By: Beverley Kendall

“I’m walking you to your car.” I say it firmly, that way she knows it’s useless arguing with me.

Resigned, she sighs and retrieves her leather purse from the couch. The thing is white like her jeans and sandals, and big enough to be considered luggage.

By the time we get to the gray Mazda she rented, conversation has grounded to a halt. I keep expecting her to tell me about my daughter, but beyond some oblique references to me being needed, she doesn’t say anything about her. And I’m too much of a chickenshit to ask. I want to know but I don’t. Guess which one wins out?

At the driver-side door, she reaches up and presses another kiss on my cheek. “I’ll call when I get home,” she whispers. “And here—” she reaches into her purse and pulls out a manila envelope “—this is for you. There’s also something in there from Paige.”

After shoving the envelope into my hand, she quickly gets into the car. I then watch in silence as she reverses, beeps the horn, gives me a short wave, and exits the parking lot.

I study the envelope the entire trek back up to my apartment, my pulse racing. The thing weighs almost nothing so it’s got to be some kind of letter or document.

A letter from Paige? I start sweating just thinking about what she’d have to say and how it would make me feel. I open the damn thing the second I’m inside my apartment.

The first thing I see is a big glossy photo. I glimpse the face before I take it out so you’d think I’m prepared, but I’m not.

When I look at the face staring back, I literally feel as if I’ve had the wind knocked out of me. A linebacker hit that caught me blind.

Dark-brown hair, two front teeth in an otherwise gummy smile, and eyes so green, they look like colored contacts. Those are my eyes but the rest of her is all Paige.

My daughter. So damn beautiful it hurts.

I don’t remember heading to the kitchen but that’s where I find myself a minute or so later. Clutching the photo between my fingers, I place the envelope on the table and lower myself onto the closest chair. There’s a heaviness in my chest that makes it hard to breathe.

I’m not sure how long I sit there staring at her, memorizing every inch of her beautiful little face. But it must have been long enough.

“Earth to Kingston.”

My roommate’s voice finally penetrates, bringing me out of my regret-induced trance. My head snaps up to see him standing at the opening of the kitchen. If he’d been a murderer, I’d be a dead man. I hadn’t even heard him come in.

“You deaf? I called you a couple times.” His date must have gone well because he’s wearing one of those shit-eating grins. “What’re you looking at?” he asks, as he approaches.

My gaze goes back to my daughter. When I don’t immediately respond, he rounds the table until he’s peering at the picture over my shoulder.

“Cute kid. Whose is she, your sister’s?”

I shoot a look back at him before replying, “No, she’s mine.”

Steve makes this strangled sound in his throat, his expression going from shocked to disbelieving. Then he emits a serrated laugh. “Yeah right. Shit, you almost had me. Quit fucking with me.”

It’s quiet for a couple beats.

“Holy shit. You’ve got a kid?”

What he really means is, You’ve got a kid and didn’t tell me? We have been roommates the past two years, and it’s one of those subjects that might have come up at least once. Unless—like me—you’ve done the best to block out that part of your life.

“I can’t fucking believe it.” His voice is faint with bewilderment.

It’s late, I’m emotionally drained and I’m not in the mood for an interrogation. I grab the manila envelope from the table and come to my feet. I’m surprised when a white envelope falls out of it and onto the floor. It’s only then I remember what Diane said. There’s also something in there from Paige.

The photo is obviously from my sister so this letter must be from Paige. I pick it up off the floor, place the picture of Brianna down, and remove two sheets of paper from the envelope.

Once I unfold them, I realize it’s not a letter. It’s a document. I have to read the heading at the top of the form three times before I can make sense of what it says. What it means. And that’s when everything inside me goes numb.

“Holy shit,” Steve, who’s hovering behind me, exclaims softly, obviously reading it over my shoulder. “Is that from your ex?”

I don’t answer. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

But apparently it’s not, because he goes on to ask, “Is that a form to give up your parental rights?”

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