Jocelyn demanded to speak with me, and she refused to do so in front of Dean. Jack did not want to leave me alone with her, but he didn’t want to leave the two men alone, either. Eventually, Jocelyn and I decided to go into the dining room, and the three men headed to the den to sit with the kids.
On the way to the dining room, Jocelyn opened the coat closet, plucked an envelope from her jacket pocket, and carried it with her.
We sat down at either end of the dining room table. I didn’t say a word. Jocelyn was going to have to go first.
She opened the envelope and removed a piece of paper, unfolded it, and smoothed it out on the table.
“This is a letter from your mom,” Jocelyn announced. “Susan, right?”
My stomach dropped like an elevator falling 80 floors.
Jocelyn continued: “Your dad is Greg. We met when he was on a work trip, and we started going out whenever he came to town. He always treated me nice. Then I got this note from your mom telling me to back off.”
“She wouldn’t do that,” I said, trying to keep any hint of emotion from my voice.
Jocelyn held the letter up. “Is this her handwriting?”
I squinted. “I don’t know,” I said, but it was a strong possibility.
“She says here that he’s had girlfriends in towns all up and down the east coast—that there’s nothing special about me. She told me to move on, to find someone who’s not married.”
My wineglass and the open bottle were sitting on the sideboard, hovering at the edge of my vision. I wanted a drink so bad. I needed to stay alert, but my nerves were on fire. Maybe the alcohol would help?
How long had I been thinking about that wine?
“What the heck do you want, Jocelyn?”
“Well, first I want you to tell me that I’m speaking to the right person.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t think you’re speaking to the right person at all. But if you’re asking if Greg and Susan are my parents, then yes, they are.”
Jocelyn sat back a bit in her chair. She was studying me.
“I don’t think I can help you in this situation. I honestly didn’t know my mother cared enough to send a letter like that.” I reminded myself that there was a chance that the letter was fake—that all or most of this tale was a fabrication.
“Forget your mom. Let’s talk about your dad.” Jocelyn leaned forward again, elbows on the table. “Around the time I got the letter, I found out I was pregnant. I told your dad, and he said he didn’t believe me. He thought I was trying to con him.”
My head was like a busy airport, and my thoughts were a hundred planes getting ready to take off. Which plane should I choose? What was the right path?
Jocelyn turned her palms to the ceiling. “Look, Elise, I really liked your dad. We had some good times. I didn’t expect us to get married or anything, but I couldn’t believe he just blew me off, stopped responding to my texts and calls.”
I rested my chin on my hand and tried to present a calmly quizzical look. “How do I know this isn’t a con? Your plan seems…” I searched for a word that wouldn’t set her off, “…impractical.”
She was offended anyway. “What the hell do you know about my plan?”
Every time Jocelyn’s anger surfaced, my own rose up to meet it.
“I know that you brought two small kids into a stranger’s house. I know you wasted a lot of time while it’s snowing like crazy out there. And I know you’re afraid to talk about this in front of Dean.”
“I’m not afraid of anything, Elise. I just didn’t want him to have to listen to me talk about your dad. He’s already heard enough about Greg.”
I sighed, “Okay…”
Jocelyn took the cue and went on: “When I started showing, I tracked down your dad. Boy, was he pissed off. He told me to get lost. He said I must have gone out and gotten pregnant to try and scam money from him.”
“Did you?” Ugh, that slipped out.
“Jeez. Like father, like daughter. No, Elise. I started dating Dean not long after your dad tossed me aside, but I was already pregnant. Dean doesn’t particularly want to be here, but he agrees with me that a man needs to take responsibility for his kid.”
“So, what do you expect me to do about it, Jocelyn?”
“Tell your dad to be a man and stand up.”
I wondered what would happen if I said no. How far was she going to take this?
“Why should I trust you? How do I know you’re not some grifter trying to hustle my dad or me out of money?”
“Sounds like you watch too much TV, Elise.”
“All right, then tell me, did your car really break down?”
Jocelyn pursed her lips. No answer.
“And who the hell is that mechanic? Seriously, Jocelyn, who is he?”
“He’s a friend of Dean’s. He came along for extra security. I think he must’ve gotten tired of sitting in the cold car.”
“And Dean’s fall on the steps, was that real?”
“I’m fairly sure that was real. I can’t imagine Dean going rogue on me like that.”
I stood up, grabbed that damn wine bottle from the sideboard, poured myself a big glass, and sat back down. I let the glass sit in front of me, untouched for the moment.
“Do you see why I might not trust a word you say?”
“I have a print-out from my doctor. It shows when I got pregnant. It’s in there, too.” She tapped on the envelope, which now that I looked at it, did appear to have another piece of paper in it.
I should ask to see both pages up close, I told myself. She hadn’t handed them to me yet, so she could be bluffing.
Instead, I changed the subject.
“Jocelyn, when we were in the living room you said that maybe you were here to save me. What did you mean by that?”
She smiled, and I immediately regretted asking.
“Maybe this is your opportunity to stop being a daddy’s girl. Maybe I’m here to help you put to rest any lingering illusions you might have about your dad.”
My heart sank. Either Jocelyn was an astute observer of the human condition, or my dad had told her about me. Possibly both.
I could feel my eyes welling up, so I finally lifted the wineglass and took a long swallow.
“You’re just fishing, Jocelyn,” I said in a shaky voice that was not at all convincing.
“Tell me about the singing competition, Elise,” she said, and she leaned back with a smirk.
Before I could burst into tears, something caught my eye in the window behind Jocelyn. Was Dean trying to make a break for it?
Coming Up: Part VI, Accumulation