucked out of your lungs until it comes roaring back like a freight train? I’d only experienced it one other time when Jordan had darted out in front of a car that I swore was going to hit him. The moment I laid my eyes on the man holding what I’d dropped was one of those moments. I felt the breath get sucked out of me as he cocked his head, his brow furrowing slightly.
“You look familiar. Have we met?” He asked and I almost passed out on the spot. I feebly shook my head, snatching the paper from him and left, sucking in air in big gulps as I secured myself inside the van, hands gripping the steering wheel. It wasn’t possible, I told myself. He looked just like my Dad, or how I’d imagine he’d look now. The resemblance was uncanny. I stayed there, gulping air, wishing for answers to that I wasn’t sure I was even forming the right questions for.
My eyes lifted as I saw him leave the store, bag of his items in hand and he climbed into a black sedan and my heart started to hammer. I followed him as he pulled out of the lot, staying several cars behind him, following him to a small suburban neighborhood and I parked down the street as he pulled into the drive of a small ranch-style house. He looked like Brody, or how Brody would look had he aged about 20 more years. I scratched down the address, and drove off, paying attention to the name on the mailbox out front. S. Marquette. It wasn’t possible, and yet why did it feel like I’d just stumbled upon something I wasn’t supposed to find?
Later that evening, the boys in bed I poured a glass of wine and sat in front of the laptop, Carter not due to come home for about another hour. I pulled up anything I could find on any Marquette’s in the area, finding three. A Michael, a Daniel, and a Steven. I stared at the screen, hovering over the icon to buy a full background check on the man I’d followed. It was a lot of money and I wasn’t one to typically spend frivolously. I snapped back to reality at the sound of Milo barking as Carter came in the house. I sat back against the chair and took a sip of wine as he came in, stopping at the doorway, brow wrinkling.
“You okay?” he asked and all I could manage was a shrug of my shoulders. I filled him in on what happened and he sat on the edge of the desk pinching the bridge of his nose as I finished.
“What does Brody say?” he asked.
“I haven’t told him yet. I mean, Carter, this isn’t possible right?” I asked needing assurance and he ran a hand down his face.
“You never really dealt with your Dad’s death Maggie, maybe it’s just festering now. Things like that happen.” He didn’t assure me at all. All it did was immediately make me defensive which is typically what happened any time my father’s name was mentioned. I pursed my lips slightly and finished my wine, clicking the laptop off and closing the lid as I stood. I walked past Carter and into the kitchen to finish cleaning up.
We didn’t speak much over the next few days, but he knew I hadn’t let it go, simply quit talking about it. He urged me to go to Brody but perhaps it was my own desire to be right that I didn’t pick up the phone and call him. I knew Brody would tell me to let it go, and maybe Carter was right, maybe I didn’t want to deal with reality of my own emotions getting the better of me.
I followed him, as much as I could without getting caught and my mind kept notes of everything, as I researched anything I could find out on him. There were too many coincidences in Steve Marquette that didn’t add up. Finally after 3 weeks of following him, researching all I could, convinced that it was in fact my father, I planned to confront him. I had spent all afternoon mapping out exactly what I would do, what I would say all of it. I was going to drop the boys off to school the next morning and head to his house, armed with accusations and an old photo album. I was determined if nothing else. I came home with the boys after picking them up from school, got them situated with homework at the table and started on dinner, my head still a whirlwind of things that I wanted to say when I met this man face to face.
Right as I got the boys sent off to wash up for dinner the door opened and in walked Carter and Brody laughing. I watching in amusement as Brody walked up and gave me a hug.
“This is a surprise, what’s the occasion?” I asked.
“Do I need one to come have dinner with my sister?” He asked and I shot a curious look to Carter who shrugged and took off his suit coat.
Dinner went smoothly, however, I felt slightly on edge. I had planned to make notes of all I wanted to confront Steve with, and with Brody here, it would be hard to find an excuse good enough to get away to do so.
Boys tucked in, bedtime stories read, dishes done, I walked into the living room where two of the most important men in my life were sitting, drinking a beer and speaking in hushed tones and the conversation went silent as I poured a glass of wine and sat on the couch next to Carter.
“So which one of you if really going to tell me what’s going on?” I asked curiously, raising an eyebrow at Brody who’s eyes dropped to where he started to pick at the label of his bottle.
“You know I love you Maggie, but we’re both worried about you.” Carter started and I stiffened, this wasn’t going to go well. “I’ve been having you followed for the last 10 days, and I called Brody, hoping he could talk some reason into you, not only as your brother, but as a professional.” My jaw set at Carter’s words because Brody was a therapist, which meant he had his mind made up that I was going crazy.
“Maggie, whatever this is, we can get through it.” Brody started. “You’re one of the strongest women I know, and everything else aside, whether you want my opinion from a therapists point of view, or as your brother it’s going to be the same. This isn’t healthy, following some man in a sick attempt to prove it’s Dad. Dad’s gone, and I was afraid for a long time with the way you never dealt with his death, that this would happen. It’s a borderline psychotic break in your mind, and that doesn’t mean anything is wrong, it just…” his voice trailed off slightly.
“It means it needs to be dealt with.” Carter finished and I moved from him, sitting near the far end of the sofa and took a sip of my wine, elbows coming to rest on my knees and I lifted my eyes to Brody.
“Did he tell you about this man?” I asked and Brody nodded.
“They say in life we’ve got doubles all over the world. There was that girl in one of my psych classes in college that looked just like mom, it happens.” He said and I shook my head emphatically. I stood heading to the bookshelf in the corner and pulling out a file that was wedged in between books. I set it in front of Brody on the coffee table and flipped it open, pulling out a picture of the man I’d been following and laid it out for both him and Carter to see.
“I’ve never done one crazy thing in my entire life. Never. I’ve been the easy going one, the one that never made any waves, and stuck to the normal as much as possible it was almost boring. But you cannot look at that and tell me you don’t see the resemblance.” I said firmly as I pulled a picture of our parents out from before dad’s supposed death so Carter could see. Brody looked like the color drained from his face as he looked through the photos I’d taken.
“His name is Steven Alan Marquette. He lives at 14345 Greenland Court in Westhaven. He has been married for 22 years to an Emily Marie St. Clair. They have three children, Dominique, 19, Steven Jr., 17, and Collin, 12. He doesn’t have a criminal record and always pays his bills on time. He’s an engineer at Windstone Milling, has been for 24 years. Before that, he was doing odd jobs. His birth date is April 19th 1955. Same date as dad’s only 2 years later.” Brody looked through everything laid out before him and I poured more wine continuing on. “There is no history, documentation or anything for a Steven Marquette ever having been born on that date, there is no birth certificate, no records of anything in his life before December 1982, the year dad died. They never found Dad’s body Brody, never. Mom wondered for awhile how he could have drowned for as expert of a swimmer he was. That information and the resemblance alone should make you curious.” I don’t know if I was more trying to convince them or if I was still trying to convince myself as I sat back down next to Carter.
“So now what Mags? You just want to go and confront some poor stranger because you haven’t gotten over Dad’s death?” Brody asked and I felt my body stiffen as my jaw jet and he jumped to his feet. I watched in amazement as he shook his head and stormed from the house, slamming the door making me jump. I didn’t dare look at Carter as I clasped my hands in my lap.
“Do you think I’m crazy too?” I asked in a small voice. He shrugged slightly and pulled the folder closer lifting each photo individually.
“There is a resemblance Maggie, but what if that’s all it is? And let’s look at the other side for a minute too, say it is your father, and for 27 years now he’s been living this whole other life, with a new family, just moved on as if your mom and you kids never existed, what do you expect him to say? Or is there even anything he could say that would make it all right?” His words hit me like a ton of bricks. In all my planning I hadn’t gotten that far. I knew what I wanted to say to him in confrontation, but what would I expect him to say in return? Carter squeezed my knee softly and rubbed my back before kissing the top of my head and standing.
“I would sleep on it for the night. If you still feel as strongly as you do, I’ll take you in the morning.” I looked up at him with bright eyes, shocked he would follow me with this.
Sleep was more elusive than I’d hoped as thoughts of what lay after dawn swirled in my head. I know Carter didn’t sleep well and 5:30am found me at our kitchen table drinking some much needed coffee, flipping through photo albums. The boys would need to be up in an hour and I still hadn’t completely made up my mind what I was going to do or what I truly wanted. So much of my childhood I’d buried when my father died, and now 27 almost 28 years later I felt like I was on the verge of something life-changing. How do you even begin to go about making a decision like that?
“Made up your mind?” Carter’s deep voice jerked me from my thoughts as he walked into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee, coming to sit next to me. I simply shook my head and shrugged.
“I didn’t think about what I was expecting to come of this, only if it was. I never thought further than that. Truth is, if it is him, there is nothing he could say or do that would make up for what he’s already done, for all he’s already missed.” I said softly and Carter put an arm around me kissing my shoulder.
The morning carried on just as all the other mornings before it, with getting the boys up, ready for school, breakfast made, dishes left in the sink, schoolbags packed and in the van ready to head for school. I was lost in a sea of thoughts as I dropped the boys off and headed back home where Carter was waiting for me. Rounding the corner onto our quiet street I saw Carter leaned against Brody’s car, his arms folded across his chest and he pushed off the car as I pulled in the drive.
“What’s wrong?” I asked worriedly and Carter shook his head softly. I started to head for the house when a blue sedan pulled up carrying my stepfather.
“Tom?” I asked looking between them. “What is going on?”
“Come inside Maggie.” Brody’s voice called from the screen door that led into the side porch. I was almost nervous, afraid what lie in waiting for me inside my house. The boys were fine, I’d just dropped them off, so it had to be because of what I’d told Brody last night. Walking inside and letting Brody lead, I followed him down the hall towards the kitchen and came to a dead stop once he moved out of the way to reveal who was sitting at my kitchen table.
“You’re going to tell her, and him, exactly what you told us.” Brody said sternly, his arms folded over his chest as the man in the chair looked down at his worn clasped hands in his lap.
“Oh God.” I heard Tom say behind me and everything started to move slowly. I slunk down into a chair, Carter still holding onto me as I did and the man lifted his eyes to me as they filled with tears.
“Your mother and I never wanted you to find out like this.” He started and everything he said after started sounding like a freight train in my head. The story unfolded and I listened, refusing to cry and the pain I felt, the innocence he claimed, the fact that my mother knew, none of it made sense. The more he spoke, the deeper within myself I sank, numbness taking over everything I felt. I stood, feeling like the wind was being sucked out of me and started gulping in air, much like I had in the van after running into him the first day. Brody stood against the counter, arms still folded over his chest, anger written on his handsome face and I paced, trying to find the words, bits and pieces of everything I had rehearsed coming back to me.
“There is no way Mama could have known Steven!” I said with anger evident in my tone.
“But she did, I was going to leave and when I told her I didn’t want the both of you to hate me, that this way you would all be taken care of, she agreed. I thought the money would help, I-I d-didn’t know she wouldn’t use it except for your college Angel.” He said, dark eyes pleading with me to believe him.
“No! Don’t you DARE call me that!” I hissed, anger now being the only emotion I felt and then I remembered what Tom had said when we walked in and I turned, shock written on my face. “Tom?”
The man looked aged since the last time I’d seen him a few weeks previous. He had been married to Mama for ten years when she’d died and his face looked more ashen than it had at her funeral.
“She didn’t want you guys to hate him for leaving, for walking out. She wanted you guys to never doubt how much he loved you.” Tom said forlornly and I gasped a hand coming to my mouth. I couldn’t hear any more, couldn’t take any more so I left, heading out to the backyard in full bloom of spring and sat on the glider out by the small pond Carter had put in last summer. My world was spinning and I felt someone come up behind me, heard a sigh and saw out of the corner of my eye that it was my father.
“I know that nothing I could say could ever make this better bu-.”
“Don’t!” I said with a hiss and stood to my feet, my body starting to tremble as tears filled my eyes. “You don’t get to be that person who is sorry. If you were sorry even once in almost 28 years, you would have come back. But guess what? You didn’t. You let Mama work herself almost to death for years to raise Brody and I, and she kept your secret all this time. I could be angry at her, but as a mother I can see why she never told us. Why she would have never wanted to hurt us that way, to know that our anger at fate or God, or whatever we believed in wasn’t justified because you simply didn’t want us.” I felt the tears fall from my cheeks and I wiped my eyes taking a deep breath and I started to walk back towards the house.
“Is this really how you want to leave this?” He asked sadly and I turned, finally seeing my father for the pathetic coward he was.
“I know Mama was pregnant with Brody before you got married, and you felt trapped. But I refuse to feel anything for a man who fled from his responsibility. And I will not feel guilty, or feel like I did something that drove you away, or that my mother or brother perhaps did. Because it had nothing to do with you not wanting to be a father, it just had to do with you not wanting to be a father to us, or a husband to Mama. My father died August 24th 1982, and I think I’ll just live the rest of my life with that belief. Get off my property. You didn’t want us then, and you don’t get the choice now.”
I walked away from him that day, never second guessing myself at all, never wondering if I’d made the wrong choice, simply knowing that I wouldn’t remember the man I met in my kitchen as my father, he was simply a stranger who showed up one day…